Monday, May 30, 2011

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Headship, Head-coverings and other ' heady' subjects

TEXT : 1 Corinthians  11: 2- 16 
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[1].   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

[1] Galatians  3:28  does not blur this  distinction ; it refers to the  common gift of salvation  that all receive though Christ

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