1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is one of the most controversial passages in the Bible. Feminists detest this passage and try to make it mean something that it doesn’t mean. Chauvinists have wrongly understood this passage to mean male superiority and supremacy. We know of course that the Bible teaches that men and women are both created equally in the Image of God and worthy of respect and dignity. Boko Haram’s insistence that girls should not be educated and are in some sense lesser than boys is totally unacceptable and demonic. This passage teaches us a few things:
1. God has established our gender and has made gender distinctives.
In v8 the Apostle Paul is thinking of the creation accounts in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 1 teaches us that men and women both are created in image of God. In Genesis 2 we are given more detail. God creates Adam first, and then creates Eve as a suitable helper for him and we have a picture of the first marriage.
What does this mean for us?
Men and women are different. We are both human, we are not different species, but we don’t just look different, we are different on the inside too. God has made males and females complimentary different. V3 tells us that just as there are differences in roles in the Trinity, so there are different roles for men and women. Jesus Christ, the Son, submits to the Father; the Son is not inferior to the Father. In Christian marriage and church women submit to men as men submit to Christ. These relationships of submission and authority are not cultural expressions (therefore changing), but based on the nature of God (therefore unchanging).
A big proviso
These authority relationships are demonstrated in marriage and in the church. Husbands are called to lead and love their wives as Christ leads and loves his church. Wives are called to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. If the husband commands something the Lord forbids; the wife must obey the Lord – not the husband. Every woman need not submit to every and any man. Male headship is seen in the marriage relationship, not in the workplace, among friends, or among strangers.
Just as husband are called to lead their wives and children, so appropriately qualified men are called to lead the church. 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 teach us there are certain roles in the church, like being an elder, pastor or preaching to the gathered congregation that are not permitted for women; not because women are inferior to men (the Son is not inferior to the Father), but because God has designed us with different genders and roles.
Blurring the distinctives
Today we try to blur the distinctives. Our world says the genders just look a bit different, but we are essentially identical – we’ll even dress ourselves and have surgery to look indistinguishable. On the lighter side we have unisex toilets. On the more extreme side, there is the practise of “masking” where men wear full length plastic women suits and go around imitating women. A family in Canada are raising their child unisex and allowing the child to choose when its older if it wants to be a boy or a girl.
In the worldwide church there are different views of the genders should relate to each other:
Patriarchal view: Men are in some sense superior to women and should rule over them in every area of life. People with this view would be uncomfortable with women holding any form of leadership position, even in the workplace.
Egalitarian view: All believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in church, home and world.
Complimentarian view: Affirms that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men. Complimentarianism is my view.
2. We need to embrace the gender and role God has given us
In first century Greco-Roman culture it was the norm for respectable married women to wear head coverings, like a scarf or shawl. The head covering demonstrated that you respected your husband and were unavailable. Your long hair was reserved for your husband to look at and had romantic, even sexual, connotations! Wearing a head covering was like wearing a long skirt in traditional African societies; not wearing a head covering showed that you were available and free, and even flirtatiously tempting men to look at your hair. To make matters worse, the temple prostitutes were known for their lack of head coverings and their elaborate hairstyles. At the same time, in the Christian gathering, some of the married women were praying and prophesying without their head’s covered.
Number 1: it was attracting attention to themselves.
Number 2: it was showing disrespect to their husbands by acting like they were single and independent.
Number 3: it was going against good common sense as to how respectable women dress and would be tantamount to a woman in the church today getting up to pray in a bikini top or wearing a clerical collar.
Men and women should wear the appropriate clothes. Men should not dress like women or wear head coverings. Women should not dress like men i.e. have no head coverings or shave their hair. Women can take part in public worship, but they should do so with a demeanour and attitude that supports male headship – by wearing a head covering. God has created the genders and gender distinctions and we must stick to them in ways appropriate to our culture and society.
Women making prophecies?
But what a minute, I thought the Bible said women should not be elders, pastors or preach to the congregation, but why were these women prophesying (v5)? Prophesying is speaking on God’s behalf to God’s people. God spoke his message directly to the prophet and the prophet prophesied God’s revelation to the church. The prophet did not act on his own authority, but with God’s authority. In the early church, before the New Testament was collated, God used men and women to speak his word to his churches. However, Ephesians 2:20 says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, so we don’t have prophets anymore now that the foundation has been laid. The foundation of the church has now been laid by the New Testament and therefore the gift of prophecy has ceased. When I preach, I’m not prophesying, I’m not speaking God’s inspired words; only the Bible is God’s inspired word. When I preach I’m simply explaining the Bible as best I can, praying that God works by his word and Spirit to convert unbelievers and grow believers in their faith. Preaching to the gathered church is for men only because God has ordained male headship in the home and church. Prophecy could have been done by men and women because prophets spoke with God’s authority, not their own.
3. We are dependent on one another
The danger is that we go overboard and start thinking that men and women are different species or that men are more valuable than women. V11-12 tells us that there is a profound interdependence between the genders. We are all human being created in the image of God, with different roles in the family and church. The Bible never applies this male headship to the world, in others words, the Bible has no problem with female premiere’s, presidents and CEO’s.
v16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
By women seeking to take an authority that was not theirs in the church they were being contentious, unnecessarily controversial and dishonouring to God. Many are still doing that today.
When you rebel against your God-given role in the family or church you dishonour your God-established authority (v4-5). Therefore, when churches have women pastors, those women dishonour the men in the congregation and also Christ. When churches have homosexual pastors or male pastors who act and dress like women, they dishonour Christ. On the other hand, if men fail to take the leadership in church and family, they also dishonour Christ.