1 Corinthians 11:7-16
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
This is one of those difficult passages. People have traditionally focussed on the behaviours recommended by the passage – the length of men’s and women’s hair and whether or not they should wear head coverings – and on subordination of women to men.
Instead, I think the focus of the passage is in verses 10-12. Paul says “in the Lord” women and men are interdependent and that both are dependent on God. Elsewhere (Galatians 3:28) he says “In Christ there is neither male nor female…” This means that “in the Lord” there is freedom apart from the cultural norms.
So why does Paul then say to follow cultural dress codes? “Because of the angels” (v 10). The Greek word interpreted here as “angels” (angelos) literally means ‘messengers’. Scholars today think that angelos may refer to people coming to check out the church to see what is happening there – both slaves sent by rich families and officials sent by the government. So if people use their freedom in a way that is culturally inappropriate it will send the wrong message. Women not covering their heads implies lack of respect for their husbands, and men with long hair means they lack ‘manliness’ – something very much looked down on in Roman culture.
For me today, this means that I should consider the demands of modern culture, and find the ‘sweet spot’ where I am not compromising on God’s law, I am enjoying his freedom, but I am also willing to curtail that freedom if it causes offence to others. That takes far more wisdom than I have!
Thank you Lord, that you are the source of all wisdom! Please guide me and teach me. Help me to be like Christ – to attract others to your church, but follow your ways as well. Amen
Written by Megan Cornell