Sunday, May 29, 2011

Women's Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 (For My Redeemer Family)

5/29/11 - The Head of Every Man Is Christ – 1 Cor. 11:3-16

(This morning at Redeemer I preached on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Here are most of the notes + links I used this morning. If you were there I think this will make sense to you!)
3Now 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. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

7 A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. 8 For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man. 9 And man was not made for woman, but woman was made for man. 10 For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.

11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.


Paul turns from individual morality… to what corporate worship is. He deals with three problems.

The second problem has to do with abuse of the Lord’s Table. The third has to do with abuse and misunderstanding of the spiritual gifts. We're looking at the first one today.

Craig Keener writes: the main theme in all these verses is: “Do not cause your brother to stumble.” “Think of others before your own self.” Don’t use your freedom to bring glory to your own self.

OK. But if all kinds of people are causing you to stumble it might be because you have a critical spirit. We can’t please everybody.

Remember – Paul is writing to new Jesus-followers who have no Jewish or Christian backgrounds. All they know is their Greek culture. The “Everything is permissible because we are now free!” idea has gotten out of control. It’s true – In Christ we are now free from legalistic righteousness, from a gazillion Pharisaical rules and regulations, from cultural forms of ritual and ceremony. But our freedom is not an absolute freedom. Christian freedom is freedom for the other person, for the other’s good, for the growth of the fellowship in love and faith and hope. Our freedom is NEVER simply for our own personal selves. It’s freedom to think of others before your own self. Freedom to serve others. Freedom to forgive others. Freedom to say the word “No” to stuff that controlled us.

Paul sums this up in 1 Cor 10:31 – “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” How do we live and act for the glory of God? By not causing anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God… for I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (10:32-33) This principle of Jesus-behavior is the source for Paul’s specific instructions which follow.


Do not study the Bible like it’s a Rohrshach test.

One of my favorite "Peanuts" cartoon strips goes like this.

Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud's formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.

[points up]

Linus: That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there...


Linus: me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh huh. That's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well... I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

We can do that with clouds. We should not approach the Bible that way. I’ve been in Bible studies where the question is mostly: “What do these verses mean to you?” It’s OK to ask that question. But only after you know what the verses mean. To do that, in many biblical cases… you need to get into the context. Into the situation.

FOR EXAMPLE: Today the word “bad” sometimes means “good.” Imagine you are a hip-hop person… you just had surgery… the surgeon comes in to talk with you. How did it go? He says… “That surgery was bad!” You breathe a sign of relief… and give thanks. To you, “bad” means “good.” That would be so hard to understand if you did not get the context. Keep this in mind.

3Now 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.

What does the word “head” mean here? Not: “authority,” not “in charge of,” not “boss.” “Head” means: “source,” or “source of life.” Like “headwaters.” Not “authority,” or “in charge,” or “boss.” This is not about an “honor hierarchy!” N.T. Wright says – “a good case can be made for saying that in verse 3 [Paul] is referring not to ‘headship’ in the sense of sovereignty, but to ‘headship’ in the sense of ‘source,’ like the ‘source’ or ‘head’ of a river.” (NTW, 1 Cor, 141)

We think of being the “head” of something means: being in charge. The “boss.” But in that ancient Greek culture Paul writes in… using the word “head” to mean “boss” is extremely rare. (Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives, 32) In the oldest Greek dictionaries… when you look up this word “head”… they do not include the definition “the one in charge; the boss.” (Keener, PWW, 32) “Leader” is not a common meaning for the Greek word “head.”

This is “source” or “origin” language. This is confirmed by vv. 8-9. For the first man [Adam] didn’t come from woman, but the first woman [Eve] came from man. NOTE! In v. 8 Paul is explaining what he’s saying (vv. 8-9, 12)… he refers explicitly to the creation story in Gen. 2, where woman was made from the side of man. (NTW, 1 C, 141) The source, the origin… the “head” of woman… is man.

SO… we can read 1 Cor. 11:3 like this: “I want you to understand that Christ is the source of man’s being; the man is the source of woman’s being; and God is the source for Christ’s being.” (Brauch, 140) If “head” meant “boss of” or “authority over” then one would commit a heresy called “subordinationism.” It denies the common, classical view of the Trinity (God as a 3-personed being).

LOOK AT VV. 11-12. We know that the correct meaning of “head” is “origin” or “source” because of what Paul says a few verses further on:

11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. [We all had a “mom.”] But everything comes from God.

All things come from God. God is “source” or “origin” of all. God is Creator God. These verses are obviously about “source,” or “origin” things. Paul is thinking of Genesis here.

• God created Adam first.

• Eve the woman came from the rib of Adam.

• And in John 8:42, 13:3, and 16:27 Jesus is said to have come from God.

• John 8:42 - Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me.”

• So this is a temporal, sequential thing.

In a much more significant way, “all things,” both man and woman, “come from God.”

What does God think about this? God thinks THIS IS VERY, VERY GOOD. MAN AND WOMAN… COME FROM GOD. So what, then, is the big deal about the head covering and hair thing?

N.T.Wright says that, in Paul’s day (as, in many ways, I ours), gender was marked by hair and clothing styles.

o This changes according to place and time, right?

o Here are some of the hairstyles of GREAT LEADERS FOR GOD! (Charles Finney, B Graham, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, John Calvin, Martin Luther, D.L. Moody)

John Wesley - nice, long curly hair

Billy Graham - he  changed hair styles
through the decades

John Calvin - now THAT is a beard!
A precursor to Z.Z. Top?

Charles Wesley - very cute!

D. L. Moody - a great beard.

Martin Luther - influenced The Beatles

Charles Finney - precursor to
Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining'

What kind of clothes define a man change acc. to time and place. Does anyone really want to say William Wallace was not a man? (He wore a skirt!)

15 years ago this is what a real man looked like.

But today, in America, this is what a real man looks like. How the times have changed!

In Greek Corinth, during Paul’s time, men wore short hair and women wore long hair. Women wore head coverings, or wore their hair tied up in a bun. In Paul’s time… Head coverings were outward expressions of the differences between men and women – outward expressions which were commonly recognized in that society at that time. In Paul’s time the only women who appeared in public w/o some kind of headcovering, and with their hair unbraided and hanging down, were prostitutes. (Obviously, this is not true today in America.) That may have been in the back of Paul’s mind when he wrote these things. Remember all the sexual immorality going on in the Corinthian church.

But Paul taught that, in Christ, there is “no male or female,” because we are all one in Christ, right? NTW says – maybe the Cs who knew this… that Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female… were all equal welcome and equally valued… Maybe some of the Cs took him so literally that women, when they prayed or prophesied aloud in church meetings, decided to remove their normal head coverings, and even unbraided their hair… to show they were free from all social conventions.

The problem within Corinth was this: “It seems that the Corinthian slogan, ‘everything is permissible,’ had been applied to meetings of the church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress.

My former New Testament professor Manfred Brauch writes (Hard Sayings of Paul [IVP]): “We assume that social, cultural or ritual norms were being ignored or deliberately set aside in the context of worship. It is possible that their libertine enthusiasm, which had led them to a demeaning or total rejection of male-female sexuality and distinctions, had also led then to reject other cultural and religious norms. Thus, perhaps in a deliberate attempt to wipe out distinctions, some men may have worn a head covering [a shawl] in worship (1 Cor 11:4), while some women rejected the covering prescribed for them by cultural or religious conventions (1 Cor 11:5).” (Brauch)

NOTE: This is not about “hats.” It is about men dressing like women in the worship service. As odd as that sounds, C-men were wearing shawls. It would be like me standing up in front of my church family and preaching while wearing Linda’s wedding dress.

THE POINT, TO ME, IS THIS: Every missionary comes to understand social and cultural conventions. When I went to India, and spoke many times in church gatherings, only men were on the platform, and we all had to take off our shoes on the platform. I did that. No way was I going to deliberately dishonor the people who invited me there. Even though it’s just a cultural thing. If I dishonored this in India because of my “freedom” in Christ, you would not say “Good job.”

SO… Paul doesn’t congratulate the C-women for doing this. NTW – “He insists on maintaining gender differentiation during worship.”

In Paul’s time… in Greek Corinth… these head coverings were just a temporary, cultural distinction about the created, eternal distinction between male and female. People invent the cultural things like dress codes and honor-shame hierarchies. But people DID NOT invent humans as male and female. What is abiding is the eternal relationship between men and women which Paul depends on to support his teaching on the head coverings, the temporary expression.”

Men were NOT to wear shawl head coverings in worship. Because women did. These maintained the cultural distinctions between men and women. That is NOT true in American culture today. So these things do not apply today. If that WERE true then women would have to wear shawls over their heads…, and men could not wear shawls… even if they wanted to use their freedom to do so!

A main part of Paul’s reasoning here is: God created us male and female. God saw that this was very good. In the C church these distinctions were not being maintained. As we’ve seen, they had all kinds of sexual immorality problems. It was coming into their worship services. The Cs are using their “freedom” to blur the distinction! In our worship we need to maintain those distinctions. Now I’m going to show you why.

7 A man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for man is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory. 8 For the first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came from man.

The woman is not man’s subordinate here; she “reflects man’s glory.” Ultimately, this is a worship thing. This, again, is “origin” or “source” language. Now pay attention to this.

In biblical thought, that which is made, or emerges out of another, manifests or reflects the glory of its maker or origin. For example, when we look at a piece of art made by Gary Wilson… and see its beauty and creativity…this reflects on Gary… right?

Thus, “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1 RSV). Worshipers are exhorted to declare God’s glory (Ps 96:3–8). But when false worship happens… it perverts God’s glory and distorts human living… and people who worship that way stand under God’s judgment. Roman 1:22–32).

According to both John and Paul, Jesus’ life reflected God’s glory (Jn 1:14; 13:31–32; 17:4; Col 1:27). Since in Christ the fullness of God expressed itself (Col 1:19), Paul could say that “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [was revealed] in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

This is a “glory thing.” In 1 Cor 10:31-33 Paul writes: So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles[f] or the church of God. 33 I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.

The BASIC IDEA IS: In worship, indeed in all things, give up personal rights and personal freedoms to honor others. In that way God will be honored and glorified. NTW – “In worship it is important for both men and women to be their truly created selves, to honor God by being what they are and not blurring the lines by pretending to be something else.

Obviously, Paul writes this because the C J-followers are not doing this. Paul is emphasizing the distinctiveness of “male” and “female.” How God has created things. Which from God’s POV is very good. This is Genesis-language: Genesis 1:27 - So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Now… going deeper… NTW says Paul assumes that, in worship, the creation is being restored. And in worship we are anticipating its eventual restoration. IN WORSHIP… heaven comes down to earth. As it is in heaven, let it be the same on earth. NTW – “In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day… God made humans male and female, and gave them [both] authority over the world. If humans are to reclaim this authority over the world, this will come about as they worship the true God, as they pray and prophesy in his name, and are renewed in his image, in being what they were made to be, in celebrating the genders God has given them.” (NTW, 1 C, 142)

THE MAIN POINT: Ben Witherington writes: “Paul places little value on social or cultural conventions, or social status. Paul places MUCH value on the way God has made human beings and is remaking them in Christ.” (BW, 1 C, 236) Human maleness and femaleness is good, and to be celebrated. God’s created order should be properly manifested, not obliterated. Why? Because God’s created order REFLECTS HIS GLORY! It is this concern which motivates Paul’s thought in this difficult passage.

Because the Corinthian church’s distortion of this troubles God. It troubles God’s messengers, the angels, too.


1 Cor. 11:10 – here are four translations – from poorer to better. Here's the Greek. (My church family is so smart that they all read biblical Greek.)

τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους.

NIV - For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority. NOT a great translation.

NKJV - For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. BETTER (even though the word 'symbol' is not in the Greek text).

The KJV says - For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. VERY INTERESTING! Because of the Greek word for 'authority' or 'power,' exousia.

NTW translates it brute-literally – “That’s why a woman must have authority on her [physical] head, because of the angels.” (!!!) NICE!

The KJV’s “power” (exousia) is not a bad translation. “Power” means “ability.” In this case, Gordon Fee thinks it means the ability to freely choose. The C-woman can freely choose to prefer others over her own self… wear the culturally distinctive mark of her femaleness… and reflect God’s glory in His creation.

As I was worshiping at Redeemer today the thought came to me that: In the Corinthian church, when women prayed and prophesied with the head covering on, they had access to God’s power. It is a God-empowered thing to worship as God’s creation reflecting God’s glory.

But what about the angels?

One of the things the Dead Sea Scrolls told us was that there was a branch of ancient Judaism that assumed when God’s people met for worship, angels are there, too. A lot of people here at Redeemer not only believe that… they have seen it!

It’s not a cool thing to be an unholy people in worship… with holy angels worshiping with us. Ben Witherington writes: “Angels, as guardians of the creation order, are present in worship, perhaps even participating in it. So for us, in our worship, the created order should be properly manifested.” (BW, 1 C, 236)

BECAUSE: The creation reflects the glory of God.

What’s this about?

In 1 Cor. 6:3 Paul writes - Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? Hold on, because this gets deep!

NTW – “In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day… When a woman is praying or prophesying, in the presence of angels, she needs to be truly what she is, since it is to male and female alike, in their mutual interdependence as God’s image-bearing creatures, that the world, including the angels, is to be subject. (NTW, 1C, 142-143)

This is not about some kind of hierarchy, where women are under men. Humans create social hierarchies. But God DID create male and female. And that creation reflects God’s glory. “God’s creation needs humans to be fully, gloriously and truly human, which means fully and truly male and female. This, and of course much else besides, is to be glimpsed in worship.” (NTW, 1 C, 143)

This morning I felt God say to me: “John, I want to give the angels present today a glimpse of this.”

I called men forward to sing “We Exalt Thee.” I asked Joe Laroy to pray over our men and bless them.

I then asked the women to come forward and do the same. I asked Sharon Lloyd to pray over our women and bless them.

For me, and for Linda, this was very powerful! I believe the angels were pleased as they worshiped with us.