The basis for the belief that women should not teach or preach in Christian churches comes directly from 1 Timothy 2:12 (NIV), "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." That particular statement, along with the verses that follow it has always troubled me - not so much because I´m a woman, but because it does not fit with anything else that Paul says or anything he did throughout his ministry. Why would Paul, who repeatedly preached against the controlling factors of the law, re-institute the law where women were concerned? If Christ is the end of the law, as Paul said in Galatians 3:19, why would the Church be governed by the Law?
If the situation is examined closely, this idea that women should be silent in the churches where it comes to teaching and preaching is not even based on the Law, but rather on a flimsy interpretation of the law by the Rabbis who wanted to create a well-defined separation where men and women were concerned and to firmly establish women as second-class citizens in the Hebrew world. So, not only were women not allowed to teach and preach, they were TOTALLY silent. They were not taught the Torah. They were not allowed to even speak in the synagogues. In fact, in some areas, they were not allowed INSIDE a synagogue.
I´ve often heard it said that women sat on one side of the synagogue and the men sat on the other, and that the women were shouting across the synagogue, asking their husbands questions. It was this cacophony that Paul was trying to silence with his statement. However, there is no historical or scriptural evidence for this conclusion.
It is true that women and men were separated. Women were only allowed to observe and listen. They were never allowed to speak, at all. This separation carried over into the homes, as well, where women could not eat with their husbands if guests were present. In some areas, this was carried to an even greater extreme, where women were not allowed to serve food to men, a custom which still exists in some parts of the Middle East. So, if Paul was trying to pattern the Corinthian church after Jewish tradition, then the women would not have been allowed to speak at all - a situation that we know did not exist.
I know that some people say that the reason God did this is because God is a man. WRONG! God is neither male nor female - He is Spirit. (John 4:24) Another argument is that the Old Testament priests were men, so the New Testament ministers should be men. Another WRONG! And third - and perhaps the most ridiculous - is that man is superior because he was created first. Well, if order of creation establishes dominance, then the animals must be superior to man since they were created before Adam was!! So none of those arguments will wash.
Why, then, would Paul say something like, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent," when he obviously didn´t practice it? Before answering that question, let´s look at some additional verses that seem to support the viewpoint that women should not preach or teach in the churches, one of which is referenced above.
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (NIV) says, "As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." Whew! That´s a pretty big "shut up" to the women, isn´t it? Or is it?
First of all, let´s look at the simplistic view. There is no way to assume that this statement applies to ALL women, because all women are not married, so this statement categorically excludes single and widowed women. We know that Paul didn´t insist that all women be married, because of his statements in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8. Second, again, why would Paul emphatically deny the Law´s governing every other area of life, and yet state here that women should remain silent "as the Law says"? And third, this statement contradicts what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:5 where Paul speaks of women praying (out loud) and prophesying in church. And fourth, many churches that state that women should not teach or preach would find it very disturbing if the men in their churches raised their hands while they prayed and then prayed in tongues. However, in 1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV), Paul said, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." And in 1 Corinthians 14:5 (NIV), he said, "I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,…" So if a church body is going to adamantly hold to Paul´s supposed teaching about women being silent, then they need to adamantly hold to Paul´s teaching concerning the lifting of hands and speaking in tongues as well.
So what was Paul really trying to say here? To understand this, we need to look at why Paul wrote his letters. In almost every instance, he wrote to the churches to correct problems that had arisen with doctrinal teaching. In the case of 1 Corinthians, the church was in a state of division and disorder (1 Corinthians 1:11-17). Gnostics and Judaizers were causing a lot of trouble within that congregation. Paul had started the church in Corinth, so when these problems arose, they wrote a letter to Paul, filled with questions which he answers one by one in this letter. He began his reply to each question by saying, "Now concerning", and somewhere in his response he referred to the question. In chapter 12, he takes up the question of Spiritual Gifts, and addresses it throughout the next three chapters where he gives an in-depth teaching on the "charismata", the term wherefrom the modern Charismatic Movement took its name. It is within this long teaching that Paul makes the statement above about women being silent.
Back to the Judaizers - it is obvious that Paul´s teachings about the Law didn´t set well with them, because even after the Jerusalem council´s determination that Gentile Christians were not governed by Jewish law or tradition (Acts 15), the Judaizers continued to follow Paul everywhere he went and tried to negate Paul´s teachings about freedom in Jesus.
It was evident from all of Paul´s writings that in the ministry team of Priscilla and Aquila, Priscilla was the leader and was supported by her husband. The greatest evidence of this is the fact that every time Paul refers to the couple, he uses Priscilla´s name first. In addition, the majority of scholars freely state that Priscilla was the one with the teaching gift, and Aquila gave her the support she needed to work in her ministry.
Did other women teach in the early church? One glaring example can be found in Revelation 2:20 (NIV), where Jesus is speaking to the church at Thyatira. He says, "Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols." Now that´s an interesting statement. The church at Thyatira was obviously spirit-filled, and in the previous verses, Jesus commends them for the things that they were doing. However, they were allowing a woman to teach! Not only that - these spirit-filled men were listening to what she had to say, believing her, and following her teaching!!! Now, if Jesus didn´t intend for women to teach at all, wouldn´t this have been the perfect place for Him to say so? He could have said right here, "Women aren´t allowed to teach or have authority in My Church. They must be silent!" But He doesn´t. Rather, He speaks of the punishment she and her followers will receive, and exhorts those who have not believed what she was teaching to hold on and continue in what they´ve been doing. Other women who worked with Paul are Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis, who were active, hard-working Gospel laborers. He closed his letter to the church in Ephesus by sending greetings to 28 people, ten of them women. In addition were the house churches - those small bodies of believers that met in people´s homes. Chloe, the woman who sent the letter to Paul about the problems in Corinth was the leader of a house church. From all indications in Acts 12, Mary, the mother of Mark (who wrote the Gospel of Mark) was the leader of a house church since no man is mentioned. Lydia, Paul´s first Philippian convert, led a house church. Nympha of Laodicea led the church that met in her house (Colossians 4:15).
As for other women, Phoebe was a Deacon (Romans 16:2 - Note: the word Deaconess wasn´t used until about 250 years after Paul wrote this letter, and Deaconesses were evident in the church until about 1200 a.d.). As we said before, Priscilla was a teacher who worked with Paul. Junia and Andronicus (both feminine names) were fellow apostles and prisoners with Paul (Romans 16:7).
Paul´s teaching concerning women was not what is contained in these isolated verses that state that women should be silent, but rather was based on Joel´s prophesy, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy." (Acts 2:17-18 NIV) Did Paul silence the women? No! The Judaizers did! So what was Paul saying in these verses? He was saying, "To you who are telling the women to be silent in the churches - Stop it!" (I´ll discuss this further a little later!)
Let´s take a look at a related issue, since the English translation makes it easy to see. In 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, Paul speaks about women and men having long vs short hair and the practice of covering one´s head while praying. Taken out of context, it seems that Paul is establishing a precedent for the covering of women´s heads during prayer. However, if you read further, starting in verse 11, Paul says, "In the Lord, however….", which basically negates everything in the previous few sentences, and goes on to say that a woman´s hair is covering enough, and that the other churches of God are not adhering to the practices the Corinthians were trying to establish! As a side note, Paul´s statement in verse 12, "For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God," blows the idea of order of creation establishing superiority right out of the water, since the one and only time man came first was at creation. From that point on, all women were superior to men in "order" since all men are born of women. If we were going to use that type of logic, then every mother would be the "head" of every son she bears, even to his old age!
Throughout Paul´s letters, especially to the Corinthians, Paul quotes various "slogans" or possibly things that were quoted by Chloe and the Corinthians in their letters. Since quotation marks were not used in Paul´s day, the "slogans" are a matter of exegetical deduction and vary from version to version, i.e. the KJV may have something in quotes that is not in quotes in the NIV or NASB, and vice versa. However, here are some "slogans" from 1 Corinthians:
"I belong to Paul," "I belong to Apollos," "I belong to Cephas," "I belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4 NIV)
"All things are lawful for me." (1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23 NIV)
"All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV)
"It is well for a man not to touch a woman." (1 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
It is the contention of a number of writers that the prohibition in 14:33b-35 is also a "slogan" that Paul was quoting from one of the letters.
In addition, Paul used the particle "e" (with a line over it) as a conjunction throughout his letters. In the letter to the Corinthians, he used it as a sort of expletive, which basically can be interpreted to mean "Nonsense!" or "Hogwash!" Each time he was about to refute something the Corinthians were questioning, he would insert the particle "e". For instance, in 10:22, after denouncing the practice of partaking of both the Lord´s table and table of demons, Paul repudiates the inconsistency with "e" (Hogwash!) shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?" In response to the statement, "All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body," (in other words, "what I do with my own body is my business"), Paul says, "e" (Hogwash!) "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?"
I could go on and on and on, but the crux of the matter is that by all scriptural and historical evidence, Paul was totally in favor of women preaching, teaching and otherwise taking leadership roles in the Church.