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Misogyny, Feminism, and the role of women in the church. Does the Bible treat women as inferior? What is the role, or place of women in the church? A MUCH disagreed-about topic.

What does "head" and headship mean?

Postby Newbie » Thu May 09, 2013 11:44 am

Paul makes quite a bit out of "head" and headship in 1 Cor. 11.3-4. Can you explain that to me a little more thoroughly?
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Re: What does "head" and headship mean?

Postby jimwalton » Thu May 09, 2013 1:07 pm

“Headship” is tremendously misunderstood. Here is America in the 21st century, we know all about the brain, and how it has authority over the body and is the command center for all our life functions. We know the head rules. Throw all that away, lest we read our contemporary, scientific mindset into a culture of 2000 years ago. The ancients didn't know diddly about heads. The Egyptians, when they mummified, saved the internal organs, but chucked out the brain, because they didn't have a clue what it did. As far as they were concerned, our thoughts and emotions and our being came from the intestines. Their gut, in their minds, was their mind. By the time we get to the New Testament, things aren't much deeper. Paul uses terms like “kidneys” and “intestines” to talk about where our thoughts and feelings come from (Phil. 1.8). When he tells us to “set our minds” on things, he doesn’t know it comes from the brain. Anachronistically, we take what WE know about heads, apply it to NT terms, and conclude that men are the big cheeses—the controlling rulers. It’s wrong.

John 5.18-23 teaches us what it means that God is the head of Christ. In v. 17, Jesus put himself on a level of equality with God. The Jews understood his radical proclamation of equality with the Father very well (18). Jesus follows (19) with a statement of decisive unity between himself and his Father, God. They act as one, though distinct, and inseparable. There is no self-will, no declaration of control, no power over the other. Just perfect coincidence of action. It’s a relationship of love, not power (20). As a matter of fact, they are equal in authority and power (21, 22). Isa. 42.8 states that God doesn’t share honor with anyone, so the Father’s headship is not diminished when Christ receives honor. This shows, moreover, how his headship is lived out.

Back to 1 Cor. 11. So how is Christ the head of every man? In context, and for the sake of this discussion in particular, there is an outrageous equality. Although we know in another very real sense Christ is far superior to us, Paul’s point here is that we share the same kind of headship relationship as Jesus does with the Father.

John 17.11: that they may be one as we are one
Romans 8:17: We are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ
Heb. 2.10-11: In bringing many sons to glory…Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Headship emphasizes unity, not hierarchy. You may protest: “There is no way that’s what “head” meant to them.” Obviously they knew the head held the eyes, ears, and mouth, but they did not know the head was a controlling entity. The head is of the same substance as the body. Covering the head in 1 Cor. 11 didn’t pertain to the head, but to the person. The head was part and parcel of the whole, and so to cover the head was to shroud the whole.

Let’s look at the culture. Here’s what Sarah Ruden (expert in Greek culture) wrote: Respectable Greek and Roman women traditionally wore concealing veils in public. Marriage and widowhood were the chief things that a veil signaled. (For a Roman woman, “to get married” and “to veil oneself” were exactly the same word.) The veil held great symbolism: it reminded everyone that all freeborn women, women with families to protect them, were supposed to enter adulthood already married, and that they were supposed to stay chastely married or else chastely widowed until the end of their lives. The veil was the flag of female virtue, status, and security. In the port city of Corinth, with its batteries of prostitutes—including the sacred prostitutes of the temple of Aphrodite—the distinction between the veiled and unveiled women would have been even more crucial.” So in Corinthian (Greek) culture, the men should take their head covering off when worshipping, as a symbol of their status before God, and women should put one on as indicative of their status before God.

Again, from Ruden: “Paul’s rule aimed toward an outrageous equality. All Christian women were to cover their heads in church, without distinction of beauty, wealth, respectability—or of privilege so great as to allow toying with traditional appearances. The most hurtful thing about bareheaded, gorgeously coiffed wives might not have been their frivolity but rather their thoughtless flaunting of styles that meant degradation to some of their sisters—as if a suburban matron attended an inner-city mission church in hip boots, a miniskirt, and a blond wig. Perhaps the new decree made independent women of uncertain status, or even slave women, honorary wives in this setting. If the women complied—and later church tradition suggests they did—you could have looked at a congregation and not necessarily been able to tell who was an honored wife and mother and who had been forced, or maybe was still being forced, to service 20-30 men a day. This had never happened in any public gathering before. This was Paul’s ingenious combination of common sense and radical defiance for dealing with a very touchy set of issues.”

What is headship? A reckless, outrageous statement of equality based on a decisive unity of nature.

“In that case,” you may ask, “why is man the head of woman instead of Christ?” Paul says in 1 Cor. 11.7 that man is in the image of God, but woman is the glory of man. First of all, notice that woman is not in the image of man. We know from Gn. 1.27 that both man and woman stand equally as “the image of God”. (It was Seth, not Eve, who was in the image of man [Gn. 5.3]). Paul says “woman is the glory of man,” and from Gn. 2 we know that she doesn’t complete him, as if he was inferior (“alone”), nor does he have dominion over her (she is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, and stands equal to him). Man being “the glory of God” doesn’t bring to him something that he is lacking; it is a statement of man’s dignity (Ps. 8.5). So also woman being the glory of man is a statement of her dignity, not as a lesser being (Gn. 1.27; 2.23-24).

“But the head covering is “a sign of authority” in v. 10. Indeed it is. A woman has authority to pray and prophecy in public worship if she is wearing the veil that culturally says she has value, dignity, and authority. Verses 8-9 is balanced by verses 11-12.

Ephesians 5.21-33 corroborates this whole teaching. The husband as the head of the wife (as Christ is the head of the church) is the one who gives everything in a love of total self-sacrifice. That’s what “head” means. His headship has nothing to do with control, but with selfless sacrifice to make her holy. It’s a position of service (25) and nurture (29).
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