Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one. 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7 However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
– 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
– 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Taking Culture into account: How do we take cultural issues into account when we interpret Scripture? Every portion of Scripture was written to people who lived in a particular culture. Culture includes a distinct set of values by which that community or group functions. Culture affects every aspect of life, from business to family. If we neglect to take into account the culture in which a Scriptural letter was written it would be easy to misinterpret what is being written because we would interpret that text in light of our own culture and what makes sense to us. The problem of course is that our culture operates very differently than the one it was written. The passages above represent issues that are written to the church in Corinth. The question is how does culture help us or hurt us when it comes to understanding what is intended and more importantly how do we translate that into principles that would help us understand the significance of the text for us today? These are large sections of text, I apologize for including them both but I want you to see the significance of what I am sharing with you. Both have different nuances of interpretation but often culture comes into the discussion on both. We certainly cannot deal with everything but here are some things to think about.
Culture and 1 Corinthians 8: The text clearly show how Paul speaks into a cultural issue. He speaks of food offered to idols and how those who come out of that lifestyle when they believe God’s promise in Christ often struggle with the values of their culture and their new found Christian values. The issue here is food offered to idols. If you are unfamiliar with how this dilemma even occurs it appears that certain entrepreneurs would secure the best food offered to idols and open up their own restaurants and serve excellent food to the community. These idols would be false gods, at least for the Christians and it would really bother new believers who came out of that lifestyle to see other Christians eating this food that had been offered up to false gods.
Paul explains that having proper understanding of what is real and what is not real is important. Some realize that idols are nothing and so they enjoy the fantastic food served in the pagan restaurant. For some however, coming out of that culture and seeing another believer eating food offered to the pagan gods that he once worshipped would be quite disturbing. We cannot get in to all the details but Paul is clearly addressing how a cultural issue can cause one Christian exercising their freedom can trip up another believer. What is important here is that Paul explains some clear principles that should guide our decisions when exercising our freedom in light of the dilemma of causing another believer to stumble. His basic instruction is that it is better to choose the fellowship with others over my freedom to enjoy that which I might have every right to enjoy without offending God. One believer does not have the same knowledge and conviction about this issue that another believer has. One has freedom, the other stumbles.
Culture and 1 Corinthians 11: Culture affects this passage too but differently. Some commentators propose that temple prostitutes would not wear head coverings as a seductive attraction for pagan worship. In order to avoid those issues the women were expected to wear head coverings when the church came together to worship to counter the immoral behaviors of temple worship. Unlike the way he addresses food offered to idols in chapter eight, Paul never mentions specifically the culture problem of how temple prostitutes do these things in his discussion. The other component that tends to complicate this issue is the illustration Paul uses to make his point about men with short hair and women with long hair. Some interpret the “long hair for women” as fulfilling the spirit of his teaching and thus, problem solved. Again, there appears to be a cultural issue (so it seems) and thus directs many to conclude that maybe all Paul is doing is addressing what is appropriate attire when the church gathers.
However, the one component that is very different from 1 Corinthians 8 is that Paul does NOT build his argument by pointing out the flaws of cultural practice (e.g. idols are not real). Instead he argues this practice is based on the theology of a divinely ordered headship, (3-7), how God created men and women (8-12), the presence of angels (10) and an illustration from nature (hair) between men and women. The real question is what is the real issue here? Is Paul arguing for certain traditions in worship when the church gathers (v. 2) or for how the church truly honors the divinely ordered headship (v. 3, 7)?
Paul’s Purpose: This issue is far too large to address here. However, note that when Paul deals with a clear, cultural issue he is very specific and clear about it (1 Cor. 8). He does NOT address the issue of headship or head coverings from a cultural argument like he does in chapter eight. He appeals to something entirely different. The trouble is that Paul does not pull out of chapter eleven, principles like he did in chapter eight. He simply says this is the practice we have instituted in all the churches (regardless if they are in a different culture or not) and there is no other practice that they have (v. 16).
Depending on what issue Paul is addressing in chapter 11 makes a big difference how you interpret the text. The one thing to consider is that if Paul is just dealing with a cultural issue how does it transfer to us? To be honest, when I listen to most people talk about this passage I am left with the distinct impression that I could easily tear this page out of my Bible and not miss a thing. But if Paul is teaching something significant for the churches, what principle is transferable to us? Is the principle about church worship or honoring God’s created order of headship? Is he only addressing a particular cultural problem or is he addressing how we honor God’s design, recognizes the presence of angels and is consistent with how the church ought to gather in worshipping Christ?
Have fun with this one,