Were Women Silent at Pentecost?by Jon Zens
The events portrayed in Acts 1:14-2:18 conclusively show that the "women must be silent in the assembly" conviction is highly suspect. What happened on the Day of Pentecost contradicts this position. Why?Because men and women prayed in the upper room. Acts 1:14, "These all were continuing steadfastly one minded in prayer with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." There is simply no indication in the text that only males prayed as the 120 disciples were gathered in one place (Acts 1:15). This corresponds to 1 Corinthian 11:5, "every woman that prays...."Women spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:1 tells us that the 120 men and women "were all with one accord in one place." When the power of the Lord came "it filled all the house where they were sitting." (2:2). Then tongues were distributed upon "each one of them."The Greek is very emphatic: no one was left out of this glorious event (hena hekaston auton). Each and every one of the male and female disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in the various languages of those foreigners who had come to Jerusalem (2:4). There is nothing in these texts to suggest that only the men spoke in tongues. It is very clear that both sexes spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. This corresponds to 1 Corinthians11:5, "every woman who prophesies...."In the midst of the confusion and amazement going on in the crowd, Peter stands up and interprets what is occurring. No, these 120 people are not drunk as some surmised (9a.m. is too early for this kind of behavior!). Instead, this manifestation of God's glory is a fulfillment of what Joel the prophet said would happen: "It will come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and daughters will prophesy . . . on my male slaves and female slaves I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy" (2:17-18).It needs to be underscored that Peter is not uttering these words in a vacuum. The "fit" Peter made was between the male/female participation the audience had just seen with their own eyes and the ancient words of Joel, " men and women will prophesy." Brothers and sisters in Christ had just prophesied the wonderful works of God when the Day of Pentecost was fully come!We are committed to the fact that one Scripture does not contradict another. If this is true, then those who teach that women must be silent in the assembly face an insurmountable difficulty. If there is no textual basis to affirm that women were silent in the upper room prayer meeting, and if women were not silent on the birthday of the Ekklesia, would it not be passing strange to think that female silence would be the norm in assembly life in all the years to come?If the silence position is correct, would we not expect to see only brothers functioning in the upper room and on the day of Pentecost? How can we be asked to accept the notion that women could pray and prophesy in the context of Joel's fulfillment on the Day of Pentecost, but not at all in the gathering of the saints in the days ahead?We are told that immediately all the saints continued daily in the temple and were breaking bread from house to house (2:46). Does it make any sense to believe that after women functioned in prayer and prophesy from the time of Christ's ascension through the Day of Pentecost, that after that day they were suddenly silent in the meetings? Wouldn't the natural thing be to assume that women would continue to function as Joel predicted until the day of the Lord, not that the feminine faucet would be turned off in Christian gatherings after Pentecost?In all seriousness, how would Mary, who prayed in the upper room with the men and then spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost, come to the conclusion several days after Pentecost that she was to be silent in a 1 Corinthians14-type assembly? She would have no basis at all from God's Word for such a dead-end train of thought. She knew for certain that Peter cited Joel's remarks about men and women prophesying in the Messianic age. She had solid evidence that encouraged her to use her gifts, and nothing from the Lord that required her silence.Since other Scriptures will not contradict the evidence of Acts 1 and 2, wouldn't sound hermeneutics demand that we search for answers concerning 1 Corinthians14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 in other directions than muzzling the sisters in our gatherings? Everything in Paul's line of thought in 1 Corinthians11-14 assumes the involvement of both sexes -- "every many praying or prophesying," "every woman praying or prophesying," "You may all prophesy one by one," "each one of you has a song, a teaching, a tongue."Yes, Paul had concerns about the functioning of the ladies, but silencing them in the meetings is an outright contradiction of other significant evidence in the New Testament, and is clearly at odds to how the sisters ministered on the Day of Pentecost. Isn't the tail wagging the dog if two Scriptures are used to sweep away what is clearly suggested by many other New Testament settings?Isn't it a hermeneutical stretch to ask us to believe that it was okay for women to prophesy on the birthday of Christ's body, but after that it is wrong for them to prophesy when the church comes together for a 1 Corinthians14 gathering? With the silence position in place, how can we honestly talk about having open, participatory meetings? The truth is, you are just having a brothers' meeting with the sisters present.I appeal to those of you who hold to, or lean toward, the female silence view to reconsider this position in light of what actually happened in the context of the Day of Pentecost. I ask you to consider that Peter's citation of Joel must have some hermeneutical priority. In Messiah's community, the men and women will both pray and prophesy.And where does Paul wish for prophecy to be central? In the 1 Corinthians14 meeting of the church. Does it ring true to you that women could prophesy on the Day of Pentecost, but not when the assembly comes together? Why was it okay at the church's birth, but not in it's future growth?It appears to me that the silence position does not have Scripture on its side. It will not do to simplistically cite two passages as if that closes the door to discussion. The silence position has the practical effect of pitting two Scriptures against many others.The setting of the Spirit's coming on the Day of Pentecost reveals women and men functioning side by side in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Why would the Lord start off the life of the Ekklesia with feminine participation, and then silence them in every 1 Corinthians14 gathering after that? Such evidence as this points to seeing 1 Corinthians14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 against the assumed backdrop of proper female ministry, instead of using them to silence the sisters.I know those who take the silence view usually mean well, and seek to be faithful to God's Word, but after years of study my conclusion that it is wrong and hurtful to effectively cancel out a forest of feminine ministry by just myopically focusing on two trees.What do you think?