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Words of a Fether

Opinions on Faith and Life

Heads Up!

No one can serve two masters. — Mt. 6:24, Luke 16:13

I just read an interesting article by a William Welty about 1 Cor. 11:2-16, which concerns head coverings. I found the link through another article of his called Does Nature Teach?, as part of the ISV Bible’s website. This topic is overdue for the kind of examination Welty brings, reminding us of the research of others such as Katherine Bushnell who have been largely ignored. I would encourage you to study that document for yourself.

But I must take exception to the idea expressed here:

Notice the peculiar lack of the definite article in verse three:
  1. pantos andros h kefalh o cristos estin — of every man Christ is the head,
  2. kefalh de gunaikos o anhr — and of a woman the man is a head,

Paul is establishing a principle of authority by means of the metaphor of headship. For the purposes of the example, Paul cites the following order of delegated authority in the relationships mentioned:

Christ is the head of a male. The man is a head (i.e., one of two or more heads) of a woman. The woman’s other head is, of course, Christ. Logic should tell us that Paul is directing the Corinthians that veiling for women should follow the same prohibitions that it does for men.

Now I understand the overall point they are making, which is that Paul’s emphasis is not on what women must do, but what men must not do. Yet their belief that Paul is talking about some chain of command here is not necessary to support the point, and it overlooks that same lack of the definite article for Christ. The English word-for-word equivalent is this:

of-every man THE head the Christ is, head yet of-woman the man, head yet of-the Christ the God
Can we argue that God is only A head of Christ, such that He must have more than one? Not only does the logic break down, the missing definite article is the exception rather than the rule here; only one of the three pairings has it. If anything it is the first pairing of “every man” with “the Christ” which might mean something different. Yet how is Christ a different kind of “one and only head” to men than God is of Christ? And if a woman has two “heads”, one being divine and the other quite human and fallible, is she not “serv[ing] two masters”?

All this adds up to tell us that there is no particular significance to the use of the definite article. And of course it isn’t exactly wise to develop theology on the basis of “the”; isn’t that what the cults are known for, a la John 1:1?

Rather, as I’ve argued before, Paul is engaging in another of his typical plays on words with “head”. He speaks of unity and source to introduce a question about literal head coverings, closing with a return to the theme of unity in verse 12 (13 through 16 deal with a separate aspect of the issue).

The most important point of the article is really centered on those last four verses. Paul does NOT ask a rhetorical question (“Doesn’t nature teach you...?”), but makes a statement of fact (“Nature does not teach you...”) as an appeal to common knowledge: both men and women naturally grow hair on their heads, which continues to grow till it’s cut or falls out.

The article also makes an interesting argument concerning Paul’s mention of “because of the angels”, which the writer believes should be rendered “because of her angels”. They argue that since some angels in heaven do not cover their faces, then somehow this means women’s angels (not men’s, and not single women’s?) wouldn’t want the women they guard to wear hats— but only when prophesying. And that’s it. No tie-in to why women should not wear head coverings just because some angels don’t use face coverings. I’m still... well, scratching my head... over that one.

Anyway, the important thing about any article or writer is that we recognize which arguments are good and which are bad or poorly reasoned. And yes, most people are in the habit of making both, such that dismissing someone over one topic means we may miss out on something very important.

LATER EDIT:

If the husband is the wife’s head (well, one of them), does a head covering signify her power over him?

Posted 2009-10-26 under Angels, Christian Living, women, hierarchy, egalitarian