The apostle Paul addresses an issue that is still talked about widely today in conjunction with the church. He addresses the issue of male and female roles in the church and family. His entire teaching is not found here because he is correcting a specific problem occurring in Corinth. But, like he always does, Paul lays a good foundation which explains why certain decisions are made.
Most scholars believe that this is what was happening in Corinth:
Corinth was a lively church, full of teaching, praying and the release of spiritual gifts. It appears that during the time that the church was gathered for worship, some of the women in the church were interrupting the teaching by the leaders and questioning what was being taught. Not always maliciously but just bogging down the flow with their interruptions. It also appears that some of the women may have been praying or prophesying in a way which was either out of the flow of the Spirit or in direct contradiction to what was being taught and followed by the leaders.
Paul attempts to set things in order by his teaching to the Corinthians. Let’s take a look at some of the major points and see what he was saying.
- Women receive spiritual gifts just like men and can use them in services.
The issue here is not whether women can be used by the Spirit in the church. Paul is not saying women cannot pray or prophesy. There are so many examples in the New Testament of women being used by God to minister. There are examples in the book of Acts in which women prayed and prophesied. Philip the evangelist had daughters who prophesied. Priscilla helped her husband in the ministry to Apollos. Paul, at the end of his epistles recognizes many women who ministered for the Lord (see Romans for example). I believe this includes teaching. “Prophesy” is an interesting word. It can mean “forthtelling” or “foretelling”. It can mean sharing the testimony of Jesus. So, I also believe teaching is not forbidden for women.
- The issue here is authority not ministry.
Some women in Corinth were acting contrary to the flow of Spirit and were also contradicting the leaders teaching. To settle the issue, Paul appeals back to created order. Adam was formed first, then Eve. Eve was deceived and placed under Adam’s authority. Therefore the woman can be used to minister but in authority, she is to submit to her husband. Later in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 14, Paul says this:
Verse 33 – “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?”
I believe Paul is addressing a specific problem happening at Corinth: women were challenging the teachings and acting contrary to the leadership and sometimes, simply asking questions out loud in the service. Paul tells the women to not challenge the leaders or flow contrary to their leading. He also instructs women not to ask questions out loud in church but to discuss these with their own husbands at home.
This does several things:
- It promotes spiritual intimacy between husband and wife.
- It promotes spiritual growth for husband and wife.
- It keeps “renegade, Jezebel” spirits from operating.
It was the custom in Greece for women to have their heads covered in worship and men to have their heads uncovered. The reason being that women having their heads covered reflected their being under their husband’s authority. Men did not cover their heads because they were directly answerable to Christ in accountability for how they handled their family. It is still a custom that men do not wear hats in church or in the presence of a higher authority. Where men did not wear head coverings, it reflected their submission to Jesus. It is interesting that this is directly opposite of Jewish tradition. In near Eastern culture, a women’s hair would often be cut off as a punishment for whoredom or adultery. Paul equates the absence of being under authority with spiritual whoredom. Paul reaffirms this custom as one which reinforces biblical truth. But, it is not about head coverings but about authority.
- Remember, there are angels among us.
Verse 10 of chapter 11 states:
“For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”
Hebrews 1:14 – “Are the not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?”
1 Timothy 5:21 – “I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.”
Paul is saying that angels are among us as we minister. The elect angels respond to authority. To them, authority is power. They will not do their ministry if things are happening out from under authority. Some scholars believe that some women in Corinth would remove their head coverings and prophesy. In other words, they were rejecting their husband’s authority and exercising their “power”. The angels do not recognize power without authority. Operating in such a way can cause discipline by the “messengers” of the church.
- This is not a scripture about your hair.
In Greek culture, men wore their hair short. Paul uses their culture to hammer home a biblical truth but spirituality is not about hair length. Paul is teaching us to respect the beauty of gender differences. They are created by God. To disrespect what God has created violates His word. Remember the question at the end of 1 Corinthians 14:34:
“Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones that it has reached?”
We cannot make up new “words” and “rules” contrary to God’s word. If God were to have one authority structure in the home and another in the church, confusion would reign.
The flowing together of man and woman in mutual submission to the Christ within them is a beautiful thing. I’ve always said, “If you love like a godly authority with humility like a godly authority, you will be anointed like a godly authority and others will recognize your godly authority.”
Men who go around beating their chest proclaiming their authority prove they are unsure of their position.
Women who must be in control over a godly authority are not exercising their gifts or liberties but are revealing their fear and lack of trust in God.
Love not fear is the foundation of the church of Jesus Christ!