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Propriety in Worship September 3, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Summary: Paul begins by praising the Corinthians for being mindful of the instructions that he had passed on to them. Now it needs to be stated that

  • women are subordinate to men
  • men, as believers, are subordinate to Christ
  • Christ is subordinate to God the Father.

Therefore, every man in Corinth who publicly worships with his head covered disgraces himself. Also, every woman in Corinth who publicly worships without veiling her head disgraces herself – she places herself in the class of women who have had their hair cut off. Now if a woman does not care for her reputation, she should act in a manner befitting women who have had their hair cut off; on the other hand, if she does care for her reputation, she should observe the prevailing customs. Men, however, should not veil their heads, as they have God-given authority – women can only reflect this authority in men. This stems from the following facts:

  • woman was created from man
  • woman was created for man.

Given these truths – and because angels are present during public worship – women should veil their heads to reflect the God-given authority that men possess. Now Paul notes that it is God’s will that men and women must depend on each other. This arises from the fact that even though woman was created from man, man is born of woman – this is by God’s design. He then exhorts the Corinthians to determine for themselves whether it is proper for a woman to worship publicly without veiling her head. Indeed, their instincts should convince them that men with long hair are flouting cultural norms; on the other hand, long hair is actually a natural – and proper – veil for a woman. Paul concludes by stating that if anybody – after hearing the previous arguments – still wants to contend with him on this issue, the apostles are in agreement in this regard, and the churches in that region concur with the apostles’ directives.

Thoughts: This is clearly one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and its meaning and applicability have been debated for centuries. In his commentary on verse 7, Hodge offers his thoughts on the subordination of women to men, especially in a Christian context:

The man is the glory of God because in him the divine majesty is specially manifested…She is not designed to reflect the glory of God as a ruler. She is the glory of the man. She receives and reveals what there is of majesty in him. She always assumes his position; she becomes queen if he is a king and manifests to others the wealth and honor that may belong to her husband.

Hodge’s commentary on verse 11 sheds further light on the nature of the subordination in question:

The apostle’s single aim is to show the true nature and limitations of the subordination of the woman to the man. It is a real subordination, but it is consistent with their mutual dependence; the one is not without the other…It is a Christian doctrine that the man and the woman are thus mutually dependent.

The consistency of this divinely-appointed 1) subordination and 2) interdependence is difficult to comprehend; one notable attempt at describing it is Lead Me by Sanctus Real. My understanding is that a believing wife must trust the Lord to lead her spouse to make the right decisions for their family, while the believing husband must be cognizant of his responsibilities – and trust the Lord to help him make these right decisions. Indeed, a mutual trust in the Lord appears to be essential here.

In verse 4, we see that Paul speaks against the hypothetical scenario of men publicly worshiping with their heads veiled. This seemed a bit strange to me – when would a man ever veil his face in public? Hodge’s commentary on this topic turned out to be rather enlightening:

Among the Greeks, the priests officiated bareheaded; the Romans had the head veiled; the Jews (at least soon after the apostolic age) also wore the Tallis or covering for the head in their public services.

This spurred me to read about the tallit. It is intriguing to learn that men used such a variety of coverings and adornments – or lack thereof – for their heads during Biblical-era religious services. Lest anyone think that this discussion is irrelevant, I wonder how a man wearing a baseball hat during a present-day Protestant worship service would be received.

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