In 1 Corinthians we’ve already had discussions of men and women in the first half of the letter. There Paul wrote about marriage and sexual relationships. After finishing a section on freedom and responsibility, he now returns to men and women and this time the emphasis is on worship.
That context should dictate much of how we understand this passage. It falls within several chapters on worship, from 1 Corinthians 11 to 14. You can just glance at the section subheadings (which I know are not part of the original, but usually do a fine job of helping you find your place), and you’ll see sections on dress in worship, the Lord’s Supper, gifts of the Spirit, the many members of the church body, speaking in tongues, and orderly worship. Besides giving us context, doing this is also a nice reminder that a letter like 1 Corinthians has form. It isn’t a random assortment of chapter-long nuggets of wisdom from Paul. He is making larger movements.
So in this context, he focuses on men and women. He wants to maintain some order and standard within the worship setting, laying out requirements for men who lead worship and women who lead. That is what we can take away from verses 4-5–both men and women are leading in this church setting in Corinth. Both pray and both prophesy, the latter of which is a public act.
This is a difficult passage, but that is one takeaway that can serve as a background to prayerfully go through the rest of this week’s reading.
Tomorrow we’ll look more closely at what concerns Paul about their worship, what may have been motivating certain actions in Corinth, and what he wants them to do about it.