Women Who Pray or Prophesy: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 – Endnotes

[1] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (The NIV Application Commentary; Zondervan, 1994), 214. Another scholar writes, “Commentators vary widely in their understanding of the background of the problem” (Richard Longenecker, New Testament Social Ethics for Today [Eerdmans, 1984], 80). They are trying to guess what kind of situation, and what cultural background, would cause Paul to write what he did, and the variety of suggested solutions shows how hard it is to understand the background of the passage.

[2] Michael Morrison, “Women Who Spoke the Word of God,” Worldwide News, Jan. 2001, pp. 23-26.

[3] Blomberg writes, “A passage such as 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 reveals the need for all believers to have a relatively sophisticated grasp of principles of biblical hermeneutics, so that they can sift through the historical-cultural background, understand the meaning of key terms and grammatical interrelationships within a passage, and fit this passage in with Paul’s other teaching on the topic” (226).

[4] David E. Garland writes, “Paul oscillates back and forth with statements about men and women, but this pattern is broken in 11:13 with a statement about the woman but none about the man.” He also notes that Paul sometimes gives a supporting reason for his statements about women, without giving support for the corresponding statements about men—implying that he expects little resistance to his statements about men. “The best explanation for these breaks in the pattern is that the problem that Paul wishes to correct has to do with what the women were doing with their heads” (1 Corinthians [Baker, 2003], 507-8).

[5] For example, Mary Evans writes: “‘Head’ used in this context is a metaphor and there is no reason to suppose that the first century use of this metaphor will be identical with its twentieth century use, particularly as in the first century it was the heart not the head that was seen as the source of thought and reason, the head at this time being seen rather as the source of life” (Woman in the Bible [InterVarsity, 1983], 65).

[6] Garland, 516.

[7] “The odd sequence reveals that Paul has no interest [or at least it is not his main purpose] in establishing some kind of ascending hierarchical order to show the inferiority of women…. His purpose is not to write a theology of gender but to correct an unbefitting practice in worship that will tarnish the church’s reputation” (Garland, 508, 514). Blomberg offers this suggestion: “Since the problem in Corinth involved men and women (but not Christ) dishonoring their heads, it is natural that he should refer to the heads of the man and of the woman first” (209).

[8] The RSV and NRSV read, “the head of a woman is her husband.”

[9] “What individuals do to their physical head in worship reflects negatively or positively on their metaphorical head” (Garland, 514). Linda Belleville writes, “A man praying or prophesying with his head covered…disgraced Christ (1 Cor. 11:3-4). We cannot know for certain why this was” (Women Leaders and the Church [Baker, 1999], 129).

[10] “The fact that Jewish priests officiating in the temple wore turbans makes Paul’s statement doubly surprising (Ezek. 44:18; cf. m. Yoma 7.5)” (Belleville, 129). We do not know why a turban would be appropriate for a priest but not for a man who is praying.

[11] Blomberg says that “the Jewish practice of covering a man’s head during worship did not become widespread before the fourth century a.d.” (221).

[12] “The statue from Corinth of a veiled Augustus—with his toga pulled over his head in preparation to offer a libation—may offer an important clue…. Wearing the toga over the head at pagan sacrifices was a familiar practice” (Garland, 517). Ben Witherington III points out that this was a Roman custom, not a Greek one (Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians [Eerdmans, 1995], 234). Corinth was in Greece, but a Roman colony, so it is not certain which culture predominated.

[13] Garland surmises that Paul objects to “the associations of the headdress with pagan sacrifice” (518). However, the Corinthians do not seem to be so naturally opposed to pagan practices that they would automatically agree that this practice was dishonorable (and the fact that Paul does not explain his logic indicates that he expects his readers to agree with his point). Non-Christian Greeks apparently did not think that pagan priests dishonored the gods by covering the head. Rather, they probably assumed the opposite, that the custom honored the gods in some way. “It appears that such headcoverings were worn in Roman contexts to demonstrate respect and subservience to the gods” (Witherington, 234). In Garland’s view, Paul objected to covered men for religious reasons, but bare-headed women for sexual reasons. Blomberg writes, “What the Corinthians did with their heads mattered because of either the sexual or the religious implications of their appearance (or both)” (215).

[14] Evans writes about customs of head coverings: “The evidence we do have seems to indicate that there was a great deal of variation in different regions and between town and country” (87). It difficult for us to know what the customs were; it is even more difficult to know what the customs meant to the people.

[15] Hurley argues that the symbol meant “being submissive to the authority of a man”—hence was appropriate for woman but not for a man (170). However, most men are under the authority of, and should submit to, male civil authorities. Women wore a head covering in public but male slaves did not; this suggests that the primary connotation was gender, not authority.

[16] Belleville does not have this view, but she describes the custom: “The typical hairstyle shown in portraits of upper-class Greek and Roman women involved twisting the hair into a roll at the top of the head and then looping it to form a raised ridge” (Women Leaders, 128).

[17] “For a Hebrew woman to go out uncovered was widely regarded as a disgrace…because a covered head was a sign of modesty…. To go out with loose hair in public…was a greater disgrace and considered grounds for divorce” (Garland 520, citing the Mishnah Ketub. 7:6; and Babylonian Talmud Ned. 30b, Yoma 47b, and Ketub. 72a).

[18] Paul uses a different word in v. 15 than previous verses. Long hair is given to the woman instead of some sort of clothing (peribolaion), but she needs to be covered (katakalypta,from the words for down and covered, v. 6). The significance of these terms is debated.

[19] “If an ‘uncovered’ head simply means ‘having her hair down,’ how is ‘the man’s not covering his head in v. 7…the opposite of this?’” (Keener 22, quoting Gordon Fee’s commentary). Witherington writes, “Plutarch uses the same phrase that Paul does, kata kephalēs, to refer to something resting on the head, not hair” (233).

[20] Robert Peterson writes, “In 1 Cor. 11:6, does it make sense to say a woman should have her hair cut short because her hair is already short? No” (“Women’s Roles in the Church, What Does the Bible Say?” http://churchwomen.tripod.com/a/rpeterson.htm, page 7 of 12).

[21] Schreiner, 126. He notes that Philo uses the word for “uncovered” to mean with a cloth removed.

[22] The Greek word for “if” here (ei) implies a positive answer—that it is indeed a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head. But it is not clear whether this disgrace falls on herself, on her metaphorical head, or both. Gordon Fee writes, “It has often been asserted that the shaved head was a sign of prostitution in Corinth; but there is not a known piece of evidence for such in the literature of antiquity” (Listening to the Spirit in the Text [Eerdmans, 2000], 63). He says that a shaved head was shameful because it indicated “the ‘male’ partner in a lesbian relationship.”

[23] In a few denominations today, a small piece of cloth is deemed sufficient even though it is not large enough to “cover” the head or hang “down” from it.

[24] Garland, 519. Richard Davidson writes, “The wearing of the head covering…was a sign of the wife’s submission to her husband’s leadership, not to the headship of all men” (in Women in Ministry, edited by Nancy Vyhmeister [Andrews University, 1998], 275).

[25] “That Paul is likewise upholding a firmly established social custom seems clear from terms like shameful…proper…disgraceful…. Even so, Paul’s appeal to the creation order of Genesis 2 shows that something more than unbefitting behavior is at issue…. Some sort of sexual identity confusion lurks in the background” (Belleville, Women Leaders, 127-28).

[26] “Antoinette Wire’s reconstruction of the situation that generated Paul’s correctives has…gained a fair measure of acceptance and remains plausible. Some Christian women (and maybe some men!) were interpreting their freedom in Christ to mean that they could flout social convention concerning public appearance” (Blomberg, in Two Views, 341; see also Hurley, 170). Evans suggests that women thought they had to dress like a man in order to prophesy, and Paul explains to them that women did not have to dress or act like men in order to be free, but that they were free to pray and prophesy as women (Evans, 90).

[27] “Christian women may not have thought of themselves as going out in public when they worshiped in homes and called one another ‘brother’ and ‘sister’” (Garland 521, citing Fee and Winter). Against this view it can be noted that the Corinthians were not treating one another like family in other respects.

[28] Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives (Hendrickson, 1992), 21. He notes that Paul used himself “as an example of sacrificing one’s own rights in chapter 9…. The principle he articulates could be applied to any of us. If our dressing a certain way in public will cause discomfort to our spouse, we ought not to do it. Paul is clearly less concerned with the particular apparel worn in a given culture than he is with its effects” (pp. 21, 36).

[29] If we took verse 6 literally, the church should give haircuts to women who speak without a head covering—but it seems clear that Paul does not intend this literally. “Paul is using here the ancient debating principle of reductio ad absurdum: reducing the position of his opponents to the absurd. If they want to bare their heads so badly, why don’t they bare them altogether by removing their hair, thus exposing themselves to public shame?” (Keener, 35).

[30] The Greek word here (anthrōpōs) refers to both men and women. The NRSV accurately avoids the impression that only men are intended: “Those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation…. Those who prophesy build up the church.” At least in Antioch, prophets were part of the leadership of the church (Acts 13:1).

[31] From the Greek word katecheō, we get the English word catechism, which refers to an organized system of instruction.

[32] Paul lists prophecy and teaching as separate gifts (Rom 12:6-7; 1 Cor 12:29; 14:6; Eph 4:11). One possible difference in the gifts is that teaching may involve advance planning, whereas prophecy is spontaneous. As mentioned in previous papers, there are biblical examples of female prophets.

[33] Blomberg gives this description: “the proclamation of a message given by God to a Christian speaker for the benefit of a particular congregation. It may include both spontaneous utterances and carefully thought-out communication, so long as the prophet is convinced that God has led him or her to preach a certain message” (210). However, Grudem argues that prophecy is always spontaneous, and is not an exposition of Scripture (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth [Multnomah, 2004], 229).

[34] People should not assume that every utterance claimed to be prophecy is actually inspired by God. Paul instructs the church to “weigh carefully what is said” (14:29; cf. 1 Thess 5:20-21). Some theologians believe that God does not give the gift of prophecy to anyone in this era, but the example in Corinth still shows that God allows women to speak in worship services.

[35] Blomberg, 219.

[36] Thomas Schreiner, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway, 1991), 132. That 1 Cor. 11:3-16 concerns worship settings is the consensus of most traditional and egalitarian scholars. James Hurley says that the “women were praying and prophesying, to some sort of meeting of the church” (180). John Piper and Wayne Grudem say that v. 5 addresses “women prophesying in church” (Recovering, 69, 85). Walter Neuer also accepts “the church” as the setting for this passage, though he later qualifies it to say it was “small house groups,” not the “whole church” (Man and Woman in Christian Perspective [Crossway, 1991], 112, 118). Of course, in many cities, a small house group was the whole church, and it is artificial to try to distinguish them. As Schreiner says, “the distinction between public and private meetings of the church is a modern invention” (Two Views, 228).
Harold R. Holmyard argues, based largely on 1 Cor 14:34, that the women were not speaking in a church meeting (“Does 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Refer to Women Praying and Prophesying in Church?” Bibliotheca Sacra 154 [Oct. 1997]: 462-73). He agrees that a public setting is meant, but not church: “The issue of head coverings implies a public setting, not prayer in private” (472). He does not address the above lines of evidence. In our own fellowship, Peterson claims that church settings are not discussed until v. 17, but he does not address the evidence given above for a public setting. He also argues that women still need to wear a shawl when praying. We reject that, and believe that the evidence favors a church setting.

[37] “While it not likely that the Corinthian men were in fact putting coverings on, it would seem quite likely that the Corinthian women had concluded that, having been raised with Christ (1 Cor. 4:8-10), their new position in Christ and their resultant freedom to participate in the worship by prayer and prophecy was incompatible with wearing a sign of submission to their husbands” (Hurley, 170). They thought that something in the gospel had liberated them from gender-based social conventions. However, Witherington speculates that some men were following Roman custom and wearing a headcovering, while women were following Greek practice, and the variations were causing controversy (Witherington, 238).

[38] Hurley concludes that “her hair is a sufficient sign; no shawls are needed” (184). Neuer likewise does not advocate coverings today, although he notes that women who “think that they should follow Paul’s instruction about covering the head…should not be made fun of, but respected for their stand” (114). Piper, Grudem, and Schreiner all conclude that Paul commanded head-coverings for the culture he was in, but that they are not required today (75, 138). They see a timeless principle behind Paul’s teaching: a requirement to “use culturally appropriate expressions of masculinity and femininity.”

[39] Schreiner says that “the focus here is on the word glory…. Paul’s point is that one should always honor and respect the source from which one came” (133). Garland suggests that “if a woman were to appear in worship with her head uncovered, the splendor of her tresses (11:15) should bring honor to her husband” (523). The idea is that each gender brings honor to the metaphorical head, but in worship it would be inappropriate for a woman to bring glory to her head, man. So by wearing a head covering, she can point to God rather than man. However, others argue that the problem with her tresses is lust, not misdirected glory. William Webb writes, “This proposition related to the question of how much of a woman’s beauty/glory should be visible in a worship setting—an issue of modesty” (Slaves, Women, and Homosexuality, 274).
Hurley suggests that “the glory of a thing is…that which points to or manifests its dignity, honour, or station. Man is relationally the glory of God when he is in an appropriate relation to him: under God, thereby pointing to God’s dominion” (174). He suggests that a man gives God glory “as he exercises his leadership role and the woman is the glory of the man as she appropriately responds” (206). But this definition of “glory” seems to be tailored for Hurley’s interpretation of this passage, rather than being based on the way the word is used elsewhere.

[40] Blomberg, 211.

[41] Hurley suggests a narrow context: “The woman is not called to image God or Christ in the relation which she sustains to her husband. She images instead the response of the church to God…. There need be no implication whatsoever that women are not the image of God in other senses” (173, italics in original).

[42] As we covered in a previous paper, the woman was made for the man because he was alone and did not have a mate, unlike all the animals. She was made to be his companion, not his servant. The man did not lack for creatures to have authority over—what he needed was someone who was like himself.

[43] Paul says one thing in 1 Cor 1:14 but retracts it in v. 16. He is thinking out loud, and his secretary wrote it down, and rather than delete the incorrect statement, Paul added a correction. It would be a mistake for us to focus on the first statement and not on the correction.

[44] Scholars have made a variety of suggestions, such as 1) angels attend worship meetings and are sensitive to misbehavior in the worship service, 2) some angels are sexually attracted to women and the head coverings keep the angels in line, 3) the head covering is a sign that woman has authority over angels, or 4) angels are an example of beings who refused to submit to their place in creation. The Corinthians might have known what Paul meant, but we do not.

[45] Hurley writes, “The term does not mean ‘sign of (someone else’s) authority.’ It has instead an active sense and, apart from the context, would be taken as pointing to the authority of the woman herself” (176). He suggests that the appropriate hairstyle “marked her as one possessing authority, as viceregent of creation, one who would join in the judgment of rebellious angels” (177). However, Schreiner gives a vigorous defense of the traditional view, saying that the word “ought” signals “an obligation, not a freedom” (135).

[46] Neuer writes, “If the women pray or prophesy before other members of the church, then they possess the spiritual authority to do so only if they do it obediently, accepting the position assigned to them at creation” (115). Richards writes, “The most natural meaning would be that a woman has ‘authority,’ that is, the freedom to act or to worship, simply by following proper decorum” (320). A point against this view is that Paul tells the woman what she “ought” to have; it does not appear that he is extolling her freedom.

[47] Against this view, Garland notes, “The introductory phrase ‘because of this’ means that Paul is drawing a conclusion from what has been argued in 11:3-9, and these verses emphasize the woman’s secondary place as the glory of man, not her authority to pray and prophesy” (525).

[48] Blomberg, 212, and Garland, 525. A similar thought may be in 14:32, where Paul uses different Greek words to say that prophets should control their spirits.

[49] “He backtracks lest the Corinthians become confused and think that he implies that women are inferior to men” (Garland, 508). “These two verses clearly form a tension on a theoretical level with his previous arguments” (Webb, 87).

[50] Blomberg suggests that the contrast is between Christ and creation: “‘In the Lord,’ that is, among Christians, the nature of creation is substantially qualified but never erased altogether” (216). But it seems problematic to posit a large difference between creation and Christ, as if Christ changed God’s original design for humanity. This may instead be a hint that Paul’s argument, although it alludes to creation, is actually based in culture. The word “however” in v. 11 implies that he is giving a contrast or correction, not reinforcing the previous point.

[51] Belleville, Women Leaders, 131. Webb writes, “Not only do his ‘in the Lord’ comments take the abrasive edge off of the patriarchy of Paul’s day, but resident within them are seed ideas for future development” (278).

[52] Paul’s purpose throughout this passage, Neuer notes, is to preserve female honor, not to demean her. “The woman upholds her dignity and glory by preserving her womanly character and her position in the creation” (Neuer, 115).

[53] The BDAG lexicon lists four meanings: “1) condition or circumstance as determined by birth…. 2) the natural character of an entity…. 3) the regular or established order of things….
4) an entity as a product of nature” (Walter Bauer et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition [University of Chicago Press, 2000], 1069-70).

[54] Hurley says that it means “God’s design for nature rather than simply the way things happen to be” (178). By defining the word as “God’s purpose,” Hurley can then say it means whatever he wants it to mean. Schreiner says that Paul “is referring to the natural and instinctive sense of right and wrong that God has planted in us” (137)—but it is doubtful that gender-based hair lengths are an instinct found in all cultures. Cultures do have concepts of right and wrong, and of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior and attire, but discrimination by hair length is an illustration of how the instinct is applied in some societies; it is not an instinct in itself. Hair does not grow very long in either sex in some ethnic groups, and there is nothing “feminine” about the long braids of early Native American warriors.

[55] Blomberg takes the word physis to refer to a “long-established custom” (213). Keener is not sure, saying that Paul may have believed that “women’s hair naturally grows longer than men’s” (43). He finally concludes, “Whether Paul’s argument is that women by virtue of creation have longer hair than men, or that the social norms of his day demand women’s hair to be longer under normal circumstances, does not in the end need to be decided. In either case, Paul would seem to be making an argument that addresses symbolic gender distinctions, and requiring men and women to recognize those differences between them” (45).

[56] “When he speaks explicitly of length of hair, he grounds his arguments in what is proper (v. 13), normal practice (vv. 14-15) and contemporary custom (v. 16). None of these verses…implies a timeless, transcultural mandate” (Blomberg, 215).

[57] Witherington concludes that it is “unlikely that Paul would impose any foreign or specifically Jewish custom on the ethnically mixed ekklēsia in Corinth” (235).

[58] “When a wife converts to Christianity and learns that she is set free in Christ so that she can pray and prophesy in public, it does not mean that she can disregard social conventions” (Garland, 509). She is not free to bring shame and dishonor on her husband.

[59] Garland, 532, citing Against Apion, 1:21.

[60] “Paul, a pastor and a missionary, is concerned about getting his point across to his people, not with impressing modern Western readers with arguments that would work transculturally. Paul employs a transcultural argument only when he is making a transcultural point” (Keener, 31-32).

[61] “Had any one of his arguments here been an absolute, unambiguous, universal proof, Paul could have settled for one argument instead of four” (Keener, 22).

[62] In making this decision, it was not necessary for us to rule on the exact meaning of kephale, the precise nature of the head covering, or the significance of “authority” in v. 10. We do not have the expertise in Greek literature and language to provide conclusive answers to those questions. We also note that this passage is not about ordination or appointing people to church leadership. We want to base our policies on scriptures that are clear, and this passage is not clear.

[63] “Most interpreters agree that one timeless principle that may be deduced from this passage is that Christians should not try to blur all distinctions between the sexes” (Blomberg, 214). “The fundamental principle is that the sexes, although equal, are also different” (Schreiner, 138). “Paul takes issue not with what women are doing but with how they are doing it. Women (and men for that matter) can pray and prophesy in the church, but they must not flaunt the social conventions of the day in so doing” (Belleville, Women Leaders, 153). “Paul’s view is that the creation order should be properly manifested, not obliterated, in Christian worship…. Male-female differentiation is part of what God intends to redeem, not transcend or supersede” (Witherington, 236-37).

[64] Keener responds to this by saying, “Nothing in this passage suggests wives’ subordination. The only indicator that could be taken to mean that is the statement that man is woman’s ‘head,’ but ‘head’ in those days was capable of a variety of meanings, and nothing in the text indicates that it means subordination…. The only clear affirmations here, besides that men and women are different and should not conceal that fact, is the equality and mutual dependence of men and women” (47).

[65] Keener concludes, “We can notice some transcultural points in his argument: one should not bring reproach upon one’s family or upon the Christian gospel; one should not seek to destroy symbolic gender distinctions by pioneering unisex clothing styles; one should respect custom and do one’s best to avoid causing someone to stumble” (46).

[66] That is, infallibly inspired words.

[67] Garland, 514.

[68] Hurley, 164. Unfortunately, Hurley left out an important point. Keener writes, “The Septuagint rarely translates ros (in the sense of leader) literally as ‘head’; most often it uses other Greek words that mean ‘leader.’ It retains ‘head’ for leader less than one tenth of the time, despite the Hebrew usage” (32). Alan Redmond, pastor in Winnipeg, has studied the words in some depth. He writes, “There are 547 occurrences of ros that I found in a Hebrew (BHS) search with Gramcord…. The instances where ros has the meaning of chief or ruler are of special interest to us. These number about 180. The majority are translated as archē…. I found 9% of the time that ros has the sense of chief or ruler where it is translated by kephalē.” Although it is not a common meaning, it is a possible meaning of kephalē, and he concludes: “The sense of authority could not likely have been excluded from the metaphor without special comment from Paul.”

[69] Hurley, 166. Schreiner argues strongly for the meaning of “authority” (127-28).

[70] Blomberg, 208-9.

[71] Richards, in Women in Ministry, 318. He limits that authority to marriage. “Paul never, here or elsewhere, widens the wife’s subordination to her husband within the family circle to a general subordination of women to men’s authority, in the church or in society” (319). Witherington has a similar view: “Paul does not simply equate the family structure, which in the household codes is somewhat patriarchal, with the structure of the family of faith” (238, n. 26). He argues that kephalē probably connotes authority, but notes: “Paul’s vision of headship or leadership involves the leader in being the head servant…. It is difficult to come to grips with a Paul who is neither a radical feminist nor an ardent patriarchalist…. Paul, like Jesus, was a man who was not and is not easily pigeonholed” (240).

[72] Blomberg, Two Views, 342.

[73] A. C. Perriman, “The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of Kephalē in 1 Cor. 11:3” (Journal of Theological Studies 45 (1994): 620.

[74] Evans, 66. She also points out that earlier in this letter, Paul has balanced the authority of the husband and the wife (1 Cor 7:4, using the verb form of exousia); he does not seem to be combating a problem of women trying to exert authority over men.

[75] Garland, 515-16.

[76] “This objection fails if the text refers to Jesus’ source as the Father from whom he proceeded at his incarnation as a human being” (Keener, 33-34). Keener also makes a suggestion about the unusual order in v. 3: “If the incarnation is in view, then 11:3 is in chronological sequence.”

[77] Garland, 516. Belleville agrees: “Kephalē is rarely used to describe the relationship of one individual to another…. Prominent is by far the most common [metaphorical] usage….Source and leader, on the other hand, are quite rare—although examples can be found…. What all this means is that Paul’s uses of kephalē must be decided on a case-by-case basis” (Women Leaders, 123). She also notes that “Now I want you to know that” is the way that Paul introduces new information (130). We cannot assume prior knowledge on the part of the Corinthians of man being the head of the woman. And since the metaphor had several possible meanings, the original readers would have to use the context to tell them which meaning was intended—and the context is not about authority and submission.

[78] Blomberg, Two Views, 343.

[79] Keener, 22-30; see also Cynthia L. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth,” Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988, 99-113.


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