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It’s troubling when people misuse scripture to subordinate and repress women, and, conversely, to elevate men. The misunderstanding and misuse of 1 Corinthians 11:9 in this regard especially concerns me.

“. . . neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” (1 Cor. 11:9).

One-sided Service?

Some Christians believe that this verse teaches that women were made solely to serve men, and that men do not have a reciprocal responsibility or obligation to help women. They hold this belief despite the fact that Jesus taught about sacrificial service, and demonstrated this to his followers (Mark 10:45). They hold to this belief despite the fact that Paul specifically told husbands they should act sacrificially and with loving care towards their wives (Eph. 5:25, 28-29).

The Context of Origin

The context of 1 Corinthians 11:9 is creation and origin. In particular, this verse alludes to the Genesis 2 creation account where we read that the first woman was made from a part that was taken out of the first man’s body (Gen. 2:21-22).  Echoing this creation story, verse 9 is prefaced with:

“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man . . .” (1 Cor. 11:8).

Aloneness vs Companionship and Mutuality

Genesis 2 does indeed tell us that the first woman was created for the sake of the first man—to rescue him from being alone (Gen. 2:18).[1] Paul goes on in his letter to the Corinthians, however, to provide more comprehensive statements about the relationship between men and women, in particular, those who are “in the Lord”.[2]

“Nevertheless (or, except that), in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12, italics added).

Paul points out that, even though the first woman came from the first man, every other man has been born of a woman. Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 negate the notion that a gender hierarchy or priority is implicit in the created order. In no way does he acknowledge that there is any significance in being made first (cf. Mark 10:31).

“In the Lord”

1 Corinthians 11:8-9 must not be read as an isolated text. It must be read and understood within its context, which includes the verses that follow it, and it must be interpreted with an appreciation of what it means to be in the Lord .

In Galatians, Paul wrote that in the Lord, or, more precisely, in Christ, there is neither male and female (Gal. 3:28).[3] When we are in Christ, we have a new identity; gender distinctions remain but they lose their significance. In Second Corinthians, Paul wrote that we are not to regard each other primarily “according to the flesh” because we are now in Christ and part of the New Creation (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Rather than regarding our brothers and sisters “according to the flesh,” we should regard them as in the Lord and we should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

“One Another”

Service and submission is not the sole responsibility of women. All of us, women and men, are to serve one another (Gal. 5:13-14), submit to one another, and rescue one another from being alone. Mutuality, not hierarchy, is the New Creation paradigm.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  All this is from God . . . (2 Cor. 5:16-18a ESV).


Endnotes

[1] I’m not game to word it quite like this, but respected scholar Kenneth Bailey did when commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:9:
“It was not Eve who was lonely, unable to manage and needed help. Instead, it was Adam who could not manage alone . . .”
Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 310.

[2] The overall context of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about origins and appropriate behaviour in corporate worship. It is not about marriage. More on this passage here.

[3] “Neither male and female” is an allusion to Genesis 1:27c.


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