How many ways are there of reading 1 Corinthians 11 and 14?

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.


Rachel Marszalek said...

Thanks Peter,
Hopefully this is readable now.

David Ould said...

These two words are not synonymous because the former is theological and about 'dying to self', the latter is worldly, denoting inferiority.
This is, I submit, your biggest flaw in the whole piece.

Subordination is most certainly not about inferiority.
I am subordinate to a whole bunch of people yet inferior to none of them. The assumption otherwise is a culturally driven one, not Scriptural.

Rachel Marszalek said...

sub·or·di·nate (s-bôrdn-t)
1. Belonging to a lower or inferior class or rank; secondary.
2. Subject to the authority or control of another.
One that is subordinate.
tr.v. (s-bôrdn-t) sub·or·di·nat·ed, sub·or·di·nat·ing, sub·or·di·nates
1. To put in a lower or inferior rank or class.
2. To make subservient; subdue.
[Middle English subordinat, from Medieval Latin subrdintus, past participle of subrdinre, to put in a lower rank : Latin sub-, sub- + Latin rdinre, to set in order (from rd, rdin-, order; see ar- in Indo-European roots).]

Subordination has everything to do with inferiority.

Similar reasoning was made by slave owners about their slaves. ie we are equal in the eyes of God.

Equality must be 'both physical and and social as well as spiritual and theological'. (Borg and Crossan)

There are many more places in the Pauline epistles where he balances instructions to men and women (1 Cor 7) or he overemphasizes advice to men because in that cultural context it was assumed women were putting their husband's needs above their own anyway (Eph 5 21 ff).

If only people could see how radical Paul was? He did not simply echo the lines of hierarchy within Roman families. He was teaching the functional equality of women and men in the church and the home. If you look at the letter to Philemon (scholars believe this was definitely written by Paul),there we can see Paul seeks Onesimus's freedom 'both in the flesh and in the Lord'. (Read Borg and Crossan:'The First Paul').

I think that this was what he was seeking to do for women too but has been so deradicalised by conservative interpretations which Romanise rather than radicalise what his aims were.

See Romans 16:7 Junia was 'prominent among the apostles. Paul uses the verb 'to work hard' (kopiao) to mean dedicated apostolic activity. He applies it to himself twice, in Galatians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:10. But here he uses it four times and exclusively for women, for Mary 916:6), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (16:12).' (Borg and Crossan).

In some ways the fact that the Church recognised Junia to be a woman for the first millenium but for the second and until quite recently taught that she was a man, speaks volumes.

I think we need to clarify the debate here, David. About submission we are in agreement (I think). In a marriage, the woman submits to the man (puts his needs above her own). The man submits to the woman (puts her needs above his own). I don't think that you are arguing that your wife submit more than you do, this is not the impression I get. We agree that there is ontological equality, of course. I argue for functional equality that is complementary too. Women and men should work together in leadership positions in churches so that all their gifts can come to he fore for the benefits of the assembly whom they serve developing their (the congregations') giftings for the benefits of the church and the world. Because of the way things work out sometimes women will be the vicars of churches, sometimes men will, the ideal is probably like it is in the church where I worship and served before selection conference outcome took me elsewhere, and that is two associate vicars, working together, one male and one female - how truly complementary.

What we are really at odds about is whether women can lead churches, yes? About many other things we probably agree.

Iron sharpening iron. Well, I am learning a lot anyway.


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions