In my previous post I shared some observations about 1 Corinthians 11:3–16, which speaks of women praying and prophesying in the church. After asking the Spirit for insight, observation is the first step in Bible study. Here are some observations sometimes missing in the discussion:
• According to Paul, women could prophesy in the church. And the end result of prophecy was the learning and encouragement of the Body (14:31). So it was assumed in Paul’s day that everyone could learn spiritual truth from a woman. Even if one believes the gift of prophecy has ceased today, one’s reasoning behind women’s silence in the church today cannot be “grounded in creation” or “grounded in creation order” because Paul would not have allowed women’s speaking in his day if such were the case. That is, if women’s silence was established at creation for all time, silence would have been required in every generation. In fact the opposite is true. Women have prophesied in the past (Exo. 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isa. 8:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17–18; 1 Cor. 11:4) and women will prophesy as a sign of the Spirit in the future (Joel 2:28–29).
• Paul ranks the gifts in this order: “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (12:28). In our passage we see women exercising spiritual gifts in that second category, a category more foundational for the church even than teaching.
• The passage is not just about women’s head coverings. Paul addresses equally practices relating to both women’s hair and men’s hair (11:4, 7, 14). In fact, Paul begins by addressing the men’s hair practices.
• The word “veil” does not appear anywhere in the text.
• Paul does emphasize that woman came from man and not vice versa, and he also says she was made for man. But then he adds a “however”: Woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman” (v. 12). Paul is emphasizing interdependence in this passage. He is concerned not only about woman’s independence but also about man’s.
• The word for “sign of” does not appear in the text. That is, a translation that says a woman (wife?) “has a sign of authority on her head” is an interpretation. The text actually says the woman (wife?) “has authority” on her head. Every other time Paul says someone “has authority” (I count six uses of this form in 1 Corinthians alone), he refers to someone actually possessing authority. And if she has authority on something, she does not have submission under the same thing (authority and submission being opposites). And understanding Paul as meaning to say the woman actually possesses authority makes better sense of the phrase that immediately follows. He adds “however”—a warning. Then he tacks on a reminder that woman is not independent of man. This suggests that the authority on her head gives her a degree of independence that she must temper.
Again, to put the discussion in a greater context, after discussing all this Paul shows his readers a more excellent way: the way of love (1 Cor. 13). Even if they have all gifts of prophecy, he says, if they lack love they are nothing. Nada. Zilch. This is the number one observation often missing in discussions about whether we should tell women using words to equip others that they should hold back or go for it. Against love, Paul later told the Galatians, there is no law.