Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women, Part 4: Understanding Gender in 1 Corinthians 14

This post has taken rather a long time to write.  I apologize for the delay; I’ve been sick and had to pare down my responsibilities to the bare minimum for a while in order to make sufficient time for rest and recovery.  Thank you for your patience, Gentle Reader, and my thanks also to those of you who have been praying for me; it’s much appreciated.

We left off with two options to explore in 1 Corinthians 14.  How were the Corinthians to understand “let your women keep silent in the churches”?  We had two views to consider, each with problems and advantages.  Let’s take them each in turn.

Option A is that 14:34 is an absolute prohibition on female speaking in the church service.  When the church gathers, a number of people speak to share a prayer, a psalm, a prophecy, a tongue (if interpreted), a teaching, or what have you — all of them men.  Women are not to speak out in the church meeting, period.

Option B is that 14:34 is speaking about the judging of prophets.  When one prophet speaks, Paul says, the others are to judge.  Within this context, the women are to keep silent in the churches, and the men are to judge the word of the prophet.  In this narrower reading, Paul is not prohibiting a woman from sharing a psalm, prayer, prophecy, or what have you; he is prohibiting a woman from entering the discussion following a prophecy, in which a verdict will be rendered as to whether the prophecy was of God.

Neither of these readings sit well in our egalitarian era.  Allowing men to do anything and barring that same thing to women is a big no-no these days.  But we have to face the facts: Paul is certainly prohibiting the women from doing something.  How that prohibition might apply in our own place and time is a fascinating question, but it’s a question that will have to wait until we’ve figured out what Paul was asking of the Corinthians.  If we can’t work out what he was asking them to do, how are we supposed to apply the instruction to us?  So let’s consider the options here.

Option A: Total Ban on Women Speaking in Church

One of the first and most obvious advantages of this view is that it’s got immediate “curb appeal,” just based on its sheer simplicity(for folks from my fightin’ fundie roots, anyhow).  The verse says “let your women keep silent in the churches,” so they weren’t to let women speak in church.  Simple.

On this view, I’ve heard two different ways of handling chapter 11.  The first is that Paul’s just “handling one problem at a time.”  First he gets the prophetesses to cover their heads, thus ending the indecency, then three chapters later he tells them not to speak at all.  A more plausible approach is that ch. 11 is not talking about conduct in the church meeting, but Christian conduct generally.  Women certainly ought to pray, and prophetesses certainly ought to prophesy, and when they do, they ought to cover their heads.  However, within the church meeting, women are not to speak; the praying and prophesying takes place elsewhere.

As we come into chapter 14, obviously the speakers are all to be male, so “you may all prophesy” doesn’t really mean all, it means all the men.  (Women can prophesy too, of course, but somewhere else.)

A problem arises with the explanation that follows the prohibition, though.  “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home….”  If what Paul has in view is preventing the Corinthian women from sharing a psalm, a prayer, or a prophecy in the church meeting –  this is not wanting to learn something, but wanting to share something so that others may learn.  I’ve not yet heard a plausible explanation for how v.35 fits in with this interpretation.  One possible answer involves a re-reading of v.31.  “For you may all prophesy one by one, so that all [of you prophets] may learn [how to exercise your gift of prophecy] and be encouraged [in the use of your gift for the benefit of the Body].”  If this is a proper understanding of v. 31, then exercising the gift in the church is a learning experience for the prophet, and we may read v.35 thus: “And if they want to learn something [through exercising their gift of prophecy], let them ask their husbands at home….”  It’s not clear to me why Paul would describe a woman exercising her prophetic gift at home as asking a question, though, so I’m not convinced on this one.

This interpretation also does not explicitly give a venue for the Corinthian women to use their gifts in prayer and prophecy for the benefit of the Body.  This seems problematic: if they were not to speak in church, then when, where and how were the prophetesses to use their gifts for the benefit of the Body?  However, this issue may arise only through the imposition of contemporary church paradigms (in which we only see our “church friends” at church once a week) on the text.  By contrast to our contemporary practice, if the Corinthian church functioned like the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:46-47), then the formal gathering of the church for worship was a tiny percentage of overall church life, and there would be many other opportunities outside the formal worship service.

Option B: Ban on Women Exercising Authority over Prophets

According to this understanding, Paul is not banning women speaking in the church meeting overall; he’s speaking to a more narrow circumstance defined in the immediate context.

On this understanding, the first half of chapter 11 could well be speaking about conduct in the church meeting, although it may also have reference beyond it.  This seems to fit the overall context better in any case.   Chapter 11 is an organic whole (note the pairing of “I praise you” in 11:1 and “I do not praise you” in 11:17).  Since the rest of the chapter (vv.17-34) is certainly speaking about the church meeting, it makes sense that the first half would be as well.

As we come into 14:26, “each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation…” means exactly that — everyone brings something to share.  But there are some protocols to follow. First, two or at most three tongues-speakers may speak, each one in turn (i.e., not all at once), and they must be interpreted.  If there is no interpreter for the utterance, the person should still speak — but only to himself and to God, not to the Body.  Second, two or three prophets may also speak, but their words should not be taken immediately as from God.  The others (in context, it seems to mean “other prophets”) are to judge what they are hearing.  As they are hearing the prophet speak, if something is revealed to another who sits by listening and judging, the first prophet must yield the floor to the second.  Subject to the judgment of the church and the limitations of two or three per meeting, “You may all prophesy” in 14:31 means exactly that — each of the people so gifted, male and female, may speak, so that all may learn and be encouraged.  Dodging the protocols can’t be excused on the grounds that “God took control of my mouth and made me speak,” because the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  The prophets are each responsible for their own behavior, because God does not generate confusion, but peace, as He does in all the churches of the saints.  Lastly, with respect to this matter of judging the prophets, women are not part of the discussion; rather than taking on the mantle of authority they are to be submissive, as the Law also requires.  Women also may not participate in the discussion under the guise of “just asking a question” or “just trying to learn something.”  If a woman wants to understand why the judgment is rendered the way it is, she may ask her husband at home; it is shameful for a woman to speak in this fashion in church.

On this understanding, the reading of v. 34 meshes well with 1 Timothy 2:12.  The act of judging the prophets is an exercise of authority (often over a male prophet), and so Paul does not permit a woman to take that role.

The major problem with this reading is the underlined phrase above.  It is not immediately clear that vv.34-35 are specifically about judging the prophets.  It’s a relatively plausible reading, given the need to harmonize 14:34-35 with 14:31 and 11:1-16. But I’m certainly not satisfied that it’s the right reading.

How Did the Corinthians Read Chapter 14?

Paul closes the discussion of church protocols with a challenge: did the word of God come originally from Corinth?  Did it reach only Corinth?  Of course not; Corinth is one church among many, and it should conform with the practice of its sister churches.  Anyone in Corinth who thinks himself a prophet — or even just a spiritual believer — should acknowledge that Paul’s writing here is God’s commandment, but if someone insists on being ignorant, very well.  The Corinthians should abandon him to his ignorance.

Chapter 14 seems cryptic to us in part because Paul did not need to explain in detail what other churches did.  The charter members of the Corinthian church certainly knew what Paul’s worship services would look like; he would have led them in the beginning.  Also, Corinth was a port city; some of the members of the church would be well-traveled, and would have observed the worship at churches in other places. The Corinthian church would have been well aware of the mainstream worship practices of the New Testament church, and the ways in which their worship service was unique.  Paul is calling them to abandon (at least some of) that uniqueness and fall back into the mainstream practice of all the churches.  That part is clear enough.  Exactly what that practice was seems less clear.

I’d like very much to launch a discussion here.  In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that when I started writing this post 3 weeks ago, I was strongly disposed toward option B.  The more time I’ve spent with the text, the more skeptical of that I’ve become.  However, I continue to see serious problems with option A as well.  If I can’t resolve it, I’ll just have to “steer around” it for the time being, and rely on other passages to fill in the gaps.  It’s an imperfect solution, to be sure, but for the moment I’m stumped.

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15 Responses to Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women, Part 4: Understanding Gender in 1 Corinthians 14

  1. Eric Kemp says:

    I know I haven’t commented but I’ve been following this “Why Complementarians Must Ordain Women” series and I’ve been challenged by it. I fancy my self complementarian with a budding sense of WHY I am and an ability to defend it which has demanded that I elevate the role of feminine contributions to my theology and practice. However, the prospect of ordaining women still made me balk. You’ve defended the assertion well and it will take time for me to wrestle through the implications.

    The only thing that I think I can add to such a discussion is based upon a recent reading that I did earlier this semester at school. It is a book called “Women and Men in Ministry” and an entire chapter was spent on this and the 1 Tim 2 passage. Like you, they admitted to the passage not being explicit about what is meant by “silence” but offered several good exegetical and cultural points that I think helped to clear the fog I bit. I will focus on the cultural.

    Corinth, as you said, was a very rich port city and had many travelers. These men and women had less group ties than the rest of the predominantly group-oriented culture around them. Thus, Corinth was much more individualistic than most of the ancient world. Not as extreme as current Western individualism, mind you, but Corinth was still quite a unique culture for that time period. This plays out in much of 1 and 2 Corinthians and the details would bog us down but Paul STARTS WITH a call to unity 1 Cor 1. This individualism also affected the social status of women. There are many documents and inscriptions found from Corinth in the 1-3rd centuries that show that women held high political offices, like MAYOR, and could own property and have wealth untied to male oversight. The authors postulate, therefore, that Paul was responding to their culture in a way that would combat women’s expectations as to their role in the church gathering and bring it in line with the rest of the Church. Women in Corinth, unlike women elsewhere, would have expected to be able to do whatever a man could do in the church service as in their secular lives and Paul had to taper that down a bit.

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Eric,

    Thanks for your kind words. It’s been a journey for me too, and it continues to stretch both my intellect and my faith. I’ve been wrestling with this stuff (esp. 1 Cor. 14) for a long while, but it’s likely that I’ll shortly have the need to put all this into practice, so it’s acquired a bit more urgency than it has had for me in the past.

    Interesting points, and helpful. Thanks. One of the things I’m seeking to grow in is my knowledge of the first-century milieu; knowing how the first-century church leaders dealt with the prevailing culture of their day gives us a working model for how to deal with our own.

    A friend sent me links to Parts One and Two of Jim Jordan’s Liturgical Man, Liturgical Women series, which also offers an interesting perspective.

  3. Jim Reitman says:

    Tim, you and I have had occasion in the recent past to discuss “head-covering” in relation to the role of women in the church. I can’t help but think that there is a subtext advocating such “covering” of women that extends from 1 Cor 11 all the way through the end of 14. That is to say, the injunction in these verses applies to “uncovered” women. Another vexing passage within the Pauline pastoral corpus that explores the corporate consequences of speech by such “uncovered” women (namely, widows) is 1 Tim 5. Here, Paul enjoins “those who ‘have’ widows” (1 Tim 5:16) to assume at least part of this “covering” responsibility in the absence of their husbands.

    Yet presumably—as you have also previously pointed out—this passage is entirely compatible with women praying and prophesying in the corporate setting according to the guidelines laid out in 1 Cor 11. It seems that whatever Paul means by “covering” in these contexts, it is intended to bring the very best of women’s giftedness within both marriage and body life (cf. 1 Cor 12; Eph 5:21ff). I wonder if we can extrapolate from 1 Tim 5 that the principal mandate underlying the 1 Cor 14 injunction about women speaking in the assembly of believers is to properly reflect the image of God with appropriate “covering” in the corporate worship setting? That Paul is primarily concerned about God’s reputation before the world seems evident in the near preceding context (1 Cor 14:23-25)—as if to display a sort of “perichoretic” beauty to the world. … and perhaps to angels as well (cf. 1 Cor 11:10)?

    If this makes sense so far, then perhaps it is especially encumbent on complementarians to ensure that women are properly deployed in corporate worship by actively inviting them—with appropriate covering—to bring out the very best that God has created within them for his greater glory. I think this bears directly on the question of ordination of women and might actually put egalitarians in a more difficult spot in this regard than complementarians, since the former would be hard-pressed to defend “appropriate covering” in the ordination of women. I’ll stop here so as not to saw completely through the limb I’ve climbed out on.

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    I’d genuinely like to go that route, but here’s what’s preventing me. Paul says “keep silent” three times in the immediate context. The first two of them are conditional, and he makes that perfectly clear. A tongues-speaker may speak to the church, but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent. When a prophet is speaking, if something is revealed to another bystander who wants to speak, the first must then keep silent. Then he says women are to keep silent in the churches, because they are not permitted to speak but to be submissive. If he meant “keep silent unless they are covered,” why didn’t he says so? He certainly negotiates conditional commands to silence clearly enough, but this just doesn’t read as the same kind of utterance. He doesn’t say she may speak submissively, he equates silence with submission.

  5. Jim Reitman says:

    Point for immediate context, but how do we pursue a solution in 1 Cor 14 apart from the apparently clear concession in 11? Does 11 play no “norming” role at all in our interpretation of 14? I would argue that covering in 14 is implicit in the mention of husbands, by analogy with 11:3—”man is the head of woman.” It would then seem to me that the context of orderly worship (14:33) dictates that women gifted in public prayer and prophesy would be openly recognized by male leadership within the corporate assembly, and that women who had not been so recognized are enjoined to keep silent. Or are we to see the kinds of corporate life in 11 and 14 as mutually exclusive and then just try to extrapolate which injunctions should apply in contemporary contexts? Would 11 apply only to ordained women? If so, there doesn’t seem to be enough contextual data to distinguish the two—context would seem to scream just as loud in 11 for Paul to qualify which “women” he is allowing to pray and prophesy, yet there is no more qualification of the women in 11 than in 14. How else would we define “covering” in 11 (apart from ordination), if covering doesn’t also apply in 14 by analogy with 11:3?

  6. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    The more I look at it the more it seems to me that if something’s got to give, it’s going to be how we relate ch. 11 to the church meeting. That’s a spot where we’re going by implication, and everywhere else we’re up against explicit statements that kick us in the teeth. Makes me wonder if I got the implication wrong.

    Ch. 14 is replete with references to the church meeting; it’s clearly and unambiguously referring to that, and there’s not a millimeter of give anywhere in 14. The second half of ch. 11 has to be referring to the church meeting too — that’s where the Lord’s Table happens. However, there’s no direct reference to the church meeting in the first half of the chapter. The peri de (“Now concerning…”) structure in the book (7:1, 25, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1) sets up a natural break between ch. 11 and ch. 12, so the remaining question would be how to deal with the obvious structural unity of ch. 11. But the unifying factor is right there on the page: keeping the traditions as Paul delivered them — there’s nothing that says all the traditions pertain to liturgical matters in the church meeting (in fact, that seems unlikely). So ch. 11 still hangs together as a unity without the first half needing to directly address what happens in the church meeting proper.

    Of course, that leaves a major problem in application. If the gift of prophecy is to be exercised for the benefit of the Body, when is a woman to exercise the gift if she’s not to do so in the church meeting? But as I was musing about before, I wonder if that’s just our late-XX-century praxis talking. Acts 2:42 and similar passages indicate a vibrant body life well beyond the called meetings of the Body for worship and the Table; a prohibition against speaking in the church meeting proper doesn’t necessarily carry over into other gatherings.

    If that’s right, then the riddle between ch. 11 and ch. 14 is purely an artifact of our rotten ecclesiological practice — our total lack of real body life has created a situation where a woman who doesn’t exercise her gifts in the church meeting on Sunday morning can’t use them for the benefit of the Body at all, because that’s the only time she sees anyone. The solution to that is just to get a decent ecclesiology — something we’ve been saying we need for a while now.

  7. Jim Reitman says:

    Yeah, I’m totally with ya on the ecclesiology thing, and I actually like the idea of praying and prophesying in settings outside of “formal” worship gatherings. This is something I’ve been seeing more in my increasing exposure to down-and-outers over the last couple of years. So, would you see 11 as Paul’s most “general” paradigm for image-bearing among the brethren, with the corporate worship envisioned in 14 merely a narrower application? And if so, what is to distinguish “coming together as a church” in 11:17-18 from the “coming together” in, for example, 14:23, 26?

  8. Tim Nichols says:

    Good question. I’m not sure I have an answer that I’m entirely comfortable with at the moment. FWIW, a huge portion of the Western tradition, and the entire Eastern tradition, would say, “the Lord’s Table.” I agree, as far as that goes. I’m not yet satisfied that’s the thing that makes the distinction, but it’s certainly one of them.

  9. Jim Reitman says:

    I’m not sure how “The Lord’s Table” helps to distinguish: If praying and prophesying is licit for women only when communion is being celebrated, then are you saying, for instance, that the Plymouth Brethren have it exactly wrong? Did I understand you correctly?

    I have one example right now of a woman in homeless ministry who regularly prays and prophesies “over” people at our Saturday morning interdenominational breakfasts in the park—she belongs to a charismatic denomination and believes that those who have received Christ need to seek a “heavenly prayer language” in order to experience the full power of the Holy Spirit, and she asks everyone she evangelizes to seek such a language. She is a really nice, caring person but has no “covering” at these events, and I wonder if even her own denomination would be entirely comfortable that she is doing this in such a “wide open” setting, ripe for misunderstanding and misappropriation. Several people have heard her do this, and the ones I know have been struck by the skewed emphasis. I’m not sure if I’m the one who needs to “come alongside” her and gently question her practice—again, it just doesn’t “feel right,” because of our screwed up ecclesiology. Would you think that if we celebrated communion at the breakfast, it might be easier for the men to come alongside as her “covering” in just such a case? The more I think about it, the more sense that might make, but it could also spell trouble and division.

  10. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    Other way ’round. What I meant was that to this day throughout the churches, the Eucharist service is regarded as a special type of gathering in worship, different from other church functions. I’m leaning toward the position that the prohibitions of 1 Cor. 14 would apply particularly in formal gathered worship, which is characterized by observance of communion — and perhaps not apply at an informal get-together of some church people.

    It makes a kind of intuitive sense. The formal gathering needs to move along — the slaves have to work in the morning. So you have 3 tongues-speakers (interpreted), 3 prophets (who don’t just get to talk ’til they’re done; If interrupted by someone else, they have to stop), various people sharing various things, and so on. But there’s an order and a limit to how much.
    On the other hand, if you want to have a few friends over for steaks and then prophesy all night long, hey, more power to ya. “I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you prophesied.”

    In the scenario you mention, I see the need for some covering, sure. And yeah, that could be the occasion for division. It would have to be handled very carefully, and with a lot of relational credibility.

  11. Jim Reitman says:

    So I take it you see the second half of chap. 11 (Lord’s supper) as “looking forward” to 14, more than “backward” to the first half of 11?

    I guess I see “these instructions . . . [when] you come together” in 11:17 as in the same context with the “coming together” of 11:20, which refers to the Lord’s supper and begins with the inferential conjunction “therefore,” since the latter concatenates syntactically from 11:17 through two explanatory “for’s” in 11:18-19 (“divisions”) to extend the logic of the preceding text on head-covering.

  12. Tim Nichols says:

    Jim,

    I don’t see the second half of ch. 11 as looking forward to anything. Ch. 11 is a unity, but the common thread isn’t the church service as such but keeping the traditions as Paul delivered them. (See my comments March 27, 7:44, second paragraph).

    I see 17ff as all referring to the church meeting, sure. But that doesn’t mean that what precedes it refers to the church meeting, and I see no clear sign (grammatical or otherwise) in the text that it does. The hinge is the de in v.17, and the point of contrast is praising them (11:2) versus not praising them (11:17). He praises them that they keep the head-covering tradition, and goes on to explain the rationale for it. He does not praise them for what they’ve done to the Lord’s Table tradition, which Paul received from Christ Himself and delivered to them (11:23). The “therefore” in 11:20 looks back to the discussion of factions in 18-19, and the logic works fine. (“There are factions among you, therefore you’re botching the Lord’s Table.”) I don’t see that the “therefore” has anything to do with the first half of the chapter. How’s that reasoning gonna work? (“You keep the headcovering tradition as I delivered it to you, and here’s what it means, therefore you’re botching the Lord’s Table”??)

  13. Jim Reitman says:

    The same adversative de that begins the discussion of headcovering (11:3) marks a direct contrast to the traditions that they had kept (11:2). The use of the milder adversative is the politest way Paul could bring up this uncomfortable rebuke to a church that had been exemplary in other key ways. The fact is, he had to remind them about the importance of headcovering because it was a running sore in their corporate life. Thus, “this instruction” in 11:17 looks back to headcovering in particular—hence, the need to reiterate the contrast, not with headcovering, but, as you pointed out above, with the praise he gave them for the other “traditions” they had kept (11:2). Thus, the de in 11:17 echoes 11:3 (it “distributes” the same thrust to 11:17 and not a new contrast), so that the “divisions” mentioned in 11:18-19 appear most naturally to have begun in the context of controversy over women’s roles in the church and appropriate “covering,” and these divisions then extended into the way they celebrated the Lord’s table, their central act of corporate worship. So in the cosmopolitan Corinthian environment, it was people’s “pet peeves” over similar issues that most likely led them to “choose sides” as to which leaders they espoused (1:11-12), not realizing (yet another de) that their very fractiousness over headcovering was contrary to “the churches of God” (11:16).

    This view seems to me to resonate with just the same kinds of issues—the “gender wars”—that have plagued evangelicalism for so many decades and contributed so heavily to the legacy of divisiveness we now “enjoy.”

    I submit this not to be even more fractious :-) but rather because I think it is of particularly momentous import to us. I believe you are devoting a significant blog chunk to women’s roles in the church because it is so relevant to our ecclesiology today, and I believe a lot of our problems stem from a similar misunderstanding of proper headcovering, which is necessary to honor women’s contributions to corporate worship in a way that promotes unity not divisiveness.

  14. Tim Nichols says:

    Ah, I see where you’re coming from.

    I’ll give it some thought, but I’ve never seen any reason to take the de in v.3 as marking a contrast. I’d translate it “…just as I delivered them to you. Now I want you to know…” Paul is manifestly not shy about calling them down in areas where they are lacking, and he doesn’t seem to feel the slightest discomfort about it. After the kicking he gave them in the early chapters, it would seem very odd indeed if he suddenly now begins to feel a need for extraordinary subtlety. I’m not sure what would account for that, and as a result I’ve taken 3-16 as an explanation of a tradition that they were actually obeying, but for which they didn’t grasp the rationale.

    I’m very skeptical about trying to build a link between de in v.3 and in v.17. De is as close to a plain-vanilla conjunction as Koine has; it occurs 8 times in between the initial one in v.3 and v.17. That’s pretty fragile stuff to be making a strong bridge out of.

    Where I’m not sure I’m understanding you is in the resonance you see between your view and present issues. Could you flesh it out a little more?

  15. Jim Reitman says:

    The sense I get in the entire argument from 11:3 on is that Paul is at pains to marshal all the logic he can in order to convince a resistant audience of the self-evident truth—from his perspective—that the imago Dei and nature itself should already have taught them about male headship in the practice of corporate prayer and prophecy by women. Whether one translates “but” or “now” in 11:3 would not IMO change the tone of his argument—my point is that by the time he gets to 11:17, Paul is rebuking their resistance to the accepted practice (“this instruction”) he laid out in vv. 3-16, because (gar, 11:18, 19) it had resulted in thoroughly unbecoming divisions among them.

    As to the resonance of this take on 11 with the current “gender wars,” I am referring to the palpable tension that has arisen over the last several decades among radical feminists, egalitarians, and complementarians within mainline denominations and now, increasingly, even in fairly conservative evangelical circles over the appropriate role of women in leadership within the church. I would oppose the argument of some who would claim that Paul’s entire teaching on women in 11 and 14 was purely “occasional,” reflecting problems unique to the first century church in Corinth. I believe we are for the most part thoroughly “Corinthian” in 20-21st century North America and that one would be hard-pressed to see an example of something in First Corinthians that was not directly applicable to our culture. (Even meat-before-idols has so many not-so-subtle parallels in our culture as to be a pretty straight-up object lesson that will “preach” to almost any 21st century Christian audience in North America.)

    My point is this: Corinthian ecclesiology became as defective as ours in record time, resulting in a primordial “denominationalism” over a number of issues, not the least of which was the role of women in the church. My conclusion from 11:3-17 is that we dishonor women in the church and diminish the intended harmony of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12) when on the one hand we totally forbid women corporate prayer and prophesy, or allow unbridled authority to exercise speaking gifts by “uncovered” women on the other. Both extremes are in plain evidence in the spectrum of contemporary North American ecclesiastical practice. Consequently, the very best in women is not being brought out under either extreme, but rather only when gifted women are recognized by an existing leadership under male headship and are invited to participate in corporate worship suited to their gifts and thus under an appropriate “covering” that corporately reflects the imago Dei to the world. I believe this is exactly where Paul finally arrives in the second half of 1 Corinthians 14, where women were insisting on speaking without appropriate “covering.” Under such circumstances, the appropriate remedy is of course for such a woman to “ask her husband” in private.

    To demonstrate this in practice, I would cite the immediately preceding context of “three” prophesying at a given gathering: it would be entirely plausible for recognized male elders to “cover” select women within the assembly who indicated their prompting by the Spirit to prophesy in a given situation. The situation was so bad in Corinth, I believe Paul had to enjoin the leadership to provide a physical headcovering under those circumstances as a symbol of authority for women to pray or prophesy under male leadership. We are plenty resourceful enough to come up with an appropriate “symbol” in our culture. Once the tension were relieved over time by consistent practice, the congregation would readily recognize when leadership under male headship was “covering” women who prayed and prophesied, perhaps no longer requiring such a symbol.

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