Two weeks ago, I was asked about a statement I had made about the Man being the priest in the home. I have searched the Scriptures and have not found a single reference to this. It is true that all priests were men, but it is also true that all priests were physical descendants of Aaron. What I did find out about the role of a husband and wife is partially covered in chapter 11. Before we go into specifics, this chapter is the first of four that deal with congregational issues such as worship, sharing the Lord’s Table, Spiritual Gifts and most importantly love.

This chapter, however, is very difficult to understand[i] for several reasons:

  1. Sha’ul seems to be dealing with hearsay evidence, not responding to a direct question;
  2. Unlike the other responses, Sha’ul does not give the specific issue;
  3. Sha’ul uses some obscure phrases that don’t seem to make complete sense;
  4. For most of the other issues we have been able to determine some historical or cultural context, that that is not the case with women wearing veils, or cutting their hair;
  5. It is possible that Sha’ul is quoting the congregation in this passage, and then responding. However, it is complete conjecture as to where the quote may be.

Let us go ahead and read the passage, and then we can talk about what we know for sure, some possible options for the vague parts, and then some ways of applying this to our lives.

[Read 1 Cor. 11:2 – 16] [ii]

Headship and Modesty

(Vs. 2-16) Verses 2 and 16 sandwich the entire section where Sha’ul starts by commending the congregation in Corinth for following the traditions he had passed on to them, and then ends by stating, “We have no such custom – nor do God’s communities.” In both cases, he seems to be saying that this part in the middle is about traditions or customs. As with every other case where Sha’ul addresses issues between the genders, he always brings equal correction toward both men and women. He goes back and forth between men and women about 7 different times in this section. However, there is one verse that seems to stand alone, (vs. 13). “Judge for yourselves – Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” So it would seem that there was a problem with the believing women in Corinth praying without a “head covering”.

So, what can we definitely see from this passage? We know from his letter to the Galatians, written approximately 5 years earlier, that there is no difference in value between men and women. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.” (Gal. 3:28) But from this passage in 1 Corinthians, we can see that there are still distinctions with regards to role and dress of men and women. In (vs. 3) the role of headship is given to the husband. In this Sha’ul is simply quoting from (Gen. 3:16), where Adonai states that “Your desire will be toward your husband, yet he must rule over you.” This role of leadership is a part of the fallen nature of the world currently. Additionally, this leadership only successfully works when the husband is fully submitted to Messiah, Yeshua. None of us think that Yeshua was of less value, because He submitted himself to the Father, so also the principle of a wife submitting to her husband has to do with function, and not value. This principle of submission is shown in several passages (Eph. 5:21-33, Col. 3: 18-23, 1 Pet. 3:1-7), but in every case it is balanced by commanding men to love their wives as Messiah loved and lay his life down for us.

Some have tried to say from (vs. 4) that a man must not pray or prophesy while wearing a Kippah or yarmulke. And for this reason, it is tradition to remove your hat when you enter a Catholic or Greek Orthodox church. However, the word here should be translated “veil” not “hat.” When Sha’ul speaks of the man being the “image and glory of God (vs. 7),” and that he should not “cover his head” or wear a veil, it may be that he was referring to Moses. Moses chose to wear a veil over his face because the glory of Adonai shone so brightly from him that the “skin of his face glistened” (Ex. 34:33-35). However, when Moses went back into the presence of Adonai, he removed the veil for prayer. If this was the case however, why does Sha’ul say that a woman must be veiled but not a man?

There is no consensus between the different commentators. David Stern explains that it seems that there seems to have been a problem of “forwardness and insubordination of Corinthian women.”[iii] Even within the congregation, the women seemed to be following worldly fashions and not dressing modestly. Verlyn Verbrugge mentions that it may simply have been because the congregations met in homes.[iv] In her home, a married woman was free to remove the veil, but since others were now invited in, this may have seemed a little forward. But in contrast to both these views, Michael Marlowe shows that there was no consistent Greek, Roman or Jewish customs with regards to head coverings, and this may simply be a tradition that Paul had passed on to the congregation.[v]

(Vs. 10) And what does Sha’ul mean that a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels? I honestly don’t know. Sha’ul and the congregation in Corinth seem to have had a mutual understanding, that we are not privy to. Sha’ul then balances the passage by showing, that while “the woman came from the man, so also the man comes through the woman.” All of us are reliant on each other, and all of us are reliant on God. One thing that we can know for sure, is that Paul has no problem with women praying or prophesying in a congregational setting if it is done respectfully and orderly (also see Acts 21:9).

Messiah’s Table

[Read 1 Cor. 11:17 – 34]

(Vs. 17-22) So while Sha’ul was able to praise the congregation for keeping the previous traditions, he now brings a judgement for how they are partaking of the Lord’s Table. From the context, everybody brought their own food, instead of bringing a plate to share. Those well-off were stuffing themselves and getting drunk, and the poor were going hungry. In (vs. 27), Sha’ul calls this behaviour “unworthy” and declares that they are “guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.”

Just as Sha’ul had already addressed pride in the previous chapters, so also he denounces the pride of the wealthy who are despising those who have less. There is no place for this sort of attitude within the congregation.

(Vs. 23-26) are quoted almost every time that we take Communion. What is interesting, is that Sha’ul states that he received this directly from Yeshua. Most scholars agree that Paul’s letters to the Galatians, the Thessalonians, the Corinthians and the Romans were all written prior to Mark’s Gospel (the first of the four to be written down).[vi] That makes this description of Yeshua’s Last Supper, the earliest version we have. In this tradition that was passed from Yeshua to Sha’ul, and Sha’ul to the congregation, we are proclaiming the new covenant of Messiah’s atoning death.

(Vs. 28-32) Sha’ul also warns the congregation that we must examine our lives prior to partaking in the Lord’s Table. A covenant is not something to enter lightly. Likewise, when we take the Matzah, and the fruit of the vine we are reminding ourselves of that wonderful covenant. Sha’ul even points out that sin opens us up to physical consequences of weakness, sickness and even death.[vii] When Yeshua said “Stop judging, so that you may not be judged” in (Matt 7:1), He continued to say that “with the judgement you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” This is partly what Sha’ul is saying. If we were honestly judging our own lives, then we would not be coming under Adonai’s correction and discipline. Now even in this discipline, we see that Adonai is demonstrating love toward us. The writer of Hebrews states, “All discipline seems painful at the moment—not joyful. But later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) Moses writes in (Deut. 8:5) that, “as a man disciplines his son, so Adonai [our] God disciplines” us. Discipline is always redemptive, meaning that Adonai’s desire in discipling us, is for us to return to Him, to repent, and do teshuvah.

Application and Conclusion

We know that the value and the way of salvation is the same of all people: men and women, Jews and Gentiles, Slaves and Free. However, we also know that Adonai maintains distinctions of roles and cultures. Men are not the same as women, Jews are not the same as Gentiles, and Yeshua said that we will “always have the poor with us,” and we should do good for them. (Mk. 14:7) We are all called to glorify Adonai in the way that He created us. How ever Adonai made us, in that way we must worship Him.

Also, we must judge and correct ourselves, or else we will be disciplined by Adonai. We are all called to be loving to one another, we are all called to live holy lives, and we are all called to be humble. The good news is that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the Day of Messiah Yeshua.” (Phil 1:6)

[i] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, pg. 350.

[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.

[iii] Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern, pg. 473.

[iv] Expositor’s, pg. 352.

[v] Headcovering Customs of the Ancient World, Michael Marlowe,


[vii] Stern, pg. 476.