Is male authority established in the creation order? Are women subordinate to men based on God’s design? Important questions. After looking at Genesis without the filter of the hard passages in the New Testament, it is hard to find evidence written in the creation text for Adam trumping Eve. It is these hard passages that force us to assume much into the creation order. Now, let’s look at how the creation order applies in 1 Corinthians 11. It’s going to get long because I want to quote the text in full context.
1 Corinthians 11
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.
Whew, there is a lot to argue about in that passage! Headship, veils, length of hair, angels? But the topic for this post is the creation order of genders and roles. The question… is authority tied to the creation order or cultural context? In this passage, authority is tied to creation…but whose authority? Woman’s.
What is this cultural context?
This passage is shrouded with cultural assumptions. Paul is not writing to us, he is writing to 2nd century Roman/Jewish Christians. It is a WORLD of difference! This doesn’t mean that what he writes isn’t applicable to us, it means that to find what is applicable, we must sift through his culture’s assumptions.
- Paul is talking to Christians. It is helpful to remember this when you read the words Man and Woman. Simply add “Christian” before the word. It helps to define what Paul is saying in terms of gospel, not gender alone.
- In these verses Paul is discussing the custom (vs 2) of Jewish prayer shawls (men) and veils (pagan and Jewish practice for women depending on region).
- Jewish men wore a tallit out of reverence for God and a covering for their sinful state. God commanded all the Jews to wear blue threads and tassels which symbolized the law. They put these tzitzit on garments which evolved into shawls that they used in worship. Hence, the covering was a symbol of the wearer’s intent to keep all God’s commandments. (Numbers 15:38-40; Deuteronomy 22:12; tzitzit; tallit)
- Women are not treasured. They are property. Men were not proud of their wives. In fact, there was a sense of wanting to remain aloof from wifely attachment. Women were kept at home and in many regions under veils out of obedience to the Pater-men. Women gained value by the men she was attached to. Culture did not think they were equal. Read more about the Pater Familias (Men-led families).
- Some regional laws required a veil to cover the woman’s hair or Jewish men to cover in temple, but regardless of law, wearing a head veil was a common accessory for men and women in ancient times. Unlike today. (http://www.bible-researcher.com/headcoverings3.html, http://lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/ImagesOfHeadCoveringsDuringWorship.htm)
Christ is the head of every Christian.
I believe, the most important thing to remember in this passage is that just because Paul details the gender’s heads and glory, it does not negate the heads and glory he doesn’t detail. Which means the conclusions he draws for one, will apply to the other. And his neglect to mention these details clarifies what he is teaching. For instance,
- Christ is the head of every Christian man.
- Christ is also the head of every Christian woman. So, the same conclusion will apply to her. It’s just not the point Paul is making here. (Eph 1:22, Col 1:18)
- But, woman has another head…her man…father or husband according to the law. See Ephesian Marriage.
The concept Paul is teaching is that Christ is head, not man as head. He uses “man as head” as a simile that everyone in that day understood. Woman gained status only through her head – her man (husband or father), in the same fashion that sinful men (all Christians) gain spiritual status through his head – Christ. And this is the comparison Paul makes.
Jewish men, who wore the tallit as a symbol they were under the curse of the law, should stop! Christ is now their covering, not the law. Christian women, whose head veil symbolizes her status to her Pater – man, has a choice to make.
Christians should remove the veil.
Paul believes ALL Christians should remain uncovered. But, because of cultural considerations (read chapter 10 for another way Paul details culture considerations) he frees women to decide for themselves what best honors her husband and Christ.
13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~2 Cor 3
- Man is the image and glory of God. (So, uncover.)
- Woman is also the image and glory of God. So, the same conclusion will apply to her. (Uncover.) (Genesis 1:27; 5:1)
- Additionally, woman brings glory to man. This is Paul’s point. Woman is free to remain covered if uncovering dishonors her husband … according to custom.
I believe Paul is going against his culture and elevating woman by giving her the freedom to choose to cover or uncover. Notice the similarities within the cultural context in his list. Man, who has been covered by the shame of law-breaking (tallit and tzitzit) is reminded that he is the glory and image of God Himself! Especially as a Christian! God delights in us! Paul says to take off the veil and reveal the glory of God.
In the same way, woman has been covered, and in some sense, shamed by being woman and not man. But Paul says no! Woman should be the glory of her man! Especially Christian women! Husband should delight in his wife! Take off the veil and reveal the glory of God and your husband! But if being unveiled is considered “loose,” keep it on and don’t bring shame to your husband.
Creation order proves both genders should uncover.
It is at this part of the passage that the creation order becomes relevant. I start with the truths found in Genesis and in the gospel. Here is how I understand Paul’s circle logic. Look over this illustration. Open your Bible in front of you and read the verses that it references. Remember the creation story in Genesis. Recall the freedom of the gospel of Christ for both genders.
In other words, because of the creation order, Christian women ought to have the liberty to choose to wear the veil or not…for the glory of God.
Again, this series of posts is to look at how creation order should help us understand gender roles. When we take the truths found in Genesis and the gospel, this hard passage takes on a different meaning than those who espouse male authority teach. Sadly, complementarians may be teaching the OPPOSITE of what Paul intended: freedom for women to decide for themselves how to best reflect the glory and image of Christ.