1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (A Translation), Part 7

priscilla-catacombs3So let’s take a stab at a fresh translation in light of what we’ve considered.

(1Co 11:3-16 ESV)  3 But I want you to understand that the head of every [husband] is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  

4 Every man[/husband] who prays or prophesies with his [literal] head covered dishonors [Christ, who is] his head,  5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her [literal] head uncovered dishonors her [husband, who is] head, since it is the same as if her [literal] head were shaven.  6 For if a wife will not cover her [literal] head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her [literal] head, let her cover her [literal] head.  

7 For a man[/husband] ought not to cover his [literal] head, since he is the image and glory of God, but [a wife] is the glory of [her husband].  

8 For [husbands] are not made from woman, but [wives] from man.  9 Neither was man created for [their wives], but [wives] for [their husbands].  

10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority [over] 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.

The challenges of cross-cultural translation

That is likely not perfect, but I think it comes close to Paul’s intention. There are difficulties. Greek is a language in which the same word is used for “wife” and “woman” and the same word is used for “husband” and “man.” As we learned a few weeks ago when we considered Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, our language reveals our worldview. Many languages omit entire words that other languages contain because, in that culture, that word is simply not needed.

Thus, clearly enough, the Greeks tended in conversation to assume that all men are married and all women are wives. It was obviously untrue, but single adults were evidently simply ignored as not fitting within their worldview.

It’s the same phenomenon we see in many churches that speak of being composed of “families,” as though no member might be single or otherwise unattached within the church. The worldview of that congregation assumes that everyone is part of a family within the church, and so singles and the divorced are rarely considered when decisions are made or policy is set. Because the language of the church is all about “families,” those who don’t fit the mold cannot be discussed. There is no language available.

Just so, while there were surely divorced and single members of the church in Corinth, the social convention was to speak as though everyone is a husband or wife. Single adult women didn’t fit into society well, except as prostitutes to be used or widows to be supported. Just so, an unmarried man was out of place. After all, a man had a duty to bring children into Roman society, to do his part in bringing about the next generation. And so the language came to match how people thought.

And so we see that Paul doesn’t really have words with which to express himself. (Greek had about 1% of the vocabulary of modern English. Scrabble™ would not have been popular.) Therefore, it’s not surprising that his use of anēr and gunē can be difficult for us to follow. (The Greeks wouldn’t have cared to be as precise as we feel the need to be. In fact, the passage makes much better sense if you just assume, as the Greeks evidently did, that all adults were married.)

Verse-by-verse

With the foregoing in mind, let’s work through some remaining issues in the text.

(1Co 11:3-16 ESV)  3 But I want you to understand that the head of every [husband] is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  

Imagine that Paul is actually speaking in terms of power, authority, and hierarchy, and that he really means means “women” and “men,” as many translations have it. Just what power does every man have over every woman? Does every man have authority over your daughters? Power to do what?

It is unimaginable that Paul intends to subordinate all women to all men. Therefore, he is referring to the relationship of wives to their husbands, and we should not guess or assume but find that relationship in Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, not the history of the world’s unfair treatment of women by men.

4 Every man[/husband] who prays or prophesies with his [literal] head covered dishonors [Christ, who is] his head,  5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her [literal] head uncovered dishonors her [husband, who is] head, since it is the same as if her [literal] head were shaven.  6 For if a wife will not cover her [literal] head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her [literal] head, let her cover her [literal] head.  

Thanks to the work of Bruce Winter, previously quoted, this much of the passage is actually now fairly clear. Roman women were expected to wear veils that covered their hair. It was a mark of marriage.

There are theories as to why this had become a problem. Some speculate that the wives unveiled themselves because the priestesses of some pagan cults were led by women and they were not veiled. This seems very unlikely to me, even for the Corinthian congregation.

Rather, Winter suggests that the women were emulating a class of Roman women, the “new wives,” who rebelled against Roman standards of female behavior and modesty — so much so that the Senate felt compelled to pass laws in an attempt to regulate these women.

By deliberately removing her veil while playing a significant role of praying and prophesying in the activities of Christian worship, the Christian wife was knowingly flouting the Roman legal convention that epitomised marriage. … If, according to Roman law, she was what she wore, or in this case what she removed from her head, then this gesture made a statement in support of the mores of some of her secular sisters, the new wives, who sought to ridicule the much-prized virtue of modesty which epitomised the married woman.

Bruce W. Winter. Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (p. 96).

7 For a man[/husband] ought not to cover his [literal] head, since he is the image and glory of God, but [a wife] is the glory of [her husband].  

Roman men sometimes pulled their shawl, a part of their toga, over their heads when engaged in religious ritual. Jewish men also covered their heads, as a matter of tradition, to show submission to God. Paul disagrees.

A woman’s hair is the glory of her husband — surely meaning that only her husband was allowed to see her hair. Only he could enjoy her glory. And as his suitable helper, the wife cannot act to bring shame to her husband.

But the appearance of the husband reveals the image of God, and so should not be hidden. Of course, women are also made in the image of God, but societal notions of modesty and of shame override and require wives to avoid shaming their husbands.

That is, we are so close to God as Christians indwelled by the Spirit that we should symbolize our relationship with God by not covering our heads — as though a barrier should be erected between us and him, as though God could not be that near — when he in fact dwells within us. God’s goal is to unite us, not to draw lines between us. And so a head covering that symbolizes distance from God says the wrong thing.

But a head covering that symbolizes faithfulness of a wife to her husband is a good thing. It all depends on what the head covering is meant to say.

8 For [husbands] are not made from woman, but [wives] from man.  9 Neither was man created for [their wives], but [wives] for [their husbands].  

Wives were created for their husbands because Eve was made a suitable helper for Adam — not an inferior or subordinate, but nonetheless bound to him so that she must not shame him.

10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority [over] her head, because of the angels.  

Verse 10 states, in the ESV, that a woman is to have a “symbol of authority on her head.” But “symbol 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 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 in Earliest Christianity, Volume 1, page 210, footnote 79.

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

Often, “authority” has been interpreted as the veil itself, the idea being that the veil is symbolic of the husband’s authority over the wife or the authority of a woman to be in public while veiled. However, the suggestion that “authority” is the woman’s own authority makes the best sense because it is consistent with the fundamental notion that Christians have freedom coupled with responsibility not to use their freedom to harm others. This thought is the essence of much of Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians.

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.  

The “nevertheless” and “in the Lord” suggest a contrast with what goes before. Paul is evidently afraid that readers may take his words to mean that men are independent of women and owe them no obligations.

But man is born of woman and, under the Law, must honor their fathers and mothers. Hence, no man is above women as a class. He must submit to his mother — which the rabbis (and Jesus) considered to apply to adults as well as children.

Moreover, as I’ve been arguing, “all things are from God,” that is, all must be done in submission to God, which means consistent with the Christian principles we’ve been considering.

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.

Paul wraps up with plain references to the local culture — what is “proper,” “nature,” “disgrace,” and the practices of “the churches of God.” This is hardly how Paul would argue an eternal command from God. Rather, he is speaking of cultural expectations for the dress of women.

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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17 Responses to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (A Translation), Part 7

  1. Ray Downen says:

    This is an interesting subject for sure. How do women honor their husbands? Is it by wearing a veil or a hat? Or is it by simply HONORING the husband in word and deed? I note that elders are to be HUSBANDS of one wife. Always. No female church leader/teachers. I note that the early church had female prophetesses as well as male prophets during the apostolic age (when the apostolic writings were being written). Jay speaks to the question, but I’m not sure what he’s saying! Since the early church had no worship services such as our churches do today, and since their meetings were to our notion informal with several speaking rather than all but one just listening, it’s hard to imagine what the passage under consideration might actually be saying to contemporary Christians.

    Is Jay speaking to our “worship services” as a place where women must be veiled or wear a hat? I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. So where is it that women must be veiled? Everywhere, as Muslims do? Was that what the apostle is teaching? If that were the case, I’d think it would be made much more clear what the rule to be followed was and is.

  2. Dwight says:

    I Cor.11 limits the wearing of a cover by a woman to prayer or prophecy, one of which is not inspired and the other which is inspired. While many suggest that these things are just examples of worship, they are very specific examples and they are not really of worship. They are methods of communication-prayer to God, prophecy from God, although prayer often has reverence and worship in it. Prayer and/or prophecy was done everywhere outside or inside assembly and was not limited to place and time. Thus they should be taken very seriously as God is directly involved. If I Cor.11:17-32 relates to contemporary saints, then so does the rest of I Cor. when it is broadly distributed and especially I Cor.11:2-16 to “every man” and “every woman”, which included all those outside of Corinth as well.

  3. R.J. says:

    I’d say this was only applied to men and women who “had the floor” during their official gatherings.

    I’ve heard of an alternate interpretation that makes 1 Corinthians 11:4-9 an extensive Corinthian quote. What’s your opinion on that?

    Also I thought a male having long hair in Greco-Roman was highly praised? Even the Jews thought it an honor with the Nazarite Vow. You’ll probably remember the fights that ensued over hair length in the 60’s.

  4. Dwight says:

    I cor.11:2-16 never mentions the saints in relation to a gathering, so a gathering is not in the text or context, while switching gears and implicitly addressing the saints who gathered together in for the Lord’s Supper in vs.17 switching text and context. He switches from headship to the Lord’s Supper. Then in I Cor.12 there is a switch to spiritual gifts marked by vs.1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts,…”
    Long hair wasn’t the norm in any society during this time, but did come into favor later on among the Romans. But even the assyrians had long hair as seen in their reliefs and statues. But the Jews did not. The only exception was those under the Nazirite vow, which Samson was under and possibly John. This vow was typically a rather serious thing to take on and the rules applied up to the completion of the vow. Those under the vow also could not partake of anything of the grape, so there was good reason for completing it quickly and then everything reverted to normal.
    I Cor.11:2-16 while using hair as a covering in application is actually about headship.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    Jewish men grew long hair to evidence a Nazirite vow, which means it wasn’t normally long.

    Roman and Greek men wore short hair as shown by statues and paintings from the time.

    The Roman arch celebrating Titus’s victory over Jewish rebels show them with short hair.

  6. Jay Guin says:

    RJ,

    The lengthy quote theory hasnt gotten support. The other quotes in 1 Cor are short and Paul just doesnt write in that style.

  7. Dwight says:

    Here is another case where we apply possible external evidence to either sustain or demote scripture. It doesn’t really matter what was being done, but what they were being told by apostilic authority. Idolatry was rampant and they were told to flee from it, but this would have applied to all cultures, whether they had rampant or even slight idolatry. We do know that Paul was against idolatry, not because of the cultures, but because it was sinful. Either we look at the scripture as if II Tim.3;16 is real and meaningful or we can start leaving out whatever we choose to reason out. If I Cor.11:2-16 was only for the Corinthians, then all of the other letters were only for those in that city, but we know they shared and applied the letters from city to city. We understand that the problems that they had are the same problems we have, they had divisions, we have divisions, etc. We also can quote away just about anything if we want by adding commas and quotation marks, but then we can start doing this across the board. The Lord’s Supper abuse wasn’t now real, but rather what some had said was happening and so possibly not real at least within that culture.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    I cor.11:2-16 never mentions the saints in relation to a gathering, so a gathering is not in the text or context,

    I don’t buy it. The women were prophesying in the presence of other women and men. In 1 Cor 14 we learn that members prophesied in the assembly.

    The reference to “angels” in v. 10 is taken by nearly all commentators to the Jewish teaching that angels would be present in a worship gathering. (And I’ve not heard a better explanation.)

    Therefore, while the instructions re hair length and veiling likely apply more broadly, the problem with being unveiled occurred, not in the marketplace or the home but the congregational gathering.

  9. “Demoting scripture”– meaning “to make my interpretation less palatable by additional study”. Men have for years taken passages and made ironclad law from their interpretation of those passages. When further study calls that interpretation into question– and by extension, the law made from it– these men wail that it is scripture itself which is not being respected. Conflating scripture with our interpretation thereof is a longstanding and widespread problem that will probably not go away anytime soon. It is like a great stone wall too massive to be moved by ordinary effort: the best strategy is to continue to dig away at its sandy foundations until the wall collapses of its own weight.

  10. Dwight says:

    Jay, the text and context of I Cor.11:2-16 doesn’t mention a gathering or assembly. While I cor.14 does explicitly. After vs. 16, what does Paul say, “Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.” which introduces them those who are coming together in assembly, but who aren’t in assembly as I cor. was written to the saints in general in Corinth.
    Praying and/or prophecying could be done and was done anywhere. There are examples of women prophesying outside. When Paul says, “every man” and ‘every woman” who “prays or propehsies” he places this outside of any particular place, but rather with articular actions which were done and could be done anyplace.
    I’ve heard commentators suggest the angels mentioned were done so because they show a heavenly order. Clarke’s commentary doesn’t point to your suggestion, never actually mentioning that possibility, but rather that the angels watched everything.

  11. Dwight says:

    Demoting means to lower in estimation and stature and power. If we can do this to vs.2-16, then why not vs.17-32? Here we over study a scripture, instead of just reading it as it simply says and then trying our best to apply. We don’t have to make it the pinnacle of what we should do, but we don’t have to make it the least of what we should do either. Are we suggesting that we should dig around the scripture so that it falls, purposely. I thought our goal was to uphold scripture, teach and do scripture, not to think of ways so as to not apply it, which is what we do here. I don’t get it. One of the most used and referenced scripitures is directly behind the least used and applied scriptures as if they aren’t both on equal standing of being scripture. This is perhaps our worst moment when we pick and choose and offer excuses and then accuse others of this with other scriptures.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    That the Jews believed angels present during worship comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Clarke wrote long before their discovery.

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    I dont see how “every” man or woman means everywhere.

  14. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    I checked and Clarke agrees that Paul is dealing with worship..

    If that’s not right then what is the new subject he introduces by his reference to traditions?

    If it’s general Christian living, that’s not a new subject.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    I really don’t understand you. No one here is seeking to diminish the authority of scripture or any passage. And there’s not a commentary that considers this passage obvious or simple. If you see it that you, then you’ve not adequately struggled with the text.

    Some would argue that head coverings are a universal command. Those who disagree are accused of rejecting the plain authority of the word.

    Others don’t impose head coverings but impose long and short hair. Those who disagree are accused of rejecting the plain authority of the word.

    Other impose neither head coverings nor long or short hair, but insist on male spiritual leadership. Those who disagree are accused of rejecting the plain meaning of scripture.

    Others, myself included, believe Paul is insisting that wives be suitable helpers to their husbands, and so they must not shame them within their cultural context. Husbands must be united to their wives as God is united with Christ — and just as Christ gave his life for the church, husbands must give themselves for their wives. And this is a MUCH harder teaching than the others. Anyone can cut his hair or wear a veil. It doesn’t require the empowerment of the Spirit to do such an easy thing. Giving one’s self up for another is true Christianity — and a true challenge. And it requires God’s help through his indwelling Paraclete.

    And I believe those who disagree with men seek to honor God’s word and so I honor them for their willingness to follow God’s word. I don’t treat them as inferiors or having a bad attitude. We just disagree. But I have the advantage of teaching a truth witnessed by the entirety of scripture.

  16. Hi Jay – You said that “head” in verses 4 & 5 is as follows:

    Verse 4: L (literal) F (figurative)
    Verse 5: L (literal) F (figurative)

    If this were true, then why does Paul give a correlating example of how the woman disgraces her own literal head, saying it is one and the same thing as having been shaved? Shouldn’t Paul give a correlating example of how the woman disgraces her figurative head, the man/husband, if he was saying that the woman disgraces the man by praying and prophesying unveiled? I personally believe that verses 4-6 is a quote of a faction of men who wrote Paul. I believe they made a literal head argument in verses 4-5.

    Verse 4: L L
    Verse 5: L L

    This is why Paul gives his model with the figurative meaning of head in verse 3. He wants the men to know that Christ is the head (source) of every man, and the man is the head (source) of the woman, and God is the head (source) or Christ (incarnate). In verses 7-16 he then refutes the men’s argument by referring back to his model. So I believe that “head” goes as follows in this passage.

    Verse 3: F F F
    Verse 4: L L
    Verse 5: L L
    Verse 7: F
    Verse 10: F

    In verse 7, Paul is using Jesus Christ (a man’s figurative head) as a correlation as to why women should not be veiled. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ, who is the image and glory of God. (See 2 Corinthians 4: 3-4, Colossians 1: 15, Revelation 21: 23) Furthermore, I believe that verses 13-15 should read as follows:

    13Judge for yourselves that it is proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled. 14For not even nature itself teaches you that if a man has long hair it is a dishonor to him, 15but if a woman has long hair it is a glory to her, because the long hair has been given instead of a covering.

    In other words, Paul tells the men that nature does not teach us that if a man has long hair it is a dishonor to him because God (who created and controls nature) has allowed men to grow long hair. God even commanded certain men (Samuel, Samson) to grow long hair. Certainly, God did not command these men to grow long hair to disgrace Himself. The Bible even says that God departed from Samson when his hair was cut. (Judges 16: 20) So Paul is saying that it is perfectly fine for men to grow long hair. He is also saying that nature does not teach us that a woman’s hair is her glory (as many women have unmanageable hair – limp, frizzy, etc.), therefore, women can cut off their hair if they wish. A woman does not disgrace her head by cutting her hair short.

    Anyway, this just how I believe this passage goes. Remember what Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. (Matthew 5: 14-15). Take care and God bless.

  17. Dwight, is the same thing which concerns you about I Cor 11 also occurring in I Tim 5, where we receive Paul’s instructions about dealing with elders and keeping pure, but we do not require people to drink wine if they have a bellyache– as Paul instructs in the next paragraph? Have we been “demoting” the medicinal use of wine over the centuries? I am also brought to mind of Mark 16, where verse 16 is quoted as a definitive part of our faith, while verse 17 and following is either ignored or edited out entirely? Do you have the same complaint about our apparent “demotion” of supernatural signs following believers?

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