Corinthian Problems 05: Women and Coverings

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

When Paul started the Corinthian church, he stayed there for an extended amount of time to teach them Scripture and about Jesus. However, over the following years, the Corinthians allowed the city's culture to infiltrate the church's values.

The understanding of men and women outside the church was that women were of less worth. As the Christians read through Genesis 2, they realized that the Bible affirmed this teaching simply because Adam came before Eve and Eve came from Adam.

In verse 3, Paul uses the word head (Gk. kaphalei) to mean source. He is referring to the Genesis 2 story. Then in verse 4, he plays with the word kaphalei and states that a man should not cover his head when he prays (by head, he is referring to man's head, which is God, v.3). In verse 5, he states the opposite for women - that they should cover their head when praying (their head is man, according to v.3).

In other words, if a man prays covering God, it is a dishonor. If a woman prays through her husband, it is a dishonor. A woman ought to pray directly to God.

If the woman is not allowed to pray directly to God, Paul facetiously tells the woman to shave off her hair. In the Corinthian culture, short hair was usually identified as men, while long hair was exclusive to women. He is sarcastically suggesting that a woman should shave her hair to gain the appearance of a man so she can pray to God. If their culture does not allow it (which it did not), she should just cover her head (the man).

Here, Paul is using the multiple definitions of kaphalei. Man is the source (kaphalei) of woman. So, woman should cover her source to pray. If not, shave her head so that she would be a woman with a man's kaphalei (physical head). Woman with a man's hairstyle is taboo, but Paul is making a point - it is better to break that norm that it is to have a man be a kaphalei (authority) over a woman.

Before we move on to the remaining verses, I would like to address Genesis 3. In that passage, God declares that the man would "rule over" the woman (v.16b). If this verse is the proof of man's dominance over woman, then this is a case of bad biblical interpretation. Notice when this declaration is made. It is made after sin entered the story. This rule is given after paradise was lost. In other words, in a perfect world, there is no hierarchy. As God's redeemed people (Christians), are we to live by the rules of the Fall? Or are we to live as God's New Creation?

Paul reminds the Christians that the people outside the church may have a negative impression on them. A man's behavior will affect God's reputation. Likewise, how women are treated will reflect a man's reputation, if Genesis 2 were to be interpreted as the Corinthians did (vv.7-10).

Paul argues that a woman should have the same rights as a man (v.10). However, it is dangerous to swing the pendulum too far in that direction; independence is important, but community is more important (v.11).

Paul describes a healthy interdependence (v.12a-b). While men may argue that women are less because they are the source of women, they are reminded that every man was birthed from a woman. We need each other. If order of creation is the metric in which we create a hierarchy, Paul blasts all of them by telling them that God is the source of all things (v.12c).

From here on out, Paul uses the kaphalei to mean physical head.

Is it proper for a woman to pray without a head covering? In the Corinthian culture, all women had their heads covered, except for prostitutes. Paul warns the women to dress appropriately (v.13).

Is it proper for a man to pray with long hair? Once again, the Corinthian culture expected men to have short hair (v.14-15).

Paul wants the distinction of men and women to be clear. Why? Because worship is sacred. God wants His perfect rule over the earth as it is in heaven. However, the reality is that the world does not reflect His ideals. But for Paul, he wishes Heaven on Earth at least in the church. Therefore, men need to be men and women need to be women inside the church.

Read “Corinthian Problems 04: Love and Freedom” next

Kats Omine

Kats Omine