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1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Once Again


Ecole Biblique RO.B. 19053 Jerusalem, Israel 91019


1984), Prof. Jol Delobel did me the honor of subjecting my exegesis of 1 Cor 11I2-161 to a searching examination. This lecture has now been published,2 and it is clear that he has raised a number of issues that demand further consideration. While I disagree with much that he says, his objections and positive contributions have forced me to clarify a number of important points that were less than adequately treated in my article. Specifically, the discussion has enabled me to furnish a clearer and simpler explanation of the most difficult section ( w 7-12) of a text whose significance in the current debate concerning the place of women in the church cannot be overestimated. Basically, there are two problems: (1) What was the situation at Corinth? and (2) How did Paul deal with it? I. The Situation at Corinth I argued that the problem involved both men and women and that the issue was how they dressed their hair. Some men wore their hair long, a

J. Murphy-O'Connor, "Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16," CBQ 42 (1980) 482-

2 Jol Delobel, "1 Cor 11:2-16: Towards a Coherent Explanation," L'aptre Paul. Personnalit, style et conception du ministre (BETL 73; ed. A. Vanhoye; Leuven: Leuven University/ Peeters, 1986) 369-89. To avoid multiplying footnotes, I shall refer to this study with page numbers in the body of the article.


266 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY | 50, 1988 characteristic of homosexuals, while some women neglected their hair to the extent that they were so unfeminine that Paul ironically suggested that they should cut it off and be overtly lesbian. Delobel, on the contrary, asserts: "It is our impression that the pericope does not want to deal with behaviour of man and woman equally, but that Paul is exclusively concerned with the behaviour of Corinthian women" (p. 379). To what did Paul object? "In Christian worship women publically pray and prophesy without wearing the usual head-covering. This may have been a symptom of an attempt of (some) Corinthian women to overcome their traditional secondary place by behaving like men" (p. 387). Delobel accurately characterizes his opinion that Paul has only women in view as an "impression," because his sole argument (p. 380) is that 13 has no parallel reference to men. This is not sufficient to counter the weight of the number of references to men in the rest of the pericope, which Delobel loyally lists (p. 380) and which are numerically identical to the allusions to women. Paul was interested only in getting his point across as clearly as possible, not in pure symmetry. His response to the situation is articulated in the paired phrases oner men gar ouk opheilei katakalyptesthai ten kephaln, "a man ought not to 'cover' his head" (v 7), and opheilei hgyn exousian echein epi tes kephals, "a woman ought to have authority over her head" (v 10). This latter injunction is not precisely in the form that one would expect, and it is not at all surprising that Paul should make his meaning unambiguous in 13 by asking prepon estin gynaika akatakalypton t theproseuchesthai, "is it proper for a woman to pray to God 'uncovered? ** The references to men have to be taken seriously and cannot be dismissed as "a background in contrast with which woman's situation and obligation can be more sharply described" (p. 380). Not only does the wording of the pericope militate against this view, but given Paul's awareness of the propensity of the Corinthians to misunderstand him (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-13; 2 Cor 1:13-14), it is highly unlikely that he would have complicated things by inventing a nonexistent male custom. What, then, was amiss with the men? Paul makes two statements that have to be taken into account. Delobel translates the first as "a man who prays or prophesies with something on his head shames his literal/metaphorical head" (v 4). The second is: "Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him?" (v 14). Is Paul here describing two different situations, or is he merely using different words to describe the same situation? Delobel cannot make up his
3 This verse underlines the danger of pressing symmetry too hard. Are we to assume in the light of 5 that the absence of any mention of "prophesying** means that a woman could undertake this activity in the condition that Paul criticizes? Obviously not.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:2-16 267 mind, and this significantly weakens his case. In one place he adopts a unified explanation that implies the second option: "According to Paul, men have 'naturally' short hair, and they should behave in that line as far as their head is concerned. That may mean that they should keep the head uncovered like nature leaves the head uncovered" (p. 373). Comment on this "explanation" would be superfluous. Elsewhere, however, the natural law explanation is limited to 14, and a justification for 4 is found in 7: "Man as eikn of God shall not hide his head" (p. 374). Obviously, this inconsistency is rooted in Delobel's translation of kata kephals echn ( 4) as "having something on the head." The oft-cited phrase of Plutarch, ebadize kata kephals echn to himation ("he was walking with his toga covering his head"),4 shows this rendering to be perfectly possible. Possibility, however, is not enough. A translation must make sense in the social context of the period. Greeks and Romans differed in their attitude toward attire at prayer, as may be inferred from Plutarch's question, "Why is it that when they [the Romans] worship the gods, they cover their heads?"5 The question would be meaningless unless the Greeks prayed bareheaded, and this is confirmed by Apuleius' description of the Isis ceremony at Cenchreae: "The women had their hair anointed and their heads covered with light linen, but the men had their crowns shaven and shining bright."6 The Roman custom of covering the head at prayer is well-documented in an unpublished lecture entitled "Cultural Background to 1 Corinthians 11:4," given by Richard Oster at the SNTS Meeting in Atlanta in August 1986. It is impossible to be sure which practice was followed at Corinth. Though on Greek soil, the city was a Roman colony whose official language at the time of Paul was Latin and whose government structure was modeled on that of Rome.7 It may be that some upper-class members of the community (cf. 1 Cor 1:26) adopted the Roman custom, while others followed the Greek tradition. What is certain is that Paul would have been more at home with the Romans, who covered their heads at prayer, than with the Greeks, who did not, because the legislation of the Mishna embodies a tradition going back to Exod 28:4,37-38 and Ezek 44:18: "The high priest ministers in eight pieces of raiment, and a common priest in fourin tunic, drawers, turban,
Sayings of Romans 200F; the edition used is Plutarch's Moralia (LCL; 16 vols.; ed. F. Babbitt; London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1931) 3. 191. 5 The Roman Questions 266C; Plutarch's Moralia, 4. 21. 6 Metamorphoses 11. 10; the edition used is Apuleius, The Golden Ass. Being the Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius (LCL; tr. W. Adlington; rev. S. Gaselle; London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1915) 555. 7 John H. Kent, Corinth VIII/3. The Inscriptions 1926-1950 (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1966) 18-23.

268 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY | 50, 1988 and girdle" (m. Yoma 7:5). In consequence, no Jew of the period would have entertained the notion that to pray with covered head was to obscure the image of God, or that it was in any way shameful. This is why "having something on the head" is an unacceptable translation of kata kephals echn and why we are forced to adopt the only grammatical alternative, "having something hanging down from the head." If this cannot mean a headdress, it can only refer to long hair, which is precisely what is mentioned in 14. The place of this latter verse in the discussion is now clear. Paul is introducing a second argument to reinforce that elaborated apropos of 4. He is concerned with one problemlong hair on mennot with two. Why should Paul consider long hair on men to be shameful or degrad ing? Delobel says that it was simply because it flew in the face of contem porary convention. This it certainly did, because what Plutarch says ("In Greece . . . it is usual for men to have their hair cut short and for women to 8 let it grow") was also true for Romans, as innumerable busts prove, and for 9 Jews. But this is hardly sufficient to justify Paul's vehemence, which Delobel rightly feels he has to explain: "Precisely a deliberate change of traditional patterns of behaviourboth social and privatebecause one is a Christian, would deviate from salvation" (p. 389). Such identification of social customs with salvation is, to put it mildly, totally without foundation. Would Paul have attached greater significance to pagan customs than to the Jewish cus toms which he had abandoned and which for him had also a religious value? Why does Delobel reject my well-documented hypothesis that long hair on men was associated with homosexuality? Simply because I invoke "con temporary non-biblical texts" whose "interpretation and relevance for the Corinthian situation are highly hypothetical" (p. 372). I leave it to others to determine whether I have forced the interpretation of the texts I cite,10 but it is certainly legitimate to draw attention to contemporary mores to explain Paul's visceral reaction to long hair on men. Does Delobel imagine that the early Christian communities were totally divorced from their environment? The texts I cited show that it would have been natural for any contemporary of Paul to associate long hair with homosexuality; and when this is coupled with the Apostle's repudiation of homosexuality (Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9), his reaction in 1 Cor 11:2-16 becomes intelligible. Now we come to the woman. For Delobel she was praying bareheaded, and Paul's point is that she should wear a veil. He explicitly rests his case on "the usual meaning of akatakalyptos 'uncovered' in v. 5 and of katakalyp8 9 10

The Roman Questions 267B. Murphy-O'Connor, "Sex and Logic,** 486. Ibid., 485-87.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:2-16 269 testhai 'to cover, hide' in w. 6.7.13" (p. 376). On such meanings there is no dispute. The real issue is: How did Paul conceive the woman's head-covering? Delobel has failed to notice that the text gives an explicit and unambiguous answer, h kom anti peribolaiou dedotai aut ("long hair has been given to her as a wrapper," 15). As I showed, Paul's use of peribolaion is perfectly justified in terms of what is known of feminine hairstyles of the period; long hair was braided and wrapped around the head.11 It is obvious that a "wrapper" can be considered a "covering," and it is this simple fact that explains Paul's use of katakalypt and akatakalypt elsewhere in the pericope.12 His use of these verbs may have confused the Corinthians at first, but he eventually made his meaning unambiguous (v 15).The only "covering" he had in mind was feminine hair well-dressed in the conventional manner. A woman who failed to give such attention to her hair would be "uncovered." The problem at Corinth, therefore, is that some men were unmasculine in a highly specific sense, whereas some women were unfeminine in a most generic sense. In both cases the perception was based on hair, and not on the presence or absence of headdress. Paul's argument, in consequence, must address the issue of the differentiation of the sexes, and not, as Delobel claims, "an attempt of (some) Corinthian women to overcome their traditional secondary place by behaving like men" (p. 387). II. Paul's Response According to Delobel, the force of Paul's response is to confirm the idea of "women's proper secondary place, which does not necessarily involve her inferiority" (p. 378). By this he apparently means that woman is of equal worth (p. 381 n. 45), even though her place in the order of the cosmos is below that of man (p. 378). The confusion evident in this explanation mirrors that of the arguments used to support it. The key is Delobel's analysis of 3. To his credit, he flatly refuses to give kephal there the sense of "chief and unambiguously opts for the meaning "source" or "origin" (pp. 377-78).13 He also brings forward strong arguments
Ibid., 489. It is thus unnecessary to give these verbs a sense derived from the Hebrew prc (**to unbind"), as I attempted to do in "Sex and Logic," 488. Delobel's criticism of this point ("Explanation," 374-75) is valid. 13 In addition to the partial tests run by R. Scroggs ("Paul and the Eschatological Woman: Revisited," JAAR 42 [1974] 534 n. 8) and myself on LXX usage ("Sex and Logic," 492), Delobel draws upon a complete analysis in a 1985 unpublished Leuven S.T.L. dissertation by C. Vander Stichele, 1 Kor 11,3: een sleutel tot de interpretatie van 1 Kor 11,2-16?, 145-62.
12 11

270 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY | 50, 1988 against the hypothesis of some commentators that we are in the presence of an eikn-series rooted in Hellenistic-Jewish cosmological speculation (p. 377). Yet he persists in talking of 3 as a series, whose purpose is to indicate priority, thus: God-Christ-man-woman. He makes much of the fact that woman "is not a kephal herself: she is not prior to anybody else in the series" (p. 379). He conveniently ignores ho oner dia tes gynaikos ("man is born of woman," 12), which is surely relevant if kephal means "source" or "origin." More seriously, 3 is not a series. When Paul wanted to construct a series, he was perfectly capable of doing so (e.g., 1 Cor 12:28). The lack of logic (p. 377) or disorder (p. 379) that Delobel discerns is a false problem. Paul has structured 3 carefully. The central member, kephal de gynaikos ho anr ("the source of the woman was the man," 3b), is manifestly drawn from Gen 2:21-22, as gyn ex andros ("woman came from man," 8) dem onstrates. It is bracketed by two statements that mention Christ and that are so formulated that the name of Christ forms, as it were, an inner bracket: anr-Christos ("believer-Christ," 3a)14 and Christos-theos ("Christ-God," 3c). Such care betrays intention, and Delobel has given me no reason to change my view that the structure of 3 was intended by Paul to hint that a vision of the man-woman relationship based on the first creation had been modified in the new creation inaugurated by Christ. This hint is elaborated in w 7-12. Delobel takes w 7-9 at face value as proving "the priority of man and the secondary place of woman" (p. 381). Naturally, then, he experiences a certain embarrassment when he comes to deal with w 11-12, which he interprets as meaning that men and women need each other for procreation (p. 382). The purpose of this, he says, is "to prove the basic equality of man and woman" (p. 384). He resolves the contradiction by claiming that only w 7-10 are directly relevant to the problem in the liturgical assemblies, whereas w 11-12 are designed to inhibit "certain neg ative conclusions concerning the place of women" in other areas of the life of the Corinthian church and to bring Paul's teaching here into line with the egalitarianism of 1 Corinthians 7 and Gal 3:28 (pp. 384-85).
Delobel disputes ("Explanation,** 378 n. 38) my rendering of anr in this phrase by "humanity** and my restriction of its meaning to "believer** on the basis of Paul's general theological stance. He argues that anr would then have two different senses in the same verse and that, in consequence, it must mean "man*' in the sense of male. Firstly, it is far from unusual for Paul to use the same term with different meanings in the same verse (e.g., 2 Cor 2:16). Secondly, Delobel contradicts himself by asserting that 3a portrays "Christ's role in creation in line with 1 Cor 8:6b** (p. 378), because this would seem to imply that Christ participated only in the creation of the male sex!

1 CORINTHIANS 11:2-16 271 The fundamental objection to this exegesis is that, when understood in this way, w 7-12 have no relevance to the problem confronting Paul, who is constrained to argue that the difference between the sexes must be manifested in the way men and women dress their hair. Nonetheless, Delobel has made an extremely important contribution in suggesting that w 11-12 were intended to be a corrective to w 7-10, which I shall exploit in what follows. Both hyparchn ("being," 7) and dia touto ("therefore," 10) indicate that in w 7-10 we have to do with a premise and conclusions. The premise is the factual state described in Gen 2:18-23, and the meaning that Paul saw in it must be derived from the conclusions he draws. The first conclusion, "a man should not 'cover' his head" (v 7a) has been dealt with above; his hairdo should not be feminine. The second conclusion (v 10) is notoriously difficult, but on this point Delobel has made a significant breakthrough by asking, "Should one not pay more attention to the expression as a whole: exousian echein epi with genitive, which normally means 'have authority over,' 'exer cise control over'?" (p. 387). Unfortunately, he persists in interpreting this as wearing a veil on the basis of his exegesis of 5, against which I have argued above. It fits equally well, if not better, with my interpretation of 5 in the light of 15. A woman who did not do 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).15 Delobel contributes nothing new on the difficult last phrase, "because of the angels." On this point, however, A. Padgett makes a significant contri bution by reviving J. Lightfoot's hypothesis16 that the reference here is to human messengers.17 This is well-attested in the NT (Matt 11:10; Luke 7:24; 9:52; Jas 2:25) and in Josephus,18 and it suits the context here.19 In line with
15 This translation of 10 is also supported by A. Padgett, "Paul on Women in the Church. The Contradictions of Coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16," JSNT20 (1984) 71-72. He interprets it, however, as Paul's authorization of women to wear any hairstyle they wish. In my view, this possible meaning is excluded by the context. 16 J. Lightfoot, Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae (4 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University, 1859) 4. 238. 17 Padgett, "Paul on Women," 81. 18 Ufe 17 89; the edition used is Josephus. The Ufe. Against Apion (LCL; 9 vols.; ed. . Thackeray; London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1926) 1. 35. See also Ant. 14.15.11 451; Josephus. Jewish Antiquities, Books XI-XIV(LCL; 9 vols.; ed. R. Marcus; London: Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1943) 7. 683. 19 One cannot exclude this hypothesis, as J. A. Fitzmyer attempts to do, by simply stating that aggelos "is never used thus by Paul" ("A Feature of Qumran Angelology and the Angels of 1 Cor 11:10,** Paul and Qumran [ed. J. Murphy-O'Connor; London: Chapman, 1968] 38). Meaning is determined by context and, if the assumption that the reference is to heavenly beings has yielded no satisfactory interpretation (and in this I include my own suggestion in "Sex and Logic," 496-97), then the only possible alternative meaning has a strong claim. Moreover, in the

272 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY | 50, 1988 1 Cor 10:32 and 14:23, Paul would be concerned that practices at Corinth should not shock envoys from other churches. That a new twist should suddenly appear in an argument should surprise no one who knows Paul's style, and here it can be seen as an anticipation of 16. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that the problems that Paul is dealing with in 1 Co rinthians 11 were not raised in the Corinthian letter (1 Cor 7:1), but were reported to him by Chloe's people, who were scandalized by what they saw going on in the Corinthian liturgical assemblies. If the conclusion in 7a and 10 manifest Paul's opinion that men and women should have different hairdos, all that can be inferred concerning his understanding of the premise based on Gen 2:18-23 is that it presents men 20 and woman as different. Only in this perspective does it become possible to explain why he presents the woman as "the glory of man" (v 7c), and man alone, against all Jewish tradition, as "the image and glory of God" (v 7b). Jews, of course, had used the same passage of Genesis to demonstrate 21 the inferiority and subordination of women, and so Paul had to ensure that no one at Corinth could draw more from his premise than he intended. The reality of the danger, highlighted by many ancient and modern interpreta tions, is well exemplified in Delobel's treatment of w 7-10. It is to avoid such misunderstanding that Paul inserts the parenthetical qualification ( w 11-12) introduced by pln ("nevertheless"). At first sight, Delobel's "literal" translation of 11, "there is no woman without man and no man without woman in the Lord" (p. 382), would ap pear to support his contention that w 11-12 are concerned exclusively with procreation (p. 382). It is not surprising that "in the Lord" should then prove an embarrassing problem for Delobel, because all human beings, and not just Christians, are subject to the normal laws of biology. The best he can do is to say that Paul is here speaking of the order of creation from a Christian perspective, which is a nonanswer based on a false interpretation of 1 Cor 8:6.22 The decisive objection, however, is that Delobel interprets h gyn ek tou andros ("the woman from the man," 12) as meaning that male seed is necessary for the procreation of a female (p. 382). It has been obvious to all commentators that the phrase must be given the same meaning as in w 3 and 8; it is again a reference to Gen 2:21-22. It is repeated here only to
one instance of Paul's use of aggelos where the meaning might be ambiguous, he introduces a qualification, "if a messenger from heaven should evangelize you" (Gal 1:8). At the very least this indicates that Paul was fully aware that aggelos could mean a human messenger. 20 Here I correct what I said in "Sex and Logic," 496. Verses 7b-9 are not in themselves an argument, but the basis of an argument. 21 Murphy-O'Connor, "Sex and Logic," 496-97. 22 See my "1 Cor 8:6Cosmology or Soteriology?," RB 85 (1978) 253-67.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:2-16 273 be contradicted by ho anr dia tes gynaikos ("the man [comes into being] through the agency of the woman," 12). The use of the articles heightens the force of the argument, which lies in the concluding words ta depanta ek tou theou ("all things [are] from God," 12). The same God who created woman from the side of man is also responsible for the fact that man comes from a woman's womb. The traditional Jewish argument, based on the chron ological priority of man in the creation narrative, is countered by the simple fact that the chronological priority of woman in the birth of a male is just as much part of God's plan for the order of his creation. This elementary ad hominem argument is used to sustain (gar, "for") the principle enunciated in 11. The phrase "in the Lord," which Delobel cor rectly interprets as a reference to Christ (p. 383), receives the full value that its emphatic position at the end of the sentence demands only if it is under 23 stood as implying a contrast between Christians and others. It is a question of something that, for Paul, was true only within the church. This excludes not only Delobel's translation but also others that imply mere complemen tarity (e.g., RSV NAB). In this perspective, only J. Krzinger's rendering of chris yields an acceptable meaning: "As Christians, woman is not otherwise than man, and man is not otherwise than woman" (v ll). 2 4 Only in the church are men and women completely equal, a view that is entirely consistent with Gal 3:28, which also contains an allusion to Genesis.25 The function of the causal particle (gar) introducing 12 is to be explained not in the order of efficient causality but in the order of knowledge. Priority in childbirth does not make woman the equal of man. Rather, it is only Chris tians who perceive childbirth as manifesting the divine intention regarding the equality of the man-woman relationship.26 Verses 11-12, in other words, make explicit the Christian modification of the traditional interpretation of Genesis 2, which is hinted at in the structure of 3. While this article has often been critical of Delobel's treatment of 1 Cor 11:2-16, it should be obvious that without the dialogue that he initiated
23 R. Bultmann (Theology of the New Testament [2 vols.; London: SCM, 1965] 1. 329) has correctly pointed out that "in the Lord" in contexts such as this merely fills "the place of an adjective or adverb which the linguistic process had not yet developed: 'Christian' or 'as a Christian,' 'in a Christian manner.'" 24 J. Krzinger, "Frau und Mann nach 1 Kor 11,1 If.," BZ 22 (1978) 270-75. 25 The shift in the formulation of the last member of Gal 3:28, ouk eni arsen kai thly, ("there cannot be male and female") is intended to evoke Gen 1:27 in the LXX. 26 The rabbinical text often cited as a parallel to 11, "neither man without woman, nor woman without man" (Gen. Rab. 8:9; 22:2), confirms the originality of Paul's interpretation. Both R. Akiba (d. 135) and R. Simlai (ca. 250) invoke the fact that two persons are necessary for procreation in order to justify the plurals "in our image, after our likeness" (Gen 1:26); see Str-B 3. 440. Paul is the first to point out the theological significance of the fact that man is born of woman.

274 THE CATHOLIC BIBLICAL QUARTERLY | 50, 1988 it would not have been possible for me to improve my understanding of the coherent logic of this passage. My exegesis, I hope, has been given a more solid foundation; the line of Paul's thought has certainly been made simpler and clearer, as the following outline shows: Programmatic statement Description and condemnation of Corinthian practices First argument against the Corinthians based on the difference be tween man and woman in Gen 2:21-22 w 11-12 Parenthesis excluding a misinterpretation of Gen 2:21-22 w 13-15 Second argument against the Corinthians based on natural law Third argument against the Corinthians based on the practice of 16 other churches 3 w 4-6 w 7-10 Given the current climate, the ramifications of this debate about exegetical details go beyond the point at issue. Delobel's interpretation of Paul will certainly give aid and support to those opposed to the ordination of women, which is the touchstone of full equality in the church. Hence, it is perhaps necessary to stress that, as I understand 1 Cor 11:2-16, it cannot be used as an argument to maintain the ecclesiastical subordination of women; that would be an abuse of the literal sense.

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