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Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Cor. 11:2-16: In the Culture or in the Lord?

According to the dictionary, a sophistry is a kind of reasoning that is misleading or unsound, but it sounds clever and plausible. Paul talks about such reasoning in Colossians 2:23, "Such regulations (Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!) indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Note, 'appearance of wisdom' and 'false humility' do not a perfect Christian make.

In 1 Cor. 11 we have two ways of looking at the woman question. One is born of the Spirit and the other is a sophistry. Verses 2-10 present the picture of the first century attitude toward women:

a. It is positively disgraceful if she does not cover her head. As a Catholic in my youth we wore hats, scarves, or doilies to Mass on Sunday. It was sinful if you didn't do so. But that is NOT what Paul is requiring. Tertullian gives us the real ancient viewpoint on this matter. Women are the "gateway of the devil" so virgins must be covered up. He informs us that in his third century era the Corinthian churches were still covering the heads of their virgins, not just to protect the devout men of the church, many who had vowed not to marry, but to protect the angels, who, according to the holy record of Enoch (an ante-deluvian prophet), found the women of ancient times an irresistable temptation.

b. Women must pray and prophesy with their head covered. She must also have long hair because that is God's natural covering for her, and she must submit to her husband and Christ submitted to the Father.

So a woman who is godly has a trinity of coverings to keep the devil at bay: her hair, her veil, and her man. Apparently, for women, the Holy Trinity of divinity does not suffice when it comes to lusty men and angels.

Here is the reason given-- 1. Man is the image of God. Woman is merely the image of Man. 2. Man was not created for the woman. The woman was created for the man as what we evangelicals used to call a 'help meet.' Elsewhere it is written that women were created second, but the issue here is 'source.' Woman came from man, placing her in a subservient and inferior position. Her inferiority is endemic. She was created that way.

This was great preaching in the first century AD. Paul didn't make it be that way. It was already like that in all societies everywhere, and everyone 'knew' that it had been that way from the beginning of time. Paul just summed up the biblical justification about why such subservience is fair and proper and must endure.

Before you lob cabbages at me, my righteous brethren, let me say that I am not mocking the Word of God. I am mocking the commandments of men. For example, how many pastors' wives have long hair? How many of them wear a scarf like Muslim women that really covers their head? How many obey their husbands in ALL things with total subservience? How many Christian women address their husbands as "My Lord" or "Sir?" How many fathers remind their little daughters, especially the ones with really high I.Q.'s, that they are not quite the image of God that men are, that they were created to support some man, that their gifts and talents exist to delight and benefit their husband? Furthermore, many evangelicals forbid anyone today to prophesy. They say that was for the past, not the present. So most of the ordinances of verses 2-10 have already fallen by the wayside.

The word of God in this passage begins with BUT. In the NIV it is introduced with "however." The key words are "in the Lord." Isn't that after all the real goal of being a Christian? Don't we always plead with God to help us to be "in the Lord" and not in the world? In the Lord, there is no source but God. It matters not who was first or who came from who because "Everything comes from God." After this flash of brilliance, Paul lapses back into the culture. He actually equates a man's glory (which is the eternal, uncorruptible image of God) with a woman's glory (her hair!). The image of God is spiritual. Hair can be dirty and flea-ridden. It can be cut, it turns gray, and it rots in the grave! She also reflects the glory of man from whom she came.

We deal with this passage today in several ways. We say Paul didn't write it. We say that he is quoting someone else in order to refute the statements. We say that we don't really understand the Greek. Or, we tell women that that is how it is, so be obedient and suck it up. Tertullian assured us that what I have laid out here is the way the early church read the passage. It fit right in with their culture as it had always been.

2 Cor. 3:17,18 talks about the real glory that counts. The Lord is the Spirit and the Spirit is the Source of both freedom and glory. Here is the Word of God on the matter: "And we, who with UNVEILED faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being TRANSFORMED into his likeness with EVER-INCREASING glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." All means all, and unveiled means unveiled. So I ask the evangelical denominations, are you in the culture, or are you in the Lord?