Prayers God Will Not Hear:
In an ongoing series entitled, “Prayers God Will Not Hear,” there have been examinations of prayer offered by unloving husbands, hypocrites, and those that consist of vain repetitions. Who knew that God doesn’t listen to every single prayer uttered from bended knees? Now, what has turned into a troubled search party finds itself at the feet of the apostle Paul. It is in 1 Corinthians 11 that this search party finds some controversial and very unsettling facts about prayers offered by both men and women. Keep reading to discover yet another prayer that falls on deaf ears in heaven.
The stage of 1 Cor. 11 needs introduction before any discussion of prayer takes place. Paul is writing to Corinth about problems in the church relayed to him in a letter of correspondence (1:11; 5:1; 7:1; 8:1). Paul’s letter of 1 Corinthians abruptly progresses from one problematic issue to the next until 1 Cor. 11:2, at which point he starts with, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” The things Paul is about to say are not culturally relative. Paul is not speaking on his own authority but the authority of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (11:23 & 14:37). To be sure on the nature of things spoken in v. 2-15, Paul book ends the discussion with, “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God,” (11:16- NASB, NIV, HCSB). This is important to note, because much commentary on 1 Cor. 11:2-16 dismisses the instruction of Paul based on platforms of cultural limitation and even misogyny. Paul instead speaks pressing words of God, words that are transcultural in nature, and words that are just as much “apostle’s doctrine” (Acts 2:42) as the Lord’s supper instruction that follows.
Now, let’s get into what Paul says about prayer. Prayer is mentioned in verses 4, 5 and 13. In these verses men and women both are informed that their prayers are hindered or heard based on what they do with their physical head.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. (1 Cor. 11:4-5)
Whatever the “covering” is, it has to be on the head of women and not on the head of men in order for their prayers to be heard. The covering is not an artificial veil as some call it (i.e. a cloth that lies on the head). No, verse 15 makes this point too clear, “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” The covering is the natural hair that grows on men and women’s heads. So far, and for whatever reason, it sounds like God refuses to hear prayers from men with hair and women without hair. Keep following along.
Must men shave their heads bald? And what about women? How long is “long hair” as stated in 1 Cor. 11:15? Let’s start with women. Many would have Paul teaching that women can cut their hair; the hair just has to remain “long.” If this is true then the margin for interpretation has no limitations. The answer to this debacle goes deeper than the surface. Paul, writing in Greek and not English, is not telling women they have to possess something (long hair; adjective + noun). Paul is telling women they have to do something (grow the hair long; verb). In fact, the grammatical construct of the Greek verb translated “have long hair” (v. 14) literally means, “keep on growing the hair long.” There is no single English word that effectively captures the meaning of the one Greek word used in v. 15 (komao), making the punch of Paul’s command volatile to abuse by many who consider only the English translation. Thankfully, one doesn’t have to be a Greek expert to understand this concept as Numbers 6:5 and Ezekiel 44:20 simplify what it means to have long hair or keep growing the hair long. The idea is uninterrupted growing of the hair, or as one Greek dictionary states, “uncut hair” (Louw & Nida). Men on the other hand, if they want their prayers heard, must get regular haircuts so as to not have their hair, “Hanging down from the head.” After all, that is what it literally means for a man to pray, “Having his head covered,” (v. 4). Men do not have to shave their head bald it would seem, but they cannot let their hair grow uncut, uninterrupted, and to the point that it is hanging down from the head. In other words, whatever woman is supposed to do, man does the opposite. Paul’s choice of words describing how men’s hair should be maintained is slightly subjective, though more objective than if he had just said, “short hair.” He doesn’t give a ruler measurement, but neither does he leave it an absolute mystery. Summarizing then, the command to women is to pray while letting her hair grow uninterrupted; while the command to men is to pray with short, cut hair, not hanging down from the head. If either refuse this instruction, Paul makes clear the ultimate fallout in the surrounding passages.
Rarely are God’s commands arbitrary. The commands in 1 Cor. 11:2-16 have weighty symbolization much like the Lord’s supper found in v. 17-34. This symbolization finds its significance in two sets of verses: v. 3 and v. 7-12.
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. (v. 3)
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (v. 7)
What better item would reflect one’s spiritual head than one’s physical head? God’s wisdom is on display here. No, God has not designed some arbitrary command to make life harder for women and/or men. He has designed a purposeful command that reflects the nature of submission and headship existential within the trinity and toward the trinity. The hair commands are much like the marriage commands of submission and headship. Both reflect the submission that should be ongoing between the church and Jesus Christ. This seems to be Paul’s thrust in Ephesians 5:32 about submission in marriage, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” When it comes down to the nitty gritty, a man who dishonors his spiritual head by letting his hair grow continuously is actually denying the trinity (1 Cor. 11:4). A woman who dishonors her spiritual head by not letting her hair grow continuously is actually denying the trinity as well (v. 5). Both are an abomination so much so that Paul implies their prayers will go unheard (v. 4, 5, 13).
May husbands love their wives as Christ loves the church. May women submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. And may both properly care for the hair of their head so that all may see and have an accurate understanding of the trinity and our submission to Him.