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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:3 The headship of man

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, April 14, 2023

3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

All of this chapter is about proper conduct in the worship service. Paul is about to touch on a subject no longer an issue today, which is the practice of women covering their heads while at church. We are blessed to have this subject before us because it helps us to understand many topics and examples that Paul doesn’t mention but which have become issues in later centuries. By taking up the subject of head coverings, Paul also explores a deeper question: What is the role of women in worship? “We believe that women may participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where that work involves authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11,12). This means that women may not serve as pastors nor participate in assemblies of the church in ways that exercise authority over men (1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:33-35).”

Paul begins his explanation with a reminder that we all live in positions that are subordinate in some way to someone else. Men (and women) are both subordinate to Christ. A woman is subordinate to man. But Christ, too, is subordinate: to God the Father.

Paul uses the word “head,” and “head” in this case means the position of authority. This was challenged openly (and eventually with much sin and blasphemy) throughout the twentieth century. The final result was the destruction of the social norm of the nuclear family and the marginalization of the male role in raising children. “You be you” has become the defiant cry of the post-feminism era we now live in, and “you be you” almost always means, “as long as ‘you’ are not a husband and father in a traditional family setting.”

But “head” is used throughout the Bible as the position of authority:

  • “The stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner” (Psalm 118:22).
  • “Each man the head of the house of his fathers” (Numbers 1:4).
  • “There shall be one rod for the head of each father’s house” (Numbers 17:3).
  • “Formerly Hazor was the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10).
  • “He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (Judges 10:18).
  • “Are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17).
  • “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub…” (Matthew 10:25).

And consider Paul’s own use of “head”:

  • “He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).
  • “(Christ) is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:10).
  • “(A false teacher) does not hold on to the head” (Colossians 2:19).
  • “God made Christ head over all things for the church” (Ephesians 1:22).
  • “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body.” (Ephesians 5:23).

The man’s headship is the reason for the woman’s submitting, that is to say, his authority. In God’s view, the male is suited for a higher degree of authority. This finds a more focused expression in the family when in marriage he becomes “her” man in particular.

This relationship has been there all along since creation. Paul applies the order of creation when he says to Timothy regarding teaching the authoritative word of God: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. Instead, she is to continue in a quiet manner. For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:12-13). Paul takes this doctrine of headship back to creation, therefore it stands as long as this world stands.

There will of course be exceptions. In the family, if the husband is struck down with dementia and the wife is able, she will take the leadership role. If an isolated Christian church has in it only men that are senile or completely incapable of teaching, it may at least temporarily be necessary for a woman to stand in as pastor of the group. But the group should certainly focus their study immediately on this very doctrine to understand collectively when her position would naturally come to an end, with reverence and respect and with thanks for her service, when a man might be able to be properly called by the congregation.

Returning to the specifics of our verse, notice that Paul establishes the correct point of view: The godly Christian man recognizes Christ as his Lord, his Savior. Paul is not speaking to pagans. The heathen reject God and are damned for it; what use is making them appear to be godly by forcing them to behave as if they are something that they are not? These verses are not for unbelievers; they are not for those who reject the authority of Scripture, who turn away from the triune God, or who scoff at the victory of the cross and empty tomb.

Paul also shows us that Christ himself, although the Son of God and equal in majesty with the Father, was himself subject to the Father and obeyed the Father’s will (Luke 22:42). So between the Christian man recognizing the headship of Christ and Christ himself recognizing the headship of the Father, Paul also shows that the woman is subject to the man. We pray that a godly woman would accept that if Christ could live so ideally and gloriously under the headship of the Father (yet in a fallen and sinful world), so also she would be willing to live under the headship of man, and especially her husband, and that she would even strive to do so ideally and gloriously even though both the world and the man are fallen and sinful.

“I am a friend to all who fear you, Lord;
to all who follow your precepts” (Psalm 119:62).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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