(1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14:33-36)
SIX MAJOR TEXTS in the New Testament directly address the questionof the roles of men and women: I Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:33-38, 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19,and I Peter 3:1-7. In addition, two minor texts provide instructional material for the roles of men and women: I Timothy 5:1-2 andTitus 2:1-6. These minor texts consist of exhortations addressed toChristians according to categories formed on the basis of age and sexdifferences. They are of lesser importance as texts about the roles ofmen and women because they consist simply of exhortations to groupsofChristians and provide little foundational teaching and justificationforthese exhortations. Therefore, the passages in I Timothy and Tituscannot be used profitably as key texts, although they stand as important background to the key texts. The passages in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and I Peter 3 have already been discussed as key texts on theroles of men and women in the family. Three key texts remain whichtreat the roles of men and women in contexts other than the family: thepassages in I Corinthians 11 and 14, and in I Timothy 2. This chapterwill discuss the first two of these passages.
Two of the key texts occur in the same epistle of Paul, I Corinthians. Both deal with what seem like insignificant matters: the wearing of headcoverings by women and the speech of women in community assemblies. These seem to be expressions of role differences rather than basic questions of social structure or the nature of the roles of men and women.(1) Yet these matters are important to Paul. The Corinthian church seems to have posed some questions about the proper activities for men and women that demanded a response from Paul. Moreover, Paul treats these concerns in a letter dealing with many other questions of freedom, order, and disorder, so these concerns are not isolated or untypical. The passages illustrate how a small expression of a role difference can be important. However, they are even more important in the way they repeat and expand Paul's teaching on the roles of men and women.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16: Dishonoring Their Heads
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 includes more than an incidental reference to men and women. Here, Paul deals with a practical problem in relations between men and women. In doing so, he includes a large amount of "doctrinal" material relevant to the roles of men and women. The passage is difficult to interpret clearly. Paul's line of thought is not always lucid. Numerous articles have been written in scholarly journals about small points in the passage, and heated disagreements have arisen concerning the passage's overall meaning and significance. Many of these difficulties are irrelevant to our purposes, but many will have to be considered.(2) The passage reads as follows:
I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head-it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. 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. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels. (Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.) Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Cor 11:2-16)
The passage begins with Paul's commendation of the Corinthian church for following the custom in which he is about to instruct them. The following section, beginning with verse 17, concerns a matter in which Paul cannot commend the Corinthian Christians. The likeliest meaning of Paul's commendation is that the Corinthians were following the custom under consideration. Therefore, Paul was not dealing with active opposition over this issue, nor with a widespread refusal to follow an imported custom, as some have held. On the other hand, he must have had a reason for giving the instruction contained in 1 Cor 11:2-16. The reason might well have been that reports had come to him about some Corinthians who were questioning the practice of wearing headcoverings.(3)
The Question of Headcoverings
The focal point of I Cor 11:2-16 is the issue of headcovering for men and women. While the specific issue of headcoverings is less important than the various considerations Paul introduces in the course of discussing it, the passage as a whole cannot be properly interpreted without an understanding of the focal issue. Judging from the passage as a whole, Paul is giving a concrete rule of order: In worship services, men should leave their heads uncovered, while women should wear something which covers their heads. The rule deals with both men and women. Since more of the passage discusses headcoverings for women (vv. 13-15), the complaint Paul was addressing may have centered upon the part of the ruling that applied to women. But the rule itself applies to both men and women. Paul does not simply offer direction for women and not men. Both men and women must respect a proper order.
The rule probably applies specifically to worship services since the discussion centers on matters of communal worship.(4) This is evident from the reference to praying and prophesying, as well as to the fact that the chapter proceeds to discuss additional questions about the Christian assembly at worship. There is no reason to believe that Paul laid down the same rule for daily life, so that women would be obliged to wear headcoverings when they went outdoors during the week and men would be required to always keep their heads uncovered. Rather, the rule seems to apply to solemn worship occasions, when the whole community assembled and when full reverence and honor to God should be shown differently than in daily life (which for a Christian is always lived in the presence of God). Therefore, the rule would be analogous to prohibitions on casual attire such as bare feet or shorts in church (in Western cultures). The enigmatic term "because of the angels" (v. 10) should probably be understood in this context. First century Jews and Christians understood that angels were present in the assemblies of God's people to be guardians of order.(5) Thus, Paul is saying that when God's people appear before the Lord in a solemn assembly in the presence of the angels to worship, men should leave their heads uncovered and women should wear headcoverings.
There is no exact parallel to Paul's instructions here in either the Jewish or the Greco-Roman sources of the time.(6) Jewish women in the Palestine of Paul's day always covered their heads and faces when in public. Some even considered it meritorious to wear a headcovering all day in their houses. They would have definitely covered their heads in the temple and synagogue. Some rabbis declared it unlawful to recite the Shema in the presence of a woman whose hair was uncovered. There is less clear evidence for unmarried girls. At the marriage ceremony of virgins, the bride's head would have initially been uncovered; she would be given a headcovering in the course of the ceremony as a sign of coming under the authority of her husband. Widows would be covered during the whole ceremony. On the other hand, in upper class Jerusalem society before the destruction of the Temple, there were only two days of the year on which unmarried girls could go out in such a way that they could be seen by men. Unmarried girls normally stayed at home, but they would have covered their heads and faces when they did go out. We do not know of any universal practice for Jewish men in the time of Paul. They probably did not wear the yarmulke in worship or in public nor cover their heads in worship with a prayer shawl, as many Jews do today. While the evidence is scanty, the common practice of Jewish men covering the head in worship probably did not originate earlier than the fourth century.(7)
Neither do the Greco-Roman sources offer exact parallels to the rule in 1 Corinthians 11. Greek and Roman women were not obligated to wear a headcovering in public. Some did cover their heads and this practice was even common among some groups, but it was not an obligation as it was for Jewish women. There are indications that women at some worship services had their heads uncovered, while men sometimes had theirs covered at worship. Some older scholarly works and some popular works hold that an unveiled woman in Corinth would be mistaken for a prostitute. However, this opinion cannot be substantiated. No Greco-Roman custom corresponds to what Paul enjoins. There is no evidence for the view that he was urging the Christians at Corinth to conform to the norms of society around them for missionary reasons.
Although Paul's instructions do not correspond to Greco-Roman customs, either for worship or for daily life situations, they may possibly correspond to Jewish worship customs as observed in the synagogue. They differ from Jewish custom in that Jewish custom required the covering (and veiling) of women's heads for daily life and not simply for worship situations. However, Jewish customs do offer a close parallel. The Jews seem to have considered the covering of women's heads a serious matter of propriety; hence the women would have probably had their heads covered in synagogue worship. Moreover, there is a strong likelihood that men left their heads uncovered at worship. Jewish customs of worship are therefore the likely source of Paul's rule.
Paul's approach could possibly be simply the maintenance of the normal Jewish custom at worship. Another possibility is that the early Christians maintained the Jewish custom for certain daily life situations (situations of solemnity) only in their own worship services. Such a development would follow a law of ritual: The more holy or solemn the occasion, the more likely are cultures and societies to retain the various customs associated with it.(8) Human beings are careful in the presence Of the holy, and instinctively observe strict propriety in worship services, even when a particular custom is no longer observed in daily life. The maintenance among Christians of headcoverings for women in worship situations might be analogous to the development of the tallis or prayer shawl among Jews. In Jesus' time, Jewish men in Palestine always wore a long garment with tassels as a way of obeying the prescriptions of Numbers 15:37-4l.(9) Jews in the diaspora no longer wore the garment in daily life, but they preserved the custom by wearing a tallis or shawl during worship. Diaspora Jews were not free to observe the customs as regularly as Jews in "the land," (the eretz, that is, the land of Israel), in a Jewish society. However, to be robed in a garment with tassels was still the most proper way to appear before God, and so they developed the tallis as a solution. For similar reasons, Christians may have developed the custom of headcoverings for women and uncovered heads for men during worship. For all we know, the Christian custom may even have been the custom among diaspora Jews in the first century.(10)
Even if it is impossible to completely determine the full cultural context of Paul's ruling, the context of the passage clearly indicates that Paul linked the practice of headcoverings with the order in men's and women's relationships. The woman should have her head covered because of her relationship to the man-her head. The headcovering is an appropriate expression that she is under the man's authority. Similarly, the man should keep his head uncovered as an expression that he is under Christ. This much is clear from Paul's grounding of the rule in the order of headship (v. 3), in Genesis 2, and in the precedence of man in creation (vv. 7-9), as will be more fully discussed shortly. However, it is less clear why the presence and absence of headcovering should be appropriate symbols for the man's and woman's relationship to their different heads. The appropriateness of these symbols may have been intuitively obvious to Paul, as vv. 13-15 might indicate, or they may have been part of the customs of the Christian community with enough authority that he could presume their appropriateness (as v. 16 might indicate).(11) Nevertheless, it can be asserted confidently that, for Paul and the Corinthian Christians, the rule about headcovering expressed the roles of men and women.(12)
Many modern people view the woman's headcovering as degrading, but for Paul it was clearly something honorable. It was a sign of the woman's belonging to her husband. This sign brought her honor and respect, because her position as wife and as a woman was honorable. In fact, for her not to have the appropriate expressions of her position as wife and woman would be degrading. A woman without a veil and a woman without long hair would be disgraced.(13) Contemporary Western society is losing its awareness of how symbols of status and subordination can be honorable. To be sure, not all such symbols are honorable. Whether they are honorable or not depends on the nature of the position involved. Many symbols of subordination degrade people and many symbols of status are used to dominate and humiliate others. Nonetheless, such symbols can often serve to express honor and 1 Corinthians 11 should be interpreted in that perspective. Surely Paul saw headcoverings as honorable, and he laid down his rule to safeguard the honor of both the women and the men.(14)
The use of headcoverings in worship services was a cultural expression, an expression that has meaning to people within the context of their culture. In this case, the meaning of headcoverings lies in its ability to express a particular social structure in the roles of men and women. The first five chapters of this book examined how the early Christian community and Israelite society structured these roles. But societies express their social structure in customs which are not intrinsically necessary to the social structure. A woman could wear a sari as a symbol of her position as well as a headcovering.(15) On the other hand, every society recognizes that some clear expressions of social structure are important. Most peoples place such a high value on such social symbols (dress, "manners," rituals of respect, etc.) that they do not distinguish between the cultural expression and the underlying social structure. For example, among many peoples, children would never address their parents or any older person by the parents' first names. Such informality would be viewed as highly disrespectful and possibly as serious an offense as overt disobedience.
Western society is increasingly losing an appreciative sensitivity to cultural expressions such as these. To be sure, not all cultural expressions are automatically good. In fact, the New Testament views some as expressions of sin. For instance, the New Testament looks unfavorably on such expressions when they express distinctions among Christians based on social class or wealth (see Jas 2:1-7). On the other hand, the early Christians encouraged such expressions when they expressed differences of age and sex. Younger people honored older people and the community paid honor to men because they were men and women because they were women. Something is undoubtedly lost when people lose the capacity to value and understand such cultural expressions.(16) When Paul linked headcoverings to the basic order of the Christian community, he was manifesting a concern that many human societies will instinctively share, but one which modern Western society does not find readily comprehensible.
One further question of "cultural expression" raised by I Corinthians 11 is the question of length of hair. Paul refers twice to the appropriateness of different hair lengths for men and women. In verses 5-6 he indicates that it would be disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off. In verses 13-15 he indicates that long hair is dishonorable for a man but honorable for a woman. By "long," Paul probably means long by comparison. Men in his day wore their hair longer than most men do today in Western society. He is saying that women should wear their hair still longer than men. Paul presumes that the Corinthians will accept what he says about hair length without question. He understands longer hair for women as either a natural or cross-cultural practice (depending on how one understands the word "nature" or physis in verse 14).(17) In this he could rely upon the practice of the many cultures he was acquainted with and, in fact, longer hair for women is the practice of a majority of human cultures. While it may be difficult to determine what is "natural" to the human race, Paul's opinion has some claim to respect under most of the criteria commonly used currently to make such a distinction. His view cannot be scorned as an "outdated viewpoint" simply because there are known exceptions.(18)
However, Paul is not teaching about hair length in 1 Corinthians 11. He is teaching about headcoverings and making a comparison with hair length.(19) In verses 5-6, he simply states that for a woman not to wear a headcovering degrades her as much as having her hair cut off. He does not assume that the Corinthians automatically know this. He is instructing them that such is actually the case. He uses the example of a woman with her hair cut off to illustrate how degrading lack of a headcovering is for a woman. In verses 13-15, he does something similar. He presumes that the Corinthians understand the meaning of hair length practices, and argues on that basis that there is something fitting about headcoverings for women and lack of them for men, since both long hair and headcoverings are similar in the way they surround the woman's head. Those who hold that long hair would do as well as headcoverings completely miss the point of what Paul is saying, as do those who hold that he is asserting that headcovering for women is the natural or culturally universal custom. Paul does not instruct the Corinthians to wear their hair in a particular way, nor does he say that "nature" bears him out on headcoverings for women. Paul only says that "nature" provides an analogy for headcoverings, an analogy that should help the Corinthians to see that headcoverings for women are actually the appropriate way to express their social role during times of worship.
The Reasons Paul Uses
While the meaning of headcoverings must be understood in order to interpret 1 Corinthians 11 correctly, the more important issue is the way Paul argues for his view and what that argument shows about his understanding of the roles of men and women. An outline of the passage reveals the structure of his argumentation:
1. v. 2: Preliminary commendation
The structure of Paul's statements in I Corinthians 11 reveals three grounds for his ruling on headcoverings:
2. v. 3: Foundational statement: the order of "heads"
3. vv. 4-6: Rule: Men should worship with their heads uncovered and women with their heads covered. While stating the rule, he uses a comparison with women's hair being shaven.
4. vv. 7-9: Justification of the rule: the way in which man and woman were created in relation to one another.
a. v. 10: conclusion of justification; restatement of the rule.(20)
b. v. 11-12: qualification; a remark added so that no one will misunderstand.
5. vv. 13-15: Comparison: he justifies his rule again by making an analogy with hair length.
6. v. 16: Final conclusion: he reinforces his position with an authoritative ruling and an appeal to the universal practice of the churches.
1. The way God intends the human race to be structured, as revealed by the way he created the human race (vv. 3, 7-10; with a qualification in 11-12).
Each of these grounds operate on somewhat different levels. Most of Paul's instruction in I Cor 11:2-16 centers on his understanding of the way God has created and ordered the human race, that is, around Genesis 1-2, and the consequences that can be drawn from it. The second ground is his discussion of hair length in verses 13-15, a discussion which is sometimes taken as an argument from custom or culture. However, as has already been noted Paul does not rest his case on hair length, but simply uses this practice to make a comparison to help the Corinthians see the sense of his ruling about headcoverings. Finally, Paul makes a direct appeal to authority, to his own and that of all the churches. Since the discussion of hair length is more of an illustration of his argument than a full basis for it, there are two significant grounds to consider: the argument from the order of creation and the appeal to authority.
2. His comparison with hair length.
3. His appeal to tradition or the universal practice of the churches, i.e., his appeal to authoritative Christian order (vv. 2, 16).
I Corinthians 11:2-16 begins with Paul commending the Corinthians for remembering him and maintaining the traditions he delivered to them. It concludes with Paul invoking his own authority and the authority of "the churches of God" to silence anyone who might be contentious. These two verses raise questions about the meaning of tradition and about the authority of Paul and the "churches of God" to determine order in the Christian community.
The significance of the traditions that Paul delivered to his churches is commonly misunderstood today because the word "tradition" in contemporary Western society connotes something that one does not take very seriously. It is often assumed that a "tradition" is something unexamined and therefore done simply out of habit, that is, for no good rational reason. However, in the Pauline writings, words like "tradition" (paradosis), "delivered" (paradidomai), and "maintain" (katechein), and possibly in this context "remember" (mimneskomai), refer to a very serious approach to tradition. Along with "receive" (paralambanein) and "uphold" (kratein), these words indicate a careful process of preserving truths from one generation to another. These terms were used to describe the way a master teaches disciples whom he is forming in a tradition.(21) The master delivers traditions which his disciples receive and then maintain and uphold. Paul uses these terms to describe his solemn impartation of the basic Christian proclamation which should be the foundation of the lives of the Christians, truths which he expects them to remember and uphold (Gal 1:9,12; 1 Cor 15:1-5; 2 Thes 2:15; see also Col 2:6-8; 1 Thes 2:13). He also uses these terms in reference to his teaching of the Christian way of life (Rom 6:17; 2 Thes 3:6; Phil 4:9). This instruction included teaching about customs and order that should be part of the life together of the Christian people (Acts 16:4; 1 Cor 11:2; 1 Cor 11:22). Behind these words lies Paul's view of teaching as not simply a transfer of information but a transfer of a way of life within the community, a way of life that is incarnated in the teacher who then forms the pupil in the same manner. Paul therefore often adds that his converts should remember him, do what they have seen him do, and imitate him (see Phil 3:17, 4:9; 1 Cor 4:16-17; 2 Thes 3:7-9; 2 Tm 3:10; Gal 4:12; and I Cor 11:2). Thus, when Paul speaks about "traditions," he is not speaking about "mere tradition," that is, some kind of social conformity, but he is speaking about a serious process of passing on a way of life.
In 1 Cor 11:2-16 and likewise in I Cor 14:33-36 Paul exercises his authority as a teacher and appeals to the authority of "the churches of God" and "all the churches of the saints." Again, some have understood these passages as places where Paul merely offers his own opinion and advocates a conformity for the sake of "getting along with the relatives."(22) To be sure, Paul is not appealing to the authority of the Lord, as he sometimes does. But he is appealing to apostolic authority, his own and that of the Twelve. Like a Jewish teacher of his day, Paul understands himself to be an authoritative teacher. He primarily passes on that which he has been taught, teaching which he knows comes from the Lord himself, but teaching which he also knows to be representative of the church as a whole (and therefore teaching of the apostles). But Paul also understands himself as authorized to give decisions (halachic decisions) in cases that are not explicitly covered by received teaching. Such decisions are not personal opinions, but are authoritative developments of teaching made with apostolic authority.
The apostles received from Christ the responsibility to establish the Christian people and the Christian way of life. Christ's teaching is the foundation for their work, but the gospel proclamation itself rests upon the authority of the apostles. They were responsible for handling many situations about which they had no explicit teaching from Christ. The life of the first church at Jerusalem was an authoritative model, probably because it had been established by the Twelve, and the decisions of the apostles were binding upon all the other churches as well (Acts 16:4). The Christian church afterwards saw the decisions of the apostles as authoritative for the life of the Christian people, especially for the order of their life. The scriptures were formed on the principle that it was "apostolic" teaching that was decisive for the formation of the life of the Christian people. The scriptures were not just the teachings of Jesus and teachings about Jesus, but apostolic teachings. The apostles are the foundation stones of the city of God (Rv 21:14).
When Paul met new situations in the mission to the uncircumcised (Gal 2:9), he made decisions as an apostle which were thereafter viewed as authoritative. In fact, a main concern of the entire first letter to the Corinthians is Paul's insistence that the Corinthians follow the rule he gives to all his churches, including the rule he received from the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 4:17; 7:17; 14:33 as well as 11:16). To dismiss Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 11 as simply his and not Christ's, or to see his appeal to the practice of the churches of God as simple conformity, is to miss the significance of his appeal to authority, his and that of the apostolic church. Such a view misses the seriousness with which Paul offers his instructions.
One of the three grounds for Paul's teaching on headcoverings in 1 Cor 11:2-16 is an appeal to authority, an important and weighty authority. Another ground is primarily a comparison. The third ground for his position is the role difference between men and women, a difference which is rooted in Genesis and in God's purpose for creating man. This third ground is the only one which contains a reason for the headcovering rule. Here we distinguish reasoning from both a comparison intended to help people accept the point and an appeal to authority intended to get them to follow it. When Paul provides reasons for why the Corinthians should accept the rule, he primarily appeals to Genesis and to the order of God's creative work. Therefore, this third ground is the most helpful for our purposes, because it contains more of Paul's teaching on the roles of men and women.
Paul's reference to Genesis 2 then is central to the discussion of I Cor 11:2-16. Paul says that a woman should wear a headcovering because the man is her head and because she is the glory of man. The man should not cover his head because Christ is his head, and because the man is the image and glory of God. The term "head" was discussed in connection with Eph 5:22-33. In Ephesians 5, the man's position as head of the woman is given as the reason for her subordination to him. The relationship of head and subordinate includes some kind of authority and involves subordination, but the purpose of the subordination of the woman to the man is to unite two lives into one person (head and body). In I Corinthians 11, Paul states an order of "headship": God-Christ-the man-the woman. This order of headship is founded upon the order of creation. Man was created by God as his image and glory, and woman was created from man as his glory. Christ now has a place in the order, since the redeemed human race is now related to God in him, the new Adam, the first-born of the new creation. The man's uncovered head is an expression of his place in that order just as the woman's covered head is an expression of her place in that order.
The idea of woman being the glory of man is not easy to interpret. In one way, the idea is straightforward. Paul explains it by saying that woman is the glory of man because she was made from man and for man, an explanation which refers to the creation of woman in Genesis 2. To put it another way, woman is man's glory as a consequence of her relationship to him, a relationship which originated in her creation out of man and for him.
On the other hand, the exact meaning of the phrase "woman is the glory of man" is unclear. Two explanations of the meaning of "glory" here are commonly given.(23) The most common explanation is that "woman is the glory of man" means that woman reflects man's glory. This explanation is embodied in many translations, such as the Jerusalem Bible: "A man should not cover his head, since he is the image of God and reflects God's glory; but woman is the reflection of man's glory." Thus, woman is a reflection of man, like him, from him, but not identical to him. Hebrews 1:3 might contain some parallel to this idea, at least as far as the statement about man, when it describes Christ as the "reflection" (RSV)/"effulgence" (NEB)/"radiant light" (JB) of God's glory and the "stamp" (RSV, NEB)/"perfect copy" (JB) of God's nature or being. According to this interpretation, to say that woman is the glory of man means that woman had her origin in man and drew her being from him.
A second explanation understands "glory" As meaning that which brings honor to or glorifies man. "Glory" is used this way further on in the passage, where long hair is described as woman's "glory." This second interpretation could be based on the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:16 which says, "A gracious wife brings glory to her husband, but a woman hating righteousness is a throne of dishonor." There are some later rabbinic parallels in which a virtuous wife is described as her husband's crown and in which a man is said to be adorned by his wife, but a woman is not adorned by her husband. If this interpretation of "glory" is accepted, then woman would be man's honor because her relationship to him means that he is honored because of her (or possibly dishonored because of her, if she is not a good woman). Paul may have intended both meanings of "glory," since verses 8-9 explain the idea that woman is man's glory both because woman is made from man and that she is created for him. Whatever the exact meaning of the phrase, Paul's overall point seems clear: Man and woman differ in the way they originated. Man was created directly by God in his image, woman was created from and for man.
This passage also raises the question of whether Paul might be denying that woman is created in the image of God. Some Christians have based such denials on this passage. The discussion in Chapter Six about Gal 3:28 and Col 3:9-11, as well as the earlier discussion of Genesis 1, indicate the opposite-that Paul teaches that woman is made in the image of God. In fact, in I Corinthians 11, Paul neither asserts nor denies that woman is created -in the image of God. He focuses rather on the order of heads. He says that man is created in the image of God because he is defining man's relationship to God in order to explain why man does not wear the headcovering. He discusses woman-saying that she was created from and for man-to describe her relationship with man as it was expressed by the order of creation. Paul is not discussing woman's relationship with God here, and hence does not exclude her being in God's image as part of the human race. Rather, I Corinthians 11 is concerned with woman's place in the order of creation and of heads.(24)
I Corinthians 11 also includes another phrase that has provoked much commentary: "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." The phrase "not independent of" is sometimes translated "cannot do without" (JB) or does not have "separate existence from" (Phillips). Some have interpreted this passage as having the same meaning as Gal 3:28, that there is fundamentally no difference between men and women in the Lord.(25) However, the meaning of this verse should be understood in terms of Paul's teaching on the order of heads. In these verses, Paul says that man needs woman and in some respects is subordinate to her (see Gn 4:1). Although man is the head of the family and woman was originally created from man, now all men are born of women-their mothers. Thus, men are dependent on women. Paul seems to introduce this idea to make sure that no one takes his teaching on woman in the earlier verses as a one-way dependence?a teaching that makes woman fundamentally unnecessary for Christianity. This passage contains the same teaching as Genesis 2: Men and women are in a complementary partnership with one partner in subordination to the other.
The teaching in 1 Cor 11:2-16 is grounded primarily on the idea of the order of heads, not on the idea of subordination. The two ideas do not conflict and subordination follows from headship, but the two ideas are different. The order of heads is probably the key idea in 1 Corinthians 11, because Paul links the presence and absence of the headcovering to the relationship being a head expresses.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul uses the term "head" differently than the term is used in English. In English, the term "head" is commonly used for any governing position (the head of a house, the head of a family, the head of a state) and is often used in the plural (the heads of the group). The Septuagint and other Greek sources in Paul's time employed the term in a similar way, and Paul could have adopted that usage if he chose. However, Paul reserves the term "head" for four relationships: between husband and wife, between Christ and the church, between God and Christ, and between Christ and the universe (Eph 1:22). Behind this use of the term "head" lies the headbody metaphor. When Paul speaks of "a head," he is thinking of one body with one head. A person who is a head does more than govern. He is actually the source or origin of the kind of unity which makes many into one. There then is a difference in Paul's thought between being a "head" and being in a governing position. The elders of the community govern the community and the men in the community are subordinate to them, but they do not make the community one person. Christ, the source of unity, is the "head" of the community. The man acts as "head" for the family and is the source of its unity, but no man other than Christ can be head for the Christian community. Moreover, Paul sees Adam and Eve in their union as the model for the family and the body of Christ-the two ways to be one person (Eph 5:31).
Some would say that I Corinthians 11 states that Christ is the real head of the family with the man as his delegate. If the above interpretation is accurate, then when Paul says that Christ is the head of the man (1 Cor 11:3), he says that in reference to Christ being the head of the church, not the head of the family. Christ is not the head of the family; the man is. Moreover Christ is the head of the man insofar as the man is in the body of Christ-the Christian community. The man does not receive a special headship from Christ different from the kind a woman receives because he is a man. In this interpretation, Paul views the church as a unity of families.(26) The men of the community act as something like vertebrae tying the families of the community together under Christ the head (and in subordination to the elders). This does not mean that women do not have Christ as their head. Rather, they are part of the body of Christ equally with their husbands, and Christ is head of the body. The point is that the body of Christ has a structure, and the woman is part of the structure as one person with her husband, and under his headship of their relationship.
Application of the Ruling
A final question remains: Does the ruling in I Corinthians 11 apply to husbands and wives only or to unmarried men and women in the Christian community as well? Are all women supposed to wear headcoverings in worship, or only the married women? This question is especially difficult to answer because the words for "man" and "woman" are the same in Greek as those for "husband" and "wife." The phrase translated by the RSV as "the head of a woman is her husband" reads more literally in Greek "the head of woman is the man" or "the head of a woman is the man" (Greek also has no indefinite article).
I Corinthians 14:33-36: She Should Be Subordinate
1 Corinthians 14:33-36 is not as important as I Corinthians 11 in a discussion of the social roles of men and women. Like 1 Corinthians 11, the passage deals with a question of order in assemblies of the Christian community, but it only alludes to broader role considerations and hence contains little teaching. The passage is relatively brief, and will be considered more as a supplement to the considerations in I Corinthians 11 than as an important addition. The passage reads as follows:
One answer is that Paul is only concerned here with husbands and wives. His reference to the creation account points to the marriage relationship as Paul's main concern, as does the other passage in which Paul talks about the man being the head of the woman, Eph 5:22-33. Moreover, veiling in Jewish marriage customs symbolized the virgin's going under her husband's authority. However, there are difficulties with this view because the passage operates on a broader level. All men are pointed to Christ as their head, all women pointed to "the man." Moreover, the hair length illustration indicates that Paul thought the ruling about headcoverings should apply to all men and all women; otherwise the illustration loses its force, since hair length customs were observed by all men and women. The passage would be easier to interpret if we could presume that Paul did not count unmarried boys and girls because they were too young, and was simply speaking to the adult congregation which was all husbands and wives. However, this presumption is unlikely. Some unmarried women must have participated in the congregation, and I Corinthians 7 indicates that celibates were present as well.
A second answer is that the passage concerns all men and women, and that the references to "the man" refer to whichever man was responsible for the woman. This answer is based upon the social structure of the time, in which there seem to have been no unattached women. All women were under a man's authority: their husbands', or their fathers', or that of the next responsible male family member. Celibate women and widows were either still part of their families (and hence under their fathers or the next responsible male family members) or possibly under the bishop or other representative of the community. The early church, according to patristic evidence, had an order of widows and an order of virgins but no corresponding order of widowers or Of male celibates. This unique approach to female celibates occurred in part because the family's authority over the woman had to be replaced by a formal transfer to the community's authority. In addition, unmarried women and widows wore veils among the Jews, even though the veil had some marital significance. Thus, according to this answer, the head of the woman in I Corinthians 11 would be whichever man was responsible for her. However, this answer fails to account for the considerations behind the first answer, namely, the importance Paul ascribed to the marriage relationship in his teaching on men's and women's roles.
A third answer to this question combines the first two. The third answer holds that the very uncertainty in interpretation is important because it points to how much the roles and men and women in the community are connected to the husband-wife relationship. As was discussed in Chapter Five, the family was the cell of the community and provided at its core a basic pattern that is followed in all menwomen relationships in the community. 1 Corinthians 11 illustrates this pattern once more. The husband-wife relationship in marriage is the paradigm for the man-woman relationship. Hence the central focus of the passage is husbands and wives. Yet other women and other men follow the same patterns because their identity as women and men is more fundamental than their unmarried state. A man is the image and glory of God and has Christ as his head even if he is unmarried. Since God created him as a male, he must assume a role that expresses this fact. This role finds its fullest expression in marriage, but is also expressed if he is unmarried through his responsibility in the community. The same is true of a woman. She assumes a role as a woman that finds its fullest expression in marriage, but it is also expressed if she is unmarried through her relationships and responsibilities in the community. This third answer accounts for all the aspects of the passage more adequately than the first two answers. It combines a sensitivity to both the marriage concern and the broader perspectives in the passage. Hence, Paul probably directs his instructions to all men and women, married or unmarried, although he has the husband-wife relationship in mind as the model for the relationship his ruling is intended to express.(27)
Some phrases and sentences in 1 Corinthians 11 are difficult to understand. In some cases the correct interpretation will probably never be understood, at least not through historical study. However, this difficulty is not a reason to conclude that the passage makes no sense, as some have said. Nor do the difficulties mean that I Corinthians 11 should be interpreted as a succession of poor arguments with Paul, gradually losing his self-control and realizing the weakness of his argumentation, finally closing the discussion with an appeal to arbitrary authority.(28) His argumentation in its broad outlines is tolerably coherent if we accept the fact that some sections of the passage exceed our grasp.
Furthermore, very little of Paul's argumentation concerns conformity to social customs or adaptation to the cultural situation. Only his comparison with hair length can be seen as an appeal to a cultural consideration, and this comparison is meant primarily as an illustration. It carries little of the weight of his argumentation. In fact, Paul seems to be enjoining a practice about headcoverings which would not be culturally adaptive in Gentile Corinth. He enjoins a practice that the first Christian communities seem to have arrived at for reasons not completely within our grasp, but which seem to have something to do with their evaluation of or interpretation of the customs of Judaism.
Paul is upholding the importance of an expression of men-women differences in a situation where men and women are praying and prophesying. He is asserting an order precisely when the spiritual gifts or charismata are being exercised. Some cannot comprehend how Paul could consider such an approach, but Paul consistently holds that such expressions are most important precisely in such situations. His whole teaching about spiritual gifts stresses decency and order (1 Cor 14:40). He does not leave the exercise of those gifts solely to spontaneous response to a moving of the Spirit. Men and women possess the same spiritual gifts and they are to express role differences in exercising these gifts. There is no fallacy, no incompatibility, in this teaching.
For all the difficulties in its interpretation, 1 Cor 11:2-16 is one of the clearer statements in the New Testament of the fundamental significance of overall role differences among men and women, especially their significance as expressions of God's purpose for the human race. The passage states a rule that expresses differences between men and women in worship situations. It bases this rule on two fundamental grounds: the order of the man-woman relationship as intended by God when he created the first man and women, and the authority of the apostles to establish a universal practice for all the Christian churches. While the passage primarily concerns a rule for worship situations, it includes important teaching that grounds the basic patterns of a role difference between men and women in the purpose of God when he created the human race. All the features of the pattern discussed in Chapters Three and Five cannot be derived from the treatment in 1 Corinthians 11. But I Corinthians 11 is consistent with this pattern and, in an important way, amplifies and enlarges it.
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?
Chapter 14 of I Corinthians occurs in a section of that letter that deals with spiritual gifts. Most of chapter 14 concerns speaking in tongues and prophesying. Beginning with verse 26, the chapter contains a set of rules on how speaking in tongues and prophesying should be done so that there is no disorder in the assemblies. Following this section (or, included in the section) Paul raises the question of women speaking in the assemblies. Like the verses that precede it, verses 33-40 issue a rule for order in the assemblies, but unlike the previous verses they take up a specific issue of order-the permissibility of women speaking in the assembly. This difference in focus, along with the existence of some manuscript variation, has stimulated speculation that the section on women is an interpolation. However, the evidence makes the view the less likely one.(29) Paul is simply taking up another item related to order in the assemblies. This issue may have arisen because charismatic activities (prophesying) on the part of women led to their speaking in the assemblies in an unacceptable fashion. The topic of the passage parallels I Corinthians 11 in subject and thrust. (It concerns good order in the assemblies, with special reference to the expression of men-women differences in the assemblies.) In general, it fits in well with Paul's overall concerns in 1 Corinthians.
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order. (I Cor 14:33b-40)
Paul lays down the rule in 1 Cor 14:34 that women should not speak in the assemblies (or: the churches). This raises the question as to the kind of speech prohibited, especially since according to I Cor 11:5, Paul expects women to pray and prophesy in the assembly of the community.(30) Some see a discrepancy between the two passages and use it as evidence that I Cor 14:33b-36 is an interpolation. Such a view would only be valid if there were strong reason to believe that the difference is clearly a discrepancy. However, there is much evidence that no discrepancy exists.
Some have held that Paul refers to all speech in I Cor 14:34, and that he used prophesying and praying merely as an example in 1 Cor 11:5. Thus, in 1 Cor 14:34 he definitely rules out prophesying and praying aloud for women. However, this view does not do justice to I Cor 11:5. This passage takes the praying and prophesying of women very seriously and draws a direct parallel between the women and men. Another view is that 1 Corinthians 11 and I Corinthians 14 refer to different situations: 1 Corinthians 11 refers to home gatherings while 1 Corinthians 14 refers to public gatherings. However, there is no evidence within the text that would point to two different types of gatherings. More importantly, there is positive evidence that both chapter 11 and chapter 14 concern assemblies of the whole community (cf. 11:18; 14:26).
The more common view holds that the two passages refer to two different types of speaking for women. One type is acceptable; the other is not. This view draws upon strong evidence within the text. 1 Corinthians 11 mentions praying and prophesying and 1 Corinthians 14 refers to asking questions. The likely conclusion is that Paul is not ruling out all speech on the part of women in the assemblies of the community, but only certain kinds of speech.
There are also a number of different opinions as to what kind of speech was forbidden by Paul and what kind was acceptable.(31) Some hold that Paul forbids disorderly speech. He is urging the women to be orderly, and when he says "they should be subordinate," he is exhorting them to be subordinate to the order of the assembly. Some who hold such a view suggest that since men and women were seated on different sides of the place of assembly, following the custom of the synagogue, the women would have had to shout their questions across to their husbands and thus would have caused considerable confusion. This view allows us to imagine comical scenes in the early Christian worship, but does not appear extremely plausible. Others suggest that the women's section was particularly noisy, and therefore the women were being urged to good order. All these views miss an important point: Paul instructs the women to be silent because they are women, not because they are disorderly. First, the passage offers no hint that the women are causing any disorder other than the disorder that occurs simply from the fact that they are 11 speaking" and they are women. Secondly, Paul says that the rule he is applying is the same rule followed by all the churches of the saints and is not a directive given to straighten out a particular difficulty found among the Corinthians. Third, Paul says clearly that it is shameful for a woman to "speak." He does not say that it is shameful for a woman to speak in a disorderly way. Her "speaking" is the shameful action. Finally, if disorder were the issue, men as well as women should have been instructed to keep silent and to be subordinate to the order of the assembly.
Paul probably forbids the kind of speech which would be appropriate to instructional situations or situations in which something of importance to the community is being discussed in the assembly. In explanation of such a view, some suggest that the passage simply forbids women to teach and is parallel to I Tm 2:12. Others suggest that Paul forbids women to engage in discussion in the assembly about teaching or prophecies or to ask questions about the teaching or prophecies. This latter view has in its favor the fact that the text tells women to ask their questions at home. Moreover, some evidence indicates that instructional situations in the early Christian assemblies might have included discussion and not just a sermon with no group response. Matters of importance to the community were also possibly discussed in the gatherings. Thus the concern of the passage is probably something related to teaching or community leadership, and not something related to prophecy or worship.
Perhaps the part of the passage which most helps in understanding it is the sentence "They are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate." This phrase is sometimes overlooked in developing interpretations of the passage. Women are being forbidden a certain type of speech because they should be subordinate, not because to speak would scandalize outsiders, or violate the culture of the Corinthians or cause a disturbance. Paul is not concerned with subordination to the order of the assembly. Men should also be subordinate in this way, and Paul does not mention men. Also, the normal usage of "subordination" in the New Testament involves subordination to a person, not an order or procedure. Instead, Paul is concerned with the subordination that is specifically a part of being women. The speech denied them is a speech that is inappropriate because of their position as women or wives. A likely explanation of Paul's meaning draws on what we have already said about the responsibility the men of the community had for the life of the community as a whole. The heads of the households or the mature men would be the ones who would participate in community discussions affecting the direction of the overall community. These men would understand the discussion, explain it to the other members of their households, and represent the concerns of the whole household during the discussion.(32)
The context of this passage draws on the various customs and rules that governed expressions of respect. Most cultures, including Jewish culture of this period, observe rules of propriety in speech. People are usually expected to speak in a manner appropriate to their position and relationships, even if they are highly educated. For example, a trained disciple in first century Palestine would be very reluctant to voice an opinion in the presence of his rabbi or any other rabbi; he would even be reluctant to intervene in a discussion when his rabbi was present. Wives would usually speak in a way that expressed their subordination to their husbands, as would sons (including adult sons) to their fathers. Disciples, wives, and sons all held their speech as an expression of respect for those who were over them. Thus the issue in 1 Cor 14:33-36 is probably due respect and good order, not cultural accommodation or doubts about the intellectual abilities of the women. Indeed, the only reason Paul offers for the limitation on women's speech is their subordination.
Here again we must ask whether the passage institutes a rule for all women or only for wives. Verse 35 could be translated, "if there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home," or it could read "if there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their own men at home" (i.e., and not query the teacher or elders). The most likely understanding of the phrase "their own men" would be "their husbands," but the question still remains whether the passage was intended for all women as well as wives. The considerations offered in the earlier discussion of 1 Cor 11:2-16 apply here as well, and the conclusion is the same: The rule is intended for all women, although the passage sees wives as the model. To use an analogy, if Paul had forbidden children to speak in public as an expression of their subordination to their parents, no one would hesitate to apply the rule to orphans as well as to children with parents. The parent-child relationship would be the normal case, but the rule would also apply to children with surrogate parents. Similarly unmarried women would be expected to adhere to a rule for married women.
The phrase "as even the law says" does not help us understand the type of speech that Paul forbids. The phrase does not necessarily refer ,to women's silence. Nothing can be found in the Old Testament about the silence of women, nor do we find rules for the silence of women in assemblies in early rabbinical material nor in other Jewish explanations of teaching written around New Testament times.(33) Instead, the phrase "as even the law says" most likely refers to the subordination of women. Critics have made many suggestions about which section in the law Paul might be referring to.(34) Genesis 3:16 is a favorite suggestion, but if this were true, I Corinthians 14 would be the only place in the New Testament where the "curses" of the Fall were appealed to as a basis for Christian conduct, direction, or teaching. Others suggest Genesis 2 as the passage Paul had in mind or the example of the wives of the patriarchs, as in I Pt 3:6. On the other hand, the term "the law" could also refer to oral tradition or to the legal traditions of the Jewish people. In short, the reference is uncertain. However, one aspect of this reference is significant. Paul asserts that his ruling and its basis?woman's subordination to man (or the wife's subordination to the husband)?is a Christian teaching and rests on Christian authority. According to Paul, the law agrees with this point of Christian teaching, but the teaching itself is Christian. This remark makes it highly unlikely that Paul was unconsciously drawing his teaching on subordination from first century Judaism, a position that some modern critics hold. In fact, the term "as even the law says" suggests that Christians saw themselves as stronger than the Jews in this point of teaching.
The verses following verse 36 raise a further important consideration: Paul is passing on "a command of the Lord." His instructions are not his own opinion or decision, as they sometimes are, but they stem directly from something that the Lord has said. Therefore, we must ask which instructions in the passage should be considered a command of the Lord. Here again there are various opinions. Some hold that verses 34-35 are an interpolation and hence the "command of the Lord" does not apply to the rule concerning the speech of women. Some hold that the phrase "command of the Lord" refers specifically to the speech of women and hence the key text ought to extend to verse 38. Verses 39 and 40, then, would be the conclusion to the whole section composed of chapters 12 through 14 of I Corinthians. Some hold that the phrase refers to all the instructions given from verse 26 on, or even earliernamely, the instructions on order in the assemblies. As we have already indicated, the interpolation theory is not likely. Neither is it likely that the "command of the Lord" simply refers to order in the assemblies and not to the instructions about the :order for women. Hence, the "command of the Lord" refers either to the instructions about women alone or to the overall instructions about order in the assembly. Both are possible. The sense and flow of verses 37-40 suggests that the verses refer to the overall instruction in the chapter. However, it seems unlikely that the Lord would instruct his disciples about order in assemblies containing prophecy and tongues-speaking. Hence, the "command of the Lord" might well only apply to the instructions on women.
In either case, there is some indication that the instruction on the speech of women in 1 Corinthians 14 is based upon a command of the Lord. Therefore, we have some evidence that Jesus did deliver teaching about the role of women that was not preserved in the gospels, but was remembered by the early Christians and preserved in a canonical epistle written about twenty years after his death. This evidence cannot be considered compelling, but it is significant enough as a possibility that it should not be ignored when evaluating Jesus' teaching on women and the relationship between the teaching of Jesus and Paul.
This passage on the speech of women in assemblies of the Christian community again deals with a matter of cultural expression. The fundamental concern is with the social structure of the Christian community, in this case "subordination" rather than the order of "heads." Yet this social structure must be expressed in daily human experience through appropriate customs. just as dress can be an important expression of a relationship, so can speech, as indeed it has been and is for most human cultures. To speak or dress appropriately gives respect; to speak or dress inappropriately insults and degrades. Even though we cannot be certain of Paul's exact rule for speech, we can at least see the reasons underlying the importance he placed upon the rule.
This passage and the one in 1 Corinthians 11 also illustrate the great emphasis Paul puts upon order in the Christian community, particularly the order which expresses the social structure of man-woman relationships. Paul is no legalist, but he is very concerned about relationships and the patterns that preserve those relationships. In both 1 Cor 11:16 and I Cor 14:36 he is emphatic on this point:
If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?
These are not incidental statements that Paul is making lightly. Instead they are a deliberate exercise of his authority as an apostle. This indicates that Paul's teaching on men and women is an integral part of his teaching on Christian relationships.