Why Can’t Women Do That? | Philip B. Payne & Vince Huffaker

Why Can’t Women Do That?

The following is an excerpt from Why Can’t Women Do That? by Philip B. Payne & Vince Huffaker. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.

Dear Uncle Johnny,

I just recently realized your church has women deacons and elders. But I thought you believed that only men could lead the church and the family. So, what happened? When did you change? And why? I am just not sure where this new liberal side of you is coming from. Don’t you have to ignore a lot of the Bible, including some important teachings, to come to such conclusions? Maybe it sounds old-fashioned, but I believe that men have a special God-given sense of responsibility and leadership.



Dear Theo,

I understand what you are saying. In general, the Bible seems to focus primarily on men from Genesis to Revelation, and very little in it indicates that God objects to this state of affairs. So, I completely understand your skepticism.

But when we look closer, I believe there is a much stronger undercurrent throughout the Bible:

  • An undercurrent of the Holy Spirit filling the church with believers who are gifted in special and unique ways to expand God’s kingdom.
  • An undercurrent of the oneness of the body of Christ (the church).
  • An undercurrent of humility, service, and mutual submission among all Christians.
  • An undercurrent of the freedom that Christ gives and the all-important total focus on the preeminence of Christ.

It is this undercurrent that I claim is the better way. I believe this is actually the Bible’s focus.
I would love to talk with you more about this, and I welcome the chance to write down more complete responses to all the issues you raised (e.g., “keeping it simple”, ”men are naturally better leaders”, “the slippery slope”, “breaking with tradition”), and address all the relevant Bible passages. Please give me some time, and I will send you my completed letter.

Uncle Johnny


1 Corinthians 11: Head Coverings for Men and Women
Okay, Theo, we have now arrived at the chapter of the Bible which is single-handedly responsible for Christian women all over the world wearing some sort of cloth on their head and Christian men not wearing a cloth on their head. It is widely assumed that this passage reinforces a universal church custom that women must wear a garment over their heads in Christian worship. But does this interpretation fit Paul’s wording or cultural context? We just read how Paul desires that he (and by extension, we) should strive to be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel. But Theo, doesn’t it seem strange that in this context Paul would insist that some of us wear a piece of cloth over our head? Do we really think Paul was saying, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, but make sure you have the proper head covering”? That doesn’t make any sense. How do such rules advance the gospel?

Maybe Paul is simply enforcing an existing biblical mandate? But nowhere in the Bible is there any comparable head-covering prohibition for men or requirement for women.

Could Paul be enforcing a social norm of the time? Corinth had been a Greek city until 146 BC, and then a Roman city after 46 BC. Maybe women in Corinth were just expected to wear head coverings. But since Corinth was a big city with a diverse population, it would not have had a single social norm. And if we search for sculptures illustrating first-century Greco-Roman women, we do find some sculptures showing women with a head covering, but most do not, and certainly not enough to demonstrate any kind of a social norm requiring head coverings.

Furthermore, several writers from that time period and many current historians agree that head coverings were simply not the norm.

Finally, while there is no consensus that the Bible gives head-covering garment rules, the Bible clearly forbids elaborate hairstyles, including:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes … (1 Timothy 2:9)

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. (1 Peter 3:3)

But if all women’s hair were covered up with a garment, they wouldn’t need these rules about specific hairstyles, because no such hairstyle would be visible.

Nowhere else in the Bible is there any mandate that corresponds to the usual interpretation of this passage as regarding head-covering garments. In fact, the two verses cited above seem to assume that women’s hair is visible. Furthermore, there was no clearly documented social norm at that time and in that culture that forbade men from covering their heads or required women to cover their heads. So then, the question we must ask ourselves is, “Why does Paul all of a sudden decide to make strict regulations regarding head-covering garments?!

Here is the answer: He does not! This passage is not about head-covering garments. There is no word in this chapter that demands a “head covering” in the sense of a garment covering the head. And with that bit of introduction, we can begin.

Praise for Why Can’t Women Do That?

“Seeing well-developed arguments in this brief and non-confrontational format is an eye-opening experience. The Bible comes alive as a book written for men and women who are more alike than has traditionally been acknowledged by much of Christendom.”
Rev. Dr. David Instone-Brewer

“Profound scholarship broken down to be made lively, clear, and understandable for any reader who wants to know what the Bible says about one of the most challenging issues facing the church today.”
H. G. M. Williamson, Emeritus Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Oxford

“Philip Payne and Vince Huffaker have produced a readable, comprehensive work on the service of women in the church and marriage. It contains new research that has yet to appear in print. For an up to date, readable, and enjoyable presentation of the egalitarian case, this is the book to read.”
Rev. Peter Davids, Chaplain, Our Lady of Guadalupe Priory

“I have read most of the books written by complementarians and evangelical egalitarians and I think Philip Payne’s are the best. It is the fruit of forty years of study by a first-rate biblical scholar who does not avoid any difficult issues. The scholarly depth and the clarity of his writing is exceptional.”
Kevin Giles, Anglican pastor and theologian

“A readable, well researched, well-reasoned book, demonstrating God’s consistent support of women throughout the Bible. Comprehensive, logical, and clear, this book is an indispensable treatment of women in the Bible. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone eager to hear God’s high regard for women or anyone who wrestles with the Bible’s teaching on women.”
Rev. Dr. Grace Y. May, Association Professor of Biblical Studies and Director of the Women’s Institute, William Carey International University

“A compelling and highly readable case for the full equality of women and men. This remarkable book presents the best in New Testament scholarship for non-specialists.”
Harold Netland, Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Intercultural Studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“If you need a book that quickly and clearly exposes the failed teachings of male-headship arguments, this is it! Respected by Christians the world over, Phil Payne’s research opens new doors of leadership for women.”
Mimi Haddad Ph.D., President of CBE International

About the Authors

Philip B. PaynePhilip B. Payne holds a PhD in New Testament from the University of Cambridge and has taught New Testament in colleges of the University of Cambridge, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary, and Fuller Seminary Northwest. He is well known for his publications about textual criticism, the parables of Jesus, and his book, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Zondervan, 2009).

Vince HuffakerVince Huffaker holds a PhD in Manufacturing Engineering from Boston University and is employed as a software development manager. He has been involved with Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) for over nineteen years. He brings a respect for Scripture, a passion for equality, and a love of clean, simple logic to this project.

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