11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
You have to understand Paul and the way he writes or this chapter is a train wreck. Let's break it down into key points before we continue:
1, This is a letter to specific people in a specific city. The issues addressed are local and not universal.
2, Paul has a theme that runs through all his counsel and that is to adapt to and respect local culture in every way possible. "To the Jews I am a Jew. To the Romans I am a Roman. I am all things to all men that I might gain some."
3, This head covering and uncovering for women and men is a local custom not a teaching from God. Were it from God it would have started in the Old Testament and been taught consistently throughout. Other examples of local or cultural teachings include how to keep Sabbath. The Sabbath itself is from God and consistent from Genesis to Revelation but rules about how to observe it were often man-made and cultural which is why Jesus was called a Sabbath breaker even though He is Lord of the Sabbath.
4,. When I went to the Ukraine as a missionary we were asked to respect two cultural norms in the church and we did. One was to always stand for prayer. The other was to never show your legs. The temperature was over 40C every day and we always wore pants. We didn't do it because it was a command from God. We did it so as not to offend the local people.
5, There is a key word in this chapter. The word is "if". Paul says (vs 6) "But if it is shameful..." His counsel is conditional on the cultural expectations and norms. It could just as easily said "But if it is shameful for a woman to wear pants..." For Paul the issue is not the specific practice, the issue is to respect the culture.
6, There is also a key phrase "in the Lord". If you did a search for that phrase in Paul's letters you would find that he says it a lot. You will also note that he often uses the phrase to make a distinction between things that are true "in the Lord" and things that are true on the street.
OK. Let's be honest. If we only read this chapter up to the end of verse 10 we would be in trouble if we believe men and women are equal. Then we read verse 11 and 12 and Paul contradicts everything he just said. How can this be? Is he crazy? Confused? No and no. What he is doing is describing two different realities. Verses 11 and 12 are describing what is true "in the Lord" and the verses prior what is true on the street.
Here are some other examples. In the Lord food sacrificed to idols is perfectly fine to eat. However on the street you shouldn't eat it because you will confuse and/or offend others. In the Lord there is no longer Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. However Paul told slaves who had run away because they were free in Christ to return to their masters. Why? Because Christians are not to use their freedom in Christ independent of or in opposition to cultural norms.
So are men and women equal? Yes. In the Lord. Will we always be able to live equally in this world? Unfortunately not and depending where you live that inequality can be subtle or extreme.
We will continue tomorrow. There is much more to explore to get a clearer understanding of why Paul gave the counsel he gave here and if we can grasp the principles it will make us much more wise as we interact with others and navigate an increasingly diverse mix of cultures.