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1 CORINTHIANS 11:1-16

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

In the Lord, however, 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. (verses 8-12)

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This is a very difficult passage. Anyone want to disagree?

So much of the difficulty arises from the fact that we don’t entirely know what Paul is talking about. Gordon Fee (Professor of New Testament Theology, Regent College) used to say that this whole passage (verses 2-16) is like listening to one end of a phone conversation. It’s not completely clear what issues Paul is addressing, nor the background to some of the things we hear him say. For instance, what is the “covering” that is on the woman’s head? Is it hair, or scarf, or shawl or something else? And does the word mean “uncovered” or does it actually mean “loosed”? Which does Paul mean? What do the angels have to do with the whole thing? And in what sense does the woman have “authority” on her head? Is it her own authority, or the authority of her husband, or of someone else?

(You can pursue all these questions by consulting several good commentaries – you will find a range of options. Ultimately we may have to admit, with the Apostle Peter, that Paul’s “letters contain some things that are hard to understand” – 2 Peter 3:16.)

But there are two things we can clearly take away, both of which have profound application in our own day.

First, the passage honours and values the distinctiveness of the sexes. Whatever else the passage may mean, we’re not to blur or obliterate these distinctions, but rather embrace them, which is itself an affirmation of Creation: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). There are, of course, so many problems in our day with gender confusion and dysphoria, issues which need to be approached with compassion and grace. But the situation is not helped by blurring gender distinctions. Even in a fallen world, we are called to live in the goodness of Creation as male and female.

Secondly, the passage affirms the value and interdependence of women and men together. “In the Lord … woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.” It’s a powerful statement. Again, whatever else the passage may teach, it’s clear that this wonderful interdependence is to be maintained. Indeed, “in the Lord,” we’re to revel in the reality. Together, men and women live out the image of God, which is meant to be accomplished both in society generally, and in the community of Christ.

There is so much more that could be puzzled through from this passage. But these two points may give us enough to shape us for years to come. To the glory of Christ.

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Dear Lord, may I honour you well in my attitudes and relationships between the sexes. May I affirm the goodness of your Creation. May I live the interdependence that you have ordained. For Jesus’ name sake. Amen.

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Reflect: Are there any of your own attitudes or behaviours that need to be adjusted on the basis of these reflections? Talk with the Lord. Follow his lead.


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