Saturday, 1 November 2014
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 1 Corinthians 11:5
Paul will note elsewhere that it is right for a woman to “keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34). He will also state, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11, 12). Therefore, Paul is not giving instruction on the public assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 11:5. The items he is addressing here are explicitly forbidden in those other two verses. Therefore, we know he is rather giving general guidelines for specific occasions not particularly pertaining to a church gathering.
He is addressing issues one at a time in his letter and slowly revealing proper conduct for believers. Therefore, to use this verse as a text to indicate that it was either right or acceptable for a woman to speak or lead in the church will result in improper handling of the entire intent of his instructions. His concern at this point is not to determine the correctness of that issue, but to ensure proper conduct of this particular issue.
In cases concerning this matter, which are being addressed in response to an inquiry by the Corinthians, he now gives the continued response. First, he gave instruction concerning the man and what was to be considered orderly and proper. Now he gives the contrast by beginning with the term pasa de, or ” every moreover” which is thus translated “but every…”
He then notes that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” This, like the previous verse, uses the double signification of the word “head.” The first time it is speaking of her literal head. The second time it is speaking of her “spiritual head” which was defined in verse 3 as “man.” If a woman prays or prophesies with her physical head uncovered, she dishonors her spiritual head, man, who has authority over her. If she does this, then he notes that “for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.”
The question which obviously arises then is, “Does shaving a head have significance in the culture at that time?” The answer is “Yes.” Scholars are in agreement that among both the Jewish culture and the Greek culture long hair was considered honorable and a glory to a woman. The Bible gives several examples of when a woman would shave her head –
– Ritual cleansing from leprosy, Leviticus 14
– Completion of a Nazirite vow, Numbers 6
– Shaving one’s head for the dead (in a negative context), Deuteronomy 14
– Shaving one’s hair in mourning as a captive, Deuteronomy 21
Each of these were out of the ordinary occasions; the norm was to have long hair, thus identifying her as a woman under authority. Seeing the cultural shame of a woman being shorn, it leads to understanding the significance of her retaining her long hair. As a woman wears her hair long as a sign of her subjection to man, so the man wears his hair short as a sign of subjection to Christ.
Life application: Paul meticulously handles matters, going from subject to subject and addressing issues in an orderly fashion. If his writings, like any part of the Bible, are taken out of context, inevitable confusion or incorrect doctrine will result. His words are always directed toward the ultimate goal of exalting Christ. Therefore, special care and respectful handling of the word of God is of paramount importance.
Lord, above all else, I desire to be pleasing to You as an obedient follower of what You instruct. And so help me to understand Your word as I read it. And then help me to correctly apply it to my life. Help me not to make up my doctrine as I go, but to rely on a careful evaluation of what You have laid out in Your instruction manual. I know without that, there will be lots of problems ahead of me, but with it, the wheels of life will glide smoothly. Thank You for providing the instructions which will allow me to please You. Amen.