It’s Not About Hats, or Hair Length.
After preaching a sermon from 1 Corinthians My friend Darlene Harris asked me to write an article on the roles of men and women.
As we look at 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 we see some points that need to be understood in their proper biblical context. When we understand what is being said, the apostle Paul makes a lot of sense.
What is Paul talking about in this passage? Why is he worried about if ladies wear hats and how big they are? Why is he so concerned that men don’t wear hats (or literally down from the head)? Remember in the day in which Paul lived the non-Christians were in the majority and pagan worship was very prominent.[i] In pagan worship, the leader would often “cover his head” as he would offer prayers, sacrifices, they would pull up the hood. The robe that the pagan priest wore during these times had a hood similar to the hood on the robe of a Monk. Maybe it added to the mysterious aura surrounding the priest, or the heathen worship practices. So when Paul says in verse 44 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head[ii]. Why? Paul doesn’t want them to be confused with the pagan priest. Paul does not want them bringing shame on Christ by how they dress and present themselves. (Now keep that idea in mind)
Now for the ladies, look at 1 Corinthians 11:5 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. The Jewish ladies covered their head to show that they were religious, chaste and virtuous. Eastern society at that time was very jealous over its women. Except for the temple prostitutes, the women wore long hair and, in public, wore a covering over their heads. Paul did not use the word veil, i.e., a covering over the face. The woman put the regular shawl over her head, and this covering symbolized her submission and purity. For the Christian women in the church to appear in public without the covering, let alone to pray and share the Word, was both daring and blasphemous.[iii]
The head covering was just part of the fabric of life. In fact I found it unusual that if a lady who walked out of the house without a head covering and was attacked she would forfeit the protection of Roman law, and the attacker could plead extenuating circumstances.[iv] As I read that information, the best modern day picture would be a married woman who chose to not wear a wedding ring and then every guy in town hits on her because they have no way of knowing that she was married. It is not excusable but that is the way things worked then. So a lady wearing a head covering would be considered as virtuous and chaste in society in general, and unavailable.
Paul did not forbid the women to pray or to prophesy (see 1 Corinthians 12-14 especially chapter 14). It seems that a prophet and a preacher/pastor or minister would be filling different roles. It would appear from reading scripture that a prophet would foretell a message that the Holy Spirit gave him immediately (see Acts 11:28) whereas a minister today studies the word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The New Testament does not permit women elders (1 Tim. 3:2), yet women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were allowed to exercise it. They were also permitted to pray in the public meetings (again see 1 Corinthians 14). However, they were not permitted to usurp authority over the men (1 Tim. 2:11–15) or to judge the messages of the other prophets (1 Cor. 14:27–35). If they had any questions, rather than interrupt the service Paul encouraged them to ask their husbands (or possibly father) outside of the church meeting.
As I read this passage again this week several thoughts came to my mind; 1) Men and women are different! Differences do not mean that one is inferior and the other superior. Differences do not mean unequal. Difference means, well different. God is the head of all. Christ is the head of the Church and if there is going to be peace in the church (1 Cor. 15:33), then there must be some kind of order. I love how author and pastor Warren Wiersbe put it, “However, rank and quality are two different things. The captain has a higher rank than the private, but the private may be a better man.”[v] I love how my pastor in KY reminds the bride and groom of the rank and quality, “Eve was taken from the ribs, from his side, not from his feet so that he should walk all over her, nor from his head, so she would be over him, but from his side, so they would be on the same level.”
2) A second issue no less disturbing seems to be one of demanding rights and demanding following rather than grace, mercy and submission between men and women. In Ephesians 5 we have a little more instruction on this topic; Ephesians 5:22 “wives submit (voluntarily placing yourself under the authority of another[vi]) to your own husbands as to the Lord. Then in verse 25 “husbands love your wives, like Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it”. Evidently some ladies were demanding that they no longer wear the hair covering, and some men were demanding that they submit. When submission is demanded it isn’t submission it is domineering. Any husband who has to force submission on his wife is walking on dangerous ground with the LORD (and probably should sleep with two eyes open). Any wife who is not willing to submit to her husband also walks on dangerous ground, with the LORD.
When husbands love their wives like Christ loves the Church, very few women will have a problem with submission. God made men and women different and put them in different positions, not superior or inferior, but different. When men accept the leadership role in the home that God gave them it frees women to fulfill their role that God gave them. When men do not fulfill the role of the leader, it then forces the women to assume that role. This is when real problems start. It is like using a ratchet as a hammer. I had not been married very long when I came home from work to find my wife using a “Snap-On” ratchet (very expensive brand of tool) for a hammer. Ladies, think of a “Versace” purse being used as a duffle bag stuffed with sweaty gym clothes and sitting on the floor of a locker room. It may work, but the ratchet or purse was designed for something else and will work much better and more effectively doing what it was designed to do. When women assume the role of leader in the home it confuses and frustrates the man to the point where he will literally sit in the chair and mutter to himself, “Well if she will do it … then let her. That gives me more time to do other things.” The wife is also frustrated by the fact that the husband will not be the leader and therefore assumes that she will have to do it all. This then also leads to a lack of trust. That lack of trust then leads to communication breakdowns. The lack of communication leads to a lack of “intimacy”. Which then sends each partner to search for ways of having their intimacy fulfilled by something or someone else.
When we fulfill our God given and inspired roles our homes function more like a reflection of what God intended. No home will be perfect this side of heaven because we are all sinners, yet they could be and would be better if men took their role seriously, and ladies took their role seriously. When our homes do not reflect God’s design, it also has serious implications for the Church. If you want a Church that more accurately reflects the glory of God, then you have to start with the homes of that Church. If you want homes that reflect the glory of God more, then God’s people (men and women) must learn to take their differing roles[vii] seriously and encourage their spouse to do the same.
[i][i] Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (517). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
[ii] All verses quoted are taken from The New King James Version. 1982. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN.
[iii] Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (1 Co 11:3). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
[iv] Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (520–521). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
[v] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (1 Co 11:3). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
[vi] See Spiros Zodhiates discussion of the Greek word “hypotasso” (Strongs 5293)