The role of women
This topic is of burning relevance. The Western society surrounding us seeks to eradicate any difference between men and women and advocates equality at all costs. Christians exposed to this environment are at risk of being influenced in their thinking and actions, perhaps imperceptibly at first. Another trap, on the contrary, would be to minimize or disdain the blessed activity of Christian women.
Noticing a regrettable evolution in practices within Christian circles on these subjects, the author of this document seeks to provide biblical answers to the justifications often given for these practices. In the following lines, these justifications (arguments) will be implicitly restated in the form of questions virtually asked by those who support these practices.
The answers are intentionally, and as much as possible, written in a concise and precise manner, which inevitably exposes them to the criticism of being dry, cold, or dogmatic. But the intention is rather to "show integrity in teaching, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:7-8). The author has sought to avoid any contemptuous or provocative wording regarding the observed deviations and recognizes that knowledge of God's thoughts is acquired through godly, not intellectual, study of Scripture, in accordance with the expression "the doctrine which is according to godliness" (1 Timothy 6:3; Titus 1:1). If we are exhorted to "keep the good deposit," it is "by the Holy Spirit" that we must do so (2 Timothy 1:14).
References to the original Greek of the New Testament have been made not to give an impression of erudition but to address arguments that are based on the meaning of words. This method can deter rather than convince but is sometimes necessary to clarify the scope of the thoughts being considered.
1. Is there a difference between men and women in the eyes of God?
Yes, regarding our life on earth.
No, regarding our position before God in Christ Jesus.
2. Is there a difference between men and women in the Assembly (Church)?
Yes, insofar as the Assembly is on earth.
The following considerations will clarify this answer.
1 Corinthians 11:3
1 Timothy 2:8-15
3. Can you briefly describe the service of believing women?
The believing woman has a particular and essential role in the home (the family). This role is described in Titus 2:4-5 where young women are called "to be attached to [their] husbands, to be attached to [their] children, discreet, chaste, diligent in home work, good, subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be evil spoken of."
In 1 Timothy 5:14, managing and maintaining order in the household ("rule the house") is the particular work of the woman, certainly in agreement with her husband, who is responsible for it because he is the head of the family.
The woman's service, even if she may be required to work outside, is primarily in the sphere of the home.
A wise woman who cares for her family with discernment, manages her budget economically, enriches her home with love and joy, is a great blessing to her husband and children, and to all who enter that home.
For example, the exercise of hospitality is made possible through the wife. This creates a home open to servants of God, believers, and even unbelievers who can then hear the gospel.
In summary, the home circle is the specific sphere where the woman will serve and glorify God. She is the center and heart of the home. The motivation that enables her to accept the place God has given her is her love for the Lord and her obedience to the Word of God.
The single Christian woman and the widow are also helpers in Christian service or in material matters: taking care of children, the elderly or those in difficulty, the sick, and also contributing to spreading the gospel around them. The widow has the experience of marriage and receives special care from God. The apostle emphasizes in 1 Corinthians 7:32, "The unmarried cares for the things of the Lord, how he shall please the Lord." And let us not forget the importance of small, everyday acts of service to those around us.
The example of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-43 is remarkable, as is the description of the activities of a godly woman in 1 Timothy 5:10: "borne witness to in good works, if she have brought up children, if she have exercised hospitality, if she have washed saints` feet, if she have imparted relief to the distressed, if she have diligently followed every good work."
Christian women who are alone, widowed or unmarried, can participate in service for Christ as members of His body. The Word of God highlights their devotion, and they can demonstrate generosity, love, and wisdom in their particular activities.
The woman is called to illustrate the place that belongs to the Assembly (Church).
Let us also underline the benefits of the service of several women in the early Christian era.
Lydia is an example of a godly woman (Acts 16:12-15, 40). She may have been the first to convert in Philippi. She then persuaded her entire household to trust in Christ. After believing, she invited Paul and his companions to stay as guests in her house. The Bible says, "And she constrained us." Thus, it appears that the assembly in Philippi began in Lydia's house. In Acts 16:40, we see that when they were released from prison, Paul and Silas went to Lydia's house and there they exhorted or comforted the brothers.
Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2) was a servant (deaconess) of the assembly in Cenchreae, near Corinth. She is an example of devotion and attachment to the assembly. She helped many, including Paul. We serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but we serve Him particularly in the assembly. Phoebe worked for the Lord in relation to Paul and the assembly.
Priscilla worked with her husband Aquila in the early assemblies (Romans 16:3-5). She notably helped her husband instruct Apollos privately (Acts 18:24-26). She was part of the co-workers with the apostle Paul in Christ Jesus. Together, they risked their own necks for Paul's life. Not only Paul but all the assemblies of the nations could thank them. See also 1 Corinthians 16:19 and 2 Timothy 4:19.
In Romans 16, Mary had worked much for the believers in Rome (v. 6); Tryphena and Tryphosa worked in the Lord, and Persis, the beloved, had labored much in the Lord (v. 12).
Euodia and Syntyche are two sisters who had labored with the apostle Paul in the gospel (see Philippians 4:2-3).
Generally, in the considerations we are dealing with, it is necessary to distinguish, with regard to the woman's context:
The personal aspect (the woman alone before God),
The family or domestic aspect (the woman in her home),
The more public aspect (beyond the home) or in the presence of men.
1 Timothy 5:10; 14
4. Can believing women not speak like men?
Scripture teaches that men and women have different but equally important roles. These differences are also evident in terms of expression.
In particular, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, women are not allowed to speak in the assembly. This command should not be seen as a prohibition against idle chatter. The Greek verb used in the original text, "laleo," is never used to mean idle chatter in the New Testament. It should be understood in the same sense as in the rest of the chapter (1 Corinthians 14:2, 3-6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27-29, 39). It's the same word used in 1 Peter 4:11: "If any one speak -- as oracles of God." This command means that she cannot address the assembly on behalf of God or to God on behalf of the assembly. This role is reserved for men.
Of course, if she is alone, a woman can address God in prayer in the same way a man can, and God can also use her for prophesying.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
1 Timothy 2:8-15
5. Can women not speak like men outside of assembly meetings?
The first epistle to Timothy generally teaches us "how one ought to conduct oneself in God`s house" (see 1 Timothy 3:15). It is clear from the exhortations in this epistle that this expression has a much broader scope than the assembly meetings themselves. We are constantly "of the household members of God" (Ephesians 2:19).
Chapter 2 gives us general teaching on the role and position of men and women – teaching that applies to our entire lives. For example, the phrase "in every place" in verse 8 shows that it is not only assembly meetings that are in view.
In particular, the "quietness" of women (1 Timothy 2:11-12) is not limited to assembly meetings. However, it's worth noting that the term "silence" may be misleading and misunderstood. A more accurate translation might be "quietness" (see verse 2: "a quiet and tranquil life"). The Greek word used, "hesychia," does not mean silence in the sense of refraining from speaking (as in 1 Corinthians 14:34) but rather being quiet, discreet, and reserved.
These verses show us that women fundamentally have a different attitude from men, especially in how they conduct themselves and express themselves, and this applies generally, not just in assembly meetings.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
6. Why these differences then?
God has ordained it this way, and we can consider some reasons given in Scripture:
a) Man, Adam, was created first, and Eve was created second; she was taken from man, and this should also be reflected in her position in practical life;
b) Woman, Eve, was the first to be deceived and fell into sin; she preceded her husband in the path of sin and cannot, therefore, be the leader and ruler.
These reasons have nothing to do with the culture of past times in Israel or the Middle East, nor with any aversion that the apostle Paul might have had towards women, as some liberal theologians claim today. No, the woman's place in God's plan goes back to:
- the fact that she was created after man, and
- the fact that she was deceived, which led to sin (the fall).
1 Corinthians 11:7-9
1 Timothy 2:13-14
7. What would prevent a woman from praying aloud with other men if we are not in the context of assembly meetings?
1 Timothy 2:8-15 tells us that it is the responsibility of men (if they are present!) to pray, and women should take a more reserved position. This does not mean that women cannot speak in the presence of men, but rather that they should not lead in prayer in such a context, as leading in vocal prayer on behalf of others implies taking a role of "leader" that God does not assign to women (verse 11).
God expresses His will and gives direction: it is for men to pray. Is there a need for Him to additionally state that women should not do it in front of men? We do not believe so. He has made His will known affirmatively, and that should be enough for us to conform to it.
Praying is the role positively assigned to men (verse 8), and this is to be done "in every place." This shows that wherever a man is, God gives him this role. In contrast, in verse 9, women are not exhorted to pray, although we are taught elsewhere that it is normal for a sister to pray. But she should not do it in the presence of a man, as it would involve doing it "on behalf" of those who join in prayer, which implies a "leader" role. This leadership role is for men, not for women, who are called to be more reserved, in "quietness."
Outside of assembly meetings, if she remains discreet, in a reserved attitude (see point 5), there is nothing to prevent a woman from speaking, asking questions, or discussing the Lord. However, she should not teach or exercise authority over men.
1 Timothy 2:8-15
8. Why do some say that women cannot teach? Are they not misinterpreting 1 Timothy 2:12?
As we have seen before, 1 Timothy 2:8-15 provides instructions to both men and women, respectively, according to what is appropriate for each. These instructions apply when they are in each other's presence, but not exclusively. They have a broader, fundamental scope.
"I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man" (1 Timothy 2:12).
This verse consists of two parts: "to teach" and "to exercise authority over a man," which are not the same:
a) "Not to teach" is not limited to the presence of men;
b) "Over a man" does not relate to "teach" but to "exercise authority."
Is the fact that a woman should not teach related to the presence of a man? We read that:
a) It is not fitting for a woman to teach. This part is different and independent from the second part.
Teaching is therefore "forbidden" absolutely, not just in the presence of men. The sentence would not be grammatically correct if we limited the prohibition of teaching here by the end of the second part ("over a man").
b) A woman should not exercise authority over a man - that's why teaching by a woman in the presence of a man is excluded anyway. This second part indicates a complementary aspect but does not diminish or exclude the first part (point a).
Whether there are men present or not, believing women are not allowed to teach.
In summary, we say that fundamentally, God does not assign the role of teaching the Word or preaching to women, regardless of the composition of those being taught.
New Testament Greek-English Interlinear:
didaskein de gynaiki ouk epitrepo
to teach de plus a woman not I permit,
oude authentein andros
nor to exercise authority over a man,
all’ einai en hesychia
but to be in quietness
Elberfeld (German) and WK (English) translations also clearly show that "over a man" does not relate to "teach" but only to "exercise authority":
Ich erlaube aber einer Frau nicht, zu lehren noch über den Mann zu herrschen, sondern still zu sein.
But to teach I permit not a woman, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness.
In English, one does not say "teach over someone," but rather "teach someone"; therefore, "over the man" at the end of the verse can only relate to "exercise authority."
*End of note
9. Doesn't Titus 2:3-5 say that women can teach other women? If a woman has the gift of teaching, should she not teach?
It is important to emphasize several points in this passage (Titus 2:3-5) to understand its scope correctly.
First, this is an exhortation addressed to elder women. The women referred to here have life experience, particularly as wives and mothers. It is not merely about women who are "older than others" in a relative sense.
Also, there is no mention of spiritual gifting in Titus 2:3-5; it is about the responsibility of all elder women.
Next, the phrase "teaching of what is right" (Greek: kalodidaskalos) is noteworthy but should not be overinterpreted. Placed alongside "not slanderers" and "not enslaved to much wine," it seems to mean simply that what elder women say/communicate should be good and wholesome (as in Proverbs 31:26: "She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness"). This phrase does not describe a woman teaching "standing in front of an audience" or "behind a lectern" or "presenting the Word of God" (which would contradict 1 Timothy 2:12 and is not illustrated by any New Testament example). It refers more to practical teachings, not the exposition of the Word of God, as implied by the qualifier "of what is right."*
It is also important to distinguish between "admonish" ("that they may admonish") in Titus 2:4 and "teaching" ("I do not suffer a woman to teach") in 1 Timothy 2:12.
"To teach" (Greek: didasko) in 1 Timothy 2 is different from "admonish" (Greek: sophronizo) in Titus 2. These are two different words with different meanings.
"To teach" in 1 Timothy 2 involves "presenting the Word" to an audience and is not allowed for women, regardless of the audience.
According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, sophronizo (classified with sober/soberly/soberminded) means "to make one's mind sound," "to remind to self-control," "to discipline," or "to exhort seriously." It implies cultivating sound judgment and prudence.
Another dictionary provides definitions such as: 1) to bring someone to their senses, 2) to moderate, control, restrain, discipline, 3) to keep someone to their duty, 4) to reprove, exhort earnestly.
We understand that Paul is referring to practical advice for the personal lives of younger sisters within marriages and families. Loving one's husband is a practical matter, knowing how to be there for him; living wisely and purely are exhortations not to engage in the ways of this impure world – it is not a matter of interpreting or explaining the Bible. It's interesting to note that Paul does not say that the Word of God should be interpreted/explained by elder sisters but that the consequence of their good behavior (instruction) is that the Word of God may not be blasphemed.
Admonition is not a lesser activity in its usefulness. Many current needs might find answers through this service.
We also mention that another Greek word, paideuo, is sometimes translated as "teach" and other times as "instruct." It refers more to practical, non-doctrinal teaching, such as that given to children: matters of good conduct, manners, obedience, and respect due to parents, diligence in study, with a view to future results. For example, see Titus 2:12; Acts 7:22; Acts 22:3.
Finally, it should be noted that the topics discussed between older and younger women in Titus 2 are related to family life.
To reiterate, Titus 2:3-5 does not refer to spiritual gifting, but rather to the responsibility of all elder women. We do not see any example in the New Testament of a believing woman teaching the Word or having the gift to do so. The Lord will not give women gifts that He does not permit them to exercise.
We are not discussing here a believing mother's role in relation to her children, as seen in Proverbs 6:20-21. Moreover, the example of Jezebel, a prophetess who taught (Revelation 2:20), serves as a warning.
If we understand that the woman is called to illustrate the place and characteristics of the Assembly (Ephesians 5:22-33), we will easily grasp the distinction we are trying to explain: just as the Assembly does not teach (it is taught, see 1 Corinthians 14:36-37) but is "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), so the woman has not received from God the role of teaching (doctrinal teaching) the Word (regardless of the composition of the audience) but is called to be its living manifestation.
*End of note
10. But don't we see prophetesses in the Bible? (Mary, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, the daughters of Philip)
Yes, but we must not confuse "to teach" and "to prophesy" (also read Romans 12:6-8). Prophesying is delivering a word from the Lord, appropriate for the moment. This could simply be a word of encouragement (1 Corinthians 14:3) given to another sister. Prophecy should be distinguished from teaching. Teaching involves explaining a Bible verse or a truth from the Word of God; it is "presenting the Word."
Women can prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5).
Additionally, citing examples from the Old Testament is not decisive in examining this question because it represents a distinct dispensation different from the New Testament. The actions of Deborah and Huldah do not justify women teaching in our time. It should be noted that in the cases of Deborah (Judges 4:4-5) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 or 2 Chronicles 34:22), it was men who came to consult them where they lived. They did not assume authority on their own. The fact that women prophesied on these occasions only underscores the spiritual weakness of men in those times and should not encourage us to push Christian women to take on roles that God has assigned to them in His wisdom. In the New Testament, there are no examples of women taking on responsibilities in place of men who have failed, nor are women invited by the apostles to take the place of men in teaching and prophesying.
The four daughters of Philip prophesied but did not teach (Acts 21:9). Notably, they were not used to warn Paul, even though there apparently were no men present who could have done this on their behalf. Instead, the Lord expressly arranged for a prophet from Jerusalem, Agabus, to make the journey to Caesarea to deliver this prophecy (Acts 21:10-11).
Exodus 15:20-21 (Miriam)
Judges 4-5 (Deborah)
2 Kings 22:8-20 or 2 Chronicles 34:14-28 (Huldah)
Luke 2:36-38 (Anna)
Acts 21:9 (Daughters of Philip)
1 Corinthians 11:5
11. So, can women gather among themselves for women's meetings? Do they not have a significant role in assembly life?
1 Corinthians 11 mentions women praying or prophesying. This cannot be within the assembly (as it would contradict 1 Corinthians 14:34-35) or in the presence of men (as it would contradict 1 Timothy 2:8, where it says that men should pray). We can understand that this applies within a circle of women or with children. In such cases, women can speak on behalf of the Lord (prophesy) or pray while covering their heads.
Generally in Scripture, women speak in a family or private setting, not in a public one.
Sisters have had and continue to have a significant role in the life of the assembly. However, women/sisters are never exhorted in connection with the life of the assembly itself, nor do we see them acting as a distinct group in relation to the life of the assembly. Acts 1:14 and Acts 21:5 show them associated with men/brothers, and 1 Timothy 2:8-14 places them in a subordinate role compared to men; only Titus 2:3-5 provides exhortations to elder women, especially concerning their relationship with younger women. 1 Timothy 5:13-15 also warns about certain behaviors among women.
As for the question of whether Scripture justifies women gathering in conferences as sisters in the faith, we can say that there is no biblical example of women gathering in this way in public meetings. However, there are many opportunities for sisters to visit each other. It is entirely desirable and appropriate for women to discuss the Word of God among themselves. We can only encourage sisters to do so in the spirit and manner that the Bible presents. Of course, it is also good for women who visit each other to pray together, with their heads covered (see further below). Similarly, exposing children to the Bible, praying and singing with them, is a service suitable for women, primarily with their own children in the home, but possibly also with other children in a different setting. In this regard, they should do it in the spirit and manner that the Bible presents.
During a women's meeting, it is customary for some women to speak. Since the topics are related to faith and often involve discussing Bible verses, there is, at least in essence, a form of "preaching." And if they discuss certain biblical verses, there is, at least in essence, teaching. However, these "teachings" do not have the approval of the Word of God. On the contrary, God does not permit women to teach (1 Timothy 2:12).
We are aware of the existence of a movement like "Lydia," which encourages women to pray for the Church, the country, and the world, and is based on Acts 16:13.
However, we note the following points concerning this passage:
- Paul and his companions typically first went to the synagogue of the newly visited city. However, there does not appear to have been a synagogue in Philippi because the Jewish representation there was very weak (and likely in the absence of men), so they gathered by the river (perhaps also for purification and ablutions).
- Nothing indicates that the intention was for there to be only women.
- This was not on Christian ground but rather Jewish at that time.
Therefore, this passage does not allow us to draw conclusions for the Christian era. There are no other examples in the New Testament. At the end of the chapter, we read that by then, there were also brethren at Lydia's house (Acts 16:40).
End of note.
1 Corinthians 11,2-16 ; 14,34-35
1 Timothy 2,8-14
12. But aren't we reducing assembly life to assembly meetings by having reservations about meetings or conferences for sisters?
The counter-argument that "we limit assembly life to meetings" is somewhat of a shortcut.
Indeed, according to Scripture, we can disapprove of sisters teaching (in the sense of 1 Timothy 2:12) or taking on a public role, while fully approving of older women instructing younger ones in private on all matters of family life, and sisters visiting each other to exchange on the Word of God and pray together. This is not within the context of assembly meetings. Such interactions will undoubtedly be beneficial for the life of the assembly.
We should certainly rejoice when sisters exercise the gifts of grace that the Lord has entrusted to them in their respective roles.
We would like to mention the Second Epistle of John here.
It is exceptional in that it is the only epistle addressed to a woman. This already shows the interest and consideration that an apostle (and the Holy Spirit inspiring him) had for a Christian woman.
Two things stand out in this epistle:
- The positive appreciation of the walk of the children of "the elect lady": they walked in truth (v.4). This seems to confirm that the primary responsibility for a believing mother is the walk of her own children. What joy it is for a mother to see her children walk with and according to the Lord!
- The woman's responsibility regarding Christian doctrine (v.10): she is exhorted to the utmost firmness in relation to what is not "the doctrine of Christ." This exhortation implies that she was called to know this doctrine in order to be able to identify what was not. The details of this exhortation ("do not receive him into your house nor greet him") confirm that the woman's responsibility was related to her home and individual relationships. She was not called to refute false teaching through positive teaching, preaching, or writing a document.
13. Can women not participate in the administration of the assembly?
As with public ministry, we also understand that women did not have a place in the administration of a local assembly or in the order of things in the assembly. There were two types of local responsibilities: elders (or overseers) and deacons. Elders (or overseers) and deacons had to be married men, husbands of one wife. It explicitly and exclusively mentions men in this context.
The qualifications of an elder are outlined in 1 Timothy 3, and the character of those who were to be appointed to this function in Titus 1. In none of these passages is there any mention of their wives; however, when the qualifications of a deacon are listed in 1 Timothy 3, the appropriate behavior of their wives is described. Why this difference: this silence in one case and the mention of them in the other? Was it not because the wives of elders could not participate in the administration of the assembly (even indirectly), but concerning deacons, their wives could assist their husbands in their tasks related to the temporal needs of the saints?
Some consider them as deaconesses (see the case of Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2) and not necessarily the wives of deacons. Regardless of the viewpoint adopted, what is stated above remains valid. There was a sphere in which women could be helpful, and there was another in which they had no role.
*End of note
14. But when should women cover their heads?
They cover their heads primarily when they pray (aloud with other sisters or children) or prophesy.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
15. Is it necessary for women to cover their heads during assembly meetings (since they do not pray or speak)?
Can we use 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to explain that women should cover their heads during assembly meetings? This is not the direct teaching of this passage because it is not because she is praying that a sister should cover her head during assembly meetings. During assembly meetings, she does not pray in the sense of 1 Corinthians 11; she is not allowed to speak on such occasions. However, we can draw at least three conclusions from this passage that recommend or justify that women cover their heads during assembly meetings.
The first reason is "on account of the angels" (v.10).
Ephesians 3:10 states that the manifold wisdom of God is made known through the assembly to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. At first glance, this verse tells us that it is only through the existence of the assembly, not just by its gathering. But when the assembly gathers, it is a special opportunity for it to show the divine order of creation (in relation to the assembly on earth) to the angelic world that observes it. So, here is an argument: when the assembly gathers as such, it is an ideal opportunity to clearly demonstrate the truth and make it visible to the angels.
The second reason is that "woman is man’s glory" (v.7).
Is the glory of man supposed to be visible in the assembly? No, it is not the glory of man that should be seen but the glory of Christ. The conclusion is, therefore, that a woman covers herself in the assembly so that the glory of man is not visible through her.
The third reason is that a woman's hair is her glory (v.15).
Should the glory of a woman be visible in the assembly? The answer is "no" again, and the conclusion is that she covers herself in the assembly.
These are three arguments that emerge from this passage and help us understand why women cover their heads during assembly meetings.
It is a sign of the authority to which she is subject, for the intelligent creation (angels and humans) that watches. And when she comes into contact with divine things, such as during assembly meetings, it is a good opportunity to show it. In this sense, it is not directly for God that she does it.
When we mention the angels, it is about what they see and hear. Unlike God, who looks at the heart, angels do not see into the heart but only see what we do. Therefore, we ultimately represent the order of creation not directly before God but before this intelligent creation that watches, i.e., angels and humans. This answers the remark we sometimes hear, "Why should I manifest myself as a woman in external matters since God looks at the heart?"
We also mention the following reflections:
a) 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 falls between the Lord's Table (1 Corinthians 10) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17 and following).
b) The part that deals with assembly meetings (1 Corinthians 11-14) is framed by indications about order (11:2-16; 14:34 and following).
c) When we gather, we are an assembly characterized, among other things, by prayer and prophecy (cf. Colossians 3:16; Acts 2:42, etc.).
In this sense, one can understand the attitude a woman may have in covering her head on other more or less public occasions, such as youth conferences, funerals, Bible studies, conferences on missionary work, where there are prayers and the preaching of the Word of God.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
16. What does head covering mean? Should a woman always do it?
By covering her head, as stated in 1 Corinthians 11:10, a woman shows that she accepts the authority that God has placed over her. "Therefore ought the woman to have authority on her head, on account of the angels." Literally, this means "ought to have authority on her head," which is to say, a symbol of the authority to which she is subject (see verse 3). The act of covering the head applies to both unmarried and married women. In these verses of 1 Corinthians 11 (as well as in 1 Timothy 2:8-12), it speaks of man in general and woman in general. A woman must acknowledge the authority of man in general. Therefore, she covers her head to show that she acknowledges it.
"But woman, if she have long hair, [it is] glory to her; for the long hair is given [to her] in lieu of a veil" (1 Corinthians 11:15).
This verse shows that a woman is not always required to wear a veil. Hair has been given as a covering, with "as a covering" meaning "in place of" or "to replace." Hair is like an ornament provided by nature to cover a woman's head. It is not referring to what covers the head, as discussed in the preceding verses. Thus, it is important to distinguish between the "natural covering" (the hair) and the item (scarf, hat, or other) with which a woman covers her head by faith and in a spirit of submission on specific occasions.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
17. Why is it said that women should have long hair?
"But woman, if she have long hair, [it is] glory to her " (1 Corinthians 11:15).
What does "long hair" for women mean? Nature teaches that it is a glory for her.
1 Corinthians 11:5-6 and 14-15 present "long hair" in contrast to shaved or cut hair.
In verse 5, it uses "shaved," in Greek "xyrao." The same verb appears in verse 6, along with the word "cut" (or "shorn"), in Greek "keiro." This juxtaposition suggests that there is no fundamental difference between "xyrao" and "keiro." The words are almost interchangeable, as confirmed by Acts 21:24, where Jews had their hair shaved (Greek "xyrao") as part of a vow (likely the Nazirite vow, Numbers 6:18), and Acts 18:18, where Luke uses the verb "keiro" in a similar incident. The third passage where the word "keiro" appears in the New Testament is Acts 8:32, referring to the silent lamb before the one shearing it (a quote from Isaiah 53:7).
It appears that despite the similarity between "xyrao" and "keiro," the text of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 shows that "xyrao" goes further than "keiro," as if "xyrao" is stronger than "keiro."
Considering other passages, women had clearly long hair (not just "not shaved" or "not shorn" but long hair that grows freely). Often, the Spirit of God speaks in absolute terms and designates extremes (here, shaved or cut hair). It does not say that a woman may have her hair cut or short (without going to the extreme of shaving or shearing), nor does it say that she should not cut her hair at all. Other passages help us understand what "long hair" or "women's hair" means (Revelation 9:8).
In Ezekiel 44:20, three things are mentioned regarding the hair of the priest in the Millennium that are related to a woman's hair:
- "Neither shall they shave their heads." A sister should not do this either (1 Corinthians 11:6). Shaved hair has always been a sign of shame and humiliation.
- "... nor suffer their locks to grow long." The priests should not let their hair grow long, while "long hair" is a glory for a woman.
- "They shall duly poll their heads." This is what a woman should not do according to 1 Corinthians 11:6, as it is a shame (dishonor) for a woman to have her hair cut or shorn ("cut," Greek "keiro," which also means "shorn").
Consider the Nazirite law in Numbers 6 and Judges 13. The Nazirite law is presented in Numbers 6 under three aspects:
- In verse 3, he must abstain from wine and strong drink.
- In verse 5, he must let the hair of his head grow long.
- In verse 6, he must not go near a dead body.
The Nazirite, who consecrates himself to God for a certain time, takes a position of submission, which fundamentally corresponds to a woman's role throughout her life. Therefore, during this period, he must let his hair grow long. In other words, he must do for a time what a woman always does, as an outward sign of his dependence and voluntary submission to God's authority. It is precisely this submission that characterizes women in 1 Corinthians 11. They cover their heads, thus acknowledging an authority over them (verse 10). They obey and submit. But if they are not willing to do so, they do not cover their heads and may as well cut their hair. This was shameful in those days and should still be today, we believe.
Now consider the case of a Nazirite. In Judges 13, a child is announced to the parents of Samson, Manoah, and his wife. This son was to be a Nazirite, a man separated for God. Notice what is said to his mother. In verses 4, 7, and 14, she is told not to drink wine or strong drink and not to eat anything unclean. Thus, she is commanded, as the mother of the Nazirite, the same things that apply to the Nazirite himself in Numbers 6. But one thing that is addressed to the Nazirite in Numbers 6 is not mentioned for his mother, who should let her hair grow long. Why not? Did God forget her? No, God did not forget her, but God assumes that a woman's hair grows freely, without being cut. This explains why the apostle writes: "Does not nature itself teach you that... if a woman has long hair, it is her glory" (1 Cor 11:14-15).
Two more examples of how women used their hair for the glory of the Lord Jesus: Mary in John 12:3 and the sinful woman in Luke 7:38. They anointed the feet of the Lord Jesus and wiped them with their hair. In those days, it was not a problem because women did not cut their hair. A woman with short hair cannot wipe the feet of the Lord Jesus in that way. She would not have "hair as women’s hair" (see Revelation 9:8).
We understand that there are specific situations, such as health reasons (cancer, thyroid issues, disabilities, etc.), that may force a woman to cut her hair.
Therefore, Scripture emphasizes the long hair of women. It then adds that it is her glory. The word "glory," "doxa" in the original Greek, means the expression of glory. We use "doxologies" in Scripture for expressions of worship to God. Long hair is a glory for a woman.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16