Is Christ Divided? session 13

Next week’s notes. Should the Rector cut his hair?

Is Christ Divided?
Notes for the house groups on 1 Corinthians.

Week thirteen, beginning Sunday 30 September: 1 Corinthians 11.2-16
Main themes: Hair length(!), headship and gender relations

Questions to prompt discussion

1.In what way are women under the authority of men? Should they be? What would be an appropriate sign for what Paul is describing? Are women made in the image of God?
2.Should the Rector cut his hair? If so, should women wear hats in church? If ‘no’ to either or both – where does that leave us with regard to the authority of Paul’s teachings?

Supplementary thoughts:
Paul uses the language of headship, both literal and metaphorical, throughout this passage. It may help to ponder some of the different ways in which ‘headship’ can be understood – consider ‘head of the family’, ‘head of the river’, ‘head of steam’ etc. We need to be alert to the different ways in which this language can be used. However, there are limits to this approach – see note on verse 10.

Paul assumes that in creation there is an unambiguous distinction between male and female, and this underlies his teaching here. In worship we are not to be anything other than how we are created (worship is the restoration of creation), for that would offend the angels. Given what we now know about trans-gender and related issues there is a genuine issue about whether Paul’s fundamental assumption remains true. The issues around hair-length and head coverings remain salient in our culture – consider the debate about the wearing of muslim headscarves. Our culture has changed drastically in living memory away from one where Paul’s teaching would be unremarkable. However other periods in our own history, and certainly other cultures around the world, would have very different expectations. The key issue is whether we believe hair length/ head covering is a cultural question or a ‘creation’ question, ie something inherent in our given nature.

NB the head covering that Paul is referring to is not a hat, it is a hood integrated with the robe/gown being worn (think Lord of the Rings). It is possible that women’s practice at Corinth was a way of asserting either their equality with men (see Gal 3.28, or that it was an equivalent to a nun’s ‘wedding ring’, ie saying that they were ‘married’ to Christ. It may also be an indication of the informality or closeness (quasi-familial closeness; koinonia) of some of the relationships at Corinth.

Notes on verses
v 3 – see 3.23 and 15.28
v 7 – compare with Genesis 1.26-7
v 10 – it is possible that the ‘sign of authority’ referred to here is something which gives a woman authority to pray and prophesy, ie a sign that the woman has accepted male authority over her. In any case this verse is unambiguous in asserting male authority over females.
v 10 – the ‘angels’ are probably a reference to celestial entities accompanying Christian worship (the Dead Sea Scrolls have a similar reference).