A Complementarian Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: The Meaning of Kephalē part 9

Preston Sprinkle

Introduction 

This post is part 9 of my ongoing series on the meaning of kephalē (“head”) in Paul’s letters, where I’m trying to understand Paul’s two references to men/husbands being the “head” of their wives/women (Eph 5:23 and 1 Cor 11:3). The previous 8 posts looked at the meaning of kephalē outside the New Testament and then looked in particular at Ephesians 5:21-33, where Paul refers to husbands being the “head” of their wives (5:23). If you don’t want to read all 8 posts—they are quite long!—you could just read the previous post, where I summarize the previous 7 and offer an interpretation of Ephesians 5. 

Or, if you’d rather just listen to me explain these posts, I recorded a two-part podcast series on the topic, which you can find over at my Theology in the Raw podcast (the episodes released on March 18 and 25).  

Over the last month or so, I’ve been digging deep into the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which I believe is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in all of Paul, if not the New Testament. (There’s no need to point out all of the difficulties; just read the passage and you’ll see for yourself.) And yet, as Francis Watson points out, 1 Cor 11:2-16 is “the single most significant discussion of the male/female relation in the Pauline corpus.”1Watson, “The Authority,” 523.

Tough passages elicit scholarly attention, and, of course, the scholarly literature on 1 Cor 11 is immense. Whole books and dissertations have been written on it, and every book on women in ministry (and there are a lot) devotes a least a lengthy chapter on this passage. I’m keeping a running list of the dozens of peer reviewed journal articles on this passage;I’ve waded through about 20 of these so far and have a few more dozen to go.2Some of the most helpful and compelling scholarly treatments that I’ve read include Bruce Winter’s scintillating treatments of 1 Cor 11 in his After Paul Left Corinth (121-141) and Roman Wives, Roman Widows (77-96). What I love most about Winter’s treatment is that he’s not focused on complementarian or egalitarian debates. He’s simply interested in opening up the Greco-Roman world through extensive literary and archaeological research. I’ve also really appreciated the articles (among many others) by Mark Finney (“Honour, Head-coverings and Headship”), Preston T. Massey (who’s written several articles on the passage, but I’ve found his “Long Hair as a Glory and as a Covering” particularly helpful), Francis Watson (“The Authority of the Voice”), David W.J. Gill (“The Importance of Roman Portraiture”), and, of course, Morna Hooker’s seminal article (“Authority on Her Head”). If I had a gun to my head, I’d probably say that thus far in my opinion, Judith Gundry-Volf’s essay, “Gender and Creation” offers the most compelling interpretation of the passage. Both Keener (Paul, Women & Wives) and Cynthia Long Westfall (Paul and Gender) offer challenging and thorough interpretations. And of all the commentaries, I’ve found both Fee and especially Thiselton to be most helpful. Of course, if Lucy Peppiatt’s view is correct (which I’ll unpack in a later post), then the case is closed and all the thorny exegetical issues dissolve. 

As I’ve often said, I like to start blogging when I’m about 70-80% confident in a particular interpretation of any given passage. Once again, this post and however many will follow it, on 1 Cor 11 are more exploratory with strong hunches than take it to the bank interpretations I’m willing to defend at all costs. Honestly, in the case of 1 Cor 11, I might be like 50-60% confident that I understand what’s going on. I don’t know if I’ll ever be more than 80% sure. In fact, if you ever come across someone who’s super confident that they know how to solve all the exegetical quandaries in this passage, I’d recommend running the other way, since they probably know way less about the passage than they think they do. 

There are many ways we could begin our discussion of this passage, but what I want to do is start by summarizing as clearly as I can what I’ve found to be a fairly standard complementarian reading of this passage. I’m well aware that this interpretation might sound offensive to some. But again, I’m much more interested in understanding Paul on his own terms, not bringing my modern, western sensibilities to the text to make sure Paul doesn’t offend me. My primary question is not whether I like or dislike the complementarian reading; rather, I want to know if it has the most exegetical merit in terms of understanding what Paul actually said. For what it’s worth, I think there’s much exegetical merit in the reading I’ll summarize below. 

Of all the complementarian exegetes, I’ve found Tom Schreiner to be one of the best. He’s both thorough and clear, and I also find him to be an incredibly honest and humble scholar, which means a lot to me. My reading below will largely follow his interpretation in his article: “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16” (in Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, pp. 124-139) 

A Complementarian Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

All complementarians interpret kephalē in 11:3 as conveying some sense of authority, and this meaning of “head” is the interpretive key for the rest of the passage: 

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:3)

Complementarians read the text in what they would see is a rather straightforward manner. In the church, men are in authority over women, Christ is in authority over men, and God is in authority over Christ.3There’s a debate about whether Paul is talking about all men and women in general or husbands and wives in particular. Schreiner assumes that Paul’s talking about men and women in general throughout his essay, but other complementarians argue that the passage is about husbands and wives in particular. Even if some of the reference to “women” could mean “wives,” at least some references cannot be limited to “wives.” For instance, 11:11-12 cannot mean that “wives” give birth to husbands; it has to mean that women give birth to men. However, as we’ll see in a later post, it was common for married women to cover their head (or wear a veil), while unmarried women typically did not. Paul could therefore be talking about wives in particular when he’s addressing head coverings/veils (e.g. vv. 5-6, 10).  The last claim—God being in authority over Christ—has elicited charges of heresy, since this would imply ontological subordination (i.e. making Christ a sort of lesser God than the Father).4There is much literature on this debate. Kevin Giles is probably the most prolific writer who believes that the it’s heresy to say that the Father is in authority over the Son and to root male authority over women in this view of the Trinity (see his The Trinity & Subordination). For a recent overview of the debate and critical response to Giles, see Steve Wellum, “Does Complementarianism Depend on ERAS?” which you can find HERE. However, as Tom Schreiner points out: “The point is not that the Son is essentially inferior to the Father. Rather, the Son willingly submits Himself to the Father’s authority. The difference between the members of the Trinity is a functional one, not an essential one” (p. 128). Schreiner points to other passages like 1 Cor 15:28, which show that Paul speaks freely of Christ being subordinate to the Father: “the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28; cf. Phil. 2:5-11). (Most complementarian scholars do not argue for the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father; rather, the Son submitted to the Father in the incarnation.) 

“Head,” then, conveys authority. And this is the interpretive key for understanding what Paul means by “head” throughout the rest of the passage. (kephalē occurs 6x in the rest of the passage: 11:4 [2x], 11:5 [2x], 11:7, 11:10.) While most (if not all) of Paul’s later uses of kephalē refer to a literal head, its symbolic significance is informed by the use of kephalē in 11:3. Specifically, when the head is covered, this symbolizes that the person is under the authority of another. Since women are under the authority of men (or their husbands?), they should have their heads covered while praying or prophesying in a public gathering (11:5-6).5Some scholars like Jerome Murphy O’Connor and, most prolifically, Phil Payne argue that Paul is talking about hair length or style, not head coverings or veils. I’ll deal with this interpretation in a future post. By far the dominant view among scholars is that 1 Cor 11 has to do with head coverings/veils. Since men are under the authority of Christ, they should not cover their heads while praying or prophesying (11:4), for they are made in “the image and glory of God” (11:7). 

Paul’s curious statement that “man…is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (11:7) should not be taken to mean that women aren’t also created in God’s image. Paul is certainly aware of Genesis 1:27, which says men and women are both in God’s image.6See also Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10-11; cf. Gen 5:1-2. The point of verse 7 corresponds to what Paul already said in verse 3, that women and men bear a unique relationship to each other, which is reflected in the Son’s unique relationship to the Father. 

Paul explains his point rather clearly in 11:8-9, where he says: 

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

Paul here alludes to the creation account in Genesis 2, where God saw that: “It is not good for the man to be alone” and so he makes “a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18). And so God creates a woman from the man (Gen 2:21) and for the man. Paul’s very language in 11:8-9 (“from man,” ex andros) is almost identical to Gen 2:23 (“from the man,” ek tou andros). Paul enlists the creation account, then, to prove that woman was created for man; that is, to be his helper. Tom Schreiner writes: 

“If woman was created for man’s sake, i.e., to help him in the tasks God gave him, then it follows that woman should honor man. The thrust of 11:7b-9 is that women should wear a head covering because she is man’s glory, i.e., she was created to honor him” (p. 133). 

 In 11:10, Paul then repeats the point he made in 11:7

Therefore the woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:10)

The point about the angels is difficult to determine, but it’s not crucial for understanding Paul’s argument. The first part of the verse is rather clear: Paul is giving another reason why women should cover their heads—head coverings are a “symbol of authority.” That is, the head covering symbolizes that the woman is under male authority when she’s praying or prophesying in church (cf. 11:4-5). Since the man is under the authority of Christ, he should not cover his head while praying or prophesying. 

There is a problem with this interpretation of 11:10, however, which complementarians recognize: the word “symbol” is not in the text. 1 Cor 11:10 literally reads: “On account of this the woman ought to have authority over/on the head” (dia touto opheilei hē gunē exousian echein epi tēs kephalēs). Many scholars therefore argue that this verse means that women have the authority (in terms of the right or freedom) over their own heads,7See Paul’s earlier use of exousia (“authority”) earlier in the letter (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18). E.g. 1 Cor 7:37 says “the man…has authority over his own will” and uses a very similar phrase as 11:10 (exousian de exei peri tou idiou thelmatos). Mark Finney argues that “to have authority” simply “refers to a right which can be relinquished” (Mark Finney, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship,” 52 n. 84). Exousia, then, is used in 11:10 in a similar way that Paul uses it earlier in 1 Corinthians, that is “in a wider sense, of freedom of choice together with an element of power” (Finney, “Honour,” 52). which yields an almost opposite meaning than the one offered by complementarians.8See Morna Hooker, “Authority on Her Head,” 413-14; Craig Keener, Paul, Women, & Wives, 38; Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36. Tom Schreiner, however, gives 7 reasons why he does not find this interpretation to be persuasive (pp. 134-36).9(1) The parallel between vv. 7 and 10. (2) The word “ought” = obligation, not that a woman has the freedom to wear a head covering or freedom to prophecy. (3) Hooker’s interpretation doesn’t fit with vv. 3-9 where Paul wants women to cover their heads to show that they are submissive to men. (4) “Symbol of (male) authority makes most sense of vv. 11-12. If Paul had just affirmed a woman’s own authority, then why the need for the corrective in vv. 11-12? (5) Exousia can have a symbolic understanding; citing BDAG and Diodorus of Sicily (1.47.5), who talks about “three kingdoms on its head” (a stone statue) and “kingdoms” means crowns. (6) He expands on the Diodorus reference. (7) Even if authority has an active sense in 11:10, it refers to man’s authority, as the previous argument suggests. While the word “symbol” is not in the text, it is implied since head coverings were indeed “symbols” of authority in Paul’s world. 

Since Paul words in 11:3-10 could be taken too far by his audience, Paul counterbalances his argument in 11:11-12 to stave off the notion that women are inferior to men: 

However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. (11:11-12)

Here, Paul stresses the interdependence and mutuality between men and women in the church. Even though the first woman came from man, and even though women are under the authority of men in the church, men need women just as much as women need men. In a sense, every man owes their existence to women, since every man has been born of a woman. “Verses 11-12,” writes Tom Schreiner, “function as a qualification so that the Corinthians will not misunderstand Paul’s argument. Woman and man stand in interdependence in the Lord” (p. 136). 

The final section in this passage (11:13-16) alludes again to creation in order to highlight sexual distinctions between men and women. Here, Paul appeals hair distinctions between men (short hair) and women (long hair) as an illustration that men and women are different by design. Again, Schreiner writes: 

Paul’s point, then, is that how men and women wear their hair is a significant indication of whether they are abiding by the created order…The function of verses 13-15 in the argument is to show that the wearing of a head covering by a woman is in accord with the God-given sense that women and men are different (p. 137). 

Throughout 11:3-16, Paul weaves together a dual concern: maintaining sex distinctions and maintaining proper structures of authority. Men and women are different (as illustrated by hair length), and God has ordained that women are under male authority in the church. 

As far as the lasting relevance of head coverings, most complementarians say that while head coverings carried a particular meaning in the first-century culture (i.e. symbolizing authority), they do not carry the same meaning today in many cultures. (If they do, then yes, women should cover their heads in those cultures.) So, while the principle of male authority over women is universally binding on all cultures, the specific symbols that carry this notion might differ from culture to culture. 

Exegetical Strengths of a Complementarian Reading 

Regardless of whether I like or agree with the theological conclusions of this reading, I do think it has several exegetical strengths. 

First, I do think kephalē most often conveys some sense of authority, so it could very well mean that here. (I know Phil Payne might just blow a fuse if he hears me say this again. But all I can do is point people to my observations in my previous posts HEREHEREHERE, and HERE and let the reader judge the validity of my claim.) While a man’s authority over a woman—or in particular, a husband’s authority over his wife—might offend modern sensibilities, this was simply taken for granted in Paul’s world. Certainly Paul sometimes challenges his cultural norms on several issues, but in other areas he seems to reflect them. In any case, in terms of understanding kephalē to convey authority, I think the complementarian positions rests on good exegetical ground. 

Second, I think the complementarian reading makes good sense of how Paul’s leading statement 11:3 relates to the rest of the passage. I find it very hard to follow Francis Watson, for instance, who believes that 11:3 “plays virtually no part in the argument of the passage”10“The Authority,” 535. and that “Paul’s metaphorical play with the term kephalē contributes virtually nothing to his argument.”11“The Authority,” 529. Several other scholars who make some great points about 11:4-16 fail, to my mind, to tie it all together with 11:3. 1 Cor 11:3 seems to be a theologically significant statement for Paul, and it certainly appears to function as theleading key for understanding the meaning of covered and uncovered “heads” throughout the rest of the passage. (Or, perhaps first understanding covered and uncovered heads will help us better understand 11:3?) Complementarians appear to follow what seems to be a rather natural flow of thought. 

Third, Tom Schreiner’s understanding of the logical flow of Paul’s argument makes good grammatical sense. I’m well aware of the grammatical and syntactical issues in the passage. And as I followed Tom’s step by step progression through the passage, I found his interpretations to be very responsible and honest. While I’m not convinced he understands 11:10 correctly (the “symbol of authority” on the woman’s head), I’m not totally convinced of anyone’s interpretation at this point. In any case, over all I found Tom to be interpreting the syntax, grammar, and logical flow of Paul’s words very well. 

Fourth, Tom’s view that 11:11-12 adds a sort of corrective to the potential of taking 11:3-10 too far makes good sense to me. There are, of course, other ways to take this passage. (For instance, what is the significance of Paul’s emphatic “but…in the Lord” [v. 11]? Could he be contrasting hierarchies that are based on particular readings of Genesis with the new eschatological place that women have in the Christian community in the Lord?) But Tom’s view does not seem forced to me. 

Feedback

I do have many other more critical questions and observations about this reading, which we’ll explore over the next few posts. For now, I would love to hear your thoughts on this reading of 1 Corinthians. Have I represented the complementarian perspective fairly? Do you find it to be exegetically persuasive? Why or why not? Again, I’m not asking whether you like or agree with the conclusion; rather, I’m only interested in hearing if you find my summary of the complementarian reading of 1 Cor 11 to be exegetically compelling or not. 

Please drop a comment below! 


  • 1
    Watson, “The Authority,” 523.
  • 2
    Some of the most helpful and compelling scholarly treatments that I’ve read include Bruce Winter’s scintillating treatments of 1 Cor 11 in his After Paul Left Corinth (121-141) and Roman Wives, Roman Widows (77-96). What I love most about Winter’s treatment is that he’s not focused on complementarian or egalitarian debates. He’s simply interested in opening up the Greco-Roman world through extensive literary and archaeological research. I’ve also really appreciated the articles (among many others) by Mark Finney (“Honour, Head-coverings and Headship”), Preston T. Massey (who’s written several articles on the passage, but I’ve found his “Long Hair as a Glory and as a Covering” particularly helpful), Francis Watson (“The Authority of the Voice”), David W.J. Gill (“The Importance of Roman Portraiture”), and, of course, Morna Hooker’s seminal article (“Authority on Her Head”). If I had a gun to my head, I’d probably say that thus far in my opinion, Judith Gundry-Volf’s essay, “Gender and Creation” offers the most compelling interpretation of the passage. Both Keener (Paul, Women & Wives) and Cynthia Long Westfall (Paul and Gender) offer challenging and thorough interpretations. And of all the commentaries, I’ve found both Fee and especially Thiselton to be most helpful. Of course, if Lucy Peppiatt’s view is correct (which I’ll unpack in a later post), then the case is closed and all the thorny exegetical issues dissolve.
  • 3
    There’s a debate about whether Paul is talking about all men and women in general or husbands and wives in particular. Schreiner assumes that Paul’s talking about men and women in general throughout his essay, but other complementarians argue that the passage is about husbands and wives in particular. Even if some of the reference to “women” could mean “wives,” at least some references cannot be limited to “wives.” For instance, 11:11-12 cannot mean that “wives” give birth to husbands; it has to mean that women give birth to men. However, as we’ll see in a later post, it was common for married women to cover their head (or wear a veil), while unmarried women typically did not. Paul could therefore be talking about wives in particular when he’s addressing head coverings/veils (e.g. vv. 5-6, 10). 
  • 4
    There is much literature on this debate. Kevin Giles is probably the most prolific writer who believes that the it’s heresy to say that the Father is in authority over the Son and to root male authority over women in this view of the Trinity (see his The Trinity & Subordination). For a recent overview of the debate and critical response to Giles, see Steve Wellum, “Does Complementarianism Depend on ERAS?” which you can find HERE.
  • 5
    Some scholars like Jerome Murphy O’Connor and, most prolifically, Phil Payne argue that Paul is talking about hair length or style, not head coverings or veils. I’ll deal with this interpretation in a future post. By far the dominant view among scholars is that 1 Cor 11 has to do with head coverings/veils.
  • 6
    See also Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Col 3:10-11; cf. Gen 5:1-2.
  • 7
    See Paul’s earlier use of exousia (“authority”) earlier in the letter (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12, 18). E.g. 1 Cor 7:37 says “the man…has authority over his own will” and uses a very similar phrase as 11:10 (exousian de exei peri tou idiou thelmatos). Mark Finney argues that “to have authority” simply “refers to a right which can be relinquished” (Mark Finney, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship,” 52 n. 84). Exousia, then, is used in 11:10 in a similar way that Paul uses it earlier in 1 Corinthians, that is “in a wider sense, of freedom of choice together with an element of power” (Finney, “Honour,” 52).
  • 8
    See Morna Hooker, “Authority on Her Head,” 413-14; Craig Keener, Paul, Women, & Wives, 38; Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35-36.
  • 9
    (1) The parallel between vv. 7 and 10. (2) The word “ought” = obligation, not that a woman has the freedom to wear a head covering or freedom to prophecy. (3) Hooker’s interpretation doesn’t fit with vv. 3-9 where Paul wants women to cover their heads to show that they are submissive to men. (4) “Symbol of (male) authority makes most sense of vv. 11-12. If Paul had just affirmed a woman’s own authority, then why the need for the corrective in vv. 11-12? (5) Exousia can have a symbolic understanding; citing BDAG and Diodorus of Sicily (1.47.5), who talks about “three kingdoms on its head” (a stone statue) and “kingdoms” means crowns. (6) He expands on the Diodorus reference. (7) Even if authority has an active sense in 11:10, it refers to man’s authority, as the previous argument suggests.
  • 10
    “The Authority,” 535.
  • 11
    “The Authority,” 529.
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18 comments on “A Complementarian Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: The Meaning of Kephalē part 9

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  1. Jamie Johnston on

    Thank you so much Preston for all of your work so far in this series! I’m looking forward particularly to your thoughts on this very difficult passage of scripture. I’m very much convinced by your previous work on Ephesians, so look forward to your thorough exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve read before of “head” meaning “prominent” or “foremost” (rather than source) in this passage, and the man and woman in v3 to mean Adam and Eve, though the slight problem with this interpretation is that he doesn’t immediately reference Adam and Eve in the following verse. That’s taken from Marg Mowczgo’s blog. I’ve also read an interesting article recently on CBE International here: https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/authority-to-cover-her-head-the-liberating-message-of-1-corinthians/. You most definitely will have seen them, but thought I might as well signpost them if you hadn’t.

    All my life I have held a soft complementation view, and so I do see the logic of the complementarian perspective on this passage, but now I am not sure the Bible is as hard and fast on this issue than I thought it was. So take what I write with a pinch of salt. Blessings from the UK!

    Reply
    • preston on

      Hey Jamie, thanks for reading and commenting! I do think “head” as prominent works better here than Eph 5, but I’m still undecided. Honestly, I think all three meanings of “head” are possible here; much more than Eph.

      Marg is also super thoughtful and thorough. I’ll check out her stuff on this passage. Right now, I’m still working through all of the peer reviewed scholarly articles and books on the passage. It’s such a complicated passage for so many reasons, so I really want to be slow to formulate my view of kephale here.

      Reply
  2. Jamie Johnston on

    Just finished reading your footnotes, Preston. Is there anywhere you can point me to Judith Gundry-Volf’s work? I can’t find a free version online. Thanks!

    Reply
    • preston on

      Yeah, it’s not free online, from what I can tell. Probably because it’s a chapter in a book. Here’s the full bibliography: Judith M. Gundry-Volf, “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method” in Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburtstag, Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann and Otfried Hofius (eds.) (Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151–171.

      Also, Marg examines the article here: https://margmowczko.com/judith-gundry-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

      Reply
      • Jamie Johnston on

        Thanks, I did find the article, but wasn’t sure how to delete my previous comment! Looking forward to the next installment.

        Reply
  3. Emilio Alvarez on

    I have been following your podcast very closely on this issue.
    The claim that the Son, in His humanity, has less authority than the Father is not so clear from the Scriptures. In Matthew 28:18 which is the beginning of what we call “The Great Commission”. Jesus begins in this way: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
    Jesus willingly surrendered to the Father’s will in the incarnation but did He not have the same authority as the Father?
    The mystery of the Trinity is not one that is easily understood.

    In November 2016, at the ETS panel on the Trinity, Wayne Grudem attempted to distinguish between God’s divine power and His divine authority. He explained: “authority (as we understand it here) is a property of relationship, not an attribute of one’s being (an ontological attribute) (omnipotence is an attribute).”

    1. Wayne Grudem, “Why a Denial of the Son’s Eternal Submission Threatens both the Trinity and the Bible” paper presented at the 66th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, San Antonio, Texas, November 15-17, 2016).

    This is important to highlight because the orthodox creeds and confessions say the persons of the Trinity are equal in power. To say that the Son is equal to the Father in power but that the Father is supreme in authority, proponents of ESS have had to make a distinction between power and authority.

    Grudem believes that authority is not a divine attribute; it’s “just there,” and it belongs to the Father:

    And in this most basic of all relationships, authority is not based on gifts or ability. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in all attributes and perfections, but authority is just there. Authority belongs to the Father, not because He is wiser or a more skillful leader, but just because He is Father. Authority and submission is the fundamental difference between the persons of the Trinity.

    Does that distinction work? Can this be reconciled with the orthodox Nicene doctrine of the Trinity? Can the Father and the Son be equal in power as the creeds and confessions teach but have different levels of authority? Are power and authority different things?

    Not according to the Bible or to orthodox Christian writers over the centuries since the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. The consistent orthodox teaching of the church is to attribute the same power and authority to the Son as the Father. As Matthew Henry writes in his commentary on John 5:19, “He had said that he worked with his Father, by the same authority and power, and hereby he made himself equal with God.”

    In the same ETS panel in November, Kevin Giles noted that the words “power” and “authority” are usually synonyms in New Testament usage.4 He’s right. Looking through the various passages that speak of power and authority in the Bible, the terms are used interchangeably along with “might” and “rule.” No distinction is made regarding power and authority.

    We do the same in English. We use power and authority to mean the same thing. Merriam-Webster defines authority as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.”5 Power is defined as “possession of control, authority, or influence over others.”6 So authority is power, power is authority. It’s senseless to make a distinction between power and authority as if they were completely separate ideas.

    In the Bible, God’s power and His authority are declared by two divine titles: “Almighty” and “Lord.” The word almighty is translated from the Greek, pantokrator which Strong’s defines as “he who holds sway over all things; the ruler of all; almighty: God.”7 Almighty defines God’s absolute and universal sovereignty and His omnipotence, or all-powerful rule. It’s used as a title both for Jesus, the Son of God (Rev. 1:8), and for God the Father (Rev. 16:7).

    The divine title, Lord, is used both in the Old and New Testaments to refer to God. In Hebrew, the word for Lord is adonai. In Greek, it’s kurios which Strong’s defines as “supreme in authority, i.e. (as noun) controller; by implication, Master (as a respectful title) — God, Lord, master, Sir.”8 Scripture uses kurios both for Jesus, the Son of God (Rev. 19:6), and for God the Father (Rev. 11:15).

    Jesus, the Son of God, is both the Almighty and Lord. These divine titles declare His power and authority. The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between God’s authority and His power. To confess that God is one in power or omnipotence is to confess that God is one in sovereignty and authority. There is no orthodox way to allow for a difference in authority within the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit must be equal in authority, or they aren’t equally God.

    This is why it’s particularly disturbing to read Grudem’s comment on what it means to sit at the right hand of God. He says the right hand is “a position of authority second only to the LORD, the king and ruler of the entire universe.”9 But when we’re talking about Christ, He isn’t just sitting next to the LORD. He is the LORD. As God, He is the king and ruler of the universe. He is equal in power and authority with the Father.

    Despite claims to the contrary, there are many examples of equating God’s power and authority from the early church. We find several of these in Rev. Daniel Waterland’s writings on the Athanasian Creed addressing Arian-like errors in the 1700s. He quotes from several of the early church fathers to specifically answers the claim that the Father is supreme in authority. Of Tertullian (160 AD – 220 AD), Waterland states:

    Tertullian’s notion of one common supreme authority is exactly the same as mine: that the three Persons are of one state, one substance, one divinity, one supreme power and authority, as being one God.

    Waterland also appeals to Alexander of Alexandria (250 AD – 326 AD) to deny his opponent’s claim that the Father has supreme authority:

    Alexander no where says, with you, that the Father alone has “supreme authority, sovereignty, and dominion:” he was too wise and too good a man to divide the Son from the Father.

    He also quotes Gregory Nyssen (335 AD – 394 AD) who wrote that the Son must have the same power and authority as the Father:

    For while he is in the Father, he is together with his whole power, in the Father: and as he hath the Father in himself, he must contain the whole power and authority of the Father. For, he has the entire Father in himself, and not a part only: wherefore having the Father entire, he must have his authority also entire.

    When Waterland’s Arian-esque opponent claimed not to be able to find any church fathers who said the Son had equal authority with the Father, Waterland replies, “It is either a poor quibble upon the word authority, or else betrays your great want of reading.”Seems the arguments haven’t changed much over the years.

    Another of the church fathers, John of Damascus (676 AD – 749 AD) wrote:

    We believe, then, in One God, … one essence, one divinity, one power, one will, one energy, one beginning, one authority, one dominion, one sovereignty.

    All of these sources demonstrate that the orthodox Christian faith has never taught that there’s a distinction between God’s divine power and His divine authority. They’re one and the same. This equality of authority is crucial because without it God the Son and God the Spirit are diminished in their divinity. They are somehow less than God.

    Please read the above quoted article in its entirely.

    Reply
    • Emilio Alvarez on

      I say all of this because one of the applications of the Eternal Subordination of the Son doctrine is to explain the relationship between husband and wife. Since the relationship between God the Father and God the Son mirrors the relationship between husband and wife. Therefore, the Father must be greater in authority in order to support the complementarían reading of the passage.

      Reply
    • preston on

      I’m familiar with the debate but I think it’s a bit of a red herring, TBH. Most complementarians don’t hold to eternal subordination. And I haven’t been super impressed with Giles and others when they critique the complementarian view along these lines. From what I’ve read in the early creeds and early church fathers, the way Schreiner understands 1 Cor 11:3 would not at all been deemed heretical by the early church.

      Reply
      • Emilio Alvarez on

        I don’t think it’s a red herring. Because it matters to the understanding of Kephale in the passage whether God, the Son, is equal in authority to God, the Father. The early creeds and early church Fathers deemed them equal in authority and in power.
        If they are equal in authority, that is very compelling and crucial towards the understanding of Kephale in this passage.
        Also. Even if most complementarians don’t believe in the doctrine of eternal subordination, Grudem does. And he has vastly influenced complimentarians including Schreiner.
        I am reading the NT passages in the original Greek, trying to better understand this all. I studied NT
        Greek in my undergraduate studies at Stanford University. I have been a complimentarian ever since I became a Christian and was taught that the egalitarian position was based on a poor exegesis of Scripture.
        Because of your research, I am now discovering how untrue that is-and you have led me to do my own research as well.
        I also don’t understand from Genesis how we can say that man has authority over the woman. A simple reading of Genesis conveys only equality.
        What are your thoughts on Genesis?

        Reply
  4. Philip B. Payne on

    Preston: “Of all the complementarian exegetes, I’ve found Tom Schreiner to be one of the best. He’s both thorough and clear, and I also find him to be an incredibly honest and humble scholar, which means a lot to me. My reading below will largely follow his interpretation in his article: “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16” (in Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, pp. 124-139)”

    Philip B. Payne: Schreiner’s review of my Man and Woman, One in Christ misrepresents it eighty-one times, ten times attributing to it the opposite of what it states! In twenty-two additional instances, Schreiner attributes to it a position it nowhere states. At least regarding man-woman relations and regarding my book, Schreiner has not been “an incredibly honest and humble scholar.” My full critique of Schreiner’s review identifies forty-one of its dubious assertions at https://www.pbpayne.com/a-critique-of-thomas-r-schreiners-review-of-man-and-woman-one-in-christ/

    Preston: “All complementarians interpret kephalē in 11:3 as conveying some sense of authority, and this meaning of “head” is the interpretive key for the rest of the passage.”

    Philip B. Payne: If “head” meaning “authority” “is the interpretive key for the rest of the passage,” why is the only reference in this passage to “authority” Paul’s statement that “woman ought to have authority over her own head”?

    Preston: “In the church, men are in authority over women, Christ is in authority over men, and God is in authority over Christ.”

    Philip B. Payne: Paul’s arguments are carefully constructed. If, as Preston asserts, “this meaning of ‘head’ (conveying ‘authority’) is the interpretive key for the rest of the passage,” why didn’t Paul list these in order of authority? He orders them, instead, in chronological order by source: Christ is the head-source of every man (not just Christian men as Preston’s “in the church” seems to imply), “the man” (Adam) is the head-source of woman (as 11:8–9 and 12 reaffirm, which fits if “source,” and specifically “respect for one’s source” is Paul’s interpretive key), and “the God” (namely the Godhead) is the head-source of Christ (in the incarnation). If, as Preston asserts, “this meaning of “head” (conveying “authority’) is the interpretive key for the rest of the passage,” surely Paul would have written them in order of authority.

    Preston n. 3 “as we’ll see in a later post, it was common for married women to cover their head (or wear a veil), while unmarried women typically did not.”

    Philip B. Payne: During the time the eminent classicists Professor E. A. Judge from the University of Macquarie was giving lectures at the University of Cambridge in 1991, I asked how prevalent it was for Hellenistic women to wear a garment covering their heads. He kindly showed me the huge collection of plaster cast copies of Greek and Roman portrait statuary in the Cambridge University Department of Classics. The vast majority of them are depicted without a veil or head-covering garment. In searching Hellenistic literature as well, I have found very little evidence that it was customary for women or married women to cover their heads or wear a veil, and what evidence I found seems ambiguous. For detailed analysis of the evidence, see my Man and Woman, One in Christ, pages 150–161.

    Preston: “1 Cor 15:28 … show[s] that Paul speaks freely of Christ being subordinate to the Father.”

    Philip B. Payne: “The Father” does not occur in 1 Cor 15:28. 1 Cor 15:28 states, “that the God may be all in all” (“the God” with an article usually refers to the Godhead inclusive of Christ in the latter half of 1 Corinthians, e.g. “all this is from the God” in 1 Cor 11:12 can’t exclude Christ because 1 Cor 8:6 affirms “the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things”). I find Emilio Alvarez’s comments most helpful on patristic affirmation of the Father and the Son being equal in power and authority. Kevin Giles’s Jesus and the Father is his most important work on this topic.

    Preston: ““Head,” then, conveys authority.”

    Philip B. Payne. In fact, the only mention of “authority” in this passage is Paul’s assertion that “woman ought to have authority over her own head” in 11:10. Furthermore, as I have documented in detail in earlier posts, church fathers overwhelmingly affirm that “head” in 1 Cor 11:3 means “source.” Key church fathers argue against the idea that “head” here means “authority.” It is remarkable that Preston’s post makes no reference to how anyone in the early church explained “head” in 11:3. Paul emphasizes in verse 11, “However, the important thing is that woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman in the Lord.” This directly contradicts the “authority” interpretation of “head” in verse 3.

    Preston: “’Head,’ then, conveys authority. And this is the interpretive key for understanding what Paul means by “head” throughout the rest of the passage. (kephalē occurs 6x in the rest of the passage: 11:4 [2x], 11:5 [2x], 11:7, 11:10.) While most (if not all) of Paul’s later uses of kephalē refer to a literal head, its symbolic significance is informed by the use of kephalē in 11:3. Specifically, when the head is covered, this symbolizes that the person is under the authority of another.… women are under the authority of men (or their husbands?)”

    Philip B. Payne: But if the “significance” of Paul’s use of kephalē “is informed by the use of kephalē in 11:3” then 11:10’s “a woman ought to have authority over her head” would mean that “a woman ought to have authority over her authority, man (or her husband).” Surely, Preston’s application of “head” meaning “authority” in this case contradicts his thesis that the use of kephalē in 11:3 to mean “authority” informs kephalē’s symbolic significance in its occurrences in the following seven verses. Nor does it make sense to interpret “head” in 11:4a, “having down from the head,” 11:5a, “uncovered head”, and 11:7, “man ought not cover his head,” to symbolize anything other than physical heads.

    Preston: “Since women are under the authority of men (or their husbands?), they should have their heads covered while praying or prophesying in a public gathering (11:5-6).”

    Philip B. Payne. Preston’s addition of “(or their husbands?)” appears to be an attempt to distance himself from the view that women are under the authority of men. But in note 3, Preston correctly acknowledges that “at least some references cannot be limited to “wives.” For instance, 11:11-12 cannot mean that ‘wives’ give birth to husbands; it has to mean that women give birth to men.” It is also unnatural to interpret “Christ is the head of every man” as limited to husbands. Since anēr in 11:3a means “man,” readers would assume that it also means “man” in 11:3b. To indicate the meaning “husband,” Paul could have added “her man” to specify “her husband,” but he did not.

    Preston: “However, as we’ll see in a later post, it was common for married women to cover their head (or wear a veil), while unmarried women typically did not. Paul could therefore be talking about wives in particular when he’s addressing head coverings/veils (e.g. vv. 5-6, 10).”

    Philip B. Payne: If Hellenistic portraiture, busts, and vase paintings reflect at all actual practice, veiling or draping a garment over the head was not common practice for married women in Corinth. Furthermore, it is not natural to interpret “every woman” in verse 5, or for that matter, “every man” in verse 4 or any of the three instances of “man” and “woman” in verse 7 to be restricted to married women or men.

    Preston n. 5: “By far the dominant view among scholars is that 1 Cor 11 has to do with head coverings/veils.”

    Philip B. Payne: Torsten Jantsch and Francis Watson argue that a growing consensus regards this passage as not about head-covering garments, but hairstyles:
    Torsten Jantsch, “Die Frau soll Kontrolle über ihren Kopf ausüben (1Kor 11,10). Zum historischen, kulturellen und religiösen Hintergrund von 1Kor 11,2–16,” in
    Frauen, Männer, Engel: Perspektiven zu 1Kor 11,2–16 (ed. Torsten Jantsch; Biblisch-Theologische Studien 152; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2015), 97–144.
    Francis Watson, “The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor 11.2–16,” NTS 46 (2000): 534 n. 20, “a broad consensus in recent scholarship.”
    This consensus includes:
    Wolfgang Schrage, Der erste Brief an Die Korinther: 1 Kor 6,12-11,16 (EKKNT 7/2; Zürich: Benziger, 1995), 491–94;
    Andreas Lindemann, Der Erste Korintherbrief (HNT 9/1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 240; Marlis Gielen, “Beten und Prophezeien mit unverhülltem Kopf? Die Kontroverse zwischen Paulus und der korinthischen Gemeinde um die Wahrung der Geschlechtsrollensymbolik in 1Kor 11,2–16,” ZNW 90 (1999): 220–49, at 231–33;
    Martina Böhm, “1 Kor 11,2–16. – Beobachtungen zur paulinischen Schriftrezeption und Schriftargumentation im 1. Korintherbrief,” ZNW 97 (2006): 207–34.
    For extensive bibliographies of scholars arguing hair is the covering, see:
    A. Philip Brown II, “Chrysostom & Epiphanius: Long Hair Prohibited as Covering in 1 Cor 11:4, 7,” BBR 23.3 (2013): 365–76;
    Jason David BeDuhn, “‘Because of the Angels’: Unveiling Paul’s Anthropology in 1 Corinthians 11,” JBL 118 (1999): 296 n. 7.
    A key reason for this growing consensus that this passage is not about garment head-coverings but rather about hair-styles is that there are 17 statements in this passage that are incompatible with the view that this is about garment head-coverings symbolizing subordination. In the following translation with annotations in square brackets, * follows 17 statements that make sense if it’s about hairstyles symbolizing sexual availability but not if it’s about a church custom that women must be veiled to symbolize subordination. Other text is square brackets explains translation choices or gives a literal translation.

    1 Corinthians 11:2–16
    2 I praise you for remembering me regularly in everything and for holding to the traditions as I delivered them to you.* [how could Paul praise them for holding fast to the traditions as he delivered them if they were flouting a custom he taught in all the churches? He must be referring in the following text to something novel they were doing, not actions against the traditions Paul delivered.] 3 But I want you to understand that the source [“head” is not an appropriate translation because “head” in English conveys a meaning not standard in Greek, namely “leader” or “person in authority” and does not fit the context. “Source,” however,” was an established meaning of this word] of every man is Christ, and the source [head] of woman is Adam [lit. “the man,” verses 8 and 12 identify Adam as the source of woman], and the source [head] of Christ is the Godhead [as in v. 12, “God” has an article conveying “the Godhead”]. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with effeminate hair hanging down from his head disgraces himself [his head].* [It was not disgraceful for a man to wear a garment over his head. The “capite velato” was a sign of dignity and reverence.] 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her hair hanging down loose [lit. head uncovered, the sign of a suspected adulteress] disgraces herself [her head],* [Prayer with uncovered head was common Hellenistic custom, not disgraceful. Head-coverings were optional. Most women depicted at that time had no garment covering their heads, so it must not have been disgraceful for “every woman”] for she is one and the same as the shorn woman.* [an accused adulteress had her hair let down. It was shaved if she was convicted. This explains their equivalence. There was no comparable equivalence between not wearing a garment head-covering and being shaved.] 6 For if a woman does not do her hair up [cover her head], let her have her hair cut off;* [This makes sense if she was putting on herself the symbol of an accused adulteress, namely letting her hair down. There is no comparable equivalence between a woman not wearing a garment over her head and cutting her hair off] but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, let her do her hair up [cover her head].* [Hair let down loose was disgraceful. It was not disgraceful for a woman to wear no head-covering garment.] 7 For a man ought not to display effeminate hair [cover his head] since he is the image and glory of God.* [and so should live in a way that upholds God’s design in creation and brings God glory. Displaying effeminate hair as an advertisement for homosexual hookups is contrary to the way God created man for sexual relations with a woman. Wearing a head covering, however, is not contrary to the way God’s created man.] Rather, it is the woman [not another man] who is [created by God to be] the glory of man.* [This fits perfectly the context only if Paul is opposing effeminate hair as an advertisement for homosexual liaisons.] 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man [to be his sexual partner]; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man [to be his sexual partner]. 10 On account of this [Since woman is from and for man], the woman ought to have [and exercise] authority over her head* [This asserts the woman’s authority, not the man’s authority. She ought to show due respect to man (and married women to their husbands) by not letting her hair hang down loose since this symbolized “undisciplined sexuality” [C. R. Hallpike, “Social Hair,” Man NS 4 (1969): 256–64], and hence infidelity, but doing her hair up modestly], on account of the angels [who observe worship and report to God].
    11 However, the important thing is that woman is not separate from man,* [This denies a division between woman and man in the Lord, and highlights this as Paul’s crucial point. This contradicts the idea that this passage is asserting man’s authority over woman] nor is man separate from woman in the Lord* [This is incompatible with a hierarchy of man over woman. In the Lord, namely in the experience of community in Christ, there is no gender barrier; woman and man have equal standing. That is why both can lead worship in prayer and prophecy]. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.* [This counterbalances any basis man might have as the source of woman for special standing or privilege.] But all this [man and woman] is from the Godhead [“the God” has an article, 1 Cor 8:6 implies that Christ is included]. 13 Judge within yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her hair let down [head uncovered]?* [Paul expects their judgment to agree with his. In Hellenistic culture it would be shameful for a woman to pray to God with her hair let down, but it would not be shameful for a woman to pray without a garment over her head, since praying bare-headed was customary in Hellenistic worship. The immediately following argument from nature regarding long hair shows that the covering Paul is referring to is long hair.] 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him,* [This fits perfectly if Paul has been arguing against men wearing long effeminate hairstyles, but it is totally unrelated to his topic if he is talking about garment coverings] 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?* [It would undermine Paul’s point to say this if his point were that women should cover their hair with a garment.] This is because long hair is given her as a covering.* [This, the only reference here to a garment covering, specifically identifies long hair functioning as that covering. It would undermine Paul’s point if he intended that a woman must cover her hair with a garment.] 16 If anyone wants to be contentious [by displaying hairstyles that symbolize sexual freedom], we, the churches of God, have no such custom* [of men displaying effeminate hair or women letting their hair down. This contradicts the idea that Paul is appealing to a universal custom of the churches requiring women to cover their heads with a garment. Some translations, such as the RSV and NASB, assuming this was a universal church custom, translate “no such,” which asserts the churches have no such custom, as “no other,” which asserts the exact opposite of the Greek, that all churches follow this custom!]

    Preston: “when the head is covered, this symbolizes that the person is under the authority of another.”

    Philip B. Payne: This is far too simplistic and ignores the multiplicity of symbolisms of head coverings. When the emperor covered his head (capite velato), it did not imply that he was under the authority of another but symbolized his leadership in worship. Slaves were prohibited from wearing head-covering garments because of the status it implied. Since slaves made up a significant proportion of Christian worshipers, if Paul were telling all women who led worship in prayer or prophecy to cover their heads, he would have been telling slave believers to break the law!

    Preston: “Since men are under the authority of Christ, they should not cover their heads while praying or prophesying (11:4)”

    Philip B. Payne: 11:4 mentions nothing about men being “under the authority of Christ.” If Preston were correct that “when the head is covered, this symbolizes that the person is under the authority of another,” the natural implication is that this would apply to men as well as women. In that case, men, too, should cover their heads with a garment to symbolize that they are under the authority of Christ. 11:4 does not state that men “should not cover their heads while praying or prophesying.” It states, “Every man who prayers or prophesies having down from the head brings disgrace on his head.” 11:14 explains, “Doesn’t nature itself teach you that long hair dishonors a man?”

    Preston: “for they are made in “the image and glory of God” (11:7).”

    Philip B. Payne: The Greek text does not state that men are “made in the image and glory of God” but that man “is the image and glory of God.” This introduces the contrasting: “It is the woman [not another man] who is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; and neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man (1 Cor. 11:7–9). Paul has told us that:
    ■ Men should not pray or prophesy with long hair hanging down.
    ■ Women should not pray or prophesy with long hair hanging down.
    ■ Women should cover their heads by putting their hair up while praying or prophesying.
    There is, then, one missing case: “Is it okay for a man with long hair to put his hair up, thereby covering his head?” Paul discusses that case in these verses and states, “A man should not cover his head with long hair like women do.” The situation here is that a man has long hair and is putting it up, covering his head, like a woman would do with her long hair, thereby presenting himself as a mate for men. Regarding both male and female worship leaders, Paul prohibits behavior that in Corinth solicits illicit sexual liaisons. Such promiscuity conflicts with Christian sexual morality. All of Paul’s argumentation in 11:7–9 supports this. None of Paul’s argumentation is based on man having authority over women. Quite to the contrary, Paul next states, “On account of this, a woman ought to have authority over her own head.”

    Preston: “woman was created for man; that is, to be his helper”

    Philip B. Payne: Nothing in the context mentions woman being made to be man’s “helper.” It is all about woman made to be man’s sexual counterpart. This is why Paul uses vocabulary linked to morality:
    6 “for she is one and the same with the shorn woman (namely a woman convicted of adultery).”
    7 what man “ought not do”
    8 “woman is the glory of man”
    9 “woman [not another man] was made for man.”
    14 “long hair dishonors a man” (see the extensive literature in Paul’s day ridiculing effeminate hair styles, some specifically identifying men attracting homosexual hookups in RAC, “effeminatus”)
    15 “a woman’s long hair is her glory if she wears it as a covering” (long hair hanging loose symbolized undisciplined sexuality)
    In the Genesis account as well, man does not need an assistant to remove thorns or thistles from the garden (see 3:18) or mend his clothes (see 2:25). He needs a friend and companion, one with whom mankind can fill the earth. God creates woman so the man will not be alone. Nothing in the creation narrative subordinates woman to man. The creation of woman is actually its climax.
    The woman fulfills man’s need for a partner corresponding to him (Gen. 2:18, 20). Many Bible versions describe the woman as “a helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew text, however, describes the woman as an ezer kenegdo, “a saving strength corresponding to him.” The word ezer is often translated “helper,” which implies a subordinate or servant. Never in the Bible, however, does the word ezer imply “helper” as in “servant.” Rather, it implies that the ezer is able to do something for another person which that person is not capable of doing. All nineteen other occurrences of ezer refer to a savior or deliverer. Sixteen refer to God as his people’s rescuer, strength, or savior.

    Preston: “Therefore the woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:10) … That is, the head covering symbolizes that the woman is under male authority when she’s praying or prophesying in church … head coverings were indeed “symbols” of authority in Paul’s world.”

    Philip B. Payne: No manuscript supports the addition of “a symbol of.” There is no lexical support, nor apparently any instance elsewhere, where “authority” means “symbol of authority,” and there is meager, if any, evidence that Hellenistic culture regarded a veil as a symbol of authority. It is probably an anachronism from Arabian culture to regard a veil as a symbol of subjection to authority. All 103 occurrences of ἐξουσία (“authority”) in the NT refer to authority held in someone’s own hand, whether inherent, assigned, or achieved. Likewise, all nine references to ἐξουσία in 1 Corinthians mean “to have power of one’s own” or “to have under one’s own power,” whether inherent, assigned, or achieved.

    Preston: “Paul stresses the interdependence … between men and women in the church”

    Philip B. Payne: The meaning “independent” for χωρίς, however, is not listed regarding persons in either LSJ or BDAG. Thiselton notes that “is not independent of” “adds a nuance which goes beyond the adverb χωρίς” (First Corinthians, 841). This translation presupposes that after “without” something like “dependence upon” should be supplied by the reader, which would then be conceptually equivalent to “independent.” Normally, however, when Paul intends a particular meaning that might not be understood by his readers, he uses words that express it, so that his meaning is not left up to the readers’ imagination. In light of verse 12, the translation “independent” points to the biological interdependence of the sexes for procreation. Yet nothing in the new standing of believers in Christ has changed the biological interdependence of the sexes for procreation, so this translation does not do justice to the distinctively Christian sense called for by “in the Lord.”
    The translation, “However, woman is not independent of man,” implies that something in verse 10 might lead women to feel justified in asserting their independence. On subordinationist interpretations of ἐξουσία (“authority”) in verse 10 as the husband’s authority, there is no such thing in the preceding context. On these interpretations, one would expect Paul to begin, “However, man is not independent of woman,” since they regard everything preceding verse 11 as affirming man’s authority over woman. The translation, “However, woman is not independent of man …,” suggests that by itself verse 10 entails the independence of woman, which is only possible if verse 10 is an affirmation of the authority of woman. The context of 11:10, however, indicates that it is focusing not on the authority of woman per se, but rather on her obligation to exercise her authority. Thus, both lexically and contextually, the translation “independent” is problematic. For an extensive discussion of studies that concludes that Paul is here teaching that “woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman in the Lord,” see my Man and Woman, One in Christ, chapter 11, pages 189–198.
    Verse 11 expresses the theological basis for Paul’s judgment in 11:5 that women as well as men may pray and prophesy in the public ministry of the church. Note the association of prophecy and ministry in 1 Cor 12:5 and Eph 4:11–12. Verse 11 affirms the oneness of man and woman in Christ in a distinctively Christian sense paralleling Gal 3:28. The new creation theme undergirds both verses.

    Preston: “the principle of male authority over women is universally binding on all cultures”

    Philip B. Payne: Nothing in this passage implies “the principle of male authority over women” or that this “is universally binding on all cultures.” It is all read into the passage based on the view that “head” means “authority.” This is contrary to virtually all secular Greek dictionaries. It is contrary to virtually all patristic commentary on these verses. Patristic writes overwhelmingly interpret “head” in 11:3 to mean “source,” as I documented earlier. It is contrary to the remarkable avoidance by LXX translators of “head” in passages where the Hebrew “head” meant “leader.” The idea that Paul is teaching “the principle of male authority over women” contradicts what Paul, using plēn, highlights as his central concern: “woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman in the Lord.”

    Preston: “First, I do think kephalē most often conveys some sense of authority, so it could very well mean that here.”

    Philip B. Payne: Note Preston’s shift from “conveys” to “mean.” It is simply not true that kephalē most often “means” authority. Almost all of Preston’s examples are literal instances of “head” which because the person compared to a head has a position of authority, Preston then writes that kephalē conveys some sense of authority. But that is simply not adequate grounds for saying that kephalē “means” authority in any of those instances. New metaphorical meanings of words can be established only by identifying clear instances where kephalē “means” authority. Paul’s readers could only be expected to interpret the three instances of kephalē in 1 Cor 11:3 to mean “authority” if “authority” had been an established metaphorical meaning of kephalē in Paul’s day. I have not found any secular Greek lexicon that identifies kephalē as an established metaphor meaning “authority” up to Paul’s day. Since the 9th century, however, Greek lexicographers have commonly identified “source” as a meaning of kephalē. The standard classical Greek dictionary (Liddell and Scott) identified the meaning “chief” as Byzantine. The ninth edition of LSJ excludes Byzantine literature and lists no meaning related to authority. Dhimitdrakou ([9 vols.; Athens: n.p., 1933–1950], 5:3880) lists the meaning “leader” as medieval. If “kephalē most often conveys some sense of authority, why do the LXX translators so consistently avoid it in their translations of the 180 passages where in Hebrew “head” means “leader”? Only one of those 180 cases uses kephalē clearly as a metaphor for leader even though they almost always translate references to a physical head kephalē. The few remaining cases have eis kephalēn, which readers could understand to mean “as head” or “like a head.” And why do so many church fathers (which I have identified in previous comments) explain 1 Cor 11:3 to mean “source” and not “authority”?

    Preston: “1 Cor 11:3 seems to be a theologically significant statement for Paul, and it certainly appears to function as the leading key for understanding the meaning of covered and uncovered “heads” throughout the rest of the passage.”

    Philip B. Payne: I actually agree with this statement, but only if “head” is understood to mean “source,” just like church fathers so often explain it. Paul in v. 3 lays a foundation for respect for one’s source that should motivate men and women not to wear hairstyles that show disrespect to their source, whether man or Christ. Not only does 1 Cor 11:4–16 not develop any teaching that men have authority over women. It affirms woman’s authority over her head (11:10) and identifies as Paul point of central concern: “Nevertheless, woman is not separate from man, nor is man separate from woman in the Lord.

    Preston: “Tom Schreiner’s understanding of the logical flow of Paul’s argument makes good grammatical sense.”

    Philp B. Payne: In my translation of this passage above, I identified 17 statements that make sense if it’s about hairstyles symbolizing sexual availability, but not if it’s about a church custom that all women must be veiled to symbolize subordination. Not only does Schreiner’s interpretation not make sense of the passage, it makes it incoherent and self-contradictory. This is why the growing consensus I documented above rejects Schreiner’s interpretation of Paul’s argument.
    If this passage is all about garment coverings, why does Paul never use the word “veil” in this passage even though it uses it four times in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 3:13, 14, 15, 16)?
    And why does Paul write in 11:14–15, “Doesn’t nature itself teach you that long hair is a dishonor to a man, but long hair is the glory of a woman because long hair is given to her as a covering”? Not only does Paul wrap up his argument with something that on Schreiner’s view is unrelated, Paul here identifies long hair as what is dishonoring to a man (like what is “down from the head” is a “disgrace” for a man in 11:4) and identifies long hair what is the glory of a woman if she wears it as a covering. These statements identify hair as the head covering Paul is writing about. Indeed “covering” (peribolaiou) in verse 15 is the only word in this passage that refers to a garment covering, and here, it is the woman’s hair that is the covering or is given “instead of” (the usual meaning of anti) a covering.

    Preston: “Tom’s view [of 11:11–12] does not seem forced to me.”

    Philip B. Payne: According to BDAG (see πλήν, 826 [1.c]), the first word of 1 Cor 11:11, “However” (πλήν), “break[s] off a discussion and emphasiz[es] what is important.” Similarly, BDF §449 states that Paul uses πλήν “to conclude a discussion and emphasize what is essential.” Echoing this, A. T. Robertson Grammar, 1187 wrote, “Paul uses it at the end of an argument to single out the main point … [e.g.] 1 Corinthians 11:11. In every occurrence in Paul’s letters, πλήν points to the matter of his central concern, and in each case it indicates a change in perspective from what went before. Consequently, unlike Schrier’s interpretation, verses 11–12 should be regarded as identifying the heart of Paul’s concern. It introduces a new perspective, emphasizing something essential that is established in Christ: “neither is woman set apart from man, nor is man set apart from woman in the Lord.” This, Paul’s key point, contradicts Schreiner’s male authority interpretation.
    Furthermore, Schreiner’s interpretation ignores the contrast inherent in πλήν. Only a statement of woman’s authority in v. 10 leads naturally to v. 11’s, “Nevertheless woman is not separate from man …” Schreiner’s unjustified insertion of “[symbol of man’s] authority [over] woman” should have been followed by, “Nevertheless man is not separate from woman,” which a few late manuscripts actually do switch in order to make Paul’s logic conform to their male hierarchist views. This is also true even Schreiner’s unjustified insertion of “independent,” since according to his interpretation, it is man’s authority that is being qualified, not the woman’s authority.

    Preston: “I’m only interested in hearing if you find my summary of the complementarian reading of 1 Cor 11 to be exegetically compelling or not.

    Philip B. Payne: I do not find your summary of the complementarian reading of 1 Corinthians 11 to be exegetically compelling. Indeed, I find it to be contorted eisegesis rather than drawing the meaning out from the words of the text itself.

    Reply
    • preston on

      Thanks Phil. You do know that I was simply trying to summarize and accurately REPRESENT, not DEFEND, a complementarian reading of the passage, right?

      Reply
      • Philip B. Payne on

        I responded to the claims made in the post, fully aware that you were trying to accurately represent the complementation position. Statements like the following do not appear to be to be “simply” summarizing, but rather defending (with a few qualifications) Schreiner’s view.

        Preston: “I think there’s much exegetical merit in the reading I’ll summarize below.
        Of all the complementarian exegetes, I’ve found Tom Schreiner to be one of the best. He’s both thorough and clear, and I also find him to be an incredibly honest and humble scholar, which means a lot to me.
        I do think it [Schreiner’s complementarin reading] has several exegetical strengths. First, I do think kephalē most often conveys some sense of authority … Second, I think the complementarian reading makes good sense of how Paul’s leading statement 11:3 relates to the rest of the passage.
        Third, Tom Schreiner’s understanding of the logical flow of Paul’s argument makes good grammatical sense. … I found his interpretations to be very responsible and honest. While I’m not convinced he understands 11:10 correctly (the “symbol of authority” on the woman’s head), I’m not totally convinced of anyone’s interpretation at this point. In any case, over all I found Tom to be interpreting the syntax, grammar, and logical flow of Paul’s words very well. Fourth, Tom’s view that 11:11-12 adds a sort of corrective to the potential of taking 11:3-10 too far makes good sense to me.”

        Reply
  5. Andrew Bartlett on

    Thanks. Preston. I think you have given a reasonable summary of Tom Schreiner’s complementarian view.
    But what I find fascinating is that the four exegetical STRENGTHS which you identify are all, on closer examination, exegetical WEAKNESSES. To my mind, they show that the complementarian reading cannot be what Paul meant.
    I’ll deal with each in a separate comment. Apologies for some overlap with what Phil Payne has already said, but I’ll keep my comments relatively short.
    Preston writes: “First, I do think kephalē most often conveys some sense of authority, so it could very well mean that here.”
    I’m surprised by your qualifier “most often” but, leaving that aside, I agree that kephalē is capable of being used in Greek in the first century AD as a metaphor for authority. So, I agree it makes sense to ask whether it is used in that way in this passage.
    And when we do so, let’s remember that the vehicle of a metaphor can be used to communicate a different tenor in different contexts, including by the same writer. Whatever view we may take of Ephesians 5, we have no a priori reason for assuming that Paul’s metaphorical meaning of ‘head’ will be the same here in 1 Corinthians as in Ephesians. (For comparison, Paul uses a ‘temple’ metaphor with two different meanings even within 1 Corinthians itself, and then with a third meaning in Ephesians – see 1 Cor 3, 1 Cor 6 and Eph 2. The meanings are related but they are not the same).
    If Paul means ‘head’ as a metaphor for ‘authority over’, since he is a skillful communicator, we can expect him to provide clear clues to that effect.
    But he doesn’t give any clue that his metaphor indicates authority. Instead, from the start, Paul sends the reader off in a different direction.
    The three couplets in verse 3 are not in order of authority. On the complementarian view of the metaphor, the order should be God over Christ, Christ over man, man over woman.
    Instead, Paul lays out his three couplets in a chronological order which refers to sources (first, “the head of every man is Christ” = Genesis 1, compare 1 Corinthians 8:6; second, “the head of woman is the man” = Genesis 2; third, “the head of Christ is God” = 1 Corinthians 1, compare Galatians 4:4). [Note that in the second couplet, I have corrected the NIV translation you are using, which puts the definite article in an odd place.]
    Moving on in the passage, Paul picks up the Genesis 1 and 2 sources again in verses 7-9. There’s nothing in those verses about authority.
    The only explicit mention of authority in the whole passage is in v10. It is the authority that a woman ought to have over her head. On the plain words, that is not God’s authority or Christ’s authority or the man’s authority.
    If Tom Schreiner wants to show that his reading is correct, he needs to provide (1) a good explanation for the absence of the needed clues, (2) a good explanation of the chosen order of Paul’s couplets, (3) a good explanation of Paul’s references to ideas of source rather than authority in verses 7-9, and (4) a good explanation of why the only authority expressly mentioned by Paul in the whole passage is the authority that a woman ought to have.
    But I don’t see any of those explanations in Tom’s exposition.

    Reply
  6. Andrew Bartlett on

    Preston writes: “Second, I think the complementarian reading makes good sense of how Paul’s leading statement 11:3 relates to the rest of the passage.”
    But Tom Schreiner’s reading (in common with other complementarian readings) doesn’t tell us how Paul’s foundational statement in verse 3 relates to the rest of the passage.
    For example, consider the third couplet. On Tom’s view, this means “God is the authority over Christ”. Where in this passage does Paul speak of God’s authority over Christ? Nowhere. It is not an idea that is picked up by Paul and made use of anywhere in the passage.
    But what if Paul is using a metaphor about sources? If so, then we see that God as source of Christ is alluded to in vv11-12. In v11, “in the Lord” refers to how things now are because Christ has come from God as redeemer, and v12 indicates that God is the source of this.

    Reply
    • Emilio Alvarez on

      Thank you Philip! Your explanations are very thorough and sound.

      Thank you Preston, for tackling these challenging passages.
      These discussions are healthy and vital. I appreciate you.
      I also appreciate that you are simply trying to represent the complementarían reading but your representation reads much more like a defense. That is why I responded in the first place.

      Reply
  7. Andrew Bartlett on

    Preston writes: “Third, Tom Schreiner’s understanding of the logical flow of Paul’s argument makes good grammatical sense.”
    But it doesn’t.
    The basic structure of Paul’s argument in verses 5-10 is plain from the way it is put together. The structure is agreed by commentators of all persuasions.
    In this structure, verse 10 is a conclusion about the proper behavior of women. In Paul’s mind, the conclusion in verse 10 –
    • is consistent with what he says about women’s behavior in verses 5-6,
    • stands in contrast with what he says about the proper behavior for men in verse 7, and
    • follows from his reasoning in verses 7-9.
    On the male-authority interpretation:
    • Women’s behavior in verses 5-6 ought to uphold male authority by the wearing of a suitable head covering (or having long hair fastened up).
    • Men’s behavior in verse 7 ought to uphold male authority by not wearing a head covering (or not having long hair, which is fastened up).
    • Paul’s reasoning in verses 7-9 is about God instituting male authority over women in the ordering of creation.
    Given this structure, on the male-authority interpretation verse 10 must be about how a woman’s behavior shows that she is under a man’s authority by what she wears on her head (or by her hairstyle). If verse 10 is not about her being under male authority, then the male-authority interpretation is in conflict with the structure of Paul’s reasoning.
    Because of the structure of Paul’s argument, complementarians have no option but to reverse the meaning of v10, in order to make it fit.
    The exegetical acrobatics that are required to reverse the meaning of v10, so that it refers to a woman being under a man’s authority, are extreme. They involve (1) the unprecedented reversal of the meaning of the Greek words for ‘authority over’ and (2) the insertion of extra words, about a sign or symbol, which are not in Paul’s text. [Soberly, the word “extreme” is too soft, but I couldn’t think of a stronger one.]
    On “authority over”, see the same Greek words used in Luke 9:1; 10:19; Rev 2:26; 6:8; 11:6; 13:7: 14:18; 16:9; 20:6. There is no known instance anywhere in Greek literature, whether before Paul or after, where those words have the opposite meaning of being under authority. That is ample justification for the view expressed bluntly by the great scholar Sir William Ramsay in 1907. He wrote that the idea that the woman wears on her head the authority to which she is subject is “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”.
    Tom’s attempt to shore up his interpretation by referring to Rev 12:3 and Rev 19:11-12 works against him. In each of those cases, crowns worn on the head symbolize the wearer’s own authority (which in 1 Cor 11:10 would correspond to the woman’s own authority, IF she were wearing something on her head).
    Tom also attempts to shore up his view by referring to a statue described by Diodorus of Sicily. This likewise fails. The woman in the statue is said to have “three kingdoms” (possibly meaning “three crowns”) on her head. The propaganda-message of the statue is about how prominent she is, reminding viewers that she is the daughter of a king, the wife of a second king, and the mother of a third king. There is no message about her being under someone’s authority. This statue does not provide an apt analogy for the under-male-authority reading of verse 10.
    That reading cannot be right.

    Reply
  8. Andrew Bartlett on

    Preston writes: “Fourth, Tom’s view that 11:11-12 adds a sort of corrective to the potential of taking 11:3-10 too far makes good sense to me.”
    It is fine to understand 11:11-12 as a corrective to the potential of taking 11:3-10 too far. In principle, that makes excellent sense, because verse 11 starts with Greek ‘plen’ (‘nevertheless’).
    But that doesn’t work with Tom’s interpretation, because if we accept his interpretation of vv3-10, verse 11 is written the wrong way around.
    Staying with the NIV, if verses 3-10 are teaching that woman is under man’s authority and in that sense subordinate to him and dependent on him, it makes no sense to qualify that by saying “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man”. That’s just saying the same thing all over again. It’s a reinforcement instead of a qualification. Verse 11 would need to start with ‘Nevertheless, in the Lord MAN is not independent of woman’. [Note: there is a question over whether ‘independent’ is really the best translation for Greek ‘chōris’, but the problem is the same with any other translation choice. The problem is there in the Greek.]
    Scribes copying the Scriptures understood perfectly well that, in order to be in line with the male-authority interpretation, the clauses in verse 11 are the wrong way around. So some ‘corrected’ it, by changing the order of Paul’s clauses. That switch was made quite early on. It was already established before Jerome worked on the Latin Vulgate in the late fourth century. It found its way into many versions, including the King James Version. But current translations are based on earlier and better manuscripts, where the order of Paul’s clauses does not fit the male-authority interpretation.
    Tom originally wrote his piece in 1991. As far as I know, 33 years later we are still awaiting an explanation, from a complementarian scholar, of why Paul started verse 11 with ‘nevertheless’ but then supposedly wrote verse 11 the wrong way round.
    Conclusion: there are at least four major exegetical weaknesses in a complementarian interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. It simply doesn’t fit with Paul’s actual text, as written.

    Reply
  9. James Criswell on

    Preston,

    Thanks for this series. I just finished reading Fee’s Commentary on the text, and was particularly interested in the double chiastic structure of verses 7-12. Also, do you plan on interacting with Westfall’s interpretation? I’m intrigued by her interpretation but haven’t seen any scholars seriously interact with it.

    Reply

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