We pick up now with the rest of the passage following 1 Corinthians 3:
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband (or man) is the head of his wife (woman), and God is the head of Christ.
I've said that “head” here functions as “origin.” The chiasmus in verses 4-16 will make this clear. Here is how Kenneth Bailey presents it using his own translation. An interpretation in verse 9 is critical to this passage and I have bolded the key words:
A 4 Any man who prays or prophesies
with his head covered
dishonors his head.
5 Any woman who prays or prophesies
with her head unveiled
dishonors her head.
B 6 for it is the same as if her head were shaved
for if a woman (prophet) will not veil herself,
then let her cut off her hair
but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaved
then let her wear a veil
C 7 For a man ought not to cover the head
Since he is the image and glory of God,
and woman is the glory of man.
D 8 For man is not from (ek) woman
but (alla) woman is from (ek) man.
E 9 For man was not created because of (dia) woman
but (alla) woman because of (dia) the man.
F 10 Because of (dia) this
the woman should have authority on her head,
because of (dia) the angels.
E’ 11 Specifically (plen), woman is not independent of man
nor independent of woman in the Lord.
D’ 12 For as the woman is from (ek) the man
So also the man is (born) through (dia) the woman.
And all things are from (ek) God.
C’ 13 Judge in yourselves:
is it proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled?
B’ 14 Does not nature itself teach you
that for a man to wear long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
15 but if a woman has long hair,
it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
A ' 16 If anyone is disposed to be contentious
we recognize no other practice,
nor do the churches of God.
Here is how Bailey characterizes each stanza:
A Church Practice (and its reason)
B Example – Women (shaved = dishonor/disgraces)
C Men – Not Cover Gen. 1:27
D Man – Not From Woman, Woman From Man
E Dependence Gen 2:18
D’ Woman From Man, Man Through Woman Gen 1:27
C’ Women – Veiled
B’ Example – Men (long hair = dishonor) – Women (long hair = glory)
A’ Church Practice
Verses 4 and 5 tell us the presenting problem: Head covering for men and women. John Chrysostom (349 – c. 407) wrote in his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians:
“The Corinthian women used to pray and to prophesy (for in those days women also prophesied) with their heads bare. Meanwhile, the men, who had spent a long time in philosophy, wore their hair long and covered their heads when praying, which was the Greek custom. Paul had already admonished them about these things. It seems that some had listened to him but that others disobeyed. Here praises the obedient before going on to correct others.” (26.2)
I present this to show that early in the life of the church at least some did not see this purely as an issue of women in disobedience.
Bailey points out that Corinth was a morally loose town even by Roman standards. Corinth was the center of worship for the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, love, and procreation. Like honey bees collecting pollen, 1,000 temple prostitutes would seek sexual relations with men, thus connecting the men with the goddess, and using the financial proceeds for the operation of the temple. Hair was considered especially sensuous, so these prostitutes exposed their hair and adorned it with ornaments. We also know that some Greco-Roman women of high status tended to disregard restrictions observed by other women. We know from elsewhere in the letter that there were some wealthy high status people who were part of the church. Bailey points out that similar prohibitions against uncovered heads for women existed in Jewish circles, sometimes with very stiff penalties.
Apparently, some of the women were participating in worship with their heads uncovered. This clearly would have been disturbing for more conservative Greeks and Jews. In their eyes, such women were dishonoring men, their husbands, and the church community. They were bringing shame on their “heads,” both in the sense of their personal dishonor and in the sense of dishonor to men including their husbands. They were violating the traditional expression that gave honor to the divinely established distinction between the sexes. Based on Chrysostom, it is also possible that some men were behaving dishonorably in their appearance as well. Paul is likely getting a bit sarcastic in telling the women to cut off their hair, similar to when he suggested some troublemakers should cut off other body parts in Galatians 5:12.
Verse 7 indicates that both man and woman are in the image of God but that woman is the glory of man. Thus, when a man gets up to speak with his head uncovered, he reflects the glory of God but when a woman rises to speak with her head uncovered she reflects the glory of man. She detracts from the glory to be given to God. Therefore, she should cover her glory so that worshipers are not distracted by the glory of man she reflects. (This comes from Kenneth Bailey’s lectures Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Perspective.)
Verse 8 states what we know from Genesis about the creation order, but verse 9 is critical. Most English Bible versions translate the two occurrences of the Greek word dia as “for” in this passage, even though they twice translate it “because” in the very next verse. Thus, in versus 8, we have woman created “for” man and not “because” of man. Using “for” suggests that woman was created as an assistant of secondary status to suit the purposes of man. This fits with a tradition that interprets Eve created as a “helper” (ezer) to man to mean that she was created to be his servant and subordinate. Yet this is the same word used to describe God as our “helper” in times of need. If there is a status difference, then it is one of a person with superior resources coming to help a person with less. But the real purpose in the Genesis account is to highlight Eve’s completion of Adam as a corresponding match. There is nothing of hierarchy or subordination in the passage. The point is not that Adam needed a servant to help him. In this sense, Eve was not created for Adam. Adam was incomplete and needed his matching, but missing, partner. Therefore, because of Adam (in his incompleteness) Eve was created.
Verses 7-9 affirm the significance of woman as a corresponding partner to man but points out the differences in origin. Paul believes it is important to honor this distinction even though it may seem esoteric to us 2,000 years later, living in Western culture. Women have the authority to prophesy and participate in public worship. A woman shows that she has authority when she covers her head, bringing honor to herself and the community through her respectful and reverent behavior. “Because of this…” Paul writes in verse 10, “…the woman should have…” What? Submission on her head? No. “…authority on her head.” The head covering becomes a symbol that she is discerning, moral, and responsible.
Then we get to the peculiar end of verse 10 where it talks about doing this "because of the angles." Bailey points out that in scripture the angels are frequently approving and praising witnesses to acts of God and the church. For instance, some believed that angels were present at creation, singing God’s praises as he created the universe. Revelation speaks of churches having angels. It is possible that Paul is saying that rather than the angels having to watch despicable behavior, wear your head coverings and give them something to praise and celebrate. The precise meaning simply is not clear.
In case the point was not clear about corresponding mutuality of male and female, Paul drives the point home in verses 11 and 12. Then, he shames the Corinthians in verses 13-15 for not doing what should be obvious to them (though maybe not to us) from nature. Then, in verse 16, he gives them the Pauline equivalent of “Do it because I said so!”
What I hope this demonstrates is that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about a behavioral controversy that was culturally specific. Women, and maybe men, were behaving arrogantly and disrespectfully in worship. Paul intended to put a stop to it. As we saw yesterday, Paul moves on in chiasmus form to talk about arrogant abuse of the communion meal in 11:17-33. Then, he turns to a discussion of gifts given to all for building up the church in Chapter 12, using a human body metaphor. At the focal point of chiasmus is the powerful passage on other-centered love in Chapter 13. He moves back out from the focal point with instruction on using the gifts in 14:1-25. Then, paralleling the instruction against disorderly communion he instructs them to behave in an orderly manner in 14:26-33a. Finally, he comes to the passage about women who are apparently disrupting worship with questions and inappropriate conversation. He instructs them to be still and in submission to the proceedings and to stop being disruptive. (This is another controversial passage that we won’t go into here. However, based on the chiasmus analysis it doesn’t appear that it was a latter insertion as some have claimed.)
For our purposes, the central point is this: Verse 3 is an illustration by Paul to highlight the principle of honor given to origins in order to correct a culturally bound disruptive practice that was in play at Corinth. “Head” is used here in the sense of “origin.” What the succeeding verses illustrate is that verse 3 is only loosely the controlling passage for what follows. Mostly it functions as way to introduce the concept of heads and glory.
(For a brief article on this passage by Kenneth Bailey, see his article in the Jan-Feb 2000 issue of Theology Matters, Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View and go to page 11. You will notice that Bailey does allow that "head" can mean authority over when he is looking at Greek passages. This is a point I qualify more narrowly than he does based on other works I've read. I maintain that "head" can indicate preeminence in authority, a statement of relative status compared to others, but it does not seem to relate to the quality of "ruling others." Otherwise, why use the Greek archon (ruler) to translate ros (head) from Hebrew instead of using the literal Greek equivalent kephale (head) when moving from Hebrew to Greek in the Septuagint?)