The head of the woman is man? (Women in Church Leadership – Part 2)

As we begin this journey – one principle HAS to be at the forefront of the conversation… LET SCRIPTURE SAY WHAT IT SAYS!  A plain reading of the text is most likely the right reading of the text.  We can’t allow ourselves to read into the text or interpret it to mean something that it is clearly not saying.  The goal is to understand what it SAYS, not make it say something it doesn’t. 

One of the first passages I think we need to deal with, as it can give good foundation for all the others, is 1 Corinthians 11:3-16.  It says…

 3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.  11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Wow!  What’s all that saying?  Let’s walk through it very s-l-o-w-l-y…

What does “head” mean?  

  • Those who contend that this does NOT mean any kind of authority often appeal to one legitimate meaning of the word “head” that means “source.” (see “Good News for Women” by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis).  In so doing they say that “perhaps Paul was referring to the man as the life source for the woman because the first man was the life source out of which God created the first woman and this serves somehow as an analogy for the husband-wife relationship.”  This sounds good, except when you apply that meaning to the other uses of the word “head” in this passage.  If we do so the passage would have to ALSO mean, “Christ is the life source out of which man was created…” and “God is the life source out of which Christ was created…”  The first is possible, as Christ was active in the creation of the world and man.  But the second is not possible, because Christ was not created at all (John 1:1).  It couldn’t even mean that God is the source out of which Christ comes, because Christ and the Father are one… and always have been – neither is the source of the other because they are completely equal.  To say that it means “source” in reference to the man being the source of the woman, and deny that it should mean that in regard to the Father’s relationship to the Son is being inconsistent.
  • In my humble opinion, the only meaning of the word “head” that makes any sense when kept consistent throughout the passage is that of “authority.”  God is the “authority” over Christ, Christ is the “authority” over man, and man is the “authority” over woman.  It is that way because it is the way God has organized it to be.  I see no other meaning that makes sense.  I must also say that I see nothing here that indicates that the woman can ONLY come to God/Christ through her husband.  That doesn’t seem to even be implied.

What’s with the head-coverings?

  • For a man to wear something on his physcial head while doing some religious act of worship (praying or prophesying) is said to “dishonor” his “head” (Christ).  How can we explain why this is?  I’m not sure – it’s something that isn’t a well-known fact in our day and culture, though Paul states it like everyone should understand.  It may be similar to when I was a kid and my mom would insist that I take off my cap when I went indoors.  She said it was respectful or polite toward others.  I never really got it, but I did it anyway.  It was a cultural thing.  So should we conclude that THIS is cultural too – and therefore only applies to the time/culture in which it was written?  Let’s hold off on that until we get through the entire passage…
  • For a woman to NOT wear something on her head when praying or prophesying would be to dishonor HER “head” (her husband/man).  It may be a custom that is similar to the wearing of a  Burqa in the Islamic faith.  It seems that in 1st century times, among both Jewish and Gentile cultures, the women were known to have worn head coverings any time they were in public as a sign of modesty and discretion.  For a woman to refuse to wear the head covering, especially in a worship setting, would be a flagrantly immodest thing to do – and would bring shame on her husband.  Paul says that if she is going to do that she might as well shave her head or cut her hair (both signs of a disreputable woman – either a slave or a prostitute).  He’s going to extremes to point out that no woman would willingly disgrace herself or her husband by doing those latter things, so they should not do a similar thing by insisting upon wearing no head covering.  Again, this sounds very cultural, but we’ll reserve judgement on that until we finish the passage…
  • Paul states that the man is the glory and image of God and the woman is the glory of man.  I have to be honest and say that this is a tough one to understand.  It’s clear from Genesis that both man and woman were made in the image of God, so I’m not clear what point Paul is making here.  He could be referring to the “order” and “manner” in which man and woman were created.  The verse continues in a way that seems to bear that out.  It appears that Paul is saying that the man was created first, and thereby put in the place of leadership, and the woman was created second, from the side of the man, and was thereby put in the role of submission to his leadership.   It’s for “this reason” that she is to have a sign of “authority on her head.”  That’s key.  Her head-covering is to demonstrate that she is submitted to the leadership of her husband as God created it to be.  This is also a primary indication that the reference to “head” as it speaks of God, Christ, and the man is a reference to their authority or leadership.
  • “Because of the angels”????????   I’m not really convinced what this means.  The best guess I’ve read is that Paul is saying that angels observe our worship, and would be shocked at such a dishonorable action as a woman having her head uncovered when she is praying or prophesying, since they cover their faces when in the presence of God.  But again, I’m not convinced…

No independence should exist

  • Both man and woman are placed into roles by God in such a way as to work together.  One is not to be domineering over the other.  Neither is to be inordinately controlling or abusive.  And by the same token, neither is to resist or disparage the other’s role.  Woman came from man (created from his rib) and man came from woman (born of woman).  In that same way God has designed the genders to work together, each bringing things to the table that the other does not have.

Judge for yourselves…  does not nature tell you…

  • Paul appeals to the reason and common-sense of the readers.  He asks them to make their own judgement about what is right in this issue.  If he were to tell us to make our own judgement about this issue, in our modern world, most of us would honestly and without any agenda say, “It doesn’t seem necessary to me that a woman cover her head during worship.”  Why would we say that?  Because in our culture there is NOT anything intrinsically dishonorable about a woman having her head uncovered.  We strain to even understand the concept!  This phrase alone causes me to lean heavily on the side of this practice (headcoverings) being a cultural thing.


  1. The issue of headcoverings seems like a non-issue in our day and age.  This passage seems easily understood as a cultural issue Paul was dealing with.
  2. The principle of “head”-ship is tied to the order of creation – not a cultural belief.  As such, men are placed into a role of leadership within the family/church.  The comparison to Christ being the head of the man and God being the head of Christ bears this out.  There is no other meaning that allows that comparison to make logical sense.
  3. Though men and women have been given differing roles by God, neither is to see it as an adversarial or “greater-than/ less-than” issue.  It is not an issue of value or importance, but rather an issue of roles.  They are to work together in a harmonious way to fulfill God’s purpose for both.
  4. But also notice, though I didn’t point this out, Paul assumes that it is allowable for women to take part in worship gatherings.  The examples he singles out are prayer and prophesy.  While prayer can often be a very private thing, done silently, prophesy is seldom so.  It is a public action, spoken aloud to the group that is gathered.  What does this say for the role of women in the church given the fact that in this very same letter Paul singles out prophets as one of the more influential and important roles within the church?

More to come…


26 thoughts on “The head of the woman is man? (Women in Church Leadership – Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Women should be silent in the church? (Women in Church Leadership - part 3) « the passionate follower’s journal

  2. god is the head of christ,christ head of man and man head of women.all problems of modern society is directly linked 2 lack of undrstndng of this concept!some think that men were allowed 2 rule women because of curse of genesis.if this is so then why are we given clear guidlines that women should not teach men,cover head in worship,women should submit 2 husbands in all respect.

  3. Yes, what you listed is the progression covered in the scriptures. I’m not sure that I’d say ALL problems of modern society are linked to a misunderstanding of it, but I would heartily agree that many are! Regarding the Genesis passage, I believe it is saying that as a result of the fall, the tendency of the woman will be to take on more of the man’s role… it appears to say that in the original language anyway.

    Thanks for the comment!

  4. Pingback: “I do not allow a woman to…” (Women in Church Leadership - Part 6) « the passionate follower’s journal

  5. Carey,
    We need to be careful with theology here. When we say God is the head of Christ we must also match that with “the Father and the Son are one.” If both truths are not held together, we move into the heresy of “adoptionism” or worse “tritheism.”

    Continuing this thought, if we say “husband is the head of the wife” we must hold this together with the truth that “husband and wife become one…”.

    Just as you have stated above: “Woman came from man (created from his rib) and man came from woman (born of woman). In that same way God has designed the genders to work together, each bringing things to the table that the other does not have.”

    But our roles, I believe, are determined by the gifts that are given to us by the Holy Spirit, not by our gender. This passage of scripture reveals that both men and women were given the gift of prophecy. It is the Holy Spirit and His gifting that determines our roles in the church. 1 Corinthians 12-14 talks a lot about this as you know.

    It would be wrong to think the Holy Spirit gives out gifts based on gender. He all kinds of gifts to both men and women. Our roles in the church should reflect this.


  6. Mark,

    Yes, we must always be careful with theology – it’s a huge responsibility as a teacher! Yet, I see no problem with the issues you are raising. God CAN be “one” and yet place the various Persons of the Trinity into differing places of authority or submission. He can do this BECAUSE He is God! The same with the male/female bond in marriage. God can created a “oneness” that still operates in a “headship” context – BECAUSE He is God!

    Nowhere in scripture does it tell us that the fundamental roles of men and women (as who they are in their genders) is determined by “gifting.” That is a modern-day aberration that you find nowhere in the scriptures. The gifts are indeed PART of what determines our roles in the church, but only UNDER the already-established roles that come from being WHO we are as male and female.

    An example from everyday life – as much as I might WANT to nurse my kids so that I can experience that kind of closeness with them – I can’t do that. Why? I am a man – my gender precludes me from doing so! God made me that way! It’s the role of a woman to do that.

    While it’s not as intuitively obvious the same truth applies as we go to the issue at hand. As much as a woman may WANT to teach men in the church – she cannot. Why? Because her gender precludes her from that role. – God has said so.

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