TITLE: Headship , head-coverings and other ‘heady’ subjects
DATE : 29 /05 /2011
We are now coming to a new section in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians – an exciting one , may I add . He is now beginning to deal with the life of worship in the church and he does so by addressing the various difficulties that they are having in this respect.
I would like to show you by way of a brief overview what lies ahead in the rest of this letter :
(i) 11: 1-16 : The relationship between men and women in the church , and the position of women in creation and in the public worship of the church.
(ii) 11:17-34 : The proper administration of the Lord’s supper in the worship of the church .
(iii) 12: 1- 31 : The nature and application of spiritual gifts in the church .
(iv) 13:1-13 : Biblical love : Understanding the true heart of the church – the expression of the heart of worship .
(v) 14: 1- 40 : The subject of the practice of spiritual gifts continued in the light of Chapter 13 – a discussion on order in worship .
(vi) 15-58 : The important doctrine of the resurrection defended .
(vii) 16: 1-4 : The regular collection of money to sustain God’s work in the world .
(viii) 16:5-24 : Final exhortations and greetings .
Chapters 11-14 deal with matters of worship. Four issues challenge the life of worship in this church :
(i) A lack of understanding of the order and role of sexes. (Ch 11:1-16)
(ii) Abuse of the Lord’s supper ( 11:17-34)
(iii) A lack of understanding concerning the spiritual gifts ( Ch's 12 &14)
(iv) A lack of understanding the nature of biblical love ( Ch 13)
We shall deal now with the first aspect which stifles the life of worship in this church – an improper understanding of the God designed nature and role of the sexes ! This is no small thing and our text is not an easy one, partially because of difficult verses like v. 10 “ A wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head , because of the angels” and partially because of the emotional debates that have been raging around the subject of headship by people who don’t like this explicit teaching on male headship and female submission.
The particular issue of our text has to do with a “tradition“ which distinguished between a man publicly praying or prophesying and a woman praying or prophesying. In those days women in the churches , as a visible act of submission to their men wore a symbol of submission , a veil over their head , whilst praying or prophesying . In Corinth it seems that the women did not follow that tradition . They did not wear a head covering whilst praying or prophesying. That is the issue. I trust that you will now better understand Paul’s argument as it unfolds .
11:2 : Now I commend you (NIV “praise you” ) because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you . Some commentators have found this positive commendation somewhat surprising , for what follows has little commendation in it . We shall see that twice he tells them in this chapter that he cannot commend them at all (see Ch 11: 17 & 22)
11:3 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. Under the general heading of ‘worship’ we find here Paul’s first great burden . He states his burden by way of laying down a principle or doctrine . I often remind you that doctrine determines practice . Well , what is the doctrine here ? It is the matter of authority and order in God and in creation . In this text you will notice that God is the head of Christ , Christ is the head of man ; man is the head of woman . The matter of authority and order with respect to man and woman must not be confused with one being inferior to the other. The order relates not to essence but to function and what is true of God is true of man also . God the Father is the head of Christ , but both God and Christ (and the Holy Spirit) are God . They are one in essence, but functionally they are different ! The Father does not die on the cross , and the Son does not send Himself to this earth . He says “ My Father has sent me” and He speaks about the commandments that the Father has given me . In the same way man and woman are in essence mankind. They are equally valuable , but they are functionally different . This system of order created by God in the beginning provides us with an application in church worship:
11:4 -5a Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—
It appears that in this church women were ignoring the tradition of wearing a head covering whilst praying or prophesying. Paul saw this as an act of outright disrespect for created order and authority , and he reasons further …
11: 5b- 6 …it is the same as if her head were shaven. 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.
Paul is reminding them here that a woman praying or prophesying without a head covering would be as shameful as if she would be appearing in public with a shaved head. Such a woman had lost a sign or a mark of her femininity. It might also have been a mark of a sexually immoral woman . The punishment for a woman caught in sexual misconduct was a shaved head . A sign of a shaved head might also be the sign of a lesbian woman who tried to blur her gender by shaving her hair . So , Paul was saying that if a woman was really serious about no longer being honored as a woman she might as well remove everything that was suggestive of her femininity . Clearly Paul has a high esteem of a woman’s distinctive appearance .
We take note then that the tradition of the head covering was making a theological statement.
11:7 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.
Now to be sure we must affirm that both men and women are made in the image of God. ( Gen 1:27) . What Paul is saying is not that the woman is no image bearer, but there is a difference in the way in which the woman was created . Both are made for the glory of God, but there is a difference in how they were created and therefore how that glory is displayed.
11:8-9 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
The Bible teaches that God created the man from the dust of the earth and that He created the woman from man. The Bible also teaches that the woman was created to be help-meet for the man.(Gen 2:18-23)
Now as man fulfills his duty to God through his manly dominion , he demonstrates the glory of God . The woman demonstrates God’s glory by helping her husband . She glorifies God by helping man. She glorifies God by being man’s glory.
So back to Paul’s point . It is because of this distinction between man and woman - that there ought to be a sign of differentiation between men and women. This is what the head-covering did , and so Paul says …
11:10 That is why a wife ( woman ) ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
The argument is not easy to follow. But now it really gets obscure ! What on earth does this reference to the angels mean ? Most commentators struggle to understand this. I shall make a humble attempt by suggesting two possibilities :
1. Since the angels are holy and sinless beings who serve mankind as ministering spirits , it could mean that we should always be mindful to live holy lives in the presence of the holy angels who are always watching us.
2. Biblical precedent shows that angels had also been tempted in terms of disobeying authority . When Satan rebelled , he took a third of the angels with him in his rebellion ( Rev 12:4) . In Jude v.6 we have a mysterious statement concerning ‘ the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home …’ . Could this possibly mean that rebellion and lack of respect for authority by mankind might present a temptation for the angels who are ministering spirits given by God to serve mankind ? All this seems to put a lot of pressure on women to be careful not to despise authority !
But now Paul gives us a sense of balance before men start to feel superior
Vv 11-12 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Yes, it is true that the woman was created as a helpmeet for man . Yes, she was created out of man . But that being done , we are reminded that every man since then has come out of a woman ! Most importantly however we must remember that ULTIMATELY all things ( men and women) are from God. Ultimately we all owe our existence to God and not to man and not to woman .
So back to the matter of head- covering one more time :
V.13 – 15 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Men in history and in various culture have worn long hair , but generally and universally speaking a woman is better known for wearing long hair than short hair. Paul says that long hair is a woman’s glory . It is her touch of femininity . It is in the nature of things . And it appears that in the Corinthian culture and tradition this was understood , and a woman’s long hair was seen in fact as a covering and distinctive sign of her womanhood .
And so Paul concludes:
V. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
Paul now feels that he has spoken enough on this subject . If anyone disagrees with this , then remember that this is the practice or tradition of the churches and it is as if he is saying " now hold your peace and get on with it" . This tradition is after all rooted in a biblical principle. The principle is that women ought to visibly submit themselves to their men in worship .
We have spent a long time on getting the text sorted out . But now let us seek to summarize and apply what we have learned here .
1. God made men and women different by divine design . God expects us to honour and uphold that order and not rebel against it. The roles of men and women are not interchangeable any less than the roles between God the Father and God the Son, and between Christ and man are interchangeable. God made woman to be different from man and the differences between them are very wise and very good. To honour this arrangement not only worships God , but it is also important to the happiness and welfare of mankind. Sadly we see that man in his sinful state rebels against this order , and suffers ! So , headship is God’s idea - not ours . It is for our happiness and not for our frustration .
2. Traditions that underline this theological principle are not always bad , provided that they illustrate the biblical truth and not become an end in themselves.
3. Should women wear veils today as signs of submission ( e.g. as Muslim women do ) ? It is not generally our culture today as it was in the day of the Corinthian church , and therefore we should not press such detail . But the principle still stands , and therefore the veil should be worn in a spiritual sense over their hearts and the mouths of godly women , who by their godly behaviour do more good than by their many words and attitudes. 1 Peter 3:1-6 gives a good guideline in this regard.
4. Even though Jesus has freed us from the law , He has not erased the distinctions between men and women in the roles they ought to carry out. Perhaps these distinctions will be erased when Christ returns - I am not sure . Jesus dis say that we will become like the angels. Maybe that means the removal of all male-female distinctions. We don’t know. But for now they remain , and we do well to ensure that while we live on this earth we shall continue to glorify God through our obedience . Amen