An unfortunate history of misinterpretation and abuse has surrounded 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. It has been taken out of context and used to suppress women’s involvement in the ministry of the church. The egalitarian interpretation, however, finally perceives this verse, not as a tool of oppression, but as one with a helpful cross-cultural message.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
The occasion for writing the following article is this: at a recent summer convention [probably 1893] a young lady missionary had been appointed to give an account of her work at one of the public sessions. The scruples of certain of the delegates against a woman’s addressing a mixed assembly were found to be so strong, however, that the lady was withdrawn from the programme, and further public participation in the conference confined to its male constituency.
What did Paul mean when he told the women to keep silent? If he was indeed saying that women should not minister publicly, he was contradicting what he said earlier when he gave instructions for women’s dress code while prophesying!
This article is an attempt to solve one specific problem: the proper translation of the word exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10 (“For this reason the woman ought to have exousia over her head, because of the angels”). The translation of this word has been given much attention, because it is crucial for understanding the passage (11:2-16).
Since the middle of the twentieth century there has been an ongoing, sometimes acrimonious debate over the meaning of “head” (Greek, kephalē) in Paul’s letters, especially 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23. This article is an attempt to review the most significant scholarly literature that has emerged in the debate and to summarize each without critique.
Although we may idealize the early church, most of us would not have enjoyed a visit to a worship service at Corinth. The impression which one was most likely to receive was that of chaos and delirious insanity.