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1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Study Guide: Because of the Angels

Community Group Study Guide — Because of the Angels 
1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Main idea:
Paul calls men and women in the church to use their gifts in public worship and does so by showing how men and women are interconnected. This passage can be tricky because Paul highlights that he is speaking of tradition he has passed down and his logical argument is “because of the angels” which makes many of us scratch our head. There seems to be a need for women engaging in public prayer and prophesy to point to exercising those gifts under a symbol of authority. This is likely due to problems with gender role confusion in the Corinthian church and possibly past history with pagan worship. However, the take away for the church today is that men and women are to use their gifts in public worship and do so according to their created design. 

Study Information:
Paul begins this section of 1 Corinthians by reminding the church that he has handed down a set of tradition to them (1 Corinthians 11:2). We can assume that he is not speaking about the Law of Moses but rather a set of teaching about how worship should be ordered. This makes sense in the context because he next addresses the practice of communion (11:17-34) and then disordered worship and the role of speaking in tongues and discerning prophecy in that disruption (12:1-14:40). We should seek to try and understand Paul’s conclusions even if we do not fully understand his logic. For example he references “because of the angels” without giving any hint or qualifier to why that is part of his thinking. The Corinthian church struggled with disordered worship, especially in how they competed with each other, formed factions and generally lacked a practice of love for one another. The context of 1 Corinthians tells us that whatever is happening in chapter 11, disunity and disordered worship is somewhere in the background. 

We also have many cultural commentators adding helpful details to the background of why Paul would discuss head coverings. It seems that head coverings in 1st century Corinth related to modesty and/or a sign of being married and therefore unavailable relationally. Some suggest that the references to women not having short hair may relate to the cultural practice of temple prostitutes having their heads shaved. This sort of historical analysis is helpful but we cannot confirm these theories for certain because they are not overt in our text of scripture, but it is likely that some of these practices are in Paul’s mind as he writes 1 Corinthians 11. What we do see in this passage is that Paul points to a loving picture of authority and submission, the role of women in public worship and comments on gender norms. Let’s explore those three areas of this chapter.

A loving picture of authority and submission (1 Corinthians 11:3-5, 9-11).
“The head of every man in Christ, the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Paul enters the discussion around authority and submission. This list details out relationships where there is a sense of leadership and care from one to another. Our culture does not like the idea of submission because we automatically think that submission refers to inequality or a lack of worth, but that is not what Paul is teaching here. Paul references back to creation and the interdependence of men and women quite a few times in this short passage. For example verse 8 highlights the famous words from Genesis 2:18 “it is not good for man to be alone.” 1 Corinthians 11:8 says the woman was created “for” man; many of us have been trained to think ownership, but instead this passage is highlighting interdependence. Adam had a lack and Eve was given to fill in for where he had need. Likewise 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 says clearly that women and men are not independent. Eve was made from Adam and from that point on every man to ever live has been born of a woman. 1 Corinthians 11:7 talks about man being the image and glory of God and woman the glory of man. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that both men and women are created in the image of God, so this is not saying that women are not image bearers. But Paul is using that analogy to talk about how in creation man reflected God (glory) and the creation of Eve somehow reflected Adam (glory). The case Paul is making is to show the chain of events in creation relate to this point on authority and submission. 

This appeal to creation is important because both male and female are image bearers of God and created with unique and important roles in how they live that out. So when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that “the head of every man is Christ and the head of every woman is her husband”, he is not giving us a rigid system but appealing back to God’s glory in creation. Adam was formed by God in the garden and Eve was formed from the power of God using the raw materials Adam’s side. This authority and submission is different than how the worlders operates. Notice the end of verse 3 where Paul says “the head of Christ is God.” Authority and submission is part of how the triune God operates, which means that it cannot be about importance or inferiority. Jesus says he does not do his own will but the will of the father and that he does nothing but the “father’s work.” Our culture associates power and authority with importance, but look at how Jesus corrected his disciple’s view of importance and leadership when he told them that the Gentiles lord their power over each other, but not so with them since the greatest among them is the one who serves (Mark 10:42-45). Our categories of authority and submission need to be adjusted and not defined by our current cultural moment. By appealing to creation Paul is reminding us that man and woman are interdependent and husbands are to love their wives in how they lead and wives to love their husbands in how they complement and serve. 

The Role of Women in Public Worship (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)
At the same time Paul talks about authority and submission he also elevates the role of women in the church compared to the culture. Look closely at verse 5, “every woman who prays or prophesies,” both of those actions are things that take place in public worship. There is a lot of debate in the church around what prophecy means, it seems to be a specific word of encouragement from the Lord given to build up the church (see 1 Corinthians 14). It is a public action that happens as the people of God are gathered together. Women would not have a speaking part to play in the gathering of the Jewish synagogue; women in the pagan temples would be cult prostitutes. Do you see how Jesus changes and elevates the role of women in worship? This passage is often read as being restrictive for women, but it actually teaches the opposite. Churches should regularly incorporate both men and women to use their gifts, according to God’s creation design, to build up the church in the gathered worship and the informal time we have with one another in various community groups, ministries and service opportunities. 

Churches should actively find ways for both men and women to pray, share an encouraging word and communicate God’s grace in the gathered assembly. Both men and women have meaningful ways to contribute to the worship of God. 

Gender Norms (1 Corinthians 11:5-6, 10-16).
This brings us to the area where there is likely the most controversy, what about head coverings and men with long hair? Paul tells us that women should pray and prophesies with their heads covered and men having long hair is a disgrace and that this truth is taught to us “by nature” and “because of the angels.” The head covering functioned as an outward sign that women in the church were praying and prophesying with the blessing of the church authority. It is quite possible that this was a sign of modesty and that the head covering appealed to her status as married or maybe it appealed to her not being a cult prostitute. Paul was giving them a culturally appropriate symbol for this sign of appealing to an authority. Today it may look like a wedding ring or culturally appropriate dress rather than a shawl over her head. 

You may be wondering about the long hair and short hair conversation. Can a guy pray with a hat on? Does a short hair cut dishonor women? Can a guy in a rock band have long hair? All good questions! 

This conversation is filled with difficulty because of cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity but Paul seems to be teaching that men should look like men and women like women and that nature teaches this to us and a given culture has a hand in defining what that is (1 Corinthians 11:14). So, having long hair, wearing make up and a skirt… is that masculine or feminine? Many of us would say “feminine” and then you turn on the movie Braveheart and see kilted, long haired men with blue makeup on their face charge into battle. You look at paintings from ancient Greece and see men in miniskirts. Now, I am not advocating we go back to those days! But it is important to point out that some of what we take as normative is culturally subjective. Part of Paul’s appeal here is to teach us that men and women should embrace their creation designs and not be ashamed of how they may be different. This can feel vague because it changes from culture to culture, but this is most likely where Paul is going with the conversation around hair length.

We likely walk away with many questions after reading 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, but the conclusion we should have is that men and women both have a vital role in the public worship gathering and this is rooted in how God defines submission and authority and how he created humanity to reflect his glory and goodness. Let’s ask good questions, observe the text and walk with humility as we discuss difficult passages like this one. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

How does this passage highlight the role of men and women in public worship?

Read through the passage and note all the various ways that Paul appeals back to creation. How does the manner and pattern of creation support Paul’s argument?

Verse 10 talks about a “symbol” of authority. Does this mean the symbol can change from culture to culture? Why or why not?

What questions does this passage, study guide and sermon lead you with? What resources can you go to for more understanding and answers?

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