Another passage used to deny women leadership in fundamentalist churches is I Cor 14:34
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
This passage assumed that the woman who was denied the opportunity to ask questions in the assembly also had the opportunity to ask her husband at home. The Greek words the apostle Paul used for “man” and “woman” also double for “husband” and “wife”, as in many languages. So the translator looks at the context to decide which the word means in this passage. Looking at the context, verses 31 and 37 were talking about prophets. It would be strange for Paul to have inserted this passage about women in between talking about prophets, unless this passage was also about prophets. So we could understand the passage to have said: “Wives [of prophets] should remain silent in the assemblies. If they want to inquire about something, [they are not allowed to interrupt their husbands prophesying because] they should ask their own husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a wife to interrupt her husband in the church.”
This restriction may also have had to do with the fact that men were educated in Corinth, to read, write and debate, but women were only educated to be housekeepers and mothers, the same as in Ephesus. Wives of prophets may have felt empowered and elevated, when they themselves did not have any special knowledge, and may have interrupted and explained what their husbands were saying, and then an argument would ensue between the husband and wife right in front of the whole assembly. I remember a song leader teaching a small assembly of about 20 people, a song he had composed about the resurrection story. His wife became embarrassed when he had difficulty with the song, and she kept asking him to stop and give up teaching the song.
In South Africa in rural villages among the Tswana people, if a woman does not like the sermon, she will start singing in the middle of a sermon; everyone will join in and the poor preacher has to stand there and wait until everyone is finished with the song before he can continue his sermon. The writer Kari Torjesen Malcolm said that when her mother was preaching in China in the 1950s she would repeatedly ask the women to be quiet. The women were usually cooped up at home and when they got a chance to see each other they wanted to chat.
Another thing that is often ignored when reading this passage is the fact that three chapters earlier the apostle Paul said that women should not pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered or unveiled, again appealing to their sense of propriety and custom in Corinth. Some have argued that these women were not leading in prayer or prophesying in the assembly, only in private with other women. But the passage, from at least the second half of chapter 11 to the end of chapter 14 is all about the assembly. And these women were seen to have taken their veils off to pray and prophesy. It was not shameful for women to see each other without their veils at that time, as far as we know; it was men that were not supposed to see them without their veils. So it is fairly safe to assume that they were praying and prophesying in the presence of men. Why would Paul waste valuable vellum by saying women needed to leave their veils on when praying or prophesying, then three chapters later say they may not pray and prophesy at all? Why not just stop them from praying and prophesying, then he wouldn’t have to tell them to leave their veils on?
The answer I think is that the women were allowed to pray and prophesy in the assembly. It was only the wives of the prophets, who were interrupting their husbands as they were teaching, that Paul asked to be silent.
There are other difficulties with the passage: the interesting phrase “as the law says”. Usually when the apostle Paul used the word “law” he was talking about the Law of Moses. But no law in the Law of Moses specifically said a woman must be in submission, or a wife must be in submission. (See also the comment by AO below, with important passages referred to.) So we would have to figure out what Paul had inferred from the law. Perhaps a clue is his explanation of the covering in I Cor 11 when he said that the man was the head (or source) of the woman, by God’s creation, as he also said in I Tim 2.
But to use this passage directed to the Corinthians in the first century AD to say that all women everywhere may not speak in the assembly is a misuse of the passage.