23 Jun 2018

“Nevertheless:” Paul and Women in the Assembly, 1 Cor 11.4-5

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: 1 Corinthians, A Gathered People, C. R. Nichol, Church, Exegesis, Ministry, Paul, Women, Worship

Wonderful collection of sermons by women who have enriched God’s church. You should read it.

First Corinthians 11 is either ignored or it is abused. It is ignored because verses 4-5 do not fit with the invented “be silent” paradigm. It is abused because verses are not dealt with in their context and context. There are some difficult statements (Paul’s “supporting argumentation”) in this chapter we confess, but the actual point of the chapter does not seem in doubt when we pay attention to all of 11.2-16 not just a verse or two. A single verse is not an argument, rather a verse functions within the whole context. So to begin with there are four things that seem completely beyond question.

1) Paul endorses the praying and prophesying by women. This is a fact … though verses 4-5 that are ignored in the invented “be silent” paradigm.

2) While Paul does appeal to creation order in v.3 and 7-9 to seemingly support a patriarchal order what is ignored is the “NEVERTHELESS” in v.11f. Paul seems to subvert the “necessary inference” from those verses and says that man is from woman (v.12). Therefore in reality men and women “in the Lord” are inter and mutually dependent. In other words, Paul’s point does not end in the subjection of women in this text. Paul rather ends in mutuality and interdependence. That is equality.  ” Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man [this is what is affirmed by subordinationists] nor man independent of woman [this is ignored].”

3) The passage celebrates creational distinctions that Paul believes are good in themselves. Men and Women are redeemed as men and women as he points out in 1 Cor 15 our “bodies” are raised/redeemed from death.

4) Paul’s concern is the bringing of shame and disrepute on the community.

In the long run we will not solve the debate over “kephale” (head) in this passage. But what cannot be denied is, as C. R. Nichol observed, “I would have you note carefully that Paul recognized the fact that men, as well as women were to ‘pray’ and ‘prophesy.‘”(God’s Woman, p.119).  Paul did not “flip flop” on this matter in the space of a page. As Nichol notes, the “silence” Paul mentions in 1 Cor 14: 1) is not on the grounds that is was “public,” and 2) “be very sure you get into your heart the fact that the ‘silence’ enjoined DID NOT INTERFERE with women prophesying” (p. 124).

The issue is not a “veil” which is not a good translation. It is a “head covering.” Neither Roman nor Greek women wore veils in public. However while performing liturgical acts, a head covering was worn by the woman (and in Roman contexts) some men. Those who did not, they let their hair down, were involved with Dionysius, Isis and Cybele or prostitutes. Paul did not want Corinthian women to be confused with pagan prophecy.

Again, the covering was to be the manner in which women exercised her rights of praying in the assembly and prophesying in the assembly. Donning the covering did not curtail women’s participation, rather it empowered it.

So Paul says the woman is to have a “symbol of authority over her head (v.10). “Authority” does not mean, as is supposed with no examination, the man’s authority over the woman. As has been noted by multiple scholars, if that is what it means then this is the only place it has such. This refers to the “exercise OF authority” by the woman herself rather than submission to it. Richard Hays notes the expression means “that the woman should take charge of her hair and keep it under control.”

We have no such custom” (v.16). What is the custom? If a person is not persuaded, Paul acknowledges some won’t be, and they are contentious, the apostle notes the churches of God have no such custom. The custom is not the covering but of being contentiousness. We do not have a tradition of fighting. Oh that the modern church believed that.

Paul knew the Hebrew Bible better than any one alive. Every time Paul went to the temple, two sets of gates reminded him of the legendary prophet Huldah, they were named in her honor. He knew the Scriptures not only taught there were women leaders of God’s people but that in the messianic age Joel 2.28-29 would be paradigmatic for renewed Israel.

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Paul recognizes this in 1 Corinthians 11.4-5, women prophesy and women pray in the messianic community of God. That is the Church of God that is in Corinth.

But for Paul, Jews remained Jews because they were redeemed as Jews. Gentiles remained Gentiles because they were redeemed as such (1 Cor 7.17-18). And men remain men and women remain women. Why? Because was not a Gnostic and creation – as created by God – is GOOD. And his creation will be redeemed.  Ethnicity, Gender and social status is no longer a basis for division and oppression in God’s church rather the diversity of creation itself is now the basis of praise to the Creator God for his wisdom that is displayed in the church.

Paul wants the church to reflect the creational glory of God (Eph 3.9-10; cf. Rev 5.9-14). Women will appear as women. Men will appear as men. Jews will be Jews and Gentiles will be Gentiles. To make an analogy for today, it is as if Paul is saying men should not show up to church in dresses and women should not topless (cf. Hays).

But lest someone go overboard with verses 3 and 7-9, Paul says, those oft overlooked and ignored words,

NEVERTHELESS, in the Lord, woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man [as Paul said in v.8] so man comes from through woman; but all things come from God” (vv. 11-12).

Paul proudly supports the prophetic notion that women pray and prophecy in God’s church … as women. And men pray and prophecy as men to reflect the glory of God’s creation that has been redeemed.

Perhaps the time has come for the modern church to repent from its stubborn resistance to the Holy Spirit in blocking the ministry of women God promised would happen and Paul said did happen. Our continual twisting of certain scriptures (two in particular) and our sweeping of inconvenient ones (a boatload of them) under the rug needs to be repented of.


See here my review of the D’Esta Love’s Finding their Voices in “And Your Daughter’s Shall Prophesy” A Review of Finding Their Voices: Sermons by Women in the Churches of Christ

3 Responses to ““Nevertheless:” Paul and Women in the Assembly, 1 Cor 11.4-5”

  1. David Dotson Says:

    Interesting insight.

  2. Joe Tipps Says:

    Excellent. Thank you!

  3. chad love Says:

    The issue that I find most difficult is the part where Paul says that women were made for men and not men for women. What’s that about?

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