Session 6 - Paul, the Created Order and the Role of Women in the Church (Part
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;
neither was man created for woman but woman for man. I Corinthians
- The context of reference to the created order in I Corinthians
- We will return to I Corinthians 11:2 16 later in our
study and will focus specifically upon Pauls injunctions regarding
the role of women in the public assembly. In this session, we will focus
upon Pauls reference to the created order (vs. 7 10).
- I Corinthians 11:7 10 is the second direct reference Paul makes
to the created order as it relates to the role of women in the church
that we will study. (Paul indirectly addresses the created order in Galatians
3:28 and directly in I Timothy 2:11 13. In actuality, I Corinthians
was written before I Timothy.)
- As with I Timothy 2:8 15, the context is propriety in the public
assembly (whether this was the actual worship service is unclear and we
will return to this during a later session). The consensus of commentators
is that women were acting during these public assemblies in ways in which
they would not act outside gatherings of the church (that is, in public).
Men may also had been acting inappropriately, i.e. they may have covered
- The evidence for a specific heresy is much less evident in I Corinthians
than in I Timothy (though this is debated). Rather, the general abuse
of freedom in Christ, especially during worship, is the dominant problem
in the Corinthian church. Chapters 11 14 address this abuse, such
as undisciplined behavior during the Lord's Supper and the disruptive
behavior of persons with the spiritual gift of tongues.
- An analysis of I Corinthians 11:7 12.
- As with I Timothy 2:8 15, the Greek words aner and
gyne may either refer to husband and wife or man and woman. Many believe
that the context suggests husband and wife in this passage though the
most straightforward reading is man and woman.
- The Jewish custom was for women to pray with their heads covered. The
Greek custom was for women to pray with the heads uncovered.
- Some suggest that this passage may address the way women wore their
hair (cut short or flowing long) but the majority believe this passage
refers to the use of a head covering, such as a shawl (see below).
- According to the traditional view:
- The concept of glory is that of reflected glory (man
is created in the image of God). In Genesis 1:27 God created male
and female in His image (man and woman are made in the image of God
to reflect His glory). In the Greek world (and the Jewish world),
however, the man (husband) was the head of the woman (wife). Paul
seems to be saying that the woman (wife) reflects the glory of man
(husband). (v. 7)
- Paul argues from the creation, not the Fall.
- Paul is referring in v. 8 to Genesis 2:21 23, where woman
is made out of mans rib (side).
- One should always honor and respect the source from which one came.
- Woman was created for man (Genesis 2:18, 20). Therefore woman should
- Woman should have a sign (v. 10) of her honor for man, namely a
- Paul is using a chiasm (a crossing over similar to
I Timothy 2:13 - 15): (a) man ought not to cover his head (v. 7);
(b) since he is in the image and glory of God; (b') but woman is the
glory of man for woman was made from man (vs. 8 and 9); (a') for this
reason a woman ought to have authority on her head (v. 10 looking
back to v. 7 and meaning that Paul does refer to the head covering).
- Verses 11 and 12 emphasize that role and headship are not related
as woman came from man, so also man is born
of woman. But everything comes from God. (v. 12)
- Even the angels testify to the created order which establishes
male spiritual leadership. (v. 10) The angels were witnesses to and
rejoiced in the creation. (Job 38:7)
- Addressing the specific violation of honor for men in Corinth also
addresses a general principle of male spiritual leadership.
- According to a more modern view:
- Any interpretation must derive from an understanding that Genesis
1:26 28 clearly states that both man and woman were created
in the image of God.
- It is clear that women in Corinth were praying and prophesying
during the assembly.
- Paul may be overstating the case earlier in this passage.
(v. 6) to make a specific point about propriety in worship at Corinth.
. If the woman (wife) is not going to act like a woman (wife) by covering
her head with a veil, then she might as go all the way and shave her
head as a man (husband) would shave his head.
- We should ask the question, Why is the issue
of head covering in Corinth so important to Paul?
- The probable answer is that these women were attempting to
exercise their new found freedom in Christ in an overzealous way.
They may have even believed that they had achieved a resurrection
existence. (I Corinthians 4:8, 15:12)
- Paul brings these women back to the understanding that societal
factors continue to be important, just as he does in Romans 13 and
- To make his point as strongly as possible, Paul uses analogy in
verses 8 and 9 to instruct about propriety in worship. He, on the
surface, makes a very clear and rabbinical argument, namely man
is superior to and has authority over woman, therefore
But the underlying meaning is that the women in Corinth should submit
themselves to the social order so that they might maintain order and
win others to Christ (So whether you eat or drink or whatever
you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble,
whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God
[vs 10:31, 32])
- Verse 10 suggests that the veil is not a veil of submission but
exousia or a sign of authority (and very well may not
mean the authority of man over woman). This is the power given by
Christ to His disciples (an active power given to the person, not
the power of authority over the person) and in other places exousia
is used to suggest freedom (e.g. I Cor. 8:9). Note that Paul contrasts
independence (v. 10) with interdependence (v. 11).
- Paul is arguing that wives who have been set free in Christ are
not to flaunt their freedom, especially in the worship services but
rather are to show respect to their husbands. By the same token, husbands
are to show submission to Christ. (Remember, the church at Corinth
was guilty of many improprieties during worship, not just women who
- In verses 11 and 12 Paul therefore restates the principle that
he initially stated in Galatians 3:28.
- Lessons from I Corinthians 11:7 12 regarding the role of women in
- Paul was constantly addressing the tension between freedom
in Christ (I Corinthians 1:4 9) and the potential abuse of that
freedom I Corinthians (e.g. I Corinthians 11:17 22).
- Some women in Corinth were clearly disrupting the worship services.
This disruption was an abuse of the freedom of these women in Christ.
- Paul constantly pleads in I Corinthians for propriety and order based
in love (I Corinthians 14:40).
- The debate from I Corinthians 11:7 12 regarding the role of
women in the church derives from Pauls use of the Genesis narrative
to back his argument for the proper behavior of men and women during worship
- Is Paul appealing to an established order which defines the roles
of men and women (that is, male spiritual leadership) based on Genesis
and which is inherent in the creation, or
- Is Paul using a rabbinical argument (analogy) to encourage women
to not abuse their freedom in Christ?
- The weight one places upon one or the other of the two arguments above
depends upon what context in which the passage is read.
- If one reads Genesis 2 as establishing male spiritual leadership
and I Timothy 2 as a statement affirming male spiritual leadership,
then I Corinthians 11:7 - 12 should be read as an additional affirmation
of the divine order established at creation. This divine order, if
accepted, will lead to love and harmony among members of the church
and in marriages.
- If one reads Genesis 2 as not establishing male spiritual leadership
and one reads Galatians 3:28 as signifying that Christ as re-established
the divine harmony present at creation, then I Corinthians 11:7
12 should be read as an analogy applicable to the specific situation
in Corinth. Bowing to the societal prohibitions of the day in the
light of freedom in Christ will lead to harmony and love in the church.
- One factor which holds, whatever interpretation is accepted, is that
the action of these women must be viewed as occurring in the presence
of God as well as others (because of the angels, v. 10). She recognizes
before the angels the supremacy of God.
- Regardless of how one interprets this passage, the purpose of the passage
was to establish love and harmony in worship between men and women, suggesting
that whatever role women assume in the church is a role in harmony with
- Smith, FL: Male Spiritual Leadership. Nashville, Tennessee, Gospel Advocate,
- Black, M: I Cor. 11:2 16 A re-interpretation. In Osburn,
CD (ed): Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Volume I. Joplin Missouri,
College Press, 1993, pp. 190 218.
- Rowland, RH: I Permit Not a Woman
To Remained Shackled.
Corona, CA, Lighthouse Publishing Company, 1991
- Schreiner TR: Head coverings, prophesies and the Trinity: I Corinthians
11:2 16, in Piper J, Gruden W (eds.): Recovering Biblical Manhood &
Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Ill., Crossway Books,
1991, pp.124 - 139