The Position and Ministry of Sisters

We do not admit that men are competent to decide this question. What saith the Scripture?

The second verse of the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians really begins a new section of the Epistle, and here the Apostle takes up matters concerning the relative position of men and women in the church. The first part of the chapter, as far as verse 16, does not deal with meetings of the assembly as such. For the mention in this part of the chapter of the prophesying by a woman would be contradictory to the command in 14. 34, as to the silence of sisters in assembly gatherings. Verses 2 to 11, then, in this chapter do not deal with the exercise of ministry on those occasions. The coming together is freshly introduced in verses 17, 18, and the phrases, “ye come together” and “when ye come together in the church” (lit., “in church,” i.e., as a company assembled) make this clear.

The Apostle introduces the subject by a threefold statement regarding headships. “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

These statements form the basis of injunctions concerning gatherings of believers, that the heads of men are to be uncovered and those of women are to be veiled. The reasons given are connected with the creation of man: “For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, for as much as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”

The reference is to the Divine designs regarding authority and subjection; there is no suggestion of any distinction between men and women in their individual relation to Christ as believers. In that respect there is equality: “Neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord” (verse 11).

In regard, however, to the subject dealt with in the first part of the chapter, it is otherwise. Under the Headship of Christ man acts in his capacity as “the image and glory of God.” He is not only a visible representation (image) of God, but is in himself a manifestation of God’s excellence. There may be a representation without glory; or there may be a manifestation of glory without a visible representation. Both are combined in man.

“The woman is the glory of the man.” This signifies that without her there is not the full manifestation of what the man is. She is his counterpart and complement. The woman, too, sets forth the higher relationship of the Church to Christ. When Rebekah learned from her servant that the man who was walking in the field to meet them was his master, “she took her veil and covered herself” (Gen. 24. 65), not only as an indication of her position with regard to him who was to become her husband, but as an intimation that her beauty was for him alone. The Church is not only derived from Christ, but is designed to be set apart entirely for Him.

In a gathering of the saints, then, the veiled head of the woman symbolizes the Headship of Christ and the subjection of the Church to Him. Her place of subordination is thus at the same time a position of glory and honour. It is one of subordination indeed, “for the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (verses 8 and 9). What the woman possesses is derived from him. Eve was formed from Adam; she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh (Gen. 2. 23). Her name “Isshah” was derived from his, “Ish.”

Obviously the present passage does not state that women are to veil their heads at a given time during the gathering, for their heads are to be veiled throughout the whole time of a meeting. There is an additional reason: “For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels” (ver. 10, R.V.).

The witness given to the angels in the display of the Divine counsels of grace is of the utmost importance in God’s sight. The Lord is now making known, through the Church, “unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places … the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3. 10). The veiled condition of the woman, then, betokens the authority of Christ. She has a twofold covering. There is the temporary one, that of the veil put on for the immediate purpose, and there is the permanent one consisting of her long hair. “Doth not even nature itself teach you that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonour to him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” The glory of a Christian woman is seen in this, that by her long hair she symbolically sets forth the Headship of Christ and the subjection of the Church to Him.

(To be concluded in the next issue).


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