Gender Roles in the Church

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					                                    Gender Roles in the Church
                    “Veiled Heads, Praying, and Prophesying (1 Corinthians 11)”
                                          March 5, 1995
                                         Mark Henderson

Contextual Framework:
       I. Immediate context: 11:2-16
       2. Broader context:
               a. 11:2-14:40 all deals with instruction concerning the worship assembly in Corinth
               b. This discussion follows immediately after Paul‟s discussion of freedom‟ and “rights”
                       in chs. 8-10.
               c. The confusion about marital relationships (ch. 7) and the resurrection (oh. 15)
                       indicates that some in Corinth had seriously misunderstood what it means to be
                       “in Christ.”

Exegetical [ssues:
        1. What does Kephale (head) mean when Paul uses it metaphorically?
                a. Source or origin
                b. Leader, authority, one who is preeminent
        2. Does the text deal with men and women generally? Or husbands and wives? „avflp (aner) =
                adult male or husband yuv~ (gune) = adult female or wife
                The correct translation has to be determined by the context. Vv 11-12 are certainly true of
                men and women generally, but I would suggest that “husbands and wives” makes the best
                sense of vv 3-4.

              F. LaGard Smith: “There is no reason to stretch Paul‟s instructions to mean that every
                        man is the spiritual head of every woman, or that men in general are somehow in
                        authority over women in general. As a single adult male I am not the spiritual
                        head of any man‟s wife or daughter, not even during some form of public
                        worship. Nevertheless, pursuant to apostolic teaching the principle of male
                        spiritual headship in the home extends as well to male headship in wors~iip.‟ (p.
                        230 in What Most Women Want)
        3. What is the head covering at issue in this passage?
              a. A woman‟s hair
              b. A veil
              c. Some other head covering
        4. What does “because of the angels‟ mean in v 10?
              a. God is threatening rebellious women with the same fate he visited on the rebellious
                        angels mentioned in Jude 6. (LaGard Smith)
              b. Paul is warning the women that they may he enticing evil angels who look lustfully at
                        women. This view has some basis in Jewish tradition growing out ofa particular
                        reading of Genesis 6:3. (Carroll Osburn)
              c. The angels may be playing the role of Gods guardians of the created order and
                        enforcers of the law. Cf I Cor. 4:9, Gal. 3:19, Heb. 2:2.As such, they are
                        concerned about propriety in worship and would he offended by the impropriety
                        of these uncovered women. (Mark Black)
        5. What is the meaning of “Exousia” (authority) in verse 10? The text literally reads, „The
              woman ought to have authority on the head.‟
              a. Authority is used in the active tense referring to the woman‟s own authority to pray

                      and prophesy in the assembly.
              b. Authority is used in a passive sense to refer to the head covering as a sign of the
                      mans/husband‟s authority.
        6. What does Paul mean by “the very nature of things” in verse 14?
              a. The created, natural order. “Here Paul assumes that the spiritual distinction between
                      men and women is as fundamental as „the nature of things.‟ Ii doesn‟t have
                      anything to do with custom, culture, or even veils, It goes back to long hair and
                      short hair, or--as it were--male bodies and female bodies. It is as fundamental as
                      the gender factor itself” (Smith, 234).
              b. The prevailing custom. “A woman‟s long hair is already like a covering; therefore she
                      is following the lead of nature in wearing the head-covering. The man should
                      also do what nature suggest: nature has given him no natural covering, and thus
                      he must not wear one. Paul is able to make such an argument because the
                      accepted custom [in the Greco-Roman world] was for men to have short hair and
                      women to have long hair. (Mark Black, 213, in Essays on Women in Earliest

Interpreting this text today
         1. Should women wear head-coverings in worship?
                  a. Yes. Susan Foh: “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 teaches that women can and should actively
                          participate in worship by praying and prophesying. The only requirement is that
                          they he covered so that the glory goes to God, rather than their husbands; this
                          requirement is necessary because of the husband‟s headship.” (p. 87 in Women
                          in Ministry: Four Views)
                  b. No. Virtually everybody else. Most interpreters see the head covering as a culturally
                          limited symbol of a wife‟s submission to her husband. Walter Liefield: “The
                          reason for that [symbol of] subjection was to avoid social criticism (his
                          emphasis) that might hinder the gospel.” (p. 142 in Women, Authority. & the
                          Bible). Cf Titus 2:5-10; 1 Peter 2:11-3:7
         2. May women actively participate in the public worship of the church?
                  a. No. Dave Miller: “Corinthian women were obviously removing their veils and
                          stepping forward in the assembly to lead with their Spirit-imparted, miraculous
                          capabilities, i.e., prophecy (l2:lO. 14:31) and prayer (14:14-15). Such activity
                          was a direct violation of the subordination principle, although Paul does not so
                          state until chapter 1 4. He instead confines his directives concerning female
                          leadership in worship in chapter ii to the propriety of the female removing The
                          cultural symbol of submission.” (p 21 in „The Role of Women in the Church,
                          Spiritual Sword)
                          The problem with this view is that it avoids the plain reading of the text. If Miller
                          is correct, then in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul instructs the Corinthian women
                          in the proper manner in which to engage in forbidden speech.
                  b. No. LaGard Smith (Note: this quote follows immediately after the one I cited in the
                          discussion of headship on p. 1): “Are we to expect a husband to be the spiritual
                          head of his own wife at home, yet submit to the spiritual headship of other men‟s
                          wives during worship? Are we to expect a wife to be submissive to her own
                          husband in the home, yet exercise spiritual leadership over other women‟s
                          husbands in the work of the church? Not even some form of shared spiritual
                          leadership‟ would avoid this confusion of roles. (230 in What Most Women

                         Smith seems to ignore the fact that this entire discussion of head-coverings and

                     the submission they symbolize takes place in the context of women who were
                     praying and prophesying in the church at Corinth. Whatever we may say about
                     Paul‟s view of headship and submission, it apparently was not threatened by
                     women who prayed and prophesied with proper decorum.

             c. Yes--as long as they are covered. See Susan Foh above.
             d. Yes. Thomas R. Schreiner: “We should affirm the participation of women in prayer
                     and prophecy in the church. Their contribution should not be slighted or ignored.
                     Nevertheless, women should participate in these activities with hearts that are
                     submissive to male leadership. and they should dress so that they retain their
                     femininity.” (139 in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood)
             e. Yes. Waiter Liefield: „Women were undoubtedly praying and prophesying at
                     Corinth. As to the nature of prophecy in the New Testament church, we have
                     some guidance from 14:3, 5. 12, 26, 31. It is that which strengthens, encourages,
                     comforts, edifies, and instructs, There is no mention here of prophecy in the
                     sense of biblical revelation (like the „writing prophets‟ of the Old Testament) or
                     of prediction (like that of Agabus, Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-1 1). Nor do these
                     prophets seem to be different from the other gifted people (in contrast to the
                     prophets mentioned in Ephesians 2:20 who were the „foundation‟ of the church).       .

                     To be sure, prophecy in the sense of biblical revelation has ended. But the kind of
                     prophecy mentioned in 1 Corinthians ii and 14 is not an infallible biblical
                     revelation but a message from God that needed to be evaluated (14:29). The
                     higher one values that kind of prophecy, the higher one must evaluate the
                     ministry of the women who prophesied. And the higher one values their ministry
                     then, the higher should be their privilege of ministry today, even if the precise
                     form is no longer thought to he valid.‟ (143-144 in Women. Authority and the


    I don‟t see how we can avoid the fact that in 1 Corinthians 11:2- 1 6 Paul instructs both the men
       and women regarding the proper way to pray and prophesy in the church. Paul‟s concern was
       with the manner in which the women were praying arid prophesying and not with the tact that
       they were exercising these gifts.
    If Paul could allow for women a speaking role in the assembly without violating his teaching
       about headship and submission, why can‟t we? Part of our problem. it seems to me. centers
       around this whole idea of headship, authority, and submission, We prohibit women from
       speaking roles in the assembly to the extent that they can‟t even say prayers, even though the
       women in Corinth clearly were praying, and we do that because, we say, a woman cant have
       authority over a man. She must be in submission.
Which of our public roles actually constitute positions of authority? I consider m self to be in
       submission to the elders. When I am teaching or preaching, is that relationship suddenly
       reversed so that they are in submission to me or I am in authority over them? I hardly think so.
       If these public roles--Scripture reading, song leading. saying prayers. waiting on the table.
       making announcements--are positions of authority, why is gender the only qualification for
       participating in those roles? Are only those men who have demonstrated the capacity for
       leadership and authority roles allowed to participate? No. Are only those men whose lives
       evidence a high standard of spiritual maturity allowed to participate? Again, the answer is no.
    In my admittedly limited experience in Churches of Christ (9 years), I have seen: a recently
       baptized. 11 year old boy give the Scripture reading from the pulpit; men who are in no way
       qualified for positions of leadership or authority waiting on the table: and high school boys

   who had not been baptized into Christ reading and commenting on passages of Scripture in the
   Sunday evening assembly. The examples could be multiplied, hut the only conclusion I am
   able to draw from our common practice is that these public roles only become leadership or
   authority roles when the participation of women is at issue,
In I Corinthians 11, Paul instructs the women/wives to properly respect their relationships with
         the men/husbands. In so doing he does not, however, restrict the women‟s ability to use
         their God-given gifts in the assembly. At least in this passage. spiritual gifts--not gender--
         are the qualifications for participation in worship. If we want to make gender the only
         qualification for participation in our public assemblies, lets say so, but let‟s quit
         reinterpreting this passage in order to make it serve our preferences.