Some notes and thoughts put together as I listened to a sermon on 1 Corinthians 11.1-4 on the church’s tradition of head-covering and uncovering by Dr. Mark Minnick.
Paul praised the Corinthians because they continued to do the things that he taught them. That is, they kept the traditions delivered by Paul. What is a NT tradition? We use the word tradition in a negative way. How is it used in the NT? 2 Thessalonians 2.15 admonishes the brethren to hold the traditions taught orally and in written form. The apostles handed down for church practice oral and written tradition. Paul taught the Corinthians for 18 months orally. Some of those things concerned practice. Now he writes about what he spoke orally.
There are two church practices or traditions in 1 Corinthians 11. First, the he speaks of head covering and then the Lord’s Supper. Concerning the head-covering matter, Paul praised the Corinthians. However, he could not praise them concerning the matter of the Lord’s Supper. They must be corrected concerning this practice or tradition. An apostolic practice may be so distorted that it doesn’t even resemble what it once was.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know (11.3) something. The Corinthians needed a fuller understanding of the practice of covering and uncovering the head. All the churches of God should practice what Paul taught the Corinthians.
The complexity of 11:2–16 continues to vex modern interpreters, and its comments about women rile many modern readers. Because it contains one of the lengthiest discussions in the NT on the relationship between men and women, it has attracted the attention of many and the indignation of some. The danger lurks that interpreters will try to make it say what they would like it to say.
Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Print. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.
The Hierarchy of Headship
1. The head of every man is Christ.
2. The head of woman (generic or a reference to the wife) is man.
3. The head of Christ is God. Head is used metaphorically.
The head governs the body. Decision-making and direction for the body come from the head. Christ is the Head of the church. Christ Himself has a Head, namely the Father. A woman might feel demeaned when reading this passage, especially in the light of women’s sufferage or the ERA movement or modern culture in general. Paul mitigates against this by reminding us that Christ has a head. Therefore, this is not a demeaning concept. There is no demeaning of anyone in this three-fold structure.
Evangelical feminism rejects this passage. There are many who claim that there is no distinct role of leadership of men over women in either marriage or the church. This is known as egalitarianism. It claims equality in roles among men and women. Evangelical feminists then argue for the ordaining of women in ministry.
Complementarianism teaches that men and women benefit one another by fulfilling their roles. Women are subordinate and complement men in the church and family.
Trouble Texts for Egalitarians:
1. 1 Corinthians 11
2. Ephesians 5.22-33; Colossians 3.18
3. 1 Corinthians 14.34-35
4. 1 Timothy 2.11-15
Wayne Grudem maintains that evangelical feminism is the new path to liberalism. Evangelical feminists have written thousands of pages supporting egalitarianism. Many keen thinkers are working to show that these passages don’t apply today and don’t mean what people have always thought they mean. Some go as far as to claim that they are not in the Bible at all. Some claim they contradict other Scripture. Others claim they are in the Bible and they are simply wrong. Three examples of current scholarship:
1. I. Howard Marshall – consigns Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 to Paul’s world and it’s patriarchal structure (bound by time and culture). We cannot carry Ephesians 5 into our world today.
2. Paul K. Jewett – Paul’s Jewish background confined his thinking. He thought in terms of his Jewish background. His new Christian insight informed him that men and women are equal. Since both perpsctives are incompatible, Pauline writings cannot be harmonized. New revelation in the Spirit combats his Jewishness. Resolve this difficulty by recognizing the human and divine quality of Scripture (terrible view of Scripture). This is comments on 1 Timothy 2.
3. Gordon Fee (1 Corinthians 14) – the case against these verses is so strong that someone must have inserted these words. They must be marginal notes that were foisted upon the text. He doesn’t have a textual case against the verses. All manuscripts contain them. He is governed by his visceral reaction to this passage.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.28). These distinctions do not exist. You are all one. Distinctions are no longer relevant. But what is Paul discussing within the context? Verse 23 states that before the Christian faith came, “we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.23-28). This passage speaks of the person who is God’s child. The topic in 1 Corinthians 11 is different from the topic discussed in Galatians 3.
Headship can be dishonored. The man does so by praying or prophesying, having his head covered (11.4). Is this talking about disgracing his literal head or his metaphorical head. It is talking about disgracing the metaphorical head, namely Christ. How does the man disgrace Christ? He has something on his literal head. Literally, he has something down from his head or something on his head. How do we determine what this is? Is there any other place that uses this particular expression, “down from the head”?
The LXX has one instance using this phrase. Both Paul and Jesus quoted from the LXX, the Greek translation of the OT. Esther 6.12 states that Haman hurried to his house, mourning and with his head covered. The Greek expression is exactly the same as what is found in 1 Corinthians 11.4. He had something on his head, something down from his head. He placed something on his head because he was in mourning.
When does this man disgrace Christ with his head covered? It is when he is praying or prophesying. When the Lord’s people gather together, a man displays something about spiritual headship. He must not cover his head. It will disgrace his spiritual Head. Within Corinth, many men did place something upon their heads as they worshiped false gods. Jewish men pray with their heads covered even today.
Paul makes no mention of what happens in culture in this passage. What he teaches actually contradicts the culture, but makes no mention of that contradiction. Compare this to 1 Corinthians 10.20. Paul references culture as sacrificing to demons. We cannot participate with them in this. But Paul doesn’t reference culture in 1 Corinthians 11. Why not? Maybe it is because what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11 transcends culture and time. What is in view is your spiritual Head. Jesus Christ is your spiritual Head regardless of the century in which you live or the culture in which you live. Society knows nothing of this because it is only known to believers.