1 Corinthians 11 – These Modern Women with Their Feminism and Short Hair

1st Corinthians 11 Bible with Green and Blacks Organic 70 Percent Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 11

Honestly, I could split this chapter into three separate entries. Between gender roles, church divisions, and communion, Paul covers a broad swath of topics here. But if I looked into cultural contexts, Greek language, commentaries and interpretations, church tradition, practical application, and even further angles, I could write multiple entries on each of the topics Paul’s dealing with in this chapter, or in any chapter. And here’s the thing about All the Paul: there is a lot of Paul.

And a lot of Paul isn’t easy. The modern reader will likely see Paul’s views on gender roles as slamming down yet another can of worms onto the contemporary table. Take his views on hair, for instance: “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?” (14-15). Are women who want a short, no-hassle hairstyle out of luck? Does the Bible have a beef with long-haired metalheads?

Let’s say it doesn’t. Or alternately, let’s say that our hypothetical modern reader doesn’t mind the trivial effort of conforming his/her hairstyle and head-covering practices to 1 Corinthians 11’s prima facie gender norms. But consider when Paul says, “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” (3). Or how about this one: “[Man] is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man?” (7). And if you, as a woman, don’t want to throw 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 across the room after reading that, I don’t blame you. With its apparent hierarchy of authority and superiority, Paul’s teaching on women’s roles seems so contrary to our contemporary sense of how the world should be, our progress in women’s rights toward a more equitable and just society, that many people would just as soon rip these pages out of the Bible.

And I get that. If you read the Bible seriously, you’re gonna be grappling with passages, and if you disagree with Paul on a given issue, there’s no point in pretending that you don’t. Or you might say that Paul’s norms are cultural, appropriate for the Corinthian church, but not relevant for a society that doesn’t use hair as a marker for gender roles. Fair enough, modern readers. I’m a modern reader too.

But don’t approach the text looking for an excuse to write it off. God has a reason for putting these difficult passages in the Bible, and when you come to them, he wants to teach you something through them. What does he want you to learn? Even if he does want you to question Paul, the experience cuts both ways. Don’t come to the text like you’re the authority here, like you’ve got a perfect handle on these issues. Approach the text out of submission to God. Take the time to figure out what Paul is actually saying. And the only good reason I can think of to throw out any norm Paul might prescribe would be that somewhere else in the Bible, God has revealed that he doesn’t want us as men and women to do things Paul’s way.

Specifically, Paul is interpreting Genesis here. When he says, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (8-9), he’s basing his view on the fact that Adam chronologically preceded Eve. If you want to take issue with him, go back to Genesis 1 and 2 and base your beef on a firmer foundation than your own prejudices and preconceptions.

At one of my previous jobs, I used to read the Bible at lunch each day. One time a friend at work asked me, “Do you really believe everything in the Bible?” And I answered, “I don’t know. How could I say I believe everything in the Bible when I don’t know everything it says?” I’ve read it through more than once, and there are still unanswered questions, passages I don’t understand, and issues I’m grappling with. Yes, God is all-powerful, and yes, in an instant he could reveal to me complete knowledge of what the Bible says.

But God doesn’t work that way. And when I crack open this book, I’ve got to be prepared to learn–and to admit that I don’t know everything. I’ve got to be ready to be wrong.

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4 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 11 – These Modern Women with Their Feminism and Short Hair

  1. I’ve studied a lot on this passage, I’ve debated the Head Covering Movement, I’ve read it backwards and forwards, in the Greek and English, and considered it through and through. What doesn’t sell me on it though is … idol feasts. The Bible talks about things that are relevant to Paul’s culture; but not necessarily always in sync with our own. Sure, it’s easy to read it and say, “Well, the Word literally says that God wants all women the world over until the end of time to wear head coverings as a symbol of submission to their husbands for the sake of the angels.” But we know the motivations for this verse are generally culturally bound. We can read it and understand it as medicine for whatever ailed the Corinthian church; but it’s not necessarily a prescription for what ails the whole church today.

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    1. I’m with you on that, Jamie. Based on what I’ve learned about the pagan practices in Corinth with the cult of Aphrodite and temple prostitution, I’m inclined to think that the head-covering and hair-cutting stipulations are meant to be taken as a cultural thing. Thanks for dropping a comment and sharing your insights!

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      1. It’s interesting to think about how sixty or seventy years ago; any notion of feminism wouldn’t come into play when reading the Bible and the verses themselves would have had a different interpretation. I hadn’t realized how cultural changes affected how we interpret God’s Word.

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