"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint." (1 Timothy 2:11-15)I believe that much of our problems in understanding these scriptures and in trying to apply them to our churches today stem from two main issues. First is the cultural differences between our world today and the world Paul lived in. Paul spoke and wrote to people in his day and, in many cases, did not feel it necessary to elaborate or clarify what he was saying because his audience instinctively understood what he meant. However, our lives are in many ways vastly different from life in the first century. We read Paul's writings but lack the innate cultural understanding of his hearers. It can leave us trying to figure out exactly what he meant and why he felt such commands were necessary. Secondly, much of what we call church today has little resemblance to the church of the first century. Many of our churches are operating in uncharted territory; devoid of a scriptural basis for their forms and customs. This can make it difficult to understand and apply Paul's apostolic traditions when our churches have become so dissimilar to his. Nevertheless, even with these two significant impediments to understanding and applying the words of Paul, I will do my best to explain what I believe. These are my personal beliefs and not those of any specific church I might be a part of.
Paul says that women should be quite in church. W.E. Vine defines this word as "indicates 'tranquillity arising from within,' causing no disturbance to others." This word is used elsewhere and translated as "quiet" as Vine says, "where it is associated with 'meek,' and is to characterize the spirit or disposition." (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words)
Thus it appears to me that Paul's instruction is not just for silence but for the cultivation of a character of soul that is peaceful, tranquil, and decorous. It is clear from other scriptures that Paul was not issuing a blanket statement that women should never talk or make a noise in church. For example, if women could not pray or prophesy in church then there would have been no reason for Paul to instruct them on how to do this. "But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head." (1 Corinthians 11:5) Certainly women are allowed to pray and prophesy in church provided she has "a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." (1 Corinthians 11:10) Moreover, there are other scriptures where Paul speaks to all those who are in the church. "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit..." (1 Corinthians 12:7) "But if all prophesy..." (1 Corinthians 14:24) "When you assemble, each one has..." (1 Corinthians 14:26) "For you can all prophesy one by one..." (1 Corinthians 14:31) I personally believe that when Paul spoke of "all" he was including both men and women.
So what is Paul trying to say? I don't believe that Paul is saying that a woman cannot speak, pray, prophesy, sing, read scripture, or even share from the inward witness of the Spirit within her. I believe that the early church was more interactive than our services today. Let's be honest, at least in most of the churches I've been a part of, everyone is to be silent while one is appointed as the head and the teacher. One teaches and the rest listen. However, I do not believe that was how the early church operated. Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent." (1 Corinthians 14:30) Imagine if that happened in your church next Sunday!
I believe that Paul instructed women to be quite for two reasons. First for order and harmony. He was attempting to prevent unruly women from disrupting and disquieting the assembly with their continual comments and questions. Yes, men can be unruly too but women tend to be more verbal about it. Secondly, for honor. Paul wrote that if a woman prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered she, "dishonors his head." (1 Corinthians 11:4 NKJV) He also says of a wife, "If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." (1 Corinthians 14:35) A woman who speaks presumptuously,or without restraint, can dishonor and disgrace her husband. Silence for the sake of order and honor is good an right in the sight of all. A wise woman will consider what she is going to say before she says it; not only to consider if it is the right time and place to speak, but also if in speaking she will be honoring or dishonoring her husband. It is the glory of a woman, in the interest of order, harmony, and honor, to remain silent.