1 Corinthians 11 And Women's Role In The Church

Neal Pollard

For about a generation or so, there has been a significant, ever-growing push within churches of Christ to put Christian women into an "egalitarian" (equal) role with men in the worship and, sometimes, leadership of the church.  Sometimes, such a movement was prompted by perceived cultural pressures.  Emotional arguments have been made. At times, scriptural arguments have been put forth.  About a decade ago, I was asked to participate in a book project in which I was assigned the subject, "The Role of Women In The Church" (Dyer, Haynes, and Jenkins, Redeeming the Times, 128-140). My task was to show the many things Christian women can do in the church, as well as examine New Testament passages that "legislate" (no doubt, an unsavory word to some) the role of women in the church.  Consider a brief excerpt from this book, where I dealt with just one of several passages (1 Cor. 11:2-16):


There Is An Ordained Model For Gender Roles (3)

Actually, Paul points out three relationships: man in relationship to Christ, woman in relationship to man, and Christ in relationship to the Father. Only one of these relationships involves gender--the second. yet, all three are hierarchical (by which this writer means an arrangement according to order of role). In each pair, one is "head" and the other is to be in subjection to that head. Some maintain that an ambiguity exists about whether "husband" and "wife" rather than "man" and "woman" is intended in this passage. In light of the larger context it seems that these gender roles are applicable with regard to function and role within the church. To limit it to the home or stretch it to mean all situations is to do violence to the text. Paul seems to be addressing church matters, so the verse is best understood as addressing the function of men and women within church life and work.

This Model Could Be Violated (4-7a, 14-15)

Though the example seems obviously cultural in nature, Paul references it to show that the Christian man and the Christian woman could potentially be guilty of violating the gender roles established by God. At the end of the thought begun in verse four, Paul gives the underlying rationale for why the cultural practice was to be observed. Yet, the mention of head-coverings here, a matter that was "obligatory and temporary," seems to serve as an example of how the Corinthian Christians were violating their gender roles. In any age, though cultural variables and norms may change, the man or woman could be guilty of violating the biblical model for gender roles in the church.

This Model Is Established By Order Of Creation (7b-9)

The reasoning given by Paul is tied to creation. The why of the order of creation may be endlessly debated. That it is a fact cannot be denied. The very reason why woman was to recognize man as head goes back to Adam and Eve. 

This Model Is Maintained For A Heavenly Reason (10)

The mysterious statement in verse ten may refer to angelic involvement and interest in the activity, obedience, and worship of Christians. Whatever it means, it is given as support for the woman to observe the cultural symbol of subjection to the man.

This Model Does Not Allow For Abuse (11-12)

While the model has certainly been abused, the scripture makes neither allowance nor permission for such abuse. Each gender is dependent upon the other. Interdependence has primary significance in the marriage relationship (Gen. 2:18,23), but it also seen in the church. The very propagation of the human race is a matter of interdependence (12). Therefore, neither gender has cause to boast. The church is complete because of the presence of men and women. Neither gender is superior or inferior because of the roles given them by God!