A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:

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As mentioned in the previous blog, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church in order to address several issues within the Church. We now move into a section in which Paul address an issue that directly intersects with our society today: gender and sexuality. Within the Church, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 has been discussed extensively and the text has been central to numerous debates (such as the egalitarian/complementarian debate and the debate regarding head coverings). However, this passage has much to teach us regarding the meaning of gender and the relationship between the sexes.

The Foundational Analogy

We begin with v. 2-3

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:2-3, NASB)

We begin with the first statement that Christ is the head of every man. This affirms the truth that since Christ is the Creator and Preserver of all men, he must therefore be the head (or master and ruler) of mankind. Christ is the head of all men in that all gifts are derived from him and as the Lord of the nations, all are subject to Him. Moreover, He is the head of all believers since he is the head of the Church. As John Gill writes:

Yea, he is a natural head, or is that to his church, as an human head is to an human body: he is a true and proper head, is of the same nature with his body, is in union to it, communicates life to it, is superior to it, and more excellent than it.

In an analogous way, the head of Christ is God. This is not a reference to the divine nature of Christ because they are one in nature and essence. However, as to the human nature of Christ and the office that He fulfills, Scripture is abundantly clear that Christ hoped in God, believed and trusted in Him, loved Him, and was obedient to Him, even to the point of death. Christ voluntarily performed these tasks as our Mediator and voluntarily submitted to the Father. Therefore, it is proper to say that God is the head of Christ, in His humanity as the Mediator.

The Interdependence of the Sexes

In an analogous way, Paul states that man is the head of woman. Just as God is the head of Christ and Christ is the head of mankind, so is man the head of the two sexes. Paul grounds this argument based not on the Fall, but based on the order of creation. Since the man was formed first (v. 7) and since the woman was made for the man (v. 8), this implies that man must be the head and chief of the mankind.

However, it’s important to note that this statement is an analogy, not an identity. In other words, although man is the head of the two sexes, his headship is not identical to the headship that Christ has over mankind or the headship that God has over Christ. This point should be emphasized in order to prevent the historical error of believing that women are essentially inferior to man in all matters (whether within the Church or within civil society). Man exercises his headship in ways that are analogous to Christ’s headship over mankind. As the head of the woman, man is to provide and care for her, to nourish and cherish her, and to protect and defend her against all insults and threats. Therefore, there is a sense of authority and rule within the context of headship, but the connotation of the term is properly attached to beneficent governance.

It’s also important to note that although man is the head of his own wife , both man and woman are dependent upon each other (v. 11-12). Consider the following commentary on this passage from 19th century pastor F.B. Meyer:

No soul is complete in itself. The man is not complete apart from Christ, as the woman is not complete apart from man… But it is very interesting to notice that while the Gospel so clearly insists on the divine order, it has elevated woman to be man’s true helpmeet, and has caused her to be honored and loved as the glory of man. Neither society, nor family life, nor woman herself, can be happy unless she attains her true position. On the one hand she finds her completion in man; on the other she is his queen and he ministers to her in all gentleness and tenderness and strength.

The Consequences

This statement is worth emphasizing because of the historical error of undervaluing women (within the Church and within civic society). Contrary to popular belief, it was the proclamation and spread of the gospel that liberated women and elevated their worth because it is God who defines and determines the purpose of His creation. Insofar as  we reject God’s intention for the creation both sexes as complements to each other, we diminish and devalue their value.

One of the evidences regarding the growing secularism of our society involves the confusion of God’s purpose for creation. In the 20th century, we saw the rise of early feminism with regards to the fight for woman’s suffrage; however, the influence of second wave and third wave feminism has brought the discussion of biblical sexuality to the steps of the American Church. It was the influence of the second wave feminism of the 1960s that began to associate the “subjugation of women” with broader critiques of patriarchy, normative heterosexuality, and the woman’s role as wife and mother. Furthermore, it was during the second wave of feminism in which sex and gender were differentiated from each other. In the 21st century, we are now in the position of observing the next evolution of third wave feminism. This current wave of feminism stepped onto the public stage as strong and empowered, eschewing victimization, and defining feminine beauty for themselves (not as object of male patriarchy). Whereas second wave feminism separated sex and gender, third-wave feminism has asserted that the very notion of gender discourages experimentation and creative thought. This has led to the commentary from many secular sources that we are creating a society of feminized men and masculine women.

 

Fortunately, the Word of God has not left us in the dark in addressing this issue. Throughout 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Paul grounds his argument for headcoverings based on observable realities about the differences between man and woman. This means that Paul assumes that the Corinthian church understood that there are substantive differences between men and women (i.e. differences that extend beyond customs and cultures). Hence, in Paul’s mind, the audience of his letter already knew that sex and the modern concept of gender cannot be separated. Because God is the Creator, He alone has the prerogative to determine the purpose of His creation and this passage clearly teaches that woman was created for man (v. 9) and that woman is the crowning glory of man (v. 7). Hence, the modern idea of blurring the distinctions between men and women is a movement that is in rebellion against God’s original intention for woman to be the complementary pair of the human race.

Not only does God determine the original intention for woman and her relationship to her own husband , but He also determines feminine beauty. Consider Paul’s argument in v.13-15. Paul argues that special revelation is not needed to determine whether or not long hair is a woman’s glory. It is clear to all that long hair adorns a woman and is fitting for her sex. In modern terms, a woman’s biological features are consistent with her identity as a woman. This reiterates the point that it was never God’s intention to separate one’s sex (i.e. the biological construct) with one’s gender. Rather than seeing one’s biological makeup as a potential form of subjugation and oppression (which is becoming a common perspective among third wave feminists), God designed woman in such a way to fulfill her role as her husband’s  helpmeet and complement.

The Lord’s Supper

Paul concludes chapter 11 with a discussion of the Lord’s Supper. In this discussion, Paul gradually begins to return his readers to the discussion of love. He focuses the Corinthian church back on their attitudes toward one another, and he tells them yet again to stop being selfish. They were hosting love feasts but, ironically, they were not conducting them in a loving manner. As a result, Paul told them that they were partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Given that our present this section does not have any immediate implications for our study of Public Theology, we will not explore it further here.

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6 thoughts on “A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11

  1. That’s one way of looking at it, but not the only way. 1 Cor 11’s first half is notoriously difficult to interpret, after all when it comes down to the ancient Greek and modern English, quite a bit has been lost in translation and added to it in interpretation. The way I read it, Paul’s saying that long hair = head covering so that women who aren’t in a head covering culture don’t have to abide by a custom that’s not their own and yet are still technically compliant. He’s not grounding femininity to one culture’s customs but keeping it open so each culture’s expression of it can be reflected without destroying it in other cultures whose customs are different. It’s doubtful that there was gender confusion in Paul’s day, but what is possible is that outsiders expected men to worship one way and women another, for women to be prophesying and praying as the men do was a violation of what they believed was proper, by creating a distinction, Paul was able to circumvent the idea that men pray, women are silent, men prophesy, women are silent – as long as there was a difference, they could do the same things. When you look at the Greek, a more literal interpretation is that women ought to have something hanging down from their heads, it doesn’t say that they must wear a veil or a head covering, the words “sign of” or “symbol of” were added to that verse for clarity ages ago, but it didn’t clarify anything at all. I really don’t believe for a moment that was God’s idea of what was perfect, that God wanted a hierarchy – it was something that already existed that for some God reason God decided to use in that place and time. It’s pretty out of step with how things are today.

  2. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VIII – 1 Corinthians 12-14 | CredoCovenant

  3. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part IX – 1 Corinthians 15-16 | CredoCovenant

  4. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VII – 1 Corinthians 11 | Reformedontheweb's Blog

  5. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part VIII – 1 Corinthians 12-14 | Reformedontheweb's Blog

  6. Pingback: A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part IX – 1 Corinthians 15-16 | Reformedontheweb's Blog

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