I have spent years squeezing implications of perfect unity out of every passage in the Bible. But I have knew this chapter of 1 Corinthians would be very challenging. Why? Cultural norms in the church today versus those in Paul’s time:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man in Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor 11:2-3).
Most scholars believe that verse 1 should have been the last verse in Chapter 10. But I believe that imitating Paul as he imitates Christ points both ways – back to Chapter 10 and forward into Chapter 11. Verse 11:2 instructs the Corinthians to remember Paul and the traditions he delivered and taught. These traditions are presented in Chapter 11, and the second half in verses 17-23 (next blog) return to a focus on perfect unity of the church as a whole. But today’s verses are sure to rankle some modern feminist feathers:
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 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. 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” (1 Cor 11:4-6).
There are still churches who follow this guideline from Paul literally, but the vast majority of churches do not require it. Note that Paul does not command anything here, but rather suggests. Here is a classic question about possible disunity in the universal church regarding symbols of authority relative to the freedom that we have in Christ as believers.
Everything we teach about perfect unity at Streamside Unity involves looking for a higher principle under which we can agree to disagree but still be in perfect unity. So Paul reaches for this immediately:
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:7-10).
Paul’s reference to the angels is that they are present with us in worship and care about proper respect for authority at several levels. That said, if a wife believes in her heart that she was made for the glory of her husband, the angels and the Lord himself know that this is truth. Perhaps they see scarves and kerchiefs on a wife’s head that we cannot see. But watch carefully now for the higher principle that Paul recognizes:
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor 11:11-16).
So what is the higher principle? To Paul it is proper physical appearance in worship that pleases God and acknowledges a woman’s physical symbol in worship, but he has recognized the higher principle. Paul shows that men and women in perfect unity are not independent of each other, but dependent.
“Judge for yourselves.”