1 Corinthians 11 has been a difficult passage because of several elements that have been hard to interpret. Some of the disputed elements are the meaning of “head” in verse 3, whether head coverings are necessary in verse 5, the woman being the glory of the man in verse 7, the reference to angels in verse 10 and long hair for a man being an issue of shame in verse 14.
In this new series of posts, we will be discussing the meanings of the difficult verses and how to understand Paul.
The best way that I know how to explain Paul’s method of teaching doctrine is to reference Paul’s own words in Philippians 3:1
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.
Paul had a habit of repeating himself so that when we see a word or concept that seems difficult in a verse, we need to look back in the book to see where Paul either originally explained his meaning, or we need to look forward in the book to see where Paul explains what he means.Â If we keep this in mind, Paul is much easier to understand.
Take for example the reference to the angels in verse 10 of 1 Corinthians 11. Now there has been much speculation regarding what Paul meant by saying “because of the angels” however we don’t need to speculate because Paul has already told us what he means.Â When Paul says “because of the angels” we can know that he is repeating what he has already said. Paul said that repetition is for our safety. A phrase thrown out without a reference point is not safe. Paul is the original “Safety Man” so let’s get started to see how Paul keeps us safe. Let’s go back into 1 Corinthians to find out the original reference to angels.
When I was first studying 1 Corinthians 11, I decided to work my way back through Paul’s epistle to find out what he meant by referring to the angels. There was no other reference to angels in chapter 11 so I went back further. There was nothing in chapter 10 or 9 or 8. One thing that we have to remember is that when Paul originally wrote the book of 1 Corinthians it did not have chapters and verses. Paul was writing a letter to the congregation in
1 Corinthians 6:3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?
Paul had been discussing the problem within the congregation where Christians were taking matters that should have been dealt with among the Christian body and were bringing them into the worldly courts.Â Paul chides the Christians by telling them that the Christian church should be able to judge matters within their own Christian community. Paul asks if there isn’t one who had some wisdom to make a judgment. Paul then asks them if they are aware that in the next life, they will have the responsibility of judging angels. If they are going to judge angels, Paul says, surely they should be able to judge the matters of this life.
So Paul’s original reference to the angels is about maturity, responsibility and our duty in the next life regarding judging the angels. Now let’s take that original reference and go ahead to where Paul repeats himself in 1 Corinthians 11:10. The International Standard Version renders it this way:
11:10This is why a woman should have authority over her own head: because of the angels.
The International Standard version along with the KJV, Literal Translation of the Bible, Modern King James Version, Messianic Renewed Covenant Bible, World English Bible, Webster’s Bible, Darby Bible and Douay-Rheims Bible all translate this verse without the additional words “symbol of” that is not found in the original text. Let’s follow this verse from the original text without the addition of uninspired words.
Next let’s look at the Greek word for “authority”. The original word is exousia and means “Permission, authority, right, liberty, power to do something”. The WordStudy Dictionary says regarding this word,
“As (exousia) denies the presence of a hindrance, it may be used either of the capability or the right to do a certain action.”
The word exousia never means that the person themselves is under someone else’s authority. Instead it always means that the person has the right, permission or capability to make the decision or do the action.
So Paul is saying in verse 10 that the woman should have “the capablility or the right or the liberty” over her own head (regarding whether she wears a veil or doesn’t wear a veil, whether she cuts her hair or she doesn’t cut her hair); because in the next life she will also be judging the angels. Paul is repeating what he has already said in 1 Corinthians 6:3. He is saying that in this life we need to learn to make our own mature decisions. After all, Paul said, we will be making some very important decisions in the next life because we will be judging angels. Since women will also be judging the angels, she should have the right in this life to make the decision about what she does or doesn’t wear on her head.
Unfortunately when translations add words that are not in the text, they can distort what the scripture actually says. Verse 10 does not say that the woman is under someone else’s authority, neither does it say that she must wear a veil. It does say that the decision is hers regarding her head. It says that the decision over her own head is in her own authority and her own right to act and her own liberty because she too will be judging the angels. Does this make sense?
Next time we will be discussing the meaning of “Head”. Once again Paul is repeating himself so that we don’t need to guess what he means. Paul tells us in the passage. Stay tuned for the next blog entry.