I’m currently writing an article about 1 Corinthians 11:7 that I hope to post in a day or two. I thought it would be useful, however, to first hear what some scholars suggest this verse might mean. In this post, I first quote from past scholars and then from more modern scholars.
Even though the more recent interpretations below are kinder to women than those of past scholars, and are more faithful to scripture, I am not completely convinced that any of these are exactly what Paul meant when he wrote,
“For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man” 1 Corinthians 11:7 (NET).
1 Corinthians 11:7 is a baffling verse and there are many ways it is interpreted. We need to be careful, however, that we don’t lose sight of the overall context of 1 Corinthians 11:7 which is the appropriate appearance of men’s and women’s heads, in regards to either hairstyles or head-coverings, as they pray and prophecy in Corinthian assemblies.
Augustine (354-430) was the Bishop of Hippo and was made Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, one of its highest honours. He references 1 Corinthians 11:7 in a work called in English, The Literal Meaning of Genesis:
“. . . woman was given to man, woman who was of small intelligence and who perhaps still lives more in accordance with the promptings of the inferior flesh than by superior reason. Is this why the apostle Paul does not attribute the image of God to her?”
De Genesi ad literatum 11.42
In another work entitled On the Trinity, which doesn’t specifically reference our text, Augustine wrote:
“. . . the woman together with her own husband is the image of God, so that the whole substance may be one image; but when she is referred separately to her quality of help-meet, which regards the woman herself alone, then she is not the image of God; but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.”
On the Trinity, Book 12 7.10
John Chrysostom (died 407) was the Archbishop of Constantinople. Writing around the same time as Augustine, he commented on 1 Cor. 11:7 and simply and briefly states, “Therefore the rule of the man is natural.”
Homily 26 on 1 Corinthians
Thomas Aquinas, an Italian priest and influential theologian who lived in the 1200s, wrote,
“Some object that because the image of God in man is regarded with respect to the spirit, in which there is no difference between male and female, as it says in Gal (3:28). Therefore, there is no more reason why man is called the image of God than a woman is. The answer is that man is here called the image of God in a special way, namely, because man is the principle of his entire race, as God is the principle of the entire universe [principle=fundamental source or basis of something] and because from the side of Christ dying on the cross flowed the sacraments of blood and water, from which the Church has been organized. Furthermore, in regard to what is within, man is more especially called the image of God, inasmuch as reason is more vigorous in him. But it is better to say that the Apostle speaks clearly here. For he said of man that he is the image and glory of God; but he did not say of the woman that she is the image and glory of man, but [Paul] only that she is the glory of the man. This gives us to understand that it is common to man and woman to be the image of God; but it is immediately characteristic of man to be the glory of God.”
Commentary on 1 Corinthians, section 607 (Italics added)
Calvin wrote in the 1500s and says this about men in his commentary on 1 Corinthians: “God has conferred upon the man, so as to have superiority over the woman. In this superior order of dignity, the glory of God is seen, as it shines forth in every kind of superiority.”
In the same commentary, Calvin says this about women: “Woman is a distinguished ornament of the man; for it is a great honour that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, and has made her subject to him . . .” (Source)
John Wesley in the 1700s had similar views as those before him:
“A man indeed ought not to veil his head, because he is the image of God—in the dominion he [man] bears over the creation, representing the supreme dominion of God, which is his glory. But the woman is only matter of glory to the man, who has a becoming dominion over her. Therefore she ought not to appear, but with her head veiled, as a tacit acknowledgement of it.” (Source)
“The reason a man should not cover his head is that he is the image and glory of God. In the creation story we read that God made man [i.e. humanity] in his own image (Gen. 1:26-27). Genesis makes no distinction between the sexes at this point, but Paul understands it particularly of the male. Glory is not mentioned in the Genesis story (though cf. Ps 8:5, and passages where ‘heart’ or soul’ renders the Hebrew for ‘glory’, e.g. Ps. 16:9; 57:8). Man shows forth God’s glory as does nothing else; the expression may also be meant to direct attention to the state of man before the Fall. When people worship, this high dignity must be recognized; the glory of God is not to be obscured in the presence of God (by covering the head of its bearer). The woman is not made in the image of man (it was Seth, not Eve, who was in the image of Adam, Gen. 5:3). Her relation to the man is not the same as that of man to God. She has a place of her own, but it is not the man’s place. She stands in such a relation to the man as does nothing else, and thus she is called the glory of man. And it is precisely the glory of man that should be veiled in the presence of God. In worship God alone must be glorified.”
Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985), 151. (Italics are original, square brackets are added.)
“In short, Paul says, because woman was taken from man, she reflects man’s image, and therefore she ought to cover that image in worship lest it distract observers from attention to God’s image.”
Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992), 37.
Gordon D. Fee
“Paul probably means that the existence of the one brings honor and praise to the other. By creating man in his own image God set his glory in man. Man, therefore exists to God’s praise and honor, and is to live in relationship to God so as to be his ‘glory.’ What we are not told here is why being God’s glory means no covering; v. 4 indicates it had to do with not shaming Christ. But that, too, was left unexplained. As in v. 4, however, this word about man is not the point of the argument; it exists to set up Paul’s real concern—to explain why women should be covered when prophesying. But in coming to that concern, he picks up on the word ‘glory,’ saying only that ‘the woman, on the other hand, is man’s glory.’ The implication is that by praying and prophesying in a way that (apparently) disregarded distinctions between the sexes (being already as angels), she brings shame on the man whose glory she is intended to be. Paul does not hereby deny that woman was created in God’s image or that she, too, is God’s glory. His point is singular. She is related to man as his glory, a relationship that somehow appears to be jeopardized by her present actions.”
Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 516.
Cynthia Westfall sees textual ties between 1 Corinthians 11:7 and 1 Esdras 4:14-17 (the Greek version of Ezra in the Septuagint). She writes, “In 1 Esdras 4:17, the statement that women bring men glory, or rather produce glory for men, may be recast in the singular as ‘woman is the glory of man.’” Because these verses in 1 Esdras may be taken to imply that women have power over men, Westfall states that “Paul qualified his statements with a caveat ‘Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man’ (1 Cor. 11:11).” In summing up her discussion about verse 7, she writes, “. . . when it comes to external appearance, there is a difference between the glory of men and the glory of women. In common with the culture, Paul believed that God had created women to be more attractive or more glorious, so that she is the glory of man. This becomes a pragmatic problem at the very point when women attempt to manifest the Spirit in prophesying (1 Cor. 11:5; 12:7, 10), or when they lead in prayer in order to worship God.”
Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 66-70. (A short review of Cynthia Westfall’s excellent book is here.)
Derek and Diane Tidball
The Tidball’s believe Paul gets his idea of “glory” from Psalm 8:5. And they write, “In saying that woman is the glory of man (7) he is not denying that she is also born in the image of God. That was a given. Paul’s interest simply lies elsewhere, in the idea of glory rather than image. By saying that woman is the glory of man he may be expressing the simple idea that a woman is man’s ‘pride and joy’, the one in whom the man glories.”
Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (The Bible Speaks Today) (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2012), 216-217. (Their italics.)
“’Woman is the glory of man’ can mean ‘woman is the glory of humankind.’ She was created as the final climax of the creation story. . . . the [creation] process was on an ascending scale that mentions the creation of man (in passing) and reaches its peak with the creation of a woman who is the glory of man[kind].”
Kenneth Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 306. (His parentheses and his second set of square brackets; the first square brackets are mine.)
“. . . Paul at no point speaks about ‘authority.’ His concern is with the woman being the man’s ‘glory,’ the one without whom he is incomplete (1 Corinthians 11:7-9). In Genesis 2, man by himself was incomplete, and when he sees the woman, he ‘glories’ in her, bursting into song (Genesis 2:23). She came from man and was created to complete him.”
Alice Mathews, Gender Roles and the People of God: Rethinking What We Were Taught about Men and Women in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017) online source.
Philip Payne’s interpretation is unlike the others. He believes the issue in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 was “men who wear effeminate hairstyles and women who let their hair down to symbolize rejection of Christian marital and sexual morality.” In this context, Payne interprets 1 Corinthians 11:7c (“and woman is the glory of man”) as implying that “woman, not another man, is the glory of man.”
Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 175, 179.
“Attempts to read this verse as a benign message that men and women are simply different, or that women are creation’s crowning glory, or that both women and men are glorious, just in different ways, are not satisfactory.” Peppiatt believes the statements in verse 7 are not Paul’s, but come from the Corinthian church. (I think she may be right. See my article on the structure of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, here.) Peppiatt writes, “If this is now understood as the voice of the Corinthians, it becomes much clearer why there is a corrupted form of Genesis 1:26–27. [Genesis 2:26f uses the words “image” and “likeness” not “image” and “glory” as in 1 Corinthians 11:7.] The Corinthian prophetic leaders and teachers who claim that they ‘have the word of God’ are teaching that men are the image and glory of God, and that women are merely the image and glory of man—the perfect rationale for the subordination of women and the superiority of men. This theology of glory has superseded any sense of what it means for both men and women to be in Christ. This, and a particular understanding of an angelic presence in worship, underpins their view that the wearing of head coverings for women was honoring for God, men, and the angels. Moreover, this would also serve as the perfect rationale, not just for head coverings, but for keeping women silent before their husbands, as they must necessarily adopt a subordinate role . . .”
Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians, (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co, 2015, 2017), 51-52, 100.
In most cases, the quotations from recent scholars are snippets taken from longer discussions on 1 Corinthians 11:7. I hope I have conveyed the views of the scholars faithfully, and I apologise if these brief quotations do not do justice to their views. In my next post, I present my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:7.
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Corinthians 11:7)
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
The Chiasm In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
More articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 can be accessed here.
Articles on Gender in Genesis 1-3 can be accessed here.
Misogynistic Quotations from Church Fathers and Reformers