This post is a first. I have never before taken the writing of a complementarian and posted it on my blog. However in order to facilitate dialog, I have agreed to post Mark’s article so that we can have a jolly good discussion/debate with those who care to participate on the issue of what “head” means in the context of 1 Corinthians 11. This post is actually a carry forward from a previous post that had a lot of good discussion regarding my youtube videos on the issue of women in ministry. If you would like to get a good idea of where this discussion comes from, I refer you back to the post called Women on Trial.
Mark is a complementarian from Australia. Although Mark believes that women are allowed to teach the bible to men, he doesn’t accept that they may do so in the “formal” setting of the church. Mark’s rendering of how “head” can mean one who has “authority over” or one who has a “superiority” to another, is clear, he believes in the context of 1 Corinthians 11.
Now I expect that there will be a great deal of discussion here regarding Mark’s article. That is a good thing! We are to be iron who sharpens another but we are never to be a saw who tears one another to pieces, so I ask that everyone keep this to the argument itself and not attack the person or question the motives. Mark’s piece is quite long and being that it is too long to post both his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 together with his article on what he believes to be the lexical meaning meaning of head, I will post both separately. In order to keep the discussion focused I won’t post the second part until later when discussion is well under way on this post.
I also believe that the issue of whether the context allows for a meaning of head as “authority over” or a “superiority” of one over another is the main issue because while there can be several meanings for one word, if the meaning is foreign to the text, then it matters not whether a lexicon shows that a word can have a particular meaning or not.
So the following is from my friend Mark and I welcome interaction with Mark in the comment section. No doubt I will have a lot of refutation myself as I have time, but I will give my readers first shot at refuting Mark.
by Mark the complementarian from Australia
So here is how I read 1 Corinthians 11.
There are a few key things I want to put forward first of all.
1.Is this passage dealing with men and women or husband and wife? The Greek ‘aner’ can refer to both ‘man’ and ‘husband’. Similarly ‘gyne’ can refer to both ‘female’ and ‘wife’. My view tends to lean toward husband and wife. The reason I see this is as follows. The ‘marriage’ scenario of Gen 2 is clearly behind what Paul is addressing here. “Man is not of woman, but woman is of man” (verse 8 ) reflects God’s forming of Eve from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:22). Paul adds “man was not created for woman, but woman for man” (verse 9) pointing to Eve as Adam’s ‘helpmeet’ (Gen 2: 21-22). Paul’s later qualifier “Yet in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor man from woman” seems to echo the ‘one flesh’ unity in Gen 2:23. Note also that “woman is for man (verse 9) and “man is for the woman” repeats exactly the reciprocal husband- wife obligations of 7:3-5.
2.‘kephale- as I’m sure we are all aware we disagree on this word. If we take this to mean ‘source’ we naturally have to read the passage as man-woman relationships, not husband and wife? After all the husband is not the source of his wife. Perhaps another problem arises when we get to the God-Christ analogy. To understand this as ‘source’ one must only be able to then understand it in relation to Christ’s incarnation; otherwise we fall into the heretical trap of seeing Jesus as a created being. And since there is nothing else in this text dealing with Christ’s incarnation it seems unlikely. Therefore since the theme of Paul’s argument revolves around the veiling/unveiling issue which was the identification of a marriage in Corinth at the time, it seems most natural to see this in relation to husband/wife. One might object to me saying what about “woman is FROM man…but all things are FROM God (verses 12, 8). But I do not think this supports the ‘source’ hypothesis over hierarchy, rather it gives ‘source’ as the basis for the authoritative teaching. Now my view of how it fits into the passage will follow below.
Exegesis: I will use the ESV translation
Verse 2-“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as a delivered them to you.”
Paul uses a very good pastoral technique, “I commend you (or praise you)… but we are introduced to a big ‘But’ in verse 3. They are praised for remembering him and holding onto his ‘traditions’ but yet these traditions now seem to be a matter of ‘contention’ (verse 16). His language here is very reminiscent of a rabbi to his disciples. There is a ‘yes, but’ logic to his introduction.
Verse 3– “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God”.
Before Paul addresses the present pastoral problem in Corinth Paul, reminds them of the tradition he has passed down to them (verse 3). Therefore we need not get too caught up in the God/Christ analogy because this is not Paul’s argument. He is using this hierarchy to bolster his pastoral problem, namely the issue between the husbands/wives. So Paul puts the critical statement for his argument in the middle “the head of a wife is her husband” and frames it around a larger theological context- the Christ/man, God/Christ analogy.
Paul does not expand on the Christ/man analogy (note it is aner, not anthropos) as he has done in other places- that is Christ is the head of the church (Eph 1:22; 4:15; Col 1:18; 2:19) nor does he talk about Christ being the head over everything (Eph 1:22), or the ultimate governor (Rev 5:5).
Likewise since Paul’s argument is on the husband/wife he does not expand on the God/Christ analogy. But none the less what does Paul mean by “God (the Father) is the head of Christ”. This language is consistent with the Father and Son language used by Jesus and the rest of the New Testament. These words imply what early theologians called the ‘eternal generation’ of the Son. The Son is and always will be equal in ‘homoousios’ (same substance). Yet he was and always will be under the headship of the Father (John 17, 1 Cor 15:24-28). Jesus was sent by the Father and obeyed because He is equally God, yet his ‘persona’ or role was to be subject to the Father and eventually place all things under his feet. Now please don’t confuse ontological homoousios with functional as many have tried and failed in the past. It is an argument with no weight or biblical or theological support.
Verse 4- 6 “Every man who prays or prophecies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every wife who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.”
Paul is now using a play on the word ‘kephale’ here. He is transitioning between the literal head and the metaphorical head. If a man covers his (literal) head, it dishonours Christ (metaphorical head). Likewise if a wife uncovers her literal head it dishonours her husband. Note that Christianity has given women freedom from that which they were previously restricted, this here is consistent with Pentecost (Acts 2 :17) where Joel’s prophecy of men and women prophesying will abound. However we should not understand the prophecy here as the same as the ‘presbyters’ teaching whose ministry was a matter of ‘office’ and regularity. The Spirit had indeed enabled women to pray and prophecy as ‘gifted’ but we must look at this prophecy in light of how it is expressed throughout chapters 12-14. It is spontaneous as the need arose or was led by the spirit. It was not and is not the gift of ‘teaching’ given to those who are the overseers. Also it appears that although women were now allowed to participate along with the men with this gift, they had thus rejected the creation order of male headship. Yes women could now prophecy, but no they should not be dishonouring their husbands with an uncovered head. This is now the root problem Paul is addressing, women who were not being respectful to their ‘head’. It is again another picture of the Corinthians over-realised eschatology. The inauguration of the Kingdom and the gifting of the Spirit did not override God’s creational order and men’s headship. Only in the new heavens and earth are marriages abolished.
Verses 7-10 “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”
Note the creational order Paul uses to support his argument. Eve was made out of Adam and for Adam, not the other way around. Verse 7 is the reason Paul gives for why a man (aner) should not cover his head- he is the image and glory of God. Again I think Genesis helps us understand Paul’s teaching here. Adam was made from the dust and given life (Gen 2:7) and he bore the image of God (1:27). But note Paul’s addition of ‘glory’. This is not found in Gen and seems to be Pauls more interested theme since he applies it to Eve- she is the ‘glory’ of man. So what does glory mean here. I think simplistically without going into great depth, it is about happiness or joy. God created man and it was good- God was happy with his creation. Likewise when God created Eve and brought her to him, Adam was happy- she was his glory. The grammar of verse 8-9 contrasts this by using the ‘for’ with the ‘but’. The wife’s physical head here in Corinth needs to reflect her submission to her husband (Eph 5:22)- her metaphorical head whose ‘glory’ she is. Likewise the husband’s uncovered head ought to point to Christ whose image and glory he is.
Verse 10 is often another hot topic. Since many translations insert ‘sign’ or symbol’ which is not in the Greek, a new perspective on this passage seems to be that the woman’s head covering indicates her own authority to pray and prophecy, yet this does not fit with the rest of the passage neatly. Yes she does have authority to use her gift, but the whole argument around the head coverings is to show that while doing this, she does not dishonour her head,ie her husband. Also note, every other three-word construction of this in the NT means “to have authority over” (Matt 9:6, Rev 11:5; 14:18; 16:19; 20:6, Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24) so I would be more inclined to render it like this “ For this reason a wife should exercise control(authority) OVER her head.” Basically keep the appropriate covering on it to show her submission to her husband, thus I agree with the ESV inserting ‘symbol’- it reflects the flow of the argument. The reference to the angels in my opinion is not referring to us equally judging with them, since this does not fit the context at all, nor do I think it is reference to angels who are attracted to women with uncovered heads (Gen 6). Simply I think it is referring to God’s angels who watch over creation and want to see men and women acting appropriately and with dignity.
Verse 11-12– “Nevertheless, 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.”
Paul is careful not to leave his instruction on that note. Here in verse 11 we see the qualifier ‘Nevertheless’ (plen) which I think is used to stop those who read the first 10 verses and attempt to assert some kind of male oppressiveness. Again the interdependence of husband and wife is closely knitted to the ‘one flesh’ union at creation. She is his glory and bears his authority, yet they are inseparabley one, and the man must never abuse his wife. Christ never does such things but instead lays down his life for his sheep. These verses imply the deep spiritual, emotional and sexual union shared by husband and wife- everything is from God. Also note that although the woman is under the authority of her husband, both are under the authority of God. Therefore however a husband sees his authority should be reflective of what he knows about God’s authority- that is he killed his own Son for his people. A husband’s authority should never be intimidation or abuse or lording.
Verses 13-16 “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”
Paul now concludes his argument with two more reasons.
1.He asks them to judge for themselves if it is appropriate. From his discussion earlier it is obviously a rhetoric question with the answer already implied- it is not appropriate for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. Rather than re-affirming his previous argument Paul draws back to nature (physis) to conclude that nature even teaches that a woman is given long hair for her glory- hence why she should not have short hair as it is a disgrace. Parallel to this is the reverse for men. Long hair was seemingly a disgrace for men and dishonouring to God when a man prayed with long hair i.e. covering. The question may be asked, how therefore can this be in relation to husband/wife if Paul is using nature for an argument. My answer to that is the two are totally intertwined. A woman’s long hair (femininity) and a man’s non-long hair point to both femaleness and maleness, as well as a husband and a wife.
2.Paul finally concludes by saying that no other church of God has any other practice other than that which he has passed down as that ‘tradition’ (verse 2). It is first of all important to note that Paul does not blur gender distinctions. He highly values and supports those which are both masculine and feminine. All the churches adopted such cultural practices that supported both women using their gifts but not neglecting their husband as their head. We would do well to learn from this.
To conclude– Paul differentiates between what is masculine and what is feminine of his day and rightly applies that the husband and wife relationship. WE should not see the head coverings as something eternally binding but rather as a cultural distinction. Paul uses this distinction to emphasise the importance of the husband as the head of the wife within the community of believers. We should not push male headship to a level that abuses the wife, nor should we abandon male headship and blur gender distinctions.
I’m sure this will stir up many responses. I ask that when commenting your refer your comment to a particular verse or comment I made, that way it will be easier for me to respond to you and we stick to the biblical text. I hope you can see how my view of kephale is supported contextually in 1 Corinthians 11 even if you don’t agree with me. Cheryl, thank you for being willing to post my paper.
I pray that God will use this to correct you or likewise use you to correct me, in order that his name may be glorified.