November 4, 2015
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
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.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.
TO THOSE SANCTIFIED IN CHRIST JESUS AND CALLED TO BE HIS HOLY PEOPLE (i.e. “US”):
This is perhaps the most challenging passage in the letter to properly interpret because it is so laden with first century cultural and contextual issues which are, for all practical purposes, impossible to competently interpret and confidently understand. As a result, where there is a vacuum of understanding, the proliferation of interpretations abound.
Perhaps the main way this text has been interpreted through the centuries is with respect to authority relationships between men and women. Because I am an elf among giants in the realm of biblical interpreters who have taken on this text through the ages, I will tread with great caution in any assertions I make, and stay close to the holdings of my trusted teachers.
- First, note the only use of the word authority (exousia in Greek) comes in v. 10 and relates to a woman’s authority over her own head.
- All of Paul’s usage of “head” terminology has nothing to do with “authority” else he would have used “authority” language to articulate it, as he did in v. 10 (see point #1).
- Gender matters. This issue of the covering or not covering the “head” and with respect to one’s hair has to do with the apparent blurring of gender distinctions going on in ancient Corinth. Paul’s effort here is to sort that out in the terms of theology and relationship rather than of power and authority.
- The relationships intended by God between men and women are not framed in terms of hierarchy and subordination but in the framework of mutual submission. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.
- In this ancient context, public worship served as a venue where these complexities were symbolically signed and demonstrated. The issue Paul seems to get at is that gender distinctions matter not with respect to power and authority but as relates to the glory of God. There exists an undeniable complementary distinctiveness between men and women but this distinctiveness is not meant to construct relationships on a hierarchical power oriented framework but to shape complementary, interdependent, mutually submissive relationships to the end of demonstrating the glory of God.
- For Paul, the big massive overarching and overwhelming deal here is God. As he puts it, “But everything comes from God.”
It strikes me that today’s text, as convoluted as it may seem based on two thousand years of cultural, geographical and linguistic differences, holds immense importance for our twenty-first century context. As a person who grew up and came of age in the benign surrounds of a late twentieth century small town in Arkansas, to say the world has changed seems a profound understatement. Then again, maybe from even before first century Corinth these issues have always been as present and confoundingly sophisticated as they seem to be now. I grew up with a fairly simple understanding that when the bible said, “male and female he created them,” it meant “male and female he created them.” In 2014, Facebook relented from their prior 58 pre-selected gender options and now permits unlimited gender identity classifications for its United States based users who lodged the complaint.
It strikes me that a well placed, “ToTo, we aren’t in Kansas anymore” assertion would fit well here.
In the end, it comes down to a choice between the worldview shaped by the biblical vision of God’s Kingdom and all the other world-views being socially constructed and advanced as we speak; all of which are mere variations on the broken legacy of Genesis 3. It may seem like an oversimplification, but underneath the catastrophe of the so-called sexual revolution and the radical feminist movements of the 1960’s are gross misunderstandings and egregious misappropriations of the bible. Human sexuality is a good gift. Feminism is a good gift. Unfortunately both have been radicalized by the ancient rebellion against God and have led not only to the tragic distortion of God’s Creation but to all manner of reactionary biblical interpretations by the church itself in response; sadly—including our haircuts. ;0)
The only way forward is a return to the fundamental realities of the humble people of God immersed in the world of the Word of God and the Spirit of God which alone advance the will of God—which is nothing short of the Gospel of the Kingdom of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
CALLED WITH YOU TO BE HIS HOLY PEOPLE.
- While we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube (in a manner of speaking), we can gather ourselves as God’s people around the fundamental practices of Bible Study and Holy Spirit Faith Formation. How are you going about that now?
- Are you becoming a real student of Scripture? Or is it a nice devotional habit for you? Does rigorous biblical formation still seem optional to you; a nice add on? Or is your life coming to depend on it?
- What would it take to up your game? Are you willing for that change and investment?
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J.D. Walt serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. firstname.lastname@example.org.