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How are men and women to behave and relate to one another in the church? This question and this particular passage have been on the minds of many in recent times. For many, the passage before us has been regarded as a major hill to be taken in an interpretive battle. But the teaching of 2:11-15 is just one piece in a larger puzzle, and by itself it is incapable of providing a complete answer. Specific circumstances required Paul to answer the question asked above in specific ways. The concern here will not be to generalize those specifics but rather to set out the issues that Paul addressed and those that we must consider in the church today.
When Paul instructed men and women (some think husbands and wives were specifically in view) in his churches (see also 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-35), the immediate problem was disturbances in the worship service. On the one hand, changing attitudes about the man-woman relationship led women to assert themselves in the worship service in ways that threatened unity and perhaps also reflected a disregard for biblical and cultural distinctions between men and women. Disruptions by women included inquiring about the meaning of prophecies (1 Cor 14:33-35) and teaching men (1 Tim 2:11-12). But the present passage also reveals that the anger and arguments of some men were contributing to the disruption of the church's worship service. As pointed out above (see on 2:1), Paul drew upon certain material in such cases in order to restore peace to the community by encouraging appropriate behavior. In this his concern both for biblical patterns and for the perceptions of those outside of the church is evident.
His instructions are given in two parts. First, they encourage cooperative behavior among men in the worship service in relation to the specific task of prayer outlined above. Second, women are instructed concerning appropriate dress and then concerning appropriate behavior in the worship setting in relation to teaching.