God, Women, and the Bible

In honor of women’s history month this March, my wife and I are starting a series where we discuss some of the issues regarding women and the Bible. For us, this has been something of tremendous freedom. For others, this has been a struggle. For those of you interested, please feel free to join us as we discuss these messy and unclean issues. 🙂

Advertisements

Two Covenants – Galatians 4:21-31

This is one of the passages used to say that Israel has been replaced by the Church; after all, didn’t Paul plainly say that the woman of bondage is the Jerusalem which is now? In regard to this, all I can say is that such an exegesis can only come from arrogance. To interpret this passage so shallowly astounds me. This would be likened to someone standing before God in all His radiance and saying, “Yeah, but that guy over there is just a normal guy…”

When I read this passage, such hope fills my heart. Can you vision it? We aren’t any longer bound by this Jerusalem upon the earth, but are of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is free. Maybe a little bit of historical culture might help.

In the time of Jesus and Paul, Judea was ruled by the Herods. Herod the Great (given the name by Romans, no doubt) taxed the people of Judea to such a point that people could not afford to live. The normal tax across the board, unless you were in Jerusalem, was 80%-90% of your income. You had to tithe 10%. Then, there was the temple tax on top of that. There were taxes from the money changers to buy the sacrifices necessary. By the time you finish paying just the religious taxes, you’ve spent about a third of your paycheck. On top of that is the fact that Jerusalem didn’t have any kind of agriculture accessibility. So, the question is, how do you, if you’re in Jerusalem, eat? You force those who are making a living from agriculture (which was about 80%-90% of the people, so I’ve been told) to pay a “tax” that gives their produce to Jerusalem.

Thus, after the religious taxes, there were political taxes to Herod, and then beyond Herod there were political taxes to Caesar.

To live in Judea during the time of Paul or Jesus was to live in utter bondage. In fact, there are historical records of Herod being reprimanded because of the poverty of the common people in his governance. There was such poverty that there was only hopelessness among the people of Israel. And, if you can’t afford to pay your taxes, you’re evicted from the family land – which you inherited from Joshua’s generation. If you’re evicted, you have to find a city and move there, taking up some sort of trade to figure out how to make ends meet. Can you imagine the guilt and shame?

Essentially, there are only three groups of people in Jerusalem. There were the religious leaders under Herod, who served as political leaders as well. These were the Sadducees, also sometimes called the chief priests and elders/rulers. Then, there were the religious elite, who could afford to live in Jerusalem because they were the leading scholars who taught at the Temple – known as the Pharisees. Lastly, there were the poor who had nowhere else to go, and were essentially the homeless of Jerusalem.

What kind of religious system is it that is built upon oppressing the people for the benefit of wealth and security? (I want to remind you that Paul’s own testimony was of being a Pharisee.) It is the religion that is built upon law, rather than faith. The oppressive Jerusalem is directly the result of a religion that is founded upon “do this; don’t do that”.

Here in Galatians 4:21-31, what is important to gather is that we are no longer bound by that. For example, in regard to paying tithes, Jesus asks Peter, “Do the sons of the king pay taxes or the common people?” Peter answers, “The common people.” Thus, the sons are exempt (paraphrase). Do you see how radical Jesus’ statement is here? The sons of God are exempt from the Temple tax and the tithe. If you suggest something like that today, you’d not only be labeled a heretic, you’d be cast out with furor! Yet, because we’re not of the oppressive Jerusalem, but of the freedom of New Jerusalem, we are no longer in bondage to the religious infrastructure ruled by the principalities and powers!

Does that statement make you want to turn to Israel and be like, “Yeah, but… they don’t have this, right?”

Do you see why I find replacement theology about as detestable as it comes? It takes the very promises of God and tosses them aside, simply because it would rather show that God has chosen the Church instead of Israel. How about we look at what is being proclaimed here and rejoice to the uttermost. (For the record, I don’t believe that this passage, nor Galatians 3:16 or 3:28-29 suggest that Israel has been replaced. After all, if we take Galatians 3:16 to mean that Jesus is the only seed of Abraham, then that excludes you and I, which ironically defeats replacement theology anyway. Paul expressly claims that you and I are part of Abraham’s seed, so obviously the “seed” versus “seeds” point can’t be about whether Abraham’s seed is only Jesus or plural.)

What would it mean for us to take this seriously?

For my wife and I, we’ve pretty well proclaimed that the thing that calls itself church, the fathers promoting such bitterness and spite against the Jew and women that you can barely read their words without feeling the venom, isn’t our mother. That thing that calls itself the real deal, but is only a brick and mortar system isn’t really my mother. My mother is beautiful, has compassion, and weeps for her children. That thing that calls itself church, but is only too quick and willing to cast away the marginalized and perplexed is not. It is at best to be likened to the woman who rides the beast; at worst the beast itself.

Context is Everything

In our current Christianity – especially in the Western World – we have learned to quote Bible verses and make Scripture references to prove our points of view. We should indeed use the Bible when considering our beliefs. But I’ve found that often the verses are pulled out of context. (By often, I don’t mean the majority of the time, but instead that it happens more than it should.) We’ll use verses like 2 Timothy 3:15-17 to ‘prove’ that the Bible is the inspired word of God, yet neglect entirely what the point of the verses were: the conclusion to the first part of the chapter, which was about those who would rise up and promote heresy and ungodly living. Yes, the verse says that the Scripture is the inspired word of God, but no, that isn’t the point of the verse.

In the New Testament times, the Jewish scholars – called rabbis – would debate the Scripture with one another. When they debated, they would quote a verse or a passage. But, when they quoted the verse or passage, they didn’t mean just that verse or passage. They knew that their opponent would know the verse, and know the context of the verse. So, they would quote the verse – sometimes part of the verse – and the other rabbi would then pull it up in their mind as to what the context is, what the chapter is about, what the book is about, and where it is located in the whole schema of the Scriptures. Out of that context, the rabbi would then know that the point being made is not simply about that one verse, but rather the whole context gives a more full and complete argument. Therefore, to respond simply to that verse would completely miss the brunt of the argument.

I try to do this in ALL of my writings. I’ll admit, I am unsuccessful. Yet, especially when I’m trying to make a point, I will use a verse or passage knowing that the context supports the argument being made. I think this is so necessary for our time. We need to be willing to dig into the texts of the Bible for multiple reasons.

First, we need to see that when Scripture is being referenced or quoted in other parts of the Bible, that reference is not simply there because they want to quote one part of a verse. The reference is there because they expect if you don’t know the verse you will look it up and see the context and get the bigger picture and the fuller argument being made.

Second, we need to dig into the Scripture so that we too can make these sorts of arguments. When we’re debating, when we’re discussing, when we’re teaching, when we’re learning, when we’re apologetic-ing – ANY time that we quote the Bible we need to use the context of that verse and make sure that it is the context making the argument and not one specific verse. It has taken me years to overcome the many verses pulled out of context (like John 3:16) that we have this “understanding” of what this verse means, and when we come to it, we read this understanding into it, but when we read up to it or after it, we understand that is the context. How many times have I seen it in myself? I’ll be tracking, and then suddenly a verse that I have quoted and known and put to memory will come up, and I’ll say, “What?!? That’s what that verse means?”

How about I give a couple of examples and then end.

“Wives, submit to your husbands…” Ephesians 5:22. I’m expecting that you know the verse, and you know the following couple verses. What comes before this verse? Do you know? Paul just finished speaking about how we’ve come out of darkness and into light. Darkness and light are metaphors for two different kingdoms. The way that Paul concludes this introductory thought is by saying, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. This is the verse directly before, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” What is the context telling us? Just like everyone submits to everyone else, so too should the marriage relationship be one of submission one to another. What comes after this verse/passage? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This plays in perfectly with what I just said: the point is that the relationship is one of submission unto one another – the husband even submitting himself unto death on behalf of his wife! What comes after that? We find Paul giving advice to children and parents, to slaves and masters, and finally to bear the full armor of God. This passage is the commencement of Paul explaining what it means to be children of the light, who have come out of darkness. He concludes the whole thought with the “put on the full armor of God” passage.

Let us try another. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” Matthew 7:1. What is the context? We are in the sermon on the mount, where Jesus begins with these beatitudes, basically clarifying what it means to typify the kingdom of God. Then, he gives two examples of what these traits look like: salt and light. From there, Christ tells us that He fulfills the Law (a rabbinical way of saying that He is teaching it in its purest form), and that our righteousness needs to exceed the Pharisees’. How does that happen? Jesus spends the next 13 ‘teachings’ explaining what it means. The first six are in relation to the Law and the way that we understand and obey it. The next seven are in relation to our daily lives and attitudes. At the beginning and at the end of these teachings we find the phrase “the Law and the Prophets”. This teaching on judging others is the second to last of these teachings on what it means that our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees. From there, Jesus explains that the gate is small, and the path is narrow that leads to life. How do we get onto this path? We live in righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees’. How do we know we are indeed on that path? Jesus explains that we will know by our fruit. Then He ends by giving the parable of two builders: one wise and one foolish. So, when we come to judging others, this is the context. We find verse 7:5 saying, “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Jesus is actually telling us to judge! He is distinguishing between the unrighteous judgment and the righteous judgment, though. So, 7:1 fits in with the whole context – a comparison of the two “righteousnesses” (one true, and one false) – and also stands as an introduction to what it means to righteously judge your brother.

So, in conclusion, I would highly recommend that we start seeking to understand the context of these verses and passages we quote as “proof texts”. Many false doctrines have entered the mind of believers simply because they haven’t gone and looked at the context of the verses quoted. This will save you from falling for much deception – not all – and will give you such a firm foundation in your faith. Hopefully this helped someone. God bless you all!

Sexy on the Inside

In ancient Greece, and then later also in the Roman world, there were these bizarre rules about women. They were typically not allowed out in public. Most often, if they were in public, they were with their father or husband, and they were not allowed to talk. If they were by themselves and speaking to others, they were probably a prostitute. Aristotle taught that a slave is no more than ‘a tool of his master’. Together with the wife and the ox, a male or female slave is a householder’s indispensable beast of burden. He or she should be kept well — for simple economic reasons. But slaves have no right to leisure or free time. They own nothing and can take no decisions. They have no part in enjoyment and happiness, and are not members of the community.

In case you weren’t sure, yes, Aristotle believed that a wife was simply a slave to her husband. She was barely recognized as higher than an animal. Plato said, “It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards or [lead unrighteous lives] may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation’. This downward progress may continue through successive reincarnations unless reversed. In this situation, obviously it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment; the best a woman can hope for is to become a man”

In this same line of thought, Aristotle then teaches: ‘It is the best for all tame animals to be ruled by human beings. For this is how they are kept alive. In the same way, the relationship between the male and the female is by nature such that the male is higher, the female lower, that the male rules and the female is ruled’ (Aristotle, Politica, ed. Loeb Classical Library, 1254 b 10-14).

Now, there is this crazy idea that the people of old were “primitive” and that we “refined” individuals don’t act like that. Yet, we find many of the verses in the Bible about women being quoted to set them apart from the man in the same sort of manner. As one who believes the Bible, and yet doesn’t subscribe to this Greek mentality, how do I handle these kinds of statements against women?

There is a passage in 1 Peter 3 that I would like to go through. “Wives, in the same way be submissive to you husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

How many of you read that and want to vomit? Me too. That is why I went on a word hunt in the Greek.  First word: “be submissive to”. To start, notice that it says “likewise”, or in the version I quoted, “in the same way”. Same way as what? 1 Peter 2 ends by explanation of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of us. So, when Peter says, “be submissive to”, it has something to do with that. The Greek is hupotassomai. The word “hupotasso” means to place oneself under – voluntarily and not begrudgingly. Yet, this is hupotassomai, which has a different case ending. This is a willing submission, however, the point of this kind of submission is because you are the one supporting. The idea would be “be supportive of” or “tend to the needs of”. The whole idea being conveyed is that your husband needs someone to lean on, and you need to be there for them. It is not about subjecting your will to theirs, and what they say goes.

Second word: obeyed. The word for “obeyed” in the Greek (Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her master) is hypekousen. It comes from the word “hupakouo”. Once again, notice the hupo. Hupo is “under”. The word means to listen, or to attend to. The idea behind it in this passage is not that you have to obey you master as a slave, but rather that you are partakers in the same journey as your husband, and you need to treat them like you’re walking together.

Third word: master. The final word to look at before backing up and reexamining the whole text is kurios. This is sometimes used as the word to mean “the Lord”. Other times it is simply used as a slave who calls his master “lord”. Other times it is used to express one of willful submission to. Think of Paul calling himself a bondslave of Christ. This is not Paul saying that Christ is lording over Him, but rather that he has given all to Christ. Once again, this goes back to hupotassomai.

So, lets look at this again. Wives, just like Christ Jesus submitted Himself to suffering and bearing humiliation and shame on your behalf, submit yourself to your husband to support him and tend to his needs. If any of them do not  believe the word, maybe they will be won over without words by your behavior, in purity and reverence of life. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, like braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way that the holy women of old made themselves beautiful: by putting their hope in God.* They were supportive of their husbands, like Sarah, who listened to Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

In this context, what is the beauty that Peter is speaking of? Peter is seeing the beauty of holiness. He is seeing that outer beauty fades, but the wife of noble character is to be praised. Now, in what Peter says to them, it almost seems like these women are at their wits end. Something is happening that is causing them to feel disheveled. We might get a better understanding in the next verse in what Peter says to the husbands: “Husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

What’s going on here? What is obvious is that Peter is telling the husbands to back off – whatever they’re doing to cause their wives to feel less than and dehumanized, they need to stop. Just like the wife is told that she is walking together with her husband, the husband is now reminded that she is walking alongside of him, and not behind. But what is this about the “weaker partner” crap? This is one of those times when the NIV words it absolutely terribly. First, the word partner is not there in the Greek – the word “vessel” is found. Is it the “weaker vessel” – specifically a vessel that would be filled with liquid. Most likely what Peter is saying is that these husbands have driven their wives to the brink of brokenness, and Peter is warning them that their wives are fragile – like a bottle of perfume. You don’t throw glass bottles around; you nicely and gently handle them. Likewise, husbands should not be treating their wives as the weaker sex like the Greeks do, but should rather tend to the needs of their wives.

What is this inner beauty that Peter is speaking of for the wives? The inner beauty is the essence of womanhood. It is what makes you so irresistible. It isn’t about having the right “dimensions” and knowing how to dress up to cause boys to look in the right places. This inner beauty is one of mothering, of supporting the husband, of being the completion necessary for Adam, of thinking in a manner that we men just don’t seem to get – but we need to. This is what God has made you to be. You are beautiful because He has created in you a gentleness and sobriety to see and experience life in a manner that is necessary for the man. Remember, Eve was created for the man, and not the man for woman. What Paul is saying when pointing that out is that it was Adam who needed the suitable helper, and not the other way around.

Women.

If you read this, I want you to take one thing away.

You are sexy on the inside.

You are beautiful simply because of who God has made you to be.

Don’t dress yourself up with makeup and tight clothes and all of the other kinds of ornaments used to get the boy’s attraction. You are attracting the wrong boys.

If you are the kind of woman who does dress like Hollywood tells you to, you don’t have to live like this. There are other options.

You are sexy on the inside.

*Notice that Peter’s ultimate purpose in this is not that the wife is under the husband, but rather that the woman/wife should put her hope in God.

Greek Philosophy versus Hebrew Bible

In the first couple centuries of this common era, the Christians were severely persecuted. It was with Constantine having a vision that he decided to examine Christianity a little more openly. Unlike what many teach and say, Christianity did not become unified with the Roman culture during the reign of Constantine. It was actually afterward. However, we can still trace it back to Constantine as the man who initiated this “conversion”.

Now, when Christianity became the “in” thing, suddenly you have a lot of people claiming Christianity as just another religion. There were some who were genuinely converted. Yet, what we don’t see after this point is a clear and direct stream of thought to understand the Hebrew Bible in its own context. I only need to think of men such as Augustine, Jerome, and Thomas Aquinas to come to these conclusions. It was with the Greek philosophy that these men were taught that they understood the Bible. They read the Old Testament with a bent, and this likewise caused them to read the words of Paul and the other apostles with that same bent. Instead of letting Paul speak for himself, he was then reinterpreted through the mouths of Socrates, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

This has caused much damage. For example, when Paul tells us that there is neither slave nor free in Christ, it was the philosophers that argued that slaves are barely even human. Aristotle remarks, “That person is by nature a slave who can belong to another person and who only takes part in thinking by recognizing it, but not by possessing it. Other living beings (animals) cannot recognize thinking; they just obey feelings. However, there is little difference between using slaves and using tame animals: both provide bodily help to do necessary things.” Aristotle then proceeds to tell us that a slaves is no more than “a tool of his master”. Aristotle even claims that some people “are by nature destined to be ruled, even though they resist it”. He thus concludes this thought by saying, “That is why the poets say: ‘It is correct that the Greeks rule barbarians”, for by nature what is barbarian and what is slave are the same.” (Aristotle, Physica, vol. 1; Loeb Classical Library, 1252 b 8. See A.TH van Leeuwen, The Nacht van het Kapitaal, Nijmegen 1984, pp. 182-205)

It was then this Greek philosophy that would be used later in time to validate slavery. Yet, when we hear the historians tell us about slavery, they typically want to speak about how it was Christians that were extreme and difficult to convert to seeing the African Americans as people. Yet, I can’t help but ask, if it were in Christianity that these thoughts festered, from where did Christianity gather them? It was in the work of marrying the Greek philosophy with the Hebraic teaching of the Scriptures that such a thought could even possibly be found in Christianity. 

What about women? We find Socrates arguing that women were the “weaker sex” , and claimed that being born a woman was a divine punishment, since being a woman is halfway between being a man and an animal. (Plato, Timaeus, trans. H.D.P. Lee (Baltimore: Penguin, 1965), 42A-C, 90C, 91A) We find also in Socrates’ thought that men can do all things better than women (Plato, The Republic, trans. W.H.D. Rouse (New York: Mentor, 1956), 456A). It was Aristotle that taught, “The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying.” (Aristotle, Politics, trans. Oxford University, The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKean, editor (New York: Random House, 1941), 1.1254A, 1259B, 1260A). In this, Aristotle argues that the man is the head over the wife, and that the wife is meant to be ruled over as the soul rules over the body. Aristotle also used this terminology to explain how a master rules over his slave. 

When we read our English versions of the Bible, we need to understand that it is translated from Greek. The original Greek interpretation of those verses is somewhat lost, simply because it is difficult to capture the full intent of the Greek words when translating into any other language. At the same time, we find that there are biases that also get translated into the text. So, when we are taught that the woman is the weaker vessel by Socrates, and we read 1 Peter 3:7 say the same thing, we assume that the apostle is repeating Socrates. Likewise, when we read Paul tell the people in Ephesus that the husband is the head of the wife, we assume naturally that he is reaffirming what Aristotle taught. The thought never even enters our minds that maybe what the apostles were saying was quite contrary to what the philosophers taught. 

One man wrote a book titles, “What Paul Really Said About Women”. In this book, he looked at some of major texts that are used to oppress women, and he simply asked the question of whether the apostle Paul was affirming or speaking contrary to the philosophers. In the preface, he writes, “Theoretically, if I took our English translation of his words and translated them back into Greek, my words should be similar to Paul’s original words. But when I tried doing this, such was not the case at all! In reality, the words that Paul chose to use imply different ideas from those conveyed by the English words we use to translate his writings. In fact, our English words imply ideas that Paul deliberately avoided! If Paul had wanted to say what we think he said, then he would have chosen quite different words than what he wrote” (John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1988), pp xi). 

As I’ve been looking into this myself, I’ve begun to realize that the Bible was written by many different authors, and all of them were Jewish. The only man that might not be Jewish descent was Luke. That is debated. Yet, I do ask the question, if 64 books of the Bible were written by Jews, then wouldn’t their mindset be a different mindset of the Greek philosophers? The argument can be made that the New Testament writers would have been Hellenized, yet I would like to appeal to Acts 6:1 to make the case that not all of the Jews were Hellenized. Even with this, if some were, then how do we know that Peter and Paul were not? We know because the way that they write is thoroughly Jewish. 

For example, when the Hebraic man debates, he will mention on verse, or only part of the verse, knowing that his audience knows the verse and context. We find this throughout both Paul and Peter’s epistles. They reference the verse, but they don’t simply mean that verse, they mean the whole context of that verse, and we then see that the context of the verse is actually pointing to this larger picture. Yet, because many of us are not Hebraic, we don’t pick up on these things. When we read Paul, we find that he uses a lot of word plays. The reason for this is because the Hebrew Bible also uses a lot of word plays. In fact, the Hebrew language itself is set up in a manner that word plays are necessary. 

So, were the apostles reaffirming that the Greek philosophy was correct? Absolutely not! In no way did they ever agree with the Greek philosophers. Instead, when they wrote to the Greek speaking Hellenized world, they corrected their wrong mentalities. Because we have been too Catholic in following the traditions of the church fathers (which sounds like a rebuke Jesus gave to the Pharisees) instead of seeking to understand the original intent and heart of God, we have perpetuated wrong philosophy through the generations. Slaves are not less than. Other races are not less than. The Jewish people have not been left out of the promises of God. Women are not under men. Wives are not to be ruled over by their husbands. Teachers are not to teach in lecture form like the Greeks. Discipleship is not about learning information – it is about maturity and character. Authority is not about rule or governing; it is about being a servant. We do not rule over one another like the goyim (Gentiles), but instead those that are in authority are they that serve. In this way, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, black or white, boss nor employee, clergy nor layman, teacher nor student, fathers nor children, city folk or country folk, or anything else that might divide us. We are all one and the same in Christ – He has broken down that wall of hostility between us. 

That is what is Hebraic. It is the marriage that brings us all to equal status together. We are no longer two, but now have become one. All the things that we have thought would cause someone to be “under” or “less than” us is taken away in the marriage that we partake to become adopted children of God. We are the Bride of Christ, and to be in Christ, we are all now unified and one. No one is over or under – all are made one in Christ. That is the difference between the Hebrew and the Greek. The Greek looks for distinctions between, but the Hebrew sees the marriage and reconciliation of all things. The Greek sees that spirit and flesh fight against one another. The Hebrew sees that in Christ the spirit and flesh marry to become one in harmony together. Every single verse in the Bible teaches us this. Even the ones that speak against it are actually advocating it, because they are spoken in contexts that tell us these views and opinions are wrong. It is an endless study to understand the heart and disposition of God, but I think we need to start here. God is the one who frees the captive and gives liberation to the oppressed. If we are then bringing oppression and bondage to people, we are not in Christ. 

Head Coverings Leads to Angels?

1 Corinthians 11:2-15 is one of those passages that very few understand, and I think that the trouble is more to do with our English translations than not. However, with that being said, I think that even when we try to understand what Paul is saying by examining the Greek, we’re still only hearing one side of the conversation. What exactly Paul is referencing in this passage we’re not 100% sure, and therefore it makes it difficult to understand exactly what he is saying. For this study, we’re going to be looking at some Greek. Yes, the dreaded language that the New Testament was actually written in. Now, first off I want to say something: This is not going to be entirely conclusive, because I want you to form your own opinion. I’m going to give enough information to help us understand what is being said, but I don’t want to conclude and bring all of the loose ends together.

If we translate literally from the Greek to the English, we find that 1 Corinthians 11:2-15 reads: “But I praise you because you have remembered all things of me and you hold fast to you the traditions as I delivered to you. But I wish you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the head of a wife, the husband, and head of Christ, God. Every man praying or prophesying [while] having [anything] down over [his] head shames the head of him. But, every women praying or prophesying with the head uncovered shames the head of her, for it is one and the same thing with the woman who has been shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn; but if [it is] ugly for a woman to be shorn or be shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed is obligated not to be covered, the head being the image and glory of God; but the wise is the glory of husband, For man is not from woman, but woman because of the man. Therefore the woman ought to have authority on the head because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither woman separate from man nor man separate from woman in [the] Lord, for as the woman from the man so also the man through the woman; but all things of God. Among you yourselves judge: is it fitting, a woman to pray to God uncovered? [Does] not nature itself teach you that a man indeed if he wears his hair long, it is a dishonor to him, but a woman, if she wears her hair long, it is a glory to her? The long hair has been given to her instead of a covering.”

This text has been used to say that men should keep their hair short, and that women should not shave their heads. It has also been used to support the notion of head coverings (one only needs to think of the Anabaptists). It has also been used to support the notion that men are superior to women, and therefore women should not teach, lead, learn, speak, etc in the church. Yet, when we read what the actual Greek says, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to us English speakers. A lot of the things that we have alluded to are actually not entirely there, and the things that we thought were there are simply flat out vacant from the text. One thing that we do know is this: Paul is speaking of head coverings.

Something to know about Greek is that the same words for man and woman mean husband and wife. Paul could have used words that would mean single men or women, but they bring a connotation that Paul was not wanting to say. So, it is the job of the translator to ask whether Paul is addressing husbands and wives, or whether Paul is addressing men and women. In the above translation, I chose husbands and wives only when we can be certain from the context that it is supposed to be husbands and wives.

Paul used the Greek word kephale instead of arche when speaking of the head. Arche would mean absolute ruler, chief, or the one who is boss over. Kaphale means the literal head – that thing that has a skull, brain, nose, ears, mouth, etc. Kaphale can also be used as a military term: the first one onto battle. The fact that Paul would use the word kaphale instead of arche tells us that Paul did not intend on saying anything about Christ being the ruler over man, nor man being the ruler over the woman. Though Paul does assert that Christ is the arche over the church in Colossians 1:18, in this specific passage that statement is not made.

The word for shorn is a form of the word keiro, which means to sheer (as in a sheep) or to cut short (as in one’s hair).

The word for covered is katakalupto, which is used nowhere else in the New Testament. Kalupto is used elsewhere to mean “cover”, “hide”, or “conceal”, but Paul deliberately added the prefix kata to change the meaning to “cover down over”. In all other passages, when something is “on” someone’s head, the prefix used is epi. Here Paul is saying kata. For this reason, some have translated this as meaning “wearing a veil”. If veil means face covering, then this translation is misleading.

Hair is the Greek word thrix, but here Paul uses the word kome. It, too, is used nowhere else in the New Testament. It denotes long hair that is ornamented.

Nature, which Paul said bears witness that men should not have long hair, is the word phusis. Phusis can mean nature, as in the natural law, or natural order, but it can also mean instinct that we hold to from long standing tradition. In that sense, phusis can mean “long established custom”, or “habit”.

What was Paul saying? Paul appeals to a “tradition” that he had told them before. Now, when Paul wants to say to remember the Gospel that was declared to them, he typically uses the word we translate as Gospel. Here, however, he seems to be alluding to something that he had taught while being with them. Because modern readers were not there when Paul delivered these teachings, we have little clue to what Paul is referencing. However, there is a hint in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. Paul reminds the church in Corinth about Moses wearing a veil “over” his face. The idea of wearing a head covering was linked to the shekinah glory of God shining down upon the devout. Yet, Paul is asserting that we experience greater glory than Moses through Christ. And his point in 2 Corinthians 3 is that we should have unveiled faces, because it is looking into the face of the other believers that we are then changed from glory to glory. It is Christ in you – the hope of glory – that changes your brethren. We let that glory shine out from our faces, not hiding behind a veil or closing our eyes to it, but instead allowing all to see the glory of God in us and through us.

Now, this leads me to a specific conclusion. Paul is talking about the prayer shawl. The prayer shawl would traditionally be placed upon the head, and it would then hang down over the head and face. Paul is instructing them not to have this sort of covering, because their covering is Christ. The head of every man is not Moses, but Christ. We have the blood of Jesus as our covering. This is important because we can interpret it for today as well. Should we close our eyes when we pray? Should we all bow our heads? Or should we behold in one another’s faces the glory of God? Should we sit in pews where everyone faces forward? Should we be seeing the back of someone’s head while listening to the preaching? Or should we instead be able to face one another and see everyone’s reaction?

So, we don’t cover our faces, but allow our faces to be seen. That way, everyone is able to see our Head – Christ. It is a play on words here. Christ is the head over all, but Paul uses the word kaphale meaning the literal body part that sits upon your neck. He is pointing at your head and saying, “What you do with that, and whether you cover your face, is a reflection upon your head – Christ.”

So lets get back to 1 Corinthians 11. Paul starts to speak about women, and how their head is their husband. Now, from the literal translation of the Greek text, we assume that Paul is asserting that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Now, when we say that the head of the wife is her husband, are we then asserting that women are under men? No. We’re saying that the wife is subject to her husband. But what does that mean? The word in Ephesians 5:21-33 that is used to say that the wife is subject to her husband is hupotassomai, which can be translated as, “be supportive of”, “be responsive to”, “give allegiance to”, or “tend to the needs of”. Paul is not asserting that the man is the arche over the woman, and therefore is the ruler of the house. Instead, Paul is saying that the man is the literal head – that thing upon the two shoulders – and thus needs to be supported by his wife. So, when we read this portion of 1 Corinthians 11, we need to understand that Paul is saying that the way you support Christ, as a wife, is by supporting your husband. The way that you tend to Christ is by tending to the needs of your husband. Does that not revolutionize everything?

So, what do we make of this part, “But, every women praying or prophesying with the head uncovered shames the head of her, for it is one and the same thing with the woman who has been shaved”? This might be an allusion to culture. It was tradition that the married woman would cover her hair, or keep it bound up when they were married. It was the sort of “wedding ring” in their day – that which identified them as married instead of single. Paul might be saying to not go against that, for it brings shame upon the husband. At the same time, if a woman cuts her hair short, like the prostitutes of their day, it also brings shame upon their husband. Now, what is necessary to note is that Paul asserts that the wife is the glory of her husband. It isn’t simply that the wife needs to respect her husband’s dignity, but that the wife is actually worth something and precious. The husband is found glorious because his wife, not because of his own doing per se. This might be a hint back to Proverbs 31, which is a reflection of the Bride of Christ.

What should we say about modern times? Is it wrong for a woman to shave her head? Is it wrong for a woman to not cover her head? The context of this portion directed to wives is still under the pretense that “Christ is the head of all”. You come to your own conclusions on that.

Now, here is where this little bit about the angels comes in. “Therefore a woman ought to have authority on the head because of the angels”. Some have taken this as meaning the nephilim. When God destroyed the earth in the flood, there is a strange passage in Genesis 6 about nephilim. People have concluded that angels came down from their heavenly abode to have sex with women and create giants on the earth. I don’t think so. I think that what Paul is saying her should be taken within the context of other things that he said to the Corinthians.

By the time we come to 1 Corinthians 11, we’ve already read chapter 6. 1 Corinthians 6 is about lawsuits among believers. Paul asks, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” Did you not know that we will judge angels? The woman is told that should ought to have authority on the head because of the angels. Who is the head? The head is Christ. What is Paul saying? Women have authority in Christ. You have authority in the name of Jesus over the angels. This is necessary, because you are required to judge the angels. How can you judge them if you don’t have authority over them? Yet, what is the nature of this authority? This authority is most likely in reference to casting out demons and setting captives free.

So the point of what Paul is saying is about what we do with our heads. If we cover them, we hide the glory of Christ in us. Thus, men are told not to allow their hair to become long enough to cover their face. Wives are told to be careful with what they do in relation to their head, because it is a reflection of how they treat their husband. If a wife mistreats their husband, they aren’t simply disgracing a man, but instead Christ. The assertion is made, then, that women are not left out of the authority in Christ, but instead Paul reassures that they do indeed have authority in Christ. It is not men over women, but instead men and women together. For, “neither woman separate from man, nor man separate from woman in [the] Lord, for as the woman from the man, so the man through the woman; but all things of God.”