AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE

Before you listen to the audio message or read this post, I want to make it explicit that there is absolutely no room whatsoever to excuse any form of marital abuse (emotional, physical, financial, verbal, etc.).


In a day when domestic violence and abuse is at epidemic levels, we need to let abused women know that the biblical teaching on this subject emphasizes mutual respect and submission as a husband loves his wife.


Physical control and manipulation, financial threats, and mental, emotional, or verbal abuse must not be tolerated. That is oppression not love.  It is abuse, not leadership, nor biblical headship. The model of biblical headship is Jesus, who loves by laying down his life for his bride, not by beating her. In fact, he allowed himself to be beaten so that she wouldn't be. 


If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you are not under obligation to stay but encouraged to escape to a safe place where you can be protected from oppression.


Facing an Interpretive Challenge

One of the most challenging hurdles we face when interpreting the Bible is the issue of culture.

In the same way the Old Testament takes place in a world with strange customs to our contemporary ears, there are customs in the Greco-Roman world of the New Testament that influence the context of what we read in the Scriptures.

This is true of the focus passage in today's study, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

As we approach this text, it will help us to recognize that, while cultural practices change over time, biblical principles do not. Human contexts may differ between our world and theirs, but the human condition is the very same.

This text describes a cultural practice that reveals an underlying principle. It is that principle we want to unearth and make clear so that we can make the appropriate application of the text for our own context.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

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 a symbol of authority over her head, because of the angels [messengers?].

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.

The Question You Must be Asking

​Head coverings and hair length? Really?

Remember, cultural practices and customs may change but biblical principles and the human condition do not.

So, what is it about the head coverings that applies to our context today? What timeless truth can we draw from this passage?

Let’s find out as we address the first of six main headings in today’s message.

1) THE USE OF GENDER TERMS  

The Greek word used for man is aner, and woman is gune. These may be translated as either man and woman in a general sense, or as husband and wife in a more specific sense. With context being our guide for how to rightly interpret these Greek words, it is my opinion, as well as that of most evangelical commentators, that Paul has in mind here husbands and wives rather than men and women in general. Therefore, Paul is not describing women’s relationship to men in general but in the particular relationship of marriage.

2) THE CONCEPT OF HEADSHIP

The word translated “head” in verse 3 is kephale. While this word may mean “source,” the most likely meaning in this context is “authority.” But the more specific meaning is responsibility. It is not necessarily “who is in charge here,” but “who is responsible here.”

In that sense, God the Father has ultimate authority and responsibility for his world and his church, with Christ subordinate to the Father with regard to his specific role in the plan of redemption.[1]

While every orthodox creed in the history of the church affirms that God the Father, Son, and Spirit are equals, the functional subordination of Jesus teaches us that submission, or subordination does not imply inferiority. Rather, subordination has to do with one’s place in the order of fulfilling a mission. The word subordination means to order under, or literally to “sub order.” A sub-marine might function under the water but it still has a vital role to play in military operations.

In a similar fashion, submission by definition emphasizes mission, a common goal and purpose of life. But there is an order. Like on a team or an army. The ranks have positions.

The model for our understanding of subordination is the relationship between God the Father and the Son.[2]

When applied in the context of marriage, just as Jesus is subordinate to the Father, and a husband is subordinate to Jesus as Head of the church, so also the wife is subordinate to the husband as the head of the home.

This is what the head coverings are about.

IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE

Before you listen to the audio message or read this post, I want to make it explicit that there is absolutely no room whatsoever to excuse any form of marital abuse (emotional, physical, financial, verbal, etc.).


In a day when domestic violence and abuse is at epidemic levels, we need to let abused women know that the biblical teaching on this subject emphasizes mutual respect and submission as a husband loves his wife.


Physical control and manipulation, financial threats, and mental, emotional, or verbal abuse must not be tolerated. That is oppression not love.  It is abuse, not leadership, nor biblical headship. The model of biblical headship is Jesus, who loves by laying down his life for his bride, not by beating her. In fact, he allowed himself to be beaten so that she wouldn't be. 


If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you are not under obligation to stay but encouraged to escape to a safe place where you can be protected from oppression.

3) A SYMBOLIC EXPRESSION OF RESPECT. 

The common outfit all Greek women wore included what is called a kalumma, which was a type of head scarf.[3]

Pretty much the only women who did not wear a kalumma were prostitutes from the temple of Aphrodite and female Roman slaves, who would have their heads shaved.[4]

In Corinthian culture, the kalumma represented a wife honoring her husband’s headship/leadership.[5]

Therefore, if a wife were to remove her kalumma in worship, it would have been a sign of disrespect. It would say, “I refuse to follow the leadership of my husband.”[6]

But in God’s design for the family someone has to steer the ship. This leads to...

4) The Concept of Responsibility

In verses 7-10, Paul is not saying that woman is not created in the image of God. He knew his Old Testament better than anyone. The concept he is working with is responsibility. The husband has been uniquely designated as responsible for the governance of the family.[7]

Adam was formed from the earth and Eve from a rib of Adam, near the heart--not from a foot bone. But from his side--not someone to walk upon to walk with.

But someone has to steer the ship. Someone has to take responsibility for the safety and direction of the vessel. This role has been given by God to the husband.

For example, when something goes wrong with a athletic team the fans hold the coach responsible. When something goes wrong with a business, the CEO can’t pass the buck. He must take ultimate responsibility for profits and losses.

The same is true in marriage. The Lord holds the husband responsible for the management of his marriage and family.

IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS IMPORTANT MESSAGE

Before you listen to the audio message or read this post, I want to make it explicit that there is absolutely no room whatsoever to excuse any form of marital abuse (emotional, physical, financial, verbal, etc.).


In a day when domestic violence and abuse is at epidemic levels, we need to let abused women know that the biblical teaching on this subject emphasizes mutual respect and submission as a husband loves his wife.


Physical control and manipulation, financial threats, and mental, emotional, or verbal abuse must not be tolerated. That is oppression not love.  It is abuse, not leadership, nor biblical headship. The model of biblical headship is Jesus, who loves by laying down his life for his bride, not by beating her. In fact, he allowed himself to be beaten so that she wouldn't be. 


If you are the victim of domestic abuse, you are not under obligation to stay but encouraged to escape to a safe place where you can be protected from oppression.

Nevertheless…

5) THE DESIGN OF COMPLEMENTARY ROLES.

In verses 11-12 Paul uses terminology of interdependency, revealing that, while God has designed someone to drive the car or steer the ship, it takes the two working together to get where they are going. While only one of the two people in the front seat can have hands on the wheel, they have to work together—as a complementary unit. One may steer while the other navigates.

The same thing is true for dancing. Someone has to lead. But when the two partners are in tandem, complementing each other, it is a beautiful thing.[8]

The perfect model of complementary interdependency is the Trinity, which serves as a model for the Christian home. Just like Jesus was willing to submit to the Father’s plan, and a husband submits to leadership of Jesus, the Corinthians wife would be willing to wear a head covering in worship as a symbol of her respect for her husband’s leadership.[9]

This doesn’t just apply to driving or dancing! It is applies to family finances and discipling the kids and where to connect with a local church.  

Remember, this is not about women following men. It is about a wife following the leadership of a chosen husband. 

But remember, this issue really isn’t about head coverings.

6) THE DEEPER ISSUE UNDER THE PRESENTING ISSUE

There is always a deeper issue (a heart issue) under the presenting (surface) issue.

In verse 13, the apostle challenges the Corinthians to “judge for yourselves” about the issue of head coverings and hair length.

His case was air tight.

He knew that even unbelieving Romans in Corinth would agree that the practice of wearing head coverings was symbolic of submission and headship.

Just as wearing a kalumma was cultural, so also was hair length.[10] And in the same way that wearing head coverings in worship is not our issue, neither is the length of one’s hair.[11]

This is why the issue is not ultimately about hair and hats.

The deeper issue under the presenting issue of head coverings is our sin nature’s resistance to authority. Additionally, so many people have abused authority as a form of power and manipulation, we may think of all authority as bad thing.

But the kind of authority that the gospel describes is not autocratic, abusive and controlling. Gospel authority is defined by self-sacrifice—just the opposite of what we have been trained to think of as authority.

Biblical authority is essentially responsibility— responsibility to bless someone else, even if the one in authority, the one given responsibility, has to sacrifice himself.

Like a goalie.

Those of you who have played soccer understand the role played by the goalie. The goalie is given the weighty responsibility guarding the “penalty box” or “goalie box,” which is a rectangular area marked off with a thick white chalk line right in front of each goal on the soccer field.

That box is the goalie’s zone. It is his house to protect.

In the box, he is the only player allowed to touch the ball with his hands. It is a unique role that bears a tremendous amount of responsibility.

In order to keep the ball out of the net, a goalie who takes his responsibility seriously may lay himself out, arms and legs extended in order to punch the ball away. Sometimes, that total body sacrifice results in sod being stuffed in the goalie’s eyes, nose, and mouth.

It is that kind of responsibility that Jesus embraced, not as a goalie, but as the Christ who would lay himself out in total body sacrifice in the penalty box we call the cross, securing victory for us over sin and death.

Upon the cross, Jesus totally re-wrote the script for authority. Not as power and control, but as self-sacrifice. With divine authority, he took responsibility for saving us from the law’s condemnation by submitting himself to the plan of the Father, which called for him to suffer death in our place, serving the penalty for our sin so that we could be free.

That is grace.

When I receive that grace for myself by faith, something happens. I discover that my resistance to the authority of Jesus weakens. Humility begins to grow. And from that place of humility beautiful things begin to bloom.

  • Husbands begin to confess that we haven’t loved well or led well. Some of us have abdicated responsibility. Other have abused our authority. In our brokenness, we confess with a repentance that leads to a breaking down of other walls of resistance.
  • For example, a wife may begin to recognize that her resistance to submission is really a resistance to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. While a husband’s submission to Jesus is deserved, a wife’s submission to her husband is not. He is a sinner.

If authority is a form of responsibility; submission is an act of grace.

The dynamic is that a wife’s respecting the leadership of her husband in practical ways—not by wearing a hat but by how she speaks, encourages, follows, and forgives—that kind of submission becomes an empowering grace in his life, enabling him to be a better leader for his family and lover of his wife.

The same is true in reverse. When a husband begins to love his wife tenderly and sacrificially like Jesus loves his bride the church, she feels secure and is empowered to show renewed respect to the husband's leadership.

What happens when we grasp the personal implications of the cross is that husband, wife, and all of us, have our hard hearts melted by God’s mercy, which paves the way for reconciliation with one another even as we have been reconciled to the Father through the submission of Jesus.

If this helped you, it may help someone else, too. 


Footnotes

[1] For example, in the order of salvation, God the Father chooses the elect, the Son redeems the elect, and the Spirit seals the elect. Each has a role to play in the plan of redemption. Subordination without inferiority.

[2] First, the Greek word for man is aner, and woman is gune. These may be translated as either man and woman in a general sense, or as husband and wife in a more specific sense. With context being our guide for how to rightly interpret these Greek words, it is my opinion, as well as that of most evangelical commentators, that Paul has in mind here husbands and wives rather than men and women in general.

[3] While women were to have their heads covered in Christian worship, in pagan Roman worship ceremonies, it was men who covered their heads. However, in ancient Jewish worship, men also wore head coverings, indicating that the practice of head coverings in Corinth really was a cultural issue.  The principle of wearing head coverings wasn’t a for-all-time practice for Christian worship. But the principle underneath the practice is for all time.

[4] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 180.

[5] David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 181.

[6] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 529. “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. More importantly they seem to have rejected the concept of subordination within the church (and perhaps in society) and with it any cultural symbol (e.g., a head-covering) which might have been attached to it. According to Paul, for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation. She might as well shave her head, a sign of disgrace (Aristophanes Thesmophoriazysae 837). In doing so, she dishonors herself and her spiritual head, the man.”

[7] The civil government, while formerly a theocratic entity under the Old Covenant, is no longer wed to the ecclesiastical government. While there are three governments ordained by God, the civil, the ecclesiastical, and the familial, the distinction of gender roles as stated here applies to the church and family, not to the state.

[8] I love what Paul does here. With the phrase, “in the Lord,” he shows us how, when we genuinely know Jesus as Savior, there is a mutual dependency that fosters humility.

[9] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 529.

[10] Spartan warriors were known to wear hair shoulder length, and no one thought them effeminate.

[11] David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 530. “Mankind instinctively distinguished between the sexes in various ways, one of which was length of hair. Exceptions to this general practice were due either to necessity (e.g., Apuleius The Golden Ass 7. 6, “to escape in disguise”) or perversity (Diogenes Laertius, Lives 6. 65). No abstract length of hair was in mind so much as male and female differentiation.”