Tuesday, June 15, 2010

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

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.

Questions to consider:
  • In what ways does your relationship with God govern your interactions when you meet other Christians?
  • What reasons are given for the covering of heads (there was a Jewish tradition of covering all heads and a Greek tradition of covering no heads)?
  • To what extent does Paul adapt these principles from the general practice of the day?
  • How do we interact with culture today? How does our current culture affect the way that we practice our faith?

Some thoughts from Matt:

So, obviously, this passage has a couple sticky points for many of us. I warn you in advance; I will not answer all of the questions here…

1) First, there's the issue of the specific question of veiling or covering (the Greek literally just says "uncovered" or "unhidden") women's heads. Why is Paul so concerned about this issue which he himself describes as one merely of "custom" or "tradition"? Indeed, various ancient Mediterranean people had different practices in terms of veiling (both men and women or just women or neither). Paul's logic in prescribing veiling for women seems strained here (because of the angels?!); I've read many attempts to explain this; none have been completely satisfying to me. Perhaps what God is leading us to consider here is how we interact with cultural customs in our context. When should we accept cultural norms in our society? What if those norms vary among sub-groups (as they did in Paul's context)? Which do we accept? Which do we resist? How will these decisions shape our interactions with various cultural groups?

2) Second, this passage raises more substantial issues vis-a-vis gender hierarchy. Paul seems to say two very different things: On the one hand, the woman, in the creation narrative (in Genesis), was created from man and after man, and so, therefore is the image and reflection of man (not of God). On the other hand, "in the Lord" (that is, in Christ) there is a relationship of mutuality, "woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman." This is a difficult tension to resolve. What is Paul really saying about men and women? Or, perhaps more to the point, what is God saying to us through this passage about men and women? My take is that, "in the Lord"—that is, in light of Jesus' work—the relationship between men and women is truly egalitarian. Paul's concession, then, to custom and to tradition is all the more intriguing and throws us back to the first set of issues: What did Paul's community have to gain in following these traditions and customs? (Favor with outsiders? Authenticity for believers from certain cultural backgrounds? Respectability in the broader culture?)

At the end of the day, some of the clearest data we have from Paul comes in the form of his greetings to various women who were leading in his churches (e.g., 1Cor 1.11, Rom 16.1-16 (note Phoebe (a deacon) and Junia (an apostle)). However we end up trying to piece together what Paul said on this topic, we can know that his churches did place women in important roles of leadership and service. ECV (and the Vineyard USA as a whole) are committed to doing the same.

Possibilities for prayer:

This passage gives us a lot to think about. Something that’s important to keep in mind whenever we read any passage of the Bible is that we should be seeking help in discerning what the passage means with the Holy Spirit’s help. So let’s put that into practice today--let’s ask God to help us take away the important points for our lives today. God wants to honor our genuine attempts to seek Him through Scripture.