Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
For centuries women have suffered oppression in the Church because of a lack of understanding of these two statements of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians. Many times, we fail to understand what was said, because we failed to listen to all of what was said. This was true when Jesus taught his followers that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood—they wouldn’t have eternal life (John 6:53). Without waiting for him to finish, most of his followers got offended and turned away, because they only heard half of his message. For those who stayed, however, Jesus “hard saying” was resolved: he wasn’t literally telling his disciples to cannibalize his body and blood—he was speaking figuratively of his words (John 6:63).
This is but a small example of what happens when people misunderstand a message because they take it out of its context. In fact, from misreading this passage alone, millions take communion each week thinking they’re eating exactly what Jesus said isn’t literally his blood and body. With context in mind now, let’s go back to Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Before dealing with the immediate text, we must first deal with the surrounding context. It’s important that we always interpret Scripture in light of several spheres of context: (1) the canonical context, which deals the overall narrative of the Bible’s story, (2) the historical context, which concerns the situation which prompted the writing, and (3) the literary context, which addresses the specifics of that situation. By investigating all three of these levels of context, we will see that the wrong interpretation is eliminated, and the correct one will remain.
By going back to the book of beginnings, we get a glimpse of God’s original plan of creation: a garden paradise where both people and animals live in peace. There is no death, no sin, no suffering—no subjugation. In Genesis 1:27, God creates adam, or humanity, in his image: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Note that both male and female constitute the image of God.
Also, when God said, “I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
The Hebrew word translated “helper” (in Genesis 2:18 and 2:20), as a designation for the woman, is used only 16 more times in the Hebrew Bible. In those cases, it is always a designation of God as the One who saves, upholds and sustains his people (as in Ps 46:1). There is no sense in which this word connotes a position of inferiority or subordinate status. The word translated “suitable for” literally means “in front of,” signifying one who stands “face to face” with another, qualitatively the same, his essential equal, and therefore his “correspondent.”
Furthermore, we see that God’s blessing was upon both the man and the woman—equally:
“…God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” So we see that both Adam and Eve were originally created to rule together as God’s representatives. It was only until after their fall, that everything changed. When God said to the woman in Genesis 3:16: “…Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you…” he wasn’t adding an addendum to his dominion decree in 1:26-28; he was declaring the curse that had befallen them—and the effects that it would have on their relationship with each other. A broken relationship with God would result in a broken relationship between people; and, particularly, between men and women. Notwithstanding, this curse was broken by Christ’s cross: “…Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)…” and, “…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Nevertheless, although men would oppress women for thousands of years through the fallen social structures of the world—God included them in his plan of redemption to bring all of humanity back to an ideal state of equality and peace in Christ Jesus. In the Old Testament we see many mighty women of God that were used in the ministry of Israel: we have Moses’ sister Miriam the prophetess (Exo 15:20; Mic 6:4); Deborah the Judge-Prophetess who not only ruled Israel—but went with them in battle (Jgs 4,5); and Huldah the prophetess who pronounced both judgement and forgiveness to King Josiah (2 Kgs 22:16; 2 Kgs 22:18-20). All these women were significant figures in Israel, some standing in ministerial offices equal to men like Gideon the judge and Samuel the prophet.
In the New Testament we have women like Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36); Phoebe the deaconess (Rom 16:1); Phillips’ four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9); Euodia and Syntyche, Paul’s “fellow laborers” (Phil 4:2); Priscilla the teacher who taught Apollos—the prototypical New Testament teacher—and had a church in her house (Acts 18:26; Rom 16;5); and Junia, the Apostle (Rom 16:7). Therefore, in view of all these wonderful women who’ve served in the ministry since the birth of the nation of Israel and the spiritual birth of the Israel of God—why would Paul say such things as he did in 1 Tim 2:11-12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35?
On the surface, it would appear that Paul was a misogynist—someone who hates women—and was giving universal instructions about the conduct of women for all the churches.
However, as we’ve learned—we cannot study Scripture in a vacuum—the canonical and historical contexts impose rules on us that must be followed. When we take into account that (1) God made men and women equal, (2) God uses women in ministry, and (3) Paul praises women in ministry, our interpretation of Paul is forced to conform to the rule of God’s universal will for women.
That said, when we study the literary context of Paul’s letters in light of the canonical and historical context, it’s impossible to conclude that he gives a universal commandment against all women. What is possible, however, is that Paul’s statements are words of correction for a specific group of women who were teaching false doctrine in Ephesus and disrupting the worship services in Corinth (1 Tim 1:3-4; 1 Cor 14:28). To conclude, we can avoid misunderstanding God’s message by interpreting it in its entirety. We must weigh each word, verse, and passage against the canonical, historical, and literal context of the Bible.
 The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Ti 2:11–12.
 The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 1 Co 14:34–35.
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr. et al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996).