In part 1, I looked at what peribolaion typically means in circa first-century Greek texts. I also looked at ancient Greek ideas about semen, testicles, and hair, and at circa first-century literary and archaeological evidence for socially acceptable Roman hairstyles.
In the second and last part of this article, I continue my critique of Dr Troy Martin’s thesis that the Greek word peribolaion means “testicle” rather than “covering” in 1 Corinthians 11:15. There are several points in Martin’s arguments that I see differently from him. I’ve chosen to mention only a few of them, and I’ve kept my responses brief and as untechnical as possible.
Here is 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 again.
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head exposed? Does not even nature (physis) itself teach (didaskō) you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory (doxa)? For her hair is given to her for/ instead of/ in place of (anti) a peribolaion.
Nature as “Teacher” in 1 Corinthians 11:14
As mentioned in part 1, Troy Martin has written two papers where he argues that peribolaion means “testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11:15. He states at the beginning of his first paper that “the argument from nature in verses 13 to 15 is particularly problematic.” It is this difficulty that has led Martin to the “testicle” idea.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a puzzling passage and it is difficult to make coherent sense of every phrase, but the concept of “nature” is not particularly obscure. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor observes, “All modern commentators recognize that ‘nature teaches’ (v. 14) does not refer to natural law in any technical sense but to what Paul’s generation accepted as conventional.”
“Nature” is instinctive or self-evident knowledge of what is culturally appropriate. Paul took the matter of different hair lengths for men and women in Corinth as instinctively understood: different hairstyles are ordinary and customary because men and women are different (male and female). (I have a discussion on “nature” in 1 Cor. 11:14 here.)
Did Paul Think Women were Lacking a Body Part?
In his second paper, Martin writes, “Paul’s statement that long hair is given by nature to a woman instead of a περιβόλαιον requires a translation of περιβόλαιον that refers to a male body part lacking in a woman but having a function corresponding to her long hair.”
In response to this statement, let me point out first that Paul was a smart man. I’m certain he was aware that some men’s hair could grow long if left untrimmed. And Paul speaks about “nature” primarily as a teacher here, not as a giver of long hair.
Second, the assumption that Paul is somehow implying that women are lacking a body part, let alone a male body part, is an astonishing claim. Martin understands the Greek word anti in 1 Corinthians 11:15 as meaning “instead of” or “in place of,” but I see no evidence that Paul thought women were lacking testicles. I suggest Paul was simply saying that a woman’s long hair is fine as a covering. A woman praying among those “who are in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11), that is, among those who are fellow siblings in Christ, doesn’t need to cover her hair with a cloth covering, a peribolaion, “for her long hair is given for/in place (anti) of a covering.”
I’ve tried, but I can’t see that Paul thought women were lacking something and that this was an issue for only some of the women in Corinth, those who were praying and prophesying (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5).
Furthermore, if we’re going to rely on the ideas of ancient Greek physicians as Martin does (see part 1), we need to remember that in Paul’s day, many of the ideas of Aristotle and Hippocrates had been disproven. Since the third-century BCE, Greek physicians believed women did have testicles. They regarded ovaries as testicles. I strongly doubt that Paul thought women “in the Lord” were lacking any body part.
Let me say here that I take the two halves of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to be referring to two different settings and two different social concerns. I take the first half to be about reputations (doxa) in broader Corinthian society and the second half, 1 Corinthians 11:11-16, to be about mutual relationships among Christ-followers.
I’ve written an overview of these two different concerns here: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, in a Nutshell
A longer look at reputations here: Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God
And a look at Paul’s use of creation in the two halves of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here: Judith Gundry on the Two Social Contexts of 1 Cor. 11:2-16
“Testicles” in Euripides’ Play Hercules Furens?
Troy Martin quotes two texts in his first paper where he believes peribolaion means “testicles.” The first is from Euripides’ play Hercules Furens.
“After I received [my] bags (peribolaia) of flesh, which are the outward signs of puberty, [I received] labours…” (Euripides, Herc. Fer. 1260).
Martin states, “In this text from Euripides, the term peribolaion refers to a testicle.” But this isn’t exactly right. Hercules is speaking about his testicles here, but the word peribolaion on its own doesn’t mean “testicle.” Rather, it is the two-word expression sarkos peribolaia (peribolaia “of flesh”) that are the testicles. That these “bags of flesh” are testicles is clarified in the next phrase (“outward signs of puberty”) for those who may be unsure what Hercules is referring to with his unusual expression.
In his response to Troy Martin’s first paper, Mark Goodacre argues that Euripides is using a clothing metaphor here. Goodacre explains that the phrase “σαρκὸς περιβόλαι’ ἡβῶντα, with “ἡβῶντα (present participle of ἡβάω, ‘to attain puberty, to be in the prime of youth’) is a transferred epithet agreeing with περιβόλαι(α), ‘that which is thrown around, covering, clothing’ (plural). … Heracles has come of age and has put on his young man’s flesh.”
Both Martin and Goodacre note that peribolaia in this phrase in Euripides’s play has been translated with clothing words, such as “vesture,” “garb,” and “cloak,” but Martin points out that these predate his “testicle” papers. The common understanding was, and for most people still is, that peribolaion is used in a clothing metaphor here.
“Testicles” in Achilles Tatius’ Novel Clitophon and Leucippe?
In the second example, Martin quotes from the second-century CE novel Clitophon and Leucippe by Achilles Tatius. Here is an extended excerpt so we can see the context.
When the entombment was over, I hurried to my sweetheart, who was in the garden of our house. This garden was a meadow, a very object of beauty to the eyes; round it ran a wall of sufficient height, and each of the four sides of the wall formed a portico standing on pillars, within which was a close plantation of trees. Their branches, which were in full foliage, intertwined with one another; their neighbouring flowers mingled with each other, their leaves overlapped (tōn phyllōn peribolai), their fruits joined. Such was the way in which the trees grew together; to some of the larger of them were ivy and smilax attached, the smilax hanging from planes and filling all the interstices between the boughs with its soft foliage, the ivy twisting up the pines and embracing the trunks, so that the tree formed a support for the ivy, and the ivy a garland for the tree (Achilles Tatius, Leuc. Clit. 1.15.1–2). (Read more, beginning at p. 45, here.)
Martin explains that Tatius “portrays this erotic garden by allusions to male and female sexual organs.” Nevertheless, the word peribolai does not mean “testicles” here. The word refers to a canopy, coverings, of intertwining leaves. Peribolaion retains its sense of “covering,” just as the words for “house,” “garden,” “trees,” “branches,” “leaves,” “flowers,” “fruit,” etc, retain their usual meanings even if we can then ascribe to them allegorical or sexual connotations.
Furthermore, it is unclear why Martin has chosen the coverings of leaves as alluding to testicles and not other objects in the garden. And to translate tōn phyllōn peribolai as “their leaves testicles,” or something similar, doesn’t make sense.
Note also that in the two texts, the plural of peribolaion is used, but the singular occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:5. I agree with Goodacre’s comment on this.
If Paul had wished to contrast women’s hair with male testicles in 1 Cor 11:15, we would have expected him to use a plural noun, and the noun of choice would probably have been ὄρχις [which does mean “testicle”]. There are no known uses of περιβόλαιον to mean “testicle.” The two examples provided by Martin do not make the case.
In his second paper, a response to Goodacre, Troy Martin argues technicalities but provides no new examples from Greek literature where peribolaion might mean “testicle.” And he emphasises that his idea of “testicle” does not rest on the two texts he cited in his first paper but on what he sees as the context of 1 Corinthians 11:15.
In other words, there is no Greek text where peribolaion simply means “testicle.”
The Angels, or Watchers, in Tertullian and Early Jewish Literature
Michael S. Heiser has applied Martin’s thesis to 1 Corinthians 11:10: “the woman ought to have authority on her head on account of the angels.” Heiser believes the angels are the same or similar beings as the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1-4 who married human women and had giant children.
In the early 200s CE, Tertullian also connected these “sons of God” with the “angels” in 1 Corinthians 11:10.
For if (it is) on account of the angels— those, to wit, whom we read of as having fallen from God and heaven on account of concupiscence [strong sexual desire] after females— who can presume that it was bodies already defiled, and relics of human lust, which such angels yearned after, so as not rather to have been inflamed for virgins, whose bloom pleads an excuse for human lust likewise? For thus does Scripture withal suggest: And it came to pass, it says, when men had begun to grow more numerous upon the earth, there were withal daughters born them; but the sons of God, having described the daughters of men, that they were fair (pulchrae), took to themselves wives of all whom they elected. (Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins 7; cf. Gen. 6:1–4).
If I’m understanding him correctly, Tertullian attributes the “bloom” (flos) of beautiful young women as the cause of the angels’ lust. He doesn’t mention hair.
A few early Jewish works also mention these “angels” or Watchers.
The Book of Enoch (written 300–200 BCE) refers to the Genesis 6 women and describes them as “pretty and beautiful daughters” (thygateres hōraia kai kalai cf. kalai in Gen. 6:2 LXX) but it says nothing about their hair (1 Enoch 6–7). I found only one reference to hair in the book of Enoch and this was about Lamech’s son’s unnaturally white hair (1 Enoch 106). And hair is not mentioned at all in Genesis 6.
Hair is not mentioned either in the surviving fragments of the Book of Giants (written in the 200s BCE) which says of the Watchers (Egrēgoroi) that “They chose beautiful [women], and demanded [. . .] them in marriage” (Book of Giants, Fragment i).
The Watchers appear again in the Testament of Reuben (written sometime in the first or second centuries CE). In chapter 5, women are described as evil and as seducing the Watchers simply because they didn’t cover their heads and their faces. Hair is not explicitly mentioned here.
To be clear, neither Genesis 6, 1 Enoch 6–7, the Book of Giants, or the Testament of Reuben states that exposed hair was what the angels found alluring. The issue of women’s hair is not raised at all. And only the Testament of Reuben mentions covering heads, but it also mentions covering faces. Furthermore, none of these texts hints in any way that women’s hair was thought of as genitals. In all these texts, it simply states (or implies, in the case of the Testament of Reuben) that the women were beautiful.
There are several different interpretations of who the aggeloi are in 1 Corinthians 11:10. I do not believe they are the Genesis 6 “sons of God” or Watchers. (See linked articles below.)
Women’s Hair in the New Testament
In other New Testament letters, Paul and Peter are concerned with women’s hairstyles but they don’t mention veils and they don’t tell women to cover their heads (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3). If the women’s hair had been completely covered by a veil, the problem of extravagant hairstyles would have been solved, however, neither apostle offers this solution. (I’ve written about these hairstyles here.)
When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus, she wiped his feet with her hair. Judas Iscariot was offended about the cost of the perfume but not, it seems, that Mary’s hair was loosened, exposed, and touching Jesus’s feet (John 12:3)! In another anointing story, onlookers are disturbed that Jesus allowed a sinful woman to touch him. It is not mentioned that they were disturbed by her loosened hair that she used to wipe the perfume and her tears from Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:38).
Objections to Troy Martin’s “Testicle” Thesis
I’ve read both of Dr Martin’s papers carefully and I don’t buy his definition or translation of peribolaion as “testicle.” Most scholars, but not all, have similarly rejected this idea.
Lucy Peppiatt, for example, quotes some of Troy Martin’s paper (the bit about long feminine hair assisting the uterus in drawing semen upward and inward) and then makes the comment, “That this argument is even considered seriously enough to warrant refutation is bemusing to say the least.” And in a footnote, Cynthia Long Westfall refers to Martin’s first paper and states, “The nature of the sexual attraction of women’s hair and the fact that an uncovered hair was indecent are overplayed by Martin …”
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor regards Martin’s idea as a “bizarre interpretation.” And he summarises his major objections.
“A dreadful warning of what can happen when the interpretation of 11:3-16 is made to turn on a single word is provided by T.W. Martin. He argues that peribolaion (v. 15b) means testicle, whose place in a woman is taken by her hair, which obviously should be covered because it is part of the female genitalia. Martin quotes only two texts to support his interpretation of peribolaion, namely Euripides, Hercules Furens 1260, and Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon, 1.15.2. Neither is unambiguous, and they are separated by seven hundred years. Not only does Martin not provide evidence for a well-known first-century AD meaning [such evidence is in part 1 here], but ‘testicle’ is not documented in LSJ. As regards the physiological relationship of hair to the sex act, Martin draws on texts ranging from the fifth century BC to the second century AD, thereby creating an entirely artificial synthesis that never existed in the mind of any single ancient. Moreover, he furnished no reason to think that anyone at Corinth thought that way.”
A Woman’s Hair is Her Glory
When it’s all said and done, the idea that peribolaion means “testicle” makes 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 sound like nonsense.
“Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory (doxa)? For her hair is given to her instead of a testicle (peribolaion).”
How can a woman’s hair be her glory (doxa) and function as a testicle? The word doxa usually refers to something that is seen or heard, and admired and praised. It often has a sense of renown or repute. How can this apply to a respectable woman’s genitals? (I’ve written about doxa in 1 Cor. 11:7 and 14 here.)
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 11:15 suggests that at the very least some of the women’s hair in Corinth was visible. Preston Massey states,
“Since Paul mentions that a woman’s hair is her ‘glory,’ it must be assumed that some part of it is visible, either the front bangs or the ends falling down over the shoulders. This would conform to the image of modesty as developed by Philostratus [Imagines 2.9].”
I agree, however, with Judith Gundry’s understanding of Roman hairstyles and 1 Corinthians 11:14–15.
In the light of Paul’s statements in 11:14–15 that the woman’s long hair is her glory and that it is given to her “for a covering” and that the man’s long hair is his shame, and in 11:4–5 that the Corinthian women and men “shame their head” by the practices here criticized, it is probably best to assume that covering the head here refers to hairstyles, since in a first-century Roman context there was no social shame associated with women’s not veiling or with men’s wearing a himation over the head.
In part 1 we saw that the word peribolaion typically refers to a cloth covering and that there is literary and archaeological evidence of respectable first-century Roman women with their hair fully uncovered, which they couldn’t do if hair was thought of as a testicle. And as I’ve said above, how could Paul say that a woman’s hair is her glory (doxa) if he regarded hair as genitals?
In part 1 we also saw that because of advances in scientific knowledge, most physicians in Paul’s day did not agree with many of Aristotle’s and Hippocrates’ speculative assumptions on human physiology. Following discoveries by Herophilus and others, it was understood that women did have “testicles” (ovaries). Moreover, first-century authors writing about hair say nothing about semen or testicles. And hair is not mentioned in any of the texts that refer to the beautiful women who were taken in marriage by the “sons of God” or Watchers.
Troy Martin admits that the textual evidence for peribolaion meaning “testicle” is flimsy. Rather, 1 Corinthians 11:13–15 makes better sense to him contextually, with “nature” in mind, when peribolaion is translated as “testicle.” Rather than Martin’s complicated view of “nature,” however, “nature” can simply refer to ordinary cultural conventions.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a difficult passage to understand, and it makes sense to try to work out the backstory or the scenario that Paul is addressing. We only have one side of the conversation here. But I strongly doubt Paul had in mind ideas that were hundreds of years out of date and thought that the hair of the ministering women in Corinth were genitals that needed to be covered.
 Martin, “Paul’s Argument from Nature,” 76. (PDF) In footnote 1 on page 75, Martin explains that his “article interprets Paul’s argument from nature in 1 Cor. 11:13–15 against the backdrop of ancient physiology.
 Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 173 footnote 69.
 Herophilus of Alexandria, an anatomist who lived 335-280 BCE, is praised by Galen as the first to discover that women had testicles. Galen quotes from Herophilus’s third book of anatomy: “Testicles also grow on the sides of the uterus, one from each part, differing little from the testicles of the male. … Testicles in females grow at each shoulder of the uterus, one from the right, one from the left, the two of them not in a single scrotum, but each apart by itself … easily damaged flesh, as are also the testicles of males.” (Quoted in Galen, On Semen 2.1.15-16)
Galen himself noted earlier in his essay, “The testicles (orchai) lie alongside the uterus, one on each side, and receive a convolution of vessels like the convolutions in males; but (the convolution) does not go the same place, since the female had to discharge semen not externally, like a male, but into her own uterus. (On Semen 2.1.2) Galen does not associate hair with semen or with sexual organs.
Quotations from Galen’s On Semen are from the translation by Phillip De Lacy (Corpus Medicorum Graecorum; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1992). This can be accessed online here.
 Martin, “Paul’s Argument from Nature,” 77.
 Strictly speaking, peribolaia seems to refer to the scrotum here. Martin anticipates this thought and states, “Some may interpret Euripides’ statement as referring to the scrotum, but the plural peribolaia more likely refers to the testicles rather than the scrotum (oschē), which is singular. Furthermore, the scrotum is visible from birth, whereas the testicles enlarge and become pronounced at puberty.” Martin, “Paul’s Argument from Nature,” 77 fn 7. (I’m unconvinced by his explanation.)
 Goodacre, “Does περιβόλαιον Mean ‘Testicle,’” 393–394; Martin, “Περιβόλαιον as ‘Testicle,’” 459–460.
 English translation by Stephen Gaselee, Loeb Classical Library, 1917.
 Goodacre, “Does περιβόλαιον Mean ‘Testicle,’” 395–396.
 Martin, “Περιβόλαιον as ‘Testicle,’” 458.
 Troy Martin also refers to Tertullian’s treatise On the Veiling of Virgins. This treatise, which dates to around 200–220 CE, has relevance to 1 Corinthians 11 and so I’ve provided a few notes on it here.
 The Hebrew word רֶגֶל-regel (“foot, leg”) is sometimes used as a euphemism for genitals in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deut. 28:57 NKJV; 1 Sam. 24:3 KJV) and in narratives where there is sexual inuendo (e.g., Judg. 5:27; Ruth 3:4-8). But sometimes it just means “feet.”
 Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 58.
 Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 30 footnote 91.
 Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians (in particular his chapter “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Once Again”), 173 footnote 69.
 LSJ cites Euripides, Hercules Furens 1260 and translates peribolai here as “encasements,” not “testicles.”
 Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians, 180. My use of bold!
What evidence is there that people in Corinth or in other first-century Roman colonies thought about hair as hollow conduits of semen that linked the brain with genitals? Martin has not provided this kind of evidence.
 Massey, “Dress Codes at Roman Corinth and Two Hellenic Sites: What Do the Inscriptions at Andania and Lycosura Tell Us About 1 Corinthians 11.2-16? Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 11 (2015): 51–81, 78. (PDF)
Here is a quotation from the work Massey mentions about the beautiful and dignified Pantheia”: “[she] keeps her beauty unadorned and just as it was while Abradates was alive, and takes it thus away with her, letting her thick black hair fall unrestrained over her shoulders and neck, yet just showing her white throat …” (From Imagines 2:9)
 Gundry, 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, Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann and Otfried Hofius (eds.) (Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151-171, 151 footnote 1.
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“Covering” or “Testicle” in 1 Corinthians 11:15? (Part 1)
A Note on “Nature” and Hairstyles in 1 Corinthians 11:14–15
Judith Gundry on the Two Social Contexts of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 (with a note on different understandings of the “angels” in 1 Cor. 11:10)
1 Corinthians 11:2-16, in a Nutshell (with an explanation of my understanding of the “angels.”)
Authority or Subordination in 1 Corinthians 11:10?
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
Hair Lengths and Hairstyles in the Bible
A List of the Beautiful People in the Bible
Who are the sons of God in Genesis 6? Sethians, Rulers, or Fallen Angels? by B.J. Oropeza.