Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

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What does 1 Corinthians 11 Really Mean?

Posted on July 27, 2017 by Alexander

A metaphorical look at praying with your head covered.

Understanding what is written in the Bible comes through context. Why is the writer writing in the first place? What is his point for writing the epistle? The latter half of 1 Corinthians is instruction on body ministry using spiritual gifts. Your verse comes from chapter 11 which is the beginning of the discussion on how the body comes together. Notice the latter part of chapter 11 is on the agape love feasts and communion with the Lord. Chapter 12 goes into the spiritual gifts, and the latter half is on how the body should use the spiritual gifts. Chapter 13 on love is sandwiched between 12 and 14 because Paul is showing that love should be your motivation for using any spiritual gift in the body. Fourteen is specifically on tongues and prophecy as a means to edify the body.

During the time of Paul’s writing Corinthians, the believers met in homes.  The Greeks did not copy the practice of the Jews, who met in synagogues, until the Greek orators who made their living talking became Christians and saw this as a way to generate personal revenue preaching the Gospel to the saints on a weekly basis. This meant that the hosts of the house churches were the natural authorities since it was their home people met in.  Naturally the husband should be the host, but, apparently some did not take the mantel, which fell upon the wives.

So getting back to chapter 11 he shows that the body first begins in marriage. He speaks of the divine order of authority in verse 3: God, Christ, man, then woman. In verses 8 and 9 he alludes to the order of creation: Adam, then Eve from the side of Adam, and that Eve was created for Adam, not Adam for Eve. Verse 4 gives the context of what the hair covering refers to: prayer and prophecy. Prayer, of course, is us speaking to God, whereas prophecy is God speaking to us through someone. In the creation of Adam and Eve, God had already spoken to Adam and it was Adam’s responsibility to say what God said to Adam then to Eve.

I usually take most of the Bible literally, but not all of it. In this case, I do not take the hair covering literally. The Jews have taken the statement in Leviticus not to seethe the kid in the mother’s milk literally. Personally I believe God was speaking metaphorically there in the same way we say, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. It is a common interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 to say that the hair covering refers to the authority of the man over the woman, and I partly agree with this, but not in a blanket fashion. In this passage I think it refers only to who prays and who prophesies. If we may, let’s walk through verse by verse.

The Order

1Co 11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.?

God, Christ, man, then woman

The Topic

1Co 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.?

Prayer and prophesy. The head of man is Christ, so to cover the head is to cover Christ, who then would be dishonored.

The Head of Woman

1Co 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.?

The head of the woman is the man. For a woman to pray or prophesy instead of her husband dishonors her husband because as the head of the family that is his responsibility. When Eve listened to the serpent she dishonored Adam because he told her that they were not to eat of the forbidden fruit. But Adam dishonored Christ in that he passively stood by instead of intervening as the head of his family.

1Co 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.?

If, however, the husband is not doing his duty as the head of the family, Paul is then saying let the woman go ahead and speak freely for the Word of the Lord should go forth with whosoever will. However, if the wife is uncomfortable in usurping her husband’s duty, then she should remain silent.

The Man is the Image of God

1Co 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
1Co 11:8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
1Co 11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.?

This does not mean the woman is not the image of God, but rather the man was created first and is the glory of God, whereas the woman was created from the man and is the glory of the man. So, Paul is saying, in my opinion, that it is the duty of the husband to pray for the family and to speak to the family on behalf of God.

Regarding the Angels

1Co 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.?

I personally do not believe Paul means holy angels here, but demonic angels. If the order of the family is disrupted, then a door is opened for demonic mischief. So, like Peter said in 1 Peter 3, the wife should submit to the husband. She should encourage (not nag) him to step up as the head of the home.

God is Above the Family

1Co 11:11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
1Co 11:12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.?

If both partners are born again, they are both vessels of the Lord and both can speak on behalf of God and speak to God on behalf of the family.

What is Better?

1Co 11:13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
1Co 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
1Co 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.?

Metaphorically long hair on a man represents being in the feminine role, whereas short hair on a woman represents being in a masculine role. So Paul is asking the question, which is better? Should a woman take on the man’s role or should the man do his job? Clearly femininity in a woman is the gift of God to man and is her glory. But for a man to forsake his position as head of his house it is a shame to that man.

Neither Paul nor the Early Church Enforce Such Things

1Co 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

It is a matter or practical wisdom for the order ordained by God be followed. To break that order opens the door to demonic mischief, but God is greater than that mischief and it is better for the Word of the Lord to go forth from the wife if it is not coming from the husband, and it is better for the wife to pray for the family if it is not being done by the husband. In other words, it is not the place of other members of the Church to meddle with the families. That is between the family and God, not the brothers and sisters in Christ. So, in the context of gathering together as the body of Christ with other families and believers, it is not the place of others in the body to object to a wife speaking on behalf of God or praying to God in the Church if the husband is not doing so.

This is, of course, merely my opinion on understanding the passage. I make no claim to be speaking on behalf of God, but I think I am closer to understanding what Paul meant than the many other explanations I have on the subject over the years.

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