Thank you for your kind words. You are asking an important and delicate question here. Thank you.
Before I share some thoughts, let me recommend two books that you will find helpful on this topic. The first is NT Wright’s Surprised by Scripture. The fourth chapter in that book will be informative and thought provoking for you. It provided some clarity for me on this issue. I also would recommend the late Kenneth Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. He has a section in the book focused on Jesus’ interaction with women in the gospels.
A few thoughts from me:
- When coming to this passage, I am reminded of the instructive words one scholar John Walton said when reading the Bible. I am paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of “It is often said of Scripture that we need to translate the language in which the text was originally written. But we need to do more than just translate the original language. We need to translate the culture.”
What does he mean? He is saying that in order for us to understand the profundity of the stories and texts in all of their complexity, we need to not only understand the original language; we need to understand the culture into which the words were written in order to understand the meaning of the text.
The cultural insight is what I find particularly helpful when I read Ken Bailey and NT Wright on this challenging topic. In Surprised by Scripture NT Wright cites Bailey’s on-the-ground Middle Eastern observations of why Paul insists that women stay silent in church. Bailey points out that in the Middle East, in places like Lebanon, Syria, or Egypt, it was taken for granted that men and women would sit apart in church. Also, the service would be held in formal or classical Arabic “which the men would all know but which many of the women would not, since the women would speak only a local dialect”. (72, Bailey taken from Surprised by Scripture) From this Wright states that because women did not understand the language spoken in the services, they would get bored and begin talking among themselves.
Bailey describes the scene in such a church as though the volume of the talking from the women would become disruptive–so much so that the minister would ask them to be quiet, and if they wanted to know what was being said to ask their husbands when they got home.
The important point to glean here is that Paul is not simply just calling women out and telling them to be silent.(full stop.) Rather, the context of the story tells us that in light of the language barrier that causes a disconnect for women during the sermon which then led to the women being being disruptive during the sermon, they are instructed to be silent.
Of course, there are many layers to this question, but I find the cultural context of the story helpful. Adding to that, 1 Corinthians 11:2-11 challenges the idea that women were not supposed to participate in worship primarily because Paul here gives instructions on “how women were to dress while engaging in such activities, instructions that obviously wouldn’t be necessary if they had been silent in church all the time.”(73, Wright)
There is much more that can be said on the matter, but I would again point you to those books. Bailey does a great job in showing how, contrary to Jesus favoring men to women, Jesus elevate the status of women, affirms their dignity, and breaks social taboos.(especially in one case just by talking to a Samaritan woman in public.) If you get Bailey’s book, I would suggest reading his chapter on Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.
This is just a start, I understand, but I hope it is a meaningful and encouraging one at that.