Monday, January 6, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(1) Leading in Worship

Outline: 021-E4.1-Leading in Worship
Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Discussion Audio (1h13m)

Paul could have easily solved the controversy
by commanding the women, “Stop leading in worship.”
But he didn’t.

Women (and men) were leading worship in the Corinthian (and all other) churches. They were leading prayers and proclaiming the word of God to the church through the spiritual gift of prophecy.

What then, was the problem?

The problem wasn’t with women preaching and leading in church.

The problem was with “clerical garb.”[1] Or, the problem was with “eschatological women,” believing that they had already become “like angels,” were casting off all symbols of gender distinctions.[2]

Many English translations of this passage are interpretations based on preconceived traditions of patriarchy and complementarianism. They fail to render words consistently. As a result they end up with biases with which many readers take as the “word of God” when in fact they are interpretations of men (literally!).

When Paul writes “head” (κεφαλή kephale) it is not ever meant to imply authority or establishment of hierarchy but simply “origin of life.” Fee writes, “Paul’s understanding of the metaphor, therefore, and almost certainly the only one the Corinthians would have grasped, is ‘head’ as ‘source,’ especially ‘source of life.’”[3]

Many translations mix “man” and “husband” when it should be rendered as “man” (ἀνήρ anēr) each time. Likewise with “woman” and “wife” (γυνή gyne). Paul did indeed speak to single and marital relationships in chapter 7 but in this passage he is broadening the discussion to relationships of “every man” and “every woman” to the church. It is inappropriate and out-of-context to read any kind of marriage relationships into this passage.

Another major translation issue involves how to translate διά (dia) in verses 9-10. Many translations translate this as “for” in verse 9 and “because of” in verse 10. As a result English readers get the idea that Paul writes in verse 9 that “woman [was created] for man,” i.e., woman/wife as a servant/subordinate role to man/husband. When dia is rendered consistently what is seen is,

For man was not created because of {dia} woman, but woman because of {dia} the man. Because of {dia} this the woman should have authority {exousia} on the head, because of {dia} the angels.

This rendering removes any kind of role or subordination and what is seen is simply the creation account of Genesis 2 in which the man is formed first and then the woman from [because of] the man.

Just in case the reader might be tempted to think that creation order matters, Paul counters that in verses 11-12 that the order, in fact, does not matter. Even more, if one thinks thinks that being first means priority in importance, the first creation account of Genesis 1 shows that later is better. Bailey writes,

The difficulty with this conclusion [that created first means more important] is that the creation stories begin with the lesser forms of life and move on to the more advanced forms. If created earlier equals more important, then animals are more important than people, the plants are more important than the animals and the primitive earth “without form and void” is the most important of all![4]

The creation account forms the center of Paul’s argument in regards to women’s right and authority to lead churches and worship. In Genesis 2 the woman is created as a helper (‘ezera) for the man.[5] The God of Israel is often referred to as ‘Ezer when he comes to save his people. Helper then refers to a being or a person who holds superior powers to the one being helped. In other words, if one is to read the Genesis account literally, woman is superior to man, who was found to be helpless. Lest women think they are superior to men Paul’s words in verses 11-12 apply just as equally to women as well as men. Bailey writes in regard to Paul’s argument in this passage,

Seen in this light, our understanding of the text and of Paul’s view of women are transformed. Women, for Paul, are not created “for men” … Rather women, as descendants of Eve, are placed by God in the human scene as the strong who come to help/save the needy (the men)… Paul emerges as a compassionate figure who boldly affirms the equality and mutual interdependency of men and women in the new covenant.[6]

The climax in the center affirms women in worship leadership and gives them a
sign of their authority… A part of this new creation is the restoration of the
equality and mutual interdependence between men and women in Christ.[7]

It appears that the women thought that part of their new freedom in Christ was to cast off traditional garbs of women, that they could (or should, even must?) appear as men when leading worship. For some in the congregation this was seen as unacceptable and even sexually enticing. Paul was apparently trying to find a compromise in a congregation of mixed cultural traditions. He tells the women, “I commend you for leading in worship, but please, keep your head covered so as not to be distracting to some in your congregation.”

Later in this essay (chapter 12 and 14) Paul will discuss spiritual gifts more fully. But he is foreshadowing the topic by writing that spiritual gifts are not distributed based on gender but on need, to build up the church.

To define ministry roles based on gender is
tantamount to destroying the church.

[1] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, locations 3484-3498.

[2] Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 11:3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bailey, location 3522.

[5] Bailey, location 3620.

[6] Bailey, location 3623.

[7] Bailey, locations 3655, 3659.

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