1 Corinthians 14:34,35
Bart D. Ehrman, in Forged, page 245, suggests that the apostle Paul was not really the author of this passage, meaning that it could be a later interpolation inserted into his epistle. First of all, he says that immediately before these verses, Paul is talking about prophecy in the church, then immediately afterwards he is once again talking about prophecy. This passage on women interrupts the flow of the argument.
Ehrman finds it hard to believe that Paul would tell women that they could not speak in church, here in 1 Corinthians 14, when just three chapters earlier he indicated that they could do so. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul urges women who pray and prophesy in church to do so only with veils on their heads. If they were allowed to speak in chapter 11, he asks how they could be told not to speak in chapter 14.
It would be convenient to regard Romans 16:1 as confirming that Paul treated women as equals, and supporting 1 Corinthians 11. It is, nevertheless, inconvenient that this too may have been part of an interpolation, although for different reasons than 1 Corinthians 14:34,35. As long as any doubt exists as to the provenance of Romans 16:1, it can not be regarded as reliable evidence that the church treated women as equal to men during Paul's time.
1 Timothy 3
This implies a deacon is a male (with reference to the fact that he must have one wife). On the face of it, this conflicts with the report that Phoebe was a deacon. But once again, this does not give us any insight into Paul's thinking.
Bart D. Ehrman says the Epistles to Timothy were pseudepigrapha, written long after the death of Paul, containing ideas and words that Paul never used. In Forged, page 98, Ehrman refers to an important study of the pastoral letters written by the British scholar A. N. Harrison in 1921, in which he gave numerous statistics about the word usage in these writings. One of his most cited set of numbers is that there are 848 different words used in the pastoral letters. Of that number 306, or more than one third, do not occur in any of the other Pauline letters of the New Testament. That is an inordinately high number, especially as about two thirds of these 306 words were used by Christian authors living in the second century. That suggests that this author is using a vocabulary that was becoming more common after the days of Paul, and that he lived after Paul.
- First Corinthians chapter 11 suggests that Paul welcomed women who spoke in church.
- Romans 16:1 describes Phoebe as a deacon, which certainly suggests that women were permitted to speak, but there is some uncertainty as to whether this verse (and those which follow) were part of Paul's letter. In favour of it is that, even if Paul did not write this verse, the real author believed that a female deacon would not be regarded as unusual. It therefore stands as potential evidence that there were female deacons in the early church.
- First Corinthians 14:34,35 contradicts the evidence of 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 16:1, but Ehrman presents a credible case that these verses were added by an anonymous interpolator in a later period of Christian history.
- First Timothy chapter 3 seems to rule out that Phoebe was a deacon, with the overall suggestion that women were to be submissive in church. This is widely acknowledged as written in the second century and therefore does little to inform us on the position in the first decades of the church.
On balance, women were probably active and vocal in the church while Paul was alive.