1 Corinthians 11 is a difficult passage to read with a 21st century lens. Paul issues a strong statement about the necessity of women covering their heads in church. Some have called this passage sexist, patriarchal, etc. Does this issue apply today, or is this an example of Paul only speaking to the Corinthian church? Even today, should women cover their heads in church?

What is the Reason for the Command?

Why Paul is saying this? He seems to be making a moral claim, and not just arbitrary tradition. The reason for this is that in that first century culture, women having their heads uncovered was usually a sign of rebellion against her husband or of sexual promiscuity. This would have been well understood at the time, and thus didn’t need to be spelled out. Only now in a different culture does this sound odd. The answer to should women cover their heads in church depends on a different question. Are uncovered heads still a sign of promiscuity or rebellion? If they are not, then the rule would not apply today.

However, there is a universal command in here, to not show disrespect or promiscuity like this, especially in a church context. This could be compared to something like a husband or wife taking off their wedding ring and flirting with other people in the church. This is a passage where we have a basic principle that can be applied to any culture, but adjusted to each culture’s unique behavior and traditions.

Is This Sexism?

This passage is an interesting one. On the one hand, the way Paul speaks sounds very off putting, leading many to conclude that he and the Bible are sexist. However, I think we are getting tripped up more by the language than the concepts. He is drawing separations and order in the area of church structure and leadership. No statement is made here about being less than. If anything, he makes it clear that everything comes from God, and he is the final authority. Further, this passage addresses the other objection about women being silent in church. Given that this passage gives specific instructions about how women ought to speak and pray in church, it tells us how to also read the other passages like in 1 Timothy 2.

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