WOMEN AND WORSHIP 1 Corinthians 11
“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Cor. 11:11).Worship is still too significant to be conducted in an unworthy manner.
Women and social customs.
First Corinthians 11 is one of the most difficult biblical passages to interpret—and one of the easiest to twist. This is due in part to a tradition of interpretation that misunderstands several key terms, but mostly to our ignorance about certain first-century social customs and their meanings. Yet as we read carefully, it is clear that Paul carefully guarded against one major misinterpretation of his teaching. He did not want us to misuse this passage to justify the subordination of women to men in the church. He did not want us to think women are somehow less significant, or less able to contribute to mutual ministry, in the local community of faith. Women did “pray and prophesy” in first-century Corinth, and Paul clearly affirmed their right to do so (11:5, 10). So must we.
Men and women should preserve cultural distinctions between the sexes as both participate in worship (11:2–16). Fellowship meals should exemplify rather than deny Christian unity (vv. 17–22), and a distinction maintained between such meals and the Lord’s Supper (vv. 23–34).
Understanding the Text
“The head of the woman is man” 1 Cor. 11:3. Most modern commentators agree that Paul was not establishing a hierarchy here. He was instead affirming that a distinction exists between men and women, man and Christ, Christ and God. The distinction is proven by the headship of one in relation to the other. “Head” here is not used in the modern sense of “head of state.” It is used in the first-century and biblical sense of “source.” Yes, women and men are different. Genesis 2 pictures Adam as the source of Eve, even as Christ as Creator is the source of mankind, and God as Father, the source of the Son. But note. Woman is no more inferior to man in their differences than Christ is inferior to God! Difference, and even headship, is no basis for discrimination against one of the sexes. “Every woman who prays or prophesies” 1 Cor. 11:4–10. Paul assumed that women, like men, should pray and prophesy in meetings of the local church. That was not a problem for Paul. The problem was that in Corinth the women did this with their “head uncovered.” The Greek word may suggest a head covering, as the NIV. But many believe it indicates loosed or unbraided hair. Just why this was a problem in the first century is something no one can imagine. First-century art showing men and women gives no hint. First-century pagan and Christian literature alike are silent. But clearly something about head covering or hairstyle was significant in that culture. To preserve the reputation of the church, Christian women were not to adopt styles the culture defined as appropriate to men. Don’t be distracted by what we don’t know. What we do know is that women did “pray and prophesy” along with men in church meetings. And that Paul did not forbid, or even criticize, this practice. “A sign of authority on her head” 1 Cor. 11:10–16. Please note. Paul didn’t say a “sign of submission.” He said a “sign of authority.” Some, impelled by a misuse of “head” and a tad of male chauvinism, have added words lacking in the Greek. They say the hairdo is a “sign of [the man’s] authority on her head.” In fact, it’s just the opposite! As best as we can reconstruct the situation, some of the Christian women in Corinth were so excited at the freedom they had in Christ to participate in worship that they overreacted. If they could speak out, as men had always been able to, then they were now like men! And they would look and act like men! Paul’s reaction was one of horror. Didn’t these women realize that God created the race male and female? That He made a distinction that was to be preserved? Even more, didn’t they realize that now, in Christ, women have God’s own authorization to participate as women in the life of the church? By rejecting female headdress, the women of Corinth were denying the very truth that excited them in the first place! By trying to look and act like men, they obscured the fact that they now had authority to participate in worship as women! What a wonderful truth this reminds us of. In Christ, none of us have to deny who we are. In Christ, every person counts! Each of us has significance; each has a gift and the authority to use it, and so contribute to others in the body of Christ. Just as we are. “Woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” 1 Cor. 11:11–16. Paul added this, to make sure his earlier words would not be twisted. Yes, men and women are different. Yes, man (Adam) was the source of woman (Eve). It’s even true that Eve was created to fill a need in Adam, rather than the other way around (v. 9). But some have drawn from this the notion that women are subordinate creatures. To make sure that no one so twists his meaning, Paul added this section on interdependence. Life itself tells us that both men and women are necessary to the continuation of the race. Thus the drawing of Eve from Adam does not imply that women as women are subordinate. It implies they are necessary! What a counterbalance to the teaching of some that women have no significant ministry to perform in the church. Men and women may be different. But as far as praying and prophesying are concerned, the ministry of both sexes isn’t optional. It’s required. “It is not the Lord’s Supper you eat” 1 Cor. 11:17–22. Social clubs were popular in the first century. These clubs held regular dinners, usually in a sponsor’s home. Within these clubs clear social distinctions were maintained. The host or hostess would not only seat upper-class members above those in the lower classes, but also upper-class members would be given better wines and food, and sometimes would be served two or three times as much to eat as others! Apparently the Corinthians imported the club dinner into the church, and dubbed it the “Lord’s Supper.” And the hosts and hostesses in Corinth followed normal practice and fed upper-class members well, while giving the poor only scraps! Two great sins were involved. The one was to deny the unity of the body of Christ by making such distinctions (v. 22). What an opportunity such a meal would have been to affirm the truth that all are equal in Jesus Christ (cf. Gal. 3:26–29). The other sin was to completely miss the significance of the Lord’s Supper (see DEVOTIONAL). What is intended as one of the Christian’s most solemn acts of worship became a rowdy party. And Paul was not amused. You and I too need to approach worship with respect and great care. The God we come to honor is worthy of our best. Anything less is unacceptable to Him. And should be to us. “That is why many among you are weak and sick” 1 Cor. 11:27–32. Worship in Corinth had become so lax that God intervened with judgment. Let’s not let this happen to us. What Paul called for was self-examination. Let’s examine our hearts as we come to God, renounce any evil we find, and let the service of worship lift our hearts up to God.
In Remembrance(1 Cor. 11:23–32)
The Communion service is a unique expression of our faith. And the word “remembrance” is the key to understanding its significance. The parallel word in the Old Testament is zikkaron, usually translated “memorial.” Passover was a memorial feast. The pillar of stones that marked Israel’s passage through the Jordan River was a memorial too. Like the others, these memorials were a witness to the past—and a call to each believer to enter into his heritage. As the Israelites ate the Passover meal, each family relived the experience of its ancestors. As an Israelite passed the heap of stones by the Jordan, and touched their rough surface, he or she was led back in time, and realized afresh that he was there when God parted the waters. Communion too is a memorial. It is remembrance. Not of an event covered with the dust of centuries, but of an event that is ever fresh and new. Not of an experience witnessed by men and women long dead, but of an experience we share today as we return, through the elements that represent the body and blood of Jesus, to the foot of the cross. In the Communion service we stand there again as, united with Christ through faith, we share His death even as we share in His resurrection. “Do this in remembrance” is an invitation to experience the awesome moment when our salvation was won. “Do this in remembrance” is an invitation to experience the holy and, by coming into the very presence of God, to offer Him our thanks, our worship, and our praise.
Take Communion “in remembrance” of Jesus and His sacrificial love.
“The effect of our Communion in the body and blood of Christ is that we are transformed into what we consume, and that He in whom we have died and in whom we have risen from the dead lives and is manifested in every movement of our body and of our spirit.”— Pope Leo I