1Corinthians 11:2-16

Jul 5, 2012


As you may have guessed, these notes are not intended to amount to a commentary.  The chiastic structure can mostly speak for itself. However, I wanted to preface my remarks with a caveat about the historical situation with which Paul was dealing.  I do not believe this section refers to a problem occurring within the meeting of the whole church.  The un-commendable situation in 1Cor 11:17ff with the Lord’s supper is explicitly contrasted with this one. That situation is cast in terms of “when you come together as a church,”  so this is probably some prayerful situation where they have not come together as a whole church. In addition, I do not think Paul would so easily contradict himself by talking matter-of-factly about women praying and prophesying in this context but then say they should keep silent in the church in ch 14 (which I do not believe is a later insertion).  I also do not think Paul had special rules only for certain churches (11:16).  So I think he is dealing within some non-public context where women’s prayers were not an issue apart from the relationship of the participants and/or heavenly witnesses.  Maybe Paul is dealing with the church as some home or household context.  From the beginning, all Christians maintained many set times of prayer and so most of these would occur within the limited context of the household.  Also, it becomes apparent that Paul’s argument is here presented as in a two or threefold way. He has an argument based on decorum (color-coded red), and that is also related to proper hair length (green). Yet he also has woven in a theological argument, and that argument is based on headship order as determined by creation itself (blue).  If he had only argued based on the decorum of that time period, it would be easy to dismiss his solution that women should cover themselves for today.  It would be much like separating the wheat from the chaff, as it were.  But Paul argues also from headship order within creation (from a pre-fall Genesis perspective to boot).  Just as we should not easily dismiss his arguments on women’s silence in the church from 1Timothy 2 (also based on the Torah’s revelation about creation), so also we should take him seriously in this context.

This is especially so since the angelic transgression of the created order in Gen 6 is most probably brought into his reasoning. Ancient interpretation of Gen 6 held that angels were part of the created order (with mankind made lower than the angels, under God). Angels sinned in violating the God ordained headship of the man in relation to the woman (and this resulted in epic judgment upon the ancient world). The woman was sourced from and for the sake of the man - not from and for the angels. While angels may indeed be glorious (Satan disguises himself as “an angel of light“ 2Cor 11:14), the angels were not made in the image and glory of God as was man.

On one hand, Paul did view this earthly life as entirely within the purview, not just of God and Christ, but also of his elect angels (1Tim 5:21). His perspective on the unseen world is exemplified in Hebrews 12:22-23 (“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”). The angels, who are “sent out to serve for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14), are thus also witnesses of our prayers.  Paul says, regarding the apostles, that they had become a spectacle, not just to the world and to men, but also to angels.  We might conclude that our angelic guardians (Mt 18:10; Acts 12:15) can and do observe, at the very least, our worshipful behavior, even within the confines of the home. Paul’s argument may be that it is proper in any worship of God, for the angels to only witness the reflection of God’s glory and not the reflection of man’s glory (if/when the woman’s head is uncovered).

On the other hand,however much this heavenly perspective may be in Paul’s mind, I think the most important point is, at the very least, the lesson that men and women should learn from the past angelic transgression of the created order.

Having mentioned the angels, it seems appropriate to draw attention to Paul’s main theological argument in 11:7-10, as it relates to headship order and his angel reference.  His reasoning in this section is composed as chiastic structure. The theological argument itself is located to support his decorum based instructions for a woman to be covered.  His reasoning is based on the fact that man can and does “possess” (see the verbal use of uparcw in the LXX) God’s “image and glory.”  This phrase is probably a figure of speech called “hendiadys” (Greek hen dia duoin, one by means of two) where two nouns, connected by a conjunction, are used to express a single notion.  So, in this case, it should be translated “glorious image.”  Man was made in God’s glorious image.  There is more theology in this concept that we have room for in this blog.  Suffice it to say that the entire Bible story, from creation of humankind through his theosis/deification (including the fall into sin and redemption), can be crafted around this concept.  The structure is constructed such that the Glory argument for covering is contained in the outer terms while the the explanatory support for the Glory concept per se is contained in the inner terms.  Paul refers to “the Woman” (i.e., individual women, as they are related, via family structure, to a particular man - and as epitomized by the first married woman, Eve). The woman is her corresponding Man’s glory. His two theological points that explain this concept are that:

  1. 1.Man is the source of Woman.  Woman is “from” man.

  2. 2.The Man is the reason or purpose of Woman.  Woman is made “because” or “for the sake” of man. 

     (The preposition marks man as one who is benefited by woman.)

I would venture to say that these two ideas can probably also be applied to man in relation to Christ, as the next step up the headship chain of authority as indicted by 11:3.  This would be a good topic to explore further.  Note: I am not so sure if/how these two concepts might also apply at the highest levels within the Godhead, of the relation of Christ to God.  See further the Nicene Creed and the church fathers for more on that subject.

If anyone has ever questioned why Paul included his concessionary statements in 11:11-12, these thoughts at least serve as balancing terms in the chiastic structure. Paul has a consistent partiality to parallel terms throughout his rhetorical compositions. Yet these concessions do serve Paul’s purpose. They may not  further his practical argument, but they do balance our understanding of the importance of male/female inter-dependence. I don’t think he threw in the concession for the of balancing the structure though - the two halves really go together and the content needs to be appreciated. For Paul, the structure never functions as the rhetorical cart pulling the apostolic horse ;>)