I’ve been thinking hard about 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 lately. I’ve been especially thinking about verse 10 which is particularly difficult to understand. This is demonstrated by the various ways it has been translated into English.
There is little conviction and no consensus among scholars about who or what the “angels” or “messengers” (Greek: aggeloi) are in this verse, and there is some dispute about who has “authority” (Greek: exousia) here. In this article, I focus on the meaning of the Greek noun exousia which is usually translated as “authority” or “power.”
Whose authority is it?
Four Translations of 1 Corinthians 11:10
Here are four versions of 1 Corinthians 11:10. Note, however, that Paul used no word that means “symbol” or “sign” and no word that means “covering” or “veil” in the Greek. These words have been added by translators to convey their interpretation of Paul’s words.
1 Corinthians 11:10 in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) represents how most English translations render the verse:
“This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”
The New Living Translation (NLT) expresses how many people have interpreted 1 Corinthians 11:10:
“For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.”
According to these translations, Paul used the word exousia (“authority”) here as a metonym for a covering such as a palla, a shawl-like garment that a woman can pull over her head. The NLT echoes many past commentators who understood that praying and prophesying women were required to have their heads covered and that this covering symbolised they were under a man’s authority.
Compare the CSB and NLT with the literal translation in the King James Bible (KJV) which does not contain added words.
“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.”
And here’s how the New International Version (NIV 2011) renders the verse:
“It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”
Does the exousia that Paul mentions refer to a power or authority to which the woman is subject? Does it refer to a head covering she wears on her head? Or is the exousia the woman’s own power and control of her head? I will argue that the exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is her own power to exercise control of the appearance of her head, whether that refers to hairstyles or head coverings. But first, let’s look at what exousia means.
What Does Exousia Mean?
The Greek noun exousia is a common word. It occurs 103 times in the New Testament, 10 times in First Corinthians where it is usually translated as “right.” It can also have the senses of “freedom,” “liberty,” or “permission.” I liken the meaning of exousia to having a driver’s license. When you have a valid driver’s license you have the authority, right, permission, and freedom to drive a vehicle on public roads.
In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Gordon D. Fee claims that there is no known evidence that exousia is ever used in a passive sense or that there is an idiom “to have authority over” which refers to an external authority that is different from the subject of the sentence. In a footnote he adds that not once in the New Testament, or in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), or in the works Philo or Josephus (ancient Jewish authors writing in Greek) is exousia used with a passive sense.
Put more plainly, the use of exousia in ancient Greek texts indicates that the person who is the subject of the sentence has, and exercises, their own authority, power, right, or freedom (in an active sense). The word is not typically used in the sense of a person being under, or being affected by, someone else’s exousia (in a passive sense).
Shore and Ramsay on Exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10
Thomas Teignmouth Shore wrote a commentary on 1 Corinthians that was first published in 1879. He took the broader passage, 11:2–16, to be about the subordination of women but understood that exousia in verse 10 has an active sense and is about the woman’s own power. Shore wrote,
It has been maintained that the word exousia here means the sign of power, i.e., a veil, which is the symbol of the husband’s power over the wife. The fatal objection to this view, however, is that exousia expresses our own power, and not the power exercised by another over us. It is a word frequently used by St. Paul in this sense. (See 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Corinthians 9:4–5; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 9:18.) Whatever interpretation, therefore, we put upon this passage, it must be consistent with this word being interpreted as meaning some “power” which the woman herself has, and not some power exercised over her by her husband.
William Mitchell Ramsay was a renowned archaeologist and New Testament scholar. Here’s what he said back in 1907 about exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10.
He [Paul] says that “the women ought to have authority (exousia) upon her head.” This seems so strange to the Western mind that the words have been generally reckoned among the most obscure in the whole of the Pauline writings. A vast amount has been written by commentators about them, almost entirely erroneous and misleading, and sometimes false to Greek language and its possibilities. Most of the ancient and modern commentators say that “authority” which the woman wears on her head is the authority to which she is subject—a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose. Authority or power that belongs to the wearer, such power as the magistrate possesses in virtue of his office, was meant by the Greek word exousia.
I have chosen to quote from Shore and Ramsay to show that it is not a new idea that exousia doesn’t imply subordination in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Furthermore, because they were writing more than a hundred years ago, these men cannot be accused of being influenced by modern feminism, an accusation that is sometimes levelled at dedicated scholars and students of the Bible simply because they do not hold to traditional interpretations of certain Bible verses. But were Shore and Ramsay correct?
Three Interpretations of Exousia in 1 Cor. 11:10
Anthony Thistleton has pointed out that “most patristic commentators saw no problem in understanding exousia in an active sense as a metonymy for a sign of power over.” He mentions Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Irenaeus as examples of those who took it that Paul was speaking about a head covering for women that signified subordination.
Lucy Peppiatt notes a different interpretation. She mentions Joseph Fitzmyer (First Corinthians 2008:417) and Thistleton (2000:802) as two examples of scholars who believe a head covering such as a palla is in view; however, this covering does not indicate subordination but somehow facilitates a woman to minister.
Fitzmyer believes that Paul is referring to the fact that the woman exercises control over her own head. The head covering is a sign “of the power received from the Lord (v. 11) and of the dignity she has to worship and praise God in the presence of the angels, as the Greek prepositional phrase that follows in this verse suggests.” Thiselton asserts that the veil constitutes a “badge of honour” signifying sexual reserve, “and hence of mastery of the self.”
Writing in the first half of the first century CE, Philo of Alexandria refers to a woman’s head-covering as “the symbol of modesty” (to tēs aidous symbolon) (Philo, The Special Laws 3.56). It was a mark of modesty and of respectability, not necessarily subordination.
Scholars such as Jerome Murphy O’Connor and Philip Payne believe appropriate hairstyles, not head coverings, was the issue in 1 Corinthians 11 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:14–15), and that women were to exercise control over their appearance when praying and prophesying.
So we have three possible ways of understanding exousia 1 Corinthians 11:10. It refers to:
(1) an actual head covering that symbolises subordination,
(2) a woman’s own authority and control over the appearance of her head, expressed by wearing an actual head covering which was “a means of exercising power” in ministry [see footnote 3].
(3) a woman’s own authority and control over the appearance of her head that is not necessarily symbolised by a head covering such as a palla.
In regards to the first interpretation, I suggest many past commentators have been too quick to read 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 through a patriarchal lens and have presumed that the subordination of women is Paul’s message. Craig Keener, on the other hand, believes “nothing in this passage suggests wives’ subordination.” (His use of italics.) Keener adds, “As many scholars have been pointing out in the past few years, if we want this passage to teach subordination, we have to read subordination into the passage.”
“Have Authority Over” in the New Testament
Let’s look further at how exousia is used in the New Testament. Craig Blomberg has taken a close look at the Greek phrase where exousia occurs in 1 Corinthians 11:10: “exousian echein epi …” (This phrase contains the noun exousia, the verb echō which means “have,” and the preposition epi which can mean “upon” or “over.”)
Blomberg has observed that “every other use of this three-word construction in the New Testament means ‘to have authority (or control) over’” and he cites the following texts.
Matthew 9:6 “… the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …” (cf. Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24).
Revelation 11:6: “… these ones have authority over the waters …”
Revelation 14:18: “… the one who has authority over fire …”
Revelation 16:9: “… the one having power over these plagues …”
Revelation 20:6: “… the second death does not have power over these things …”
Blomberg notes that in Luke 19:17 there is a similar construction with epanō (epi + anō) instead of epi: “has authority over ten towns” (CSB); “take charge of ten cities” (NIV).
And in 1 Corinthians 7:37, peri is used instead of epi: “has power over his own will” (KJV); “has control over his own will” (CSB). Note that this verse is in the same letter as 1 Corinthians 11:10.
Considering this evidence, Blomberg suggests that 1 Corinthians 11:10 should be translated “along the lines of ‘For this reason … a wife should exercise control over her head [i.e., keep the appropriate covering on it]’” whether that is a fabric covering or long hair. (His use of ellipsis and square brackets.)
Women’s Heads in First Century Corinth
The idea that Paul had veils in mind in 1 Corinthians 11 assumes that head coverings were a symbol of power or a sign of respectability. Cynthia Thompson has investigated archaeological finds in Corinth that date from the late-first century BCE through to the mid-second century CE. In particular, she looked at (expensive) marble statues of women and men, much cheaper and smaller clay figurines, and coins depicting women in the imperial family. All unearthed in Corinth.
Because most of the women’s portraits depicted here portray women with uncovered heads, one may infer that bareheadedness in itself was not a sign of a socially disapproved lifestyle. These women certainly wished to be seen as respectable.
Also taking into account frescoes in Pompeii that had been buried under the ash of Vesuvius in 79 CE, Thompson adds that “for Hellenistic and Roman women a veil was a possible choice but not a requirement. … It is likely Paul himself acknowledged the Corinthian women’s right to make choices about head coverings.”
The meaning of the word exousia is “authority” or “power,” not “subordination” or “subjection.” And there is no evidence that the word is used elsewhere in the New Testament or in other (surviving) ancient Greek texts as a metonym for a head covering.
Paul’s meaning seems to be that a Corinthian woman who was prophesying or praying was to use her own authority about what she will do with her own head—how she will cover it with her own long hair done up in a respectable hairstyle, or perhaps cover it with a palla. As Shore said, “[it is] ‘power’ which the woman herself has, and not some power exercised over her by her husband.” It is a “power which decides” and has control.
I believe Paul wanted the ministering women in Corinth to use their power wisely and maintain control of the appearance of their heads because of the aggeloi (“messengers, angels”). This is the way I read 1 Corinthians 11:10:
“For this reason, a woman should maintain control of her head, because of the messengers.”
 Gordon D. Fee says of this verse,
By all counts this is one of the truly difficult texts in this letter [1 Corinthians]. It needs to be noted at the outset that our difficulties are directly related to the ad hoc character of the passage. The solution probably lies with what the Corinthians themselves have communicated to Paul; indeed, the key words “authority” and “angels” are very likely from them in some way. Our problem is that we are on the outside looking in.
Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 518.
 The following is every verse in 1 Corinthians where exousia appears, except for 11:10. (I have italicised the English translation of exousia.)
A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does (1 Cor. 7:4).
But he who stands firm in his heart (who is under no compulsion, but has control over his own will) and has decided in his heart to keep her as his fiancée, will do well. (1 Cor. 7:37).
But be careful that by no means does this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Cor. 8:9 NASB 1995).
Don’t we have the right to eat and drink? (1 Cor. 9:4).
Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? (1 Cor. 9:5).
Or do only Barnabas and I have no right to refrain from working? (1 Cor. 9:6).
If others have this right to receive benefits from you, don’t we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right; instead, we endure everything so that we will not hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor. 9:12).
What then is my reward? To preach the gospel and offer it free of charge and not make full use of my rights in the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:18).
Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he abolishes all rule and all authority and power. (1 Cor. 15:24).
 In Bauer and Danker’s lexicon (BDAG) there are six definitions in their entry on exousia but they all have some sense of authority, power, or control. The first definition is “a state of control over something, freedom of choice, right.” This definition seems to fit the context of 1 Corinthians 11:10. BDAG also discuss 1 Corinthians 11:10. No firm conclusions are drawn, but they make the comment, “Many now understand it as a means of exercising power.”
And because someone asked, here’s a link to the entry on the Aramaic (Syriac) word “šulṭān, šulṭānā” in The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon. A form of this word is used in 1 Cor. 11:10 to translate exousia.
 Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 519.
 One exception, however, is in Matthew 8:9//Luke 7:8 where a centurion tells Jesus that he is a person “under authority” (hupo exousian). But it is the preposition hupo (“under”) that gives exousia its unusual passive sense here. Hupo has almost the opposite meaning of the preposition epi which is used in 1 Cor. 11:10. Epi can mean “on,” “upon” or “over.”
 Thomas Teignmouth Shore, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” Volume 7 of A Bible Commentary for English Readers, edited by John Charles Ellicott (London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin, 1879)
I agree with Shore’s statements above. I’m less sure, however, of his following thoughts where he connects the woman’s exousia (“power”) with her doxa (“glory”): “We may, I think, conclude that the ‘power’ here spoken of is [a woman’s] long hair which is called in 1 Corinthians 11:15 her ‘glory.’ It is remarkable that Callistratus twice uses this word exousia in connection with hair to express its abundance.”
[I could only find one instance where Callistratus used exousia to refer to abundant hair. See Callistratus Ekphraseis 5 (a description of a statue of Narcissus) (Greek or English LCL 256 p.427).]
And I disagree with some of Shore’s other ideas. You can read his commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:10 on the Bible Hub website.
 William M. Ramsay, The Cities of St Paul: Their Influence on His Life and Thought: The Cities of Eastern Asia Minor (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907), 203. (Online Source)
Ramsay then gives the example of a statue of the mother of Ozymandias who has “three ‘royalties’ upon her head” (τρεῖς βασιλείας ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς) (Diodorus 1.47: English; Greek). The statue had three actual, visible symbols of her royal authority on her head, possibly diadems, “signifying that she was both daughter and wife and mother of a king.” But I don’t find this example helpful in understanding Paul’s uses of exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10, especially as the word exousia is not used here. Even though Paul doesn’t mention veils, Ramsay interprets 1 Corinthians 11:10 as saying, “The woman who has a veil on her head wears authority on her head.” Rather, than authority, however, a veil or palla was a sign of modesty, as mentioned above in the quotation from Philo, The Special Laws 3.56.
 Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 65.
 Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992, 2009), 47.
 Thistleton notes that echein can sometimes mean “to keep, to hold, to retain.” And epi with the genitive (which is what we have in 1 Cor. 11:10: the genitive of “head”) doesn’t always mean “over” but can denote control of something. Thistleton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 839. So Paul may simply be wanting the ministering Corinthian women to maintain control of their heads; keep it looking respectable.
 Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan ), 180.
 Cynthia L. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth,” The Biblical Archaeologist 51.2 (June 1988): 99–115, 112. I quote from more of Dr Thompson’s paper here.
 Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head-Coverings, and St. Paul,” 112.
 While some scholars believe Paul is speaking about head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, others, such as Judith Gundry, Philip B. Payne, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, and Richard B. Hays, believe he is talking about hairstyles or hair lengths.
Payne, “Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” Priscilla Papers 20.3 (Summer, 2006): 9–18.
Murphy-O’Connor, “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42.4 (October 1980): 482–500.
In a follow-up article published in his book Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 164, Murphy O’Connor writes, “A woman who was not doing her hair properly was failing to control it. Hence, it is perfectly in place for Paul to insist that ‘a woman should exercise control over her head because of the angels’ (v. 10).”
Richard Hays understands 11:10 to mean that “the woman should take charge of her hair and keep it under control, that is, bound up rather than loose. … the bound hair becomes a fitting symbol of the self-control and orderliness that Paul desires for the community as a whole.” First Corinthians (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997, 2011), 187–188.
Craig 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, 178.
 Shore, “The First Epistle to the Corinthians” (Bible Hub)
 In a discussion on New Testament usage, Werner Foerster makes the comment that exousia “denotes the power which decides.” See “C. The NT Concept of ἐξουσία.” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 2, ed. Kittel, trans. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 566.
Liddel, Scott and Jones’s (LSJ) give the primary definition of exousia as “power, authority to do a thing.” (Online source)
 “Because of the angels”: Here are four common interpretations of Paul’s reference to the “angels.”
(1) The aggeloi are messengers or scouts sent to investigate the goings-on in Corinthian churches on behalf of their curious or suspicious masters. (My preferred interpretation.) More on this interpretation, and Paul’s concern for reputations, here: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, in a Nutshell.
(2) The aggeloi are God’s angels who are invisibly present during worship, perhaps as mediators of some kind, and they expect reverence and decorum. (Another possible interpretation.) Somewhat along these lines, there are warnings in the Hebrew Bible about indecent exposure at God’s altar (e.g., Exod. 20:26).
(3) The aggeloi are potentially lustful angelic Watchers who are aroused by the sight of women’s hair (Tertullian, On the Veiling of Virgins 7; cf. Gen. 6:1–4; 1 Enoch 6–7; Book of Giants). (My least favourite interpretation.) The Genesis 6 women are described in the book of Enoch as “pretty and beautiful daughters” (thygateres hōraia kai kalai) (cf. kalai in Gen. 6:2 LXX), but it doesn’t say anything about their hair. If exposed hair is a potential source of lust, why is Paul only concerned with the hair of women who pray and prophesy in Corinth? In other New Testament letters, Paul and Peter are concerned with women’s hairstyles but they don’t tell women to cover their heads (1 Tim. 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3). Also, exposed women’s hair doesn’t seem to be a problem in two scenes where Jesus is anointed by a woman (Luke 7:38, 44; John 11:2; 12:3). (More about the Watchers and hair here.)
(4) Some connect the reference to aggeloi in 1 Corinthians 11:10 with a reference to aggeloi in 1 Corinthian 6:2–3. They then infer that because we are able to judge even the angels, women are well able to determine what they will do with their own heads. (This interpretation seems strained to me.) More in a postscript here: The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.
 “For this reason”: The way I see it, the reason Paul wanted the ministering women in Corinth to maintain control and decorum in regards to their heads, or hair, was that men and women were created differently. (He alludes to the Genesis 2 creation account a few times in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.) Paul wanted men and women to have different looks and hairstyles that signalled that difference. I suspect some Corinthian men were wearing their hair long, which wasn’t the done thing among respectable Romans, and some Corinthian women were cutting their hair short and renouncing their sexuality. This was potentially scandalous. It was especially important that the men and women who were speaking in meetings, and were therefore relatively prominent in meetings, looked and behaved respectably. I have more on this here: Head Coverings and 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.
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Early first-century head of a goddess made of marble. State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersberg. Photo © Sergey Sosnovskiy 2019 (CC BY-SA 4.0). (Source) (Cropped and retouched)
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
1 Corinthians 11:2–16, in a Nutshell
The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16
4 reasons “Head” does not mean “Leader” in 1 Cor. 11:3
Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7)
The Significance of the Created Order, in a Nutshell
A wife has no authority of her own body? (1 Cor. 7:4)
Gender Bias in the New Living Translation (NLT)
22 thoughts on “Woman’s Authority or Subordination in 1 Cor. 11:10?”
The meaning of the word exousia is “authority” or “power,” not “subordination” or “subjection.”
I found this one of the most interesting study regarding head coverings. Hope you find it useful Marg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fn9Q_YMSfA4
Update: I have an article that now addresses this idea here: https://margmowczko.com/troy-martin-hair-testicle-1-cor-11-15/
Hi Vincent, Here are some notes that I’ve previously written in response to Troy Martin’s idea.
What Peribolaion Means
Peribolaion is a common Greek word that typically means cloak, robe, or mantle, that is, an outer garment that a person “wears” or “throws around” (verb: periballō). Occasionally, it refers to some other kind of covering.
Here is every occurrence of peribolaion in the Greek Old Testament and Greek New Testament. In the Bible, it usually refers to an actual or metaphorical garment, typically an outer garment. Occasionally it refers to an actual or metaphorical cloth covering like an awning.
Deuteronomy 22:12: “cloak/mantle”
Exodus 22:27 (LXX 22:26): “cloak/mantle”
Judges 8:26: “garments”
Job 26:6: “covering/clothing”
Psalm 102:26 (LXX 101:27): “cloak/mantle”
Psalm 104:6 (LXX 103:6): “covering/cloak”
Isaiah 50:3: “covering/garment”
Isaiah 59:17: “cloak/mantle”
Jeremiah 15:12LXX: “covering”
Ezekiel 16:13: “cloak/mantle”
Ezekiel 27:7: “coverings/awnings”
Hebrews 1:12: “cloak/mantle”
1 Corinthians 11:15: “covering” (testicle?)
(The CSB sometimes translates peribolaion in these verses simply as “clothing.”)
In ancient writings, in the context of women’s clothing, peribolaion, and more commonly himation, is the Greek equivalent of the Latin palla. The palla was a mantle, a large square of cloth that citizen women draped over their tunic and which they could pull over their heads when they stepped outdoors. The palla was a status symbol and it offered citizen women some protection from sexual harassment and abuse. Slaves and lower-class women were not allowed to wear it. (More on this here.)
Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen, and Contemporaries of Paul on Semen and Women’s Hair
Aristotle and other Greek philosophers thought that the brain was made up of semen which travelled down the spinal cord to the genitals and produced life. Pythagoreans believed that “semen is a drop of the brain” (Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras 19).
In On the Generation of Animals, Aristotle also connected semen (from the brain) with food and nourishment. A point to keep in mind, however, is that “brain” and “head” are not synonymous.
Galen (AD 130-200), a prominent Greek physician and philosopher, was one of the first people to scientifically connect the brain with its real function. (He wrote two treatises on semen which I’ve read.)
But did first-century CE Romans believe the assumption of Hippocrates (460 – 375 BCE) and Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE) that hair was hollow and draws up semen?
Plutarch (born 46 CE), a contemporary of Paul, comments on the usual customs of hairstyles and hair length of men and of women with no mention of semen or testicles.
In his lecture On Cutting Hair, Musonius Rufus (born circa 20-30 CE), also a contemporary of Paul, speaks matter of factly about men cutting and trimming head and facial hair without any mention of semen or testicles.
Greek (and English): https://archive.org/details/MUSONIUSRUFUSSTOICFRAGMENTS/page/n47/mode/2up
There are more examples of men writing in and around the first century and who had similar views to Paul on respectable hairstyles (and nature) and who don’t say anything about semen. These include Philo (Special Laws 3.37-42), Josephus (Jewish War 4.561-63), Dio Chrysostom (Orations 33).
Furthermore, Corinth was a Roman colony in Paul’s day, and many respectable Roman women are depicted in frescoes, mosaics, statues, busts, and coins with their hair fully uncovered. They could hardly do this if their hair was regarded as a testicle, as genitals.
Troy Martin’s Actual Arguments
I’ve read both of Troy Martin’s paper’s carefully and I reject his definition of peribolaion. As do others, including Mark Goodacre who responds to Troy’s first paper here: http://www.markgoodacre.org/peribolaionJBL.pdf
I’ve also read and listened to Michael Heiser on this.
Lucy Peppiatt quotes some of Troy’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.”
Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), 58.
The idea that peribolaion means “testicle” makes 1 Corinthians 11:14-15 sound ridiculous:
“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? For her hair is given to her in place of, or instead of, a testicle.”
Apart from the obvious absurdity, how can her hair be her glory (doxa) and represent or replace a testicle? The word doxa is usually used to refer to something that is seen and/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?
Also note that the plural of peribolaion, in the first of two examples given by Troy, translates as “bags” in the phrase σαρκὸς περιβόλαι (“bags of flesh”) (Euripides, Herc. fur. 1269). And it could just as easily be translated here as “coverings.”
Mark Goodacre explains (p. 393), σαρκὸς περιβόλαι ἡβῶντα, with the verb, “where 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).” “… Euripedes is using a clothing metaphor.”
In the second example given by Troy, the translation of τῶν φύλλων περιβολαί is literally “coverings of leaves” (Achilles Tatius Leuc. Clit. 1.15.2).
The leaves of the trees were literally providing a canopy for the lovers, even if the language is being used suggestively.
I agree with Mark Goodacre’s conclusion (p. 395-396): “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 Mark 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 has previously cited but on what he sees as the context of 1 Corinthians 11:15.
In other words, there’s really no Greek text where peribolaion actually means “testicle.”
Update: I read Ezekiel 16 in the Septuagint today (Sept. 9, 2022) and the verb periballō is used for God covering his new bride Jerusalem with a trichaptos, a veil of fine netting (Eze. 16:10 & 13). Brenton translates trichaptos as “silk.” I plan on looking closely at the verb as I have done with the noun.
Thanks for this. Two more thoughts on v10:
“Exactly the same Greek expression for authority over (exousian . . . epi) is used in Luke 10:19, where Jesus says to the seventy-two: ‘I have given you authority . . . over [exousian . . . epi] all the power of the enemy.’ This means what it says. The seventy-two were not put in subjection under the power of the enemy, nor were they given a sign of their subjection to the enemy. There is no warrant for understanding this same Greek expression any differently in 1 Corinthians 11:10. The translation is straightforward: the woman ought to have authority over her head.” (Men and Women in Christ, Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, p124)
“In context, this means that she ought to exercise her authority over it by fastening up her hair. This is consistent with what Paul says about women’s behaviour in verses 5–6 (they should not have their hair hanging down loose when praying or prophesying but should fasten it up). It stands in contrast with what he says about the proper behaviour for men in verse 7 (a man should not fasten up his hair). And we may readily see how verse 10 follows from his reasoning in verses 7–9. Verse 10 starts with ‘Because of this’, which refers back to those verses. In other words, because of God’s creation purposes for man and woman, in which woman is to be man’s faithful partner, she should fasten up her hair, for unfastened hair at Corinth would imply willingness to be an unfaithful partner.” (same, p149)
Thanks for the other example, Andrew.
Some very smart and admirable people still seem to think exousia is a metonym for a head covering, even though there’s no evidence for it. I find that perplexing.
For a trippy explanation of this odd verse, I highly recommend Michael Heiser’s Angels. He quotes Stuckenbruck to connect the passage to Genesis 6:1-4 and 1 Enoch’s watcher story. Also, the Greek belief that hair was a very sexual part of the body. His interpretation has nothing at all to do with female submission/authority. For a full understanding of Heiser, it’s better to start with Unseen Realms.
Page 126-127 “Angels” by Heiser
Thanks Chelsea. I’ve read those pages from Heiser’s book previously and will refer to them if or when I write an article on the angels. I briefly mention this idea at the end of the article too. I’ll listen to the podcast that Vincent linked to, but I must admit, I have my doubts. I personally haven’t had any problems with watchers being easily turned on by my hair.
Update: I’ve written about Heiser’s idea that connects the watchers with women’s hair, and I quote from early Jewish texts and from Tertullian on this, here: https://margmowczko.com/peribolaion-testicle-or-covering-part-2/
Very enlightening, thank you. As I’m trying to learn some Greek, I’m interested to hear what Greek would be used to express that passive sense of being under someone else’s authority. The hupo exousian is an uncommon construction apparently, so how would that normally be expressed?
The Greek verbs that mean to reign, rule, lead, or exercise authority, such as βασιλεύω, ἄρχω, κυριεύω, κατακυριεύω, ἡγέομαι, ποιμανῶ, προΐστημι, ἐξουσιάζω, and κατεξουσιάζω, are typically used in an active sense in the New Testament. I only found one example where a verb (ἐξουσιάζω) is passive (and there is also the preposition ὑπό meaning “by”): 1 Corinthians 6:12.
One way of saying that someone is under someone else’s authority is to use the verb ὑποτάσσω with the preposition ὑπό or the adverb ὑποκάτω meaning “under” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 2:8). ὑποτάσσω on it’s own does not necessarily imply being under someone’s authority. See here: https://margmowczko.com/kephale-head-philo-first-century/
(It would take me too long to go through the numerous Greek nouns that refer to various kinds of rulers and leaders.)
Your main point here, Marg, is that the authority in question is the woman’s own, and I have no doubt that you are right. However, this must, in my view, be an authority in the sense of ‘right/liberty/license’, not in the sense of ‘power over’ or ‘control of’. One can have power over some other will, or control of some kind of force. But a person’s head neither is nor has a will of its own, nor is it some kind of force to control.
The example by Mr Bartlett from Luke 10:19 is _not_ comparable. There, the disciples have power over evil beings, and these evil beings _do_ have a will of their own. A head doesn’t, not even women’s heads, I think.
You quote all the places in the same letter where «exousia» appears, and I note that in most of these cases, the translation is the word «right». Only in the first example (1 Cor. 7:37) is the sense somewhat like ‘control of’, and in that example there _is_ a will to have control of: one’s own. And only in the last one (1 Cor. 15:24) is it about something like ‘power over’, and then it is about beings who have power or authority over others.
But I don’t understand why you do not find more helpful the example about the queen who is king Ozymandias’ mother. As I take it, the talk is about the queen holding royal power in three different ways. This is talked about as having that royal power «on her head»; and it it is thought to mean that she has three symbols of such power on her head, or rather: that her statue has three such symbols on its statue-head. And these symbols are thought to be three diadems or crowns (in stone). So: the statue has three stone diadems on its stone head, symbolising the three ways in which the queen held royal power, and this can be talked about as having «three royal powers on her head». _Very_ parallel in my opinion.
Hello Knut, The reason I don’t find the example of Ozymandias’s mother helpful is because, as you say, her statue actually had something on its head that symbolised her three royal spheres. I can’t see that 1 Corinthians 11:10 is about a visible object that people would recognise as somehow symbolising a woman’s authority to pray or prophesy.
Assuming Paul did want ministering women to wear a veil or palla, ordinary garments, how did this symbolise that a woman can pray or prophesy?
Perhaps exousia means “right” in 11:10, as it does in 1 Corinthians 9 where Paul is speaking about his rights as an apostle, but it may also mean “control” as it does in 1 Corinthians 7:37. Thistleton’s handling of the text, which I mention in footnote 11, is plausible.
I’m writing a paper on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and I went through and highlighted all the places in my Bible where the word exousia is used, it is never used in a passive sense. Strangely Dan Wallace, even defends the symbol of view. It doesn’t make sense to me. Let’s try it in a different verse: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having “A Symbol of” authority, and not as the scribes.”
Mark 1:22 NRSV Really doesn’t make sense 🙂
We really do need to lose the “symbol” interpretation.
In a footnote I’ve quoted every verse in 1 Corinthians that contains the word exousia which includes 1 Corinthians 7:37:
“But he who stands firm in his heart (who is under no compulsion, but has control over his own will) and has decided in his heart to keep her as his fiancée, will do well.” (1 Cor. 7:37 CSB).
The CEB, ESV, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, and some others also translate exousia in 1 Corinthians 7:37 as “control.” The CEV has “self-control.” The KJV translates it as “power.”
Control and power concerning her own head seems to be the sense in 11:10 also, but no translation I’ve seen has the word “control” in their translation of this verse.
I wonder about Matthew 8:9//Luke 7:8 where a centurion tells Jesus that he is a person “under authority” (hypo exousian) which I’ve mentioned in a footnote above.
Please check out this link, I would really like it if you reacted to it. Is it true only men are made in the image of God? Thanks
Nana, in the very first book of the Bible, it says that God created humans, male and female, in his image.
According to Genesis 1:
Men and women have the same status as God’s image bearers, that is, humans are God’s regents and representatives on earth.
Men and women have the same authority; they are to have dominion on God’s earth.
Men and women have the same responsibility to procreate; they are to fill God’s earth.
Men and women are spoken to by God and blessed by God in Genesis 1.
Every word said in Genesis 1:26ff applies equally to male and female humans:
Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
So God created humanity in his own image;
he created him* in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
*”he created him in the image of God”: the pronoun here represented by the English word “him” is singular in Hebrew to go with the word “humanity” which is singular in Hebrew. But “him” includes all humanity and so some English translations such as the NRSV have “them” instead of “him” to accurately convey the meaning.
Here’s Genesis 1:27 in the NRSV:
So God created humans in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Furthermore, in Genesis 9:6 God says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.” You can compare translations here: https://biblehub.com/genesis/9-6.htm
The Hebrew word translated as “humanity” or “humans” in Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 9:6 is adam. In older translations, this word was translated as “man” but it really means “person” or “human” when speaking about an individual, and “humanity” or “mankind” when speaking more broadly. (In previous generations the English word “man” was often used with a gender-inclusive sense.)
No biblical author contradicts the ideas in Genesis 1:26-27 or Genesis 9:6. No biblical author says or hints that only one sex of humanity are God’s image bearers! Only ignorant or wicked people say that the male sex alone are God’s image bearers. (The website you linked to is wicked, so I removed the link you provided.)
Some point out that Paul doesn’t mention women having the image of God in 1 Corinthians 11:7. However, Paul didn’t mention it because it added nothing to the argument he was making at the time.
Furthermore, God says a few times that the goal of all followers of Jesus is to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:9-11, etc).
I’ve written about Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:7 here:
I’ve written about what it means to be God’s image bearers here:
God has made humans male and female in his image and for his glory (cf. Isaiah 43:6-7). Furthermore, he has given us his Spirit (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18).
I absolutely hate the idea that is still being taught that only men are made in the Image of God. Just thankful that my faith is in God and Jesus Christ and not human teachers!
Marg, this is a really helpful summary of the key data in the primary sources and the discussions in the secondary literature. Thanks for all of the work you put into this blog. I refer my students to it frequently.
Thank you, Erin. That means a lot coming from you.
What do you think of Cynthia Long Westfall’s arguments regarding veiling in 1 Corinthians 11? I really want her to be right, but I confess that I find the evidence for that view of veiling in first-century Roman Corinth a bit thin (though I find the logic convincing). Have you done much digging beyond Thompson on the issue? I think you’re absolutely right about a woman’s authority over her own head, but in verse 5 Paul seems to be commending veiling as the appropriate practice (albeit by a woman’s own choice and for her dignity). Is Paul’s commendation then more “conservative” than other Roman sources where veiling is optional? Or do you think Paul is after something else altogether?
Hi Erin, I love Cynthia Westfall’s book but I read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 differently from here.
I only read Thompson relatively recently. Her observations match my more casual observations. There are lots of circa first-century respectable Roman women depicted on various objects with their heads completely uncovered. And when their heads are covered they are often being depicted as a goddess or priestess.
Thanks for the additional information, Marg. I appreciate you taking the time to respond!