Saturday, 22 June 2013

Female Head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Part 3 of 5): Brief Exegesis of Verses 2-10

     (2) Now I am commending you because you remember all things of me and are retaining the precepts just as I delivered [them] to you.1 The commendation is to “you” (plural), i.e. the specific audience to whom Paul is writing (cf. 1:2). These “traditions” (NKJV) or “ordinances” (KJV) or “teachings” (NIV) had been handed down to them by Paul’s personal instruction (3:2), in a previous letter (5:9), and through a personal representative (4:17).
     (3) But I am desiring you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is head of woman, and God is head of Christ. The contrast here indicates something new that Paul had not previously addressed, introducing the entire section about the relationship between God’s hierarchical arrangement and social decorum. The metaphoric use of the term “head” (kephalē) is “of superior rank” (cf. Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Colossians 1:18; 2:10, 19). Of the three occurrences of the term kephalē (“head”) in this verse, only the first has the article appended (“the head”), indicating the greater sense in which Christ is the head of man. The absence of the article with the other two uses of “head” may suggest that man is head of woman and God is head of Christ in a different way.
     (4) Every man praying or prophesying having [something] down upon his head disgraces his head. The context confines “every man” in this verse not simply to every man in the universe or even to every Christian man but to every Christian man praying or prophesying, and perhaps even further to every Christian man at Corinth praying or prophesying. Praying means to communicate to God, and prophesying means to proclaim a divine revelation (a gift not conferred upon everyone, 12:10, 28). Seeing that Paul ends each phase of his argument with a mention of women (the main topic of concern), his allusions to men are probably to bring out the contrast with the women. The setting here is not restricted to a corporate worship assembly; the observations would apply to any situation where praying or prophesying was done.
     (5) But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered is disgracing her head; for she is one and the same [thing] as the one having been shaved. Contrary to popular opinion, since the women are said to be doing the same thing as the men in the previous verse, a corporate worship assembly cannot be in view here (cf. 14:34-35). Because no particular setting is specified, these observations would apply to any situation (e.g. all female gatherings) where women could legitimately engage in praying or prophesying (see Acts 2:17; 16:13; 21:9; Titus 2:3-4). In light of v. 6, the covering here appears to be an artificial headdress in addition to her hair (consistent with societal norms). Even in gatherings restricted to females, especially in the context of spiritual activity, the customary emblems of modesty and decorum ought to be maintained. Just as shorn hair on a woman was considered disgraceful in this culture, the removal of the customary head-covering was regarded the same. A woman who ordinarily has her head covered in public should also (especially) cover her head while engaged in observable spiritual activities.
     (6) For if a woman is not being covered, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is dishonorable to a woman to have her hair cut or to be shaved, let her continue to have her [head] covered. This reinforces the argument of v. 5. If one thing happens to occur, then consistency should follow. The present imperative, “let her continue to have her head covered,” indicates further that the limited setting of a corporate worship assembly is not the exclusive focus. At whatever times it was considered indecorous for a Corinthian woman to have short hair or to be shaved, a respectable Corinthian woman was to have her head covered as often.
     (7) For indeed a man is not obliged to be covered continually, being the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. Apparently for a man in Corinth to habitually wear a head-covering would in some way obscure or diminish the image and glory of God which he reflects. This is the opposite of v. 6. Paul is not saying that a man is to never have his head covered, but rather he is not duty-bound to continually or habitually have it covered.
     (8) For man is not out of woman but woman is out of man; (9) for also man was not created for the sake of the woman, but woman for the sake of the man. The creation order is introduced here to further emphasize gender roles (cf. 1 Timothy 2:11-13). The head-covering, in this particular cultural setting, is linked to the principle of female subordination, and female subordination is tied to the order of creation, but the head-covering itself cannot be traced back to the garden of Eden.2
     (10) On account of this the woman ought to have authority over her head: on account of the angels. While the statement begins with dia touto (“on account of this”), does it point backward or forward? The demonstrative pronoun touto (“this”) is singular, indicating a solitary reason, and it naturally connects to the expressly stated reason in the same sentence: dia tous aggelous (“on account of the angels”). Paul is saying, “On account of this … [namely] on account of the angels.” Otherwise the last phrase is left hanging with no attachment to the rest of the sentence.3
     The woman ought to have exousia over her head. The word exousia means (a) freedom of choice, right; (b) ability, capability; (c) authority; (d) power (BAGD 277-78). The words “a veil” (RSV), “a sign of” (ASV), or “a symbol of” (ESV) do not appear in the original text, and the insertion of any of these significantly alters the sense of what the inspired writer has stated.
     Paul employs the term exousia eleven other times in his extant letters to Corinth, and in each case it is used in the active sense, i.e. the person has or exercises the authority rather than being passively submissive to it. Every time the word is used in 1 Corinthians leading up to 11:10, it has the connotation “freedom of choice” or “right” (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18). Granted, in the immediate context the apostle has indicated that women are in a position of submissiveness, and the head-covering appears to have been a distinctive indicator of this status in first-century Corinth. Nevertheless, v. 10 says what it says, and it should not be modified or embellished to force Paul to say what we might expect him to say.
     The basic idea of submission is to willingly sub-order oneself or to put oneself under the authority of another. In this sense submission is not forced but one exercises personal freedom in choosing to submit (cf. Ephesians 5:21-24). In the three chapters leading up to the head-covering discussion, Paul has been discussing Christian liberty. While recognizing that a child of God may have the right to do certain things, this freedom must be exercised responsibly and in consideration of others (8:9; 9:18; 10:24; 10:32–11:1). When Paul goes on to say that a woman ought to have exousia over her head, surely he means this freedom of choice is to be used in accordance with all that he has just written.
     The angels have freedom to choose yet remain in their rightful sphere of subjection (Psalm 103:20). In the proper use of their freedom God is glorified (Revelation 7:11-12). Likewise, if a woman was nothing more than a subjugated slave, forced against her will to submit to man, she would not be a glory to him. It is only when she has the freedom of choice (exousia), and exercises that freedom to fulfill her submissive role, that she avoids disgrace and is truly the glory of man.
     Admittedly what Paul affirms in v. 10 is not what one might expect. Rather than building upon the previous arguments, this verse appears to stand on its own. While it is linked to the exousia theme of the preceding chapters, if readers are attuned to the chiastic structure of the paragraph (see Part 1), this verse is recognized as the centerpiece of the immediate discussion.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
     2 If the head-covering itself is tied to creation, as some have maintained, then God’s people should have observed this convention since the beginning. The evidence for this, however, is lacking. There is no record that Eve wore a garment over her head; the Lord initially clothed Adam and Eve alike (Genesis 3:21). No specific examples are found in the Old Testament of what is alluded to in 1 Corinthians 11. The Law of Moses contains no explicit head-covering legislation. With the exception of the present text, the New Testament is silent on this topic. The creation-order argument is about gender roles rather than specific clothing regulation.
     3 The expression dia touto is used elsewhere in Paul’s writings to point forward: cf. 4:17; 2 Corinthians 4:1; Romans 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 3:5; Philemon 15.

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