Is it scriptural for a woman to speak out during a public worship service to answer a question asked by the preacher? Is it scriptural for a woman to say "amen" at the close of public prayers? I have noticed this being done lately, and I thought women were to keep silent in the assembly during worship. I know she can teach in Bible classes as long as she is not usurping authority over a man. Should a preacher ask questions from the pulpit that would cause others to answer out loud? Thank you for taking my questions
"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. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (I Corinthians 14:34-37).
These verses come immediately after giving rules for how prophecy (words given by God) were to be delivered to the assembly. In particular, Paul tells the Corinthians that only a few prophets were to speak at each assembly (I Corinthians 14:29) and that each must take a turn while the others remain silent (I Corinthians 14:30-31). The word "silent" used in I Corinthians 14:30 and the one in I Corinthians 14:34. It means complete silence. Yet the silence does not apply to the entire service. Otherwise, these prophets could not fulfill the commands to sing (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16).
In the same way, the silence of the women is not one where no sound is uttered the entire service, for they too are commanded to sing. Yet Paul is clearly stating that a woman is not to question or comment on the information being presented during the worship service. Questions are to be addressed in private, such as at home, and not in the public arena.
I Timothy 2:11-15, which reads, "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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control," would prohibit a woman from participating in worship in a leadership role. The word "silence" in this passage does not refer to absolute silence, but a quiet demeanor. Still, Paul is prohibiting a woman from leading the congregation in prayer, song, or instruction.
Notice the phrase "just as the law also says" in I Corinthians 14:34. I am not certain exactly what Paul had in mind, but I was curious about the saying of "amen" back under the Old Law. When a woman, accused of adultery, was asked if she agreed to the test by the priest, she was to respond with "amen" (Numbers 5:22). When Moses read the curses of the Law in Deuteronomy 27, all the people, including the women, were to say "amen" to indicate their agreement and acceptance of the conditions. When the ark was brought to Jerusalem, both men and women gathered to worship (I Chronicles 16:3). After David's praise of God, "all the people said, "Amen!" and praised the LORD" (I Chronicles 16:36). A similar joint "amen" was given by all the people in Nehemiah 5:13. As the law was read once again, "And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground" (Nehemiah 8:6). Thus while Paul states that the Old Law also had the women keep silent during worship, it appears that this did not include the saying of amen when it was appropriate both in and out of worship assemblies.
Should a preacher ask questions of women in the audience during worship? Even if one could prove that Paul's prohibition against speaking in the assembly did not include answering direct questions, still the asking would be unfair in general since there are many who believe it is forbidden. A woman would be placed in an awkward spot of possibly violating her conscience or the conscience of others around her (Romans 14:23; I Corinthians 10:32-33).
Should a preacher avoid asking any questions at all that might encourage a person to answer? Here a person must prove that all speaking, by both men and women in the audience, is forbidden. If we acknowledge that women are not to speak in the assembly, then it doesn't follow that a preacher should ask a general question where a woman might be tempted to answer. It would be moving the responsibility for not speaking from the women to the preacher. It would be a case of, "It's not my fault! It's the preacher's fault for asking a wide-open question;" that is, it would be a case of passing the buck regarding one's sins. Those speaking should not encourage the women to violate the command of God, but the responsibility for following the command remains on those to whom the command was given.