Copyright 1996-2005 Robert Nguyen Cramer
PAUL'S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
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The words in quotations are the words that had been written to Paul, words to which Paul is responding in the following verses. Marcus J. Borg (Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally, NY: HarperCollins, 2001) comments:
As Paul responds to a letter he has received, he sometimes quotes or echoes words from it. we we do not realize this, serious misunderstanding can result. A classic example occurs in 1 Corinthians.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
If we see it as Paul's point of view, then it follows that Paul sees sexuality as less desirable than abstinence and his acceptance of sexual behavior as a concession to human weakness. Through most of the Christian centuries, the passage has been read this way (no wonder, then, that Paul has been thought of as anti-sex and that Christians have often struggled with sexuality). But if Paul is quoting from a letter sent to him, then he is countering the statement rather than affirming it. (Try it; note the difference it makes to put quotation marks around the second sentence.) Modern scholars are virtually unanimous that this is the correct way to read it.
Several issues should be highlighted:
- The created distinction between man and woman should be honored in the church... A healthy community needs men and women together (v. 11), not a group of people striving for sexless neutrality.
- At the same time the functional equality of men and women in worship and community leadership should be emphasized. Paul promulgates his teaching about head coverings for women not in order to restrict their participation in prayer and prophecy but rather to enable them to perform these activities with dignity, avoiding distractions for people whose cultural sensibilities were formed by the social conventions of the ancient Mediterranean world. Anyone who appeals to this passage to silence women or to deny them leadership roles in the church is flagrantly misusing the text...
Any honest appraisal of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 will require both teacher and students to confront the patriarchal implications of verses 3 and 7-9. Such implications cannot be explained away by some technical move, such as translating kephale as "source," rather than "head," because the patriarchal assumptions are imbedded in the structure of Paul's argument...
For a very different approach from the majority of scholars regarding 1Co 11:2-16, see William P. Welty's "Rethinking the veil: another approach to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16" at http://williamwelty.com/docs/rethinking_the_veil.pdf. There the author follows reasoning originally proposed by John Lightfoot and later by Katherine C. Bushnell that Paul in these verses was not arguing for women to have their heads covered but against men having their heads covered (with a tallith). He argues that according to the text women have the authority to decide for themselves.
Paul does talk about head-coverings for men and women. In the context of a few verses before Chapter 11 -- "Be without offense both to the Jews and to the Greeks and to the church of God," etc., Paul praises his addressees for remembering what he transmitted to them previously (11:2), and then he recapitulates what he transmitted to them (verses 3-9). But then he revises that, in light of what is true "in the Lord" (verse 11) and of the fact that "everything is from God" (verse 12, cf. also 10:31 "...you do everything to the glory of God"). And then comes the rest, with the gist that "the hair is given in place of a covering" to both men and women (verse 15; note that the KJV "her" in "is given her" is an addition, to be removed). In verse 16, I think what Paul is referring to when he says "we don't have such a custom," etc., is the liking to be contentious. This takes him to a discussion of "divisions" further on (verse 18 ff.).
To put all of this in its proper setting, it should be understood that until the 4th century (under Constantine's rule), community Christian worship took place entirely in house churches. These were Christians' private homes that were made available to the local Christian community for worship, and home was the traditional domain of women. To further explore house churches, browse http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/house-churches.htm.
Regardless of how 1Co 11:2-16 are interpreted, what we do know is that women did play very active roles in Paul's churches and that this text was not intended by Paul to in any way impede women's active participation in church. After all, Paul had written a letter of introduction for Phoebe, the presiding church leader in Cenchrae, as she journeyed to Ephesus, as described in detail by Helmut Koester at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/women01.htm. One way or another, it was the dignity of women and men -- and order in the church -- that Paul was really emphasizing in 1Co 11:2-16.
NT usage: head; life; what is superior or determinative.
1. The head of man or beast, the coping of a wall, the capital of a column etc., the source or mouth of a river, the beginning or end of a month, etc... (page 157)
Johannes P. Louw & Eugene A. Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, based upon Semantic Domains, Volumes 1 and 2, New York: United Bible Societies, 1989, Vol 1, primarily: 95-96 (8.10), 739 (87.51); secondarily: 88 (7.44), 527 (49.16), 261 (23.83), 307 (25.160), 484 (37.102), 310-311 (25.199); Vol 2, page 141) write that the key usages of kephale are head and superior.
Richard B. Hays (First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997) provides an excellent analysis of the use of kephale in his section on "Hairstyles and Gender Distinctions (pages 182-192). Hays concludes that Paul's intended meaning was head rather than source.
Paul does not argue in 11:2-16 for the "creational" or "symbolic" difference between women and men despite their equality in Christ, but for the custom of bound-up hair, as the symbol of women's prophetic-charismatic power. Like his other arguments in 1 Cor 11:2-14-40 his instruction aims at playing down the impression of madness and frenzy so typical of orgiastic cultic worship. Decency and right order in the community require women prophets and charismatics actrively engaged in the worship of the community to look "proper." Paul therefore makes a more or less convincing theological argument for the "proper" hairstyle as the cultic symbol for women's spiritual power and equality in the Lord. The goal of his argument, then, is not the reenforcement of gender differences but the order and missionary character of the worship community. (page 230)
While most earlier scholars have concluded that uncovered really meant unveiled, Richard B. Hays (First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997) concurs with Fiorenza and some other scholars who conclude that Paul was instructing women to wear their long hair tied up on top of their heads ("covered"), rather than letting it hang long over their shoulders ("uncovered"), which was associated with prostitutes.
In rendering 1 Cor 11:4, pas aner proseukomenos e propheteuon kata kephales ekon ' any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered,' it may be important to indicate that the covering is not one which is designed to cover the entire head including the face , but only the top of the head. The same applies, of course, to 1 Cor 11:5 and 7.
In verses 7-9, however, Paul raises the theological stakes by introducing a new line of argument based on his reading of the Genesis creation story. A man should not cover his head because man is created as "the image and glory of God" (Gen 1:27), but woman is "the glory of man." Here, regrettably, Paul gets himself into a theological quagmire. Genesis 1:27 explicitly says that humankind is created "in the image of God ... male and female he created them." Paul's interpretation of the test, however, seems to depend on a tradition -- perhaps based on Genesis 2:7 -- that thinks of the male only as originally created in God's image...
Through <dia, #1223> this <touto, #3778> owes/should <opheilei, #3784> the <he, #5> woman <gune, #1135> authority <exousian, #1849> to have <echein, #2192> on <epi, 1909> the <tes, #6> head <kephales, #2776> because <dia, #1223> of the <tous, #16> angels <aggelous, #32>.
1. For this reason, the woman should have [the symbol of] authority on the head, because of the angels. [a translation consistent with almost all biblical commentators]
authority: (1) her authority to pray and prophesy, or (2) male authority to which she is to submit
symbol of authority: head-covering
because of the angels: (1) good angels, the specific nature of which were understood by both Paul and the Corinthians, or (2) bad angels, that lead male congregants to lust after women with uncovered heads
2. For this reason, the woman should have authority over [her own] head, because of the angels. [a translation consistent with Lightfoot, Bushnell, Welty, Lehrman]
i.e.: woman should have the authority to decide for herself, as she feels led by the angels
This is one of the most difficult verses in the New Testament. The difficulties concern not only interpretation and background, but also text and translation...
The most likely explanation is in two parts. (1) A woman must wear a head covering in order that she may cease to fulfill her natural function of reflecting the glory of man, and instead be free to pray or prophesy to the glory of God alone. (2) The head covering is the sign of the authority that God now gives to a woman in order that she may speak to God in prayer and declair his word in prophecy. "That is, her veil represents the new aurhority given to the woman under the new dispensation to do things that formerly had not been permitted" (Barrett)...
If this argument is correct, the following expanded translation may be proposed: "That is why a woman should wear on her head the sign that she is authorized to pray and declare God's message, so that the angels may know that she has this authority." GECL is even clearer: "For this reason the woman must wear a scarf on her head as a sign of her authority, and thus satisfy the order over which the angels watch."
Welty's (i.e., Bushnell's) interpretation of verse 10 as something like "woman must have authority over her (own) head" is perfectly correct.
Finally, he [Paul] appeals to reason (vv. 13-16). The Corinthians should know what is 'proper' in the matter of hair and head-covering. The appeal to 'nature' in v. 14 with reference to the degradation of long hair shows how disastrously Paul has confused 'nature' and 'custom', a confusion which has led him to support cultural norms with arguments from 'creation'. He may realize that his arguments are not likely to persuade and thus resorts finally to an abrupt dismissal of 'contentiousness', refusing to allow further discussion on this matter (v. 16).
The conclusions of William Welty (with Lighfoot, Bushnell, and Lehrman) provide the only explanation that avoids the conclusion that Paul became confusedly tangled in his own misplaced scriptural and cultural references. One might say the jury is out on Welty's conclusions, but since those conclusions are so little known, the "jury" of biblical scholars has not yet even heard the case.
1Co 11:13 - meaning of this verse
In (en, #1722) you (humin, #1473) to them (autois, #846) you judge (krinate, #2919): proper (prepon, #4241) it is (estin, #1510) woman/wife (gunaika, #1135) uncovered (akatakalupton, #177) to the (to, #3) God (Theo, #2316) pray (prospeuchesthai, #4336).
1. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? [a translation consistent with most biblical commentators]
2. Judge for yourselves. It is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. [a translation consistent with Lightfoot, Bushnell, Welty, Lehrman]
1Co 11:14,15 - KJV wording: Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her?: for her hair is given her for a covering. BibleTexts.com's literal translation: Nature itself doe not teach you that if man indeed has hair, it is dishonor to him, but that if woman has hair, it is glory to her, because hair has been given in place of covering. BibleTexts.com's exegesis: Consistent with Alexander Lehrman's explanation below, through rhetorical questions Paul here seems to be saying that hair is natural for men and for women, because for both men and women, hair is a covering.
Bruce Metzger (TCGNT p. 495-496) comments:
The absence of aute in p46 [ca. 200 A.D.] D [5th-6th C] E [8th C] F [9th C] G [10th C] Psi [8th-9th C] and many other witnesses, as well as the variety of its position either before or after dedotai, might lead one to reject the word (as G. Zuntz argues on the basis of sense; see The Text of the Epistles, 1953, p. 127). On the other hand, a majority of the Committee, impressed by the weight of the combination of Aleph [Codex Sinaiticus, 4th C] A [5th C] B [4th C] 33 [5th C] 81 [1044 A.D.] 365 [7th C] 2464 [9th C] al, preferred to retain the word, but to enclose it within square brackets to indicate doubts as to its right to be in the text.
p46's early date of around 200 A.D. makes it closer to the time when women's equal participation and leadership roles in church were much more common, as in Paul's churches in the 1st century. During and after Constantine's 4th century reign, texts and documents that did not reflect the imperial church's doctrines were systematically changed or destroyed. (For examples, see http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/tr-wtext.htm and http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa130.htm#b.) Proto-orthodoxy (prior to Constantine) and the emperially established orthodoxy concurred on the subservience of women.
The UBS's New Testament Greek Committee's uncertainty regarding p46's omission of aute are warranted, in light of some of p46's more obvious errors (e.g., 1Co 13:5 euschemonei instead of aschemonei) and occasional editorial changes (e.g., 1Co 13:13 word order); however, the Committee generally gives most credibility to p46's readings, and p46 has little evidence of actual omissions. It is my current conclusion that aute was not present in the original letter of Paul.
Welty ... is absolutely correct in interpreting verse 14 to mean "Nature itself does not teach you...," etc. The Greek verb komao does not mean "to have LONG hair," it means merely "to have hair (on one's head)." So the King James version represents a great distortion of the original, as does Waltke's interpretation.
There is divided scholarly opinion regarding what was the original Greek text of this verse. The weight of manuscript evidence supports the NRSV translation of this verse as follows: "If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." This was also the basic reading in Rotherham's Bible (which was begun in 1868 and completed in 1902) and in the Twentieth Century New Testament (which was begun in 1898, completed in 1901, and first published as a single volume in 1904). The only other recent translation that uses the NRSV's reading is the New American Bible, which is itself a consistently excellent translation. The NRSV's reading is based upon the conclusion of the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament. On the basis of that committee's review of all available manuscripts, it edits and publishes the definitive Greek New Testament. Bruce Metzger, who is a member of that committee and who chaired the New Revised Standard translation committee, commented on this verse in his definitive Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. That Textual Commentary is basically a report of the conclusions of the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament. He comments in part (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, New York: United Bible Societies, 1994, page 498):
A majority of the Committee preferred kauchesomai ["that I may boast"] for the following reasons. (a) After the Church entered the epoch of martyrdom, in which death by fire was not rare, it is easier to understand how the variant kauphesomai [to be burned] for kauchesomai would creep into the text, than the opposite case. Likewise the passage in Daniel was well known in the Church and might easily have induced a copyist to alter kachesomai into kauthesomai. On the other hand, if the latter reading were original, there is no good reason to account for its being replaced in the oldest copies by the other reading.
If kauphesomai, "be burned," is the correct reading, Paul can be thinking of martydom by fire or burning oneself to death as an ascetic act. Martyrdom, too, can be a voluntary act. The heroic attitude in face of death by fire is a standard theme also in Greco-Roman philosophy. On the other hand, the voluntary burning of oneself is so as well. It is recounted as an Indian custom, but can also be taken over by Greek philosophers.
1Co 15:20-22,56,57 - TEV (and most translations) illustrate the Gen 2 correspondence when it properly translates kekoimemenon (Strong's Greek # 2837, ones having fallen asleep, see Gen 2:21, S&H 306:32-16; Hea 17:14) and the rest of these verses as follows:
20 the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised. 21 For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way the rising from death comes by means of a man. 22 For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ... 56 Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. 57 But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer