Through the Glare and the Noise
1 Corinthians 11: 1-16
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 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. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 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.
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
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. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
It’s enough to raise the hackles on even the most casual feminist. With all of the alarms going off, all of the protest flags vigorously waving, can you see through the glare and the noise?
It’s hard to notice, for instance, that when Paul gives instruction about women’s head coverings, he is (radically, if subtly) affirming a place for women as fellow worshippers and full members of a church: Every woman who prays and prophesies. It’s easy to miss that Paul takes a counter-cultural stance when he portrays men and women as interdependent. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. It’s hard to imagine, from our vantage point, that women were not always free to go into public places with men or wear their hair how they liked. Because we feel offended at such phrases like the head of the woman is man, it’s hard to believe that the Corinthians would have found much more offensive a sentence like For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.
This devotional is not long enough to talk about the cultural climate of Corinth or why the heck Paul seems so fixated on hair, but those topics are worth reading and researching more about. Not to say that context is enough to satisfy all of our questions, but it is an important factor to help us see more clearly what’s going on.
Another important factor is our attitude as readers when approaching difficult parts of the Bible. If we come armed for the fight, will we be able to listen? God’s design and intention for us as men and women will always be more complex, more glorious, more beautiful, more powerful, and more submissive than we know. If we are too busy being offended, we may miss out.