1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Wrapping Up; Spiritual Leadership), Part 8

priscilla-catacombs3Wrapping Up

We are talking about veils, you know, so “wrapping up” just kinda made sense. Right?

So one interpretation of this and a few other passages is that “head” refers to the “spiritual leadership” of men in the church.

Fifty or more years ago, the Churches of Christ taught the spiritual leadership of men in all settings, including the work place. But there are now too many women at church who work in business, where they supervise men. We gave that argument up.

And so, we took a supposed universal, eternal principle regarding the relationship of men and women and retreated into the church and the family, insisting that men must be spiritual leaders at church and at home. Business is different. Too much money is at stake, and the women are too obviously competent and gifted at what they do.

I’ll not deal with the other relevant passages, but this one is a thin reed on which to support such a heavy position. I mean, that’s a lot of meaning to read into “head” with precious little support from the Old Testament or the Gospels or overall message of the scriptures. The Law of Moses says nothing of the sort, nor is it easy to find such a rule in Genesis 1 and 2.

Rather, the usual verse argued is from Genesis 3,

(Gen 3:16 NET) To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.”

But this is plainly only about husbands, not men in general and women in general — and is a result of sin, a change from Eden, after the Fall of Man, and is not presented as a good thing. Rather, it’s parallel with increased pain in childbirth and weeds in the fields. It’s a bad thing.

Moreover, the word is “dominate” or “rule over,” as in nearly all English translations. This is not “spiritual leadership.” It’s domination and rule, as though Eve had been lowered to the level of an animal. (In Gen 1:26-28, mankind is given rule over the rest of Creation.)

And if men are to rule women, just what is the extent and nature of this kind of headship? Does it apply to the workplace? Home? Church? Friendships? And just what service may men command from women? To what extent must your daughters submit to whatever man they should happen across?

And isn’t it crazy to suppose that the result of the Curse applies in the family and the church — where we are supposedly closest to being able to realize the gospel in our lives — and not applicable in the workplace? The workplace is more like Eden than the church? Let’s do be serious!

Each hierarchicalist commentator seems to reach a different conclusion as to where to draw the line. Some frankly admit that they don’t know where the line is but insist that there be a line limiting a woman’s role somewhere. Finding the line thus becomes an exercise in human bias rather than biblical exegesis.

Some would limit the impact of this headship to just the explicit passages dealing with men and women: women can’t be elders, can’t speak in the assembly, can’t teach, can’t usurp authority — but this approach begs the question. What is the male authority that cannot be usurped? Can women teach teenage boys? What if the boys have been baptized? May women vote in a business meeting? May they sit on committees with men? May they chair committees that have men on them? May the female leader of the nursery insist that men who help babysit follow her instructions regarding baby care?

We simply have no guidance without a unifying principle. I mean, do we seriously believe that these passages are arbitrary rules without any underlying foundation?

The 21st Century notion of a biblical principle of “male leadership” is often pronounced by hierarchicalists, but the verses they rely on fail to support a leadership principle. Thus, Genesis 3:16 declares that husbands rule their wives, not that they just lead them.

Now, I have no complaint with men being leaders — at home, at church, or in the workplace. Leadership is, after all, a gift from God.

(Rom 12:6-8 ESV)  6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. 

Those gifted to lead are commanded to lead because to do otherwise would be to reject a gift from God himself. Even if it’s a women he has chosen to gift. Just as Anna the prophetess had to use her gifts to declare the coming of the Messiah in the temple courts, women gifted by the Spirit to lead must lead.

(1Co 12:18-21 ESV)  18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Moreover, the rest of us are prohibited from saying, “I have need of you,” because it is God who chose whom he would gift.

I am aware, of course, of what Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 14 and in 1 Timothy 2. But he said these things as well, and they are also true. Therefore, we can’t just overrule major biblical themes by prooftexts. Rather, we must consider these other texts in light of the major themes of scripture. And we’ll get there.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Wrapping Up; Spiritual Leadership), Part 8

  1. John says:

    Jay, I am positive that all of your readers have truly enjoyed this series of lessons. That no one has commented on the last few is not surprising. It is a very involved subject, as well as one that touches in a very emotional sense most people who have grown up in the CoC. Maybe most have been like myself, just too tired at the present to think that much.

    But I would like to insert a small, simple, yet probing thought. The idea of cultural passages being in the Bible has not been handled well by the CoC, as well as other conservative denominations. Master/slave passages, verses dealing with women having no authority in the church, and those regarding praying with head covered or not, have caused many, for a while, to take a hard and fast stand, only to conveniently forget later the battles they fought.

    One example is the verse, 1 Cor: 11:14, where Paul writes, “Does not nature teach that it is a shame for a man to wear long hair?” I can remember as a teenager in the sixties listening to parents, ministers and Sunday School teachers making the bold statement that long hair on a man was SIN; not just unacceptable or rebellious, but SIN. Yet, here is the kicker. Most of the men who preached “long hair is a sin”, in just a few short years later, were wearing their hair longer than the teenage boys they had been preaching to. Now we see Christian performers who wear their hair longer than most Rockers.

    Now some may be saying to themselves, “This example is quite silly. We know long hair is not a sin”. But that is exactly my point. At that time, most adult Christians “KNEW” that it was sinful. There was no doubt in their minds about it. Yet, as with many other examples, the wrecking ball of change comes through, knocking down what we once held as holy, making room for ideas we had never before imagined. It is just that most conservatives have been well trained to ignore the wrecking ball, to conveniently forget what they fought against, then embrace and enjoy the results. I believe the past teaches me this: In a generation or two, the case against women in authority will have been conveniently forgotten by a great many members of the CoC, while enjoying the results of feminine minds and talents being allowed to grow and flourish. God indeed works in mysterious ways, and one of those ways is collective amnesia.

  2. R.J. says:

    I believe those two latter passages deal with authoritarian women.

  3. Dwight says:

    Unfortunately collective amnesia is not a good thing, especially when dealing with well defined scripture that sits between and next to scripture that we use and apply all of the time. It is not so much amnesia, but shelving scripture because we don’t want to apply something that can easily be applied but goes against our thinking in the same way people shelve baptism.
    We must ask ourselves, is “does not even nature teach you it is a shame for men to wear long hair?” scripture or not. Is “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” scripture or not and then who gives this hair for a covering? If God, then we deny God His gift and woman her glory in defiance.
    If this doesn’t bother us, then let us try ignoring Ch.11:17-32 or all of I Cor.as cultural or non-applicable as well and see if we can stomach that. We who teach against picking and choosing application have done this with surgical precision.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight, I agree with Gordon Fee,

    For him this is not an appeal to Nature, or to “natural law,” or to “natural endowment”15; nor is Nature to be understood as pedagogic (actually “teaching” these “laws”). Rather, for Paul it is a question of propriety and of “custom” (vv. 13, 16), which carries with it “disgrace” or “glory” (vv. 14–15). Hence, this is an appeal to the “way things are” (NIV, “the nature of things”), to the “natural feeling” that they shared together as part of their contemporary culture. Thus Paul is not arguing that men must wear their hair short, or that women must have long hair, as though “nature” meant some kind of “created order.” Indeed, the very appeal to “nature” in this way suggests most strongly that the argument is by way of analogy, not of necessity.

    Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 527.

    Paul would not argue in terms of “disgrace” or “nature” or the practice of the churches unless he was speaking about how the gospel is contextualized in the culture. How do wives show proper respect to their husbands? In some culture, by wearing a veil — because in some cultures it’s considered indecent to view the long hair of another man’s wife. And in Corinth, short hair on a woman was the mark of an adulteress or even a prostitute — because women were punished by cutting their hair — as a shaming.

    If the supposed law regarding short and long hair is binding today, why not the requirement to wear a veil?

  5. Monty says:

    How short is too short for women? Who gets to decide? Is the prescribed look long hair, even for aging women with gray hair, and should they wear blue jean skirts down to their lower legs? If long hair is a sin for men, for all ages(time), then why did God command a group of men to never cut their hair? Why was Absalom’s hair described in detail, about how much it weighed? You can’t really get enough hair to weigh unless it’s long hair. Who gets to be the fashion police in the church?

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