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Comments by Richard E. Oster, Jr.

On 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

College Press NIV Commentary 1995

I was given a photocopy of the section of the above commentary. It is published by the publishing house of “conservative” Christian Church people. I am reproducing it here, minus the many footnotes, because I want the reader to see what a modern commentator does with this passage. Though he does not specifically apply the passage to modern times, and therefore does not say that a woman must cover her head in worship, his comments point to that conclusion. His material on men covering their heads in worship in his comments on verse 4 are very important. He points out in his comments on verse 5 that Paul is not talking about what a woman wears outside the home. He shows in his comments on verse 16 that all the churches of God observed the head covering practices Paul teaches in these verses. I think you will profit from considering what Mr. Oster has written.



A few comments about the literary structure and themes of this new section of 1 Corinthians are in order. First, there is no occurrence of the “now about” (peri de) introductory phrase which many interpreters believe signal topics raised by the Corinthians that the apostle is answering (see Introduction; cf. 1 Cor. 7:1; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Regardless of whether Paul is responding to inquiries in chapter 11, he clearly has two major issues before his readership, each of which begins with a form of verbal parallelism. The first section, 11:2-16, begins with the phrase “I praise you” while the second unit, 11:17-34, states “I have no praise for you.” Another feature of both topics in this chapter is that they deal with matters related to the liturgical and devotional practices of the Corinthian believers. With the primary focus of 11:2-16 being on prayer and prophecy (see notes on 11:4-5), and the focus of 11:17-34 being on the Lord’s Supper (11:20), one is constrained to see worship as the common denominator between these two blocks of Pauline instruction.


1. Head Coverings in Worship (11:2-10)

11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.

Consistent with Paul’s words of praise in this first section, the reader notices the mild tone, relative to 11:17-34, in Paul’s teaching. The apostle mentions two matters which serve as the basis (hoti) of his praise. They are the facts that the Corinthians remember him and that they embrace the religious traditions (paradoseis) with which he had instructed them in the past. All of this is to prepare them for additional religious tradition with which he hopes to correct the impropriety of their worship practices. This strategy of praising his readers prior to correction is not an uncommon rhetorical feature in Paul’s letters or ancient Greco-Roman moral philosophers. The pagan author Plutarch encouraged this pattern of behavior in his philosophy He wrote,

We ought to keep close watch upon our friends not only when they go wrong but also when they are right, and indeed the first step should be commendation cheerfully bestowed. Then later…we should give them an application of frankness.” (Plutarch “How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend” 73C-74E, cited in Malherbe, Moral Exhortation, no. 21, p. 53.)

11:3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Current literature on the issue of the Christian faith and its view(s) regarding the role, status, and function of men and women can easily be overwhelming and befuddling, particularly to the non-specialist. With the inundation of publications, all with differing agendas, scholars have found it helpful to categorize major schools of thought on the topic of the Bible and its view(s) about women. From the perspectives of a nonfeminist (i.e. “believes hierarchical relationships based upon gender are still normative within the church,”) Jack Cottrell has categorized feminist interpretations into four groups. (These summaries are taken from Jack Cottrell, Gender Roles and the Bible: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption, Joplin: College Press, 1994).

  1. Secular Feminism. These “have abandoned all religious belief as having any positive relation to feminist philosophy” and base their views “on human philosophy and humanistic theories of social justice”(p. 13).
  2. Goddess Feminism. This approach believes “that Goddess worship was the original nearly-universal religion and that it fostered a matriarchal culture [and that] feminist goals can best be achieved through a ‘return to the Goddess,’[a return that means becoming] an active part of the current revival of neo-pagan religions and witchcraft” (p. 14).
  3. Liberal Feminism. This approach “shares the same general goals of secular and Goddess feminism, but it pursues these goals from within the Christian framework….While granting that the Bible is mostly androcentric and patriarchal, they decline to abandon it altogether and to give up their connection with Jesus Christ….Liberal Christian feminism does not accept the Bible as the revealed and inspired Word of God nor as any kind of canonical authority [but rather believes that] women’s experience is the ultimate criterion of all truth” (pp. 16:17).
  4. Biblical Feminism. This perspective accepts “the final authority of the Bible and…believes that feminism is the Bible’s authentic teaching…[and] interprets the Bible as consistently teaching an egalitarian view of women” (pp. 18-19).

In light of the assumptions of a historical-exegetical method and the numerous exegetical abuses set forth both by feminist and ant-feminists, a few general observations are in order. First, when interpreters go beyond asking solely historical questions and attempt to isolate the differences between the temporary and the eternal in the teachings and affirmations of Paul, they must keep in mind that the apostle himself left no explicit guidelines for this task. That is, Paul did not employ some system of annotation, such as asterisks, to inform his original readers which instructions he thought were “only temporary.” A historically honest interpretation ought at least acknowledge what the apostle thought his own doctrines, and their foundations, were.

Second, one needs to be cautious about the dangers of feminist alchemy, whereby the feminist interpreter attempts to transmute, based upon ill-informed historical reconstructions and tendentious philology, Pauline words and theology into something deemed to be more desirable and precious than the original. There are far too many examples in current publications where ideology is paraded about masquerading as exegesis.

Finally, in its more egregious forms, current feminist theories disregard any part of the Scripture that does not conform to their own cultural, philosophical psychological, and social agendas. It is no coincidence that feminist interpretations are often mere echoes of whatever the currently popular social or political views happen to be.

Irrespective of what one chooses to do with the issue of feminism in the current setting, the intention of Paul can be more judiciously encountered and interpreted when his ideas are not jerked from the soil of his response to a first generation urban church in the Roman colony of Corinth.

The word “head” dominates in 1 Corinthians 11:3. The frequency of the term “head” (kephale) in this chapter (nine times) is a significant indicator of the issue under discussion in 11:2-16. Specifically, Paul explains his position in this section on the basis of the alternation between the literal and the metaphorical use of the term. He does this in order to deal with two head-related ideas, namely, the liturgical head covering and the significance of hair (or lack of it) on one’s head.

The occasional and contextual nature of Paul’s choice of wording in this verse is important to notice. It is evident that the meaning of the term “head” in the paired formulations of 11:3 seems to be created for this particular section since it is found in this connection nowhere else in Paul’s writings. Specifically, Paul nowhere else uses this term “head” (kephale) to denote the relationship between Christ and every male. Nor is there corroborating evidence elsewhere in Paul for his use of this word to depict the relationship between men and women. (Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5:21-33 is not about men and women, but rather about husbands and wives.) Most significantly, in all the Christological formulas and texts in Paul there are none which use the terminology of head to talk about the relationship between God and Christ. What stands before the interpreter, then, is another instance in which the apostle responds to a problematic situation with terminology and rhetoric which both arises from the ad hoc problem and corresponds to the occasional nature of the situation.

An important and detailed philological debate has arisen in the past few decades over the connotations of the Greek term kephale as it is used metaphorically in this section of 1 Corinthians. The two basic interpretations are that the term should be understood as meaning either (1) source or (2) leader (=in authority over). The fact that the forceful impetus for promoting interpretation no. 1 typically comes from New Testament scholars (e.g., Gordon Fee) with strong feminist perspectives explains why this theory is still somewhat novel. Those interpreters who endorse the second view represent both scholars who support the ordination of women as well as those with no interest in supporting the ordination of women. English translations, as one would expect, merely translate the word kephale as “head” and leave it to the reader to interpret its metaphorical connotations. The evaluation of Witherington seems correct on this point when he reasons that, “since the context has to do with authority, authorization, and order in worship, it would seem more probable that kephale has the metaphorical sense” of leader. (Conflict and Community in Corinth, pp. 237-238)

While the term “hierarchy” or “chain of command” will hardly do as a metaphor for the linking together of the three paired relationships (i.e., God-Christ; Christ-man; man-woman) in 11:3, one is not within earshot of this text if he cannot see that Paul, particularly in light of the following arguments of 11:2-16, is primarily focused on (re)affirming a certain liturgical propriety (see 11:13, “is it proper?” prepon estin) that employs a gender criterion.

In light of the fact that some of the Corinthian saints are not disposed to acquiesce to Paul’s judgments in this matter, as he himself acknowledges (11:16), Paul attempts in 11:3 to prove the validity of his position by making an appeal to “the arrangements which God has appointed” (Calvin) or, in more modern terms, “Paul’s view is that the creation order should be properly manifested, not obliterated, in Christian worship….” (Witherington)

Due to the fact that Paul makes a correlation between “divine order” (i.e., God is the kephale of Christ) and male “headship” (i.e., man is the kephale of woman) at Corinth, some interpreters with feminist-egalitarian commitments end up promoting an egalitarian view of the Trinity in its depiction of the relationship between God and Christ. This view is obviously non-Pauline! (See 1 Cor 15:28.)

In order to keep the implications of Paul’s argument clear, it is crucial to translate the pairing man/woman (aner/gyne) consistently in this particular rhetorical section. Accordingly, not only is it poor translation technique, but it also confuses the historical issues at Corinth to vacillate between man-woman and husband-wife in this section, or to interpret this section through the situation addressed in Eph 5:21ff where marriage is clearly meant.

11:4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

The history of the interpretation of 1 Cor 11:4 manifests a wide diversity of methodologies and corresponding conclusions. Two major methodological problems explain most of the incorrect interpretations of this section. Either the interpreter is:

  1. remiss in understanding and using the appropriate sources from ancient cultures or

  2. preoccupied with demonstrating that Paul’s principal complaint is with Christian women at Corinth.

  3. John C. Hurd, for example, questions the necessity of knowing the historical information about the background to this situation when he writes, “It is not necessary to decide the difficult historical problem of the actual social mores which were current at that time.” Others, such as Gordon Fee, have misjudged the availability of the pertinent evidence. Contrary to the evidence of a plethora of literary and archaeological evidence Fee concluded, “There is almost no evidence (paintings, reliefs, statuary, etc.) that men in any of the cultures (Greek, Roman, Jew) covered their heads.” After abandoning the hope of finding a historical and cultural matrix that would provide insight into the Corinthian situation, he is drawn inevitably to conclude, “In the final analysis, however, we simply have to admit that we do not know. In any case, it is hypothetical, whatever it was.”

These conclusions by Fee and others simply do not acknowledge the relevant archaeological and literary evidence from antiquity. Notwithstanding this neglect, the ancient evidence is incontestable and widespread. Plutarch, a Greek writing author who lived during the early Roman Empire, wrote that the Romans, as opposed to Greeks, “thus worshipped the gods either humbling themselves by concealing the head, or rather by pulling the toga over their ears.” The later author Dionysis of Halicarnassus likewise observed that this use of the devotional head covering was an important Roman religious practice used when participating in prayer, prophecy or sacrifice. The Latin author Valerius Flaccus, writing in the late first century A.D., mentions the pagan prophet Mopsus who “veiling his head” worships by offering a libation. Virgil, the famous Latin author who wrote shortly after the time of the refounding of Corinth as a Roman colony, also sheds light on this significant Roman liturgical practice. In the epic story of Rome’s beginning recorded in the Aeneid, one learns that it was sacred law for the Romans to veil their heads when worshiping and sacrificing to their gods and goddesses. Regarding this custom and tradition the prophet Helenus proclaims that “this mode of sacrifice do thou keep, thou and thy company; by this observance let thy children’s children in purity stand fast.” Both the frequency and the significance of this pietistic head covering gesture is attested by the Latin author Lucretius who ridicules Roman piety with these words,

It is no piety to show oneself often with head covered, turning towards a stone and approaching every altar, none to fall prostrate upon the ground and to spread open the palms before shrines of the gods, none to sprinkle altars with blood of beasts in shows and to link vow to vow.

In addition to an enormous amount of literary data that depicts the Roman devotional head-covering, it is also attested by visual evidence on ancient Roman coins, Roman statues, and Roman altar reliefs from around the Mediterranean world. Even though some interpreters of this Corinthian text are yet unconvinced that this widespread Roman practice should be seen as the backdrop for this verse, other scholars are now convinced that this provides the most plausible explanation for the situation assumed by this opening section of 1 Cor 11:2ff. All things considered, it is not a radical conclusion to affirm that a congregation in a large Roman colony would have some Roman members who would have been converted from Roman paganism and would have brought some of their devotional and liturgical traditions with them into the worship assemblies of the church of God.

  1. Probably because of the gender of most interpreters of 1 Corinthians, many have thought that the only aberrant believers whom the apostle was addressing in this section were women. As Jerome Murphy-O’Connor has shown, it is a masculine bias that has focused on Paul’s injunctions in 11:2-16 and concluded that no men were at fault. Typical of the history of this sexist exegesis were comments by:

a. Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer: “There is no reason for supposing that men at Corinth had been making this mistake in the congregation. The conduct which would be improper for men is mentioned in order to give point to the censure on women, who in this matter had been acting as men.”

b. Charles Hodge: “The thing to be corrected was women appearing in public assemblies unveiled…. Men are mentioned only for the sake of illustrating the principle.”

c. Hans Conzelmann: “The parallelism between vv 4 and 5 expresses the fundamental equality of rights although it is only the woman’s conduct that is at issue.”

d. F. F. Bruce: “It is improbable that Christian men were actually veiling their heads in Corinth; the reference to their (hypothetically) doing so is necessary to complete the argument.”

An overview of 11:2-16 makes it clear that Paul is quite even-handed in his directives and arguments about both men (aner) and women (gyne) in this chapter: (There follows a chart which shows that aner is used 14 times in these verses and gyne 16 times.)

Another clear implication of this statistical evidence is that in Paul’s mind gender is the controlling issue of the paradigm with which he is operating. This means that social status issues were not what the apostle was striving to counter.

There are three exegetical points in the text that need to be mentioned. First, in light of the Greek words used by Paul for the phrase “with his head covered,” (kata kephales echon) there is no need to question whether he had the idea of a head covering in mind. In light of the ancient philological evidence, the words and idioms used by Paul most naturally refer to the Roman toga which would
have covered the head of someone worshiping. Second, given the Roman cultural setting of this custom, it is extremely doubtful whether the acts of praying and prophesying mentioned here ought to be identified with the “charismatic” praying and prophesying recounted in 1 Cor 14. Finally, the second reference to the head (i.e., the dishonored head) in this verse is the literal head of the man who prays and prophesies and not Christ as the head. {class=“indented”}

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.

Since the apostle specifies the exact circumstance he has in mind and this is participation in liturgy (i.e., praying and prophesying), one has clearly left Paul’s agenda to take this text to refer to what a believing woman should wear when she goes outside her home. Admittedly there were ancient dress codes of modesty that were concerned about the modesty of a woman’s attire in public. A pagan philosophical document coming from a time generally contemporary with early Christianity asserts that,

The temperate, freeborn woman must live with her legal husband adorned with modesty, clad in neat, simple, white dress without extravagance or excess. She must avoid clothing that is either entirely purple or is streaked with purple and gold.

Paul has no interest in the issue mentioned in the above quotation. Moreover, he is not even addressing a situation concerning what women should wear “to the assembly.”

Several preposterous suggestions have been offered about the background of Paul’s concern here. One such idea states that Paul is combating a situation where the women believers were appearing like prostitutes since they were unveiled. Another perspective states that there were women running around unclothed in the assembly in some orgiastic-like demeanor. These types of suggestions and reconstructions stem from a fertile imagination rather than any exegetical or historical evidence.

The apostle’ observations in this verse are solely about women’s devotional attire in the presence of men during periods of worship in which some woman participated. Since women prophets are also attested in the Acts of the Apostles, a reference here to women prophesying should come as little surprise. Since prophecy was a gift for corporate worship (1 Cor 14), he can hardly have in mind at 11:5 some worship that is performed alone or without the presence of men. In fact, had there been no men present (1 Cor 11:4) when these sisters were praying and prophesying, this issue would not have even arisen for Paul to correct.

Interpreters differ over the various possible connotations of the threefold use of the word “head” in this verse. While all take the first and third occurrences to be literal, many view the second occurrence (dishonors the head) to be a metaphorical reference. The use of head does not likely refer metaphorically to the woman’s husband as Kistemaker and Gill believe since in this section aner refers to man and not to a husband. Another metaphorical view interprets the reference back to head in 11:3 and takes 11:5 as a reference to the woman’s man “in terms of male/female relationships.” This view is likewise not without problems. In my judgment Paul uses this term kephale in the literal sense all three times in 11:5. As Robertson and Plummer noted, “The unveiled woman dishonours her head because that is the part in which the indecency is manifested.” The connecting Greek word gar (for; omitted in the NIV translation) between the second and third occurrences of the word “head” reveals the connection in Paul’s mind between dishonoring one’s literal head and the similar meaning manifested when the literal head is shaved. Barrett sees the same connection and notes about the meaning of the phrase “dishonors her head” that “the subsequent reference to shaving suggests that her physical head is meant.”

11:6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

The interpreter finds himself, somewhat unexpectedly, in the midst of references to hair, or its absence, on women’s heads. In light of the dual references in this section to bald women and men with long hair, scholars have wondered exactly what Paul is referring to. There are two main schools of thought regarding Paul’s intent in introducing issues of hair and hair length.

One school of thought believes that some of the Corinthians are manifesting concrete problems with the length of their hair. Interpreters mention the ancient phenomenon of men, either homosexuals or disheveled cynic philosophers, having long, stringy, and unkempt locks, and the phenomenon of women, usually prostitutes, adulteresses, or priestesses in pagan cults, with shorn heads. In light of this perspective, Paul is admonishing the men and women believers to abandon these unacceptable hair styles because of their dishonorable reputation.

A second understanding views the arguments about the respective hair lengths as not directed to any concrete problems that the Corinthian saints have, but as arguments used to buttress Paul’s contention that head coverings, hair or otherwise, do make a difference. This second interpretive approach seems more cogent to me. It does not have the liability of having Paul introduce an issue which has nothing essential to do with the topic of worship, a topic which is the focus of the entirety of the rest of chapter 11.

Moreover, at the rhetorical level this second understanding makes the best sense of Paul’s strategy of connecting the issue of artificial head coverings with the issue of the natural covering provided by human hair, especially in 11:13-15. Paul anticipates the problems that some of his readers will have with his admonitions on the head veils (11:16) and he intends to persuade them on the basis of an appeal to commonly held values. That is, Paul’s thesis that liturgical head coverings should differ according to gender will not appear cogent to Roman believers for whom the devotional head covering was never a gender-related practice. In this situation Paul wants to argue, based upon the authority of the everyday perceptions and values of his readers, that everyone knows that shame and dishonor can be attributed to a person’s literal head based upon the presence or lack of a natural covering.

In light of the premise at the end of the preceding verse (a woman’s uncovered head is like a shaved head), Paul argues that the logic of the situation demands that the sisters at Corinth who are uncovered during the participation in praying and prophesying in worship should be consistent and have their “hair cut off.” Conversely, if it is a correct premise(and Paul’s audience would have certainly consented to this premise) that a woman with a shaven head is a disgrace, then Paul concludes the argument, the women at Corinth who wish to avoid a disgraceful demeanor must cover their heads during the liturgical circumstances set forth in 11:5.

11:7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

In this verse Paul cannot employ an argument against men’s improprieties that is identical with the one that he used against women in the preceding verse. Given the realities of human genetics (men have a greater propensity for balding) and the fact that the cultural image of a man with a shaven head did not engender concepts of disgrace, the apostle’s reasoning turns at this point to other arguments and resources.

As mentioned above, the Greek author Plutarch reports important information about this Roman practice of head covering. In his discussion he makes it clear that there were several distinct and at times conflicting interpretations about the meaning and significance of the wearing of the liturgical veil. One of the stronger interpretations was that the wearing of the devotional head covering was a sign of giving honors to the gods (time). The apostle himself will reveal more than one reason for the divine necessity (opheilo) involved in his instruction.

The justification, indeed demand, that male participants in worship keep heads uncovered is first argued on the basis of the terms “image” (eikon) and “glory” (doxa). In light of the explicit reference to the creation account of Genesis in 1 Cor 11:8-9, there is no justification for denying the implicit reference to it in 11:7. In fact, if one were looking for Scripture attestation to issues related to men and women one would hard pressed to find a more natural place to begin than Genesis.

The internal “logic” of Paul’s argumentation has not always been readily apparent. This is understandable since the attribute of glory in the case of the man requires unveiling while praying and prophesying though in the case of the woman it requires veiling. The upshot of the apostle’s reasoning seems to be that man can worship God without a head covering since he is the glory (doxa) of God’s creation. Woman on the other hand is the glory (doxa) of man and not of God. Therefore, she must pray and prophesy in the presence of men with head covered.

Most interpreters rightly observe that the apostle did not say that woman was the image (eikon) of man, but only his glory. It is surely, however, a trivialization of Paul’s thought to suggest no more than that. “Perhaps he means that women’s uncovered heads are drawing men’s attention to humanity instead of to God; as one would say today, they were turning men’s heads.”

11:8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;

By his use of the term “for” (gar) he offers 11:8 as an explanation of how woman is the glory of man. Specifically, Paul has in mind limiting this perspective of glory to the priority of man’s creation to woman’s. This is an obvious allusion to Gen 2:22-23 which states, “Then the Lord God made woman from the rib he had taken out of man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman” for she was taken out of man.’”

11:9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Having given an argument in 11:8 based upon the relative origin of the female species (from man), Paul now turns to an argument based upon the cause (dia plus the accusative case) for the creation of the woman. Paul again draws his theological perspectives from the Genesis narrative, this time from Gen 2:18-20. God observed the loneliness of the man and decided to create an appropriate helper for him to remedy this problem, a helper whose role in this regard, according to the narrative of Gen 2:18-24, is completed in marital union.

Since Adam and Eve are presented in Genesis as both the first married couple and the first man and woman, it is crucial to keep in mind which perspective Paul is focused on in 1 Cor 11. As Witherington correctly concluded, Paul’s “argument [in this section] is not about family relations but about praying and prophesying in Christian worship.” It is especially difficult to follow Paul’s argument if we read husband and wife rather than man and woman into 11:8.

11:10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

This one brief sentence is replete with grammatical, philological, and exegetical difficulties. One of the less significant of these problems is how to understand the opening words “for this reason” (dia touto). Does this prepositional phrase point back to the preceding sentence or to the following thoughts or to both? Fee is of the opinion that the meaning of this phrase functions “in both directions at once” which means that “the woman ought to have authority over her head because she is man’s glory” and also “because of the angels.”

A more difficult and significant issue is the proper understanding of the Greek wording behind the NIV’s translation “have a sign of authority” (exousian echein). At the most rudimentary level the Greek merely says “have authority” on her head. The difficulty is that Paul’s general contextual view seems to point in the direction of women wearing head coverings. Since Paul has established (11:3) that man is the head of woman, how does the woman’s wearing of the head covering signify her authority? If it is man’s authority that he wishes to advocate (as the context clearly indicates), then why use the word “authority” (exousia), which has implied to certain interpreters that Paul is acknowledging that the woman does “wear authority”? A host of explanations for this irregularity have been offered. In a famous article by Morna Hooker she advocates that the woman does have new authority in the Christian faith to pray and prophesy in public worship when wearing the head covering. Many interpreters and most translations take “authority” to mean “sign of authority” or “sign of submission” and correlate that with the veil as such a sign. Robertson and Plummer take Paul to be saying that the woman does in fact have authority over what is on her head. Since she is in charge of what she wears on her head, she should not expose it so as to put herself to shame. Fee surveys the several possibilities that have been advocated over the years, and opts for the meaning “The woman ought to have the freedom over her head to do as she wishes,” and then confesses “what that means in this context remains a mystery.”

The third troublesome part of this verse is the final prepositional phrase “because of the angels.” The older concept that Paul’s reference is an adaptation of the Gen 6:21 text (“the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful”), understood in ancient Judaism as a saga where heavenly beings were sexually attracted to women, is highly problematic since the head covering provided by the Roman toga did not particularly cover up erogenous areas. A very interesting theory is one found in, among others, Robertson and Plummer, who comment that the apostle is reminding women that “she must remember that she will also be shocking the angels, who of course are present at public worship.” The investigation of the archaeological materials from the Dead Sea Scrolls has yielded a similar motif of angelic presence at worship.

While certitude hardly seems possible at this juncture in research, the function of this text seems discoverable. The purpose of this verse is to keep the heads of the women participants covered and to base that appeal upon certain divine realities.

2. Hair in the Nature of Things (11:11-16)

11:11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

In spite of all the differences between man and woman and notwithstanding the “headship” relationship that exists between them, Paul will not allow this to promote a gender-based sense of autonomy and gender self-sufficiency. Since there is no historical evidence that Paul is attempting in this section of Corinthians to suppress “uppity women” or first century “women libbers” there is no need to see Paul’s plea for interdependence as a constraint on some woman’s radical misunderstanding of her new freedom in Christ. Though it is assumed with some regularity in current interpretation there is no historical evidence that some of the Corinthian sisters were taking the affirmation of Gal 3:28 — In Christ there is neither male nor female — to some aberrant extreme.

Calvin was of the opinion that Paul wrote this verse “partly to restrain men from treating women badly, partly to give encouragement to women, so that their subjection may not be a source of annoyance to them.” Some interpreters see these thoughts as representing “an about-face” from the preceding Pauline ideas since “if taken at face value, [they] controvert his remarks immediately preceding.” Accordingly, Holladay concludes that if they are taken as the words of “an imaginary opponent, expressing the views of the ‘enlightened’ within the church, they are more comprehensible.” Fee, on the other hand, suggests that this verse is designed to qualify the woman’s understanding of her own authority (exousia) mentioned in 11:10 as well as “to keep the earlier argument from being read in a subordinationist way.”

One’s understanding of the prepositional phrase “in the Lord” should impact one’s interpretation of the apostle’s statement here. While it is almost universally believed that Paul is talking about gender relationships between fellow believers (because of the phrase “in the Lord”), this view is not without problems. First, is Paul setting up a double standard whereby the benefits of the suggestion of the male hierarchy in 1 Cor 11:11-12 is only for believing women? Must a woman or a man be “in the new age” in order to receive such treatment from a follower of Christ? Second, if this prepositional phrase refers to Christian relationships, why is Paul’s explanation (gar, 11:12) and illustration taken from the creation account of Genesis and the natural world of reproduction?

11:12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Paul now demonstrates by an argument from Scripture and an argument from nature that there does exist a divinely directed mutuality between men and women. The fact that a woman is not independent of man (11:11) is shown by the fact that in the creation of mankind woman was taken from man (identical to the observation made in 11:8). Moreover, man’s dependence on woman is manifested, Paul argues, in the fact that men are conceived in and born of women.

Paul’s concluding phrase in this verse is typically theocentric. It certainly removes any misplaced emphasis upon the man or woman isolated and removed from his or her theocentric origin. This may be his way of restating in summary form the headship paradigm of 1 Cor 11:3 in which God clearly stood at the zenith of headship over Christ as well as men and women.

11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Paul had earlier challenged the readers to judge for themselves what he was saying (see 1 Cor 10:15). The fact that he mentions only the woman at this juncture does not negate the entirety of the preceding eleven verses in which he also focused attention on men. In fact, this verse is parallel to 11:5 except that here Paul’s argument shifts to an argument based upon propriety (prepon, cf. Eph 5:3; 1 Tim 2:10). With this reference to a woman praying Paul obviously has in mind the liturgical setting assumed in 1 Cor 11:4-5 and not just any setting of personal devotion and piety.

11:14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,

Here the apostle shifts to yet another form of argumentation, namely an argument from nature (he physis; cf. Rom 1:26). This type of argumentation was relatively well known and popular at Paul’s time. In fact, the important Stoic author Epictetus appeals to the fact that God has given men and women different amounts of hair to distinguish the two sexes from each other. But what did Paul mean with this mention of the didactic character of “the very nature of things”? According to Calvin, with this reference to nature, Paul is pointing to “what was accepted by common consent and usage at that time.” Thus, one learns from both the literary and archaeological evidence of that period that acceptable men, indeed, men of propriety, used barbers and typically had short hair. In the routine experience of an urbane Corinthian believer, it would be disgraceful (atimia) men such as the male homosexual or the unkempt Cynic philosophers who “typically” might have long hair.

11:15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

Paul’s explicit point here is not to get the Corinthian sisters to let their hair grow longer, but to reinforce his argument upon the basis of a pre-existing conviction and experience of the Corinthians about “natural” head-coverings on women. It is a glory to a woman to have long hair because it serves as a covering (anti peribolaiou) for her. Paul is not saying, as is sometimes suggested, that the woman can have long hair in place of the liturgical headcovering. Rather, since natural hair is a glory and serves as a covering, they ought to embrace Paul’s emphasis upon a liturgical head-covering.

11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.

Paul’s concern about contentiousness (philoneikos) is focused upon the original issues raised in 11:4-5. If some of the Corinthian readers are still at loggerheads with Paul’s position and instruction about devotional head-coverings they should know how out-of-step they are with both Paul and the rest of the churches. The designation “churches of God” fits well with this widespread designation used by Paul in the Corinthian letters (e.g., 1 Cor 1:1; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9). By the nature of this appeal, Sampley states, “Paul recognizes a nascent sense of collectivity of his congregations. Insofar as individual churches are supposed to be swayed by practices that prevail ‘in all the churches.’”

The translation “no other practice” is infamously imprecise since the word translated “other” (toiauten) never means that except in the translation of this verse. Paul stated that we have no such practice (synetheian), referring to the head-covering practices corrected in 11:2-15, though some interpreters believe that Paul refers to the practice of being contentious.