A Better Reading of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14


Paul shook his head and muttered to himself. He could feel his temperature rise, even against the close heat of the small room he’d been given, to spend the night. But, there was no mistaking what he was reading, as the simple, clay oil lamp flickered its light across the papyrus. “God!” he thought. “God! Why!”

He slowly rubbed his weary eyes, and drew his hands down his face. Of course, it had to be addressed. Right away. God, how his heart ached over these new believers, as sophisticated and educated as they thought themselves to be. Somehow the Judaizers had infiltrated them, and they’d already been led down the garden path with smart sounding instruction that actually went entirely against the Anointed One’s teaching.

After sitting quietly before the Lord, listening to His voice in the heavy night air, Paul lifted his pen, and drew out a fresh papyrus.

“My brothers and sisters,” He wrote, “Some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.” How grateful he was for Chloe, for her steady strength, and love for Jesus. Thank You, God, he thought, for Chloe. Thank You for filling her with Your Spirit, and appointing a church in her home. Please give her courage and perseverance, and pierce the hearts of those who will hear my correction in her voice. Cause them to hear Your voice.

As he wrote, Paul referred often to Chloe’s letter. He would address each issue, point by point. He would quote liberally from her letter, so there would be no mistaking what he was talking about.

“I praise you for always keeping me in mind and for adhering to the teachings I handed over to you.” He intended they should know how noteworthy that was. “Now, I want you to know that the source of every man is the Anointed One, the source of woman is man, and the source of the Anointed One is God.”

It felt counterintuitive. Men were born of women. But the first woman was born of man. He understood how hard this was to understand, but it was an important teaching, and he would lean into it as often as necessary. They simply couldn’t argue male hierarchy based on the chronology of creation, because, though woman came from man (as Adam was first), the Lord Jesus actually came much later, and through a woman. They didn’t see how flawed their logic was, or they’d be forced to say woman had authority over the Lord! Therefore, ultimately, the source of both man and woman is God, Who is also the source of Jesus. It was the solution to Chloe’s concerns about what was being taught regarding men and women praying. He quoted her letter,

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.”

Because of the angels!? Appealing to angels was something a Pharisee might do, or one who was involved in Gnostic theology, but certainly Paul had never argued a point using angels as his authority. Jesus was far above any angel!! What a mess, he thought. What a mess.

He wrote, “Except that, as far as the Lord is concerned, a woman isn’t separate from a man, nor is a man separate from a woman. It’s a fact that just as the women comes from the man, in the same way too the man comes from the woman! But, all things are from God.” Paul clicked his tongue. “Judge for yourselves!” he’d pressed so hard, the nib had broken. Paul reached for his paring knife and skillfully flicked a new point. “Is it fitting for a woman to pray with her head uncovered? Even nature teaches you that if a man has ornamentally arranged hair it disgraces him, but if a woman has ornamentally arranged hair it gives her splendor! Ornamentally arranged hair is given her in place of a coat. But, if anyone is inclined to be obstinate about this, let me say that we have no such custom, nor do any of God’s assemblies.”

So quickly these people were giving away their freedoms to take on the Judaizer’s rules and regulations, while at the same time indulging their basest appetites. Could they not see the irony in their inconsistencies? Did they not see the Spirit gave freely, and equally, of His anointing to men and women? Were they not all part of one glorious Body, with only one Head, and One Authority?

Hopefully, this would put the kibosh on any more argument over the matter. There was no practice, in any of the churches, which required women to cover their heads when they prophesied or prayed during worship. Since the Judaizers had made them concerned about it, then they should be relieved to see women’s hair was already their glory, and their covering,. Women were not derivative of men, they were not men’s glory, and they did not need to have men’s authority over them. Women, like men, reflected God’s glory, and came under His authority alone.

Paul wrote deep into the night, explaining the things of God to his beloved converts in Corinth, then he set his letter aside to sleep a few hours before he would have to take up his work in the agora.

All throughout day he thought and prayed over Chloe’s distressing letter. Chloe had sent word about numerous arguments, conflicts, and dissensions that had cropped up in their gatherings. Unhappily, even the worship had become unruly. If he did not nip these false teachings in the bud, they would choke the Spirit’s work among them, like weeds in a freshly sown garden. That night he knew exactly what he would address next. The Lord had given him a few simple principles to pass along to the believers:

  • Everyone was to come prepared to share their portion. None were exempt, and none were to be excluded, whether Greek converts or Jewish converts, whether free persons or enslaved persons, whether men or women.
  • Whatever portion was brought to the worship time was to be for building up the church, not arguing, tearing down, accusing, suppressing, or excluding, as it seemed the Judaizers had been doing.
  • It also appeared many people were exercising the spiritual gift of speaking in an unknown tongue, without there being any way of understanding what was being said. It had become a shouting match, evidently, where each tried to outshout the other, hoping the loudest voice got heard above the din. No, Paul thought, this isn’t a display of God’s Spirit, Who hovered over chaos and brought out the beautiful order of creation.
  • No one person was permitted to hog the pulpit, and they couldn’t just make statements expecting everyone else to take it all in without question. Instead, the pulpit was to be shared, and what was said was to be carefully reviewed by the whole gathering—every person present—with the Spirit’s guidance, and in the context of the scriptures.
  • Any gathering of the Body was to be filled, empowered, and led by the Spirit of Christ, that He might be both portrayed and glorified. If another person was giving a word of revelation, the person at the pulpit was to cede the floor to the new speaker, for it would be Christ Himself speaking through His own, from voice to voice.
  • It had to be emphasized that each congregant, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, Greek and Jew, enslaved and free should prophesy during these meetings. There was no longer a wall between classes, and between sexes. All were one in Christ.

No, he must summarily dismiss any more argument on this point. If they were going to continue to butt heads on this, they were simply to be ignored. They were to have no traction with churches in Corinth, or anywhere. Paul had publicly stated it as so, for all the believers to hear.

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.

“Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.”

They really needed to know this, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” In contrast to what he had just written, Paul returned to Chloe’s letter and again quoted from it,

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

It was such an egregious statement, Paul flicked his pen to make a familiar, if somewhat pithy, mark they would easily understand meant “utter rubbish!” What drivel, he thought. Paul was aghast the Law was being appealed to as authority for instruction. How often had he told them they were dead to the Law and alive to Christ! Paul himself had only ever pointed either to Jesus’ teaching, or his own understanding as guided by the wisdom given him in the Spirit.

He would have to be firm, here. They had far too easily fallen back into their old thinking, and far too quickly embraced the Judaizer’s contempt for women.

“Did the word of God come originally from you? Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or spiritual, they are to realize that what I’m writing to you is the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.

“Consequently, fellow believers, strive after prophesying, and don’t prevent anyone,” and certainly not Spirit-anointed women like our Chloe, he thought, “from speaking in supernaturally given languages. Everything is to be done decently and in an orderly manner.”

Please, Oh Lord, please convict them deeply, and protect this teaching in their hearts and in their practice. Please preserve this letter for the churches, that your Body may be whole and strong, fully abiding in Your Spirit, to the praise of Your glorious Grace, Paul prayed, Amen.

[Many thanks to Dr. Bilezikian and his book, “Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family,” which inspired this piece, and whose teaching is suffused throughout]

[Rembrandt (Public domain)]

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

2 thoughts on “A Better Reading of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14

    1. Thanks for responding, Bob.

      I actually bow to two Greek scholars who have already done the legwork on this passage, both of whom point out there is a Koine Greek mark often used in antiquity to do exactly what I’ve done here–to make it clear the writer is unhappy with what has just been written. We would translate that mark today as something like “balderdash,” or “baloney.”

      Dr. A. Nyland actually published, about ten years ago or so, a heavily annotated translation of the New Testament, working with the mountain of new inscriptions and papyri unearthed since the 1970’s. Fortunately, that material is now making its way to the mainstream where people like you and I can access it–for instance, this Greek Dictionary http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph? and this Greek New Testament http://gntreader.com/#

      Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, who was actually my inspiration for this blog, talked about his research in his book, “Beyond Sex Roles,” where he also discussed this seldom translated mark in Koine Greek, and his reading of these two passages.

      I’ve read and heard a lot of interpretations of this 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and these two Greek scholars have made the most sense to me, so far

      Like

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