The subject of today’s message is controversial – the role of men and women in Messiah’s Community, and how they are to conduct themselves. What are men allowed to do? What are women allowed to do? Is there anything they are not allowed to do? Must they cover their heads in a worship service? These are the issues the Rabbi deals with in this part of his first letter to the Corinthians.
Paul is often criticized, in my opinion, unfairly, for his teaching about women. But, before we are tempted to criticize him, keep in mind that he was one of the greatest men who ever lived. Paul was a great rabbi, evangelist, author and apostle – one of God’s special representatives. He was not just any apostle, but the apostle to the Gentiles, the one entrusted to reach the peoples other than the people of Israel, and help them apply the truth about the Jewish Messiah to their cultures. The Lord used Paul to found communities in the Roman empire. The Lord used Paul to write a good portion of the New Testament, which, along with the Tenach, is the greatest book ever written. The Lord used Paul to change the course of Western Civilization.
Paul was not narrow-minded. He was not biased against women. He was not a male chauvinist. He was not a misogynist. He did not hate women.
Paul’s writings were written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God. They are divinely inspired. They are accurate. They are true. They reflect the mind and will of God. Paul’s writings are not to be dismissed if you don’t like them, or if they go against what the majority of our degenerate culture currently believes.
I am going to interpret this section on the roles of men and women and how they are to conduct themselves in the way it would have been understood by Messiah’s community in Corinth when they received this letter – what it would have meant to them; how they would have understood it. And, then I will give my opinion on how we should relate to it today.
First, the Rabbi starts off by commending Messiah’s followers in Corinth. When people are commended, they tend to be more receptive to the one who is doing the commending. They tend to be more receptive to the other things that the one who is doing the commending wants to say. Paul commends them for holding to the traditions that he passed on to them. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. The Jewish people have many traditions – how we do things; when we do thing; why we do things. Messiah’s community also has traditions. The traditions that Paul is referring to here are the traditions that came from the apostles. Paul knew and practiced the traditions that came from the apostles, and he commends them for being faithful to the traditions he passed on to them, which were the traditions of the apostles.
The first tradition – the way men and women are to conduct themselves when the community meets. The way they are to conduct themselves is determined by a God-ordained order of authority. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Messiah, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Messiah is God.
Even though the Son of God is equal to the Father in nature, God the Father is greater than the Son in authority. God the Father has supreme authority. The Messiah is submitted to the authority of God the Father.
Next in authority is men. Even though men share Messiah’s human nature, He is our head. He is our superior. Men are under the authority of the Messiah.
Next in God’s authority structure are women. Women share the same human nature as men. Men and women are equal in nature, just like the Father and the Son are equal in nature. And, just like the Father and the Son are equal in nature, but the Father is superior in authority to the Messiah, men and women are equal in nature, but men are superior in authority to women.
This is the God-designed order of authority: First, God the Father, then Messiah the Son, then men and then women. This order does not change over time. It does not change because of a changing culture. This order must be accepted. It must not be opposed. It must be reflected by the way we conduct ourselves when Messiah’s Community assembles for worship.
The authority of the man, and the Messiah who is over the man, is to be acknowledged by the man not covering his head. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered (referring to his physical head) dishonors his head (referring to his spiritual head, the Messiah).
When a man prays or hears from God in a special way, and gives a prophecy, his head is not to be covered. His uncovered head is a statement of his headship. It is also a statement that Messiah is his Head, and he is submitted to the headship of Messiah.
In contrast to the man not covering his head to acknowledge his headship and the headship of Messiah, the woman who does the same things is to cover her head to acknowledge that she is under the authority of her head – the man. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered (referring to her physical head) dishonors her head (referring to the man who is her spiritual head).
Notice that a woman is allowed to pray or prophesy. But later in this letter Paul states that a woman is to be silent and not speak while the community is worshiping. How to reconcile a woman praying and prophesying and being silent and not speaking? In the first century, a woman was allowed to pray. She was allowed to prophesy. She was allowed to speak, but not in the role of a teacher. Praying, prophesying, speaking but not in the role of a teacher are not roles that are invested with authority. And when a woman did these things, she was to cover her head, acknowledging that she was subject to the authority of the man.
Paul reinforces his teaching that it is right for a woman to cover her head, and wrong for her not to, with an analogy about having her head shaved or her hair cut off. 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. God has graced the woman so that she is more beautiful than the man. Her hair is part of what makes her more beautiful. If she has her head shaved, or if she cuts off her hair, she looks more like the man – which diminishes her beauty and natural grace. Having her head shaved or having her hair cut off goes against God’s natural order and is a “disgrace.”
There is a connection between the physical and the spiritual. Just as it is disgraceful for a woman her head shaved or having her hair cut off, it is disgraceful for a woman to uncover her head while praying or prophesying. It goes against the spiritual order. It disgraces her and her spiritual head.
A woman is to cover her head to acknowledge her submission to the man. A man is not to cover his head to acknowledge his headship. The Rabbi reinforces his teaching with truth from the Word of God, specifically from the creation of man and woman. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. In the Torah, Moses taught us that man was made in the image of God. He reflects what God is like. He reveals what God is like. Man is an amazing creature, the highest of the created order. He has the God-like abilities to think, reason, speak, choose, will, design, order the world, rule the other creatures, be creative, reproduce others made in God’s image so that they can have a relationship with the Creator and live forever. Creating such a being brings honor to the One who created him. Having such a being serve Him brings glory to God. Man is the image of God and brings glory to God.
Adam and Eve joined the rebellion of the fallen angels and were cursed, and the image of God was marred. The image of God, although marred, is still there. When a man is saved because God makes him aware that Yeshua is the risen Lord; and when that man is born again, and receives the Holy Spirit, and receives a new, godly nature – the image of God is being restored. A man should not cover his head to acknowledge this – that the image of God is being restored in him because of Messiah, his Head, who perfectly bears the image of God.
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. A woman is the most amazing creature. She too is made in the image of God. She too has the ability to think, reason, speak, choose, will, design, order the world, rule the other creatures, be creative, reproduce others made in God’s image so they can have a relationship with the Creator. Plus, the woman is more beautiful than the man, and generally more loving and supportive and caring.
We receive honor by having good things. People with lots of money and a beautiful life-style have a kind of glory. And a woman is worth far more than rubies and the beautiful things money can buy. So, when the Lord gives one of these glorious creatures to a man, like Eve was given to Adam, that man receives glory because of her. He becomes more glorious. A man brings glory to God, and acknowledges his relationship to God by not covering his head. A woman brings glory to a man and acknowledges that relationship by covering her head.
The Rabbi reinforces his teaching about the supremacy of the man with another truth from the Word of God, about the creation of man and woman. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. Moses reveals that Adam was created first. Then Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs. She was created from Adam and was created for Adam, to be a helper that was a fit companion for him, perfectly suited for him. Since man did not come from woman, but woman from man, and since man was not created for woman, but woman was created for man, it is clear that man is the superior in the relationship. The woman needs to acknowledge that and submit to his headship, and cover her head as a public acknowledgment of this God-designed order.
The Rabbi gives another reason why a woman is to have a symbol of her submission to her God-ordained authority on her head, and that is because of the angels. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Angels are real. Before the creation of the universe, a great rebellion took place among them. A third of them rebelled against God, and followed Satan, who became the head of the fallen angel. Two thirds of the angels remained loyal to God. The angels are aware that Adam and Eve joined the rebellion of the fallen angels. They are aware that the descendants of Adam and Eve are still part of the rebellion. They are aware that the people who become loyal to Messiah end their part in the rebellion. They are aware of the rightness of the God-ordained order – the rightness of the Son of God submitting to God the Father; the man submitting to the Messiah; the woman submitting to the man. In order to not offend the angels, who are aware of Messiah’s Community, and how we conduct ourselves, a woman is to have a symbol of her submission to her male authority on her head.
The Rabbi states this truth: the woman is subordinate to the man in position, but she is not inferior to the man in nature. Again the Rabbi reinforces his teaching by again referring to the Word of God, and again, referring to the Torah. 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. Humanity started with Eve being taken from Adam. The woman was taken from the man. However, after Eve came from Adam, the process reversed, and the woman is the one who gives birth to man. Without man, there would be no woman. Without a woman there would be no man. This mutual dependence, this interdependency means that they are of equal nature, equal value, equal worth.
Woman came from man, and man is born of woman and therefore are equals. The Creator/creature relationship is different. It is not one of mutual dependence. It is not one of equality. But everything comes from God. And since God created everything, including men and women, He is our superior. And if the Creator, who is supreme in authority, wants a man to uncover his head, and a woman to cover her head, men and women should submit to Him and His will.
The Creator is very wise. Creation reveals His wisdom. There are many lessons that we can learn from nature. The Rabbi adds to his argument about the need for a man to not cover his head and the need for a woman to cover her head with a lesson from nature. 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. The natural order supports the spiritual order. In the natural order, the long hair of a woman is a kind of physical covering on her head and adds to her beauty. It is the opposite with a man. He looks better with shorter hair. Long hair is a disgrace to him. The same principle applies to the spiritual order. A covering on a woman’s head is right and adds to her glory. A man is not to have a covering on his head. That’s wrong and disgraces him.
The Rabbi ends his teaching on the roles of men and women and coverings by telling the Corinthians that this practice is not based on the opinion of one man – Paul. What he has just taught them is what is practiced by Paul, and his co-workers, and the other communities that belong to God. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God. Since this was the practice of everyone, the Corinthians should do what everyone else was doing.
I have interpreted this as it would have been interpreted by Messiah’s followers in Corinth who would have received this letter. Now I want to apply it to us.
Our culture is not the same as the Corinthian culture. Our culture is different from the culture of Corinth in many ways. Many attitudes and practices have changed substantially in 2,000 years.
For example, 2,000 years ago the clothing of the men looked like dresses that women wear today. Today, it is unacceptable to me for a man to wear a dress. 2,000 years ago, no one wore pants. Today, it is acceptable for men and women to wear pants. 2,000 years ago, attitudes toward the length of hair for men and women was fixed. Today, there is much more flexibility regarding the length of hair for men and for women. Then there is the issue of facial hair. Attitudes change about beards, no beards, long beards, short bears, moustaches. 2,000 years ago, attitudes about head coverings were important. Today, the issue of head coverings is not important.
Because of the changes in our attitudes and culture, I don’t believe that it is right to insist that women in our culture cover their heads while praying and prophesying. And I don’t believe that it is right to insist that men don’t cover their heads. If a woman wants to wear a head covering when we meet for worship, I think that’s great. If a woman doesn’t want to, I am good with that as well. If a man wants to wear a kippa, I am good with that too. And if he doesn’t, fine.
Now, while the attitudes of our culture about these practices have changed over the centuries, the God-ordained authority structure has not changed. God the Father is greater in authority than God the Son, and God the Son submits to the superior authority of God the Father. God the Son is greater in authority than the man, and the man must submit to the superior authority of the Messiah. The man is superior in authority to the woman, and the woman must submit to the authority of the man.
Here at Shema we have always tried to honor God’s order and are committed to honor it.
Women are equals to men in nature, in value, in worth. There is so much they can do to serve God. But what they do must be submitted to the leaders of Messiah’s Community, who must be men. This is right. This is God’s will. This honors God.
Lord, this is a very controversial part of Your Word. Let this not cause any controversy or upset or division in the Shema community. May peace and grace and good-will reign.
Help us all, men and women, honor You and Your will with our male and female identities You have given us.