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"Holy Headwear"
1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Wednesday AM Bible Study
October 17, 2007

Theme: The worship in the church must be characterized by a reverent respect for God's order of headship.

With this morning's passage, we begin a new section in 1 Corinthians—one in which Paul addresses specific problems of worship in the church (chapters 11-14).

This morning's passage, if handled improperly, can be destructive. If it is interpreted in such a way as to dismissed what it says as "culturally offensive", its neglect will lead to the very problems it is meant to solve. If it is interpreted in such a way as to apply what it says legalistically, its abuse can lead to division within the congregation and a bad testimony to the unbelieving community. Much error can be avoided if a couple of things are kept in mind:

First, the specific problem that Paul was seeking to solve should determine how we interpret what it says. There was, at the time in the Corinthian culture, a growing and aggressively destructive 'feminist' movement; and the Corinthian believers were becoming influenced by this cultural movement. Paul was not trying to suppress one gender under another, but rather to maintain the proper, God-honoring order that benefits both women and men (see vv. 11-12).

Second, there needs to be a distinction made between timeless theological principles and time-bound cultural practices. For example, the wearing of a head-covering meant something specific in that time that it does not mean today—just as short hair on a woman or long hair on a man meant something different at different times of history. We need to draw out the timeless principles that are being taught to us through Paul's instructions concerning the time-bound cultural practices to which the Corinthians were obligated.


A. Paul praised the Corinthians for their remembrance of him and of the "traditions" he taught them (v. 1). These "traditions" were not simply things that Paul came up with, but were the things that were the heritage of godly people throughout the ages. (He praised them now; but his tone of praise would change in verse 17).

B. He wanted the Corinthians to know that there is a God-established order of "headship". Headship, in verse 3, may be best understood as "an order of established authority". (It can also mean "authority to nurture"; see Ephesians 5:22-24). God the Father is the Head of Christ; Christ is the Head of man, and the husband is the head of his wife. Men are mentioned first, then the women; but then—as if to affirm His supremacy over both— Christ is mentioned last (v. 3).


The church is not properly behaving if it conducts itself in rebellion against this established order of headship—however that order is expressed in culture. If it does so, it steps out of from under the authority of Christ's headship.

A. It is to be maintained in the practice of the church's worship (vv. 4-7). It is to be maintained in the manner in which prayer and prophesying (speaking forth what God has said) is done. Note that women are not forbidden from praying or prophesying in the church; but when a woman does so, the symbols of her submission to her God- appointed head must be maintained. In that culture, it was head-covering. In ours, a parallel idea might be the wearing of a wedding ring and the adoption of the husband's last name. For a woman to shave her head in that culture was an expression of open immorality and rebellion; and Paul is arguing that if she will not submit to that God- appointed order of headship, she is expressing rebellion just as much as if were to bear the outward cultural symbol of rebellion.

B. The expression of this timeless principle is in keeping with the story of Creation (vv. 8-9). This draws from the story of Creation in Genesis 2; and shows that God had a specific purpose in the order of creation. To deny this in the manner in which worship is done is to deny God's authority.

C. It is also proper with respect to the presence of angels (v. 10). This may be a reference to the fact that the angels are vitally involved in the life of the church (Heb. 1:14). They themselves are mightier than human beings; but they submit to their God- appointed role of serving the saints. What's more, they too bear a "covering" (Isaiah 6:2).

D. It is to be seen in the context of God's design of interdependency (vv. 11-12). In no way do Paul's instructions destroy the equal value of both men and women. Paul maintains that, just as the woman comes from man in creation, the man comes from woman in birth. They possess different roles in the order of headship; but by God's design, the expression of their differing roles is to be seen mutually compatible and equally edifying to one another.

E. It is self-evidently proper (vv. 13-15). In the Corinthian culture (and in most), long, unkempt hair on a man was a symbol of shame (effeminate behavior); but long hair on a woman is a symbol of beauty (1 Peter 3:3). Here, the woman's hair is said to be given as a natural "covering". The Bible gives us no specific "length" of hair that is proper. This is culturally determined.

F. It is in keeping with the custom of practice in the church (v. 16). Even if someone were to be contentious about the matter, Paul maintained that there is no other pattern given except that which honors God-appointed headship—neither from the apostles, nor from the church at large.

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