Study of Corinthians – this is how we live – part 10

1 Corinthians 11 (compare with Acts 2:17)

Acts 2:17

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

1) Women and head coverings

This is a matter of debate. The first readers must have instinctively made better sense of this subject of Paul’s than our age does. We must be careful of making rules in church that are not from a clear foundation.

The classic interpretation:

Head covering is a sign of submission. Because woman proceeded from man she wears the sign of submission. The man does not.

Three problems with this interpretation:

  1. This conclusion is inconclusive from the text.
  2. Submission is a matter of the heart not of outward show.
  3. If this were the correct meaning then head covering should be worn all the time and not only in church gatherings.


To us the head is the boss, the one in charge. Not so here, this is about the one with whom we have relationship. Here the Greek word used is kephal?, many modern translators insist it refers to “source”, fountainhead or “origin”. Some say Paul here is emphasising equality between the sexes.


Women had their heads covered most of the time (not just in the church) in Greek, Roman and Jewish culture, by a shawl or the end piece of cloth from their garment. Hair was worn piled up, not hanging loose.

A woman wore her hair loose and uncovered in bed. So to wear it that way in public was untypical. Some say it denoted someone of loose morals. Priestesses of the pagan cults wore their hair uncovered and loose when in frenzied dances.



Some women were without the customary hairstyle or covering. But Why?

(a) Some say they thought of themselves as super spiritual (see 12:1; 14:37) and therefore above the norms and customs of their society.

(b) Some say they believed that upon baptism they had already entered upon the resurrection, so denying the end time resurrection (15:12).

(c) Some say there were some who denied gender differences and therefore undermined marriage, that they considered themselves to be “like the angels” (Luke 20:35ff). Paul suggests they should then go all the way and shave their head completely.

Certainly they were not under law, but Paul is concerned that the church should not be used for such innovation. He suggests that they use the customary covering when they publicly pray or prophesy.



How we live and how we engage with culture does matter.


2) Women and Preaching

Illus of the woman who “shared” in the Gospel Hall.

Prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:3) is directed to the ‘edification, exhortation, and comfort of believers;’ and the result expected is the conviction of the unbelievers and the uninformed.

  • Prophecy was the public services of women which the apostle allowed.
  • Prophecy  was the ministry of females predicted by the prophet Joel, and described as a leading feature of the gospel age.

Women who speak in assemblies for worship, under the influence and anointing of the Holy Spirit, are assuming no personal authority over others present; they simply deliver the messages of the gospel, which calls for obedience, and responsibility.

Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman. Some women at least, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, exhortation, and comfort. This kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel 2:28, and referred to by Peter (Acts 2:17). Had there not been such gifts bestowed on women, the prophecy could not have had its fulfilment as announced by Peter.

Joel 2:28

“And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

Acts 2:17

And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 

The only difference between male and female marked by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered and the woman had hers covered. It was the custom both among Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. Not just in the church assemblies.


“It is a shame for women to speak in the Church.” What sense here was intended by the apostle? Those who object to women speaking in the church must prove that the “speaking” here means preaching, or prophesying and praying. As in 1 Corinthians 11. In fact in this context the Greek word is “lalein” which means to chatter, babble; of birds, to twitter, chirp; strictly, to make an inarticulate sound, opposed to articulate speech; but also generally, to chatter. Out of fairness, men should not be allowed to do that either.

According to the prediction of Joel, the Spirit of God was to be poured out on the women as well as the men, that they might prophesy – that is that they might teach. And that they did prophesy or teach is evident from what the apostle says (1 Corinthians 11.) where he lays down rules to regulate this.

What the apostle opposes here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc., in the church meetings, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues (see Luke 2:46). Perhaps he was also referring to attempts to usurp authority by setting up their judgement in opposition. The apostle refers to acts of disobedience and arrogance that neither men nor women would be guilty of if they were truly under the influence of the Spirit of God.

“Learning anything by asking their husbands at home,” cannot mean preaching. That is not learning, but teaching “the way of God.” No woman having either taught or prophesied, would have to ask her husband at home before she knew what she had done, or understood what she had said.


3) Women and men 1 Corinthians 14:3, 4, 31.

  • Speak and teach!
  • Seek the gifts of the Spirit, prophesy, speak in tongues. At least pray!

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