1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Gender Roles and Head Coverings
We have the grave misfortune of living in a day when we routinely hear, even in the Church, that the Bible was written in a patriarchal era and so has, not just outdated, but even worse, misogynist, ideas. It is a document that must be reshaped and reinterpreted to be heard by the ears and received by the hearts of contemporary persons who know so much more than the biblical writers, having their minds enlightened by our feminist lights. And the Apostle Paul is the worst example of this misogynist strand in the New Testament, who profoundly misunderstood the mild, tolerant, effeminate, (transgendered?) Jesus who only uttered disdain for those sexist, patriarchal religious leaders—which should serve as a lesson for every man who pastors a church and stands in a pulpit today.
Such a pagan understanding of the Holy Scriptures only obscures such passages as stand before us now. From the best we can tell, some women in the church at Corinth had begun going into worship without a covering for their heads, an impropriety in that day. But it seems that more than just an impropriety was being committed; it seems that gender roles were being questioned and authority based on those roles challenged. I assume this because Paul does not simply deal with the impropriety but places his teaching on the matter on theological footing: As God is the head of Christ (in his state as Mediator), and as Christ is the head of every (believing) man, so the husband is the head of the wife. This arrangement is based in the order of creation as she was made for him. In saying that she was made for the glory of man, Paul obviously does not mean that she was not made in God’s image as the man, but that, as the Proverb says, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband” (12:4). Paul adds that though the woman came through the man, so men are born of women, proving the mutual dependence of the sexes upon one another. But such mutual dependence does not change the divine order of headship in the family and the church, which is a headship of authority, leadership, and, of course, love and service. (Those who argue that “head” means “source” must struggle with Ephesians 5:23 where, in speaking analogously of the husband’s headship over his wife, Christ is called the “head of the church”; surely Christ is not only the “source” of the Church but also holds authority over her as well.)
Problematic for some is that Paul refers to nature as teaching us that long hair is a shame for men but a glory for women. Also throughout the passage is the assumption that a woman with her head shorn is disgraceful. Such “nature” arguments bother evangelicals because we want God’s revealed word on matters because nature was subject to the fall and thus broken. However, we should not dismiss nature as a teacher as we can still see in its brokenness the light of truth. For instance, we know that it is unnatural or unseemly for a father to kneel before his child; the very image of my father doing that before me turns my stomach. I do not believe that I was taught this; I believe it is a natural response to something unnatural. That is what Paul is saying here: There is something unnatural about a man wearing long hair and a woman who voluntarily shaves her head, perhaps the latter more than the former. Of course, we may ask, “What constitutes long?” Still, though the word of God holds primary place, we should not dismiss nature.
In short, gender roles are grounded in creation and not social conventions; the way cultures dress might be (I think of the Scots and kilts), but not gender roles per se, as these are by God’s ordination. But to the extent that dress is an expression of revolt against gender roles, that is a problem and that seems to be what Paul was addressing here with the Corinthians.
My apologies for the length of this devotion but our culture’s current confusion over some basics of human sexuality require a word. I am convinced that it is the bending, blending, and downright erasure of gender roles in our culture that has given rise to the practice and acceptance of unnatural desire (what goes by the name of “homosexuality” today, a relatively new term in history). And I am just as sure that the latest craze over transgenderism is a product of this same problem. Such societal troubles further prove God’s ordination of such roles taught in Scripture. Thus, this truly is an important matter; it certainly is to today’s pagans as they are adamant that such sins be not only tolerated but embraced by all, and that by coercion. It is vitally important in this day, when masculinity is deemed “toxic,” and boys and men as being inherently deformed creatures who must be saved from their manly instincts as protectors, providers, and warriors, and transformed into nurturers, caregivers, and pacifists, that churches hold the line on gender roles. Indeed, evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox churches seem to be the only institutions in our world currently defending God’s ordination. And it is proven that when women serve as pastors, those churches become primarily peopled by women and children. There have been other days with problems as big as ours: the ancient world was rife with what we call today LGBT. But God is faithful. He requires the same from us. We are called to be salt and light. We are told to fear not. This world is passing away right before our eyes. When this world is rolled up like a scroll, God shall be left and we with Him. In the meantime, let us be faithful, fearless, and on mission for Him.