“A wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10). Anybody with me thinking: “Huh?”

And what about, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him?” or “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man”? What in nature makes it obvious men should keep their hair short? And what does Paul mean by “woman is the glory of man”? Does he mean women exist to make men look good?

We know from Genesis God did form Eve from Adam’s body, but Genesis also states, “God created man in his own image… male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27), which makes it clear God created both man and woman in his image. Furthermore, Paul himself says in verses 11 and 12, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.” This passage equalizes men and women by saying men need women, and vice versa. Paul reinforces this point by adding an allusion to Genesis: “woman was made from man.” He then clarifies any attempt for either party to gloat by concluding with “so man is now born of woman.”

Paul seems to be wrapping up by showing us how both men and women have important, equal roles to play in each other’s lives and in God’s kingdom. He even goes on to say, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Paul seems to be encouraging the Corinthians –- if these issues about a woman’s role and conduct in church continue to be a point of friction in the church body –- to consider forgetting about the whole thing. Dismiss the head coverings as a non-issue, since friction is not worth the cost of reaching “the right answer.”

But then, what about “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God”? Does this mean wives access Jesus through their husbands? And does this mean Christ is subject to the Father, in some sense? Does even the Trinity have a hierarchy, and does this imply the Father and Son are not equals? If they are equal, why is one called the “head”? (The “head” imagery can make for problematic symbolism. A foot and a head are necessary for a human to function fully, but a body can function without a foot. However, there’s not a body anywhere that can function without a head. Doesn’t that make a head more important than a foot?)

Despite dropping you into the exegetical quicksand of Chapter 11, I hope what this toe-dip has presented (since I can add much more!) is just how difficult this passage is. For almost thousands of years now, we have yet to make heads or tails of it, much less have any consistent consensus about what it says. Let’s not get so caught up in the trees with the right and wrong of how to read this passage, that we miss the beauty of the forest Paul is trying to help us see.

Ashley Carr
High School Teacher

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