1 Corinthians 11: 3 says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.” Verses 7-9: “For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.”
I’m not gonna lie, I had a lot of trouble with this text. I think it would be safe to say that most of the people in this room would have trouble with this text.
Before I started writing this, I decided to check some commentaries on the subject. Those were pretty much not helpful. To sum them up, they basically stated that yes, men and women are equal, but that men have authority over women. Equal, but under authority.
So, I went online to try to find some examples of sermons or Bible studies that had been done using this passage. It was exactly the same as the commentaries. The one Bible study I found that was kind of helpful, was still basically saying the same thing, just with a slightly more nuanced argument. The writer said that men should worship with their heads uncovered, because they are the glory of God. Women should worship with their heads covered, because they are the glory of man, which should not distract from the glory of God. I was kind of surprised he didn’t come right out and say that women should wear burkas.
All of these treatments on the passage were really not helping me figure out how to write this sermon, because I know, I know to the core of my being that these writers are wrong. How do I know this? Someone once told me that it’s not just the truth of your theology that’s important; it’s how people live it out.
We know what happens when this line of thinking, that women are under the authority of men, is drawn out to its logical conclusion. The ability to vote and own property is not a right that women have always enjoyed in this country, but at least here, most women were never forced to wear burkas, like so many women are forced to in many Middle Eastern countries. But what does happen in this country, and all over the world, is human trafficking. Young women and girls kidnapped and forced into a life prostitution. On average, these women and girls last only four years before succumbing to disease, drugs and despair.
In India and China, millions of baby girls are killed, simply for being the wrong gender. And in some places, young women are murdered at the hands of their male relatives in order to cleanse their families of shame, because they were the victims of rape. These actions are not of God, but the actions of people who think that women are under the authority of men.
So, why? Why did God allow this to be part the Bible? That’s a difficult question. See, the Bible was a collaborative effort between God and humanity; God chose to work through people to send us the divine message.
And, perhaps that is the true meaning of this text, that God didn’t write this alone. Perhaps what God is trying to tell us here is that God lives in community with us, that God is in us and around us, and didn’t write the Bible alone. So, what does this mean if God is not the sole author of the Bible? Does that make it any less true? Do I believe that the Bible is authoritative and instructive for our lives? Yes. Do I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit? Yes. But we need to stop thinking of the Bible as a collection of books and letters. In terms of how it should govern our lives, it is a single text.
God gave us The Bible, not just 1 Corinthians 11: 1-13. We need to take the Bible as a whole, because when we start pulling bits of it out, whether it’s a couple of verses, or a whole book, and we use just part of the Bible to justify the things we do, that’s when we start getting into trouble. When we do that, we take the chance that the human voice behind the text is going to be louder than the divine one. Every part of the Bible needs to be seen in light of every other part.
It’s only when we take the Bible as a whole, and we listen to all of those countless voices across the millennia, speaking to their individual experiences of God, that the glory of God is revealed to us. Because God could never be confined to a single voice, even a voice as loud as Paul’s. So I ask that we stop oppressing each other, and ourselves, based on a few select passages of the Bible. Because when you read the whole thing, the Bible is freeing. It’s liberating. And, that's how God intended it to be. Amen.