Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is a difficult passage to understand and unpack. In this short article, I try to be as succinct as possible and give an overview of how I read it. I appreciate that my interpretation is different from common interpretations. I offer it as part of the ongoing discussion on this tricky passage.

It would be helpful to read this blog post with 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 open. You can read this passage on Bible Gateway, here.

“Head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3

Paul’s concern in this passage is about socially respectable hairstyles, or head coverings, for the Corinthian men and women who were praying and prophesying aloud in church meetings. All of his statements in this passage must be understood with this overriding concern in mind.

Paul begins with a statement about status, or prominence, which he ties to the idea of origins or “firstness” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8–9).[1] I suggest the man and the woman in the second phrase refers to Adam and Eve.

“Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3 CEB cf. 1 Cor. 8:6).

In English, the word “head” can sometimes mean “a person in authority over others,” but the Greek word that Paul used, kephalē (“head”), did not typically have this meaning in ancient Greek: 1 Corinthians 11:3 is not about authority, let alone a hierarchy of authority.

In the first century, men had a higher level of honour and prominence than women. Furthermore, because of the honour-shame dynamic in the ancient world, it could be more difficult for a woman to have her own honour. Rather, her honour was embedded in the honour of a male relative.[2] This dynamic is the backdrop to 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. But we need to keep reading, and not focus solely on verse 3,  to see what else Paul says about relationships between men and women who are “in the Lord.”

More about the Greek word kephalē (“head”) in 1 Corinthians 11:3, here.

Reputations in First-Century Corinth

Paul was concerned that the inappropriate appearance of women who were praying and prophesying would reflect badly on their husbands or fathers (because that’s how society worked back then). He was likewise concerned that the inappropriate appearance of men who were praying and prophesying would reflect badly on Christ, and that ultimately God and his church would be dishonoured. (The word “God” is at the end of the statement in 1 Cor. 11:3 in the Greek and in an emphatic position. “God” is also at the very end of 1 Cor. 11:16 in the phrase “the churches of God.”)

1 Corinthians 11:4–7 is about what is on top of men’s and women’s heads (hairstyles or head coverings) while they engage in speaking ministries in church meetings, and this is connected negatively to shame and disgrace (kataischunō) and positively to glory (doxa). (Long hair on men and short or unbound hair on women was socially suspect in the Roman world.)[3]

The Greek word doxa is often translated as “glory” in the New Testament, but it can also have the sense of “repute.” I suggest the implication of 1 Corinthians 11:7, a verse that has been horribly handled in the past, is that the conduct of a Christian man affected the reputation and honour of God (i.e. God’s doxa). So Paul here reminds men that they are, or that they possess, the image of God in order to reinforce his point.

The conduct of a first-century Christian woman affected the reputation and honour of her husband or father (i.e. the man’s doxa). Paul does not bring up the fact that women are also the image of God because it doesn’t add anything to the point he is making in verse 7. There is no doubt, however, that women, as well as men, are God’s image-bearers. There are several verses in both the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament that state women, as well as men, bear the image and glory of God.

More about women and men being God’s image-bearers, and about doxa having the meaning of “repute, reputation” (in footnotes) is here

The “Angels” in 1 Corinthians 11:10

I believe 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is about reputation (doxa) and about not giving messengers a bad report to bring back to others who were curious about what was happening in Christian gatherings in Corinth. Paul cared about the reputation of the church in a world that was suspicious of new religious ideas and of behaviour that might threaten social stability. Later in 1 Corinthians, and in other letters too, he expresses similar concerns about reputation.[4]

Verse 10 is at the centre of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 which is structured as a chiasm. Verse 10 is Paul’s main point. He wanted the ministering women to exercise good judgement and have respectable hairstyles or head coverings so that messengers wouldn’t spread damaging reports about the conduct of women in the church. (Note that Paul doesn’t say or hint that women shouldn’t be praying or prophesying.)

The Greek word aggeloi which occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:10 commonly means messengers. In some contexts, aggeloi are heavenly messengers, angels, but at other times, they are human messengers running an errand. The two spies in James 2:25, for example, are called aggeloi in the Greek New Testament. Aggeloi also refer to human messengers in Matthew 11:10//Mark 1:2//Luke 7:27, Luke 7:24, and Luke 9:52. I suggest the messengers in 1 Corinthians 11:10 were human messengers sent to investigate, perhaps spy on, the Christians (cf. Gal. 2:4).

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor believes the aggeloi were human envoys, but he thinks they were fellow Christians, “visitors from other churches such as Chloe’s people, who no doubt were the ones who reported to Paul on what they found scandalous in the Corinthian liturgies (1 Cor. 1:11).”[5]

More about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 being structured as a chiasm is here.
In a footnote here, I briefly give other explanations for the aggeloi in 1 Cor. 11:10.

Mutuality for those “In the Lord”

In the first half of the chiasm, Paul presents his argument using a hierarchy of status or honour (based on “firstness”) that the first-century Corinthians could relate to. Paul wanted the Corinthians to heed this dynamic for the sake of outsiders, but he did not want them to take it too far.  So, in the second part of the chiasm, he provides correctives beginning with verses 11–12.

“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8). For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God (cf. 1 Cor. 11:9).”

Outside of the church, there were hierarchies of status and honour. However, within the community of believers, among those “in the Lord,” the ideal is that there is equal honour.

“In the Lord,” men and women are mutually interdependent, and Paul points out that even though woman came from man (cf. Gen. 2:21-22), man also comes from woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). We’re even. Paul nullifies the significance of man being first and he focuses on God. God is the ultimate source of everything, including us. He is the ultimate “first” one. (Again, the word “God” is in an emphatic position at the very end of the statement in 1 Cor. 11:12.)[6]

More about the significance of the created order is here.
More about the two social contexts of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is here.


There is no hierarchy between men and women who are “in the Lord.” Nevertheless, because of the messengers, and for the sake of reputations, Paul wanted the men and women who were praying and prophesying to have hairstyles or head coverings that were socially acceptable in first-century Corinthian society.[7] In a nutshell, this was Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.


[1] I like David deSilva’s observation of the sense of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “However, one chooses to translate kephalē (“head”) here, the firstness indicated by the term is difficult to avoid.”
David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 231.

[2] David deSilva observes that 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 “reflects the view that female honour is embedded in male honour …” Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, 34.

[3] Hairstyles, rather than head coverings, may be the issue (cf. 1 Cor. 11:15). Or perhaps it was both. New Testament scholars such Judith Grundy, Philip B. Payne, Richard B. Hays, and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor believe Paul was talking about hairstyles or hair lengths.
Alan G. Padgett writes about the phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:4b, “We thus join a growing number of scholars in rendering kata kephalēs echon as ‘having long hair coming down from the head.’”
Padgett, “Paul on Women in the Church: The Contradictions of Coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11.2–16,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 20 (1984): 69–86, 70.
Craig L. Blomberg notes, “In verses 14–15 Paul is definitely talking about relative lengths of hair for men and women, so it is somewhat more natural to assume that he has been talking about hairstyles all along.” Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan ), 178.

[4] Paul wanted Christians to behave in such a way that they would not offend Christians and non-Christians alike. This concern is behind 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and is expressed in other verses in 1 Corinthians and also in 1 Timothy and Titus.
~ In 1 Corinthians 14:22–25, Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to minister in ways that won’t appear too weird to non-believers.
~ In 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, Paul told the Corinthians that he adapted his ministry style to accommodate various groups of people so that he might win them, and presumably not offend them.  He didn’t want the behaviour of the Corinthians to cause Jews, Greeks and even those within the church to stumble; he wanted them all to be saved (1 Cor. 10:31–33).
~ The appearance and behaviour of women were especially open to suspicion and censure in ancient cultures. Accordingly, Paul wanted the rich Ephesian women to dress with moderation (1 Tim. 2:9–10). Flouting the acceptable dress code would have raised questions of impropriety and even promiscuity. (See Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 208).
~ Paul’s instructions to young widows in Ephesus, some of whom were idle and getting up to mischief, were in order “to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:14 NIV).
~ His words about the socially respectable behaviours of young Cretan matrons were given “so that God’s word will not be slandered” by non-Christians, especially by opponents of the faith (Titus 2:5; cf. 2:8).
~ Paul encourages slaves to be trustworthy in their work “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Tit. 2: 10 NIV).
~ And he wanted church overseers to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7).

[5] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 177.

[6] The Greek word for “God” (theos) occurs at the very end of three sentences in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (1 Cor. 11:3, 12, 16). In Greek, words can be placed at the very end, or very beginning, of a sentence for emphasis. By using this rhetorical device, Paul grabs the reader’s attention and highlights his main concern which is God and God’s church. (The Greek word for “God” also occurs in 1 Cor. 11:7 and 13 without rhetorical emphasis.)
In 1824, Harriet Livermore made this comment on 1 Corinthians 11:11–12: “The 11th verse intimates a mutual dependence in the Church of Christ resting on either sex, while the last clause of the 12th, gives all the result to God, who is indeed the great first cause, and last end of all things.”
Livermore, Scriptural Evidence in Favour of Female Testimony in Meetings of Christian Worship (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: R. Foster, 1824), 16–17 (Internet Archive)

[7] We need to be aware that our appearance and behaviour today aren’t unnecessarily inappropriate and problematic in our own cultures.

Postscript July 19, 2024
Paul’s Words or the Corinthians’ Words?

Regarding the idea that the first part of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 contains the words or teachings of the Corinthians and not Paul’s own words, an idea proposed by Lucy Peppiatt and adopted by others, consider the following observations.

These various Corinthian slogans [in 1 Cor. 6:12; 6:13; 7:1; 8:1; 10:23] share several common features: they are short and concisely worded (as slogans typically are); they reflect views with which Paul can agree in part but which prove significantly misleading if interpreted without qualification; and they represent a common perspective found in the form of ancient Greek philosophy that eventually developed into Gnosticism. Recognition of these common features may enable interpreters to evaluate other proposals for slogans in 1 Corinthians.
Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 3rd Edition, edited by William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard Jr. (HarperCollins, 2017), 553–554. (Google Books)

Explore more

This is a snapshot of my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. I’ve written more here.
More about first-century customs of hairstyles and head coverings is here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
All my “in a Nutshell” articles are here.
A Spanish translation of this article is here.

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New Testament, apostle Paul and women, gender roles

34 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 11:2–16, in a Nutshell

  1. I’m trying not to have an opinion on anything that’s not referenced in the Nicene Creed.
    Perhaps, a better expression of that, is that I’m trying not to build a belief system on anything that’s not in the Nicene Creed.
    Thus, I find it aggravating that I’ve had people try to run my relationship with God and His church by hammering on the significance of these verses.
    Admittedly, it wasn’t the issue you address here, of men being the head of women, that I was clubbed with first. I was a soldier stationed in Germany in 1973 when I became a Christian, and that was a time in which the issue of long hair on men was a battleground in the American churches. I was SEVERELY chastised once, when I mentioned casually that when I got out of the Army, I would grow my hair longer. I didn’t care for that. Seemed to me that it was an example of someone trying to use a passage to enforce their own fashion sense.
    In fact, if I were to look at the Bible I used then, in the margins of this verse:
    “Does even nature itself not teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, ” (I Cor 11:14, NASB)
    I believe I would find this personal commentary: “No, it doesn’t.”
    Much, much later, in my role as a counselor, I had to deal with obnoxious men bullying their wives, and using these verses as a justification.
    It’s really NOT difficult theology to say: neither contemporary fashion nor obnoxious personalities ought ever be permitted to violate something as straightforward as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
    I’m going to go read the Nicen Creed again, and calm down.
    Peace be on your household.

    1. Hi Pat. As we know, in some cultures in Asia and North America, for example, respected men did, or do, have long hairstyles. Paul’s question reflects the culture of Roman Corinth, however, rather than the physiology of hair growth. Some believe that 1 Corinthians 11:14 is about long hair on men which was what some homosexuals in Corinth were sporting; Paul believed homosexuality was not natural. See, for example, Andrew Bartlett’s discussion on this in his book Men and Women in Christ, p.152-153, here.

      It’s a shame that people have had such strong views and made such strong statements, one way or the other, based on a passage that is difficult to understand. And it clearly has been misunderstood in the past in ways that disregard the broader teachings of the Bible. I don’t see a consensus being reached on the overall interpretation any time soon.

      1. The word “ arsenokoitai” wasn’t translated to mean “homosexual” until 1946, correct?

        1. The use of the English word “homosexual” is fairly recent in all English literature, including English translations of the Bible. See this ngram here.

          It seems Austrian-born writer Karl Maria Kertbeny was the person who coined the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual.” The terms were used in two pamphlets he wrote in 1868 against legislation which criminalised homosexual sex. He also used the terms in a personal letter, also written in 1868. (See here.) It took a while for this terminology to become widely known and used.

          However, arsenokoitai, before and after 1946, has been translated in English Bibles with words that convey the idea of men having sex with men.

          You can compare English translations of 1 Corinthians 6:9 on Bible Gateway here.
          You can compare English translations of 1 Timothy 1:10 on Bible Gateway here.

      2. Take a look at the ISV on these verses:

        “Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory, since hair is given as a substitute for coverings” (1Co 11:14-15, ISV).

        1. That’s unfortunate. If there was an ouk + oude (“neither-nor”) construction in the Greek, or something similar, there would be a warrant for this translation.

          I understand the difficulties in translating 1 Cor. 11:2-16, including verses 14-15, but I can’t see a warrant for the ISV’s translation. There is no negative, no “nor,” in verse 15

          Rather, oude at the very beginning of 1 Corinthians 11:14 functions in much the same way as oude in Mark 12:10 and Luke 6:3 (“Have you not read …?”) and in Luke 23:40 (“Do you not fear God?”).

          Oude, instead of the more common ou (“no, not”), functions as an intensifier in questions:
          “Does not even nature itself teach us …”
          “Have you not even read …”
          “Do you not even fear God?”

          I’ve written about “nature” as a teacher here:

          You may be interested in the section “Contemporaries of Paul on Hair Lengths and Hairstyles,” here, where I quote ancient authors on hair lengths. Some of these also refer to “nature.”

  2. If there is “headship” over the woman, it is only in marriage settings. Not every man is over any woman.

    1. Hi Shirley, Ephesians 5:22-33 is about wives and husbands, and only applies to marriage. Paul uses a head-body metaphor in this passage when he tells wives, “the husband is the head of his wife,” and when he tells the husbands “to love their wives as their own bodies.”
      One of Paul’s main concerns here was unity. I’ve written about this passage here: https://margmowczko.com/category/ephesians-5/

      1 Corinthians 11:2-16, however, is not primarily about marriage but about men and women who were ministering in Corinth. The senses or nuances of kephalē here are firstness and status, which Paul tempers in the second half of the passage.

  3. Thank you for your work, Marg! I found you and your wonderful writing five years ago when I was with a complementarian church and suffering from spiritual abuse. Your blog opened my eyes to another way and now I have so much more freedom in my faith.

    Anyway, this post was a great read. You are always incredibly thorough and respectful in how you present your interpretation. Keep up the good work!

    Peace and blessings to you and much love from one sister in Christ to another.

    1. Thanks for your lovely words of encouragement Shannon. <3

  4. Mr Bartlett may know how you feel about his book, but you have placed your comment to him under your answer to me. I haven’t written any book.

  5. Dear Marg,

    I found your insights and interpretations about these difficult Bible passages very interesting. Especially the idea of angels possibly being a spy in some context makes sense although I never have heard something like that before. It would explain why Paul devotes so much writing space and attention to something that affects mainly outward appearances. It all makes sense, however, if these angels were human messengers and potentially dangerous. Interpreted this way, one could call Paul’s veil instructions even a safety rule.

    On the other hand, what is the meaning of this passage for us today? Could there also be a timeless meaning besides Paul’s more practical considerations?

    Personally I believe that the veil — or the head covering or hairstyle or whatever it might have been — could be the same item that Apostle Peter calls the “adorning” that is not outward but “the hidden man of the heart” or “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3: 1-4). Every woman who prays or prophesies in a church does need this “invisible veil”, regardless of what she decides to do with her hair. Like Peter says, it is “in the sight of God of great price”, and people will notice it even though they can’t see it.

    1. Hi Emmy, I see it a little differently from you. The timeless message we can take from this passage is that Christians should not be unnecessarily controversial or offensive to broader society, as this will reflect badly on fellow believers, on Jesus Christ, and ultimately on God. This message is especially relevant today!

      The context or backstory to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and to 1 Peter 3:1-6 are different. Peter’s words were given to wives in Asia Minor who had non-believing Jewish or pagan husbands. Peter’s concern was evangelism; he wanted these husbands to be “won.” And he doesn’t mention a veil or any other kind of garment.

      Paul was concerned with the outward appearance of the men and women who were speaking in Corinthian assemblies.
      Peter’s concern was the inward attitude in wives who he implicitly advises not to speak.

      I’ve written about “gentleness” for the women and men who Peter addresses in his first letter: https://margmowczko.com/gentle-quiet-spirit-1-peter-3/

      I’m not following why the Corinthian women need any kind of veil, visible or invisible. Paul tells these prophesying/ praying women that their (long) hair is a covering (1 Cor. 11:15).

      One thing both passages (1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Pet. 3:1-6) have in common is the idea that believers should behave themselves in a world that could be hostile to Christianity.

      1. you said a mouthful when you stated…”The timeless message we can take from this passage is that Christians should not be unnecessarily controversial or offensive to broader society, as this will reflect badly on fellow believers, on Jesus Christ, and ultimately on God. This message is especially relevant today!…”

        that verse sums up what your whole impetus is behind your writings and research….that christians should be one with each other and God ………to show unity to the world ..it is
        a shame that the idea of women in service to God on His Terms has been source of much division within the believers.

        It seems the church ( the organized politicized church) has become an overly concerned about what women do that it fashions hundreds of rules to control their conduct in order to please an angry God, then the whole idea of christianity becomes little more than ancient pagan ritual of putting sacrifices on an altar….something God spent centuries on to sending His messengers, prophets, angels and Christ to say, no we are no longer to be pagan minded but Christ minded with the heart of Jesus….

        but God has His remnant.

        1. Thanks, Susan! I’m glad that you get it.

          It’s hard to understand why some Christians get so upset and angry, and even outraged, by the idea of men and women, brothers and sisters in Christ, ministering together.

  6. Marg, thank you so much for your insights on these texts. I am learning a lot! I am preparing a lesson to teach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. One argument I have heard to solve the apparent contradiction with this text and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is that the praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 is not in the worship assembly. Have you heard that argument? How would you respond? Thanks!

    1. Hi Randy, I have heard that argument. It doesn’t make sense. Why would Paul care about what men and women were doing with their hair/ heads if they were praying and prophesying privately where people cannot see or hear? Paul wanted the more prominent members of the Corinthian church, those praying and prophesying aloud in meetings, to look socially respectable. His concern in the first half of the passage was reputations in the broader community.

      There is no real contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. In chapter 11, Paul addresses the issue of the appearance of men and women who were praying and prophesying. In chapter 14, Paul addresses unruly speech and he silences men and women; three groups are silenced in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 using the same Greek verb. As well as silencing problem speech, this passage is bookended with encouragements for orderly, edifying speaking ministries without any suggestion some of these ministries are only for one sex or the other.

      I recently read Judith Gundry’s chapter on “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16” which was published in 1997. I wish I’d read it sooner. On page 152 of her chapter, Dr Gundry briefly describes Paul’s use of the creation story in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and the two social contexts that Paul applies them to. I think she’s spot on and has little to do with 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.

      … Paul has a complex view of creation with respect to gender, that he can read creation within a patriarchal framework as well as an egalitarian one. He appeals to creation to support instructions which presume a hierarchical relationship of man and woman as well as to undergird their new social equality in Christ without denying their difference. These contrasting readings or uses of creation come about through Paul’s theologizing from two contrasting social contexts. On the one hand, he has in view the Corinthians’ wider social context, a hierarchically-structured shame/honor society, and on the other hand, the cultic context of Corinthian worship that burst the patriarchal framework. The tension in Paul’s argument thus correlates with the tension in the Corinthians’ life setting. In dealing with this discrepant life setting he uses a theological method characterized by the interplay of culture, creation, and eschatological life in Christ as mutually interpretive loci of theological reflection. Creation is not univocal for Paul but can have different “meanings,” depending on the social location from which it is viewed and the interplay with other loci for theological reflection on gender.
      Judith M. Gundry-Volf, “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method” in Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburtstag, editors: Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann und Otfried Hofius (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151-171, 152.

  7. Hi Marg,
    Thank you for your article and amazing work on this website. It has massively helped me in my journey to egalitarian theology.

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are about Lucy Peppiatt’s argument that portions of 1 Corinthians 11 (especially verses 7-9) represent thoughts of the Corinthians that Paul refutes.

    Thank you for your time!

    1. Hi Katherine, Thank you.

      The two sections of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (verses 2-10 and verses 11-16) seem to be saying different, even contrary, things, and scholars have come up with various ways of explaining this difference. I used to think, similarly to Lucy Peppiatt, that the first half contained the Corinthians’ thoughts that Paul then corrects. However, I no longer believe this. Rather, I read that passage as Paul addressing two different contexts.

      In the first half, Paul’s concern is the reputations of Christians in Roman Corinth where respectability, tied to gendered customs, was important. But Paul does not want the Christians to take this too far, especially the concept of unequal honour. So in the second half, he reminds the Corinthian Christians of their mutuality in the Lord. Within the church, Christians are equal.

      Judith Gundry explains the two different contexts, and Paul’s use of Genesis 2 in both sections, well: https://margmowczko.com/judith-gundry-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

      1. Thank you Marg for your detailed work on these difficult topics. My concern about the words of Paul being intended to not offend the wider social contexts of the various churches in order to preserve them from negative notice, is that women’s interests (ie. the equality offered by Jesus) seem to be sacrificed in order to preserve the church and its reputation. Even to the extent that women are silenced or told to wear a symbol of subordination. The theme of women being silenced and their needs overlooked in order to keep an organisation’s reputation intact is alive and well today, as we see in many church and other settings.
        Another concern with the particular example of Corinth, is that the city was in Paul’s time, a chaotic melting pot of peoples and cultures, so it is unlikely that any one group in society needed to be appeased by the early church there. Can you enlighten me on these matters.
        I really appreciate your work.

        1. Hi Judith, Because 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a difficult passage to understand, I try not to make strong or decisive comments about it, but I will make this statement: 1 Corinthians 11:10 is not about women wearing something that is “a signal of subordination.” And note that the women were doing exactly the same things as the men in this passage: “praying and prophesying.” Women pray-ers and prophesy-ers were not being silenced.

          In the first century, Corinth was a Roman colony. The Romans were the ones with power. Corinth was governed by Roman law and followed Roman customs. Paul wanted the church in Corinth to follow the usual social customs of respectability. This meant, at that time, short hair for men and long hair (bound up) for women. The proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” applied to Corinth and other Roman colonies, such as Philippi, also.

  8. What is your opinion about the recent Priscilla Papers article by Juliann Bullock? https://www.cbeinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/AuthorityToCoverHerHead.pdf

    1. It’s lacking nuance … big time. Since I have friends and associates at CBE, that’s all I’ll say about this (peer-reviewed?!) article.

      1. Thanks, Marg.

      2. Whenever Paul speaks highly of part of his audience, he is buttering them up so that they will be more receptive to the reprimand or command that will follow. It is a rhetorical strategy known as “idealized praise”. Now, in my article on Phil 4:2-3 I cited 1 Cor 11:2 as one of about 27 cases of idealized praise in Paul. However, I am now wondering whether the idealized praise continues into 11:3 in some sense. By describing men as the heads (however we nuance the meaning of the word), is Paul indulging the male ego so that the men will be more open to being corrected? This would fit with Westfall’s view that the men were trying to prevent (some) women from veiling, and that 11:10 is the central verse and gives women the authority to veil if they want to. Does that make sense?

        1. I totally take 1 Cor. 11:2 as Paul buttering up the Corinthians too.

          1 Cor. 11:3 certainly ascribes a higher status to the men, which they would have had in first-century Corinth, but Paul brings it back to God. God is his focus.

          However, I’m sure the men were pleased to hear this affirmation about their status, so there probably was some buttering up or “idealized praise” going on.

          Paul brings it back to God again in 11-12 where there is mutuality, not hierarchy, between men and women. God is first and has the highest status and is our ultimate source.

          I want to hear more about “idealized praise.”

  9. Thanks. Idealized praise is discussed here: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/znw-2018-0012/html. I list the cases of idealized praise in Paul. See note 27 and the paragraph where it is found. 1 Cor 6:11-20, in particular, has parallels with 11:2-16.

    1. Thanks! I mustn’t have paid attention to this point before.

  10. I’m a bit concerned by your use of the phrase “Jesus and God…they…” in the 4th para of the “Head” section. I presume your intent was to refer to the Father and the Son, since both persons are, simultaneously and eternally God. This may seem like minor linguistic nitpicking, but I think it is a crucial point, especially when discussing this (or any, for that matter) passage. The integrity of the doctrine of the Trinity is being subtly attacked and undermined on many sides today, so every opportunity to reinforce this matter should be taken.

    1. Hi Bethany, I’m all for relevant nit-picking.

      I have mostly stayed with Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which is “God” (theos) and “Christ” (christos). Paul uses the word theos 5 times and the word christos twice in this passage. He doesn’t use the word “Jesus” (Iēsous); however, we know that “Jesus” is the name of the Christ, the Messiah (cf. Rom. 1:1). I used the word “Jesus” once in the article; perhaps I should change it to “Christ.” (“Jesus” is what I call our Lord, the Messiah.)

      I believe Paul used his words carefully, and he did not use the words for “Father” and “Son” in this passage, so I have not used these words in this article. Also, Jesus is the name of the Son, so I’m not sure why using this word is a problem for you.

      I want to understand what Paul was saying here. What was the situation? What are his arguments? What was his purpose? I am less interested is seeing how his words fit with doctrines, or worse, making or changing his words fit with certain doctrines. I believe scripture should inform and influence doctrines, rather than doctrines inform and influence our reading of scripture.

      Paul brings it back to God in his two main arguments in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. (See footnote 6.) I doubt he was thinking of the doctrine of the Trinity when he wrote this passage.

  11. […] Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 was that there was something unacceptable about the hairstyles or head coverings of the praying and prophesying women. (I’ve written about this passage and Paul’s concern here.) However, he “accepts as normal the fact that a woman can ‘prophesy’ in the Christian community (1 Cor 11:5), that is, speak openly under the influence of the Spirit, as long as it is for the edification of the community and done in a dignified manner.” Benedict XVI, “Women at the Service of the Gospel,” February 14th, 2007 […]

  12. […] More on this interpretation, and Paul’s concern for reputations, here: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, in a Nutshell. […]

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