A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

By Norman E. Anderson



Table of Contents



Introduction

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is ascribed to the Apostle Paul and to Sosthenes, "the brother" (1:1),* but is usually thought of as Paul's composition alone (notice the first person singular of 11:2-3), that is, unless the Pauline authorship is challenged altogether. It is notorious for being one of the most difficult passages in the Bible to interpret, not the least because at each of several points it can mean entirely different, even opposite things. It is also sparsely written and full of word play (especially plays on senses of words, sometimes perhaps even across languages); it is allusive, rhetorically obscure, heavily interactive with a specific audience whose side of the conversation is lost, and resistant to attempts to make sense out of it, whether coherent sense or some sense corresponding to reality, at least as usually interpreted. Furthermore, it is and has long been peculiarly susceptible to anachronistic readings, especially of the male supremacy sort; and it is usually interpreted, even today, under the sway of seismic shifts in attitudes towards women and sexuality that took place in generations subsequent to the Apostles. Modern and postmodern attitudes towards cultures, customs, and traditions complicate matters; for the authors undoubtedly weighted such things according to their concerns -- their concern with Roman provincial law, for instance -- not according to our quite different concerns.

This commentary is designed to bring out difficulties, especially those that are glided over by translations and other commentaries, and to explore interpretive options. The focus is not so much on authorship and textual criticism as on grammar and rhetorical structure and cultural context and possibilities of meaning. Linked to this commentary is an excursus on the angels of verse 10. The ultimate goal of this commentary is to see whether coherent sense can be made out of the passage, especially a sense that comports with what we otherwise know of Paul's views and of the Jesus sayings upon which he relied -- at least, to make some contribution in that direction.

The commentary starts with the Authorized Version of 1611, not by design but by happy accident, since the commentary began its development in another context, the Glossary of Relationship Terms (under "head of the wife"), where the AV was being used simply because of its familiar terms. I say "happy" not because of how good the translation is, but because it represents an encrusted text and a traditional interpretation and so serves all the better my purpose of bringing out the difficulties not only of the text but of the interpretations of it.

After the comments follows my fresh close-to-the-text translation of the passage, which, hopefully, shows the flow of the passage as much as I have been able to work it out and which, at the same time, is designed to expose the most significant questions. In the latter respect it differs from most translations, insofar as they follow decisions about how the text is to be interpreted.

Then follows that translation laid out according to the rhetorical structure of the passage as I perceive it, with options exhibited.

I have written this commentary and the accompanying excursus not just for scholars and the theologically educated, but also for any intelligent reader. So generally both technical and obscure terms are either avoided or explained. Thus, for example, the ancient Greek translation of the Bible (not inclusive of the New Testament) is called the Septuagint rather than the LXX; a tractate of the Talmud, rather than being preceded by a b or a y is instead preceded by "Talmud Bavli" (that's the Babylonian Talmud) or "Talmud Yerushalmi" (that's the Palestinian or Jerusalem Talmud, also known as the Talmud of the Land of Israel); instead of citing just the LCL, as is common scholarly practice, I instead give a full citation of the volume in The Loeb Classical Library, whenever I quote from it; and instead of giving barely enough of a citation to an ancient source, I often give several of the ways that it might be cited, at least the first time it is mentioned. The subject is difficult enough, so I've tried to make the rest easy; although there are some trade-offs, since explanation and fullness tend to encumber.

Especially for identifying and locating sources cited, the reader might find it useful to have at hand a few reference tools, such as The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed. 1996), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed., 1997), and The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion (1965).

One last point before proceeding: This commentary is only as good as the evidence that it presents. It does not rest upon any "authority" of its author. I view every commentary just that way, and commend that approach generally, all the more so when the source is the Internet.


* Regarding Sosthenes, see Acts 18:17. Was this the same Sosthenes as the one mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1? Was the Sosthenes of Acts a Christian or one of the Jews that were opposing the Christians? Was he the same as Crispus in Acts 18:8 (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14), who was described as a believer, or was he somebody else? If the latter, did the synagogue of Corinth have more than one leader (archisynagögos)? Note Eusebius' mention of Sosthenes:

"Now the names of the apostles of our Saviour are plain to everyone from the gospels, but no list of the Seventy is anywhere extant... And they say that Sosthenes too, who wrote with Paul to the Corinthians, was one of them." (Ekklësiastikës Historias = Historia Ecclesiastica = Ecclesiastical History 1.12.1)

From: The Ecclesiastical History, [by] Eusebius; with an English translation by Kirsopp Lake (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press): v. 1 (1926, 1965 printing), p. 83. Regarding the Seventy, see Luke 10:1-20.

If Sosthenes was indeed one of the Seventy, conceivably his primary role with regard to 1 Corinthians was to provide a sense of direct anchorage in the life and teachings of Jesus and so to forfend any attempt to pit the teachings of Paul against those of Jesus (cf. 1:12).



1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in the Authorized Version (1611)

2 Now I praise you, brethren,1 that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances,2-3 as I delivered them to you.

3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man;4 and the head of Christ is God.

4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered,5 dishonoureth his head.

5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth6 with her head uncovered7 dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.8-9

6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn:10 but if11 it be a shame12 for a woman to be shorn or shaven,13 let her14 be covered.15

7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

8 For the man is not of [ek] the woman; but the woman of [ex] the man.

9 Neither was the man created for [dia] the woman; but the woman for [dia] the man.

10 For this cause ought the woman to have power16-17 on her head18 because of19 the angels.20

11 Nevertheless21 neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.22

12 For as the woman is of [ek] the man, even so is the man also by [dia] the woman;23 but all things of [ek] God.

13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely24 that a woman pray unto God uncovered?25

14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?26

15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory27 to her: for her hair is given her28 for29 a covering.30

16 But if any man31 seem to be contentious,32 we33 have no such custom,34 neither the churches of God.



Comments on the Passage

 

[Before beginning, this note: Square-bracketed citations need to be verified.]


1 Regarding the word "brethren [adelphoi]" (verse 2): The Greek word is absent from the best manuscripts. The presence of the word in other manuscripts may be an example of a masculinizing textual accretion.


2 Because the passage is sandwiched between, on the one hand, a mention of traditions (paradoseis in 11:2) and, on the other, a mention of custom (synëtheian in 11:16), while being speckled throughout by appeals to subjective feelings and judgment, which can be culturally conditioned, it is readily dismissed in an age when traditions and customs are often treated relativistically and casually, even though the early church and its adversaries sometimes took such extremely seriously. Notice:

In other words, moderns tend to weight the passage much more lightly than its original readers might have, not just in terms of application by those who try to live according to the Bible, but even in terms of scholarly interpretation.

It isn't that something approximating certain modern attitudes was unknown to the ancients. For example, the contrarian and Cynic philosopher, Diogenes (ca. 412/403-ca. 324/321 B.C.E.), who, by the way, died in and was subsequently honored at Corinth, despised that which is according to convention (nomos) relative to that which is natural (Diogenes Laertius, Biön = De vitis = Lives 6.71; regarding Diogenes' death, see 6.76-79). But probably more characteristic of the age was the approach later summed up by the Roman lawyer, Julian (fl. 131-168 C.E.), who seems to have been addressing customary law in the Roman provinces:

"in matters in which we do not have written laws, that should be observed which was introduced by usage and custom."

--> Justinian, Digest 1.3.32, as translated in: "The Glossators' Views on Custom," in The Oracles of the Law, by John P. Dawson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Law School, 1968; in series: Thomas M. Cooley Lectures; 1959): pp. 128-134, specifically p. 128.

For all this, Paul was talking not about the customs of a city or province but about the traditions and practices of a sectarian religious movement, that is, a Christian sect within the broader stream of Judaism. Regarding Roman tolerance and validation of Jewish customs, see especially:

For a useful summary, see: "The Policy of the Early Roman Emperors towards Judaism," by Vincent M. Scramuzza," being Note XXV, in: The Beginnings of Christianity. Part I, The Acts of the Apostles, edited by F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake. Vol. V, Additional Notes to the Commentary, edited by Kirsopp Lake and Henry J. Cadbury (London: Macmillan, 1933): pp. 277-297. For Roman policies towards the Jews of the Diaspora, see especially the second section.


3 Regarding "the ordinances" (verse 2): The Greek term is tas paradoseis, meaning "the traditions" or "the teachings passed along." These teachings were quite possibly certain teachings by and about Jesus. Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12, 25; 11:23; 15:1-3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6. Conceivably this passage is Paul's response to questions arising out of interaction with certain teachings by or about Jesus.


4 Throughout this passage, with the exception of verse 16, the Greek word for "man" is anër (or an inflected form thereof). Anër is often translated as either "man" or "husband" and both senses may be at play in this passage; additionally, in this passage, anër sometimes refers to the primordial man functioning as archetype.

Furthermore, the Greek word for woman used throughout is gynë (or an inflected form thereof). Gynë is often translated as either "woman" or "wife," typically as "wife" when gynë is paired with anër. Both senses may be at play in this passage. Additionally, in this passage, gynë sometimes refers to the primordial woman functioning as archetype.

With regard to both anër and gynë, Paul shifted back and forth between senses in this passage. The question in each instance is which sense was he employing.

By the way, Tertullian's argumentation in De Virginibus Velandis = On the Veiling of Virgins 7 seems to assume that early Christians understood 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as referring to wives, whereas he wanted the principles enunciated to cover maidens as well.

Compare the other Pauline "head of the wife" passage, at Ephesians 5:21-33. For a few comments on that passage, see under "head of the wife" in the Glossary of Relationship Terms.


5 Regarding the phrase "having his head covered" (verse 4): Literally rendered, the words read: "down from head having." The phrase kata kephalës echön is evidently an idiomatic expression for wearing something that hangs down from the head. However, it seems odd that the something is not named. Compare and contrast Plutarch, Moralia 200F = Römaiön apophthegmata = Sayings of Romans 13: kata tës kephalës echön to himation ("having the robe down from the head").


6 Regarding the phrase "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth" (verse 5): One of the long-standing puzzles is how does this passage, which appears to endorse a woman prophesying in a church service, comport with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which tells women to keep quiet in the churches and adds that it is improper for a woman to speak in a called assembly. The verb there is lalein, which has as a primary sense, "to chat." So part of the puzzle is solved by realizing that Paul was saying that ordinary conversation was out of place in a called assembly. Prophetic speech was different and may even have been expressed in distinctive tones (cf. Apuleius, Metamorphoses = The Golden Ass 8:28 = 8:36 in the William Adlington numeration = 12 in The Robert Graves numeration).

By the way, prophesying on the part of women was not at all a strange phenomenon for Corinthians. See, for example, Pausanius, Hellados Periëgëseös = Description of Greece 2.24.1.


7 Regarding the phrase, " with her head uncovered" (verse 5): This is reading a dative of manner. However, it is possible that a different sort of dative was intended, such as a dative of disadvantage, in which case the phrase might be translated: "against the uncovered head."


8 Regarding the phrase, "for that is even all one as if she were shaven" (verse 5): It might be more precisely rendered this way: "For she [or he] is one and the same with [or as] she who has been shorn." Precision brings out two spots -- as indicated in the square brackets -- that call for an interpretive decision.

A shaved head and clipped locks signified many different things in the Greco-Roman and Judean world. Sometimes it had a religious significance, as it may well have here. See, for example:

In Judaism a shaved head sometimes signified the completion of a Nazirite vow. See, for example:

This was not only on the part of men, but also on the part of women (see Numbers 6:2 and, for example, Mishnah, Nazir 3:6; 4:1-5; 9:1).


9 Verses 4 and 5 could be rendered as a series of rhetorical questions, this way:

Does each man [or husband] praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonor his head?

Yet does each wife [or woman] praying or prophesying with the head uncovered [or against the uncovered head] dishonor her head?

Is she [or he] surely one and the same with [or as] she who has been shorn?

Whether or not interrogatory punctuation is to be used is simply a matter of interpretation, since the punctuation of the text is supplied by editors.

Of course, instead of a series of either questions or statements, we may have some combination of questions and statements.

Rendering verses 4 and 5 at least partly in interrogative form is no less justified than rendering 14-15a as a question (or as two questions), nor does it make less sense. However, rendering both segments (verses 4-5 and 14-15a) as statements and neither in interrogative form would probably be a mistake, since the usually logical Paul would then seem to be blatantly contradicting himself in the same passage.

In the ancient context, verse 4 makes much better sense as a question than as a statement, since it seems to call for the response, "Of course not! Of course there's no dishonor in a man praying or prophesying with a covered head." To have said otherwise would have been contrary to the Law and the Prophets (Exodus 28:4, 36-40; 29:6; 39:28; Leviticus 8:9; 10:6; 16:4; 21:10; Ezekiel 44:18; Zechariah 3:5, note the angelic presence; 6:11), it would have offended Jewish-Christians who were "zealous for the Law" and whom Paul sought to mollify at the behest of James (Acts 21:20-26), and it would also have been an insult to the Roman practice of piety. See, for starters:

Although Corinthian customs were different from Roman customs, it is still worth remembering that Corinth was the capital of Achaia, a Roman province (Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10:18 = Adlington 10:45 = Graves 16), and that it had been resettled by Romans only eleven decades or so earlier, circa 44 B.C.E. (Pausanius, Description of Greece 2.1.2).

By the way, the custom of each Jewish man wearing a head covering -- nowadays generally either a hat or a kippah -- in synagogal worship was evidently not known in Paul's day. One of the first indications that such a custom might have been forming comes from a couple of centuries later (Talmud Bavli, Kiddushin 31a).


10 The first part of verse 6 could conceivably be rendered as a question. However, in this case, doing so may introduce more awkwardness than clarity:

If, in fact, a wife [or woman] is not covered, shall she even shave herself?

Regarding third-person imperatives cast as questions, see Greek Grammar, by Herbert Weir Smyth; revised by Gordon Messing (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, c1956): §1838.


11 Each of the ifs in verse 6 indicates a first-class condition. (Greek has four classes of conditional sentences.) This in turn indicates that the protasis (the "if" clause) is assumed to be the case.

In other words, Paul assumed that at least some women in the Corinthian church prayed and prophesied with heads uncovered, which is an especially interesting point since it is clear that at least one early Christian practice was for women to pray and to prophesy with heads uncovered. Paul also assumed that at least some women would have regarded going about with shaved heads as shameful or ugly.


12 Regarding "shame [aischron]" (verse 6): The Greek word means ugly or shameful.

On the one hand, Paul could have been affirming that for a woman to have her head shaved was shameful or ugly -- although, note well, that is not what he actually said in this sentence. On the other hand, he could have been piquing the women for their sense of pride over something as insignificant as hair, especially if the shaving that he had in mind had a religious significance; for what place has vanity before God? (Cf. "humbling," tapeinountes, before the gods in Plutarch, Moralia 266D = Roman Questions 10.) Moralists of the first century C.E. generally saw past hair. (See, for example, Dio Chrysostom, Orationes = Discourses 35:3, 11.) It would seem strange if Paul, who was so focused on inwardness and right relations (see, for example, Romans 6:17 and 2 Corinthians 3:6), was not seeing past hair as well.


13 Regarding the phrase, "shorn or shaven [to keirasthai ë xurasthai]" (verse 6): Keirasthai is an aorist 1, infinitive middle of keirö. Xurasthai is a present infinitive passive of xuraö. So the phrase can be translated: "to have shaved herself or to be shorn." The article, to, indicates that these infinitives are substantives; so the phrase could instead be translated in this unbearably awkward way: "the having shaved herself or [the] being shorn."

In the Septuagint, keirein (to use the infinitive) translates several different Hebrew words. It has these basic meanings:

In the New Testament, the word appears three times, here in 1 Corinthians 11:6 and twice in Acts, where once (in 8:32), as a participle, it means "shearer (of sheep)" and once (in 18:18) it means "to shave (the head of a Nazir)."

In the Septuagint, xuran (again to use the infinitive) translates three Hebrew words and has these basic meanings:

In the New Testament, the word apears in one other place besides 1 Corinthians 11:5-6, namely, Acts 21:24, where it means "to shave (the head of a Nazir)."

Since Paul uses a pair of synonyms, it may be wise to watch for where such pairs occur either in the Hebrew Bible or the Septuagint. So we should notice:

In the Septuagint, the last passage mentioned above, Micah 1:16, is the one instance where the two terms of 1 Corinthians 11:6 appear together: Xurësai kai keirai. However, Paul doesn't seem to be talking about mourning, rather about shamefulness or ugliness in a context of worship; and so there seems to be no allusion to either Micah 1:16 or any of the "mourning" passages.

Paul's use of synonyms may be better explained as a case of the general and the specific. The broader term, kerasthai (to give it in its inflected form), was used either because it was widely encompassing or because it was sometimes used, as later by Luke in Acts 18:18, to mean something more specific. Paul used the narrower term, xurasthai, either because the narrower sense was also meant or because he was using it to anchor the sometimes-used broader term to a narrower sense. Frankly, a case can be both made and picked apart for any of the first four senses of xuran given above. In reference to:

Without further clear indicators, perhaps it is best simply to leave the sense at "to shave," while yet sensing that more may be implied.


14 Regarding the phrase, "let her be covered" (verse 6): It translates a single word, katakaluptesthö, which can also mean, "let it be covered" or "let him be covered." "Woman" is the closest possible antecedent. However, "the head" is the principal topic. And it is conceivable that the head being referred to is "the man." So an argument can be made for any of the pronouns.


15 Verse 6 seems to suggest that the woman prophet has one of two options: either cover or shave. First, remember that this is in reference to the woman praying or prophesying. Second, notice that Paul was toggling back and forth between these two options, ignoring the most obvious one, neither shave nor cover. Why? The simplest answer is that they were somehow complementary. So let me suggest two theories, a Corinthian theory and a Jerusalem theory:

Neither theory is a good fit, but something along these lines is needed to explain the toggle.


16 Regarding the word "power [exousian]" (verse 10): This is the reading of the best manuscripts, however, there is a variant. The ancient rendering of this text in some non-Greek manuscripts (Latin, Coptic, and Armenian) and the discussion of this text by some early Christian writers suggest that some might have been working with a text that had kalumma ("veil") instead of exousian.

The most significant instance is found in a mention by Irenaeus (ca. 130-ca. 200), Bishop of Lyons, of the Valentinians' use of 1 Corinthians 11:10. (The Valentinians were a Gnostic sect.) The mention is found in his Elenchos kai Anatropë tës Pseudonomou Gnöseös = Adversus Haereses = Against Heresies 1.8.2.

However, the kalumma variant is easily explained as a gloss (a brief note typically in the margin or between the lines) that crept into the text, a gloss that fit well both with what was naturally expected and with the masculinizing trends in the history of both the text and the interpretation of the Pauline epistles. In other words, kalumma is altogether too easy to explain as a deviation from an original text, whereas exousian or something close to it can hardly be explained as anything but original.


17 Once again, regarding the word "power [exousian]" (verse 10): Conceivably Paul was punning off of the Aramaic word shiltonayah, which means something like "headband" or "veil" ([Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbath 6, 8b, 48]). Shiltonayah may be derived from shalat, meaning "to have power over" (or instead it may simply be a dialectical variant from silbonayah, that is, "braided bands" worn in the hair). This does not mean that Paul was using the word exousian to mean "veil" or "head covering," which would have been an unknown sense of the term. It might mean that he had in mind some sort of association, or even a contrast, between a head covering and power or authority. (For a remotely possible alternative idea regarding cross-language word-play, see the excursus.)


18 Regarding the phrase, "to have power on her head" (verse 10): Sometimes, in other contexts, the Greek phrase exousian exein epi is translated as "to have power over." There is nothing to prevent it from being translated that way here.

As for "her head," that is said to be the man (verse 3), and yet her head in its other sense (with hair) is also mentioned (verses 5-6). Thus there is an ambiguity (an intentional one?) as to which head is meant, an ambiguity which can be resolved only by context. The question is which context, that which immediately precedes or that which immediately follows?

By the way, the verse is frequently mistranslated along these lines (here using the New Revised Standard Version, 1989): "For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." The interpolation, "a symbol of," is unjustified, except to indicate one of the possible interpretations of this cryptic verse.


19 Regarding, "For this cause [dia touto] ... because of [dia] the angels" (verse 10): The antecedent of "this" is ambiguous. Is it the immediately preceding argument having to do with woman being created on account of man, or is it "on account of the angels"? I suggest the latter, dia there indicating a completion of the thought. So the verse might be literally translated this way: "On account of this ought the woman [or wife] to have power over the head: on account of the angels." See Herbert Weir Smyth (1956): §1248; cf. similar constructions at 1670 and 2195. The rhetorical pattern supports this interpretation (see below).


20 Regarding "the angels" (verse 10): What angels? The options are:

For discussion, see excursus, "The Angels of 1 Corinthians 11:10: A Survey of Interpretative Options."


21 Regarding "Nevertheless [plen]" (verse 11): The word plen here is often treated as though it is transitioning from the discussion of woman being for man. However, it may simply be transitioning from the reference to angels. In other words, it may indicate something along these lines: "The angels are one reason, yet in the Lord there's another reason."


22 Compare this strikingly similar statement attributed to R. Akiba (ca. 40-ca. 135 C.E.):

"In the past, Adam was created from the ground, and Eve from Adam; but henceforth it shall be, In our image, after our likeness (Gen. 1, 26): neither man without woman nor woman without man, nor both of them without the Shechinah." (Bereshith Rabbah = Genesis Rabbah 22:2 = 14d)

From: Midrash Rabbah, translated into English with notes, glossary and indices under the editorship of H. Freedman and Maurice Simon; with a foreword by I. Epstein (3rd ed. London; New York: Soncino Press, 1983): v. 1, p. 181.


23 Regarding "so is the man also by [dia] the woman" (verse 12): A mistake sometimes made by interpreters is to treat dia in verse 12 as equivalent to dia in verse 9. However, in verse 9 dia is followed by an accusative, whereas in verse 12 it is followed by a genitive. Therefore the translator must choose from different sets of possible meanings. The Authorized Version reflects the difference appropriately.


24 Regarding "comely [prepon]" (verse 13): Prepon means "fitting," "suitable," or "proper," especially in some way that is conspicuous to the senses.


25 Regarding verse 13 as a question, the sentence can instead be translated this way, as a statement: "Judge among yourselves: Proper it is for an uncovered wife to pray to God." Again, whether or not interrogatory punctuation is to be used is simply a matter of interpretation, since the ancient manuscripts are free of such punctuation.

By the way, compare Philippians 4:8.


26 Regarding verses 14 and 15a as a question, the sentence can instead be translated this way, as a statement: "Not even nature itself teaches you that, on the one hand, if a man wears long hair it is a shame to him, but, on the other hand, if a woman wears long hair it is a glory to her."

Before proceeding, first let me mention that the Greek words men ... de are properly rendered as "on the one hand ... on the other hand." See Herbert Weir Smyth (1956): §2904.

Now, neither in the Jewish background of Paul nor in the Greek background of the Corinthians was there shame for a man in wearing long hair.

With regard to the Jewish background:

To turn to examples from the Greeks:

So if verse 14 is a question, it is hard to know what the premise was referring to.

Likewise with regard to verse 15a. For example:

Incidentally, Duris of Samos may be found in: Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (F Gr Hist), von Felix Jacoby (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung): 2A (1926): p. 145. He is partially quoted with English translation in 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Hans Conzelmann; translated by James W. Leitch; bibliography and references by James W. Dunkly; edited by George W. MacRae (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, c1975; in series: Hermeneia): p. 186, n48. In reference to Athenians, the translation reads: "[the men] wore long hair, but the women were close cropped."


27 Regarding long hair as a woman's "glory" (verse 15): It should not be automatically assumed that Paul was using "glory" here in a positive sense, for glory was not always considered good (cf. Philippians 3:19; Philo, Peri Gigantön = De Gigantibus = On the Giants 37-38). The negative sense is improbable here, but the point is raised simply to show that here is yet another spot where interpretations could go in opposite directions.


28 Regarding the last "her" or, to be precise, the second autë (verse 15): Some of the best manuscripts omit it.


29 Regarding "for [anti]" (verse 15b): Alternatively the word could be translated "instead of" or "in place of." Thus the sentence could be translated: "For the hair is given to her in place of a cloak."


30 Regarding the appeal to nature (verses 14-15): Up to this point, the argumentation has all been confined to the issue of praying and prophesying, evidently within a church service. Suddenly the force of the argument, although used solely with respect to the preceding, seems to apply to all areas of life, at least in the traditional interpretation as reflected in the Authorized Version.

Some see in this Paul's importation of attitudes from his home city of Tarsus, where the custom was that a woman on the street was to be completely covered, face and all (Dio Chrysostom, Orationes 33:48 = 16:48), although (a) that is not what Paul was advocating in the passage; (b) in these two particular verses he was speaking of hair, not clothing; and, (c) in any case, in the same passage of Dio Chrysostom in which the custom is mentioned, its futility is also described (33:49).

Some think that Paul, instead or in addition, was manifesting stock Jewish attitudes, where long braided hair on the part of a male was considered effeminate (Philo, De Specialibus Legibus 3:37; Pseudo-Phocylides, Sentences 210-212) and where it was expected that each wife would have her hair confined by a kerchief while in public (see, for example, Numbers 5:18 as interpreted in Philo, De Specialibus Legibus 3:56 and Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 3:270 = 3.11.6; 3 Maccabees 4:6; Bereshith Rabbah = Genesis Rabbah 17:8 = 12a; Mishnah, Ketuboth 7:6; Talmud Bavli, Nedarim 30b, specifically the gemara on 3:8). However, Paul was apparently not talking about decoratively presented male hair. Nor, again, was he either advocating a general use of hair coverings for women in this passage or speaking about hair coverings in these two particular verses.

This line of thought leaves one of three possibilities:

By the way, it is well worth pointing out that many discussions of verses 14-15a present citations according to some bias. References to long or short hair, or shaved heads as bad or good for men or women or boys or girls need to be charted objectively and broken down according to time, place, and situation. Just for starters, besides what has already been mentioned, see:

The same with regard to head coverings. Again, just for starters, besides what has already been mentioned, see:

The asterisk (*) indicates passages that mention worship of some sort.


31 Regarding "man [tis]" (verse 16): The Greek word, tis, means "anyone" or "someone," whether male or female.


32 Regarding "contentious [philoneikos]" (verse 16): Literally the word means "fond of victory." The image seems to be that of a man and a woman vying against each other, each striving to come out on top. Such striving is not commended on the part of either sex.


33 Regarding "we" (verse 16): Who is the "we" as distinguished from "the churches"?

It is often remarked that the "praying and prophesying" mentioned in 11:4-5 indicate that this passage is about church order rather than private life. Whichever is the correct interpretation of "we" will have some bearing on whether the "praying and prophesying" mentioned includes praying and prophesying outside of church.


34 Regarding "such custom" (verse 16): What custom? The options:

As standard exegetical procedure, I look to see if a rhetorical pattern can be discerned, remembering that Paul is especially fond of saying something and then supplementing what he says in reverse order. In this passage there are both strong micro-patterns and a loose overall chiastic pattern, which runs from verse 2, "Now I praise you," to verse 17, "I praise you not," with verse 10 (to my surprise) in the middle, each part of that sentence that begins with dia paralleling the other. (See chart, "The Chiastic Structure of 1 Corinthians 11:1-17") In this overall pattern, "such custom [toiautën synëtheian]" in verse 16 appears to supplement, in a contrasting way, "the traditions [tas paradoseis]" in verse 2; and the phrase "But if anyone intends to be a savorer of coming out on top" in verse 16 supplements, also in a contrasting way, the entirety of verse 3: "But I want you to know that of every man the head is the Messiah, and head of a woman is the man, and head of the Messiah is God." (My translations.) This pattern suggests that verse 16 is not, in the first instance, about either head coverings or long hair, but about a contrast with the order laid out in verse 3. So "such custom" would be disrupting that order by trying, figuratively speaking, to be the one on top.



A Fresh Translation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

By Norman E. Anderson

 

2 Now I commend you that you have kept in mind all sorts of my points and, to the degree that I gifted you, you are maintaining the gift-teachings.

3 Yet I wish you to have known that the head of every man [or husband] is the Messiah, and the man [or husband] is a wife's [or woman's] head, and God is head of the Messiah.

4 Does each man [or husband] praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonor his head? [or Each man praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonors his head.]

5 Yet does each wife [or woman] praying or prophesying with the head uncovered [or against the uncovered head] dishonor her head? [or But each wife praying or prophesying with the head uncovered dishonors her head.]

Is she [or he] surely one and the same with [or as] she who has been shorn? [or For she is one and the same with she who has been shorn.]

6 If, in fact, a wife [or woman] is not covered [as is assumed to be the case], let her [or shall she] even shave herself. [or a question mark] Yet if to have shaved herself or to be shorn is ugly [or shameful] for a wife [or woman] [as is assumed to be the case], let [her or it or him] be covered.

7 For indeed a man [or husband] [archetypally speaking] ought not to have the head covered, being from the first an image and glory of God; but the wife [or woman] [archetypally speaking] is a glory of a man [or husband].

8 For a man [or husband] [archetypally speaking] is not out of a wife [or woman] [archetypally speaking], but a wife [or woman] [archetypally speaking] out of a man [or husband] [archetypally speaking].

9 And also a husband [or man] [archetypally speaking] was not created on account of the woman [or wife] [archetypally speaking], but a wife [or woman] [archetypally speaking] on account of the man [or husband] [archetypally speaking].

10 On account of this ought the wife [or woman] to have power over the head: on account of the angels.

11 Nevertheless neither is a wife separate from a husband nor is a husband separate from a wife [or neither does a woman exist without a man nor a man without a woman] in [the] Lord.

12 For just as the wife [or woman] [archetypally speaking] is out of the man [or husband] [archetypally speaking], so also is the man [or husband] by way of the woman [or wife]; but all things are out of God.

13 Judge among yourselves: Proper it is [or is it proper] for an uncovered wife [or woman] to pray to God. [or a question mark]

14 Not even nature itself teaches [or Doesn't even nature itself teach] you that, on the one hand, if a man [or husband] wears long hair it is a disgrace to him,

15 but, on the other hand, if a woman [or wife] wears long hair it is a glory to her, since the hair is given in place of a cloak. [or a question mark]

16 Now if anyone seems to be fond of contending for top place, we have no such custom, nor [have] the churches of God.

 

The Chiastic Structure of 1 Corinthians 11:1-17 Exhibited

Translation by Norman E. Anderson

Paul says

Paul makes parallel comments in reverse order

2a Now I commend you that you have kept in mind all sorts of my points

 

17 Now with respect to this, an instruction, I do not commend that you would assemble not for the better but for the worse.

 

2b {a} and, to the degree that I gifted you,

{b} you are maintaining the gift-teachings.

16b {a'}we have no such custom,

{b'}nor [have] the churches of God.

3 Yet I wish you to have known that

{a} the head of every man is the Messiah,

{b} and the man is a wife's head,

{c} and God is head of the Messiah.

16a Now if anyone seems to be fond of contending for top place,

4 {a} Does each man praying or prophesying having a draped head dishonor his head?

5 {b} Yet does each wife praying or prophesying with the head uncovered dishonor her head?

{c} Is she surely one and the same with she who has been shorn?

14 {a'} Not even nature itself teaches you that, on the one hand, if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace to him,

15 {b'} but, on the other hand, if a woman wears long hair it is a glory to her,

{c'} since the hair is given in place of a cloak.

 

6 {a} If, in fact, a wife is not covered [as is assumed to be the case],

{b} let her even shave herself.

{b'} Yet if to have shaved herself or to be shorn is ugly for a wife [as is assumed to be the case],

{a'} let [her] be covered.

13 Judge among yourselves: Proper it is for an uncovered wife to pray to God.

 

7 {a}For indeed a man [archetypally speaking] ought not to have the head covered, being from the first an image and glory of God;

{b} but the wife [archetypally speaking] is a glory of a man.

8 {a'} For a man [archetypally speaking] is not out of a wife [archetypally speaking],

{b'} but a wife [archetypally speaking] out of a man [archetypally speaking].

12 {a'} For just as the wife [archetypally speaking] is out of the man [archetypally speaking],

{b'} so also is the man by way of the woman;

{c', corresponding to 3{c}} but all things are out of God.

 

9 {a} And also a husband [archetypally speaking] was not created on account of the woman [archetypally speaking],

{b} but a wife [archetypally speaking] on account of the man [archetypally speaking].

11 {a'} Nevertheless neither is a wife separate from a husband

{b'} nor is a husband separate from a wife in [the] Lord.

10 On account of this ought the wife to have power over the head:

on account of the angels.

Alternatively

9 {Aa} And also a husband [archetypally speaking] was not created on account of the woman [archetypally speaking],

{Ab} but a wife [archetypally speaking] on account of the man [archetypally speaking].

10 {Ba} On account of this ought the wife to have power over the head:

{Bb} on account of the angels.

11 {Aa'} Nevertheless neither is a wife separate from a husband

{Ab'} nor is a husband separate from a wife in [the] Lord.

 

Notes on the Chiasm

I notice that E. W. Bullinger presented a different chiastic scheme for 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. See The Companion Bible (London: Lamp Press, [ca. 1910]): p. 1714. The pattern he perceived is as follows:

A Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 according to E. W. Bullinger

Q. The public use of spiritual gifts

x (verse 2)

Praise of the obedient

y (verse 3)

A revealed principle

Y (verses 4-6)

Result

Y (verses 7-12)

Reasons

y (verses 13-15)

Nature's teachings

x (verse 16)

Rejection of the contentious

The problem is that this pattern follows what was perceived to be the logical flow rather than a close association of words and ideas, when it is the logical flow itself that is in question and in need of elucidation on the basis of the association of words and ideas. However, my analysis coincides fairly closely, at least for verses 7-9, with the more detailed pattern that Bullinger exhibited, in a different chart, for verses 7-12.

My analysis coincides more closely with that of Nils Wilhelm Lund, except that mine went further. The essential point of concurrence is the centrality of verse 10. Lund, by the way, suggests that the structure of 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 was modeled on that of Psalm 89:30-34. See Chiasmus in the New Testament: A Study in Formgeschichte, by Nils Wilhelm Lund (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1942): p. 148-150.

A Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 according to Nils Wilhelm Lund

For the man is not

A

Of the woman,

But the woman

Of the man.

For neither was the man created

B

For the woman,

But the woman

For the man.

C

For this cause the woman ought to have authority upon her head because of the angels.

Nevertheless, Neither is the woman

B'

Without the man,

Nor the man

Without the woman, in the Lord.

For as the woman is

A'

Of the man,

So is also man

By the woman; but all things are of God

Yet another analysis of the rhetorical structure of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is to be found in The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond, [by] John Breck; with an afterword by Charles Lock (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1994): pp. 248-249. In the following box, the translation and the square brackets are his.

The Chiasms of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 according to John Breck

 

11:2-7,

[V. 2 is an introduction, a further example of anacrusis]

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.

A (3): 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.

B (4): Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head,

C (5a): but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head --

D (5b): it is the same as if her head were shaven.

E (6a): For if a woman will not veil herself,
then she should cut off her hair;

D' (6b): but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven,

C' (6c): let her wear a veil.

B' (7a): For a man ought not to cover his head,

A' (7b): since he is the image and glory of God;
but woman is the glory of man.

 

11:8-12,

A (8): For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.

B (9): Neither was man created for woman,
but woman for man.

C (10): That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.

B' (11): Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman;

A' (12): for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.

 

11:13-16,

A (13): Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

B (14): Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him,

C (15a): But if a woman has long hair, it is her pride (lit: her glory)?

B' (15b): For her hair is given to her for a covering.

A' (16): If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

Breck's analysis is intriguing; however, he sometimes ignores strong micro-parallelisms, and he misses the overarching structure that contributes to this passage's unity. Nevertheless, my own analysis might bear modification in the light of his. For instance, the parallelism of verses 2 and 17 might better be shown in my chart as two introductions each belonging to its own literary unit with its own literary structure.

Still, Breck places verse 10 at the center of the central chiasm (or some might prefer the term "concentric" here); and on that point his judgment reinforces both Lund's and mine.


Concluding Remarks

 

Not only is it possible but it seems probable that the entire passage means exactly the opposite of the traditional understanding. What matters to Paul is not the outward appearance, but one's authority in the Lord, including a woman's. While yet recognizing differences between men and women associated with the present age as conceived by Paul, in the Lord and particularly in a prophetic capacity they are the same.

This is not to say that all has been resolved. Far from it. Verse 6 has not been adequately explained. And none of the theories discussed in the excursus about the angels of 11:10 is without flaw.

However, this interpretation fits with Paul's attitudes elsewhere both towards the inner life relative to incidental externals and towards women: neither male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3:28), yet believers are still to be in conformity with the Law on earthly marriage and sexuality (for example, 1 Corinthians 5-7 and Ephesians 5:21-33). Interpreted and translated this way, the original Paul might at last be recovered after having been distorted within a few generations after the Apostles.

 



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