Some of my regular commenters seem to enjoy my attempts at Biblical expositions, so I thought it’d be good to start what will hopefully become a regular slot on TheBlogMire, where I give my thoughts on some of those verses and passages of the Bible that tend to make people go “huh?” First off is an amended piece that I wrote some years back for American Vision, which deals with a somewhat bizarre passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-17, and which really does tend to make people go “huh?”

There are basically three popular interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:1-17.

  • The first (and most popular today) is the cultural view, which basically says that the commandment for women to wear a head-covering was connected with the cultural expectations of the day, which no longer apply.
  • The second is that Paul is referring throughout the passage to hair.
  • The third opinion, which tends to be held at the stricter end of the Reformed Church, says that Paul commanded women to wear a covering on their heads when they gathered for worship, and that this applies as much now as it did then.

I have to say I have never been fully persuaded by any of these arguments. The idea that Paul was urging the women in the Corinthian church to dress in this way because of something going on in the culture of the day seems to me to be most unlikely. It doesn’t sound very Pauline, does it? The hair argument doesn’t do it for me either. The idea that Paul would put forth a whole command about hair, but then wait until almost the very end of the passage before even dropping the word hair into the argument seems to me a strange and somewhat illogical way of making the point. And I have never been convinced by the argument that the passage compels women in today’s church to wear something on their heads when they come to church. But I’ll come on to the reasons for that in a moment.

I believe that there is another understanding of this passage, one which makes more logical sense of what Paul wrote. This is a minority view and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with this. In fact I don’t really expect anyone to agree with it. But you never know.

It may seem bizarre, but I believe that for a right understanding of this passage, we need to turn first to the Prophet Joel. That’s obvious surely, isn’t it 🙂 ? In the third chapter of his prophecy, he says the following:

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as he LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:28-32).

What on earth does this mean? Thankfully we have not been left on our own to speculate endlessly. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter quotes this as finding its fulfilment in his day, beginning at the Day of Pentecost:

“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:14-21).

Now the first part of this is not too difficult for us. We can easily how the bits about prophesying found fulfilment at Pentecost. What is much more difficult for us is the rest of the oracle, about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.

Here, it is tempting to try and shove several thousand years in between the two parts. Unfortunately for that theory, the Apostle Peter simply doesn’t allow us to shove the thousands of years we would want to shove in there. He quotes not just the first part about prophesying, but also the second part about the cosmic signs, and he not only does so without a break between the two, he prefaces the statement by saying that the whole thing was finding its fulfilment in his day. How can we explain this?

In the Old Testament, the kind of language Joel uses about signs in the cosmos is actually used time and time again to describe not the end of the world, but the end of a kingdom or nation. For example, in Isaiah 13 we find the following description of the impending destruction of Babylon:

“Behold the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (Isaiah 13:9-10).

That was the destruction of Babylon? The sun, moon and stars were darkened? According to Isaiah, yes it was. How about the destruction of Edom prophesied in Isaiah 34:

“For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:2-4).

The same kind of think can be found in Ezekiel’s prophetic oracle against Egypt (chapter 32) and Amos’s prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel (chapter 8). The language of sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark is standard Scriptural language not for the literal sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark, but for the collapse of a kingdom, its government and its leaders. This is what Joel was speaking of, and this is why neither he nor Peter allow for thousands of years between the start of the fulfilment of the prophesy and the end of it. Instead, both Joel and Peter are saying that the prophesy would start and end within a relatively short period of time.

Joel’s prophesy is not about Pentecost followed by a break of at least 2,000 years and then the end of time. Rather it is about the setting up of the New Covenant Church at Pentecost, and the next forty years — the church’s wilderness wanderings — until the winding up of the Old Covenant, culminating in the dreadful judgements — the great and notable Day of the Lord in AD 70 — when Old Covenant Israel would effectively be plunged into darkness.

So Joel prophesied that in this era — the 40 years from Pentecost to AD 70 — there would be prophets. Not only this, but there would also be prophetesses. In which case we would expect to find prophetesses in this era. And we do.

It is not that there hadn’t been prophetesses before of course. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Noahdiah are all mentioned in the Old Testament as being prophetesses. Even in the New Testament, Anna is specifically mentioned as a prophetess (Luke 2:36). However, the difference seems to be that between Pentecost and AD 70, there wouldn’t be the odd lone prophetess, but rather many of them would be raised up. This is hinted at in the book of Acts, where it says of Philip the Evangelist that he had “four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). The fact that there were four in just one family seems to indicate very clearly that the gift of prophecy was no longer a rarity amongst women at that time.

Now if this interpretation of Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s Pentecost sermon is correct, what does it mean regarding the hats? It means that when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, the gift of prophesying had been given to a good deal of women, and that almost certainly means that some of them were there in the congregation at Corinth.

Turning to the actual passage itself, one thing is very striking, especially given that some use the passage to insist that women ought to wear a hat or head-covering when they go to church. The fact is that this interpretation simply is not borne out by the passage. Whatever the passage is or isn’t speaking of, it does not state that women should wear a head covering when they go to church. It does not say that they should wear a head covering when they are in a worship service. What it actually says is that a woman should wear a head covering when she is doing one of two things: praying or prophesying.

So Paul says nothing of women needing to have their head covered when listening to the Word being preached. He says nothing of a woman covering her head when taking the Lord’s Supper. He says nothing of whether she needs to have her head covered when she sings. Rather he mentions two things, and they are very specific things.

This might seem like — pardon the pun — hair-splitting to those who advocate that women should wear a head-covering when they attend church. Yet one thing we know about Paul was that he was never careless in his choice of words. Therefore, the distinction is really rather important, chiefly for two reasons:

Firstly, if Paul had intended that all women wear a head covering when they attend church, why wouldn’t he have just said so? Why deliberately mention two very specific actions — praying and prophesying — if he had meant that they should wear a covering all the time during public worship? Had he intended to mean that women should cover their heads when they attend church, what term could he have used? Fortunately we don’t need to speculate because he used just such a term earlier in the same epistle when he meant “attending church”. The phrase he uses is found in chapter 5, where he says in verse 4, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together…”. When ye are gathered together! Had he intended to signify that women need to have their heads covered when they come into the assembly, surely he would have used this phrase — or at least something very similar. But instead he chose to pick up on two particular actions, which should at least give us cause to wonder why he did this.

The second reason that this apparent nit-picking is very important is, I believe, because the key to the whole passage seems to lay exactly in the two specific actions he mentions.

Let’s take the easiest one of the two to begin with: prophesying. At the time that Paul was writing — before the completion of the canon of scripture — most churches would have had little if any of the New Testament scriptures that we now have. They therefore needed more direct teaching from God, and it seems that the raising up of prophets and prophetesses, foretold by Joel and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, was for precisely this reason.

The gift of prophesying spoken of in this epistle is a particular gift given to specially called people at that time, but one which no longer exists. We no longer need prophesying, because the prophetic Word of God is now complete. Yes, the office of minister is in a sense a “prophetic” one, but it is one where the minister is simply proclaiming, teaching and expounding God’s prophetic Word which has already been completed. It is not the kind of prophesying Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians, which Paul hints will soon cease: “As for prophecies, they will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

It is therefore extremely difficult for those who advocate the “wearing of head-coverings” to church to argue this from Paul’s command that “every woman who prophesies” should have her head covered. When do women ever prophesy in today’s church? Okay, so charismatics believe they do, but this is not so because there is no longer any need for it. We now have the full revelation God intended to give us in the pages of his word, from Genesis to Revelation.

But what of the praying? This is a little more difficult, because it could be argued that the praying Paul has in mind is referring to corporate praying. However, there are good reasons to believe that the praying mentioned here is not simply congregational prayer, but another sign gift that has now ceased.

Firstly, in all other instances where Paul talks about praying in this letter to the Corinthians, it is always tied to the “sign gifts”. Nowhere in this epistle is the word used to mean someone “praying” in the sense of listening to the prayers of another and assenting to them. It is likely, therefore, that the praying mentioned in verse 5 of 1 Corinthians 11 is therefore connected with the “sign gifts” and the gift of prophesying, rather than silent prayer.

Secondly, the “praying and prophesying” seem very much to be connected and therefore part of the same package, being used in respect to both men (verse 4) and women (verse 5). It would be natural from the way these verses are phrased to assume that the two elements go hand in hand. Therefore, if the prophesying mentioned is specific to certain men and women of that time, it would be natural to assume that the praying is similarly specific to certain men and women of that time, and not just talking about all women praying silently.

Thirdly, there is nothing whatsoever in the Old Testament that required a woman to wear a head covering when praying silently in the congregation. For Paul to come along and liken a woman who prays silently in the congregation without a head-covering to an immoral woman, asking whether it is “comely that she prays to God with her head uncovered” (verse 13), he would need to have some basis in the Old Testament for making such a heavy charge, which he doesn’t have.

Fourthly, when he addresses the men and women that pray and prophesy, he always does so in the singular: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). However, three chapters later, when speaking about women in the churches, he does so in the plural sense: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34). What this seems to suggest, is that the women he is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11 are not the entirety of women in the congregation. When he wants to address women in general, he does so by speaking of women in the plural sense. But he does not do this in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, instead using the singular sense, so giving the clear impression that he is addressing a very specific and separate type of woman to the rest of the women in the congregation.

Finally, notice the contrast between the command in the 14th chapter — where he says that women must be silent in the churches — with what is stated in the 11th chapter, where he talks about the woman who prays and prophesies. This appears, at first glance, to be a total contradiction. Yet it is not, if we understand that the women addressed in chapter 11 are not the same as those addressed in chapter 14. In chapter 11, he is addressing the prophetesses, foretold by Joel and confirmed in Acts 2, who had the sign gifts of praying and prophesying, whereas in chapter 14 he is addressing the generality of women who had not been called to this office.

Without going verse by verse through the rest of the passage, I believe that this offers the most reasonable explanation for what is contained in the remainder of the passage. It explains why the woman who prays and prophesies needs to have “power” on her head – because she is doing something that for all intents and purposes appears to show her as the head of her husband, which is contrary to what Paul says in the passage, which is that the head of the wife is the husband (v.3).

So imagine sitting in the church of Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing. In front of you sit Mr & Mrs Crispus. Mrs Crispus has been given the gift of prophesying and praying in tongues, but her husband has not been given these gifts. What might it sound like if she just gets up and prophesies (publicly expounds), but her husband is not able to because he does not have the gift? It would sound like she is his head, not the other way around. The whole point of the covering — the veil — is therefore to show the rest of the congregation that although she has been given the temporary gift, he is still the head. In other words, the covering displays to all that what she is doing is in no way usurping him.

This also presents one further argument as to why the praying is not “ordinary” congregational praying. In a silent prayer situation, the woman is not actually doing something that looks like she might be usurping the authority of her husband or her father. She only needs the head covering in cases where she is doing something that ordinarily she would have no authority to do so. So if Philip the Evangelist is in a congregation with his four daughters, and his 16-year-old gets up and begins praying or prophesying to the assembled people, she needs a covering on her head in order to tell the congregation that her gift is temporary and that she still recognises her father as her head (until she marries, that is). But if she merely sits and prays silently, she is not doing anything that might lead someone to believe that she is undermining his authority, and therefore she does not require the head covering.

Let me end by summarising the views given in this piece:

  • The prophet Joel foretold of a day when God would raise up people’s sons and daughters to prophesy
  • The Apostle Peter confirmed on the day of Pentecost that Joel’s prophesy was coming to pass
  • Joel’s prophesy stretches from the inauguration of the New Covenant church (Pentecost) to the destruction of the Old Covenant church (the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70)
  • The period of prophets and prophetesses was for this 40 year period only, but ceased when the Scriptures — the prophetic Word of God — were complete
  • There would therefore have been specially called prophetesses in the church at Corinth and other churches at that time and they would have stood up to pray in tongues and prophesy in the congregation
  • The passage in 1 Corinthians 11 does not say anything about a woman needing to wear a hat or head covering to church, to a service, in the Lord’s Supper, listening to the preaching, or singing
  • Rather, it speaks specifically of a woman wearing head covering when she does one of two things: praying and prophesying
  • Both the praying and the prophesying were “sign gifts” given to specially called women at that time, but does not apply to our time
  • The reason a prophetess would need to wear a head covering was that unless there was some visible sign for all the congregation to see, it could well appear that she was the head of her husband, and not the other way around.

11 thoughts on “Difficult Bible Passages: 1 Corinthians 11 – Hats and Hair

  1. Thank you Rob, this seems to me to hit the nail quite firmly on the head..
    it’s about male headship and the need for a. Women not to usurp this..
    However, why ‘for the sake of the angels’.
    Tho they are observing the setting forth of God principals, and an obedient woman is setting forth a picture of the Godly sub,ission ofvthe church to her Lord and Head. I think that’s beautiful and a calling that brings honour to the Lord himself as head of the church, and to men in the church. The bride wears a covering, the church is a bride adorned for her husband..
    As a woman I wish we could uphold this calling, it’s a beautiful calling isn’t it? Not degrading to women at all. Yet we fail to recognise the honour it brings to us and we seek to be men , thinking that gives us more status..
    I love the passage about Abigail’s behaviour. It makes me so ashamed because I fall so far short, in our culture there is this striving to be free of any constraints. Godly women can have a huge influence for good, and are not second class citizens if they are ‘keepers at home’.
    Could say a lot more about this from many angles and confess to struggling with learning His ways myself.. understanding doesn’t nesscesarily bring instant fruit does it?
    Anyway this blog helps me to think and am grateful for it, controversy, debate discussion are sadly missing so often in Christian circles.. it’s very helpful to be challenged.

    1. Hi Hannah,

      Glad that you find the blog challenging.

      Regarding your question about angels, I think there are two possibilities. So if I am right, there was a special period of prophetesses, and the head-covering was needed at that time to preserve the biblical headship of men. Psalm 8 tells us that man is made “A little lower than the angels.” In the Book of Hebrews, it applies this to Christ (see chapter 2), but it also says that having ascended, he is now above the Angels: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
      ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’ (Hebrews 1:6). And in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says that “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

      So the hierarchical order is this: God; Christ; Angels; Man – of which there is male headship over females.

      If the female prophetess fails to wear a head covering, as I’ve argued, she could be seen as usurping the authority of the man. But if man is a “little lower than the angels”, it could be seen that she is putting herself on a par with them. So the phrase “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” could mean that not only must she not to usurp the authority of her head — her husband — but she must also not put herself on a par with the angels, who are above man in the hierarchical pecking order.

      One other possibility, is that the angels referred to are not celestial beings, but the minister of the church. So in the book of Revelation, the seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 are sent to the “Angel of the church at…” The word simply means messenger, and in that case it is clear that John is writing to the messenger or minister of the churches, and not their “guardian angels”

      So it could be the same here. “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” could just as easily mean that “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the ministers.” And the reason for that would be essentially the same that she needed to wear it as concerned her husband – that is, if she didn’t wear it, some might think that she is not only usurping the authority of her husband, but also the pastor of the church as well.

      So there you go. Not sure whether I’m 100% persuaded by either argument I’ve put forward, but I’ve yet to hear anything anymore convincing.



  2. Thank you Rob for this fascinating article. It’s refreshing and stimulating to read your interpretation of this difficult passage. I look forward to more articles in this vein.

    Aside from your main argument, I just wanted to comment on your statement: “The idea that Paul was urging the women in the Corinthian church to dress in this way because of something going on in the culture of the day seems to me to be most unlikely. It doesn’t sound very Pauline, does it?”

    It seems to me that Paul did regard cultural customs as an important criterion for influencing how believers should behave. For example, in Romans 12:17 he commands believers to “give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all.” And in 1 Timothy 3:7 he says that a candidate for the role of overseer must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. In 1 Corinthians Paul speaks about becoming all things to all men that by all means he might save some. In the passage about hats and hair he says, “Since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.” I take the word disgraceful here to mean ‘disgraceful in the eyes of the Corinthian culture of his day’, since it has been fashionable in other cultures around the world at other times for women to have short hair and even shaven heads. In Acts 15 the Jerusalem council instructed Gentile converts living among Jews not to do certain things that would cause unnecessary offence to their Jewish neighbours, such as eating blood, even though eating blood is not sinful per se.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts about this please.
    Phil 😀

    1. Thanks Phil. Okay here goes:

      With regard to Romans 12:17 the context is not cultural acceptance, but rather moral conduct. The part you quoted needs to be read in the wider context, which is really an extended version of Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies. Here is what Paul says:

      “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. *Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.* If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

      Even the heathen world can recognised that if someone refuses to just repay evil with more evil, but rather repays evil with good, this is a highly honourable thing to do. It breaks the cycle of violence, or resentment, or bitterness, and shows the world a new way of living. And so his point here is the opposite of cultural acceptance; it is rather by doing good when those around you have done evil to you, you are actually challenging them and their culture to change.

      As for 1 Timothy 3:7, again I don’t see this as being about accepting the culture, but really just common sense advice that in looking for an elder, you don’t go for someone whom even the unbelievers think is a scoundrel. Many of the elders I have known (and as an elder myself I hope I can say this of myself), have had very good reputations in their workplaces – hard working, honest, dependable, having integrity etc. Yet they have not compromised with the moral degradation of the culture. But if someone is seen by those outside as dishonest, untrustworthy, a gossip etc, then Paul is simply stating the obvious to Timothy: Don’t choose that man, no matter how good his theology appears to be.

      But you are of course correct that there are certain cultural expectations that we must adopt – provided it doesn’t conflict with the moral law. So for instance, if a missionary couple were going to live in a Middle Eastern country, they would be fools if they went dressed as westerners.

      But regarding the bit about the shaving off of the hair bit that he refers to, yes there is a cultural aspect about this, but I think it’s the opposite point to the one you are referring to. It wasn’t disgraceful in Corinthian culture for a woman to have her head shaved. As I understand it, there were Temple prostitutes and priestesses in Corinth who had shaven heads, and they weren’t considered disgraceful in that culture. Quite the opposite.

      So when Paul says that it would be disgraceful for a woman to have her head shaved, I think this is probably what he’s referring to. In other words, rather than using the outside culture as the barometer of what they should do, he’s actually challenging it by saying:

      “Ladies, if you don’t wear a covering on your head when you use the special gift of praying or prophesying you’ve been given, shall I tell you what it’s like? As far as I’m concerned, you might as well go and shave your head entirely, and then you’ll be just like the Temple prostitutes and priestesses that you came to Christ to escape.”

      Well, that’s my take on it. Hope it makes some kind of sense.

      Best wishes,


  3. “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, …”
    A question: is there any place else in the Bible where this is written?
    I assume that the Jews ought to know how to pray but here all heads are covered.

    1. Yes. In the OT, the only people who could come directly to God and offer incense were the Priests. And they could only do this wearing a turban on their heads (see Exodus 28). The turban was symbolic that the Priest needed to be protected from the wrath of God, and so if someone were to attempt to come directly to God without this, he would bring the wrath of God upon his head (this is exactly what happened to King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26, where he usurps the role of the priests and offers incense on the altar – and lo and behold, leprosy breaks out in his forehead).

      But Christ, through his sacrifice, has dealt with God’s wrath. And so all can come directly to God through him. We no longer need the “covering” of the turban to symbolise the protection against God’s wrath, because Christ is – as Paul says in the passage – our covering and therefore our head.

      Women can of course also come directly to God, as Christ has turned the wrath of God away for all who believe (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28). But for those given the sign gifts of praying in tongues or prophesying, before the prophetic word of God was completed, Paul says she was to wear a symbol on her head not to denote that there was still a distance between her and God, but simply to recognise her husband’s headship over her.

      I hope that makes sense.


      1. I agree Rob, but something doesn’t make sense here.
        On one hand the main principle that what really counts is what is in the heart, is expressed by abolishing formalities and rituals (for men). On the other hand and in the same sentence Paul sticks to formalities for women and only in specific circumstances and only for a specific time.
        I cannot find myself in any of the explanations. It also troubles me that first Paul praises them because they remember them in “everything” and in the second half he starts to warn them because there are factions.

        1. I see your point GV. It is definitely a “difficult passage”. The way I look at it is as follows:

          Although much is abolished in Christ (i.e. the Priesthood, the Temple, the ceremonial laws etc), there is a temptation to think that the Gospel flattens everything, doing away with all hierarchies and order. This is exactly the trap many modern Christians have fallen into, thinking that Christ has done away with all boundaries and distinctions. And so they quote the passage from Galatians I mentioned in my last comment – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – as a “proof text” that under the Gospel, there are no differences between males and females. Females can be ministers and there is no such thing as male headship.

          But elsewhere in the NT, Paul is explicit that men are the heads of the households – “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:22) – and that only men can occupy the place of minister in a church – “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12). And so the passage in Galatians, which is used as a proof text to argue that Christ has essentially done away with the differences, clearly isn’t actually talking about that at all, but is instead referring to the fact that there is absolutely no difference in status between men and women as far as salvation is concerned.

          Clearly hierarchies still exist in the Gospel era. And so I take the view that the 1 Corinthians 11 passage is basically showing that although the barrier between man and God has been removed by Christ, meaning that the man praying and prophesying doesn’t need a covering (as Christ is now his head), Paul is concerned that unless some symbol of authority is used, the church at Corinth will take this to mean that all hierarchy has been flattened by the Gospel. And so his insistence on women who have been given these sign gifts wearing a covering, is basically so that the church there understands that order and hierarchies have not been abandoned, and that the woman is still under the authority of her husband.

          That probably sounds very convoluted, but there you go.

          As for your other comment about being troubled by Paul praising them but then going on to warn them, here’s a piece of advice I would offer when reading 1 Corinthians. If you try to read the letter in a “dry” fashion, you will probably end up missing the point. The letter is, almost from start to finish, by far the most cutting in the NT, and is positively dripping with sarcasm.

          Take the most famous chapter, the “Love” passage in chapter 13. This is one of the most quoted passages of all, read at Royal weddings and special occasions, because it’s all about love and sounds so nice. But actually, it’s one of the sharpest and most sarcastic chapters in the entire Bible. The Corinthians are puffed up with pride for their praying in tongues, for their knowledge, and even for their factions (“I am of Paul” “I am of Apollos” etc), and even seem proud of the fact that they have a man whose sleeping with his stepmother. And so the entire 13th chapter is Paul’s cutting rebuke to their pride, where he basically says, “Yeah you can speak in tongues, yeah you can prophesy, yeah you’ve got great understanding. Oh, but where exactly is the love?”

          If you go and read the epistle in an ironic tone of voice, including the bit in chapter 11 where he “commends” them before rebuking them, I think it might begin to make a bit more sense.

          Thanks very much for your comments and questions. They are very helpful in exercising my little brain and keeping me on my toes.


  4. “In the Old Testament, the kind of language Joel uses about signs in the cosmos is actually used time and time again to describe not the end of the world, but the end of a kingdom or nation.” – With the number of Old Testament references in the Book of Revelation, what does this interpretive stance create in your understanding of that book?

    1. Hi Bruce,

      It basically means that I interpret the Book of Revelation to be mostly about events that occurred in the 1st Century, with the exception of the last 3 chapters. It is, I believe, a book that uses a huge amount of symbolic language and imagery, drawn as you say from the OT, to describe the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 and passing away of the Old Covenant. It is basically a book about God “divorcing” his Old Covenant people, which he threatened to do time and time again, all the way back to Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 25, and his taking a new bride, “the Church”.

      I know that might seem a bizarre view, and I remember thinking it was nuts when I first heard it, but the more I have looked into it, the more compelling I have found it.

      If you’re interested, I would recommend a book called Days of Vengeance by David Chilton, which I think is by far and away the best commentary on the Book of Revelation that I have so far seen.


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