Hermeneutics – don't you just love it?
Here I will collect together some possible ways of reading these two passages.
Please feel free to contribute your interpretation. I will add to this from
Crossan and Borg in time. This is what I have looked at so far as
regards these parts of scripture:
Some interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:2-12 and 14:34-38
Where kephale denotes headship, evangelicals believe, that in this epistle Paul is explaining authority and submission within Christian relationships. Man is under Christ's authority, woman is under man's authority and Christ is under God's authority. There are codes governing appearance when men and women meet to pray and prophesy. There are a diversity of views regarding the reason necessitating head coverings. Some argue that at the time a woman had to cover her head in that cultural context to distinguish herself from the Corinthian prostitutes and it is to this that Paul is referring. For Piper and Grudem, women are to conform to their pattern at creation and be distinct from men. Because woman is the glory of man, and created for him, she wears the veil, literally (or metaphorically by assuming humility) because she is under his authority. If she fails to do this 'she brought shame both on herself [head] and...the man [her head].'1 The verses assert male headship. In practice churches understanding the epistle in this way have found it difficult to implement the wearing of hats or headscarves. When Terry Virgo and his wife first planted churches, they insisted the women wear hats but discovered they were 'trying to force something that was not culturally relevant in our society.' (see W Virgo, Influential Women, p.150)
The verses in chapter 14 call on women to be silent in church, to not interrupt but to be submissive and ask their husbands for clarification when they return home if they have failed to understand something. Husbands are responsible for the spiritual leadership of their households. It is interesting to note that many who read the text in this way, do, nevertheless, consider the translation of the Greek word sigao as 'silent' to be misleading because it contradicts so obviously what has been said before about both men and women praying and prophesying. (Newfrontiers Churches are keen to encourage women with these gifts).They suppose it means something more like 'quietly' or 'hushed'. Nevertheless,the onus is still on the man for spiritual leadership.
Another way of reading these verses
Other evangelicals deny that Paul presents a hierarchical sequence of relationships here because he doesn't arrange his sentences to denote this. Instead, God is the source of Christ, Christ the source of mankind and man the source of woman because she was made from his rib. (There is much debate about whether Kephale means source or authority). Adam is unconscious at the moment of his wife's creation and unaware from whence she came, only struck by how perfectly she completes him: 'bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' and Paul is capturing this idea with his 'the woman is the glory of man.'2 Even though Paul might be exhorting the Corinthian men and women to appear in ways that are appropriate culturally so as not to ihibit the message of the gospel to those who are curious and watching the conduct of Christians carefully, men and women are, nevertheless equal in the Lord as Paul explains: 'in the Lord, however...everything comes from God.' Bilezikian is the proponent of an argument which explains away any ambiguities in this problem passage very simply. Paul is writing to this church because Judaizers are insisting incorrectlythat women should be veiled and silenced. 'Paul cites in chapter 11:6-10 the Corinthian Judaizers' legalistic arguments...relative to veils, hair and angels' 3 so that he might correct them. In the Greek there was no such punctuation mark as the quotation mark and this is the reason for the confusion over the passage. There does seem to be a natural change of tone at verse 11. Paul has repeated their Judaic thinking back to them and then gives his answer: that 'in the Lord', this is not to be the case. He exhorts the Corinthians to look to nature. God has seen to it that the women are covered, by their long hair (verse 15). There is no need for any mark of authority on a woman when she is equally able, like a man, to pray and prophesy in public meetings. Similarly, in chapter 14, Paul is quoting a false practice so that he can rebuke the church. He quotes the Corinthians in verses 34 and 35 and then corrects their thinking. They considered it appropriate to silence the women to alleviate the disordered nature of their worship gatherings.This is not a suitable recourse and their appeal to the law does not fool Paul who knew his scriptures. There is nothing in Mosaic law requiring the silence of women. The correction begins at verse 36 and was originally introduced with an exclamation like 'What?!' but this has been lost in translation. The change in tone now signals the correction with Paul shocked that this church dares to think itself more spiritual than any other and create its own rules, when the guidance that he has for their church supersedes anything that they might glean from the law because it is 'of the Lord'. He warns them that if they fail to recognise this, they too will be unrecognised.
Some of my concluding thoughts for these passages' influence on the women in leadership debate
Proverbs 18:17 describes how 'The first to present their case seems right-- till another cross-examines them.' It is difficult for evangelicals to come to any kind of consensus. Whether it be an appeal to reason, tradition or scripture or a combination of all three, an antithetical conclusion can be drawn. In raising the theological issue of apostolicity being male throughout time, examples can be found of female deacons, priests and bishops. Where women assert their sense of calling, opponents judge this too concordant with the prevailing culture and the church is charged with succumbing to social pressures. Those who argue that women bishops are the result of a movement of the Holy Spirit face the theological views of the cessationists for whom there is no new revelation.
Perhaps at the very core of the debate is a confusion over the concept of submisson. Christians can not deny that Christianity is about submission: submission to the Godhead, the gospel and the Church which we are called to serve. As regards whether one gender is to submit more than another,this seems an appropriate question to ask when the word seems to have become associated with subordination. In Grudem and Rainey's 'Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood', they describe that the 'Biblical View of Submission ...requires her to submit to him..., while no passage indicates that a husband should be subordinate to his wife.'4 It is in the casual exchange of the word submit for subordinate that significant problems lie. These two words are not synonymous because the former is theological and about 'dying to self', the latter is worldly, denoting inferiority. When a woman's Christian submission is also subordinationism to men, she is denied the role of oversight in the Church. E L Mascall, despite being a traditionalist, says that 'behind St Paul's thought about the man and the woman... the fundamental relation is not one of inferiority but of mutual perfection and of derived partnership.'5 Advocates of women bishops will reassert that Christianity is about servant-hood and not authority to counteract the proponents of male headship. About servant-hood all Christians are agreed but advocates will stress this aspect of Christian distinctiveness as theyexplain that women and men should serve the Body of Christ in the ordained offices because of their spiritual gifts, without it also depending on their gender!
1 PIPER, J. & GRUDEM, W.,Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, A Response to Evangelical feminism,p.132
2 MARSHALL, I.H., 'Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage'
3 BILEZIKIAN,G., Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says about a woman's place in church and family, p104
4 GRUDEM W & Rainey D (ed.s) Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood, p.203-4
5 MASCALL, E.L., 'Women and the Priesthood of the Church' p.119
P.S. I am aware that there are probably some faults with the above. At grad level I got about 58%. (where 40% Pass and 70% distinction). Yep, that means there's room for improvement. I wrote an essay about Women bishops as an independent student. Some of the above has been adapted from that essay. It was marked by Christina Baxter and was my first ever essay. I haven't started full-time training yet. Bear that in mind but do not worry about pointing me to my places of weakness. I'm just hoping to learn. However, Greek and Hebrew studies have not begun for me yet so don't bamboozle me.