One: 1 Corinthians 11.2-16
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:2–11:16
Good Morning! Today we continue our series ONE on the book of 1 Corinthians, in chapter 11:2-13. We have to have an understanding we when we come to text like this one that we are not unbiased neutral judges. We are individuals and a people who live in specific time and place that leads us to certain prejudices and preconceived notions of what is right and wrong. This create blind spots and obstacles to really hear what words written 2,000 years ago and half a world away are trying to communicate. We also have to remember this is one section of a larger letter written to the church that is one part of an entire volume that unpacks a big story of big God doing big things to redeem a fallen world.
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For 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 was not made from woman, but woman from man.9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. I Cor 11:2-16
This is one of the most difficult and controversial text in the New Testament, if not the entire bible. There are whole Christian traditions who regularly read through each NT text in their services over the course of a few years that intentionally skip this text. I can understand why. There are a lot of difficulties with trying to even understand this text and aspects of it that seem so culturally bound and distant. This leads many to say we can’t glean any doctrine or teaching on the role of men/women or husbands/wives. But there are some things in this section that are incredibly clear. We may not personally like what it has to say. What is our attitude towards and use of the Bible? Does political correctness overrule biblical authority?
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness 2 Tim 3:16
…Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16
Before we can dive into what this text is trying to teach us today we have to understand what it is saying.
What is happening in Corinth?
Paul opens this next section in verse 2 commending the church in Corinth for maintaining certain teachings and traditions he taught them. This includes the simple act of gathering together for a worship service that includes preaching, prayer, prophesy, and communion with active and vibrant participation from all. However, there are several aspects of the service he finds troubling or that need correction. Apparently, while there is a lot of freedom/liberty in worshiping the crucified and risen Jesus Christ compared to dead ridge religion, some order and structure needs to remain in place. So he talks about specific details of hairstyles and head coverings in the service. The Corinthian church was made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews. They each had their specific worship practices. For the Roman men it included taking their toga pulling it over their head during temple sacrifices. In the Jewish services the men wore a head covering. Little consideration was given to the women at all, they were not counted in the membership rolls of the synagogues, they were not allowed to speak, and were kept behind a curtain separating them from the men entirely. In public society, both men and women wore similar robe-like togas. The most significant way men and women would distinguish themselves is men would wear their hair short but possibly grow facial hair, while the women would grow their hair long, but wear it up as a sign of dignity, usually covered, particularly for married women. When the church gathered for the purpose of worshipping together they didn’t “dress up” for service, they simply came dressed as they were in their normal everyday attire.
According to the reports Paul heard, during the service women were getting up to pray or to say what they thought the Lord was teaching them. For a woman to get to participate actively in a service was a new and unique opportunity it was one of the few places in society they were able to experience some equality and liberty. In their excitement they would uncover or let down there hair. Again this seems like no big deal to us. The specifics of what they were doing weren’t as important as what it communicated. Wives, letting their hair down communicated something in that culture, intentionally or not, to the others in the service. Having your hair down in that culture was the same as identifying yourself as a prostitute, or at best a single woman of loose morals. Taking off their covering said they were renouncing or disrespecting the relationship they had with their husband, it would be like bra burning mixed with tossing their wedding ring today. In enjoying some liberty they had gone beyond even what was acceptable in their pagan culture. These women had become a distraction in the service; they had publicly humiliated their husbands, and upset the design and intentions God had for the relationships between men and women in marriage and in the life of the church. What they were doing wasn’t progressive to be celebrated, it was disgraceful to be corrected. In addressing a specific issue at one time in one church, there are several foundational truths for all churches. The application of these truths will necessarily vary across cultures but the spirit behind them and the importance of them remain unchanging and timeless.
Men and Women are Under Authority
We are not the supreme beings of the universe, we are not the height of an evolutionary process. There is a God who is bigger and more powerful that we are. He is a God of mystery but also a God of order. Verse 3 lays out a clearly how he had distributed His authority to accomplish His purposes. God the Father is the authority over God the Son. The Son, Jesus Christ perfectly, willingly and joyfully submits to the will of the Father. Christ is the head over all men. All men, literally everyone, should willingly and joyfully submit themselves to the will of Jesus Christ the King. God has designed marriage to reflect this model of authority with the husband as the head of his wife. This is difficult for us to hear because our greatest value in society is equality, so we reject anything we don’t understand that may seem to contradict that value.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, Eph 5:22-25
A husband’s headship is one of sacrificial, self-giving love. There are few biblical guidelines for wives while a husband’s responsibilities to his wife and his family numerous and detailed. Men as husbands, we need to consistently step up, not in domination of, or control over, our wives, but challenging ourselves to love our wives more sacrificially as God has called us to. This is how we display we are under God’s authority. Wives show they recognize God’s authority in their lives by submitting to their husbands. The women in Corinth had publicly rejected their husbands’ authority over them in service by how they wore their hair. In doing so they were also rejecting God’s authority over them. It was shameful. Paul says in verse 5 it is as if there head was shaved. To have your head shaved as women in that culture was to be identified as either a slave or guilty of adultery. Their actions were not symbols of liberty or willing submission to the Lord but of bondage to sin. They were not acting as daughters of the King but as daughters of Eve who God said because of the curse of sin, Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Gen 3:16b Meaning, sin will cause wives to want to take their husband’s office or authority. He will either respond by sinfully asserting dominance or sinfully submitting to his wife where God has called him to lead. Both a wife’s rejection of her husband’s authority and a husband’s abdication, or abuse, of his authority are ultimately a rejection of God’s authority as the Creator of men and women.
Men and women, do you actions and attitudes show God and others you are under authority?
Men and Women are Created Distinct
Throughout this text there are numerous distinctions made across gender lines. Most have to do with culturally specific hair styles and head coverings, but it all point back God as the creator of distinctions. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27. Note there are only two genders listed. God did not create us to be unisex or transsexual. This is before sin entered the world. God’s perfect design for humanity is expressed by two distinct genders, male and female. Sin has corrupted this, so individuals, sub-cultures, and how societies have from time-to-time rebelled against this simplest of concept of males and females are created fundamentally different. This has become so confused in our culture during most of our lifetimes. 20 years ago Time magazine actually ran a cover story declaring “new study shows males and females are actually born different” because it apparently was in question. Today a male-female dichotomy isn’t always assumed.
Every culture has its unique ways of displaying or denoting masculinity and femininity. These should be adhered to by Christians in the culture who seek to acknowledge God created them male or female. But there are also inherent visible cues given to distinguish between the genders, particularly hair as mentioned in verse 13, that can either be glorious or shameful. Pagan stoic Philosopher Epictetus says in 1st century “Can anything be more useless than hairs on the chin? Well what then? Has not nature used even these in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between male and female?”
What the women in Corinth were doing in publically rejecting their husbands was apparently a flagrant enough rejection of their femininity Paul tells them can either choose to cut their hair short (culturally passing themselves off as men) or embrace their God ordained femaleness by visibly embracing culturally appropriate feminine appearance. Specifically, maintain their symbol of marriage with a head covering.
Not because the visible distinction is important on its own, or that we should be beholden to every societal stereotype. But because of how our outward actions or appearance reflect the inward orientation of our hearts. For the same reason this text reminds the men are to avoid appearing or carrying themselves in a way that is culturally feminine or female because it is a disgraceful denial of his God-given masculinity. Because God has authority over all things, including our gender, Christian men are to show they are inwardly submissive to His authority by outwardly embracing their male-ness in appearance and action. This means leading, initiating, cultivating, and serving in your marriage, in your home, in your church, in your community. Sitting back, avoiding responsibility, failing to speak or act is not biblical masculinity.
Men and women do your actions and attitudes show God and others you are a distinct creation?
Men and Women are Created Equal
Something easily missed in the text is the radical gender equality displayed here. Paul anticipates a common human error in how we see distinctions. We assume when things are naturally different that one must be naturally better than another. Giving clear instruction on authority in marriage roles and gender conduct in within the church Paul wants to make sure this doesn’t wrongly lead to assumptions of inequality or male superiority. This has been a common problem across generations and cultures. Currently its manifest in governmentally oppressive places like China where the one child policy has led them to the highest male skewed gender imbalance in known history, and socially liberal places like France where feminist who two generations ago protested to allow abortions are now protesting the high rate of gender specific abortions as French women consistently use their “choice” keep boy babies and discard their girls. And religions like strict Islam where women cannot drive or be educated or FLDS where few men take many women, including young teenage girls, as wives. This is a result of sin not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28
Faithful, biblical, Christianity has been and will continue to be a force that frees women from servitude and oppression. Christians should never accept a charge from the unbelieving world that the bible teaches, endorse, or encourages male dominance or a low view of women. Biblical male headship is NOT a mandate for male oppression. Women are created in the image of God, and men have no greater worth because of their God-given responsibility to lead. Distinct does not mean inferior. You can be distinct and equal simultaneously. Authority of the man does not make him superior. Back in verse three Paul points back to the trinity, God (the Father) as head over God the Son (Jesus Christ) to show there is no diminishing wives or women by them having different roles. The Son is no less God then the Father, they are distinct and they are equal. From creation, both men and women are equal image bearers of God. As Christians, 2 Cor 5:17 men and women are new creations in Christ. In a Roman/Jewish/Greek culture where women were societally worth less than men, Christian brothers and sisters are equal, yet distinct in the eyes of the Lord. Both have authority over them, gender distinctions to maintain, and roles to fulfill. Additionally, unlike the other religious practiced, both men and women have a vibrant role and responsibility to pray and share God’s word with the congregation while maintaining God-given order. Women are not told to never speak, but do so in a way that both acknowledges and respects relationship they have with their husbands and God and the authority God has given to husbands in the family and men in the family of families the church. Under God’s authority men and women are made distinct yet absolutely equal.
Men and women do your actions or attitudes show God and others you see others as equal creations?
Men and Women are Dependent
Our equality should not lead us to greater independence as the world would define it. Men and women are created by God distinct yet equal, not separate yet equal. Men and women become new creations in Christ doesn’t mean we have or celebrate independence from each other, it means we share, celebrate, and participate in our interdependence of one another. Husbands and wives are to live in total interdependence as God had designed. They are dependent on one another and are to complement one another. Covering and filling in each other’s insufficiencies. They are closely knit together. She is his glory (meaning he cannot be glorious without her) and bears his authority; they are united as one flesh and inseparable. He is for her and she is for him.
This means neither gender can boast over the other because we need each other. Yes it says 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. Yet verse 12 says Husbands have no advantage over wives because Adam was created before Eve because all men since have been born of women. God created men and women share equality an origin in biological natural birth. God is the ultimate source of all things including men and women as male and female, and the type of relationships they are to have with each other. All aspects of relationships, birth, married life, church life are all designed and given us by God. Relying on each other and depend on each other, as spouses and as brothers and sisters in Christ is essential as a body of believers. It tells each other, the world around us, and ultimately God we are dependent on Him and trusting Him, because we are relating to each other not based on our personal or societal desires but on His divine design.
Men and Women do your actions and attitudes show God and others you are dependent on Him?
Men and Women are Worshipers
What is the purpose of public worship? Why are you here? Is it learn more about and possibly have an encounter with Jesus Christ, the living God of the bible, through the preaching/ hearing of His word and worship in with praise in song and offering? Or is it so somehow glorify yourself? We were created for a purpose, to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We have failed and will fail in our purpose. So we are completely dependent on a gracious and merciful God. This is why Christian men and women worship Jesus, because God show His mercy and Grace to us and for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not account equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Wives, no act or attitude of submission will ever compare with pain and humiliation Jesus endured on the cross so you could be free to live as God has intended you to under the authority of your husband. Husbands no act of provision or protection will ever compare with what Jesus perfectly accomplished for His bride he church so you could live a life of self-sacrificial love for your bride.
For all of us together, we worship the crucified and risen Jesus, as men and women created For God, redeemed By God, giving glory to God, by being what God has created us to be, male or female.
1 Peter 1:22-25