We continue to examine 1 Corinthians 11 with an eye on the role of women in the life of the church. We have previously ruled out patriarchy (again) and noted the covenant relationships which include a covenant head.
|4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.||4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.||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.|
Loose translation: Every man who prays or prophesies w/a covered head disgraces their head (Christ)
Every woman/wife who prays and prophesies disgraces her head
She is one and the same as she who is shaved.
Disgraces (kataiscunw) to dishonor, disgrace, to put to shame
Uncovered (akatakalupto~) adj. not covered, unveiled
Shaved (curaw) to shear, shave, to get one’s self shaved
- Both men and women (husbands and wives) can pray and prophesy in public worship (since he moves to problems with the Lord’s Supper later in the chapter, and continues thru chapter 14 on issues related to worship).
- In Acts 2 as a fulfillment of Joel 2, the Spirit was poured on men and women who prophesied.
- Philip’s 4 unmarried daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9).
- This means prophesy here does not mean simply the teaching/preaching of God’s word as the Puritans thought. Unless you want women to preach….
- Kevin DeYoung notes the covering was for when they prayed and prophesied. He is the only one I read who explicitly made this connection.
“Second, the covering was not for all of life or even all of corporate worship; it was only necessary for women when praying or prophesying. Because the covering is only required in specific occasions, hair, which goes with a woman everywhere, cannot be the covering.” Kevin DeYoung
- Calvin rejects the idea that women can pray & prophesy in corporate worship. He is one only one of the commentators I read how advocated this position. This position just doesn’t make sense of the text to me. It ignores the parallelism of the text itself.
“It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head covered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Tim. 2:12) It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a head covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter 14.” John Calvin
- The context of 1 Cor. 14 (which we’ll cover later) is the interpretation of prophecy. The woman were to be silent and ask questions at home while this judging process took place.
- Prophecy here is not seen as authoritative. It is not “new revelation” for the whole church, but seems to connect to particular circumstances. For instance, the prophecy of a famine by Agabus, and the prophecy that Paul would be bound in Jerusalem. Paul judged it to be accurate, but their interpretation or application (don’t go to Jerusalem) to be erroneous. It was how Paul was going to get to Rome.
“Alongside the teaching offered by the presbyters and formal liturgical elements the proceedings also allowed free and extempore ministry of ‘prophesying’ and ‘praying’ by those ‘gifted’ to do so. … ‘Prophesying’ was the Spirit-inspired application of the gospel, the oral ‘tradition’ and the Scriptures to the life of the gathered people. Unlike the presbyter-teacher whose ministry was a matter of ‘office’ and regularity, those who prophesied did so on an occasional basis, as the perceived need arose.” Paul Barnett
“And (3) women may pray and prophesy in the church because those activities are expressly allowed in 1 Corinthians 11. I regard the third solution as the correct one. If that is correct, then it must be recognized that the apostle regards praying and prophesying on the one hand, and speaking that involves teaching on the other hand, as distinguishable and different activities. Praying publicly in the midst of others does not imply or involve any authority or headship over others. Likewise, prophesying, an activity in which the one prophesying is essentially a passive instrument through which God communicates, does not necessarily imply or involve an authority or headship of the one prophesying over others. What 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 forbid, then, is authoritative speaking, teaching, and ruling.” George Knight
“If 1 Corinthians 11 details instructions for corporate worship- and I think it does- then we can say without a doubt that women are allowed to speak in church. Paul assumed that women could pray and prophesy. Services at Corinth were probably less structured than ours tend to be and women as well as men were able to give a spontaneous prayer, a song, a tongue or a word of prophecy. In short, women could, and did, speak in the church. Churches today which prohibit women from singing (because songs can teach), or praying (because it might be exhortative), or even giving announcements (because it’s speaking period) pull in the boundaries for participation in worship closer than the Bible demands.” Kevin DeYoung
- Your literal head will bring honor or dishonor to your (covenantal) head.
- We see a shift here from Jewish practice.
- Because the man is not under the authority of any creature, he needs no such sign.
- Is this referring to all women, or to wives? The Greek is unclear as we noted in vv. 2-3 and is reflected in the differences in translation.
- What does it mean to be “covered”? Hat/veil or “hair up”. Barnett believes this is about how her hair is arranged, not the wearing of hats or veils.
- Women with “hair down” were viewed as “free from authority” and often out of control (Delphi priestesses)
- Women with short hair in Greco-Roman culture were often lesbians (Lucian) or women posing as men to avoid abduction & rape during war.
- Shaved heads may have indicated adultery or prostitution (Dio Chrysostom).
- Paul seems to be preserving cultural distinctions among Christians. Not unnecessarily subversive.
- These cultural distinctions reflect created order which distinguishes between the sexes.
- We honor the created order (unchanging)! Cultures may or may not reflect it, or in this particular way.
- Unchanging created order & covenant headship => expression w/in local context
- Worship in the early church: The elders taught & led worship. There was a time for gifted members to pray & prophesy.
- Paul isn’t prohibiting women is participate in praying and prophesying, but addressing displays of disrespect while doing so.
“Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection- involving contempt of her husband.” John Calvin
“In a word, for a man to cover his head in the worship of Christ was to worship in the same way pagan men worshiped their gods. Imitating this practice mixed false religion into the worship of Christ, and therefore dishonored him. It is not possible that Paul intended this to be an absolute statement rather than a culturally specific statement because God himself commanded Aaron the high priest always to wear a turban when ministering. Moreover, throughout church history Christian men have covered their heads in worship for the sake of warmth and decoration. Paul’s teaching responded to the particular pagan influence in Corinth.” Richard Pratt
But .. why did he then move to creation? We’ll get there.
“Paul argues that our freedom in Christ does not allow us to overturn that order and the particular expression of it in Corinth and the apostolic age.” George Knight
“In the present context, 1 Corinthians 11 reads as an encouragement to retain divinely ordained gender roles (the current sign of which was head covering) even while women publicly exercised their spiritual gifts in a broad scope of ways.” Kathy Keller
“When she expresses her charismatic function within the church, she is to recognize that redemption does not release her from the order of creation.” R. Wayne House
“Women, on the other hand, could function in a prophetic role, but in order to preserve the social order given by the Creator, they must wear a sign of their subordination. Nothing concerning church leadership or teaching men is found in the verse.” R. Wayne House
For if a woman/wife does not (ou) cover/veil herself, she must also shear her hair, but if it is disgraceful for a woman to shear or to shave her hair, let her cover/veil herself.
Cover (katakaluptw) to cover up, to veil or cover one’s self
Cut off/shear (keirw) imperative; to sheer a sheep, to get or let be shorn, of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head
Disgraceful (aiscros) adj. filthy, baseness, dishonor (used in Gen. 2:25 [LXX])
Cover; present, middle, imperative
- Sounds like Paul’s comment in Galatians about the circumcision party going all the way to emasculation- hyperbole.
- Their false understanding of liberation, freedom from the created order, is disgraceful.
“Here Paul may have referred to the custom in the Mediterranean world of the first century that adulterous women were punished by having their heads shaved in disgrace.” Richard Pratt
“But Paul is saying that such thinking is over-realized eschatology. The present age continues and with it God’s ordering of husband-wife relationships. … Your femininity and your relationship with your husbands are inseparable. Do not deny the one or the other. Keep looking like a woman, a married woman.” Paul Barnett
“We thus have two things intertwined in this passage: the expression of the principle at stake in a particular practice, and the natural provision, long hair, that God has given and that expresses at all times the principle.” George Knight
“So let a woman feel no ‘shame’ at her husband by denying in the public meeting the cultural symbol of her ‘submission’ in marriage to him, her hair arranged ‘up’ and ‘covered’.” Paul Barnett
“Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus literal ‘obedience’ to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul’s point.” Gordon Fee
- The nature of the covering is unclear: veil/burka, shawl/hood, hair put up.
- This means we should be focused on how a woman responds to or treats her husband in the context of worship. She should honor her covenant head.
- We should be charitable towards those who express this differently.
- There may also be cultural expressions. In our culture we wear rings. If married she should look and act like she is married, not like she’s looking to be married.
- We are uncertain how Paul would address the issue of adult single women who live away from home. In his day such women lived at home under the authority of their father or the pater familias. They were also married much younger than today.
- Women are free to pray extemporaneously in the worship service, if the liturgy so permits.
- If we were continuationists, we’d say that women were free to prophesy as well since this is not exerting authority.