Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3
The word AUTHORITY is a lightning rod in male and female relationships. When we hear the word authority, especially in the context of male and female relationships, we have a knee-jerk internal reaction. We think: CONTROL, DOMINANCE, OPPRESSION.
That is certainly the way the feminist movement saw this for a long time:
DOMINANCE - When two people marry they become in the eyes of the law one person, and that one person is the husband. ~Shana Alexander, State-by-State Guide to Women's Legal Rights, 1975
CONTROL - If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves? ~Mary Astell
OPPRESSION - I ask no favors for my sex.... All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks. ~Sarah Moore Grimké
And then we read a text like 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 and we think, “There it is again! Dominance, control and oppression against women in the Bible! And head coverings!? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Given the energy generated by this passage, it is critical that we read it in its proper context.
The context is as follows, Paul has addressed: Divisions in the Church, chapters 1-4; Moral and Ethical Disorders in the Church, chapters 5-6; Questions about marriage and singleness, chapter 7; Questions about disputable matters, grey areas in Christian practice, chapters 8-10.
In chapters 11-14 he offers instructions on public worship. He begins with the roles of men and women.
Verse 3 is the key verse, the heart of what Paul is trying to say. “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
Everything else up to the end of verse 10 is elaboration, explanation, and application of this one point.
Therefore, the big question among interpreters is: What does Paul mean by his use of the word ‘head’? Does he mean source, or authority? The best understanding is authority. How do we verify that? By the history of usage of the Greek word kephale, which is translated “head”.
When other New Testament writers used the word, it usually meant “authority.” When the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was widely used at the time (their NIV), the one Paul used with his Greek converts, it meant “head.” Kephale never means “source” in the LXX.
Finally, what makes the most sense as the word is used in the context of our passage? Authority makes more sense than source. For example, if we say that God is the source of Christ, then that means that Christ is not co-eternal with God, which is heresy.
When Paul uses the word kephale he usually means authority. There are a lot of people out there who disagree with that, who would prefer it to mean “source” because it’s easier to swallow than “authority,” but the history of usage, the grammar and the vocabulary are on the side of “authority.”
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
OK, so what? What does that mean? What’s Paul’s point? Just this: In the Church and in the home, Christ is man’s authority; man is woman’s authority; God is Christ’s authority.
But when we see AUTHORITY we hear DOMINATION! CONTROL! OPPRESSION!
I submit to you that we are hearing the wrong things. In fact the Latin root of the words “authority,” and “authentic,” means “that which allows growth and life.”
We can see the difference by looking at the Lord Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Phil 2:6-7 NIV)
Jesus the Son, though he is equal with God, submitted himself to the authority of God the Father. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” He clearly saw himself as equal in essence to God (See John 7-8). Yet he also said, “I don’t do anything on my own initiative, but speak just what the Father has taught me.” And even more famously, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
“The Son has a different function or role from the Father, not an inferior being or essence.” Jesus sees authority from a different angle than we do.
We don’t see anything like control, domination, and oppression in the relationship between God the Father and his son Jesus. It is, instead, that which allows redemption, growth, and life.
We don’t see control, we see collaboration. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." (John 5:17 NIV) That’s collaboration.
We don’t see oppression between God the Father and God the Son. We see a affirmation and celebration one for the other. Jesus and the Father have a mutual admiration society. (See Matt 17:5; Matt 11:25-26 25).
We don’t see domination coming from the Father. We don’t see God hammering away at his son like a Marine Drill Sergeant. What we do see is willing obedience, humble deference to plans and purposes that Jesus knew would be painful. “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11
Our world and its definition of things, even God’s things, is out of sync with the Kingdom of Heaven. Given that fact, it is reasonable to think that the world, and even people in churches, would get the functioning of authority wrong.
God established authority in creation. The fall corrupted it, but that doesn’t make the original order of creation a bad thing. So one of the things that we have to do when considering a command like this is redefine what we mean by authority.
We’ll do that next week