Husbands and Wives in the Church

Men, Women, and Head Coverings

“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband … and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10­,11 NASB).

By Michael Costelli

Husbands and Wives in the Church

1 Corinthians 7:1‑16

Citizens of the Greek culture had become depraved in their behavior. As a result, the Apostle Paul found it necessary to provide certain instructions to the Corinthian brethren. The extent to which the society had descended is found in 1 Corinthians 5:1 (ASV) where a brother, perhaps a babe in Christ, had sexual relations with his stepmother (Reprint 2430-1). Paul calls the brethren’s attention to it, saying that such a thing was “not even among the Gentiles.” This behavior was also forbidden under Roman Law.

The proper relationship between men and women needed to be clarified for the New Creature. This was not a new development. Immorality between men and women had existed through the ages. Therefore, it was appropriate for the Apostle Paul to instruct the brethren in this area.

Paul advises them to respect the principles of morality, “let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Jesus sanctioned marriage at the wedding feast at Cana. Later, he instructed his followers on the matter of divorce when questioned by the Pharisees. Jesus said, “‘Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? … What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’” (Matthew 19:4-6).

In addition to the principles of the Law Covenant, Paul had Jesus’ instructions about divorce. Infidelity was the only proper reason for a Christian to divorce and remarry (Matthew 19:9). He further advises that the “wife not separate from her husband” and the “husband not send his wife away” (1 Corinthians 7:10,11 RVIC).

In marriage both the husband and the wife should give due consideration to each other’s needs (1 Corinthians 7:5). Paul encourages those who can, to observe a celibate life such as his, but this was not God’s command (1 Corinthians 7:6,7). Paul declares that marriage is better than remaining single and burning “with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9 NIV). Regarding the marriage union, he counsels (not the Lord) that brethren who have an unbelieving partner that is “pleased to dwell” with them remain married rather than seeking to be divorced (verse 12). This applies equally to the husband as well as to the wife. A good witness may be given to the other by such an arrangement.

1 Corinthians 7:25‑40

Paul said that there are no male or female classifications in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, he admonishes and teaches that while we are in the flesh, as brethren, we are to deal with one another in that context. This is difficult, since we still live in the present body of flesh, which is adverse to the spirit (Galatians 5:17).

Paul’s counsel to the unmarried in verses 25-40 is his good advice to the brethren. He explains that the urgency of one=s spiritual development encourages brethren to remain single so they can serve the Lord more fervently than if married (verses 32-34). But if married, one was not to seek a separation from their spouse. Furthermore, he observes that there is trouble in fleshly unions that does not exist with a single person. Nevertheless, if the Christian does marry (“only in the Lord” verse 39), they have not sinned but will need to deal with the issues that may develop when two persons are married (verses 27, 28).

1 Corinthians 11: 2‑16

Many large, successful corporations have some type of organizational chart establishing the hierarchy and control within the organization. The Christian Church is similar with a hierarchy established in verse 3, “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” To illustrate this Paul uses a Greek custom (men had their head uncovered, and women covered theirs) to teach a lesson on the relationship between Christ and the Church. He employs the subject of head coverings to illustrate the symbol of headship. Brother Russell elaborates on this for us: “Some have inferred that as the Apostle mentions a woman’s long hair being given her by nature as a covering, that he meant nothing more than this; but verse 6 clearly shows to the contrary — that he meant that women … should wear a covering, which in verse 10 he declares is a sign, or symbolic recognition of being subject to, or under the authority of man; symbolically teaching that the entire Church is under law to Christ. The record of verse 4 seems at first to be in conflict with the requirement that women keep silence in the ecclesias. Our thought is that while at the general Church service women are not to take a public part, yet in social meetings for prayer and testimony, and not for doctrinal teaching, there could be no objection to the sisters participating with their heads covered.

“Respecting this matter of perpetuating the typical covering of their heads by the sisters, the

Apostle urges it, but he does not state it to be a divine command. On the contrary, he adds, If any man seemeth to be contentious [on the subject] we have no such custom [positive law in the Church].’ It should not be considered a vital subject; though all who are seeking to do the Lord’s will should be particular in this as well as in other regards from the time they discern its appropriateness as a symbol. The words, ‘because of the angels,’ seem to refer to the chosen elders of the Church, who specially represent the Lord, the Head, in the ecclesias. Revelation 2:1.”1

Additionally, in the Tabernacle arrangement, the under priests (representing the Church) wore “bonnets” (Exodus 28:40, KJV) which Brother Russell suggests were “covering his head, to indicate that he was not the head of the Priesthood, but merely a member of the Body. God gave Jesus ‘to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is his Body’ (Ephesians 1:22, 23). It is for this reason that Paul insists that a woman’s head should be covered as indicating that she is not the head.”2

(1) Volume 6, The New Creation, Studies in the Scriptures, pages 271, 272.
(2) Tabernacle Shadows, page 36.

1 Corinthians 14:34, 35

The tenor of this passage is different in its context than others by the Apostle. In Reprint 1551, Bro. Russell quotes Prof. Becker regarding some of the women Paul encountered at Corinth. “When Corinthian men became Christians, and … brought their wives with them to meetings of the Church, women were very ignorant [there were no educational institutions for girls nor any private teachers at home] and lacking in essential decorum and were inclined to disturb the meetings by asking unprofitable questions.”

The Apostle, to deal with situation, instructed the Sisters to “keep silence in the churches” (verse 34). Continuing in verse 35, “if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home.” This command was strictly for the women at Corinth and should not be taken to limit Sisters from expressing opinions in study groups. The picture of Christ and the Church is typified by the ecclesia arrangement of Brothers and Sisters. “We, the spouse of Christ, are not to dispute or instruct in the Church, but listen to the voice of our Head; give ear to his word” (Reprint 194:1, Q662:2).


The apostle had much to teach about the proper relationship between men and women in the church. Regarding his counsel, the Apostle wrote, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5) through the application of sanctified reason and humility. Let us all observe the symbols presented herein and grasp the thought of obedience to the arrangement of our heavenly Father as he has established it in the Church of His Son. Amen.

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