They were devastated at the death of their leader. He was killed by enemy soldiers, and they were hiding away. What now?
But not all of them were hiding. Some women woke up early to go and anoint the corpse. Their late (or so they thought) leader was not there. Instead, they found some angels, who told them to go and tell the disciples Jesus is alive. On the way back, Jesus himself appeared to them. He told them the same thing: “Go and tell my brethren I am alive.”
When encountering the disciples, they did not keep silent. How could they? The message was too great. And Christ himself said they should talk! It was not just permitted, but commanded for Mary Magdalene and the others to talk in the meeting of believers. It would have been a shame to keep quiet, after that command.
The Christian era came with the resurrection: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Whatever was true in previous eras, when even Jesus chose male disciples*, in this new era, women taught the message of God right from the beginning.
Even if the raising from the death were the beginning of the Christian church, the Christians still did not have the power from above to equip them for the task. Untill the Spirit came, with divided tongues like fire, and sat on every one of them.** They started speaking, and listeners heard them in their own tongue. It was explained this way:
Acts 2:17-18 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.
Men and women, sons and daughters will receive the spirit and prophesy. Would Peter have chosen these words if only the men spoke? Obviously not. The believers were together, and the men and women spoke. Possibly the children too, if “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” was appropriate. Women spoke in church right from the beginning!
And then we get to 1 Cor. 14.
When you are together, said Paul, every one of you has a psalm, a doctrine, a tongue, a revelation or an interpretation. And all these things – the psalms and doctrines and interpretations and revelations – should be done, and should be done to edify. (:26)
Does it say that only the men have psalms, doctrines, tongues, revelations or interpretations? Or that although everyone (male and female) has them, only those psalms, doctrines, tongues, revelations and interpretations in male minds should be used to edify the saints who are together?
No. Everyone have something to give, and all those things entail speaking in the church gathering. And all those things should be used to edify the saints. If half the congregation was prohibited from speaking, how could they all edify one another?
For all this to happen in good order, prophets had to keep silent – and give other prophets a turn to speak. (:28-29)Keep silent never meant they should not participate, but that they had to take turns. Then it is said again: All of you may prophesy. (:31) Would “all” mean “the male half?”
And tongue speakers had to keep silent – unless there was an interpreter in the meeting. (:27-28) But the one who is a tongue speaker, even without an interpreter, could probably participate in the meeting if he had a song, teaching, or understanding that did not entail tongue speaking. Keeping silent never meant those with the tongue speaking gift were not allowed to speak in another way.
And then, after all this all could speak, all have something to give, comes this passage:
1Cor. 14:34-36 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
To paraphrase this with the usual understanding of verse 34-35: “Sally should keep silent and only let Tom speak, because, up until now the word came out from Sally and Tom, and came to Sally and Tom.” Does such reasoning make sense? Not to me, it doesn’t.
Because, indeed, God’s word came out from both genders. It sometimes came from women before the resurrection (Anna in Luke 2, the Samaritan woman in John 4), it came from women and not men first after Jesus rose, it came from both genders when the Spirit descended. It came to men and women when Jesus were on earth and preached. It came to women first when the grave was empty. The Spirit came to both genders at Pentecost.
Unless there is another way to understand the passage. And there is!
In some parts of the letter to the Corinthians, Paul answers things the Corinthians wrote to him about:
1 Cor 7: Now for the matters you wrote about …
Sometimes, he quotes their letter to him directly. This passage would make a lot more sense if :34-35 is such a quote. The passage could then read this way:
All of you bring something to say to the church meeting. I want all of you to be heard, but in an orderly fashion, giving turns, so all these messages could be heard and understood.
(Your letter to me said: ) “Women should remain silent, it is shameful for them to speak.”
What! The word of God did not go out only from you, or reach only you. (You cannot decide who should speak in church! God already decided who could speak by letting the word go out from women too, at both the empty tomb and Pentecost!) Desire to prophesy (in the meeting of believers, this command is not said to be just to one gender), don’t forbid tongue-speaking, and let all happen in good order. – 1 Cor. 14:26-40, paraphrased and summarized
How tragic would it be, if we read “women keep silent”as a command, if the Scriptures actually refutes it! Several forms of testimony in the Bible make the above interpretation more likely. I will try to cover them in part 2.
* Jesus had male and female disciples, (He had more than 12), but the chosen 12 were men.
** Some translations say “every man”, but that “man” should be understood as a gender-neutral word. The original Greek does not mention a gender.