Tasmania’s electrical power shortage has reached crisis levels. 30% of the power usually comes from Victoria by cable, but the cable has been broken since December 2015. 60% of the power usually comes from hydro-electric systems, but dam levels are at a record low capacity of 14% and falling. An old gas-fired power station has been brought back into operation and temporary diesel generators acquired. And major manufacturers have cut production to conserve power.
After Jesus died and rose again, He told His apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16; Acts 1:4, 5, 8). When the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, the church era commenced replacing the era of the law of Moses. In this post we look at the meaning of a passage from Joel, quoted by Peter as an explanation to the Jews.
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants (slaves), both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18NIV).
We will see from this passage that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.
Context of Acts 2
Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts in the Bible. Acts, written about AD 63, is a selective history of the first 30 years of the church. It describes the church in Jerusalem (Ch 1-7), in Judea and Samaria (8:1 – 9:31), and elsewhere in the Roman Empire (9:32 – 28:31). It was written for Theophilus who was probably Luke’s patron (Lk. 1:3-4; Acts 1:1). The main theme of the book is to describe the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem across the Roman Empire and to indicate the major challenges to this.
After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to His followers, so they could be His witnesses (1:3-8). Then the Lord ascended into the sky and the disciples were promised that He would return in a similar manner (1:9-11). While they waited in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas (1:12-26).
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and indwelt the disciples (2:1-13) and Peter addressed the crowd of Jews and Jewish proselytes who were in Jerusalem (1:14-41). As a result of Peter’s message about 3,000 people came to faith in Christ and joined the infant church. Then Luke summarized the activities of this pioneer church (2:42-47).
Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost included:
– an explanation of recent events (v.14-21)
– the gospel of Jesus Christ; His death, resurrection and exaltation (v.22-36)
– an exhortation to repentance and baptism (v. 37-40).
Peter explained what happened on the Day of Pentecost by saying they weren’t drunk and quoting from the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32).
Context of Joel
Joel was a prophet of God to Judah prior to the Jewish exile (his book is difficult to date more precisely). The key phrase of the book is “the day of the Lord”, found five times (Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14). It’s a time when the wicked are judged and the repentant are saved (Joel 3:15-16).
Up to 2:18 Joel addresses the desolation that would come on Judah. After that the repentant are promised deliverance. The book is structured as follows:
– Plague of locusts (Ch 1). This probably also symbolized the Lord’s army on the day of the Lord.
– An army is approaching (2:1-11)
– Call to repentance (2:12-17)
– They are promised material prosperity (2:18-27)
– They are promised an outpouring of God’s Spirit (2:28-29)
– Wonders in the heavens and earth (2:30-32)
– Judgement of the Gentile nations (3:1-16a)
– Promises restoration and blessing for the Jews (3:16b-21).
The people of Judah had turned away from the Lord (Joel 2:12-14). They had broken their covenant with the Lord. Consequently, the locust plague and drought was God’s judgement. Joel urges Judah to repent, but when they continually resist, God’s judgement is inevitable. Those who repented were promised prosperity, restoration, and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament Jewish prophets had two main messages about the future: God’s judgement (the “day of the Lord”) and God’s blessing—the Messiah will come and lead their nation. The passage quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost mentioned God’s blessing (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18) and God’s judgment (Joel 2:30-32; Acts 2:19-21).
Joel 2: 28-29
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).
As the context is “afterward”, these verses may apply after the day of the Lord. So after God punishes the rebellious, He rewards repentant Jews with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit is generally among the community of Israel, but not in the individuals (Is. 63:11). Instead, the Holy Spirit only came upon particular people for particular tasks. For example:
– The Holy Spirit empowered Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Moses and Joshua.
– The Holy Spirit empowered craftsman (Ex. 31:2-5) and Gideon and Samson (Jud. 6:34; 14:6)
– The Holy Spirit empowered prophets (Ezek. 11:5; Mic. 3:8; Zech. 7:12; Acts 28:25)
– 70 elders prophesied when the Spirit of the Lord came on them (Num. 11:24-30).
– The Spirit of the Lord came on David and departed from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).
When the task was accomplished, the Holy Spirit would leave the person. David said, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). So, in Old Testament times the empowering of individuals by the Holy Spirit was selective and temporary.
Joel 2:28-29 predicts a change where the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people. Instead of selected individuals, God says it will regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was a message from God enabled by the Holy Spirit. This is different to the rest of the Old Testament because it indicates the Holy Spirit coming on people in general and not only particular individuals. Instead, it’s similar to the promised new covenant, which included “I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
Of course, the Holy Spirit’s current role of indwelling believers and abiding with them “forever” is also a great contrast to the Old Testament situation (Jn. 14:16).
Joel 2: 30-32
On the day of Pentecost, Peter also quoted from, “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:30-32).
The day of the Lord is the time of judgment associated with the blessing given in Joel 2:28-29.
What did Joel 2:28-32 mean then?
Joel was given a revelation of a future time when a period of judgment (v.30-32) is followed by a time of blessing (v.28-29). Wonders in the heavens and on earth precede the judgment (day of the Lord). As judgment was often associated war, the meaning to the Israelites of that time could be that they will by invaded by an enemy, but God would deliver the faithful who would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. As afterwards “all people” have faith in God, it seems as though all the unfaithful people are destroyed in the judgment. Or it could mean that Israel is physically delivered from God’s judgment and its enemies destroyed. When the prophecy was given their enemies were the Phoenicians, Philistines, Egyptians and Edomites (Joel 3:4, 19).
The phrase “all people” (Strongs #3605, #1320) could mean every person, people from all categories in society, or all nations. As the context is “Your sons and daughters”, “Your old men” and “Your young men”, it probably means every Israelite. To call “on the name of the Lord” meant to trust and respond to God the Father (Mt. 7:21; Jn. 6:29). It shows God’s mercy in offering a way of escape to those facing judgment. They will survive the day of the Lord.
The principle of Joel 2:28-29 is that in future God will empower all the faithful Israelites with the Holy Spirit.
What does Joel 2:28-32 mean now?
With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Joel’s prophecy.
The law of double reference helps to understand some of these Old Testament prophecies—some of them had both an immediate partial fulfilment and a distant complete fulfilment. Some of the Jewish prophecies about the “day of the Lord” were partially fulfilled when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C and by the Romans in AD 70. But John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. It’s associated with Christ’s second advent.
What about times of blessing? It’s difficult to identify periods when Israel has been blessed since Joel’s time. The only clear application of Joel’s prophecy to times of blessing is that made on the day of Pentecost by Peter, which is the subject of this post. Soon after this Peter said that the promised time of blessing was still future (Acts 3:21). It’s associated with Christ’s millennial kingdom.
So we understand that Joel 2:28-32 is a prophecy about events associated with Christ’s second coming and His millennial kingdom.
When Peter quoted from Joel, he changed the introduction from “And afterward”, to “In the last days”. As he is speaking to Jews and it was before the New Testament was written, they would have understood the “last days” from the Old Testament where it can mean the coming tribulation or the Millennial kingdom (Dt. 4:30; Isa. 2:2; Dan. 10:14; Hos. 3:5; Mic. 4:1).
Peter also added “God says” to the quotation to emphasise that these were the words of God written by the prophet Joel. This is like a prophet saying “The word of the Lord came to me, saying” (Jer. 1:4).
Peter changed the word “dreadful” to “glorious” when describing the day of the Lord (Joel. 2:31; Acts 2:20). The reason for this maybe that He was associating this occasion with Christ’s second coming (Ti. 2:13).
Peter also added “and they will prophesy” at the end of v.18. This phrase is repeated from the previous verse for emphasis. Also he stopped half way through Joel 2:32 omitting, “for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls”. This could be so he could finish the quote with “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” to indicate what his audience needed to do when they were convicted of their sin (Rom. 10:13). In this context, they are spiritually saved from God’s judgment. And “the Lord” is Jesus Christ. Also, he didn’t want to make the application to deliverance from an army.
There is another difference between what happened on the day of Pentecost and Joel’s prophecy. The spiritual gift that occurred on the day of Pentecost was speaking in other languages, while Joel referred to prophecy. So the emphasis is on the Holy Spirit who gives the gift, not on the particular spiritual gift.
With the benefit of additional revelation in the New Testament and the benefit of hindsight, we can understand more about Peter’s sermon. He was announcing to the Jews that what they saw on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. But this is only a partial fulfilment because John also prophesised about the day of the Lord in AD 95 (Rev. Ch. 6-20). Also, the Holy Spirit was poured out on believers, not “on all people”. Also, there were no wonders in the heavens on the day of Pentecost (Mt. 24:29; Acts 2:19-20). Although some argue they were fulfilled at the crucifixion or figuratively on the day of Pentecost. So the final day of the Lord is yet to come. This is associated with Christ’s second advent and His millennial kingdom.
Peter was announcing to the Jews that through Jesus Christ, God had now brought in the promised new covenant. This meant that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all kinds of people regardless of gender (“sons and daughters”, age (old and young), or social class (includes slaves) and maybe race (includes Gentile slaves). The example given is prophesy which was enabled by the Holy Spirit. Updating the principle from Joel 2:28-29 to the day of Pentecost gives: God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit.
Who were “all people” who received the Holy Spirit? It wasn’t every Israelite. Afterwards, Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children (Jews) and for all who are far off (Gentiles)—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). So, on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to those who repented and were baptized. Although they were mainly Jews, Gentiles weren’t excluded. They were people of every gender, age and social class.
It was also a fulfilment of Christ’s promises to send the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-39; 14:16-26; 15:26 – 16:15; Acts 1:3-5; 2:33).
What does Acts 2:17-18 mean?
It meant that from that time onwards, all those who accepted God’s gift of salvation through Christ would receive the Holy Spirit. This was the new era of the church age which replaced the era when the Israelites lived under the Law of Moses. It doesn’t mean that all will prophesy. Instead the New Testament teaches that each believer will have at least one spiritual gift.
Today, we are still in the church era, and the Holy Spirit still indwells all believers. But the church’s foundation was laid almost 2,000 years ago. It 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 because these gifts are no longer required now the church’s foundation has been laid.
Peter was pointing out a similarity between what happened on the day of Pentecost and events associated with the second coming of Christ. This involved the activity of the Holy Spirit.
What doesn’t it mean today?
Be careful of using Acts 2:17-18 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
– every Christian has the gift of prophecy regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race, or
– every Christian can prophesy (or preach or teach) at a church meeting regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.
Instead, prophecy was used to illustrate the fact that every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit regardless of gender, age, or social class and maybe race.
There are similar messages to this in other New Testament Scriptures. For example, when the household of Cornelius accepted the gospel message, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles” (Acts 10:45). Now Gentiles could be God’s people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Also, in the church people of various genders, ages, social classes and races are empowered by the Holy Spirit:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11).
Quotation from the Old Testament
According to Fruchtenbaum, Peter’s quotation in Acts 2 of Joel 2 is a literal fulfilment of an application from the Old Testament.
“Virtually nothing that happened in Acts 2 is predicted in Joel 2. Joel was speaking of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the nation of Israel in the last days. However, there was one point of similarity, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in unusual manifestations. Acts 2 does not change or reinterpret Joel 2, nor does it deny that Joel 2 will have a literal fulfilment when the Holy Spirit will be poured out on the whole nation of Israel. It is simply applying it to a New Testament event because of one point of similarity.”
We have seen that Acts 2:17-18 shows that Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29) had a partial fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, but the complete fulfilment is still future. The thing they had in common was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. But in a coming day after the wicked have been judged, everyone will be empowered by the Holy Spirit as prophesised by Joel.
The fact that God now empowers all His followers with the Holy Spirit is a challenge and an encouragement. Do you have this power in your life? If the answer is yes, does the presence of the Holy Spirit encourage you to live for Jesus Christ?
Fruchtenbaum A.G (1992) “Israelology: The missing link in Systematic theology”, p. 844-845
Written, March 2016
Correcting disrespectful behavior at Corinth
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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).
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