Once again in Corinthians we are today upon one of the stranger passages of Scripture that is both difficult to understand and even more difficult to apply. And, also once again, I’m reminded as to why I’ve not done repetitive sermon series on these letters, especially this first epistle.
Complicating our understanding of this passage is the cultural milieu of two millennia ago. In talking about head coverings for women, there is certainly a reality to that from the Jewish background. Less is known of the traditions of Greek women, though surely it was less likely, if at all.
Beyond this, there is quite a mixed interpretation of Greek words by scholars who have commented on this passage. And many of these terms could have a wide variety of connotations from one historical period to another, or from one place to another. How much is the passage talking about head coverings versus hair? How much is it referencing men and women, versus husbands and wives?
Remember also that we are talking about Corinth, the “Las Vegas / Sin City” of the ancient world. Loose cultural patterns (that don’t seem like a big deal to us) may well have found their way into the meeting of the church, causing disorder and disruption.
Maybe an illustration would help at this point. Imagine if some of the ladies within the women’s ministry at TSF decided to more largely promote their place within the church family. Toward that end they decided to dress in a very colorful way with evening wear, fancy hair, and make-up applied in such a way as when going to a ball or a New Year’s Eve formal celebration. This would draw attention; and then add to that some aggressive ways of being very publicly involved in the service – actively in the worship time, while leading out loudly in prayers and praises. That might create a bit of a “scene.” And even if it was all done with genuinely good intentions, there might be more than a bit of distraction and disorder coming from it.
There is no doubt that women had a lesser role socially in these times of antiquity, being more subordinate in all other ways. This would be true as well for even more recent history in our own cultural setting.
Yet it is undoubtedly true also that the gospel message and the life of the church family raised women to a higher standard than what existed in that culture. Many passages point to this truth.
Even so, Paul, especially among biblical writers, teaches that there is a divine order. And we see that in this passage where he says that woman came from man as a helper for him, not the other way around. There is a divine order of life administration … God > Man > Woman. And that may sound rather sexist, surely flying into the face of our current cultural conversation on the equality of gender roles. To begin to answer that, consider that there is an “administrative order” even within the Godhead … Father > Son > Spirit. The Holy Spirit is no less divine, yet the Spirit operates in unified submission to the Father and the Son.
As well, this passage does come right out and say that men and women are fully interdependent. Each needs the other and cannot ultimately function and live successfully without the other. This is true in church life. We’d fold up as a church without the roles that women play in making the family of faith a success. And it would likewise be true that a church of all women would be lacking in all that would be needed for a successful congregation of God’s people.
As with so many topics related to the institution of the church (e.g. spiritual gifts, generations), both genders are needed and are ultimately interdependent. Gifts, generations, genders … we could call this The Ecclesiastical 3G Network. Actually, let’s expand that to a 5G – God, gospel, gifts, generations, genders. Oohh… I like that … that could be a sermon series!
1 Corinthians 11:2 – I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
11:7 – A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
11:13 – Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.