QUESTION: Dear Pastor, some feminists have been agitated by this passage of scripture in 1Corinthians 11:7-8: “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of a man. For man did not come from a woman but woman from man.” How would one understand these verses? Maslow.
RESPONSE: First of all, having extreme feminists amidst us today demonstrates how our generation suffers the same ignorance and prejudice that the generation in Corinth suffered then.
Therefore, we equally need salvation and redemption from genderism. To the extreme, the feminist movement is a problem itself, which was birthed by another problem of male chauvinism.
It is like moving from one extreme to another, and there is no solution at all. We must observe the idea of identity regardless of the dynamics of life.
I think a woman and a man are different individuals whose role is to complement and fulfil each other regardless of their environment, exposure and experiences.
The question we are responding to is drawn from 1Corinthians 11:7-8, and its immediate context is 1Corinthians 11:3-16.
The immediate context
When you read 1Corinthians 11:7-8, it matters that you read the entire passage in which it is placed. If you read the passage twice, you realise the writer is struggling with a culturally contentious issue of how female prophets and all other differently gifted women ought to behave within the existing constraints of cultural gender markers.
These cultural gender markers in a Greco-Roman world of the Church at Corinth involved how man and woman dressed and to where.
Paul, throughout his Epistles, addresses such culturally sensitive issues with a literal device known as parallelism. Here is a simple outline of Verses 3-16:
l Sign of authority: the literal devices of parallelism that Paul uses in Verse 3-7, are related to verse 10. Paul handles the theme of ‘Headship’, which in the community of the Church at Corinth comprised Greeks, Romans and Jews, is a hierarchy culturally and religiously confirmed.
The Greek term ‘Kephale’ (translated as ‘Head’) implies at the beginning/the top. So, Paul reminds the women leading the congregation that while they lead, they must observe protocol and the best way to maintain the cultural gender markers is the covering of their hair (a symbolism that stands for submission to authority) as culture demands.
They should not misrepresent the Angel through whom prophesy came, by offending culture. l Creation myth: Verse 8-9 indicates Paul’s challenge in the way the creation story was perceived.
To these cultures, just like many today, they believed a woman was created because a man needed her (Genesis 2:18), and she was made out of a man’s rib (Genesis 2:21-23).
Paul, however, contrasts this religio-cultural understanding of creation that almost presents a woman as a byproduct of a man and a dependent, with two interesting ideas in verses 11-12.
The first is that while in their (Corinthian Church) cultural hierarchy, a woman symbolises inferiority, before God both men and women are equal, based on the other version of the creation account in Genesis 1:26-27.
The truth is that creation is complete and done in Genesis 1:1. The rest of the creation accounts in Genesis 1:2-2, 1-25 are but mythological responses to human socio-anthropological questions.
In this parallelism, Paul has just informed all of us that the issue of feminism against male chauvinism is about our understanding of creation before we even address our cultural prejudices.
While Bible readers are to overcome their Biblical myths, societies must heal from their traditions and cultural myths as well.
l Judge for yourselves: In verses 13-16, Paul puts aside the theological biases and draws the attention of his audience to the two realities at the time.
The first being that the Church at Corinth is in a cosmopolitan city, whose converts, both Gentiles and Jews, come from conservative religious and cultural backgrounds with strong gender markers.
Paul asks them to judge for themselves what is proper, given their cultural symbols of worship and veneration.
Since a woman covering her hair is a symbol of respect to present authorities (God and men), “Is it proper for her not to do that, does not ‘the very nature of things teach you?” (Verse. 13-14)?
The second and most important present reality is that any cultural exercise and practice that does not compromise the Gospel can and should be ignored.
This is why Paul concludes: “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice, nor do the Churches of God.”
What we have observed here is the importance of observing authority in public gatherings.
As long as our cultural norms do not compromise our belief in God, we should not offend these cultures, if the Gospel is to appeal.
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