Buried Talents: The Balance of 1 Cor 11:2-16 (revised and corrected)

In the last post, we focused on the meaning of 11:3, dealing with the meaning of “head.” In this post, we consider the rest of the passage.

Man or husband? Woman or wife?

The words translated “man” and “woman” are aner and gune, both of which are perfectly ambiguous as to whether men and women or husbands and wives are under consideration. However, I believe Paul is generally referring to husbands and wives only. Here’s why —

* As discussed in the last post, 11:3 refers to the creation of Adam and Eve.

* Consider —

(1 Cor 11:8-9) For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Women were not created for men. Eve was created for Adam to be his wife — his suitable complement. They were to become one flesh — plainly a sexual reference.

* In the local culture, the need for head coverings was for married women, to not bring shame to their husbands by their immodesty. In fact, the passage, properly translated, is quite explicit —

(1 Cor 11:5) And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head–it is just as though her head were shaved.

becomes, in a play on words,

(1 Cor 11:5) And every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her husband/head — it is just as though her head were shaved.

“Sign of authority”

Verse 10 states, in the NIV, that a woman is to have a “sign of authority on her head.” But “sign of” is absent in the Greek and has been added by the translators. The KJV is more literal in translating that the woman must have “power on” her head. As noted by Mark C. Black, assistant professor of the New Testament at David Lipscomb University,

Another possible reading would translate “the woman has to exercise control (exousia) over her head,” and therefore does not directly refer to the head-covering at all. Because of the creation principles (8-9) and because of the angels (10), she must behave correctly with regard to her head (which of course means wearing the covering).

1 Cor. 11:2-16-A Re-investigation,” pages 208-210, published in Osburn, editor, Essays on Women, page 210, footnote 79.

Thus, the reference to “authority” in verse 10 is the woman’s exercise of authority, not the man’s.

After all, among Jews, the point of the veil was for the woman to be modest in the presence of men not their husbands. The veil did not so much indicate the husband’s authority over his wife as his wife’s insistence on being modest before all but her husband. Indeed, in Jewish society (and many others), the veil allows the woman to be in public and thus is her power to be in public.

Are men and women independent?

We need to also consider verses 11-12:

In the Lord, however, 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.

Paul had earlier pointed out that woman was made from man, thereby giving rise to a duty of wives to be complements to their husbands. But Paul points out that that every man since Adam has been made by God from a woman. Indeed, in the Ten Commandments, we are all (husbands included) commanded to honor our father and mother. This command applies to adult children as well as under-age children (Mark 7:10-13). Thus, we find that all men are commanded to submit to their mothers — that is, to a woman. Certainly, this notion contradicts the false interpretation that all women are subordinate to all men!

Moreover, Paul takes pains to place men and women in precisely equal relationship to one another. The key to understanding this verse is found in the first four words: “In the Lord, however.” This marks a contrast and a clarification of what Paul had earlier stated.

Certainly what Paul said in verses 3-10 was also said “in the Lord.” After all, Paul was reasoning from the relationship of Christians with God and Christ! By declaring that what he is about to say deals with those of us “in the Lord,” Paul is saying that he is about to announce a change from how things used to be before Christ. And Paul’s “however” may also indicate that Paul is contradicting a possible misunderstanding of what he’d just said.

Thus, a reader might misunderstand verses 8 and 9, dealing with Adam and Eve, as referring to a husband’s rule over his wife, in Genesis 3:16. And so Paul instead goes to pains to make clear that his argument that man is the head/life/beginning/source of woman does not allow man to claim superiority over his wife. Neither is independent of the other.

Rather, Paul points out that the biblical role of man as source of woman is balanced by the biblical role of woman as life/beginning/source of man. Thus, man may not bring disgrace to woman anymore than woman may bring disgrace to man. Indeed, God is the head/life/beginning/source of all, and this relationship overwhelms any argument based on man’s relationship to woman. By not bringing disgrace to God, we also bring no disgrace to our spouses — whom God made in His image.

Advantages of the proposed interpretation

The notion that all women are subordinate to all men is foreign to the Bible taken as a whole and contradicts much within the Bible, including the account of Deborah and the command for sons to honor their mothers.

Moreover, the merit of the proposed interpretation is shown by its richness. The interpretation is consistent with and digs deeply into numerous passages throughout the Bible. It delves into the doctrines of the glory of God, the image of God, the relationship of God with Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the very nature of Christ, and much more. It is consistent with the teachings of Genesis, Exodus, Judges, and Ephesians 5. Moreover, this interpretation makes Paul’s commands logically drawn conclusions from the Genesis accounts — not arbitrary rules.

The notion that man is the ruler of woman cannot claim such a rich heritage. Indeed, this notion suffers the embarrassment of being best supported by God’s curse on Creation, separating the Creation from God, the very act that Jesus died to undo!

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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