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Respect and disrespect in the church

Correcting disrespect at Ephesus

FFA 400pxThe Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct aims to promote and strengthen the reputation of football in Australia by establishing a standard of performance, behavior and professionalism for its participants and stakeholders. It also seeks to deter conduct that could impair public confidence in the honest and professional conduct of matches and good character of its participants. The code includes topics such as betting, match-fixing and corruption.
Today we are looking at God’s Code of Conduct for Christians at Ephesus. In particular, what is the good behavior for Christian women given in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In about 64 AD, Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to Timothy who was in Ephesus on a temporary mission to help correct problems in the church (1:3). Paul had established the church in Ephesus about eight years earlier when he spent two years preaching and teaching there (Acts 19:1-41). Now he is telling them how to behave as Christians. (3:14-15). It’s like a Code of Conduct. These principles of conduct applied to people at Ephesus “in God’s household, which is the church of the living God”. In this sense the church is not a building, or a meeting in a building, but a group of people who follow Jesus Christ. So the letter of 1 Timothy addresses Christian behavior in many situations, not just church meetings. In fact there is no textural evidence that any section of the letter only applies to a church meeting. Note that the section headings in our bibles aren’t inspired. The heading of “Instructions on worship” (2:1-15) in the NIV implies a church meeting. But where is the evidence to support this restriction? For this chapter, I prefer the HCSB headings which are “Instructions on prayer” (v.1-7), followed by “Instructions for men and women” (v.8-15).

Ephesus was a wealthy city in a central location along the coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was an important trading, political and intellectual centre and a port that was on three main highways. Greeks and Jews lived in the region and there was a Jewish synagogue at Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 19:8, 10). Many Ephesians worshipped the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, being four times as large as the Parthenon.

At that time, women generally had a low position in Jewish and Roman society. They were suppressed. But in Ephesus some reacted against this and dressed to impress (1 Tim. 2:9) and dominated their husbands and perhaps aspired to be leaders in the church (1 Tim. 2:12). But Paul saw that this was wrong for those who professed to follow Christ and he implemented corrective action.

The main topics addressed in the letter are false teachers (1:3-1; 4:1-16; 6:3-10) and Christian behavior. After urging evangelistic prayer (2:1-7), Paul looks at problems at Ephesus related to men (2:8) and women (2:9-10). Then he addresses women teaching and exercising authority over men (2:11-15). This is followed by instruction on church leadership by elders (3:1-7) and deacons (3:8-13).

Their attitude (1 Tim. 2:9NIV)

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes

This verse is linked with v.8 because it begins with the Greek word for “likewise” hósautós (Strongs #5615). Verse 8 says that whenever they pray (in the family and in the church), men should have holy lives (not unholy lives) and calmness (not anger) and make peace (not disputing). They were prone to unholy lives, anger and disputing, which hindered their prayers. These ungodly attitudes and behavior may have been aggravated by the false teachers in Ephesus who stirred up quarrels and strife (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

Verses 8-9 may imply that men have the primary responsibility for leading in prayer in the family and the church. But they don’t exclude wives/women from praying in the family and the church. Some believe that they imply that only men (and not women) should pray publicly in church, but there is no textural evidence that the context is a church meeting and it says nothing about the topic of woman and prayer. Meanwhile, it seems that both women and men prayed together after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:14).

The word “likewise” (or “also”) at the beginning could indicate that v.9 applies to when there is prayer or when wives/women pray, or it could just indicate what ungodly attitudes and behavior women were prone to. I prefer the latter interpretation.

The standard is that Christian wives/women dress themselves in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to themselves and doesn’t distract others. In particular they should have modesty (not sexuality), decency and respectability (not dishonor or shamefulness) and propriety and self-control (not self-indulgence). The examples given concern women’s hairstyles, jewellery and clothing, which were being used in Ephesus to display one’s wealth and attractiveness (beauty) and to enhance the status and honor of their husbands. This could lead to others having admiration and jealousy. Also, gold, pearls and extravagant clothing could indicate a sexually lax lifestyle. Such an emphasis on appearance suggests a desire to attract attention to oneself, perhaps to seduce.

As girls married at a very young age at this time and childbearing is mentioned in v.15, Paul is mainly addressing married women in this passage.

Peter gave a similar instruction to wives, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Pt. 3:3-4).

The principle behind Paul’s instruction is that Christian women show an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly. They shouldn’t draw attention to themselves by their appearance. Our appearance matters because it shows our inner attitude and it affects others. This topic is continued in v.10.

Their testimony (1 Tim. 2:10)

but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God

As the Greek text in v.10 refers to women who profess “the fear of God”, I prefer “women who profess reverence for God” (NET) or “women who profess godliness” (ESV). The use of the word “worship” could add the idea of a church meeting, which is absent in the original text.

Rather than being distinguished by what they wear, Paul says that godly women should be distinguished by their good deeds. These include, “bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble”, managing their homes and caring for widows (1 Tim. 5:10, 14, 16). What they do should be more noticeable than their apparel. How they live is more important than how they look. Christian character is what counts.

When a woman claims to be a Christian then she should live so her good works support that claim. About four years earlier Paul told them, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Good works should characterise both Christian men and women. The good works confirm the testimony of one’s faith in Christ.

The principle here is that Christian women be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.

Next Paul continues his corrective action for the women in Ephesus.

Their role (1 Tim. 2:11-12)

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet

Paul now changes from the plural to the singular. The reason for this isn’t clear, but it may be related to the fact that he introduces Adam and Eve in v.13-14. The word for “woman” and “wife” is the same in Greek and the word for “man” and “husband” is also the same. Because of this and because the word “submission” is mentioned elsewhere in the context of husband/wife, some think that the context is husband/wife. But the text and the context favor man/woman. The text says “a man”, not “her man” and the prayer and dress in v.8-9 refers to Christian men/women and not just to husbands/wives. Clearly the passage governs conduct in the Christian community and not just the home.

What do the Greek words translated “learn”, “quietness” and “submission” mean in v.11? The Greek verb for “learn” manthanó (Strongs #3129) means “to increase one’s knowledge”. Paul also uses “learn” in 1 Timothy 5:4, 13 where people are said to learn by use and practice – it becomes habitual. The verse says that a woman can learn Scripture (such learning is not restricted to the man) and when they do, they should be quiet and submissive. So women have the right to learn – “to come to a knowledge of the truth” of the gospel (v.4). This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law. For example, Mary of Bethany learnt from Jesus (Lk. 10:39). Now women need to learn Scripture for their roles in society, in the church and in the family.

The Greek noun for “quietness” hésuchia (#2271) means quietness or silence. It occurs twice in v.11-12. The only other occasion when Paul used this word is 2 Thessalonians. 3:12 where busybodies are told to “work quietly” and earn their keep, which means not meddling in another’s affairs. Paul used the verb form of this Greek word (#2270) in 1 Thessalonians. 4:11 where it means to mind your own business.

Paul used the adjectival version of this Greek word (#2272) in 1 Timothy 2:2 (the same chapter as our passage) where he said that believers should pray for kings and those in authority so they may have “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. This means not having the turmoil and upheaval of anarchy, revolutions and civil wars. This is the most probable meaning of the word in v.11-12 as well. So it doesn’t mean “silence”, but in this context it means not being disruptive, aggressive, or challenging. The implication is that the women in Ephesus were being disruptive when they were learning. They didn’t have a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Pt. 3:4, the other instance of this word in Scripture). In this context it meant not teaching men and not leading men as an elder in the local church (v.12).

The Greek noun for “submissiveness” hupotagé (#5292) means subjection or obedience. In 1 Timothy 3:4 this word is used to describe how children are to obey their father. The word also describes how Paul didn’t give in (subject himself) to the legalists (Gal. 2:5).

The verb form of this Greek word (#5293) means to submit, to place under, or to obey. It is used to describe how a wife is subject to her husband, a slave to their master, and a person to the rulers and authorities (Ti. 2:5, 9; 3:1). Paul used it in a letter written to them a few years beforehand to describe how a wife is subject to her husband (Eph. 5:21-22, 24).

There are four passages where a wife/woman is to be submissive (#5293) to a husband/man (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:3-5; 1 Pt. 3:1, 5). In all these cases it states that a wife is to be submissive to her own husband. I think the “submission” in v.11 should be consistent with this, but it needn’t be identical.

So in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the female learner is to be submissive/obedient to the teacher and to the Scripture being taught in the way she submits herself in marriage. Women weren’t to be teaching, dominating, ruling or interrupting men in the family and in the church. Instead they were to be quiet.

What do the Greek words translated “teach” and “assume authority” mean in v.12? The Greek verb for “teach” didaskó (#1321) means to instruct; or to impart knowledge. It nearly always refers to teaching the Scriptures. The word is also used in 1 Timothy 4:11; 6:2 to describe what Timothy was to teach.

The adjectives of this Greek word (#1317, #1318) respectively mean “able to teach” and “taught, instructed” (1 Cor. 2:13). A few verses after our passage, Paul says that an elder must be able to teach (1Tim. 3:2).

The nouns of this Greek word (#1319, 1320, 1322) respectively mean “instruction, or teaching” (1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13, 16, 17); “teacher” (1 Tim. 2:7); and “teaching, or doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2).

Consequently, in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “teach” applies to a woman explaining the Scripture to a man. So this verse means that a woman is not to teach the Scripture to a man. What about Priscilla and her husband teaching Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:24-26)? In this case it was with her husband and privately in their home with the purpose of educating a preacher with a deficient understanding of Scripture. So the command in 1 Tim. 2:12 doesn’t apply to a husband and wife privately teaching another person. Of course, women can always teach children (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15) and other women (Ti. 2:3-5). So they are allowed to teach, but not teach men.

Some say that this passage is addressed to women who were teaching heresy, but there is no textural evidence that any of the false teachers mentioned in 1 Timothy were women. Instead, when Paul addresses false teachers, it is obvious what he means (1 Tim. 1:3-4, 6-7, 19-20; 6:3-10).

The Greek verb for “assume authority” authenteó (#831) means to govern, to exercise authority, or to exercise dominion. It has also been defined to mean, “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to”. Other translations say “have authority” (ESV, NLT) and “exercise authority” (HCSB, NET). According to the English dictionary, to “have authority” means to have the right to rule, govern, command, control or determine. As this is the only occasion that this Greek word is used in the Bible, it’s better to use the surrounding context to determine the meaning instead of consulting extra-biblical usage. In this case it’s an authority associated with teaching fellow believers in a local church (1 Tim. 2:12; 3:15). Those with such authority in the local church are the elders who comprise the leadership team. In fact the next topic in this letter is the qualifications of church elders (or overseers) (1 Tim. 3:1-7). So after saying who shouldn’t be elders, Paul specifies who can be elders. As elders need to be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), if someone was prohibited from teaching, they would also be prohibited from eldership. Besides this, one of the qualifications for leadership in the church is “faithful to his wife”, which rules out women (1 Tim. 3:2). Also, elders govern and teach, which are the two roles that aren’t appropriate for women to exercise in the church over men (1 Tim. 5:17).

So in 1 Timothy 2:12, the Greek word “assume authority” means to exercise the authority of an elder in the local church. Women can have authority, but not the authority of a church elder/overseer.

Some say that v.12 refers to one activity (teaching with authority) and not two (teaching and authority). This depends on the interpretation of the Greek conjunction oude (#3761). Paul uses this word three times in this letter.
• “For we brought nothing into the world, and (#3761) we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6:7). Here oude links two different ideas “we brought nothing into the world” and “we can take nothing out of it”.
• “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or (#3761) can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Here oude links two different but related ideas “no one has seen” and “no one can see”.
• “I do not permit a woman to teach or (#3761) to assume authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12). Therefore, the best interpretation (to be consistent with the other two instances of this word) is that here oude also links two different (but maybe related) ideas: “a woman to teach a man” and “a woman to assume authority (exercise the authority of an elder) over a man”.
So there is no textural support in this letter for the idea that there is only one activity described in v.12 and not two.

Putting this all together, we see that Paul’s instruction is that a woman can be taught from Scripture provided she respects (is submissive/obedient to) the teacher and the Scripture being taught. In the family she is to respect her husband and not teach or dominate/rule him. In the church she is to respect the preachers/teachers and the elders and not teach men or lead the church. The husband is to lead the family and men are to be responsible for the teaching and overall leadership (eldership) in the church.

What about when Paul wrote “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (11:5)? Doesn’t this mean that women prophesied in church meetings at Corinth? The subheading of 11:2-16 is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! The focus of this passage is on the need for a head-covering when they prophesised, not on “worship”. And there is no definite reference to a meeting. So from 11:2-16 it is debateable as to whether women prophesised in meetings at Corinth or not. In this case, the best exegesis is to use the clearer example of 14:34 which definitely implies that women didn’t prophesy in meetings when men were present at Corinth.

The principle here is that Christian women not preach/teach to men or lead the church, but respect the men that do this preaching/teaching and leading. They were to be respectful instead of being disruptive. Next Paul gives the reason for this instruction.

Their design (1 Tim. 2:13-14)

For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner

God’s design for men and women was given in the original creation. He created differences between them. Adam was made first and then Eve. Eve was created for Adam and not vice-versa (1 Cor. 11:9). She was made to be his helper and to be submissive as his wife (Gen. 2:18, 20). She was to live under his provision and protection. As Eve was to follow Adam’s leadership, wives are to follow their husband’s leadership (1 Cor. 11:3). Also, the husband is to provide for and protect his wife, and the wife is to live under this provision and protection. But since the fall into sin, there has been conflict when wives seek to turn this around and rule their husbands.

When Eve acted independently of Adam she was deceived by Satan. The Greek verb exapataó (#1818) means “thoroughly deceived”. The same verb occurs in “Eve was deceived (thoroughly) by the serpent’s cunning (2 Cor. 11:3). She was the first person to fall into sin. Adam also sinned by submitting to Eve instead of leading her. This shows she needs a leader. Paul is saying that wives were designed to have husbands as their leaders. Likewise, women in the church are designed to have male overseers/elders as their leaders. So the overseers/elders need to lead the church and the women and other men need to follow them.

This design for men and women isn’t cultural because it is based on Genesis chapters 2-3 and not on the Jewish culture or Roman culture of that time. The pattern of male leadership and female submission was to be the pattern for the church in Ephesus. And it was consistent with the biblical pattern of male leadership and female submission in marriage.

Furthermore, these roles are not based on any alleged local shortcomings of the women at Ephesus such as a lack of education or the existence of heretical female teachers.

But we may think that this gives women a minor role in the church. Next Paul shows how they can have a great influence in the church and in society.

Their contribution (1 Tim. 2:15)

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety

This verse is difficult to interpret, but it is agreed that that it is intended to lessen the impact of v.13-14.

The Greek noun for “childbearing” teknogonia (#5042) means child bearing or the rearing of a family (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a term that denotes one thing is used to refer to a related thing). As childbirth doesn’t fit the context, the latter meaning is preferred. Wives have babies and rear them through childhood to adolescence and maturity.

What are they saved from by raising their children? The Greek verb for “saved” sózó (#4982) means save, rescue or deliver. We have seen that Eve was thoroughly deceived and the first person to sin (v.14). By raising godly offspring, mothers are delivered from the shame of Eve leading the fall into sin. In this way they are leading the development of godly men and women. Although this work is done in the home, the fruits impact society and the church. Behind every godly man and woman there is probably a godly woman. For example, Timothy was taught the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15).

This is consistent with young widows being advised to marry, to have children and to manage their homes as the best protection against self-indulgent ungodly living (1 Tim. 5:6, 11-15).

This is a conditional promise. It depends on women having the attitude and testimony described in v.9-10. This means that their appearance indicates godly attitudes and their testimony is vindicated by good works.

Through godly motherhood, women have a great impact on the next generation. This is a major contribution that women can make to society and the church. So their primary role in Ephesus was caring for their children, not leading or teaching the congregation (1 Tim. 5:14-15; Ti. 2:4-5).

A similar explanation (also using synecdoche) is that the faith of Christian women will be preserved if they embrace their God-given female roles and responsibilities (indicated by “childbearing”, which is one of their roles). This is similar to the faith of Timothy’s hearers being preserved if he persisted in godly living and true teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).

The principle here is that Christian women will be rewarded if they obey Paul’s instruction and carry out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.

What about Galatians 3:28?

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

Some use this verse to claim that as the gospel eradicates the differences between men and women, there should be no restrictions on women’s ministry in the church. But this verse doesn’t address the roles of men and women in church. It has a different context which is the unity that salvation in Christ brings to a diverse group of people. Race, social status and gender make no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings. In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female. There is now no division in Christ Jesus (also see: 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11).

But does Galatians 3:28 abolish all sexual distinctions? Can Christians now approve same-sex marriages? No! It doesn’t address these topics and others like husband-wife roles or male-female roles in the local church.

Lessons for us

As 1 Timothy was probably written about AD 64, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then. Also, this is Paul’s final passage on this topic (1 Corinthians was written nine years earlier).

1 Corinthians 14:34

Nine years earlier Paul corrected disorderly meetings at Corinth. The main principle we deduced from this was that women are not to preach or teach if men are present as this is a male role (1 Cor. 14:34). This is a conditional silence as other verbal activities are acceptable. And it is consistent with our findings in 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

Application

These principles for Christian women are:
• To be distinguished by good deeds rather than by their appearance.
• Not drawing attention to themselves by their appearance. Showing an attitude of modesty and self-control by dressing modestly and respectably, not extravagantly.
• Carrying out their God-given female roles and responsibilities, including caring for their children.
• Not preaching/teaching men or leading the church (as elders), and respecting the men that do such preaching/teaching and leading.

These can be difficult to accept because they go against our culture today where: women often draw attention to themselves by what they wear, these principles are deemed to be sexist, contraception reduces the number of children in a family, and child-care and home-duties have low status.

Graham arnold 400pxThe Head Coach of the Sydney Football Club has been fined $5,000 for breaching the Football Federation of Australia’s Code of Conduct. The coach made comments about refereeing that brought the game into disrepute in the post-match interview after a football match in January 2015. Likewise, breaching God’s code of conduct has an adverse impact on our families and churches.

Do we encourage girls and women to learn God’s truths in Scripture in church, in small groups, or by reading, or studying through Bible College (which can be done online)? Are they using this knowledge to live godly lives and teach children and other women?

Do husbands support their wives’ spiritual roles and responsibilities in the family, church and society? Are women being recognized and praised for their good deeds?

How do we influence women to have an attitude of modesty and self-control? Can this be modelled by godly women?

Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t preachers/teachers) to respect those who preach/teach from the Scriptures? Are those with the gift of preaching/teaching encouraged to teach Scripture to children and women?

Do we help girls and women (together with the men who aren’t elders) to respect the elders who lead our churches? Are those with the gift of leadership encouraged to lead children’s and women’s ministries? Are wives encouraged to respect their husbands?

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 we have seen that God had a Code of Conduct for Christian women at Ephesus. Families, the local church, and society would have benefitted when this was followed and suffered when it wasn’t followed. As the principles behind these practices at Ephesus also apply to us today, let’s encourage Christian women to be known by good deeds rather than by their appearance and by their valuable female roles and responsibilities, including respecting their church teachers and leaders.

Written, December 2015

Also see: Order and disorder in the church
How do we show respect for authority?
Gender roles in the family and the church


How do we show respect for authority?

Correcting disrespectful behavior at Corinth
Bernard Tomic 400px

In July 2015 Bernard Tomic was axed from Australia’s Davis Cup team after a scathing attack on Tennis Australia officials. TA said “Bernard’s disparaging and disrespectful post-match comments to the media at Wimbledon effectively ruled him out of contention. His behaviour was unacceptable. The allegations are misinformed and untrue and he publicly derided some outstanding people”. Soon after Tomic was arrested in Miami after refusing to turn down loud music while partying in the early hours of the morning.

Let’s look at God’s commands for respectful behaviour for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth. In particular, what is the good behavior given in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and how does this relate to us today? This article is based on an assessment of the text and context of this passage.

Context

In 55 AD Paul (who was in Ephesus) wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians to the church in Corinth. Paul established a church at Corinth in 52 AD during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-17) and he stayed there for about 18 months (Acts 18:11).

At that time Corinth was the chief city in Greece. It was in southern Greece on the trade route between western Europe and places further east such as Asia Minor, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Its people worshipped at pagan temples and there was a Jewish synagogue.

The church at Corinth was plagued by factions and spiritual immaturity. When he was in Ephesus, Paul received a letter from Corinth informing him of their difficulties and asking questions about Christian behavior. So Paul wrote this letter to address the problems in the church and to answer their questions. It addresses topics such as factions, sexual immorality, marital difficulties, lawsuits, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and misuse of spiritual gifts.

The passage is preceded by a discussion on whether to eat meat that had been offered to idols (8:1 – 11:1) and followed by correcting abuse at the Lord’s Super (11:17-34).

The subheading of this passage is “On covering the heads in worship” (NIV). But there is no reference to a church meeting until v.17, which is outside the passage! Therefore, this instruction may not be limited to church meetings. So a more general subheading such as “Head coverings” (ESV) or “Instructions about head coverings” (HCSB) is preferable.

The passage implies that when they prayed and prophesised in Corinth, men weren’t respecting God, wives weren’t respecting their husbands, and daughters weren’t respecting their fathers. They brought shame on themselves and their relational heads. This respect was to be shown by whether they wore head coverings or not. Paul writes to correct their behaviour.

Before we look at the passage it is instructive to summarise the practices with regard to head coverings when it was written.

First century culture

In the first century when in public Jewish women bound their long hair and covered it with a veil. Uncovered hair in public was viewed as equivalent to adultery and could be punished by having her hair shorn or shaven. Since the congregation at Corinth met next door to the synagogue and was composed of both Jewish and Gentile women, universal veiling of women would cause the least offense.

Jewish priests wore turbans on their heads when they served in the temple (Ex. 39:28). It is an ancient practice for male Jews to cover their heads during prayer as a symbol of being ashamed and unworthy before God. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head, which is opposite to the custom in Western cultures.

Female slaves were recognized by their short hair or shaved heads; they weren’t allowed to have long hair. Therefore women in the church at Corinth who were slaves would have had short hair.

In the Roman Empire women generally had their heads covered in public while men’s heads were uncovered. This was the normal culture of that time. All respectable married women wore a veil outside their home. If a woman’s head was shorn or shaven it usually denoted slavery, mourning the dead, or adultery.

The Gentile Christians at Corinth had converted from pagan religions and needed instruction on meat that had been offered to idols (8:1-11:1) and sacrificial meals at pagan temples (10:18-2). It seems as though they also needed instruction on appropriate attire and hairstyle for men and women. This may be because these conventions weren’t followed by some pagan worshippers. For example images of female worshippers of Dionysus show uncovered heads and unbound hair, which has been interpreted as rebellion against the oppression of women.

Introduction (1 Cor. 11:2)

Paul begins by commending them for obeying the instructions he had passed onto them. These weren’t human ideas but teachings that Paul had received from God – as expressed by the NLT, “I am so glad that you always keep me in your thoughts, and that you are following the teachings I passed on to you”.

He then states a biblical principle.

Headship (1 Cor. 11:3NIV)

“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”.

The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 14 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians 7, aner is translated “husband”.

The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. It occurs 16 times in our passage. In 1 Corinthians, gune is translated “wife” 17 times and “woman” 4 times.

So v.3 says that:
• God is head over Christ.
• Christ is head over a man/husband
• Man/husband is head over a woman/wife. The ESV states “the head of a wife is her husband”.

The Greek noun translated “head” (kephale #2776) means either the physical head of a person or animal or metaphorically anything supreme, chief, prominent (master or lord). Here it is used metaphorically. Paul uses this word elsewhere to describe these relationships:
• Christ over the church (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19)
• Christ over the angels (Col. 2:10)
• A husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23)

Some say that kephale means “source”. In this verse, the Greek noun theos (#2316) is translated “God”. In this letter Paul often uses the title theos for God the Father in a passage that also mentions Jesus Christ (1:1; 1:9; 6:14; 8:6; 9:21). As this is also the case in 11:3, in this verse the word “God” means God the Father. But how is God the Father the source of Jesus Christ when they are both eternal? Such a meaning doesn’t make sense. A better interpretation is that Christ submitted Himself to the Father’s leadership. This was demonstrated when He prayed and when He said “not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). It’s a functional authority and leadership that Christ willingly submitted to (Jn. 4:34; 5:19; 7:16; 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

In what sense is God is head over Christ? Christ was sent to earth by God the Father and Christ was obedient to God the Father. So although they have equality within the godhead, God is seen as the initiator and Christ the responder. God has authority and Christ is subordinate. Together they fulfilled the plans of the Godhead.

In what sense is Christ head over a man/husband? As Creator and Redeemer, Christ is head over all humanity. As a man/husband is part of humanity, Christ is head over a man/husband. In this case they share a divine nature, but not divinity (This is why Jesus is called “Lord”). Together they can fulfil God’s plans for humanity.

In what sense was a man/husband head over a woman/wife in the first century? As a husband over his wife (Eph. 5:23). As a father over his daughter. As the leader of a household over the women in the household. Together they can fulfil God’s plans for marriage and the family. By the way, in first century Corinth, most unmarried women probably lived in a household where their father or another male was the leader.

He then gives an example of how this biblical principle was practiced by men at that time.

Male dishonor (1 Cor. 11:4)

“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head”
“Every man who prays or prophesies with something on his head dishonors his head” (HCSB)

The Greek preposition translated “covered” (kata #2596) means “down from” like a veil.

The second “head” in v.4 and v.5 is metaphorical. It’s a play on words indicating that they were bringing dishonour on themselves and their relational heads (Christ in v.4 and husbands etc. in v.5).

Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, men should honor Christ (their metaphorical head) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace or shame or irreverence) Him. He says that a male shows honor (or respect) to Christ when they pray or prophesy by not having their head covered. Conversely a covered head implies dishonor (or disrespect). Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.

This is similar to the cultural practice in the Roman Empire. It was a way of showing proper respect at the time. In the era when men usually wore hats when outdoors, they removed their hats when being introduced to someone. But this symbolism is not common in the western world today.

This is followed by an example of how women practiced this biblical principle at that time.

Female dishonor (1 Cor. 11:5-6)

“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved” (v.5). The ESV uses “wife” in verse 5-6.

The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.13.

Prayer is speaking to God and prophecy is speaking for God. They are examples of spiritual activities. Paul is saying that when they pray or prophesy, women should honor their man (their metaphorical head, such as husband or father or head of the household) and not dishonor (disrespect or disgrace) him. He says that a female shows honor (or respect) to their man (husband or father or head of the household) when they pray or prophesy by having their head covered. It indicated that she was acting under authority. Conversely an uncovered head implies dishonor. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace for a woman to have her head shaved. Once again, Paul doesn’t explain this custom, as he assumes the readers understand it.

Showing respect to a male via a head covering may be similar to Middle Eastern practices, but it is foreign to western culture. Likewise, a shaved head would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.

“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” (v.6).

The Greek verb translated “cover” (katakalupto #2619), which occurs twice in v.6 and once in v.7, means to veil or cover oneself.

The message of this verse is similar to that of v.5, but it adds having “her hair cut off”. The other occurrences of the Greek word for having one’s hair cut off (#2751) are:
• Acts 8:32. To shear a sheep (a quotation of Isaiah 53:7). In this case, the shearer removes as much of the wool as possible without cutting the skin of the sheep. It’s like a crew cut!
• Acts 18:18 Having one’s hair cut short in association with a Jewish vow.

In this instance, a short hair cut (a crew cut) would have a similar appearance to being shaved. As mentioned above, at that time it was a disgrace before society for a woman to have a short hair cut. However, a woman with a short haircut (a crew cut) would be unusual, but not disgraceful in western culture today. So this symbolism is foreign to the western world.

In this article I assume that general principle behind this passage is to maintain a distinction in authority between males and females (v.3). Other options are to maintain a distinction in appearance between males and females or to use culturally appropriate expressions of gender (instead of being disgraceful).

He then gives seven reasons for this practice by Christians at that time.

Reasons

Glory (1 Cor. 11:7)

“A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (v.7).

This states that the man/husband is the image and glory of God and the woman/wife is the glory of the man/husband. Unfortunately, we don’t understand Paul’s reasoning here.

The Greek noun translated “glory” (doxa #1391) means something that has inherent, intrinsic worth. It often means the unique majesty and worthiness of God. The word is used 12 times in the book of 1 Corinthians. Glory is an attribute of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:8). As co-heirs with Christ, believers will share His future glory (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom. 8:17). Their resurrected bodies will be glorious (1 Cor. 15:43). Everything we do should bring glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31). Long hair is a woman’s glory (v.15). And glory (or brightness) is an attribute of the sun moon and stars. It is also used 19 times in the book of 2 Corinthians as an attribute of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Christians and the radiant face of Moses after seeing God’s goodness at the giving of the law at Mount Sinai.

The verb form of this word (#1392) occurs twice in 1 Corinthians to describe how we can honor God (1 Cor. 6:20) and when a Christian is honored (1 Cor. 12:26). It also occurs three times in 2 Corinthians to describe the glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:10) and the praises given to God for people’s generosity in times of need (2 Cor. 9:13).

Mankind is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). As this verse applied to both Adam and Eve, both male and female were made in the image of God. However, in 1 Corinthians 11:7 it is only applied to the man. Maybe Paul is alluding to how the original man and woman were created. God made Adam from the dust of the ground and He made Eve from Adam’s rib. Adam brings glory and honor to his creator (God) and Eve brings glory and honor to the one she came from (Adam). This is explained by the order and purpose of their creation (v.8-9).

Why is the glory of God and of a man/husband linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? Is the head a symbol of the person (by synecdoche – a figure of speech in which a part is put for the whole)? Does it relate to whether the glory is public (for all to see) or private (hidden from sight)? If this is so, then the uncovered head symbolises that the man/husband is visible so everyone can see the glory of God. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it would be good to be reminded of His glory when engaged in these activities. On the other hand, the covered head symbolises that the woman/wife is hidden so people can’t see the glory of the man/husband. As God is the focus of prayer and prophecy, it’s not appropriate to be reminded of a man’s/husband’s glory when engaged in these activities.

Order of creation (1 Cor. 11:8)

“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man”

This verse describes the order and method God used to create the first couple, Adam and Eve. Adam was made first and Eve second. Adam wasn’t made from Eve, but Eve was made from Adam.

Why is the order of creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve came from Adam, she would have respected him as the source of her life (Paul balances this in v.11-12 where he states that mothers are the source or life for all other men). Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.

Purpose created (1 Cor. 11:9)

“neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”

This verse describes the reason why God created Eve. Before Eve was created, Adam was given instructions to care for the Garden of Eden, to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to name the animals and birds (Gen. 2:15-20). Adam would have observed that all the animals and birds were either males or females and each had a mate, but he was alone. And God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). So Eve was made for Adam. She was his companion and helper (#5828 noun). Moses used this word elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God helped to protect him from Pharaoh’s sword (Ex. 18:4); in a prayer for God to help Judah against his enemies (Dt. 33:7); and in referring to God’s help for Israel against their enemies (Dt. 33:26, 29). So Eve provided Adam with aid, assistance and support.

Why is the purpose of Adam and Eve’s creation linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As Eve was made for Adam, she would have respected him as the senior partner in their marriage. Paul implies that women should show the same respect to men when they pray or prophesy. And at that time such respect was shown by having their head covered in public.

Symbol of authority (1 Cor. 11:10a)

“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head”

Why is the word “authority” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? In this context the word “authority” probably stands, by metonymy, for “a sign of authority”. So the NIV gives an alternative translation, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her own head”. Also, the ESV uses the word “wife” instead of “woman”.

So the head covering is a symbol of authority. At that time it showed that the wife is under the authority of her husband, and the daughter is under the authority of her father, and the unmarried woman is under the authority of the head of her household.

The angels are watching (1 Cor. 11:10b)

“because of the angels”.

Why are the angels linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? The angels watch the activities of humanity and the church (1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:10). They saw how Eve made the decision that Adam should have made when sin entered humanity. She took the leadership role and acted as the head over Adam. God wants wives to respect their husbands, and daughters to respect their fathers, and unmarried women to respect the heads of their households. At that time, this respect was shown by the head covering during prayer and prophesy. That’s what He wants the angels to see.

Human reason (1 Cor. 11:13-15)

“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering”
Note that, the ESV uses “wife” instead of “woman” in v.13.
The Greek adjective translated “uncovered” (akatakaluptos #177) means “unveiled” or “uncovered”. It also occurs in v.5.

The Greek noun translated “covering” (peribolaion #4018) means a covering that is thrown around, a mantle or a veil. Note that it is different to that in v.6-7 (#2619).

At that time it was respectful for a Corinthian woman to have her head covered in public and disrespectful to have it uncovered. So the instruction for women/wives about head coverings in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.

Why is “long hair” linked to whether one’s head is covered or not? As he then discusses hair length, some think that the women’s covering is her long hair. But the covering in v.15 (#4018) is a different word to that in v.6-7 (#2619). If the covering was long hair, then v.6a wouldn’t make sense, “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off”. If her long hair was already cut, it can’t be cut off again! Also the only time a women’s head was to be covered and a man’s head uncovered was when praying and prophesying. So the covering was temporary not permanent, but long hair isn’t something that can be put back on after it is taken off! Furthermore, Paul used the word “nature” when describing hair (v.14) and “custom” or “practice” when describing the head covering (v.16).

When Paul says “For long hair is given to her as a covering” (v.15b), he is drawing a parallel between long hair (a natural covering) and a veil (a fabric covering). Long hair is a natural covering paralleling the veil. Previously he said, “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him” (v.14). This means that long hair and a head covering are appropriate for women, but not for men. So the instruction for women/wives and men/husbands about hair length in this passage corresponded to the current cultural practice.

Uniformity (1 Cor. 11:16)

“If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God”

Paul’s final reason for this practice by the Christians at Corinth is that this was the practice in other churches in the Roman Empire. He wanted uniformity amongst the churches at that time in how males and females showed respect when they prayed and prophesied.

So we have seen what this passage meant to those it was written to at Corinth in the first century. But what does it mean to us today?

How does it apply today?

Two views

The main difference between now and then is that we live in a different culture. And cultures differ across the world. Women and men often wear head coverings in some cultures and not in others. And the accepted hair length for men and women varies in different cultures. Also, there are differences in how respect is shown between people. In some places women show respect by a head covering, while in others a head covering has nothing to do with respect.

Generally the principles given to the church in the New Testament are written in a way that enables them to be practiced in different ways in different cultures. This is because the church is comprised of people from all nations and not primarily one as was the case in the Old Testament.

If a culture with respect to head covering and hair length matched that of Corinth in the first century then the application of this passage will probably be the same. But what if the local culture is different?

Obviously the principle in v.3 is universal. God is head over Christ, Christ is head over a man/husband, and a man/husband is head over a woman/wife. If a woman lives in a household without a husband or father, then it may be difficult to identify the males she is to respect. Maybe they are relatives or church leaders.

There are two main views on how the practices in v.4-6 apply today. One is to say that the application is universal because some of the reasons are universal (v.7-9) and it was to apply universally across the Roman Empire (v.16). In this case the application today is the same as at Corinth in the first century. This would mean that Christian attire may have to differ from what is culturally acceptable.

The other view says that because the culture is different, the application can be different. The symbol is meaningless in societies where it is not disgraceful for a wife to have her head uncovered in public. Like with the holy kiss and drinking wine for indigestion (1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Tim. 5:23), we need to distinguish between the principle and its cultural expression. Today we use culturally acceptable greetings and medicines, instead of a holy kiss and wine. We translate Biblical practices into their equivalent modern practices. The need for respect and honor remains (v.4-5), but how this is expressed depends on the local culture. For example, if it isn’t shameful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved, the reasoning in v.5-6 collapses. If it isn’t improper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, the reason given in v.6 collapses. If long hair isn’t disgraceful for a man, the reason given in v.14 collapses. Also. if long hair isn’t glorious for a woman, the reason given in v.15 collapses. So how can one’s demeanour indicate submission to God’s leadership (for men) or submission to male leadership (for women)?

In Western culture there are few recognized symbols of a husband’s headship. One such symbol is when the wife takes the husband’s family name. And a wedding ring signifies marriage. But, veils are a sign of subservience and inequality (as in the Muslim culture). And hats are worn for shading or fashion.

Respect

If you are a man, how do you bring glory and honor to God? How do you respect God and reflect His goodness? Are you serving Christ to fulfil God’s plans for humanity? If you are married, how do you lead your wife and children to help them respect you? Do you welcome her contribution to your marriage and family? Do you need to step up and speak up and take more responsibility?

If you are a woman, how do you bring glory and honor to your father? Do you respect your father? If you are married, how do you bring glory and honor to your husband? Do you respect your husband and reflect God’s goodness evident in a godly husband? Do you support his leadership in the family? What do you contribute to your marriage and family? Do you need to step down and be quieter and take less responsibility?

Prophecy

As 1 Corinthians was probably written about AD 55, it describes the early days of the church. The only earlier books in the New Testament are James, Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and events described in the gospels and Acts chapters 1-19. When applying the principles in it to us today we need to consider the changes since then. There is Scriptural evidence that the frequency of speaking in other languages and prophecy changed later in the first century AD.

Speaking in other languages is only mentioned in two books of the Bible (Acts and 1 Corinthians). Also, it isn’t mentioned in any Scripture written after 55 AD (or in the case of Acts, events that occurred after 55AD). Therefore, it appears that this gift was primarily for the early church.

Prophecy is mentioned in the book of Acts up to AD 57 (Acts 21:9-10). Paul mentions prophecy in his books written in AD 55-60 but not his last six books (written AD 60-66). The only biblical record of prophecy after this time is the apostle John (Rev. 1:3; 10:7, 11; 19:10; 22:6, 9, 10, 18-19). He also mentions false prophets (1 Jn. 4:1). Therefore, it seems as though the prevalence of prophecy decreased significantly after AD 60. We now have the record of God’s revelation to the prophets in the early church in the New Testament. These truths are now communicated to us by preachers and teachers who also build up (strengthen), encourage and comfort believers and convict unbelievers. Therefore, I would apply these instructions for prophecy to preaching and teaching.

The church is founded on Christ’s completed work (1 Cor. 3:11) as taught by the apostles and New Testament prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5). This work was completed in the first century AD and we have a record of this foundation in the New Testament. So, in this sense, we no longer have apostles or prophets in the church today. As Paul links speaking in tongues with prophecy (1 Cor. 14), both of these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.

The revelation given to the writers of the New Testament finished in the first century AD (Jude 3, Rev. 22:18-19). Just as the close of the Old Testament canon was followed by a 400 year silence (no prophecies from God), so the close of the NT has been followed by a 1,900 year silence. Since the book of Revelation was completed, no new written or verbal prophecy has ever been universally recognized by Christians as divine truth from God. The Scriptures are final and complete. According to Scripture, God will speak again with new prophecies, visions and revelations after the rapture, during the tribulation and Christ’s millennial kingdom (Acts 2:16-21; Rev. 11:1-13).

Conclusion

From an assessment of the text and context of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 we have looked at God’s commands for respectful behavior for Christians involved in spiritual activities like praying and prophesying at Corinth in the first century. This respect and honor was to be shown by males having their head uncovered and females having their head covered.

There are two main views on what this means today. First, is that this practice is universal for all cultures. When they are involved in spiritual activities like praying, preaching or teaching, males should have their head uncovered and females having their head covered. Second, is that the principle of respect and honor is essential when people are involved in spiritual activities such as praying, preaching or teaching but because the culture is different, the way this is shown can be different to the first century.

Paul says to “Judge for yourselves” on this topic based on the information he has given (v.13). So how do you think this passage applies today? How would you show respect for authority?

Written, December 2015

Also see: Order and disorder in the church
Respect and disrespect in the church

Gender roles in the family and the church