Wednesday, October 05, 2011

God Expects or Assumes a Separate Visible Symbol of Authority for Men and Subordination for Women

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is in the Bible.  I'm not going to say "sorry," because the Bible is good for you.  So those verses are good for you.  God is good.  And it is His world that He created.  You're part of it.  So you and me function better when we operate within His design.

Don't read into v. 3.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Authority and submission are in play all over the place.  God has it be that way.  Christ is the head of every man, not just married ones.  And God is the Head of Christ.  Have a problem with that?  Didn't think so.  That's good with you.  But what about the one sandwiched between those two?  The man is the head of the woman.

I'm going to assume that you don't think that "the man" and "the woman" are a universal, invisible man or woman, but representative of the particular.  But now the spin begins.  And I'm not going to talk about what that is, just that men in general are in headship over women in general.  Men are in authority and women are in submission.  So 1 Corinthians 11 isn't talking about marriage, that married women should submit to their husbands.  No, women are to submit to men, and that should show up everywhere.  If you are arguing, move down to v. 16, because there shouldn't be any contention over this.  The apostles weren't arguing over it, so no one else should have been.

Maybe you're good with all this so far, but I'm guessing it's already controversial, just like it would have been in Corinth---hence, v. 16.  But the point of the post is about the symbol of male authority in dress and then the symbol of female submission in dress.  Does God expect or assume that from His own?  Yes, He does.  1 Corinthians 6:10.

Paul makes his point about the female head-covering in vv. 6-7 and then argues for it in vv. 8-10.  In v. 10, he writes:

For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Paul's argument is about angels.  I'm not even going to go into that.  I want you to consider just the one point.

A woman ought to have power on her head.  Power on her head?  What's that?  I'm not endorsing the ESV one iota, but here is how the ESV guys translated the same Greek words.  I believe they are correct in their understanding of what that is, when they translate, "a symbol of authority on her head."

The head-covering in Corinth was a symbol of the man's authority over the woman, whether it be a father and a daughter, a husband and a wife, or whatever other man-woman relationship it was.  It wasn't to "tell the difference between men and women."  It wasn't to "make the man look more masculine and the woman to look more feminine."  It was a symbol of subordination for the woman.  Women were not wearing it because they knew what it symbolized.  That was the whole point to not wearing it.  Women weren't abstaining from the veil because they wanted to look like men, but because the veil meant submission.

Paul spent all of these verses about this one issue, what some want to dismiss as "non-essential."  If it was non-essential, then Paul could have just said, be charitable toward the women not wearing the head-covering, because in non-essentials after all, there is charity, and in all things unity.  The modern idea of unity is accepting the no head-covering wearing women.  They're fine.

In Corinth, the head-covering was one symbol of female subordination of women to men even as not wearing it was a symbol of male headship of men over women.  We still do have a symbol of male authority and female submission in our culture.  For men it is pants and for women it is the skirt or dress.  This symbol still does exist, although not to the extent that it once did, but that is in a major way because professing Christians have conformed to the world.  Whatever the symbol is in the culture, that is the one that Christians should follow.  If the world has no symbol, Christians should originate their own.  They don't need to, however, in the United States, because we already have the symbols here.  The symbols, however, are necessary because of, among other reasons, created order (v. 9) and because of the angels (v. 10).  If anyone understands authority and submission it is angels.  One insubordination landed angels under God's condemnation forever.

I know some people believe that Paul made the head-covering permanent.  I'm not going to argue about that in this post.  I know some will say that wearing the veil is only for worship time, during praying and prophesying.  I know that others will say that the symbol is nothing more than the hair length.  I'm not going to debate any of that.  These verses cannot be nothing!  Most evangelicals and fundamentalists interpret them the same way that I do in this post.  They simply choose to disobey them, to rebel against them, to snub their noses at God.  And then they provide cover for each other by mocking those who call for obedience.  Or they attempt to muddle the discussion to the degree that, since no one can actually know what these verses are talking about, they don't have to practice them.  That's not going to fool God. Not. at. all.


Joshua said...

Nothing really to add to this other than amen. Thank you for your continued teaching on this topic.

When I read this post it brought to mind an image from my childhood. My parents for some time attended a Brethren assembly. I remember once, when I was very young, seeing a well developed lady in a pair of pants at church ... with a head covering on.

I saw nothing weird about ladies wearing pants at the time, as it was all I knew, but that caused me to stop and stare and I've never forgotten it. Even as a child it seemed to clash badly. It was like seeing a man in a tuxedo on a pink tricycle. The old world and old time sign of submission and modesty combined with a pair of pants that so crudely displayed her womanly lower half.

Anyway, excellent post.

d4v34x said...

These verses can, indeed, not be nothing.

Ryrie and the ESV study authors at least do something with them besides punt. That's the extent of my study on this--although I did read MacArthur some time ago, can't remember what he said.

I appreciate your thoughts here.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Joshua,


Mac says the exact same interp that I am saying, as does Daniel Wallace. They go jelly on application. They disappear there. Wallace apologizes for how he thinks it applies, which happens to be the same as I, and a huge majority of American culture for most of American history, and English history.

d4v34x said...

Ha. Just read Wallace. You can almost see him raising one arm a bit to fend of the tomatoes. Or stones. Interesting.

JOHN G said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburg,
I really appreciate what you have written here. I can't think of a passage in the NT that is more ignored than this one. And it is not like it is a verse or two, but half a chapter practically! I hold to HC's being permanent. I don't force my wife or daughters to wear a HC because honor is not demanded/forced and in comparison to Christ I certainly deserve dishonor. I do ask men to remove their hats for prayer (as they do at Nascar events in 2011interestingly enough). Also in 2011, it is noteworthy that many Jewish and Catholic men pray with their head covered. I disagree with pants being the symbol because the symbol is to be on the "head" (v.10). I'm not saying it isn't good for women to wear dresses and men pants, but I don't think that comes into play in this passage. It is about headship and the head is figurative (v.3) and literal (vv. 5-7,10) throughout the passage. Likewise, angels aren't cultural and the "churches" of God have no other custom. I think your superb argument from history on the text preservation issue could be used almost verbatim in defence of HC's.
Great discussion and thanks for all you write.
John Gardner

Gary said...

How do you or any commentator get the the idea that 1 Cor. 11:2-16 is viewing head covering as a "Corinth tradition"? I do not see that in reading those verses, in fact, verse 16 implies that ALL of the churches hold to this tradition for it is a Christian tradition. Where does Paul state that while Corinth may have a head covering custom, another city can use another symbol, if it is that city's custom?