Gender & Worship

I Corinthians 11

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
June 2024

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 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. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 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.

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. (I Corinthians 11:2-16)

We have been studying the Book of I Corinthians.  Today, we come to a passage is that is politically incorrect.  It is counter-cultural.  It is controversial, even among Christians.

It is a passage that is almost never preached in the pulpit.  When was the last time you heard a sermon on hairstyles, and haircuts?  When was the last time you heard anyone preach about head coverings and hats in church?

Preachers are afraid of offending people.  The concept of male headship is not too popular these days.  It is not only hard for secular women but for many Christian women.

We do not avoid controversy in this class.  We are going to go deep today.  You are going to hear some things today you have never heard before.

Next week, we will be practical.  Today, we are going to deal with some controversy.  This passage raises some very difficult questions.

All Scripture is inspired.  That doesn’t mean we understand it all.  Peter said that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand (II Peter 3:16).  This passage raises all kinds of difficult questions.

Difficult Questions

What is all this talk about women wearing head coverings?  Why are women supposed to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in church?

What is all this talk about male headship?  What did Paul mean when he said, “the HEAD of the woman is man” (I Corinthians 11:3 NIV)?

What exactly does the word head mean?  Does head (κεφαλῇ) mean authority, or does it mean source?

Paul says, “The head of THE WOMAN is man” (I Corinthians 11:3 NIV)? Does every woman have a male head or just every wife? “The same Greek words are translated man or husband, and woman or “wife”[1]

What is the deal with the angels? Paul says, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (I Corinthians 11:10 NIV).

Who are these angels?  Are these good angels or bad angels?  Why do angels care if women wear head coverings?  How do we apply this passage today?

The main focus on the passage is on head coverings.  Do women still need to wear head coverings in church today?  Is this normative for today or is it just cultural?

Are Head Coverings Normative?

Some Christians today are absolutely convinced that women should wear head coverings in church. books that say this.  It seems like a no-brainer.  The arguments seem strong. It is biblical.

Paul says to do it.  He says the practice goes back to creation (I Corinthians 11:7-9).  That does not sound like something cultural.  Paul gives non-cultural reasons for the practice (creation, nature, angels).

It is not only biblical but was practiced in the early church.  It was the universal practice of the early church.  Paul said, “we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” (I Corinthians 11:16 NIV).

There are many good people who have held this view.   One book on head coverings claims it was the majority view in the church until the 20th century.[2]  There is a long list of Christians, both ancient and modern who have held that viewpoint.

If you read this passage and feels convicted or led to wear a head covering in church, you should follow her conscience but Paul also  said, “judge for yourself.”  We need to make up our own mind.

I hold a slightly different view.  I am not convinced that this rule is binding today.  All of these arguments break down at some point.  Head coverings do NOT go actually back to creation.

The principle of headship goes back to creation, but not head coverings.  Eve did not wear a head covering in the Garden of Eden.  She did not wear anything.  She was naked and so was Adam.

Head coverings are a biblical practice but so is greeting one another with a holy kiss.  Paul also said that we were to do this.  He told several churches to do this

He told Christians in Corinth, Rome and Thessalonica to greet one another with a holy kiss.  He told the Corinthians to do this twice (I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12)

It is also a command and yet it is rarely practiced today. We don’t see too much kissing in church. I didn’t kiss too many people at the door. My wife wouldn’t allow that.

A kiss on the check as a greeting is popular in Europe and Latin America.  Corinth was located in Greece, which is part of Europe. It is popular in the Middle East.  When Arabs meet each other, they tend to kiss on the cheek.

While this was something that the early church practiced, there is a hint in the text of what is going on here.  Paul calls it a local custom.

If anyone wants to argue about this, we have no other custom, nor do the churches of God.” (I Corinthians 11:16 NCSB).

Paul calls this a custom.  The word is used in John 18:39 of a Jewish custom.  Paul uses it of a Christian custom in his day.  All of the churches in the first century did this but it was still a custom.

Now there are parts of the world where women still wear veils.  Muslim Countries have not only head coverings but face coverings.  It is a sign of modesty or submission.

We live in a completely different culture.  Veils have a completely different connotation in our day than they did in first century Corinth.

When we see someone walking down the street without a veil on, we are not horrified.  It is not a matter of decency or shame.  It might be more of a fashion statement or a sign of a bad hair day.  In other cultures, it was a matter of shame.

Paul said, “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (I Corinthians 11:13 NIV).

That makes sense if you live in the first century or a Muslim country today but not as much in the Western world.

Application for Today

Let’s move from this chapter to the application of this chapter.  How do we apply it today?  If it is cultural, does it even apply today?  The answer is Yes.

There is a difference between the principle and the application of the principle in different cultures at different times.

The custom may not always apply but the principle behind the custom still applies today.  We are going to look at three things that apply today from this passage.

1) What Paul says about gender still applies today

What are some modern lies about gender?  When you reject God and the Bible, you end up all kinds of lies about gender.  Here are six of them.

Six Modern Lies about Gender

1. You can choose your gender

It is not assigned at birth.  You get to choose it.  You get to pick it.

2. You choose it based on how you feel

It is not biological.  It is psychological.  It is based on self-perception.  It has nothing to do with your body.  Gender dysphoria is when you feel different from what your body is.

3. There are more than two genders

Some people say that they do not fit into either category of male or female.  Society lists about seventy-two genders.[3]

4. You can change your gender

You can be a man today and a woman tomorrow, depending on how you feel.  Many change their mind as to what they think they are.

5. Gender is different from biological sex

Gender is a product of culture.  The famous saying in gender theory. It says, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”[4]  That is a quote from a radical French feminist and atheist.

6. Gender is what defines you

Gender is one of the ways people identify themselves.  “I am gay.”  “I am transgendered.”  If you misidentify someone, even by mistake, they go crazy because their gender is their identity.  Sometimes, they get violent or try to sue you for not using their preferred pronouns.

The truth is that our identity does not come from gender.  It comes from Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NIV).

The Bible teaches that God created gender.  It did not come from society.  It came from creation.  It was part of His design.  He created only two genders.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 NIV).

Our egalitarian culture wants to eliminate differences between men and women, but men and women are different by design.

We have gender confusion today.  These days, you can see someone walk down the street and you can’t tell if it is a man or a woman.

Women should not look like men.  Men should not look like women. Of course, that will look different in different cultures.  Women dress differently in India than they do in the US but men and women should dress and look differently.

That is a principle that is still true today.  It is a message that we need to hear today.  We have men that want to become women and women who want to become men.

Paul gives two examples (dress and hair styles).  One way they were to look different was in the area of head coverings. Women were to have them, and men were not to have them.

Another way was their hair length.  Paul says that a woman’s hair is her glory (I Corinthians 11:15).  He says, “if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace” (I Corinthians 11:14 NIV).

Paul never says how long a man’s hair should be.  He just says that they should not have long hair.  That varies from culture to culture.  It is not a sin to have longer hair or short hair.

Hair length is not a moral issue.  It is a moral issue when men try to look like women or men try to look like women.

This principle remains true today. Both men and women today should dress so that they do not look like the opposite sex in whatever culture they live in.

Scripture calls cross-dressing is a sin (Deuteronomy 22:5). It is not a new practice. It is at least four thousand years old.  Drag queens are not new.  God calls them “an abomination.”

2) What Paul says about headship still applies today

Paul presents a timeless principle in this section.  It is the headship principle.  It is a principle that still applies today.  Many do not like the principle.

Feminists hate it.  This principle is opposed outside and inside the church, but it is a biblical principle.  It is a clear principle of Scripture.

We live in a society that completely rejects the concept of authority.  Many have a hatred of authority in any form (teachers, police officers, political leaders, judges).  We do not like to be told what to do.

In the 1970s, the slogan “question authority” was popular. That is a sign of the last days.  The idea is that authority is bad.  The Bible talks about those who “reject authority” (Jude 1:8).

It talks about those who “despise authority” (II Peter 2:10). This chapter gives us a radical view of authority.[5]  All of us are under authority.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (I Corinthians 11:3 ESV)

Notice the order.  The head of Jesus is God.  The head of the Christian husband is Christ.  The head of the wife is the husband. This is the part many have a problem with.

In many marriages today, it is the opposite.  The wife is the head of the husband.  She wears the pants, but Scripture is the clear.  The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23 NIV)

Does that give husbands a right to abuse and mistreat their wives?  No.  Paul said they are to love them as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).

How do we answer critics that Paul is teaching that women are inferior to men in I Corinthians 11.  That is not what Paul is saying.

If women are inferior to their husbands because they are their head, then you would also have to say that Jesus is inferior to the Father, because the Father is His head and yet Jesus claimed equality with God.

Jesus had a submissive role to the Father, but He was also equal to the Father.  Being under authority does not equal inferiority.  Headship denotes authority but authority does not mean superiority

Does this passage oppress women?  Does it degrade women?  Does Paul teach that women are little better than slaves?  No.  It actually teaches the exact opposite.

Gender Equality

This passage actually teaches gender equality.  It exalts women.  There are some hints of female equality right in this passage.  Note these three hints.

1. Both men and women are dependent on each other

Paul says that both need each other.  Paul did not hate women.  He said that men need them.  We would not be here without them.  The first woman came from man.  Eve came from Adam’s rib, but every other man came from a woman.  Women have babies.

Woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. (I Corinthians 11:11-12)

2. Both men and women can minister in church

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. (I Corinthians 11:4-5 NIV)

In this passage, Paul makes no distinction between the ministries in which men and women may engage.  Both were allowed to use their spiritual gifts in the church.

Women can pray in church publicly and they can prophesy in church. There were female prophets in the OT and in the NT.  Now prophesying is not the same thing as preaching.  That is true.

However, Paul called prophecy, not one of the lesser gifts.  He called it one of the greater gifts (I Corinthians 12:30-31; 14:5) Prophets were ranked second to apostles and before teachers in I Corinthians 12:28-29 and women could do prophesy in the church.

3. Women are called the glory of man in this section

Paul says that the woman was created for man in the Genesis account (I Corinthians 11:9) but he also does not call women the man’s slave but the man’s glory (Corinthians 11:7 NIV).  Paul does not degrade women.  He exalts them.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man (I Corinthians 11:7 NIV).

“Paul did not say that man was in the image of God and woman was in the image of man.”[6]

Paul is not saying that women were not created in the image of God.  He is not contradicting Genesis (Genesis 1:26-27).

Eve was doubly the image of God.  She was created in the image of God and was created from Adam who was also in the image of God.

Glory is a sign of honor.  She is a person in whom a man can take pride.  Proverbs 11:16 says, “A gracious woman gets honor” (ESV).

The LXX of that verse reads, “A gracious wife brings glory to her husband.” (Brenton Septuagint Translation).

3) What Paul says about worship still applies today

There are angels in the church service.  There are no angels in the outfield but there might be some in church.  Angels are present and watching.

We are not only watched by people, but Paul says also by angels (I Corinthians 11:10).  When the word “angels” is used by itself, it usually means good angels.

Our worship of God communicates something to angels around us.  Apparently, angels are present when we worship.  They observe how we worship.

Apparently, some women in the Church of Corinth believed because they had freedom in Christ, they joined the women’s lib movement of the day.

Some of the Christian wives displayed rebellion to the husbands in church.  We might not see what they did as rebellious or unsubmissive but in that culture that is what it was considered.

We don’t want to bring insult to the gospel of Christ by the way we live or worship.  We need to watch how we worship in church because we are being watched by others.

[1] Howard A. Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth, A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 243.  They are the words ἀνδρός and γυναικός.

[2] Henderson, Warren, Glories Seen & Unseen: A Study of the Head Covering, 3rd ed. (Warren Henderson, 2007).


[4] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, translated and edited by H. M. Parshley (London: Jonathon Cape, 1953 rpt.), 273.


[6] James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Zondervan, 1981), 173.

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