GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Lord, give me wisdom in dealing with problematic societal issues.
Read 1 CORINTHIANS 11:2–16
On Covering the Head in Worship
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 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.
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.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Does the Bible really reduce the status and importance of women?
With this passage we approach “the deep end”! There can be no disguising the difficulties we face in understanding both the pastoral problems Paul addresses in Corinth and the solutions he proposes. That being so, we must approach this section with humility and caution, recognizing both the limits of our knowledge and the fact that some statements in this chapter have been used to subordinate women in western Christian culture.
The problem is illustrated by the fact that scholars disagree about whether the issue regarding women’s attire in public worship concerns the wearing of veils, or the length and style of their hair. Either way, the pastoral issue arises from cultural demands of the attire, the appearance of both males and females in the Corinthian assemblies, and the message which they communicate to onlookers at large. Within Roman society, married women were normally veiled in public, and some female disciples of Jesus in Corinth possibly want to break free from more conventional roles or constraints on the basis of the Gospel “freedom” and gender equality.
Paul walks a tightrope on this issue: he unequivocally affirms the freedom of women to pray and prophesy in public and underscores the fundamental equality of the sexes (12). He also insists that Christian freedom cannot be expressed in ways that might be misunderstood, thereby dishonoring the name of Christ. Difficult though this section may be, it is far from irrelevant to the issues of gender equality resurfacing today in a world in which western assumptions are increasingly challenged by migrants whose values appear in distinctive traditions of dress, including head-coverings.
Take a moment to pray that where differences exist over the kind of issues discussed in this passage they might be handled with love and mutual respect.
Lord, give our pastors wisdom to navigate the treacherous waters of biblical mandates as they clash with societal demands.
Click here to sign up to receive the EXTRAs via email each quarter.
© 2023 Scripture Union U.S.A. All rights reserved. Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents without written permission is prohibited.
Encounter with God is published in the USA under license from Scripture Union England and Wales, Trinity House, Opal Court, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes, MK15 0DF.