Lucy Peppiatt’s View of 1 Corinthians 11: The Meaning of Kephalē Part 10

Preston Sprinkle

I don’t know how many of you read endnotes, but in the last post, I buried a comment in note #2 that says: “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.” If you’re familiar with Lucy’s view, you know what I mean. You may not agree with her view, but it’s hard not to agree with the fact that if she’s right, then there’s no more need to iron out Paul’s seemingly convolutely and inconsistent logic in this passage. 

In her book Women and Worship at Corinth, Lucy argues that Paul is extensively interacting with a Corinthian viewpoint throughout 1 Cor 11:2-16. Most of the stuff that you can’t believe came from Paul (e.g. 11:7-9), didn’t actually come from Paul. It came from the Corinthians. And Paul seeks to correct their aberrant perspective in this passage. 

It’s well known that Paul often quotes from various “slogans” from the Corinthians in this letter, only to address (or refute) their viewpoint. A quick well-known example comes in 1 Cor 6:12, where the text reads (in the NIV):

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” But body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord. (1 Cor 6:12-13)

Paul here is interacting with certain slogans from the Corinthians—“I have the right to do anything” and “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” To be clear, the quotations marks and the phrase “you say” (2x) are added to text; they’re not in the original. Modern translators place these phrases in the mouth of the Corinthians (not Paul), and I don’t think they’re monkeying around with the text. Most scholars, in fact, agree that there are several places in 1 Corinthians where Paul first quotes certain sayings from the Corinthians and then refutes them (see 1 Cor 7:1; 8:1, 4; 10:23; 15:12).  

Lucy Peppiatt’s Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Enter Lucy Peppiatt. She applies this same methodology—Paul first quoting Corinthian slogans and then interacting with them—to 1 Cor 11:2-16.1Alan Padgett proposed a similar reading back in the early 80’s (see his “Paul on Women in the Church,” 69-86). Here is how she reconstructs the text: 

Paul: I praise you for remembering me in everting and for holding to the traditions/teachings, just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, but the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor 11:2-3)

Lucy suggests that “Paul has indeed taught them that Christ is the kephalē of man and that man is the kephalē of woman, and that they themselves also teach this, but that Paul has intended this to be understood in a particular way that the Corinthians have lost sight of.”2Women and Worship, 86. Paul then adds the phrase at the end “but the head of Christ is God” in order to “address a christological and anthropological heresy that had arisen in the Corinthian church.”3Ibid., 94. She suggests that Paul’s teaching that man is the head of woman “has been corrupted by the Corinthians, perhaps especially in a way that has allowed a group of spiritually gifted men to overidentify with the glorious Christ, leading them to become domineering and divisive, and to implement practices aimed at controlling and/or silencing the women.”4Ibid., 94. So Paul introduces the language of head here in a way that was familiar to them, but then gives it a twist at the end—“but God is the head of Christ.” 

Paul then moves to quote a Corinthian slogan:

Corinthians: Every man who prays or prophecies with his had covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophecies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as thought her head were shaved (1 Cor 11:4-5)

Paul: So if a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head! (1 Cor 11:6)

Paul, here is “mimicking the Corinthian threat in order to expose the underlying absurdity, and possibly even the aggression of their argument.”5Ibid., 94. Shaving a woman’s head in that culture (and in many cultures today) would be absolutely devastating. It’s what people did to adulterers, so the woman would walk around with the life-shattering stigma of having had an affair. Paul, then, exposes the abusive implications of their logic in order to refute their perspective. He then continues to quote from the Corinthians.

CorinthiansA man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of god; but he woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (11:7-10)

Scholars who believe these words are from Paul have to rescue him from saying that women are ontologically inferior to men. Even complementarians wince at the language here, for it seems to suggest that women are not created in God’s image, and that their purpose of creation is to bring glory to and serve men (v. 9). Not only does this go against a plain reading of Gen 1:27 and other passages, it appears to contradict what Paul says just a couple verses later in 11:11-12 (cf. 1 Cor 7:4). Add to this the strange statement about the angels, which is not only odd, but the logical connection between vs. 10 and vv. 7-9 and 11-12 appears convoluted. 

Lucy, however, suggests that these words are from the Corinthians, not Paul. They are rooting their subordinationist view of women through a botched interpretation of Gen 1-2 and connected it to some strange angelology. Paul’s response is to remind them that “in the Lord” there is equality between men and women.

Paul: Nevertheless, [the point is] in the Lord, woman is not independent of/separated from man, nor is man independent of/separated from woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it fitting for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her in the place of a head covering. If anyone wants to be dangerously divisive about this, we have no such custom—nor do the churches of God.’ (11:11-16)

Most scholars recognize that vv. 11-12 seems to contradict, or at least correct, vv. 7-10, and there are many suggestions that try to iron out the tension. Lucy’s reading irons it out in the blink of an eye. Paul is correcting vv. 7-10, because these statements are not from Paul. 

The last line in 11:16 is important. The NIV translates it as “we have no other custom—nor do the churches of God,” which, in the traditional reading has Paul saying that in every other church, women are covering their heads while men are not. But the Greek word toiauten means “such” not “other.” Paul literally says: we don’t have “such” a custom (e.g. women covering their heads and men not covering their heads in worship) anywhere else.6Cf. Fee: “This ‘other’ has unfortunately been carried over into the current NIV from the original translation. The Greek is τοιαύτην, which means ‘such a kind’; there is no evidence that it ever means ‘other’, which is in fact somewhat misleading. Paul meant simply, ‘we have no such practice’, and the reader is left guessing a bit as to what his ‘such’ refers to” (1 Corinthians, on v. 16). “In other words, if Paul really is ruling against rather than for head coverings, he is adamant that the Corinthian church is the only church adopting this nonsensical and oppressive practice, and is reminding them…that if they wish to be argumentative about it, then they will find they are on their own.”7Ibid., 107.

Analysis

I find Lucy’s reading to be provocative and worthy to be wrestled with. To my mind, the strength of her interpretation is in its explanatory power. If her reconstruction is correct (and there can be some variations of it),8Proponents of a more traditional view (i.e. that the whole passage is from Paul) will still talk about certain aspects of this passage as representing the language of the Corinthians. For instance, Fee says that “There can be little question that exousia was one of the Corinthians’ own words (see on 6:12 and 8:9)” (see Fee, 1 Corinthians, on v. 10). So Paul is in a way correcting their understanding of authority here. then virtually all of the obscure phrases, unclear logic, and seemingly heretical statements melt away. If we simply assume her reconstruction, the entire passage flows smoothly like warm butter on toast. 

For those who think she’s just making stuff up with claims that can’t be substantiated, remember—we do have several places where Paul does quote Corinthian slogans back at them and then interacts with them without telling us he’s doing so in the text. Sometimes Paul does tell us he’s doing this, like in 1 Cor 7:1, when he says: “Now for the matters you wrote about” and then quotes from this “matter” in the next line: “‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman’.” Again, there are no quotation marks in the original, but Paul does reference something the Corinthians wrote about, in their (now lost) letter they sent to Paul. But there are other places, like in 1 Cor 6:12, where there is no indication that Paul is quoting from them. Modern interpreters just assume he is, based largely on the apparent logical contradiction if we take it all as coming from Paul. 

I do have at least two main problems with accepting Lucy’s reading. First, all the other slogans Paul quotes in Corinthians are short. We don’t have any examples of Paul interacting with large chunks of Corinthian thought in such an extended back and forth like we do in Lucy’s proposed reading of 1 Cor 11.9Lucy responds to this in her book, but I forget where. Second, there’s nothing in the actual text of 1 Cor 11 that signals that Paul is quoting extensively from the Corinthians. It would be nice if there was some kind of literary device or signal that Paul is doing what Lucy suggests he’s doing. 

As much as I think Lucy’s reading smooths out so many difficulties, I’m going to set it aside and see if I can work through some of these difficulties as if the entire passage is from Paul. I recently asked Andrew Bartlett what he thought about Lucy’s interpretation. He said something like, I hope she’s right, but I can make sense of the passage without relying on her interpretation. My sentiment is similar—except I’m only in the process of trying to make sense of the passage.

I really appreciate Lucy’s thesis and the humility in which she proposes it. But I’d rather not rely on her interpretation until I’ve taken a stab at trying to make sense of the passage as if it were all from Paul.  


  • 1
    Alan Padgett proposed a similar reading back in the early 80’s (see his “Paul on Women in the Church,” 69-86).
  • 2
    Women and Worship, 86.
  • 3
    Ibid., 94.
  • 4
    Ibid., 94.
  • 5
    Ibid., 94.
  • 6
    Cf. Fee: “This ‘other’ has unfortunately been carried over into the current NIV from the original translation. The Greek is τοιαύτην, which means ‘such a kind’; there is no evidence that it ever means ‘other’, which is in fact somewhat misleading. Paul meant simply, ‘we have no such practice’, and the reader is left guessing a bit as to what his ‘such’ refers to” (1 Corinthians, on v. 16).
  • 7
    Ibid., 107.
  • 8
    Proponents of a more traditional view (i.e. that the whole passage is from Paul) will still talk about certain aspects of this passage as representing the language of the Corinthians. For instance, Fee says that “There can be little question that exousia was one of the Corinthians’ own words (see on 6:12 and 8:9)” (see Fee, 1 Corinthians, on v. 10). So Paul is in a way correcting their understanding of authority here.
  • 9
    Lucy responds to this in her book, but I forget where.
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4 comments on “Lucy Peppiatt’s View of 1 Corinthians 11: The Meaning of Kephalē Part 10

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  1. Ryan C on

    Listening to your podcast with Dr Peppiatt a few months ago was a real head exploding moment for me. Id never really comprehended the degree to which 1 Cor 11 is subordinationist if you take just a plain reading.

    I imagine the strongest pushback would be along the lines of, “is there any history or tradition in the Church that takes this same view?” If these were blockquotes of the Corinthians, wouldn’t that have been passed along through tradition or via manuscript copies of the text made after punctuation came into use?

    Reply
  2. Philip B. Payne on

    I agree with Preston that all of Paul’s widely-acknowledged quotations of Corinthian slogans in 1 Corinthians are short. I also agree with Preston that nothing in the actual text of 1 Cor 11:2–16 signals that Paul is quoting many Corinthian statements. I, too, prefer interpretations that do not depend on speculation. Nor am I aware of any church father who treats this passage as Paul quoting and refuting the Corinthians. One should be sensitive, however, to the fact that we do not have the same awareness of what was happening in the church in Corinth that the letter’s recipients had. They would recognize quotations of their slogans and argumentation where we might not. I also agree with Preston and Gordon Fee that toiautēn should be translated “such” in 1 Cor 11:16. The NIV’s “we recognize no other practice” is the opposite of what toiautēn means.

    There are, as Preston indicates, signals in the text what explain why there is such wide scholarly consensus that Paul quotes Corinthian slogans in 1 Cor 1:12 (x4); 3:4 (x2); 6:12 (x2), 13; 7:1; 8:1, 4; 10:23 (Preston does not mention most of these); and, if not a slogan, at least a Corinthian objection or belief in 15:12 and 35. The NIV identifies Corinthian slogans with quotations marks in 1 Cor 1:12 (x4); 3:4 (x2); 6:12 (x2), 13; 7:1; 8:1; 10:23; 15:35. For example, 1 Cor 7:1–3: “Now for the matters you wrote about, ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’ But… the husband should fulfill his marital duty, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

    Note that there are four common clues that Paul is quoting a Corinthian slogan that Paul opposes. One clue is how it is introduced, such as “each of you says” (1:12) “someone says” (3:4), “another says” (3:4), “now concerning what you wrote” (7:1; 8:1, 4), “we know that” (8:4); “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (10:22); “some of you say” (15:12), and “But someone will ask” (15:35). Only the slogans in 6:12–13 have no clue in how they are introduced that they are quotations. Nevertheless, it is clear that 6:12–13 cites slogans, not just because they conflict with Paul’s teaching elsewhere, but because of the repetition of the same slogan, both times with a corrective “but” (alla) clause in 6:12 followed by a third short pithy quote in 6:13 with a corrective “but” (de) clause.

    A second clue is that what is quoted is contrary to what we know Paul believed.

    A third clue is that each of these slogans is pithy, short and memorable.

    A fourth is that with each of these slogans Paul writes “but” (alla 6:12; 8:7; 10:23; 15:35 or de 1:12; 3:4,5; 6:13; 7:1; 8:1; 15:13) followed by something that rebuts what he had just quoted.

    Although it is not widely recognized as a Corinthian slogan, the seemingly un-Pauline content of “man as male is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7) may well have been a Corinthian slogan used by one or more men to defend their display of long hair. This saying raises several red flags—theological anomalies—that force us to consider whether these words express what Paul believes. If Paul here quotes or paraphrases a Corinthian slogan, this resolves these anomalies. If “man as male is the image and glory of God” is a Corinthian slogan or expresses how at least one man in Corinth justified leading worship with long hair done up like women did, this explains three things that are theologically questionable in this statement.

    First, it explains why “man as male” (ἀνήρ) is used rather than the inclusive term “humankind” (ἄνθρωπος), that Scripture uses elsewhere regarding humankind being made in the image of God. “Man as male” (ἀνήρ), however, fits the context perfectly if this was a slogan men used to defend their displaying long hair. Hellenistic images of Zeus and most other gods typically have long hair. If Paul is citing this as a Corinthian slogan, this slogan provides no basis for thinking that Paul believed that men are created in the image of God but that women are not—or only in a limited way. Note, however, that ἀνήρ is appropriate in this context because Paul is addressing a specific head-covering practice by males. Consequently, even though “man as male is the image and glory of God” sounds odd and differs from any other statement in Scripture about man created in the image of God, ἀνήρ by itself is not sufficient to identify this as a Corinthian slogan.

    Second, it explains the wording that man “is” the image of God. Elsewhere Scripture describes man as made “in” the image of God or “after” the image of God (Col 3:10). Both Paul and Peter appear to contradict that man “is” the image of God by teaching that Christ alone is the image of God in 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; and 1 Pet 4:11. Corinthian male display of long hair, however, fits the wording “man as male is the image of God” because a man with long hair literally reflects the image of gods as typically depicted in Greek art.

    Third, it explains why man “is the glory” of God. This is difficult to reconcile with Rom 1:23, which teaches that nothing human should replace the glory of God. Rom 3:23 teaches that “all fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 5:2 refers to “our hope of sharing the glory of God,” which indicates at least that we are not the glory of God now. If some men in the Corinthians church gloried in their long hair, one can easily imagine that they might defend it using the slogan, “man as male is the image and glory of God.” For an alternative interpretation that treats this as Paul’s own teaching, see my Man and Woman, One in Christ, pages 175–179.

    The key question to ask is, “Does the causal participle ‘since he is’ (ὑπάρχων) in 11:7 identify what Paul believes to be the reason why a “male ought not cover his head” with effeminate long hair or does it identify a reason given by one or more men in Corinth in defense of covering their heads with long effeminate hair?

    There are several reasons to regard “man as male is the image and glory of God” as a Corinthian slogan used to defend display of effeminately-styled hair. This slogan fits perfectly with the exaltation of the male body that typifies homosexual display. It fits the Corinthians’ view of their own exalted status, their pride in their sexual freedom, their haughty spirit, and their overly realized eschatology. On this reading of “since he is,” Paul is teaching: “A man ought not cover his head with an effeminate hairstyle on the grounds that ‘man as male is the image and glory of God.’ No, woman [not another man] is the glory of man.”

    Whether or not “man as male is the image and glory of God” was an actual Corinthian slogan, it probably expresses how such men thought about their glorious hairstyles. If this was a Corinthian slogan or if it expressed how Corinthians perceived the justification of a man displaying effeminate hair, Paul’s readers would have recognized it as a Corinthian slogan.

    Every time Paul uses ὀφείλω meaning “ought,” as in 1 Corinthians 11:7, he addresses a moral issue (Rom 13:8; 15:1, 27; 1 Cor 5:10; 7:36; 9:10; 11:7, 10; 2 Cor 12:11, 14; Eph 5:28; 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13; Phlm 18). Hair symbolizing availability for homosexual hookups by men or undisciplined sexuality by women is a moral issue. Garment head coverings are not a moral issue. The voluminous depictions of women without garment head coverings in Hellenistic art show that head coverings did not clearly symbolize immorality. Consequently, the use of “ought” in both 1 Corinthians 11:7 regarding men and 1 Corinthians 11:10 regarding women favors understanding the “coverings” in this passage as hair, not a garment covering.

    “Man as male is the image and glory of God” in 1 Cor 11:7 in three ways is like every other Corinthian slogan that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians. First, it expresses something that other statements by Paul indicate he opposes.

    Second, it is followed by an explanation of why Paul opposes it.

    Third, Paul introduces his opposing statement with “but.” In the same sentence and the same verse, Paul writes, “but woman is the glory of man.” By this assertion, Paul repudiates their slogan defending male display of effeminate hairstyles by asserting that woman, not another man, is the glory of man, the one God created to be man’s sexual partner.

    Reply
    • Blake on

      Thanks Philip, I read your other books. What I hear you saying in this comment thread is that most likely the “whole” of the back and forth should not be attributed to Corinthian slogans (a la Lucy) but that you are leaving the door open for 11:7a being a slogan from which Paul quotes and then refutes. As you stated above, this is different than your reading in (Man and Woman, One in Christ, 175-179) which simply utilizes a high (christological) anthropology to have it come from Paul’s own reading of Gen 1-2. Am I correct on this count?

      Now for part 2 of how I’m reading you, whether it is a slogan Paul refutes, or, whether it is his own teaching, your argument is that as a whole the issue in Corinth that Paul is addressing is still men wearing effeminate hair (they ought not) and perhaps women showing off their glorious long hair be wearing it down, and instead they ought to simply put it up neatly. Is this an accurate summary of what I hear you saying? Thank you for your thorough work, I find the cross-references you cite very helpful in seeing this cryptic language being used elsewhere.

      Reply
  3. Hashim Warren on

    One thing that was helpful about Peppiatt’s book was taking a step back and admitting, yes this is a strange passage. And not just because of my current cultural lens.

    Once I had that open mind, I was able to better consider her proposed reading.

    Reply

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