What The Bible Talks About When It Talks About Women: A Mega-Post on Those Troubling “Anti-Women” Bible Verses

Art by Diane Han of 1of1Doodles

brokenyetbeloved asked:

Dear Pastor Joon, As a young women and follower of Christ, I find it difficult to understand 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I was hoping to get your input on what is being expressed in these scriptures. Thank you and God bless!

Hey dear sister, in fact, since you happen to know my first name, I’ll also make a sweeping attempt to cover the questionable verses from Apostle Paul about women and ministry. That includes: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11, Ephesians 5:21-33. I’ve also written about some of these verses here a few years ago. I was a little bit more sassy then, so I apologize in advance for my tone.

Before we get into the verses, I want to graciously offer these considerations. Please feel free to skip around.

1) We may not see eye-to-eye on our interpretations, but disagreement doesn’t have to mean disunity. We can disagree and still be friends. What’s important for a Christian is that we love Jesus, know that he loves us, and that we love one another.

2) Apostle Paul is occasionally called an outdated misogynist for his views on women, but academically and historically, I believe the exact opposite: Paul had such a high regard for women that I’m downright certain it rushed his execution. He declared views that were countercultural to both the Hebrews and the Romans of his day, and are still countercultural. Just one example: Paul wholeheartedly advocated for singleness as a legitimate life-choice in a time when single women were considered uneconomical and sinful.

3) The English translation of Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek is limited in that it’s impossible to have an exact translation of tone, intonation, colloquialisms, and context. Our English Bibles will always sound a little too abrupt. I’ll put it this way: My Asian parents learned English as a second language, and they sometimes sound more “rude” or “aggressive” because they don’t know the proper way to frame words with disclaimers and courtesy. Instead of saying, “Are you busy tomorrow? I’d like to invite you to my place,” they might say, “You come over okay.” They only know the short way of phrasing their intentions, so it comes off as tone-deaf. My parents might say things like, “You people” or “What’s wrong with you” without understanding this can be rude in our modern Anglo-American vernacular. That’s not to excuse when my parents are rude, but to preempt you: our chronological slice of culture tends to filter the Bible as offensive with phrases that never meant to offend. Which brings us to the next point.

4) Words like submit, quiet, and head of the household have such ominous tones today because of heavy verbal baggage and our quick-to-fight culture. We need to release what we think we know about these words in Scripture. Perhaps the irony here is that in labeling these words as “oppressive” or “archaic,” it’s inadvertently given ammo to chauvinists and oppressors when the Bible is not using these terms with our current meanings. Reading the Bible requires a bit of time-travel and historical empathy before we react too quickly.

5) The Bible is going to say some hard things. I can’t water down the tough stuff. The second we pick and choose what we want from Scripture, we’re no longer dealing with a real God, but an idol of our own making. A Bible that never pressed my buttons wouldn’t be a real God at all, but a god in my image. If at any time we push back against the Bible: it’s worth exploring why that happens. Simply, the Bible is always going to challenge some part of our worldview in every culture in every time period, either because it’s wrong or I’m wrong.

As a Christian, I take the view that I’m wrong, though of course, I still wrestle with those difficult parts of the Bible. So it’s worth our time to ask: Why do certain passages of Scripture hit such a raw nerve in my modern sensibilities? What is it offending? Why?

Here are some brief explanations of each of the “problematic passages” about women. I offer these as considerations for you to discern, pick apart, and finally conclude in your own process of conviction. I may very well be wrong in my understanding here and I completely welcome dialogue on this. I’m learning as we all are, and I want to make sure I’m being biblically sound and faithful to my faith.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

V.3 But 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.

Please notice right away that there’s no “rank of superiority” here. It says “the head of Christ is God,” which doesn’t mean that Jesus is below the Father. We know from other passages like Genesis 1 that each part of the Trinity has submitted to one another since eternity past.

So what could this mean? As best as I can see it, this is about representation within relationships. The man and woman, if you look in your footnotes in Scripture, is talking about husband and wife. Jesus “represents” God, in the same way that the husband represents Christ and the wife represents the husband. The husband has the additional task of exemplifying Christ as well as seeing that his wife represents their marriage satisfactorily. The wife, of course, should exemplify Christ, but if anything is wrong in her marriage, then the magnifying glass is on the husband.

V.4-6 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

In the first century, women with shaved heads were often prostitutes. The church welcomed them. Apostle Paul was most likely attempting to protect the women in this church from judgment and rumors. Please keep in mind that the Corinthian church was already filled with incest, demon worship, abuse of spiritual gifts, and split loyalties. It’s also our sinful tendency to jump to conclusions as a reflex, no matter how hard we try to suppress it. Paul knows this. He in no way seems to be “blaming the victim,” but is trying to restore at least a small part of the church with a semblance of order. He’s trying not to stir the pot any more than it is.

If every woman in church had their head covered, that would be a quick remedy to an underlying problem of judging. It’s also a show of solidarity, like how some friends might shave their heads for their friend in chemotherapy.

V.7-12A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

Paul is presupposing a question. Some men might have asked, “If women are covering their heads to support each other and get rid of judgment, why don’t the men do it, too?” It seems some of the men even wanted to grow their hair long as some of the women. Paul answers that this is unnecessary. He calls back to his earlier statement as his logical reasoning: A husband represents Christ and wives represent their husband. In other words, a man doesn’t need to “save” a woman, and a wife’s happiness is seen by her husband’s leadership (or “glory”) in Christ, not by her husband’s showmanship.

V.8-12 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Paul was stating the “negative” in the previous verses, by saying women should cover their heads in this church because of the current judgment problem. But here he offers a corrective on how things ought to be, by saying that men and women cannot have full lives without each other in community. All this talk about head covers is really symbolism for a deeper issue. Rather than the superficial idea of hats and hair to help each other, there ultimately has to be interdependency.

Please don’t get too hung up on the language here, where it says, “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” Paul is trying to throw a little peace offering to the guys by referencing the Creation in Genesis 2, since Paul has been taking it so hard on the men, and then he tips the balance back by saying, “a woman ought to have authority over her own head … so also man is born of woman.” Then Paul caps it off by saying, “But everything comes from God.”

V.13-16 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

I think Paul is summarizing here to make sure he isn’t misunderstood: that women don’t need to cover their head in church as much as men don’t need to show it off. It was never about hats and hair. To further this point, Paul states a theological symbolism for men having their heads humbled and women being radiant and expressive, which is “the very nature of things,” or as it’s meant to be. Every other church, Paul says, isn’t really arguing over this issue because their inner-posture is so much more important than their outer-appearance.

1 Timothy 2:11 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

A seminary professor once told me, “Without context, there is no content.”

If we back up earlier in this passage, 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul calls for all believers to “live peaceful and quiet lives.” This entire passage is built on a general doctrine for all Christians. Then Paul zeroes in on the men. In verse 8, he tells “men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.”

This also presupposes an existing problem with Timothy’s church: that men were not praying, possibly even fist-fighting, and holding grudges and bickering. Paul absolutely has to rebuke this in the men.

Next, Paul zeroes in on the women in 1 Timothy 2:11. Again, please consider that the language here, quietness and full submission, don’t mean what we think today. And even if it does, Paul calls for both men and women to have the same quietness and submission, both here and in Ephesians 5:21.

Even more, the women in Timothy’s church and the Corinthian church had a pre-existing problem where they were yelling during the church service. They also had an issue of dressing overly rich and gaudy (1 Timothy 2:9). It’s the only reason Paul would even bring this up; many of his letters contain responses to specific situations which need to be pieced together in hindsight. Paul is alarmed by the lack of reverence for the service, so he sets up a “No Talking” rule, which is exactly what we do for weddings, speeches, and a kid’s first play.

Paul suggests to the Corinthian church that any married woman wait until the service was over to talk with her husband about any grievances, because this is what a team does. Spouses confide in each other calmly rather than yelling in service. It’s at the very least the polite thing to do.

Now I have to ask here: Is it okay for women to get rebuked, too? Is it okay for women to be confronted on their stuff? If that bothers us, then why?

Also: Almost all the verses in the Bible are aimed at men and their responsibilities, and a tiny fraction of verses is aimed at women and children. Some might say this is “ignoring women,” but I actually see this as men being given the extra weight of morality. God has deemed fit that men need more guidance, and I can only dare to say why.

So we can’t have it both ways. We can’t say, “It’s fair that men get rebuked in the Bible” and “It’s unfair that women get rebuked in the Bible.”

Lastly: If anyone wants to use 1 Timothy 2:11 as proof that women can’t preach or teach, I have to point to the deaconess Phoebe and the married couple Priscilla and Aquila, all who were practitioners of Scripture (and I’m sure I’m missing more). And a fun fact: the Bible often operates on primacy, meaning that if a name is mentioned first, then they’re important, just as when a name is mentioned last, they’re ranked a little less (just like Judas is always listed last in every list of the disciples). Priscilla and Aquila are always spoken of with the wife’s name first. Priscilla was either a pastor, a leader, or a boss, but whatever she was, she wasn’t in “full submission” the way we see those words today.

Ephesians 5:21-33

This single passage is one of the most abused in all of Scripture, which appears to say, “Women must submit to men” — but this one’s also the easiest to explain.

Verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means everyone submits in humility to everyone. So men already have a responsibility to submit, too. Again, submit is not a bad word as we see it now, but implies a lending of trust.

Verse 22 never says, “Women submit to men,” but “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” This is never, ever a permission slip to stay under abuse or to let the husband do what he wants. This is a verse about trusting the husband’s leadership, just as each of us trust Christ to be a good leader. The second a husband isn’t a good leader, he is no longer like Christ, and this verse encourages the wife to call foul.

Verse 23 says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church …” Let’s get this right. The husband is called both to submit to his wife and to be the responsible head of the marriage. That’s a tall order.

Verse 25 is the killer. It says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …” The Greek work here “gave himself up” is paradidomi, which means to hand yourself over or to go under the power of something else. It’s just as Jesus handed himself over to the cross. This means that husbands are called both to submit and to die. Husbands are literally commanded to love their wives to death, just as Jesus died for us.

I have to ask here: Men, why would you ever use these verses to gain power? Do we realize how much this is asking of us? Do we know how much it takes to be a responsible head of the house? Are we really ready to die to marriage? And if you say, “My wife is the head of the house so I’m fine” — doesn’t that say more about you than your wife? What woman actively says, “I don’t want a responsible man” …? Where are the Christian men who take this passage seriously? I ask that of myself, too.

And this passage in Ephesians isn’t ultimately about earthly marriage, anyway. Marriage is used as a symbolic metaphor for Jesus’s relationship with us. That’s why Paul says in verse 32, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

All these passages aren’t necessarily talking about gender or marriage or head coverings. Paul is using these symbols to relate back to the truth of the Gospel: that there must be a necessary trust, faith, obedience, surrender, sacrifice, submission, and humility between all of us. That’s real connection. That’s God’s love for us, and our love for each other. Each verse here is trying to dig at the root of our pride, to challenge our death-grip on control and withholding.
The way to know how we get these verses is to see how much they make us angry.

Please allow me the grace to press in with love and truth a little bit. If these verses make you immediately jump to outrage over a social issue, then you might be suffering from “chronological snobbery” in which the lens of a time period has projected unintentional meanings.

If these verses make you inordinately mad, it’s possible you have a contrary, conflict-seeking spirit lurking much worse than you think. If they make us pause to consider how much our discussions are conflated with bitterness and division and to seek unity within diversity, then we might be on to something.


22 thoughts on “What The Bible Talks About When It Talks About Women: A Mega-Post on Those Troubling “Anti-Women” Bible Verses

  1. In reply to the points raised about head covering for women today and the question of whether women should preach and teach I would respectfully like to make the following points. It may also be helpful to refer to the following website {http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/articles/an-introduction-to-a-neglected-doctrine} as many ladies and men are rediscovering the principle of headship and an account of what they believe is on that site.

    I must start by saying that I fully agree with many of your comments and trust that God will bless his word as you teach it.

    In answer to your point stating that head-covering was cultural issue may I point out that no where does Paul state that this truth of head-covering is because of the treatment of prostitutes in the church. On this issue RC Sproul says “…the thing that is most astonishing here is that he (Paul) appeals to creation, not to Corinth. If anything transcends local custom it is those things that are rooted and ordered in creation. That why I am frightened to be loose with this passage”

    All the teaching of the first half of 1 Cor 11 is about headship and verse 3 sets the scene by highlighting the order of authority in woman, man, Christ and God. Right up until the 20th century all churches practiced head-covering as a matter of course. Therefore we have to ask were they wrong for millennia and modern churches have discovered a non truth that they failed to see. My issue is that the women’s covered head and the man’s uncovered head is all about bringing glory to Christ in the Church gatherings (the man represents God as his image and glory 1 Cor 11 v 7) and the women’s covered head signifies that the glory of humanity is not seen in the church. In other words the whole issue is about promoting Christ which, I believe, is why there has been a wholesale attack on and rejection of this truth.


    “Paul’s admonition for women to wear a head covering “because of the Angels” removes any doubt that this teaching is universal and timeless” – K.P. Yohannan (Founder, Gospel for Asia).

    “The long hair is an indication from nature of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required is in line with what nature teaches” John Murray (Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1930-66).


    “Having observed the 3rd century Corinthian church first hand, Tertullian in essence says “they understood that Paul meant all women must wear head coverings. That’s evidenced by the fact that to this day that is still their practice.”

    This teaching remained the standard practice of most churches throughout the majority of Church History. The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church of Jesus Christ which is “the pillar and ground of the truth”?

    Head coverings are not some new strange doctrine. This is an old doctrine, based in the Bible and understood that way by the majority throughout the history of the church. Head coverings were practiced in all churches and we are the exception today. It’s time to change that.”

    The issue of women preaching is not dealt with in 1 Cor 11. This is dealt with in 1 Cor 14:34 – the silence of women, 1 Tim 2:12 not to teach or usurp authority over the man, 1 Tim 2:8 public prayer limited to men etc. A simple understanding of the statements in 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 would clearly indicate that public leadership in the church is restricted to men and women do not have a public role in prayer (leading the church audibly in prayer) or in preaching.

    HEADSHIP is not the result of a post fall disaster but it is part of a pre fall masterpiece. Headship and authority reflects God’s original intention. Please distinguish this from the reason why a woman cannot teach or exercise authority over a man. HEADSHIP IS A PRE-FALL ORDER whereas 1 Timothy 2:12-14 teaches that the prohibition preventing a women from teaching or exercising authority over a man was a POST-FALL instruction.

    Your comment about Aquila and Priscilla is not entirely accurate. They are mentioned as a couple on six occasions. Three times Aquila’s name is first (Acts 18.2, Acts 18.26, 1 Cor 16.19) and three times Priscilla (or Prisca’s) name is first (Acts 18.18, Romans 16.3, 2 Tim 4. 19). I wouldn’t be inclined to build a doctrine on this in respect of women teaching (or not) but it does teach us that God valued both of them equally. In Acts 18 it is very clear that Priscilla did not teach in a church gathering. They were in the synagogue when they met and is clearly says that they took him (Apollos) unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. So it was at least in private if not in the privacy of their own home. Phoebe in Romans 16 is described as a servant of the church but this does not indicate that she was a preacher or a teacher. The word for a servant is a deacon and this word is used to describe both practical service and preaching service in various passages (i.e. Acts 6). Romans 16 on it’s own could not be used to support woman preachers especially in light of other passages which clearly forbid it.

    May I suggest that we need to be careful not to be pre-conditioned in our interpretation of scripture by the cultural norms of our day. Scripture is trans-cultural and is valid for every generation, we don’t need to adjust it to suit our generation. We should only stop what the scripture tells us to stop and vice versa.

    I have said enough but I thought that it was only fair to say that there are other views to the one you expressed. As I have previously stated I agree with much of what you have said and trust that the Lord will bless you in your service for him.



    1. I don’t believe in headship. It fails single individuals like myself with every nuance of it’s teaching. It suggests I’m not a whole person. I recognize the Head Covering Movement, I spent a year debating with it’s founder but I never found it’s message all that helpful (being blocked just confirms my suspicion that they never really cared for single people anyway). I also don’t believe that the rule applies as written even now. It might have made sense in a patriarchal culture where women were either wives or prostitutes, but it has no place in a society where men and women are each other’s equal. Unless you want to suggest that men and women aren’t equal and most would say that women are subordinate to men and then have to explain how that doesn’t ring of inferiority by saying they’re equal in a person sense but not an equal in enough of a sense to actually speak / teach / pray / read the bible / etc.


      1. I hear what you say but the fact remains that headship is taught in scripture and if you throw it out what criteria do you use to keep any other scriptural truth. If truth is just a choice or a preference then it’s no truth at all.

        First Corinthians teaches about the cross of Christ, holiness, resurrection, moral purity and so much more . How do I decide what to keep and what to reject?

        1 Corinthians 7 deals with the single life and shame on us if we disrespect people who are called to a single life. The fact that some people are single does not cancel the truth of headship. All truth is for us but not necessarily about us.

        Thanks for getting back to me.



        1. How exactly do you expect headship to apply to single people? Single men are their own heads? Single women under their father’s authority? Which Bible verse does that come from?


          1. Hi Jamie, Headship applies to everyone. First Corinthians 11 is not about husbands and wives (the only translation that uses the term husbands and wives is the ESV and they chop and change inconsistently in the passage, all other translations translate consistently men and women). At the fall God’s order was lost (see 1 Cor 11.7-9) and this is recovered in the church. Church gatherings reflect the order of headship that most honours God. This is not about each man bossing about each lady but it is about men leading the church and representing Christ with uncovered heads. God does not expect the world at large to display order that is pleasing to him but he does expect the church to. Ephesians 5 is about headship in the context of a marriage relationship so that doesn’t apply to single men and women. I think all of us are under our father’s authority until we reach maturity or leave home to marry.


          2. That’s probably because the word for husband and man is the very same word, likewise, the word for wife and woman is the very same word. To us, it represents two distinct concepts, not all women are wives, nor are all men husbands. So that’s part of the reason why it’s difficult to follow. Secondly, the word ‘symbol of’ isn’t in the original, the closest translation is something like: “for that reason, the woman should have authority on her head because of the angels”. The word for power – usually refers to the subject, like the Roman centurion – “for I am a man under authority, I say come here, and someone comes here, I say do this and my servant does it.” However, for this one verse, complementarians assert that the authority in question is her husband’s over her. Which means they have to break the grammar rules in the original language to make it say what it doesn’t originally say. Anyway, it’s not like it matters that much because most churches could care less about what women wear so long as they remain silent as the law says.
            What about Ephesians 5:21? Does it not apply? Don’t you know how unsafe headship makes power-drunk men?
            Like it or not, abusive men often do use the language of headship to justify their actions and force their terrified wives to submit to them.


    2. Hey Stephen and Jamie, I really appreciate the lively and thoughtful discussion. Very grateful that it’s civil through disagreement.
      Just wanted to gently remind that we can disagree and still be friends. This is a secondary (even tertiary) issue at best. It’s important and the abuses must be addressed, but I hope we don’t go too far down the spiral of semantics.

      I’ve found some counter-points and extra history that are also worth looking into. I post these to be as fair as possible while maintaining my view. I’m certain that ultimately it’s more of a spiritual issue than a physical one.



      1. Thanks. I’ll have a read. Much appreciated. I didn’t mean to dominate your comment stream. I think it’s wise to end the chat, as you say we have aired various views. The Lord be with you. Stephen


      2. Thanks for being understanding. I’ll try to keep my vehemence for this topic manageable, but it is one that is a bit of a berserk button for me because of how people act upon what they say. In fact, it might be best if I kept my frustration with the topic to my blog where I can say what I really think.


        1. Hi Jamie,

          You may appreciate a painstaking exegesis of 1 Cor 11 which reveals Paul’s affirmation of femaleness as profoundly equal to maleness in all ways, affirms his insistence on physical head-coverings (like a prayer-shawl) for women and not for men, yet finds that there is no reason why this instruction should apply outside the cultural setting in which it was given.

          The key is understanding why men’s heads are to remain uncovered at prayer. I believe it is because of commonly known, and therefore omitted from Paul’s comments, information about the contemporaneous practices of religious people including pagans, and the cultural and theological significance of those practices.


          May it bless you.


          1. I read through it – but it reminded me of any number of conversations I had at The Head Covering Movement that would affirm precisely the opposite – they believe that because it refers to Creation Order, men have temporal priority over women. They are to maintain gender distinctions in church by the women wearing head coverings / veils and men not wearing head coverings / veils. All of the scholarly research in the world won’t change their mind unless it agree with what they already believe.
            I do know a little something about cultural norms because I was curious and looked them up: Cultural norms tended to vary in the region. Jewish women were expected to wear head coverings at all times; otherwise their husbands could divorce them and would not be obligated to return their dowry. Greek and Roman women could wear whatever they wanted; there was even a type of slave that was the ancient equivalent of a hair-dresser. Extremely wealthy women planning to go out on the town might wake up four hours early so their hair-dressers can make a fashion statement with her hair as her hairstyle would indicate her status as free woman who has exorbitant wealth. The Bible even points to a prohibition against this popular hairstyle – elaborate braids with gold or silver woven in in not just one but two verses it’s odd that Paul or Peter didn’t say “don’t wear that hairstyle, better yet – wear a head covering instead” in the two passages where they discussed women’s hair and wardrobes. Jewish men would pray under a covering – a tallit. Greek men didn’t have the custom of covering their heads. Roman men could point to capite velato – the man doing his priestly duties would cover his head but it didn’t really apply to everyone else. Since Corinth is a Greek church inside the Roman Empire with a sizable Jewish population – that’s a recipe for cultural clash if there ever was one.
            However, proponents of male headship tend to divorce cultural and historical context from the Bible as irrelevant and they deem the passage in and of itself sufficient for teaching, preaching, correcting etc. If something isn’t in the Bible, then it doesn’t count as an interpretive lens. Which is why the women verses are some of the most difficult ones in Scripture because it’s a situation where people want to have their cake and eat it, too.

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          2. Yes, it’s true that there is a variety of 1st Century practices around head coverings, but I think it is worth (consciously) assuming that Paul would have been referring to the practices of *praying* men and women in contemporary society, rather than general life. In at least some prominent traditions it is theologically significant that women wear a head-covering because of the presence of men, and the priest wears a head covering because of deference to the deity, as you allude in “capite velato”, but men remove their head coverings in the presence of a presiding priest. Only the priest has a head covering. In the context and structure of Paul’s thought, this provides the elusive explanation for men removing their head covering – it is because Christ (the “presiding priest”) is present at worship! Christ himself would, in that case, have a head covering… just like the women.

            It all then not only makes sense in context, but is also revealed as completely culturally contextualised and therefore not directly applicable today as a dress code. The application for today would be to remember that Jesus himself is the High Priest of the covenant, who is actually the one interceding in a priestly capacity at the meeting, and the only man who should wear a head covering (for another man to wear one would dishonour the priest). The cultural mores about our clothing should emerge from that theological truth, rather than simply being repeated from one setting to another for their own sake.

            I also think it is key to see “head” as a rather elaborate and useful pun. To miss that would cause… well, just the kind of misinterpretations we find today!


  2. I like what you have to say on these verses, but I’ll add one thing in relation to your pastoral words at the end. If the verses make someone angry or offended, it may be partially because that person has had these verses used as a weapon against her/him. I used to hear the word “submit” and bristle, but that was because I’d seen and heard submission taught in an inaccurate way, a way that was designed to belittle and hurt women. Once I learned what true submission is (and is not), the word doesn’t make me bristle as much. It still does a little, though, because of the emotional and spiritual baggage associated with it. I can’t undo the legacy of a childhood spent seeing certain abusive relationships and a young adulthood spent having these verses used as a weapon to treat me as less than a man’s equal, but I can ask Jesus to change my attitude and show me the truth. That’s where I am right now, anyway!

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Laura. Right on. I had not considered the flip-side of reacting to these verses with anger; there’s absolutely a legitimate reason to bristle this way. I’m very glad you pointed this out!

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  3. One thing I absolutely agree with this post about is how cultural views can shift and how much we can miss out from understanding if we accept a literal translation and we use our own ideas to fill in the blanks. I’ve seen churches that say “women can’t speak, so they can’t read the Bible aloud” or “women can’t teach men, so what age do boys become men?” so the legalism possible from these verses stems from a human tendency to miss the point.


    1. The only problem with a cultural shift mindset is it all depends on you and me. We make the bible mean what we want it to. Our responsibility to to read the text of scripture and obey it. 2 Peter 1:20 states that ‘no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation’. This means we are not free to make scripture mean what we want it to mean. We have a responsibility to interpret it honestly and as true to the text as we can. If it is obvious that we are not meant to understand it literally (as in the Lord having a sword coming out of his mouth in Revelation 19.15) then we look for another meaning but where it is blatantly clear that there are no word pictures we are expected to take the most obvious meaning and not look for cultural shifts or reasons to ignore the passage.


      1. Everyone already does that. We approach the Bible with our own cultural blinders. Do you understand how different a family in 1st century Judea was compared to a nuclear family? Did you know that their houses were gender-segregated? That areas of their house were public property (living rooms, common areas, these are areas for men) and parts were private property (the women’s quarters, kitchen)? Did you know that partriarchs had power over their son’s families? Their slaves’s families as well? What makes you think we can just apply these passages to our situation today when it’s not written to/for us?


        1. Jamie, in light of my latest comment to Joon this is my last and brief pitch. I agree entirely that we all have cultural blinders but I don’t think that any key truth presented in the scriptures is dependant on cultural awareness. Otherwise a very limited group of people would have the capacity to understand and obey scripture. I may be simple but I believe God wrote his word in a fashion that is accessible to everyone through the explanatory power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2). Thanks for your comments. May the Lord be with you. Stephen


          1. I would suggest the opposite. Not only is almost every one of the supposedly “key” truths presented in the scriptures culturally relative, but I would argue that Jesus and his apostles were avidly arguing this very point. They were arguing it largely with respect to the Law of Moses and the literalistic hypocrisy they found in their contemporary Jewish community, but the principle is vast.

            See this little experiment – taking an Evangelical perspective on the “non-negotiable”, supposedly Christian core tenets, “the institutions of family and government”, and “courtship customs and artistic impressions”. These things are completely culturally relativised, now, just as they were in Jesus’ time and for many long ages before that.

            For example the article examines “the problem of the Biblical record of patriarchal life, which was not condemned by Jesus, Paul, nor the Jewish community in general, but which had different institutions even from Jesus’ own culture (polygyny, and nomadic tribes under a patriarchal rule, for instance), and likewise different “courtship customs” (see Gen 16:1-2, Gen 29:16ff, Gen 34:1-4). Similarly in earlier national Israel, the “courtship customs” were very different to those in Jesus’ contemporary culture (1 Sam 25:40, Ruth 4:7-10).”

            I commend it to you: http://www.onefaithonechurch.com/the-uncultured-gospel/


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