Two words are used in Scripture concerning the conduct of women that continue to confuse many. The words silence and quietness seem to suggest that women cannot make a sound while in the assembly of God’s people, but that can’t be right if women are to sing or confess their faith in Christ before others (or get to a noisy child). Others reject it as an outdated teaching because they don’t think any limits should be placed on the role of the woman. To look at the words in their context should help clear up the confusion, and then it is a matter of one accepting what God has to say on the subject or rejecting what God has to say on the subject.
The first word: silence
“Let women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but to be submissive as the law also says.” (1st Corinthians 14:34)
The word silent is from the Greek word, sigao, which means, “to keep silence, to hold one’s peace.” Are women being told to remain silent under all circumstances? If that were so, they would be contradicting Scripture that commands them to, “Speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” as they open their mouths to sing (Ephesians 5:19). Scripture cannot tell women they are not permitted to speak in the assembly and then command them to speak to others in the assembly (same Greek word in both verses). So what is being said?
Looking at the context in 1st Corinthians 14, we see that Paul is providing directions for the orderly worship of God. In this context, even the men are told to “keep silent.” But what are the circumstances for his having to tell some to “keep silent”? Apparently, you had several who were trying to address the assembly at the same time which was turning the worship into chaos. So that all things could be done decently and in order (v.40), Paul states:
“But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church” (1st Corinthians 14:28)
“But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent” (1st Corinthians 14:30)
Those being addressed were not being denied the right to pray out loud or sing. Rather, Paul is discussing the orderly manner of addressing the assembly in the role of a teacher or preacher from a position of authority. As it would then apply to the woman, she is being told that she is not to address the assembly in this role at all (speaking to the assembly in the role of a teacher or preacher if men are present). Again, she was not being denied the right to open her mouth, as other duties would call for. The men in that setting, who were instructed to keep silent, would be able, when appropriate, to teach, sing, lead in prayer, etc. It is about addressing the assembly from a position of authority: men, one at a time, women, not at all.
“If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (1st Corinthians 14:35)
The best explanation for this verse is that, apparently, there were women who were interrupting the service with various questions, adding to the confusion and chaos. This was to stop.
The second word: quietness
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1st Timothy 2:11-12)
“Let a woman learn in silence with all obedience. I do not permit a woman to teach or to usurp authority over a man, but to be silent” (1st Timothy 2:11-12)
The Greek word, hesuchia, is what is here translated silent, silence, and quietness in the different versions. The word itself means “quietness”, and is addressing the manner in which women are to learn rather than ordering them not to speak.
See 1st Peter 3:4, where the same word is used as Peter is instructing the wife to possess that, “gentle and quiet spirit,” in her conduct toward her husband (which would certainly include speaking with him).
In 2nd Thessalonians 3:12, Paul orders those who walking disorderly and not working to, “work in quietness and eat their own bread.” Here, the word is again dealing with the manner of conduct rather than forbidding them from speaking while they work.
In writing to Timothy, Paul also wrote that prayers should be offered for those in authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life…” (1st Timothy 2:2). He is addressing their conduct not forbidding them to speak.
In learning, the woman is to have a submissive role, never assuming a role of authority over the man. For a woman to do so violates the teaching concerning what her proper conduct is to be in relationship with the man.
In putting 1st Corinthians 14:34-35 together with 1st Timothy 2:11-12, Paul commends a quiet (meek, gentle) attitude on the part of women, commands subjection of them to their male counterparts, and condemns any teaching or exercise of authority that would be, “over a man.” When a woman stands before a group with men present and speaks from a position of authority, she is violating the clear teaching found in these passages.
This teaching concerning the role of the woman in the church is a natural extension of what Scripture teaches about the role of the woman to man in general (Genesis 3:16; 1st Corinthians 11:3-9; Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18; 1st Peter 3:1-6). None of this is to say that men are smarter than women, always more capable than women, and the only ones who can accomplish any good. It is simply the order that God, in His wisdom, established. We can either humble ourselves to this teaching and accept it, or we can follow our own pride and wisdom and reject it.