HOPE CHAPEL Sunday Service Notes
Teaching Series: “Be Different” based on 1 Corinthians
Today’s Topic: “Week 7: Worthy Worship” (Chapters 11)
For further study:
“Who Were the Women With Shaved Heads?” https://blogs.bible.org/who-were-the-women-with-shaved-heads-1-cor-115/
“A Meta-Study of the Debate over the Meaning of “Head” (Kephalē) in Paul’s Writings” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/meta-study-debate-over-meaning-head-kephale
“The Lord’s Supper in the Early Church”
Book: “New International Biblical Commentary: 1 Corinthians” (Marion L. Soards, 2004)
We have reached the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul’s overarching topic for this chapter is on how to worship God in a way that is worthy of Him. He addresses two particular topics–coverings for women’s heads and the Lord’s supper; he does say that when he arrives he will give further directions concerning their worship times together, but he has chosen these two specific items to discuss presently in his response to them. In the previous section of his letter, he has just finished speaking about how the Corinthians are to exercise their ‘freedom in Christ’–or rather are to refrain from exercising it for the sake of others, so as not to cause anyone to sin. Even though he has now turned his attention from the topic of eating ‘idol meat’ to head coverings for women, the common thread connecting these two is the exercise of our freedom in Christ.
In these next verses, Paul makes the argument that the believers’ ‘freedom’ should take cultural norms into account as he teaches about the need for the Corinthian women to cover their heads when they pray and prophecy. Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that it is important to give due consideration to the messages that their behaviour sends to others during their times of worship. He then addresses the Lord’s supper at which some people are acting selfishly with no regard for others. Again, is their intent to glorify God in their meeting together as it should be or is it just to satisfy themselves and their own desires? And with that, let’s begin...
“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
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.”
These words of Paul have been used to build a case for subjugating women–from demands that husbands exercise rule over their wives to the requiring of particular dress codes and hair lengths; these same words have also been used to argue for women’s rights–to pray and prophecy in public and for the interdependence/equality of men and women. What are we to make of it all? These verses contain some ideas that are more easily understood than others and some ideas that cause a firestorm of debate. This morning it is not my goal to end the discussion once and for all by providing you with an indisputable understanding of this portion of Paul’s letter. It is also not my intention to enter into a debate about ‘headship’ or ‘women’s roles.’ We will acknowledge the difficulties and I will attempt to provide background so that we may all come to a better understanding of Paul’s intended meaning, but we will focus on the clearer ideas that stem from this eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians. So with that, let’s step in to take a look at each of the verses and what message God would have us glean from them.
Paul begins by commending the Corinthian church for observing the ‘traditions’ he passed down to them (v. 2), but wants to offer some clarification to the tradition itself. Before we tackle verse three, let’s move on for now to answer the easier question of what tradition Paul is speaking about. Men are not to use head coverings when they pray and prophesy (v.4); women, however, should wear head coverings when they pray and prophecy (v.5). Why? Because of socially accepted cultural practice. In Paul’s day, a single woman’s uncovered head was a sign of her availability; once married, a woman covered her head, much like married couples wear wedding bands today. Therefore, when a married woman left her head bare, she would be sending the signal that she was ‘available.’ Paul denounces this practice; a married woman might as well accept the sign of an adulteress–having her hair cut. In Paul’s day, her uncovered head sent the message that she wasn’t intent on being faithful to her husband–bringing shame not only to herself, but to her husband and the church.
It was not a sin not to wear a head covering but it was unwise, just as not wearing a wedding band is not a sin, but in certain circumstances can send the wrong message. It is obvious that Paul is making an argument in support of women covering their heads because of how their behaviour will be interpreted by unbelievers. It appears that the Corinthians had asked Paul to clarify what their ‘freedom in Christ’ should look like as pertained to women’s participation in praying and prophesying; they may have in fact begun exercising freedom in Christ in their dress that was contrary to accepted cultural norms of the day–after all, if every believer is equal, why should head coverings be necessary? Paul warns them against doing so because of how it may be misunderstood by those outside of the church.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the early church was indeed accused of cannibalism and sexual promiscuity? Can’t you just hear the astonishment of outsiders? “You drink the ‘blood’ and eat the ‘body’ of Christ!” “You allow men and women to worship together!” In a city where women serviced men in the Temples of idols as prostitutes, you can see why Paul would have been concerned. It was for their own reputation and for the sake of the gospel that Paul gives this clear directive. What is unclear, however, is found in verse three, “I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” This is where the scholars run for their lexicons. Let me just say at the outset, that the meaning of the Greek word ‘kephale’, interpreted as ‘head’ is not as cut and dried as some have attempted to make out. Kephale does mean quite literally ‘head’ like that found on a body, but it actually has over two dozen other literal and metaphorical possible meanings.
The debate centres around whether or not ‘kephale’ means ‘authority over’ much like the English usage of the word ‘head’ or not. If so we must ask whether or not Paul is advocating for the use of head coverings for women based on an inferior position of hierarchy. Studies have shown that ‘kephale’ can mean ‘authority over,’ but its usage in this form is rare. It presents a weak argument at best. However, proponents of the rulership of male over female often refuse to acknowledge any other possible translation.
Another possible meaning for kephale that is often argued for is that of ‘source.’ Verse three would more precisely be understood as, “Man came from Christ, woman came from man and Christ came from God.” Proponents of this interpretation point out that the Greek word for ‘kephale’ does not typically follow the English usage for ‘head,’ but may in actual fact be more like the French usage of ‘tete’, which does not convey any sort of ‘authority over.’ This meaning of the word is in my estimation a better ‘fit’ with the less contentious Biblical texts. Admittedly, however, indepth studies have demonstrated that the use of this word, kephale, to mean ‘source’ are also not overly common and so also does not present us with conclusive proof.
The truth of the matter is that we do not know entirely what Paul meant; however, good news. It is not essential for understanding the whole of the topic. While we may not understand what Paul meant when he states, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” and “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man,” he is clear about the rest...well almost.
In verse 8-12, Paul speaks of the fact that woman came from man and woman was created for man, so a head covering is necessary for the woman to demonstrate that she has her own authority as a follower of Christ to pray and prophecy, just as her ‘head’ does...and because of the angels. As to Paul’s reference to angels, here again biblical scholars widely differ in opinion. One thing I believe we can safely glean is that angels are present when we worship...beyond that I have not found a suitable explanation that does not unravel at the theological seams under closer examination.
For those who would argue that these words of Paul demonstrate the functional, if not spiritual, inferior rank of women as compared to men, we need to consider Paul’s next words. In Christ men and women are interdependent. Without man there is no woman, yet without woman there is no man. Yet, even with this interdependence, all find their starting point in God. Now, however, just as one aspect of his point is clarified, we find ourselves confused again, “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?” To what is Paul referring when he speaks of ‘nature?’ I’ve known too many women who, by the ‘nature’ of their hair type cannot grow their hair long. So it would make sense that he is once again making reference to the ‘natural’ cultural traditions of the day; after all, Paul concludes, it’s common practice in all the other churches. So, Corinthian believers, look around you and judge for yourselves. What is everyone else doing? Will not women leaving their heads uncovered to pray and prophecy leave them and the church open to accusations of sexual impropriety? Corinthian church, you be the judge!
“ In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions.”
Paul now addresses the Corinthians about how they are participating in the Lord’s Supper. He actually accuses them that what they are calling the Lord’s Supper is not. Rather than unifying the church their participation in this shared meal is causing further disunity and even bringing shame to some members. At this point it would be beneficial to consider what form the Lord’s Supper took in the early church. You would not have found the little wafers and individual disposable cups that we have come to associate with the Lord’s Supper or communion. The Lord’s Supper was to serve as a large end of the day meal for all with everyone bringing something to share...it was a potluck!
Those who were well off could of course afford to bring more, while some in the church might be able to bring little more than a bit of bread. Rather than sharing their dishes, however, the wealthier individuals were digging right in; they failed to wait for others and left some hungry, while they themselves got drunk on excess. Paul tells them this is wrong and actually does more harm to the unity of the church than good. He continues, examine yourself; is their behaviour an extension of their love of God and others, or of self? If they are hungry, they are to eat at home first...what is brought to the church should be shared not hoarded.
Paul tells them that as they share the cup and bread together as believers, they should be reminded of the final meal of their Lord with His disciples. If their goal at the meal is simply to satisfy their own hunger without considering the needs of others, they violate Jesus’ command to love others and to put them first. As Jesus’ body, they should be looking out for each other. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves” (v.29). Their communal meal is to be viewed as an act of communal worship; to not do so leaves them open to judgment. For this reason, Paul tells the Corinthians not to rush ahead to fill their plate, to get the best or the most. They are to partake in the meal together, sharing what they have, with gratitude to God. Participation is not determined by one’s worldly status, but rather from the simple fact that they are one church body.
Application - How do we apply this to our lives today?
When it comes to difficult passages in the Bible, it is always best to refrain from making hard and fast theological decrees. How many church divisions, fights and lexical wars could have been avoided if we would remember to focus on the clearer texts of Scripture? How much more effective could our witness for Christ be if we held more firmly to the clear texts of love, forgiveness and mercy than to the disputed passages that have historically caused more harm than good as believers fight over Biblical interpretations...in full view of non-believers?
Paul affirms that women can pray and prophecy in church–so don’t be afraid to speak up ladies–but in a manner that does not bring shame to themselves, their husbands (if they are married), to the church or to God. In Paul’s day this required head coverings. What does it mean for us as today’s church to worship God in a manner that does not bring shame to ourselves, to the church and to God? What are the culturally accepted practices that we as individuals would do best to adhere to rather than exercise ‘freedom in Christ?’ This might require refraining from adopting certain clothing and/or hair styles. It might require us to refrain from adding certain four-letter words to our vocabulary. It might even require us to refrain from certain activities all together if it would cause someone outside of the church to observe, ‘but I thought you were a Christian.’
Angels are present when we worship. The spiritual realm is far more interested and engaged in our three-dimensional world than we sometimes realize. Maybe, if we remembered this fact, we would extend more consideration and care in our efforts to worship God as we are actively observed by those who also report for duty at the throne of God.
While Paul’s advice concerning the Lord’s Supper is not of an explanatory nature concerning our current communion practices in regards to the ‘blood and body’ of Christ, his instructions to the Corinthians do speak to us regarding our need to see ourselves as a unified body. We need to care for all believers and not just ourselves in all our practices–whether that be at a shared potluck meal, sharing provisions through our Blessings Cupboard and our Giving Tree or checking in on another with a visit or phone call. Paul warns us that when we fail to care for others, we put our own well-being at risk. There is an interconnectedness of all believers as the body of Christ that we often fail to appreciate, but is no less real.
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!