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Authority and Source

Authority and Source

Words of Faith 7-5-17

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017


Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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1 Corinthians 11

   [3] Now 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] And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved. [6] If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. [7] A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the 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] For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

   [11] In the Lord, however, 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.


     The next several chapters are largely concerned with a variety of problems in worship that had arisen at Corinth-- head coverings for women, observing the Lord's Supper, and the use of spiritual gifts. Paul seems to still be addressing the theme of personal freedom and the importance of considering the needs of others always focusing on the glory of God.

       One of the most radical aspects of the first century Christian movement was the inclusion of women in worship settings. This was quite different for Jewish people who had only practiced segregated gatherings in Temple and synagogue worship. Within this context, Paul was extremely progressive in his views on women in worship.

       Apparently, women were prophesying-- giving inspired utterance and exhortation-- and praying publicly as a part of the Christian worship life in Corinth. The question here was not the propriety of women speaking in church but the covering of the head while doing so. Paul will deal later with the women speaking in church in ways that were not a part of inspired worship.

       Women's hair was a common object of lust in antiquity, and in much of the eastern Mediterranean women were expected to cover their hair. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust in the same way that a bathing suit might provoke lust in some cultures today. Head covering prevailed in Jewish culture but Greeks bared their heads for worship and modern urban life tended toward fashionable hairstyles.

       Clearly there was a clash of cultures going on! Paul provided a series of brief arguments, each of which relates directly to the culture he addresses. His arguments do not work well in every culture and even he was not completely satisfied with all of them himself. Paul's direction was for the Corinthian women, not modern women, but some lessons regarding culture can be gained here.

       There seem to be some important principles here.

       Paul declared an order in creation by which we find our source and authority. Christ is the head of everything and everyone. The woman finds her source in man having been created from man. In the Lord, man and woman are not independent of one another, they are interdependent.

       According to Genesis 2:18, God created woman distinct from man so that man would no longer be alone. The phrase there translated "helper suitable" praises woman's strength rather than subordinates her. The Hebrew phrase "Helper" is used more often of God than of anyone else in the Old Testament. The Hebrew for "suitable" means "corresponding" or "appropriate to" as an equal-- in contrast to the animals that were subordinate. Woman was thus created because man needed her strength, not (as some have wrongly interpreted this verse) so that she would be his servant.

       From this argument, Paul argues that a woman who spoke in that culture without a covering for her head was declaring her independence from man and God. She should instead prophesy-- utter inspired exhortation-- and pray only with her head covered because this was a sign that she was in a right understanding of her source and authority.

       A modern application of this principle is difficult to find. We could observe that modest dress is important so as not to stir up lust, but this argument really has to do with cultural attire that has no meaning in our culture. The core principle here is that it is wrong to cast off authority and recognition of our source.

     A woman or man who prays or prophesies in a way that casts off authority is out of order in terms of the goals of Christian worship. "'Everything is permissible'--but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible'--but not everything is constructive. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God" (10:23, 31).

       The application of this principle will vary. It might be applied to any cultural attire that is aimed at declaring a sense of rebellion in the culture or that fails to acknowledge source and authority in our lives. In one setting, baggy pants and ball caps may be appropriate but in other settings such attire may declare an independence from authority that is not appropriate for worship.

         Cultural differences are often stubborn. When preaching in much of Latin America, a man always wears a suit, white shirt and tie, no matter how hot it is. Those listening wear their best with women in dresses and men in white shirts with ties. For a preacher to cast the suit and tie aside is to symbolically cast off proper authority. In many American churches, just wearing a ball cap inside is a sign of disrespect signaling a casting aside of proper authority. Paul would caution those trying to minister the Gospel to be careful of such breaches and cultural miscues.

       Bottom line: Everyone who ministers in the name of Christ should be careful to honor Christ above all and clearly signal that while they are not under religious burden they properly recognize the authority and source in their lives. There are places, times and ways in which a woman might express independence and it would be much more beneficial to the Gospel for her to express God's design of interdependence.

       The same is true for men. A male demand for subordination is as offensive to the order of creation as a woman's demand for independent expression. In the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. Everything comes from God who is our ultimate source.

       Paul never intended that there would be contention over this in the church. Paul's guidance was to do what seems to be proper and fitting in the culture you minister to, with the goal that everything has the purpose of glorifying God-- "even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved" (10:33).


       Father God, help me to navigate the issues of the culture that You have called me to reach. Help me to remember that it is not about me. It is not about my freedom. It is not about my independence. It is about You. I pray that You might be glorified in all that I do and say today. In Jesus’ Name.