Traditional Interpretations of 1 Corinthians 11:7
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 difficult verse to understand and it is set in a difficult passage. Despite the challenges, many commentators of past generations have seemingly interpreted this verse with confidence. Yet they have interpreted it in ways that ignore and contradict what the rest of the Bible says about men and women as the image and glory of God.
A common understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:7 has been that, compared with woman, man is a more direct reflection of God and man has a more direct relationship with God. Moreover, it has been understood that these factors are displayed in the supposed superiority and authority of man in contrast to the inferior and subordinate status of woman.
Writing in the eighteenth century, John Gill summarises the thinking of many of his contemporaries and predecessors:
“. . . man was first originally and immediately the image and glory of God, the woman only secondarily and mediately through man. The man is more perfectly and conspicuously the image and glory of God, on account of his more extensive dominion and authority.”
Image and Authority in the Genesis Creation Accounts
The word “image” is typically understood by these commentators in terms of authority, and there is some warrant for this.
In Genesis 1 we read that men and women were created in God’s image. In the culture of Old Testament times, rulers of vast empires erected images of themselves in areas where they were not physically present (e.g., Dan. 3:1). These images represented “their power and rulership over far-reaching areas of their empires.” Accordingly, men and women, as God’s image-bearers, are representatives of God who is not physically present, and we are to act as his regents by exercising dominion on earth.
Despite the explicit statements in Genesis 1:26-28 that both men and women are created in the image (LXX: eikōn) and likeness of God, many older commentaries on 1 Corinthian 11:7 gloss over these verses and do not mention the authority of women that comes with being God’s image-bearer.
Creation and origins are themes in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: in verses 8-9 and 11-12, etc. So it is reasonable that the Genesis creation accounts be used to help explain some of Paul’s ideas here. Genesis 2, however, which is the creation account that states man was created first and woman second, says nothing about either “image” or “authority.” It would seem, then, that Genesis 1, which mentions both concepts, should be the chapter to inform our understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:7.
In Genesis 1 there is nothing at all to indicate that women, intrinsically, have a lower status or less authority than men. In Genesis 1:26-28, men and women have the exact same status as God’s image-bearers, and they have the exact same authorisation (i.e. authority) and purpose. Men and women are to share the rule of God’s creation. Genesis 2 does not contradict this fundamental principle, and neither do Paul’s letters.
Image and Glory in Paul’s Letters
Paul uses the words “image” (eikōn) and “glory” (doxa) several times in his letters—in verses that apply equally to men and to women.
Romans 8:28-30, for instance, applies to people who love God and have been called. There is no mention of a distinction of gender. These people, men and women, will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and glorified (doxaō, the verb of doxa).
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image (eikōn) of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (doxaō). Romans 8:28-30 (cf. Phil. 3:20-21).
In Colossians 3, believers are encouraged to put on the new self which corresponds to the image (eikōn) of the Creator. It is apparent that social status plays no part and has no bearing on those being renewed. This is because Jesus Christ is in all.
… put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge, in accordance with the image (eikōn) of the One who created him, in which there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:10-11 (cf. Gal. 3:28).
Furthermore, Paul writes about “image” and “glory” in other parts of his letters to the Corinthians, not just in 1 Corinthians 11:7, and he doesn’t exclude women. Rather, Paul expected all followers of Christ to be conformed to the image of Jesus who is himself the image of God (2 Cor. 4:14; Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3).
And just as we have borne the image (eikōn) of the man of dust [Adam], we will also bear the image (eikōn) of the man of heaven [Jesus]. 1 Corinthians 15:49 CSB
We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory (doxa) of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image (eikōn) from glory (doxa) to glory (doxa). 2 Corinthians 3:18 CSB (Italics added)
Paul teaches, undeniably, that men and women bear the image and glory of God. Moreover, men and women can bring glory to God (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 4:15; Eph 1:10-11). He made us for his glory! In Isaiah 43:6b-7 God says: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Italics added.)
1 Corinthians 11:7 cannot mean that only men, and not women, are the image and glory of God in the usual theological sense. So what does it mean?
The Culture of Corinth and another Definition of Doxa
Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that he is concerned about the disgraceful behaviour of some Corinthian Christians. It seems they were choosing not to wear socially acceptable hairstyles (some say head-coverings) and were wearing their hair in ways that could bring disrepute: long hair for men, short or unbound hair for women. (More on hairstyles/head-coverings in Corinth here.)
Doxa is often translated as “glory” in the New Testament, but it can also have the sense of “reputation.” The implication of verse 7 may be that the conduct of a Christian man (in particular, a man praying or prophesying with his hair/head in a certain state) affects the reputation and honour of God (i.e. God’s doxa), and Paul here reminds men that they are the image of God to reinforce his point.
On the other hand, the conduct of a Christian woman (in particular, a woman praying or prophesying with her hair/head in a certain state) affects the reputation and honour of her husband or father (i.e. the man’s doxa). Paul does not bring up the fact that woman is also made in the image of God because it doesn’t add anything to the point he is making in verse 7.
That the behaviour of a woman affects the honour of her husband or father holds true for societies that are what sociologists call collectivist. In collectivist societies, such as in ancient Corinth, social conformity is valued and the greater good is considered much more important than an individual’s happiness. Compounding collectivism is honour-shame.
In honour-shame cultures, it can be difficult for a woman to attain honour for herself. Rather, women protect the reputation and honour of the men in their family by being discreet and socially respectable.. This respectability usually has a heavy emphasis on being, and appearing to be, sexually chaste. In such societies, family members, especially women, who display aberrant behaviour or loose morals bring dishonour on the whole family, but especially on the senior male.
It could be that the enigmatic verse, 1 Corinthians 11:10, which includes the phrase “because of the angels,” is Paul wanting the women to exercise good judgement and have respectable hairstyles so that messengers (aggeloi) won’t spread damaging reports about the conduct of women in the church. [Note that there is no word for “head-covering/veil” or “symbol” in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:10, and that aggeloi is used for “spies” in James 2:25.]
Many societies in Western nations today are not collectivist. Individual freedoms are prized and idiosyncratic behaviour is more accepted. A person, male or female, who does wrong may disgrace themselves but does not necessarily bring disgrace or shame on their family or father. The context of 1 Corinthians 11:7 may seem foreign to those of us who live in Western, individualistic societies, and the verse’s precise meaning may be inapplicable. However, we still need to take care that our conduct does not bring God or members of our church family into disrepute.
The Structure of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Importantly, like many of the statements in the first half of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, verse 7 does not tell the whole story. We need to look at the second half of the passage to fill in the blanks and read Paul’s more complete thoughts, assuming the first half contains Paul’s own words and he is not quoting the Corinthians which some scholars suggest.
1 Corinthians 11:4-7 is about what is on top of men’s and women’s heads while they prophesy and pray aloud in church meetings, and this is connected negatively to disgrace (aischros) and positively to glory: hair/heads were affecting reputations. The verses corresponding to 4-7 are 1 Corinthians 11:13-15. Here similar language is used about heads, hair, dishonour (atima), and glory. And we are told that a woman’s long hair, used as a covering, is her “glory” (doxa). Two of the most prestigious lexicons/dictionaries of New Testament Greek, BDAG and TDNT, believe doxa refers to “reputation” or “repute” in 1 Corinthians 11:15. [See footnote 8]
I strongly suggest that doxa has the sense of “reputation” in both verses 7 and 15.
In the culture of ancient Corinth, men typically had more influence than women, but the conduct of a woman could indeed affect the reputation (doxa) of her husband and other male relatives in her birth family and church family. Nevertheless, Paul tells women that they also have their own doxa. By wearing her hair in a style appropriate for her sex, and appropriate to her culture, a woman can uphold her own reputation. This doxa is without reference to others (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7). It is her own doxa! Paul is saying something remarkable here but, as is too often the case, we have interpreted his words through a patriarchal lens and misunderstood them.
Ministry in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Paul plainly states that men are the image and glory of God to make a certain point, but he never states or implies that women do not also have the image and glory of God, or that they have these qualities to a lesser extent. Furthermore, in a passage that is about the hair/heads of men and women who are praying and prophesying, Paul gives no hint that some ministries are more appropriate for men or out of bounds for women.
Most of the older commentaries of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 have minimised the fact that women were praying and prophesying in Corinthian assemblies and that Paul did not silence them. Rather, Paul corrected both men and women without telling either sex to stop ministering. These verses, strictly speaking, do not have a direct application to men and women who do not have speaking ministries. And yet this passage has been teased out to mean all kinds of things to the detriment of women, things that have nothing to do with praying or prophesying in church.
Paul’s general teaching about ministry includes women (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph. 4:4-13; etc), and his general teaching about the image and glory of God includes women. 1 Corinthians 11:7, in fact, has nothing to do with an inherent male authority or superiority. It seems these notions have been read into the text by men who were influenced by their own patriarchal culture and their own flawed opinions of the capabilities and worth of women.
Rather than being about male superiority, verse 7 and surrounding verses are about people maintaining gender distinctions in culturally appropriate ways while ministering. Why maintaining gender distinctions is so important to Paul is not altogether clear, but it seems to be about appearances that were socially acceptable and wouldn’t cause offence to outsiders and unbelievers (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). Paul did not want ministering Christians to look unnecessarily odd or offensive.
As followers of Jesus, one of our main goals is to be like Jesus, to be transformed and conformed into his image. And as image-bearers and regents of God, we are to bring him glory as we exercise our God-given authority. These things have nothing to do with our gender. These basic truths must not be overturned by flawed interpretations of one verse in a passage that is genuinely difficult to understand.
 John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament (source).
Augustine (354-430) reasoned that man and woman together are the image of God, and that man alone is the image of God “as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one,” but that woman alone is not the image of God. On the Trinity, Book 12 7.10
 For example, “For man was made to this end and purpose, that the glory of God should appear in his rule and authority. But the woman was made so that by profession of her obedience, she might more honour her husband.” The Geneva Study Bible (source)
 Richard S. Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence”, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds) (Leicester, UK: InterVarsity, 2004), 79–95, 81.
 Neither Genesis chapters 1 or 2 mention doxa, “glory.”
 While both men and women bear the image of God, they also bear the image of ha’adam, the first human (cf. Gen. 2:21-23; 5:3). Note that there is no word for “man/human” in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 15:49. However in 1 Corinthians 15:47, ho anthrōpos, which means “the human” or “the person,” occurs twice.
 Compare God’s words in Isaiah 43:6-7 and in Genesis 1:26-28 with this incorrect statement from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “Woman is not the manifestation or representation of the glory of God on earth …” (source)
 Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthians that their behaviour will affect what unbelievers and inquirers think about church members and about God (1 Cor. 14:22-25).
 Definition 3 of doxa in BDAG’s lexicon includes the word “reputation” and similar concepts/words, and it interprets 1 Corinthians 11:15 (“it is her glory”) as “she enjoys a favorable reputation.” However, BDAG understand doxa in 1 Corinthians 11:7 as “reflection” rather than “reputation.”
Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, (BDAG) revised and edited by F.W Danker, s.v. δοξα, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 256-258.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) similarly notes that doxa in 1 Corinthians 11:15 has the sense of “repute” but in 1 Corinthians 11:7 has “the meaning ‘reflection’ or ‘image.'”
See Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged), trans. Geoffrey W Bromiley, s.v. dokeō, doxa, … (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 178-181, 178 [Kittel 2:232-237].
Interestingly, BDAG begin their discussion of the meanings of doxa by pointing out that doxa (i.e. reputation) can be achieved not just by performing great deeds: “… the Old Testament and Greco-Roman perceptions of dependence of fame and honor on extraordinary performance deserve further exploration. SIG 456, 15 is typical: concern for others leads to enhancement of one’s doxa or reputation.” [Line 15 of this c. 240 BC inscription is translated as “We do in fact exercise care for all the Greeks who come to us as we are convinced that this contributes in no small way to one’s reputation (doxa) …” here.]
 Bruce J. Malina’s chapter “Collectivism in Mediterranean Culture” in Understanding the Social World of the New Testament, Dietmar Neufeld and Richard E. DeMaris (eds) (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010, 2015) can be read online here.
 David deSilva observes that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 “reflects the view that female honour is embedded in male honour …” Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 34.
 Note that not all households in the Roman Empire had a paterfamilias, some had a materfamilias, a woman who was in charge of her own household (e.g., Lydia).
 Or, further disrepute.
 There is a possibility that verse 7 does not contain Paul’s words, but that he quotes the Corinthians here. See Lucy Peppiatt’s comments about the quotation idea in my previous post, here.
 Just as the authority or liberty (exousia) in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is her own.
 Paul nowhere states that he prefers men to have speaking ministries. Nevertheless, another commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:7 includes this loaded sentence:
“But the woman ought to be covered especially in praying and prophesying; for it belongs to the man, in preference to the woman, to pray and prophesy; when therefore the woman takes upon her those functions, then some open avowal is most necessary on her part, that woman is still properly and willingly inferior to man.” Bengel’s Gnomen of the New Testament (source)
 It seems some men and women in Corinth believed that gender distinctions—as well as marriage and marital sex (1 Cor. 7:1-6)—no longer mattered now that they were “in Christ.” This sexual renunciation may have been the cause of behaviour and hairstyles that even broader society frowned on. Paul wanted the men and women in Corinth to look like men and women. (More on sexual renunciation in the early church here.)
© Margaret Mowczko 2018
All Rights Reserved
Postscript: January 28, 2022
Dr Gundry 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.
… 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,” Evangelium, Schriftauslegung Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburtstag (eds.) Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann und Otfried Hofius (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151-171, 152. (My blog post on Judith Gundry’s chapter is here.)
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40 thoughts on “Man and woman as the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)”
That’s a brilliant explanation you’ve given on that text Marg and rings true, in light of Genesis, which I quote in my coming book, “What the Bible REALLY Says about Women”.
When I read what you haver to say, it occurred to me that I haven’t covered that text fully. If I get a chance to add some more before actual publication, I’d be grateful if you permit me to use some of what you have covered – acknowledged of course. I think it is very important to have a watertight case and I think your argument closes the door on a lot of what the other side may write. May our God power your pen.
You’re always welcome to quote me or use my ideas, with citations. Though I’m not sure any interpretation of this verse can be watertight.
I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren, a very patriarchal sect that places strong emphasis on women wearing head coverings during church meetings. In addition, women are not allowed to speak at all during meetings. They have an open service every Sunday in which all the men are strongly encouraged to randomly get up and speak, pray, or give out a song for the congregation to sing. Women may not speak, even to give out a song. (They do sing along though.) At some point I realized that even their beloved “head covering” chapter specifically says that women may pray out loud and even prophesy.
As you can imagine, decades in this restrictive environment did a lot of damage to me. I got out and am doing pretty well now, thanks in large part to your blog and others like CBE and Junia project.
I’m glad you’re doing well, MomKB.
It is rather shocking that many denominations have insisted women cover their heads but, at the same time, also prohibited them from speaking ministries in church meetings. And most of the leaders in these denominations believed they were reading the Bible correctly. They weren’t.
Things are slowly changing, and women are being restored to status and to the ministries that were once denied them. I’m glad we are part of that change.
Someone just asked me on Facebook if 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about what happens in assemblies (i.e. church meetings). Here’s my reply:
it’s not explicit that it is an assembly context, but there are a few indications in the passage that this was the case.
~ Prophesying was typically an activity done in assemblies and not on one’s own, and praying was often done in assemblies. In other chapters of his letter, Paul gives several correctives about vocal ministries exercised in Corinthian assemblies. Does Paul ever give *practical* instructions about private worship? I can’t recall that he does.
~ Paul ends this passage with “we have no such custom and neither do the assemblies (ekklēsiai) of God (1 Cor 11:16b). This may be a further indication that the passage is about what happens in assemblies.
~ It’s hard to see how the state of a man or woman’s head can potentially bring disgrace or glory if s/he is praying alone in a private place. Also, women usually did not cover their heads in private settings, only in public places.
In case you’re interested:
Seems like everything from there to at least the end of ch. 14 is about behavior “in the assembly.”
It’s very hard to see how 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 might refer to private prayer and prophecy, and yet I’ve had this scenario presented to me several times by people who have a problem with the idea that women were prophesying and praying aloud in the church meetings.
Your setting aside of Genesis 2 as irrelevant to a discussion of image of God is unfounded, especially in regard to a discussion of the ordering of women’s role. If the submission of men to Christ in no way diminish the Truth that we are in the image of God, being made from man doesn’t diminish the image of God either, but merely orders the relationship. This is what the Genesis account is doing and is what is the test for all of us who struggle with being under authority, from Eve forward.
I believe it to be a flawed assumption that Genesis 2 is not specifically instructional on the role of women and especially so when Paul directly appeals to it more than once. Likewise the position that women are fully authorized teaching participants in the 1 Cor. 11 text is unproven and unnecessary.. Paul is remarkably consistent with himself and the Biblical record in what he says in 1 Corinthians and to Timothy and the Ephesians and coheres to the broad sweep of God’s practice in redemption history, in which there are a few noteable exceptions.
Genesis 2 does not help us to understand what “image” and “glory” mean in 1 Corinthians 11:7. But I do not assume that Genesis 2 has nothing to say about women. It does!
I have written several articles about the profound message in Genesis 2 regarding the first man and woman, here. Moreover, Genesis 2 helps us to understand other verses in the 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 passage, namely 11:8-9 and 11:11-12. I state this in my article about 1 Corinthians 11:9 here, for example.
In this article, I say nothing like “women are fully authorized teaching participants in the 1 Cor. 11 text.” This is an unnecessary statement, as you say, so why mention it at all? You seem to be reading much more into my words than I am actually saying. All I say about the ministry in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is that both men and women were praying and prophesying aloud in Corinthian church gatherings and that Paul corrects them both without telling either sex to stop.
Paul is consistent with what he says about ministry, and I stand by my comment that Paul’s general teaching about ministry includes women (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph. 4:4-13; etc). And Paul does tell some people, both men and women, to stop speaking when they are being unruly or heretical (e.g., 1 Cor 14:28, 30, 34; 1 Tim 2:11-12).
Finally, please don’t project your own struggles or concerns about authority into my article. These are not my struggles or issues, and they are not especially relevant to this article. The only time authority is explicitly mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is in verse 10, and it is the woman’s own authority (exousia) upon/over (epi) her own head that is being referred to. [Exousia is always used in the Bible of someone’s own authority (in an active sense) rather than of being under someone else’s authority (in a passive sense). See Gordon D. Fee’s commentary The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 1987) pp. 519 and 521, on this.]
I have written about kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.
Frankly, I have no desire to continue a conversation with someone obsessed with authority in a way that is the antithesis of what Jesus and Paul say about legitimate, healthy authority. And I have no desire to continue a conversation with someone who insists that I, as a woman, must submit to him, simply because he is a man.
Despite our long conversation on Facebook you have failed to produce a single verse or passage that says such a thing. That is because there is simply no Bible verse that states all women must submit to all men, or that all men are first and all women are second. Furthermore, being first means nothing in Jesus’ kingdom (cf. 1 Cor. 11:11-12).
My comment here begins by simply stating that Genesis 2 is not irrelevant, as you suggest to Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11. Without Genesis 2 we would know nothing of Eve being made from Adam after man’s failure to find a suitable partner, nor the apparent mediation of Adam, in Eve’s being instructed about the forbidden tree, nor about her being deceived, and though it is not so apparent in Genesis 2, (it is clear that Eve is deceived), Paul tells us Adam was not deceived. These are all part of Paul’s theology of origins and his affirmation of order, which the κόσμος is all about. Order of creation and Eve being deceived are the basis of Paul’s restriction of women. Not from teaching, praying, serving, or leadership, but of teaching men, disputing men’s teaching, or usurping men’s leadership. As far as glory, Paul is all about glory and orders of glory. Women are coregents in dominion over God’s creation and equally glorious in God’s eyes and truly glorious to all sons of God. This ordering in no way should be seen to take away from these amazing realities.
2 Cor 3:18
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Shalom dear sister!
Tim, you seem more concerned with telling me what you think than actually hearing and responding to what I’ve written.
You’re not reading my actual words.
I do not say Genesis 2 is irrelevant to 1 Corinthians 11. It is! And I have said so plainly. It is vital to understanding 1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-9 & 11-12. What I do say, is that Genesis 2 does not help us to understand 1 Corinthians 11:7. And nothing you’ve written on Facebook or here shows otherwise.
The dictionary definition of “apparent” is “clearly visible, clearly understood, obvious.” Yet, there is no verse in the Bible that mentions or hints that Adam told Eve about the forbidden fruit. This idea is conjecture. Eve’s own words to the serpent that are recorded in the Bible, especially the three plural verbs, suggest something different.
I completely disagree with your understanding and your emphasis on “orders.” I believe such an understanding is the very opposite of what Paul and Jesus taught about relationships within the community of God’s people.
2 Corinthians 3:18 is one of my favourite verses and it applies equally to men and to women. Women followers of Jesus are being transformed in the image of our Lord Jesus just like our brothers.
I love this article! I’ve come to realize that what male hierarchy really is about, is robbing the woman of the first command and blessing given to her, to have dominion and rule over the earth! Having dominion is a key element to being in the image of God. Many men seek to hoard this image strictly for themselves as if they feel cheated by the fact that woman is also in the image of God and shares in the original blessing and command alongside man.
If we look throughout history, the way man has treated womankind was like one of the animals. Besides allowing them three or four basic functions of survival like eating, reproducing, and clothing, they have been denied most of their cognitive and intellectual functions. Denied judgment, choice, creativity, authority, dominion, and self-agency. They were intentionally stopped from establishing anything original via decision making or by proclamation. Many parts of the world also did not allow them to speak in public, give testimony, education, own property, or even citizenship. I have realized all of these things were just attempts to make woman like one of the animals, just a body to be used by man for work, pleasure, and childbearing while directly attempting to shut off the government part of her humanity.
Paul used the creation narrative to speak to a specific cultural issue about hair and head-coverings. People are in error when they use that as a lens to project back onto Genesis 1 & 2. Genesis does not even mention glory, only image. What’s interesting is that men think they are honored with dominion for being the glory of God, but the woman is dishonored with subordination for being the glory of man. So God is more generous with the man than man is towards the woman. Some of the commentaries mentioned in the endnotes are ridiculous and without any merit for their double standard, like the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges treatment of Isaiah 43:6-7. I think these men just want to be higher off the backs of women. If they think they are average in the world, then they can magically be of superior status by subordinating women. I say we take back the original blessing and dominion God gave us by holding onto our power instead of giving it to men. Without us believing the lies and being willing to coward down to them, they have no dominion over us and no superior status.
Love, love, love your first paragraph, Anca!
But there is one matter I want to remind you about: that a wife is responsible to her husband, her husband is responsible to Christ, and Christ is responsible to God. 4 That is why, if a man refuses to remove his hat while praying or preaching, he dishonors Christ. 5 And that is why a woman who publicly prays or prophesies without a covering on her head dishonors her husband, for her covering is a sign of her subjection to him.[a] 6 Yes, if she refuses to wear a head covering, then she should cut off all her hair. And if it is shameful for a woman to have her head shaved, then she should wear a covering. 7 But a man should not wear anything on his head when worshiping, for his hat is a sign of subjection to men.[b]
God’s glory is man made in his image, and man’s glory is the woman. 8 The first man didn’t come from woman, but the first woman came out of man.[c] 9 And Adam, the first man, was not made for Eve’s benefit, but Eve was made for Adam. 10 So a woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign that she is under man’s authority,[d] a fact for all the angels to notice and rejoice in.*
The Living Bible (TLB) is a paraphrase, not a translation. It is primarily the work of one man, Kenneth N. Taylor. This is unlike most good English translations which are the work of a team of eminent scholars who have worked hard for many years to understand Hebrew and Greek as well as the historical setting and cultural context of the biblical texts.
I have no reason to doubt that Taylor was a good man, but he was not a linguist. He did study for a masters degree in theology, but he did not complete studies for a doctorate. (The doctorates he did obtain were honorary.) And, clearly, he did not understand the cultural context of the church at Roman Corinth in the mid-first century.
Taylor’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 is patently wrong in several respects. Here is a small sample of the TLB’s errors:
~ Apart from peribolaion in 1 Corinthians 11:15, there is no noun that means “covering,” let alone “head-covering, in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. In 1 Corinthians 11:15 Paul says that a woman’s hair is given to her as a covering.
~ The Greek word for “authority” in verse 10 (exousia) is always used in the NT for a person’s own authority/right/freedom. The authority in verse 10 is the woman’s own authority/right/freedom. More on exousia, a common Greek word in the NT, here.
~ And, unlike what it says in a footnote in the TLB, a head-covering on a woman in Roman society was not primarily a sign of subjection. Rather, head-coverings were a sign of social status and respectability. More on this here.
And why stop at verse 10? The passage doesn’t end there. Keep going.
“But remember that in God’s plan men and women need each other. For although the first woman came out of man, all men have been born from women ever since, and both men and women come from God their Creator.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 TLB
Or better still,
“Nevertheless [or, except that], in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 ESV
Paul says here that man being created first doesn’t matter, because ultimately our source, our origin, is God, not man, not Adam. (Origins is a theme of the passage. More on this here and here.)
Furthermore, theologically, women as well as men, whether married or not, are primarily responsible to, or, accountable to, God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is not about marriage, it is not about husbands and wives, as such, it is about ministry.)
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are here.
The angels are not rejoicing over this travesty that is the TLB paraphrase, they are weeping (cf. 1 Cor. 10:10). Still, this paraphrase doesn’t change the fact that women, just like men, are indeed the glory of God, as shown in several verses cited in the article.
The TLB paraphrase displays ignorance. But I do appreciate you sharing it with me. I have an interest in English Bible translations, even poor paraphrases.
Hey, I just found your website. I appreciate your views on theology. That’s all I really wanted to say, haha. God bless you
Just stumbled across your site reading up on 1 Cor. 11…thank you for your insight and for helping me understand this difficult passage better. I look forward to reading more from you!
“Paul” directly contradicts Genesis creation of men and women as equal children of God.
“Paul” directly contradicts New Covenant reality that Jesus lives equally in men and women.
When will the true church face the truth that his letters are worthless heresy and apostacy?
Why do you need, saints, the Great Oz” apostle? Don’t you have the Old Testament yourselves? Don’t you have Jesus yourselves?
Yes, we have the Hebrew Bible. Yes, we have Jesus. And we have Paul too.
I love the writings of Paul. It’s Paul who says, “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28) CSB.
If we read his words in his context, and not listen to traditional interpretations, we see that Paul was a champion of the underdogs of the Greco-Roman world. And women were among his friends and ministry colleagues.
You’re entitled to your opinion, Laura. Let me have mine. And I think your claims that Paul “directly contradicts” equality at creation and in the New Covenant cannot be substantiated.
If Paul was a heretic, why does Acts paint such a positive picture about him, and why does Peter call his writings “Scripture”? His writings are often misunderstood and sometimes taken out of context – as Peter himself warned about – but that doesn’t make him a heretic.
The anti-Paul nuts really annoy me.
If Paul is really that bad — so bad his writings are worthless — then we also need to remove Luke and Acts, because Luke was dumb enough to trust him and work with him, and Peter’s writings, because Peter regarded Paul’s words as Scripture.
I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments on this site and have a few of my own. I’ll get right to it.
In 1 Cor., Paul uses the word “but” to make a contrast between what the man is and what the
woman is: For a man indeed ought not to cover his head forasmuch as he is the image and glory
of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. Do you see what I mean? To me, the implication
is clear: The man is the image and glory of God, “but” the woman is not. She is the glory of the
man. I don’t want to agree with that statement, but it seems very clear, in spite of all that you
and the others have written here concerning this subject. Most of what you and the others have
written here makes sense to me, but, I have to admit that the fundamentalists make a very
good point by directing us to Paul’s statement that uses a contrast between men and women.
What would you say to them other than what you have said here.
The Greek conjunction δέ translated as “but” in English translations of 1 Corinthians 11:7 is regarded as having a weak adversative force and can have the senses of “but,” “and,” “now,” etc, in the New Testament. You can check this here. See also here.
There are other Greek words that have strong adversative force. Paul doesn’t use one of these here. Moreover, Paul uses a μέν–δέ construction in 1 Corinthians 11:7. A μέν–δέ construction has the sense, “on the one hand, xyz, on the other hand, abc.”
Paul is differentiating between the doxa (“repute”) of Corinthian men who are praying and prophesying, on the one hand, with the doxa (“repute”) of Corinthian women who are praying and prophesying, on the other hand. My article discusses this difference and the points I make in this article stand. Here are a few of these points again.
~ The Bible is clear that both men and women were created as God’s image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28).
~ Apart from 1 Corinthians 11:7, Paul uses the words “image” (eikōn) and “glory” (doxa) several times in his letters, including elsewhere in 1 and 2 Corinthians. These other verses that include the words “image” and “glory” apply equally to men and to women and show that Paul did not believe that women are not also the image and glory of God. (I briefly discuss these verses above.) It is very unwise to ignore these verses when reading 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
~ Though doxa is often translated as “glory” in the New Testament, it also has the sense of “reputation.” I suggest that the implication of verse 7 is that, on one hand, the conduct of a Christian man (in particular, a man praying or prophesying with his hair/head in a certain state) affects the reputation and honour of God (i.e. God’s doxa), and here Paul reminds men that they are the image of God to reinforce his point.
On the other hand, the conduct of a Christian woman (in particular, a woman praying or prophesying with her hair/head in a certain state) affects the reputation and honour of her husband or father (i.e. the man’s doxa) because that’s the way society worked back then. Paul does not bring up the fact that woman is also made in the image of God because it doesn’t add anything to the point he is making in verse 7. In fact, mentioning that women are also the image and glory of God would confuse Paul’s point which is about social respectability and reputation which differed between men and women in first-century Corinth, possibly because of the angels/messengers.
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 contrast, or differentiate, between men and women. You don’t have to be a fundamentalist to see that this is the case. It’s obvious. It’s Paul’s whole argument. This difference is what I discuss in the article and I see no reason to add anything to what I’ve written.
I like this interpretation, and I think it makes sense. But I was wondering, how do you think 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 fit with 11:7? It sounds as if Paul is saying that the reason women are the glory of man is because woman came from man and woman was created for the sake of man. Do you think Paul is giving reasons in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, or do you think he’s doing something else?
Some people think that Adam being created first, and Eve being made for Adam, means that men have more doxa (“glory”).
Either verses 8-9 are the thoughts of some Corinthians, which Paul corrects in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, or Paul is drawing his audiences in verses 8-9 and then subverting the idea of hierarchy and male honour in 11-12.
I’ve written about this here:
Thanks for all your work – I am learning so much and very grateful for the resources you put out!
Can you speak more to the line, “ Paul did not want ministering Christians to look unnecessarily odd or offensive.” ? Do you see other instances in Scripture where Paul is concerned with offending cultural or societal norms? It seems like he is more consistently breaking them, but your essay seemed to hinge on this idea.
Hi Samantha, There are a few places where Paul expresses concern about good behaviour and social conventions.
He was very inclusive in his teaching (and actions) concerning church life, but I see lots of examples, some subtle, where Paul follows social conventions.
Here are four overt examples.
1. 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, 10). More on this here.
2. His 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).
3. Paul wanted the Ephesian women to dress with moderation (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Flouting the acceptable dress-code would have raised questions of promiscuity and immoderation. (Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 208) More on this here.
4. Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul encourages the Christians to minister in ways that don’t appear too weird to non-believers (1 Cor. 14:22-25).
Paul was concerned with how Christianity looked to outsiders.
Also a qualification for overseers/supervisors in 1 Tim. 3:7.
1 Corintians 11:7
A man… is made in God’s image and reflects God’s glory. And woman reflects man’s glory.”
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church
The man symbolizes Christ, therefore he is the image of God
The woman symbolizes the church, that is the bride of Christ and thus no one’s image, but reflects the glory of Christ
Hi Leónie, your interpretation contradicts what the Bible says overall about men and women bearing God’s image. I’ve shared some of these Bible verses in the article above.
Also, Paul doesn’t use the word “reflect” when speaking about men and women, or husbands and wives.
I stand by my premise that doxa means “reputation” in 1 Cor. 11:7 and 15. According to the values of first-century Roman Corinth, a man’s bad behaviour negatively affected the reputation of Jesus (it made Jesus look bad), whereas a woman’s bad behaviour negatively affected the reputation of the men in her family (it made a man look bad).
However, if you prefer to use the word “reflect”: a man’s behaviour reflected on Jesus, a woman’s behaviour reflected on a man.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about the appropriate appearance of men and women who were praying and prophesying in Corinthian churches. Ephesians 5:22-33 is about the unity of marriage which is facilitated by submission and sacrificial love. In these passages, Paul is addressing two unrelated issues in two different churches.
I’ve written about Ephesians 5:22-33 here: https://margmowczko.com/category/equality-and-gender-issues/ephesians-5/
This short article might be a good place to start: https://margmowczko.com/ephesians-522-33-in-a-nutshell/
The 1st thing I have read that makes me feel better! This actually makes sense.
Thank you so much for this article. As a teacher of the Word myself, I’m familiar with all Paul’s teachings concerning women, but this one has consistently bothered me. The historical articles on this passage are enough to discourage any female. And the thing is, I want to comply with the Bible! I don’t want to bend the scriptures to suit my own needs or wants—even if it isn’t what I want to hear. I just have a hard time believing that, if it were true that women are second class to God, it would not grieve me so. Because I really want to have a right heart about this matter, as about all matters. But you’ve shone a new light on this verse, one that I haven’t exactly heard before. I’m going to keep your article and study if further. God bless you!
Hi Debbie, I also don’t want to bend scripture. 🙂
Traditional interpretations of this verse are horrendous and contradict and conflict with what the rest of the Bible says about men and women being made in the image of God. The more I study Paul’s theology, and Greek, and first-century culture, the more I believe my interpretation makes good sense of 1 Corinthians 11:7 and surrounding verses.
Thanks for this. Very interesting and, for what it’s worth, I find your arguments compelling. I’m also intrigued by this idea of Paul being concerned about how Christians appeared to those outside the Church. I had never seriously thought of this, maybe because the early church is so often depicted as proudly counter-culture, revelling in their difference and, when persecuted, their suffering. Of course, it also reveals how little time I’ve spent thinking about these passages! I study Ancient Rome, not the early church, but it makes sense that Paul, wanting to spread the message of Christ as far as possible, would also want Christians to be mindful of the necessity of not creating scandal. There were, after all, religious sects in Roman society whose bizarre dress and comportment made them objects of suspicion and scorn – the castrated priests of Cybele, for example. Being lumped in with them would certainly make spreading the Word exponentially more difficult. Paul wanted the word of Christ to be taken seriously and not dismissed as “fringe”. Honestly, if this were the case, Paul was in a bind. How to assert the equal worthiness and glory of men and women (in Christ) in a thoroughly patriarchal culture and not seem to be upsetting that culture so much that the message is discredited or dismissed out of hand? Food for thought. Thanks for sharing these interpretations!
Thanks KS. Paul asks for conformity to broader cultural values a few times in his letters.
In David Balch’s book, Let Wives be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter, he cites an instance where, in a certain Greek or Roman city, the Jews and a disruptive and bizarre Eastern cult (devotees of Isis perhaps) were thought to be one and the same, and the Jews suffered for it. I wish I could remember the details.
Thank you for the article. I’m doing a study on woman, headship and hierarchy in the Bible, spurred through reading through 1 Corinthians again, and looking through a number of resources, as well as my own investigation of context, culture and original language.
You may have discussed it elsewhere, but it’s also interesting to look into the possibilities of why men were told not to cover their heads, in relation to Roman cultic practices and status symbols. I found Mark Finney’s paper discussing that compelling within the context of 1 Cor. 11-12, and the theme of factious/divisive behaviour in the flow of the text.
All in all I found this a helpful summary, and it added some additional points to my study.
The only thing I would note is that Roman’s 8:28-30 does not have “sisters” in the original text, and that threw me off at first. I’m not sure it’s helpful to have that translation in as part of your argument since it isn’t actually added in the letter(would be nice if it was), but leaving that word out does not impact your overall point.
Thanks for your work, appreciate it!
Hi Felicity, Paul’s original word in Romans 8:29 is adelphoi. This Greek word can mean “brothers” or “siblings.”
Paul’s original word in Romans 8:29 is adelphoi. This Greek word can mean “brothers” or “siblings.” Adelphoi probably comes from the Greek word delphys (“womb”): siblings come from the same womb.
In the New Testament, adelphoi (plural) and adelphos (singular) occasionally refer to brothers, as in, male siblings. However, these Greek words usually refer to brothers and sisters in Christ rather than biological siblings.
“Siblings” is not usually used in Christian contexts, and “brothers” can sound like it only refers to men, so several recent English Bibles translate adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” when the context is followers of Jesus. This is not being unfaithful to the original text as it accurately captures the intended meaning.
To be clear, “brothers and sisters” is a meaning of adelphoi, and Paul uses this meaning a lot―approximately 130 times. It is safe to assume that Paul typically means “brothers and sisters” or “siblings” when he uses adelphoi unless the context indicates otherwise (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:1).
He uses the feminine singular adelphe (“sister”) 5 times: when referring to Apphia (Phm. 1:2), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), Nereus’s sister (Rom. 16:15), a woman who ministers with an apostle (1 Cor. 9:5), and a wife who is free after her husband leaves (1 Cor. 7:15).
Jesus isn’t just the firstborn of male Christians and I’m sad that you think Paul may not be including women in his statements here. I’m pretty certain that “brothers and sisters” is Paul’s meaning in his use of adelphoi in Romans 8:29.
In the paper you refer to, Mark Finney writes,
Women are included!
As I say in the article, there is no mention of a distinction of gender in Paul’s words in Romans 8:28-30. These verses apply just as much to us as they do to men who follow Jesus.
You can compare Romans 8:29 in several conservative English translations here: https://biblehub.com/romans/8-29.htm
I’d consider getting a better, more accurate translation of the Bible. I compare a few here. https://margmowczko.com/best-bible-translation/
And here is a five-minute video where NT Greek scholar Bill Mounce speaks about whether “brother” means “brother and/or sister.”
I’ve turned some of this comment into a blog post: https://margmowczko.com/adelphoi-brothers-and-sisters/
Felicity, It is not clear that head coverings are the issue in the first half 1 Cor. 11:2-16. The first half may be about socially respectable, gendered hairstyles: short hair for men, long hair done up for women. I believe honour and reputations in broader Roman Corinth is Paul’s concern in verses 2-10.
If you’re interested, here are some of my observations on Mark Finney’s paper. https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.299952!/file/JSNT.pdf
I completely agree with Finney here: “The wearing of suitable apparel by men and women within Greco-Roman first-century CE culture was wholly immersed within considerations of honour and status, and so was of prime import to most. Indeed, one’s attire often gave the clearest and most highly visible indication of social rank …” (p. 35)
And I’ve also observed that pagan Greco-Roman men and women typically had their heads covered when performing sacerdotal functions.
In my opinion, however, Finney’s discussion on the Jewish context covers too large a time period, ignores texts (including the NT) where we see women in public settings, and misses some important points such as the fact that Jewish women sometimes shaved their heads when taking a religious vow (e.g. Berenice in Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.15.1 §313). I’m not sure how relevant his discussion on Jewish practices is to the church at Corinth even though some members were Jewish.
I agree that “Paul asserts, and maintains, a clear cultural distinction between men and women at worship” (p. 50, my italics). Paul does this because of the messengers (aggeloi), not necessarily because it has spiritual or theological significance.
Further, I mostly agree with this on p. 51 (my italics added), but I wouldn’t used the word “represents”: “A discredited and humiliated male can bring little honour to his god in the eyes of the first-century world. Conversely, a woman, correctly attired, brings honour to a man—in such a social setting the woman represents the glory of the man (11.7)—who, in the context of 1 Cor. 11.2-16, is then able to bring honour to Christ.”
Finney’s discussion, however, does not explain the second half of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 where the focus is on relationships between men and women who are “in the Lord,” and where a woman’s own long hair is an adequate head covering. (Or perhaps I missed it.)
“The head of the woman is man.” You can’t get around this fact for God said it, no matter how many thought essays you attempt. You will stand before God and give an account why you, as a woman, repeated Eve’s deception and gave her husband poison. As Pope John Paul II said so well, “[A]n ‘echo’ of the beginning exists in each one of us. The experiences of Adam and Eve are ‘always at the root of every human experience.'” Reading your article, that “echo” from the first woman’s sin is loud and clear in you as you attempt to tell men that the serpent’s words makes sense. But not all men want to be poisoned.
To be precise, it was Paul who said, “the man is head of the woman” (κεφαλὴ δὲ γυναικὸς ὁ ἀνήρ), and I agree with this statement. It’s true.
I suggest making more of an effort to understand what I’ve written before making insinuations.