[This is a continuation of the topic on the Role of Women in the Congregation.]
This article began as a comment in response to Eleasar’s thought-provoking, well-researched comment on the meaning of kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3.
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Co 11:3 BSB)
The reason I decided to convert it into an article was the realization that Eleasar’s conclusions are shared by a number of others. Since this has become more than an academic issue, and now has the potential of dividing our nascent congregation, I felt it would be better to deal with it as an article. Not everyone reads comments, so what is written here might be missed. With that in mind, I would invite all to read Eleasar’s comment before continuing with this article.
The real issue before the congregation is whether or not women should pray aloud in a congregation meeting where men are present. That might seem to be a non-issue since it is very clear from 1 Corinthians 11:4, 5 that Christian women did pray in the congregation in the first century. We can hardly deny them a right that was established in the early congregation without something very specific in Scripture to authorize such a decision.
Therefore, it seems—if I’m reading correctly the various comments, emails and meeting remarks I have seen and heard—that the quandary some feel relates to the issue of authority. They feel that praying in the congregation implies a level of authority over the group. One objection I’ve heard is that it would be wrong for a woman to pray on behalf of men. Those that promote this idea feel that the opening and closing prayers fall into the category of prayers on behalf of the congregation. These individuals seem to differentiate these two prayers from prayers that might be offered for special circumstances—praying for the sick, for instance—within the context of a meeting. Again, I’m putting all this together from various things that have been written and said, though no one has precisely articulated the scriptural reasons for their reticence in allowing women to pray within the congregation meeting arrangement.
For example, referring back to Eleasar’s comment, much is made about the belief that Paul’s use of the Greek word kephalē (head) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 relates to “authority” rather than “source”. However, no connection is made in the comment between that understanding and the fact clearly stated in the next verses (vs. 4 and 5) that women did indeed pray in the congregation. Since we cannot deny the fact they prayed, then the question becomes: Was Paul limiting in some way a woman’s participation in praying (and let’s not forget about prophesying) by his reference to headship? If so, why doesn’t he explicitly state what that limitation is? It would seem unfair were we to limit such an important aspect of worship based solely on inference.
Kephalē: Source or Authority?
From Eleasar’s comment, it seems that the preponderance of Bible scholars view kephalē as referring to “authority” and not “source”. Of course, the fact that a majority believes something is no basis for assuming it is true. We might say that the majority of scientists believe in evolution, and there is little doubt that the majority of Christians believe in the Trinity. However, I’m convinced that neither is true.
On the other hand, I am not suggesting that we should discount something simply because a majority believes it.
There is also the issue of our tendency to accept what someone says who is more learned than we are. Is that not the reason the average “man in the street” accepts evolution as fact?
If you look back at the prophets of ancient Israel together with the fishermen making up the Lord’s apostles, you see that often Jehovah selected the most ignoble, lowly and despised of individuals to bring wise men to shame. (Luke 10:21; 1 Corinthians 1:27)
Given this, we do well to look at Scripture ourselves, do our own research, and let the spirit guide us. After all, this is the only way for us to discern what motivates us, whether male or female.
For instance, almost every scholar engaged in Bible translation has rendered Hebrews 13:17 as “Obey your leaders”, or words to that effect—the NIV being the notable exception. The word in Greek translated in this verse as “obey” is peithó, and is defined as “to persuade, to have confidence, to urge”. So why don’t these Bible scholars render it that way? Why is it ubiquitously translated as “obey”? They do a good job with it elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures, so why not here? Could it be that the bias of a ruling class is at work here, seeking some Scriptural support for the authority they presume to wield over the flock of God?
The trouble with bias is its subtle nature. We are often biased quite unwittingly. Oh, we can see it easily enough in others, but are often blind to it in ourselves.
So, when the majority of scholars reject the meaning of kephalē as “source/origin”, but instead opt for “authority”, is this because that is where the scriptures lead, or because that is where they want them to lead?
It would be unfair to dismiss the research of these men simply as a result of male bias. Likewise, it would be unwise simply to accept their research on the assumption it is free of such bias. Such a bias is real and inbred.
Genesis 3:16 states that a woman’s yearning will be for the man. This disproportionate yearning is a result of the imbalance resulting from sin. As men, we acknowledge this fact. However, do we also acknowledge that in us, the male sex, another imbalance exists causing us to dominate the female? Do we think that just because we call ourselves Christian, we are free of every vestige of this imbalance? That would be a very dangerous assumption to make, for the easiest way to fall prey to a weakness is to believe we have conquered it entirely. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
Playing Devil’s Advocate
I have often found that the best way to test out an argument is to accept its premise and then take it to its logical extreme to see whether it will still hold water, or burst wide open.
Therefore, let us take the position that kephalē (head) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 does indeed refer to the authority each head holds.
The first is Jehovah. He has all authority. His authority is without limit. That is beyond dispute.
Jehovah has given Jesus “all authority in heaven and earth”. His authority, unlike Jehovah’s is limited. He has been given full authority for a limited period of time. It started upon this resurrection, and ends when he fulfills his task. (Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28)
However, Paul does not acknowledge this level of authority in this verse. He doesn’t say that Jesus is the head of all creation, the head of all the angels, the head of the congregation, the head of both men and women. He only says that he is the head of the man. He limits Jesus’ authority in this context to the authority he has over men. Jesus is not spoken of as the head of women, but only men.
It seems that Paul is talking about a special channel of authority or a chain of command, so to speak. The angels are not involved in this, even though Jesus holds authority over them. It would seem that is a different branch of authority. Men don’t have authority over angels and angels don’t have authority over men. Yet, Jesus has authority over both.
What is the nature of this authority?
At John 5:19 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Now if Jesus does nothing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing, it follows that men should not take the authority of headship to mean they rule the roost, as it were. Instead, their job—our job—is like that of Jesus, which is to see that what God wants gets done. The chain of command starts with God and goes through us. It doesn’t start with us.
Now, assuming that Paul is using kephalē to mean authority and not source, how does that impact the question of whether women can pray in the congregation? (Let us not get distracted. This is the only question we are seeking to answer here.) Does praying in the congregation require the one praying to hold a level of authority over the rest? If so, then our equating “head” with “authority” would eliminate women from praying. But here’s the rub: It would also eliminate men from praying.
“Brothers, not one of you is my head, so how could any of you presume to represent me in prayer?”
If praying on behalf of the congregation—something we claim applies when we open and close with prayer—implies authority, then men cannot do it. Only our head can do it, though I haven’t found an occasion in Scripture where Jesus even did that. Be that as it may, there is no indication that first century Christians designated a brother to stand and pray on behalf of the congregation. (Do a search for yourself using this token – pray* – in the Watchtower Library program.)
We have proof that men prayed in the congregation in the first century. We have proof that women prayed in the congregation in the first century. We have no proof that anyone, male or female, prayed on behalf of the congregation in the first century.
It appears that we are concerned about a custom we have inherited from our former religion which, in turn, inherited it from Christendom. Praying on behalf of the congregation implies a level of authority which I do not possess, assuming “head” to mean “authority”. Since I am not the head of any man, how can I presume to represent other men and pray to God in their stead?
If some argue that praying on behalf of the congregation does not imply that the man praying is exercising authority (headship) over the congregation and over other men, then how can they say it does if it is a woman doing the praying? What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.
If we accept that Paul is using kephalē (head) to refer to an authority hierarchy and that praying on behalf of the congregation involves headship, then I accept that a woman should not pray to God on behalf of the congregation. I accept that. I realize now that the men who have contended this point are right. However, they have not gone far enough. We have not gone far enough. I now realize that neither should a man pray on behalf of the congregation.
No man is my kephalē (my head). So by what right would any man presume to pray for me?
If God were physically present, and we were all sitting before him as his children, male and female, brother and sister, would anyone presume to speak to Father on our behalf, or would we all want to speak to him directly?
It is only through fire that ore is refined and the precious minerals locked within can come out. This question has been a trial for us, but I think that some great good has come out of it. Our goal, having left behind an extremely controlling, male-dominated religion, has been to wend our way back to the original faith established by our Lord and practiced in the early congregation.
It seems that many spoke up in the Corinthian congregation and Paul doesn’t discourage that. His only counsel was to go about it in an orderly manner. No one’s voice was to be silenced, but all things were to be done for building up of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 14:20-33)
Instead of following the model of Christendom and asking for a mature, prominent brother to open with prayer or close with prayer, why not start the meeting by asking if anyone would like to pray? And after he or she bears his or her soul in prayer, we could ask if anyone else would like to pray. And after that one prays, we could continue to ask until all who wished to had had their say. Each would not be praying on behalf of the congregation but would be expressing his or her own feelings aloud for all to hear. If we say “amen”, it’s merely to say that we agree with what was said.
In the first century, we are told:
“And they continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to associating together, to the taking of meals, and to prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
They ate together, including commemorating the Lord’s supper, they fellowshipped, they learned and they prayed. All this was part of their meetings, the worship.
I know this may seem odd, coming as we have from an extremely formalized way of worship. Long-established customs are hard to break with. But we must remember who established those customs. If they have not originated with God, and worse, if they are getting in the way of the worship that our Lord intended for us, then we must get rid of them.
If someone, after reading this, continues to believe that women should not be allowed to pray in the congregation, then please give us something concrete to go on in Scripture, because to now, we are still left with the fact established in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women did both pray and prophecy in the first century congregation.
May the peace of God be with us all.
Thanks Eric, I’m agreeing with your reasons given. Before I read your article, I had already reached a very similar conclusion. To me if God wanted the bible to only be read by legal minds or interpreted by legal minds, it would leave us normal folk with no hope and Easily exploited. Instead in his wisdom, he flipped it on its head and allowed anyone no matter their education level to grasp his words, as a loving father would. Jesus once said , tradition made Gods words invalid. Mark 7:13 Thus you nullify the word of God by the tradition… Read more »
Okay, so far so good. This all works out well for congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but what about the rest of the world? Personally I would rather have a straight Woman praying for the congregation than a gay man , transgender, lesbian or whatever other kind of alternates there are out there. I’m not gay, I don’t believe in being gay, so I don’t let them on the bus, not even to sit in the back. Am I being prejudice or am I following Bible principle? The point is, y’all are dealing with only one kind of congregation. Are you… Read more »
Hi Psalmbee, I hear you. I understand what you mean. I believe everyone on the bus should be free to share and learn if they want to. Isn’t that the loving thing to do? The point of Jesus’ teachings are to help us understand that there is a truth that everyone can know (John 8:31,32). Jesus said that everyone who wants to know will learn it if they keep trying. But learning is progressive, right? Anyone who is a fine cook or a computer programmer or a ballerina studies the tools of their arts and practices using them for a… Read more »
Hello Abigail, Thank you for hearing me, and may I say it’s always nice to be understood. Learning is progressive, You said, “The beautiful thing is that we will have many loving friends to help us find the way to the true life. Will you take my hand? I offer it to you.” Such a bold and humble offering…. “I’ll be on your side, you be on my side, I’ll take your hand, you take my hand, together we may get away”…. to the true life. I like the way true life sounds and thank you for calling it for… Read more »
Hola Meleti. Buenas tardes. Primeramente aprecio la oportunidad de servir como traductor de éstos importantes artículos para nuestros hermanos y hermanas de habla hispana. Después de leer los artículos originales, traducirlos e investigar sobre el tema en Español, concuerdo con lo expresado en los mismos. Sin embargo, solo me preocupa un hecho. Y lo menciono como tal: Hecho. En el primer siglo la tendencia de la sociedad era machista y el objetivo era mantener a la mujer doblegada a un segundo o tercer o más bajo plano. Parece ser que en algunas culturas un animal de labranza tenía más valor… Read more »
Hello Eric. I agree with You that there is no reason for our sisters not to pray at meetings. However, I think that the question of subordination is not decisive compared to the relationship of our sisters to our heavenly Father and our Savior. Jesus is the head of a Christian congregation, consisting of brothers and sisters who are on the same level with respect to their Lord. Brothers and sisters are equally loved and valuable in God’s eyes. IMO, the authority of a man over a woman concerns the marital arrangement. These marriage relationships are predicted in Genesis 3:16.… Read more »
Very well reasoned, Frankie!
Hello Frankie, I appreciate your comment very much because it is so clear and to the point. I am wondering how a man like you might feel if a woman prayed at a spiritual meeting, not on behalf of anyone, but in the way Brother Wilson suggested that men and women in the congregation could do…..here is his quote from his second article: “And after he or she bears his or her soul in prayer, we could ask if anyone else would like to pray. And after that one prays, we could continue to ask until all who wished to… Read more »
Abigail, you may be interested in my reply to Frankie:
I would love to hear more prayers from all my brothers and Sisters. Male, female, I think matters not at all. After all, does not what Paul said at Ga. 3:28 apply in this area also?
Amen to your comment.
Hello Abigail. Dear sister, thank you so for your nice words. I’ll try to answer some of your questions. You wrote: “It just goes to show that intellectual knowledge is not born from the Spirit, but love is, as we all know! It is so strange that so many scripturally studied men have so little love to help their sisters heal and feel empowered at this time!” Yes – ” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1). All knowledge is nothing without love – 1 Cor 13. I would be very pleased to hear some sister… Read more »
Frankie, thank you so much! You are a man of great love and compassion. I am so honored to receive your thoughts and your words. I bow my head in gratitude.
I’m glad if I pleased you. But in fact it was God’s work “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13). God Himself pleased you through His servant.
And if we do something good, it is thanks to our Lord, who says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
Abigail, we are in good hands.
Yes we are in good hands and thank you for sharing! I was going to say in my previous response to you that “Our Father is telling me that he cares about me through through your kindness,” or something like that.
I am glad you are a feeling person. I love the scripture at John 15:5. It is so profoundly moving.
Peace be with you,
Thank you Abigail, I am very pleased with your comments.
God bless you.
Hi Frankie. Lots of good thoughts in your comment, and those of everyone else. It is excellent to see everyone tackling a scriptural subject in such thoughtful ways. My 50 pence worth is as follows : The idea of women praying does not disturb me at all. I could learn a lot from hearing their prayers. Many of the prayers given by men often incorrectly presume on the views of the congregation. If someone is praying on behalf of others, they really should be thoughtful and reflect the general views of those ones. I won’t go into all the odd… Read more »
I have had similar concerns, Leonardo. How do we keep this from getting out of hand? When we meet on Sunday at noon Eastern standard Time, we set aside an hour for Bible reading and commentary. We have opened with prayer and closed with prayer until now as a way of book ending the formal meeting, since discussion goes on long afterwards. However, the only reason we started doing that was because that’s what we did when we were in the organization. I guess the idea is that we pray so that the spirit is with us in the meeting,… Read more »
Don’t worry Meleti, we know you are not a “Petecostal” type (as Leonardo Josephus mentioned he does not want want that kind of prayer session). I am being humorous, as that certainly is not your style, nor the style of the great majority of us who have prayed in the past in group settings. Thank you for encouraging us to take a leap of faith and feel like we will do what is right, and not abuse the privilege of prayer…. somehow in the same way as our Father knew that his son would succeed to be the Christ. Don’t… Read more »
Hello Everyone. I am interested in the Sunday meeting. Is it possible for a new member to join?
It is. I’ll send you the connection info by email.
Hello Leonardo Josephus, I so enjoyed reading your comment. Thank you very much for expressing your views. I am so loving this exchange with everyone on this subject topic because it allows us to think for ourselves and more deeply perhaps, since now we cannot just roll back the marble, or parrot a paragraph. I know what you mean about sometimes wondering about whether you should have said “amen” or not, according to the old structure, especially the intent of one who was giving some sort of concluding talk…..as a prayer. I appreciated your reference to 1 Kings 8:33. I… Read more »
Hello LJ, Thank you for notifying me of Solomon’s prayer in 1 King, Chapter 8. If you will, I will try to explain what I meant, maybe I used a bad wording. Prayer for the individual —————————– I think it is wrong to pray “in the name” of someone, and to actually replace the other before God. I cannot represent you before God because everyone is personally responsible to God for himself. I cannot stand before God and pray “in your name” instead of you, because I do not know in detail the state of your mind, your needs or… Read more »
Regarding your point, Frankie, “12 y.o. brother being an authority over a 70 y.o. sister” … in the late ’80’s as a very zealous new JW, I had the great pleasure of being mentored by a very zealous sister who was about 70. We were in a very small congregation. She was very active in the field as I wanted to be. (She was the example that led me to so many years as a pioneer.) As to be expected, as soon as she realized that I had dedicated my life to Jehovah, she stopped praying in front of me.… Read more »
Hello Lou, I value your insights and read them with great interest. I love to know that you missed that special older sister’s prayers after you were baptized. Females have something to offer males; that is why our Father made us male and female. I giggled to read “new light” as we all know what you mean by that ….but having a sense of humor is really, as you say, indicative of being pointed towards and then manifesting a much more freeing, loving, and spiritually greater understanding, is it not? I was thinking that Meleti is such a great force… Read more »
Thanks for your reply, Abigail. Glad I could lighten your day with a giggle.
Dear community The recent issue of our sisters’ contributing role during Beroean meetings of 17 November seemed to raise considerable hesitancy and a degree of confusion among attendees, myself included. From my point of view, brother Jose’s overview on the issue was insightful and fair-minded, prompting me to rethink the issue specifically in regard to offering prayer in behalf of the group. The following points are merely my understanding at this present time and form a preamble to the issue of offering prayer in behalf of the Beroean group. Free-will The principle of headship may not trump an individual’s expression… Read more »
Celestial, Thank you for contributing your extensive thoughts and opinions on this important matter. You wrote: “This reasoning was drawn upon for apostle Paul’s admonition that prohibited a sister from taking on an instructional role in a mixed gender Christian group. (1Cor 11:4-16; 14:33-35; 1Tim 2;8-15)” Have you read the first article, Understanding the Role of Women in God’s Family, that prompted this discussion? It addresses all these scriptures and shows that the Christian community has been misapplying the Scriptures to the congregation. Based on the current article you are commenting on, it is now my understanding that it would… Read more »
Hi Eric, Another subject well worth discussing. Here is what I found:- From an article “Hair coverings for married women” was the following :_ The origin of the tradition lies in the Sotah ritual, a ceremony described in the Bible that tests the fidelity of a woman accused of adultery. According to the Torah, the priest uncovers or unbraids the accused woman’s hair as part of the humiliation that precedes the ceremony (Numbers 5:18). From this, the Talmud (Ketuboth 72) concludes that under normal circumstances hair covering is a biblical requirement for women. So it is Jewish tradition that requires… Read more »
This was an interesting read with a lot of good scriptural reasoning. The fact that women prayed in worship settings is clear from 1 Cor 11:5. However, all the other stuff around that verse is pretty weird and almost unintelligible to a modern person. What does a head covering or male and female hair length have to do with this issue at all? And how does it relate to angels? A big part of the controversy has to do with our reading this text out of its cultural context. It’s not just that our understanding of kephalē is wrong, the… Read more »
Great that you also found this episode! A few months ago I started to listen to the Naked Bible Podcast, and this episode immediately caught my attention. I also asked my antiquity professor at college about it and he affirmed that hair was viewed as a part of the genitalia. If you want to read the articles about it, here they are! -Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering (Original article by Dr. Martin) http://www.jstor.org/stable/3268550 -Does περιβόλαιον Mean “Testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11:15? (Response by Dr. Goodacre) http://www.jstor.org/stable/41304207 -Περιβόλαιον… Read more »
Good to know there’s another fan of the Naked Bible podcast here in the community. And thanks for the article links. I haven’t taken the time to read them through yet. (Also, congratulations for being the first person to say “testicle” on an exJW Bible study forum, ha ha. I managed to avoid it. =)
Podcasts are really handy to make a good use of dead time, like when doing the dishes or laundry! I also love The Bible Project Podcast (https://thebibleproject.com/podcasts/the-bible-project-podcast/). Perhaps you already know it, but if you like The Naked Bible Podcast, I’m sure you will like this one also. And thanks for the dubious honour haha. I just don’t like political correctness. Maybe that’s because I’m Dutch. Nonetheless, I’ve never been to the States, so I don’t have a lot to compare with. I know a lot of Asian people though, and they think we are pretty straightforward haha. It’s a… Read more »
Thanks Eric. Christ is the head of the congregation not men. Ephesians 5:2 “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” The man is the head in the marriage arrangement, but even then it is only as a tiebreaker to resolve a 50/50 standoff, a situation that is rare in it Christian marriage. Usually there is a meeting of the minds and headship is not resorted to. I can’t see the necessity to impose a hierarchy, with mens headship to extend to… Read more »
The arguments meted here are rational and more importantly biblically sound. The point of headship is well reasoned, as far as I’m concerned and I believe that anyone in the Congregation could be called to pray publicly, The stipulation that Paul reminded us of was the woman’s recognition of men’s role of headship would have her see to it that her head was suitably covered. Of course, we don’t, all think alike. I suspect a number of men may not feel comfortable with this, believing that to allow women to pray, even though their heads are covered, might undermine their… Read more »
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