1 Corinthians Chapter 11: Public Worship and the Role of Women
Key Verses: (1 Corinthians 11:3–12)
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.
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.
These verses are often misinterpreted to suggest erroneous conclusions, such as the claim that women are subservient to men, or that it is sinful for women to pray or enter church with their heads unveiled. There is strong evidence in the linguistic translations and in Paul’s other letters that such conclusions are not valid, especially when considered in historical context. Here are just a couple of the points that often are not made when such conclusions are expressed:
Some Greek scholars and historians indicate that the use of the word “head” in verse 3 does not imply authority over another who is necessarily subservient, as we might think of it today. Rather, it more likely refers to the source of one’s being in the ontological chain of existence. Thus, biblically speaking, God begat Jesus, God begat man and man begat woman.
In ancient times and particularly in Oriental lands, the veil over a woman’s head affirmed her dignity. Paul probably heard that the women of Corinth, in an effort to express their new status as full participants in the body of Christ, might have desired to worship unveiled. Paul’s words in verses 5 and 6 are not meant to criticize women but to reaffirm that women are valuable and worthwhile; they don’t need to unveil in an effort to be more like men.
A Moment to Reflect
We all know that cultural norms can change significantly over the centuries. and even over a single generation. Consider how fashions and hairstyles have changed multiple times just over your own lifetime. I remember that during the Vietnam War, it was rebellious for men to wear long hair; indeed, many thought it was appalling and a disgrace. Do you see how Paul, in making a statement about women unveiling their hair, might simply be expressing a cultural reaction of the time, not stating a biblical mandate for eternity? Can you think of other examples like this in the Bible? In terms of non-essential cultural norms, do you see that it isn’t necessary to hold yourself to standards of the first century?