The focus of this article is 1 Cor 11:7 and its surrounding verses. I explore how 11:7 has been received over the centuries, including how it has been perceived to fit into 1 Cor 11:2–16 and what it has been deemed to communicate regarding the relation of man to woman, woman to man, and both to God. I demonstrate the interpretive difficulties of the passage by surveying the views of six interpreters. In the end, I find all six to be insufficient and opt instead to affirm Paul’s radical vision for a new humanity.
It is clear that 1 Cor 11:2–16, in which vv. 7–10 have a pivotal position, has functioned through the ages to control not only how the church perceives the role of men and women in worship, but more fundamentally how the church perceives the relations of man and woman to one another, to Christ, to God, and even to angels. This passage touches on crucial questions of creation and the nature of God, thus serving as key to understanding God’s relation to the world. It is incumbent upon interpreters, therefore, to seek as much clarity as possible when attempting to fathom these verses.
In 1 Cor 11:3, we read famously that, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (NIV). The passage goes on: Men should uncover their heads in worship, and women should cover theirs, to guard against shame and dishonour. Why? Because man “is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man” (11:7 NIV). Expanded further as a theology of creation, it continues, “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” (11:8–10 NIV). Given that the “authority” in question is represented by a literal head covering, my question is simply, what might this mean?
An enormous amount of confusion has always surrounded these verses. Thus, I suggest first that this confusion renders these verses too fragile to bear the weight forced upon them by generations of scholars and other readers. Nevertheless, because they are still deemed in many circles to have enduring significance for church life and practice, I also suggest that more work needs to be done. There are multiple reasons for the confusion, but in this article I focus on one reason in relation to the doctrine of creation and argue that a surface-level reading of 1 Cor 11:7 and its context gives us a particular view of creation in relation to male and female that accords neither with creation accounts in Genesis nor with other perspectives in Paul’s own letters. Ironically, the principle of perspicuity applied to these verses only serves to generate complexity and to lead us into various contradictions and quandaries.1
What I hope to demonstrate in this article is that there are simply too many interpretive and theological problems with these verses for them to be used as a doctrinal plumb line for the relation of woman to man, Christ, God, or angels. In light of these problems, far more work needs to be done on the content of Paul’s letters pertaining to men and women before assuming that this particular passage should serve in some uncomplicated fashion in molding church life and practice.
Three Straightforward Interpretations
Many interpreters claim to have solved our problems, but I remain unconvinced. A comprehensive survey is beyond the scope of this article, but interestingly 11:2–16 is employed in support of a range of patterns of gender relations, from hierarchicalist to mutualist to both at once.2 Those least likely to perceive the plethora of problems in these verses are those who not only perceive them to be straightforwardly hierarchicalist, but who also approve of the subordination of women to men, believing it to be God-ordained in some fashion. Consider the three following examples.
Chrysostom, a fourth-century preacher and theologian, views the lack of covering for men and the covering for women as symbols of the governor and the governed, of rule and subjection.3 Because the man has Christ as his head, he ought not to cover his head, for he rules over the woman and a ruler coming before a king should have a symbol of his rule (26.4). Note the number of underlying causal assumptions in his argument. According to Chrysostom, Paul supplies four reasons for the superiority of the male:
- He is the head of the woman (v. 3).
- He is the glory of God, and she is his glory (v. 7).
- Man is not “of woman,” but she is “of him” (v. 8).
- Man is not for her, but she for him (v. 9; 26.5).
For these reasons, and because of the angels, a woman must be covered to pray and prophesy. The head covering covers her shame and preserves her virtue. Conversely, a man must not cover his head. To do so is tantamount to casting off a diadem and taking a slave’s garment, which would be shameful for him (26.5). In Chrysostom, therefore, we find an uncomplicated subordinationist view.
Moving forward, sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin has two sources of discomfort. The first is how some aspects of these verses might relate to Gal 3:28, “. . . nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV). The second is whether 11:3 places the man “in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman,” meaning that Christ is no longer the head of woman (§3).4 This, he assumes, would be incorrect. Accordingly, he makes some attempt to harmonize “head” language with Gal 3:28 in relation to equality in some spheres and not others, but in the end confirms the fundamental inequality of men and women (§3).
In Calvin’s view, there is a causal link between references to the head in 11:3, image language in 11:7, authority in 11:10, and head coverings. He remains, however, undecided about which “man” Paul is referring to in the passage. At one point he moves seamlessly to apply the image language in v. 7 solely to husbands and wives (§7), but in §10 he reverts to his point that superiority/inferiority applies to all men and all women, “On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequence of the superiority of the male sex.” Men/husbands remain uncovered as a sign both of their pre-eminence, superiority, and authority as the head of the household and their subjection to Christ. There is an infringement of Christ’s honour when men cover their heads because he is their glory and they must, therefore, shine forth Christ’s glory. Like Chrysostom, Calvin claims that the man has authority, the woman is under subjection, “and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in view of the Church” (§4). Thus, despite some misgivings, this too is a straightforward interpretation of the subordinationist theology within the text.
This hierarchicalist understanding has endured to the modern era. For example, nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge states, “the central idea must be that the woman, being taken from man, is inferior to him,” and that because “she was created because of man . . . the purpose of her existence is not in herself,” which serves to underline “her inferior position,” adding, “all of this reasoning must have deeply displeased the Corinthian feminists.”5
Many people through the ages—not only Christians and feminists—have had problems with this understanding. In our 1 Corinthians passage, concepts that carry significance pertaining to creation, glory, image, visibility, hiddenness, and shame are inextricably linked to gendered positional concepts around superiority, inferiority, rule, and subjection, all centered around the practice of head covering. But how does this fit with other biblical themes, not only in relation to creation in Gen 1:26–27, but in relation to men and women in Christ alluded to in Gal 3:28, 1 Cor 7, and 1 Cor 11:11–12, all pictures of mutuality and interdependence? In addition, other sources of confusion complicate an uncritical hierarchicalist reading: the immensely knotty problems around 11:3, namely, what “head” (kephalē) means and how the three pairings are analogous to one another; which man/men is Paul even referring to in v. 4 and v. 7; why do the angels care? The list goes on and on.
I have discussed this at length in my book Women and Worship at Corinth, showing the widespread disagreement among commentators on these matters.6 Here, I would like to return to my original point, that it is not only the meaning of terms in vv. 7–10 that is confusing, and it is not even that the import of the verses might have become confusing to modern ears; it is the fact that, read simply, the verses contradict claims in the immediate context, claims elsewhere in Paul’s letters, claims for the nature of men and women as creatures before God in Gen 1 and Gen 5, and even fundamental truths regarding deliverance from shame in Christ.
Derivation, Subordination, and Sublimation
On the one hand, it seems clear that 1 Cor 11:3–10, with 1 Cor 11:7 as its focal point, has been utilized for a theology of the subordination of women to men. But this is not the only problem. I see three types of gender relations represented in these verses, which I will call the derivation, subordination, and sublimation of the female, the latter being a term I have borrowed from Marc Cortez, and the one that should cause us the most consternation.7 Sublimation refers to a theological rationale for the idea that, in order for a woman to become acceptable in a way that she is not, either in and of herself or even in her status in Christ, she must undergo some kind of elevation, refinement, and transformation.
That there is a story in Gen 2 of the derivation of woman from the first human being is irrefutable. It is disputable, however, whether this alone can be utilized in a straightforward fashion to form the basis of the subordination of woman. I am arguing that the theology and practice outlined in 1 Cor 11:3–16 is indeed predicated on an initial theology of derivation, which is then employed in the service of a theology of sublimation, of which the subordination of woman is a logical outcome. It is this overarching theological narrative that many commentators either instinctively or openly resist, but in my opinion, is evident in the text.
A Theology of Sublimation?
Most commentators assume that the creation theology of derivation in vv. 8–10 refers to Gen 2:21–24, although this is not unproblematic, due to the modifications of the Genesis account that we see in 1 Corinthians. There is the rather obvious point that 1 Corinthians refers to the male as the image and glory of God rather than male and female as the image and likeness of God. In addition, the Septuagint uses anthrōpos (“person, human”) in Gen 1:26–27, 2:15, and 2:18, and refers to Adam as anthrōpos in 2:21, 2:22, and 2:24. The only exception is in 2:23 where we have the first instance of anēr (“man”); it appears in relation to gunē (“woman”) when Adam exclaims that the woman is “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” Note here that the first momentous statement in relation to gender distinction in Gen 2, albeit concerning derivation, focuses on unity and not on difference. In 1 Cor 11, in contrast to the Genesis accounts, we read anēr throughout. Michael Lakey takes this as an indication that Paul reads not only Gen 2, but also Gen 1:26–27 to mean that the image in question is a description of Adam as male.8 But what are the implications of such a modified understanding?
The Genesis and 1 Corinthians accounts both refer, apparently, to the derivation of woman from man. I would argue, however, that the 1 Corinthians account, coupled with the practice of head covering, leads to the sublimation of woman in a way that the Genesis account does not. In 1 Cor 11, the reason a woman must be covered is not simply that she is created differently from man (as so many exegetes say), but that she is created differently in relation to God from man, because of her relation to man. Furthermore, this difference is not neutral, but is characterized by a deficiency in the woman, which is a cause of shame. What he has naturally (the image), she has not. But not to worry! The remedy for this discrepancy is provided. It is a physical sign (the head covering) to denote that the deficiency has been acknowledged and compensated for. What is elaborated here in 1 Cor 11 is that, in order for a woman to become acceptable to God, to Christ, to his cosmic representatives, to men, and to the society around her, she must perform and/or be subjected to an act that secures for her this approval and authority. In fact, she must not relate to God in prayer (or prophecy) without this compensatory sign.
This elevation and transformation of woman is needed, not only because of what she is in relation to man (a derived creature now dependent upon man), but because of what she lacks because of the derivation (the image and glory of God) because she does not relate to God in the same contiguous fashion. She is once removed. However, when she is covered, the order of the cosmos is restored. Refusal to perform the act is not without consequence. It is not an optional performance. Failure to do so on the part of woman brings shame upon everyone including, of course, the woman herself, making her an object of the apostle’s directive. Do not miss or underplay the coercion present in the passage, in both v. 6 and v. 16. The threat referred to in v. 6 conveys that the refusal to cover is tantamount to gross impropriety and the cause of terrible offense. In v. 16, Paul is adamant, “We have no such custom—in any of the churches of God.” What custom? Women praying without a head covering? Understandably, not everyone is comfortable with this view. How then has it been resisted or modified?
Anthony Thiselton, Gordon Fee, Judith Gundry, Alan Johnson, and many others argue that Paul is holding two views in tension: hierarchicalist in vv. 3–10 and mutualist in vv. 11–12. This signifies the complexity of Paul’s thought. Those who want to resist the unqualified hierarchicalist readings as binding hold that vv. 11–12 act as qualifiers to vv. 4–10. (Even Chrysostom calls these verses a “correction” to prevent women becoming depressed!) The problem with this view is that once you accept that Paul gives vv. 7–10 as a reason for head coverings for women, and if you believe he enforces the practice in v. 16, then the die is cast on sublimation.
As an aside on alternative interpretations, I am well aware of the argument that this passage is referring to hairstyles and not head coverings.9 I do not agree with that view, though hairstyles are mentioned in v. 14. Regardless of the practice (head coverings or hairstyles), any argument that tries to convince us that this is simply about denoting the difference between men and women in a neutral fashion or that it is about cultural sexual impropriety, fails to follow the logic of the passage, fails to account for the reason given in the text for the shame brought upon both sexes (which is different for both sexes), and fails to explain the significance of the covering or lack of covering as that which removes the shame. Failure to do this means that interpreters then neglect to navigate the moves between the figurative and literal signs within the text, either obscuring the crucial import of the connection between the metaphysical and the physical so evident in the passage, or refusing to acknowledge the full extent of the theological disjunction between this passage and the rest of Paul’s letters. We should not accept explanations of this verse that either do not adhere to the causal link of vv. 7–10 with its theological claims and head coverings, or lack thereof, or ignore the severity of the infraction. Divorcing the theological principle from the concrete practice means ignoring a crucial interpretive key to understanding both.
Three Sophisticated Interpretations
Let us now turn to three sophisticated readings that, in my view, follow the principles of perspicuity and wrestle with some of the passage’s complexities, while offering different solutions regarding how we should deal with them, thus highlighting some of the truly problematic issues at stake.
The fourth-century north-African theologian, Augustine of Hippo, discusses these verses in great detail in his work, De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”). His explanation is extremely complex, but I will attempt to summarize it. Augustine’s explanation of the passage is inextricably linked to his understanding of the human psyche as a picture of the image of God and of the human condition, both being and function. This is important in relation to men and women, as we shall see, and is his key move in resisting a literalist and hierarchicalist reading of the text, thus also subverting a theology of sublimation. Augustine maps his view of the structure of the human psyche onto 1 Cor 11:7, a move which Edmund Hill claims both serves “Augustine’s polemical and exegetical motives,” and “also suits his taste for baroque complexity of symbolism and embellishment.”10
According to Augustine, the human psyche is the bearer of the image of God—the psyche with all its plasticity and its potential for good and evil. The psyche is categorized with different levels for different functions in a hierarchical fashion with the sapientia (the capacity for the contemplation of eternal truth and wisdom, also called the mens) as the highest level and the scientia (action or knowledge of temporal things) as a lower order. There are other aspects to the psyche but these two functions are pertinent here, finding their correspondence to man and woman in the creation story.11 Augustine reads the characters in the creation story as symbolic counterparts to the functions of the human mind (the image of God), with “symbolic” being the key word. Adam symbolizes the sapiential function, Eve the sciential, while the sensuality of the outer person corresponds to the serpent.12 The fall is a fall from the sapiential function and a “consenting to the lower sciential function’s lust for material power, into the depths of carnal enslavement.”13 This descent into corruption applies both to male and female. (Note that the movement up and down is significant.)
The move to redemption is the restoration of order “by a movement in the opposite direction, initiated by the Word made flesh. It is only when the sciential function has consented to this divine condescension by faith, and begun to control the appetites of the outer man by virtue, that the highest sapiential function can begin to be released once more for the loving contemplation of the divine.”14 How, then, is this applied to 1 Cor 11:7?
Augustine assumes that 1 Cor 11:7 is the primary reason Paul supplies for the woman needing to cover her head (XII.2.9), and so asks, “how are we to take what we have heard from the apostle, that the man is the image of God, and so he is forbidden to cover his head, but the woman is not and so she is told to do so?” (XII.3.10). That is the right question. “Why is the woman too not the image of God? That, you see, is why she is told to cover her head, which the man is forbidden to do because he is the image of God” (XII.2.9). How does what the apostle says avoid “contradicting what is written in [Gen 1:27]” where the female is not excluded “from the image of God that is meant” (XII.3.10)?
On the one hand, Augustine claims: “the woman with her husband is the image of God in such a way that the whole of that substance is one image.” This is a standard interpretive move in order to harmonize v. 7 with Gen 1:26–27—to reference the first couple as one image because they are husband and wife. Note, however, that with this move, the interpreter complicates matters further by predicating image theology in relation to all men and all women based on the prototypical married couple. All women are not married to all men, so what is the nature of the union in relation to image? Augustine goes on to admit the difference, “when she is assigned her function of being an assistant . . . she is not the image of God; whereas in what concerns the man alone he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman is joined to him in one whole” (XII.3.10).15 The image of man and woman together as the entire image only applies to husband and wife, and only applies to woman as joined to man, whereas man bears this image on his own.
It is the universal human mind, however, that interests Augustine. The human mind, “while it is all contemplating truth” is the image of God. However, when it is
directed in a certain way to the management of temporal affairs, it is still all the same the image of God as regards the part with which it consults the truth it has gazed on; but as regards the part which is directed to managing these lower affairs, it is not the image of God. Now the more it reaches out toward what is eternal, the more it is formed thereby to the image of God, and so it is not to be curbed or required to moderate or restrain its exertions in this direction, and therefore the man ought not to cover his head (1 Cor 11:7). But as regards that rational activity which is occupied with bodily and temporal things, too many advances into this lower territory are dangerous, and so it ought to have authority over its head (1 Cor 11:10); this is indicated by the covering, which symbolizes its need to be curbed. This hallowed and pious symbolism is pleasing to the angels. (XII.3.10)
According to Augustine, Paul is only speaking figuratively about the functions of the psyche. The woman symbolizes, in her sexed body, the lower affairs, which need to be curbed. However, this symbolic function that women carry is precisely only that. Augustine refers to a purely symbolic, mystical, and sacramental act (the covering of the head) rooted in the obvious distinction of the male and female sexes. Any other literal meaning with any concrete ramifications for real relationships read in or out of the text, he dismisses as irrelevant. “So” Augustine continues, “it is clear what the apostle intended to signify, and he did it symbolically and mystically because he was talking about the covering of the female head, and if this does not refer to some hidden sacramental or symbolic meaning, it will remain quite pointless” (XII.3.11).
Although Augustine sees the head covering as a sign of subordination, it does not correspond to any actual subordination or inferiority, or to any suggestion that “men do not engage as much, if not more, in the ‘feminine’ function of mind as do women.”16 Salvation and redemption is the renewal of “the rational mind, which is capable of recognizing God” given equally to men and women (XII.3.12). Augustine appeals to Gal 3:26–28. We are all made sons of God through baptism, “and when we put on the new man it is of course Christ that we put on through faith. Is there anyone then who would exclude females from this association, seeing that together with us men they are fellow heirs of grace” (XII.3.12). Might it simply be that the head covering confirms this new status for women? Would that make it okay? No, not according to Augustine.
Augustine is encouragingly even-handed and aware of the pitfalls of a subordinationist reading that would detract from woman’s status in God, or even lead to woman being unfairly accused of standing for the baser instincts (XII.3.20). Why the differentiation in head coverings, “as though the woman were not being renewed in the spirit of her mind . . . (Col 3:10)?” It is because men and women share a common nature in their minds, but symbolize the distribution of the one mind in their bodies (XII.3.12).
In sum, he differentiates between “wisdom” and “knowledge,” assuming that we will all agree that knowledge should be “subordinated” to wisdom (XII.3.25). He concludes, “The point of staging this discussion has simply been to help us understand why the apostle attributes the image of God to the man only and not to the woman as well, and to see that he did it because he wanted to use the distinction of sex between two human beings to signify something that must be looked for in every single human being” (XII.3.19).
Here we have an ancient reading in which all the obvious subordinationist overtones are acknowledged and then, interestingly, resisted. His method of resisting these, however, is not transferable to the modern day, based as it is on ancient theological and anthropological categories. We simply do not view the human being in relation to men and women in such a way today.
A Note on Augustine’s Use of 1 Corinthians 11:3
Does referring to 11:3, with its use of “head” (kephalē), serve to clarify Paul’s meaning or to muddy the waters? Most commentators assume it will help. Man is the image and glory because he is the “head,” is he not? Augustine, however, also resists this connection. Hill notices the omission, surmising that Augustine has failed to draw a valuable parallel due to his prior theological commitments. This seems correct, for Augustine makes much of rejecting interpersonal and relational analogies between the family (husband and wife) and the Trinity, precisely because of the detrimental impact this will have on the doctrine of God.
Interestingly, Hill believes Augustine has missed a trick. According to Hill, 11:3 is an interpretive key to Paul’s thought in that there is a “chain of relationships or origin, God—Christ—man—woman.” This is a common perception. First, focus on Father/Son for God/Christ, “so we can set up a proportion: as the Son is to the Father, so is the woman to the man; as the Son is from the Father, so is the woman from the man.” He rightly believes this to be “a fair interpretation of Paul,” while admitting the “analogy has its limitations, of course. . . .”17 Hill employs the analogy to draw conclusions regarding equality of nature and not subordination, thus avoiding doctrinal errors regarding the Father and Son, but still misses the biggest problem with v. 3, not lost on early commentators.
First in relation to method, Augustine resists analogies between human relations and divine relations, for good reasons. But a further complication, highlighted by Hill’s simplistic picture, is what to do with the Christ/man pairing in the middle of the chain? Even Chrysostom, a committed subordinationist in relation to man and woman, refuses to draw his subordinationism from 11:3. He conducts instead a far more sophisticated discussion on the limitations and potential of the analogies, and resists the simple equation that Hill falls prey to. Chrysostom’s best explanation for kephalē is that it denotes a first principle and perfect union, but he warns, “The Son has the same honour with Him that begot him, but clearly, the man does not have the same honour as Christ.” Man is not to Christ as Christ is to God, so “Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars.”18 Chrysostom himself puts necessary restrictions in place. We should heed his caution.
Barth’s explanation of 1 Cor 11 exceeds Augustine’s in its complexity. Like Augustine and Chrysostom he attempts to rescue Paul from potential problems with his anthropology, and like Augustine, he also attempts to rescue women from blunt statements regarding their derived and/or subordinate status. However, not only does he fail to exercise the patristic cautions regarding too strict an application of these verses both to real relations of men and women and to the nature of God, but his attempts to convey equality within super- and sub-ordinate relations becomes both tortuous and torturous in the end.
Barth applauds Paul’s “enthusiastic attempt” to “introduce equality” within difference in vv. 11–12 and attempts to do the same while maintaining the paradigm of super- and sub-ordination, evident in the text.19 What is new is his further attempt not only to convince us that a subordinate status is not inferior in any way, but can even be understood as greater.20 This he does by way of a parallel with Christ and the church referring back to 11:3, which is the mystery wherein lies the key to the relations of husbands to wives and all men to all women.
The result is an entire theological anthropology, an entire ecclesiology, and an entire theology of marriage constructed on the basis of a few verses. The resultant theology becomes increasingly labyrinthine. The key to untwisting his thought is first understanding that he views the theological anthropology in 1 Cor 11 through Eph 5, the standard text for the point at issue.21 This means that he maintains the idea of super- and sub-ordination as essential to his cosmology (with corresponding roles for male and female, husband and wife and the need to reflect this in a worldly order derived from the text), while simultaneously disarming this concept referring to a developed exegesis of Eph 5, Song of Songs, and 1 Cor 11:11–12 to argue for mutual and reciprocal subordination of husband and wife, which he also applies to all men and all women.22 The husband and wife metaphor is central to his theological scheme, and I have noted above the problems with this.
In relation to the image theology, Barth resists the idea that woman is not the image by inferring that woman, as the other created human, is absorbed into the Adam typology. All that can be said of Adam can be said of her. He rejects the early asymmetric readings of v. 7 to claim that the prototypical “man” is incomplete without “woman.” His theological anthropology rests on an undefended claim that Paul’s “man” in v. 7 has multiple referents: Adam/man/husbands. There is no image or glory for either man or woman unless they are understood to exist in union, but the precise nature of this union remains unexplained.
Despite his insistence that man as subordinate to Christ has no authority (exousia) of his own, a fundamental inequality between man and woman persists.23 The man is identified with Christ both in Christ’s superordination and his subordination. The woman is identified with Christ only in Christ’s subordination.24 Barth tries to convince us that this is a privileged position; in the place of the subordinate and submissive community and Christ, woman is ennobled and glorified. He is at pains to convince us that the subordination of women is neither a negative condition nor a permanent one, and to be fair, he insists that the men must also take their subordinate place, leaving no room for the exaltation of man and the oppression of woman.25 In this way, he attempts to apply salve to the wound. In the end, however, in this elaborately tensive/subordinationist reading, he fails to address the sublimation evident in the text.
Lakey, in my view, is the most insightful interpreter of this passage. He attends carefully to the text with all its complexity in its method, its theology, and its application. Lakey’s thesis is that Paul’s theology of gender stems from a Graeco-Roman worldview, influenced by Stoic thought, and predicated on a hierarchical cosmic order where men are naturally viewed as pre-eminent. Against Barth, he asserts that Paul identifies man as the glory of God “in contradistinction” to woman as the glory of man and that v. 7b “is a clear indication that he regards the former epithet as a uniquely male trait.”26 On how this accords with Gen 1:26–27, Lakey believes Paul takes it to refer to “a peculiarly male form of androgyny.”27 Highlighting Paul’s unusual use of the terms “image” [eikōn] and “glory” [doxa] instead of “image” and “likeness” [homoiōsis], he posits that “glory” may be an interpretive gloss on one of the terms used in the biblical story. “However, since it is a poor rendering of both eikōn and homoiōsis, this is hardly satisfactory.”28
Lakey’s understanding of Paul’s thought is this: “the male is the bearer of the divine likeness and a (now-lost) visible glory” and therefore “male heads ought to be uncovered because the primal male as glory bearer was physically constituted for revelation, hence visibility. As such, male uncovering would be a creational norm.”29 The woman, however, is neither the eikōn (“image”) nor kephalē (“head”) of anyone. He concludes:
Put bluntly: that the woman is doxa andros [“glory of man”] means she is not doxa theou [“glory of God”]. This itself is sufficient to warrant the covering directive (v. 10); if man as doxa theou is created to manifest the glory of God by uncovering, then, for Paul, woman as doxa andros is not. Perhaps he regards that which is not doxa theou as deficient, with female covering as a remedy effected in the interests of her participation. Alternatively, it may be that what is not doxa theou is out of place and must be concealed in the interests of congregational purity. If so, then the irony of defining the ekklesia [“church, assembly”] as male space, while simultaneously veiling man’s glory is lost on Paul. Finally, it may be that “in God’s presence [the glory of man] must inevitably turn to shame,” and that in order thereby to authorize her ministry the prophesying woman must cover herself.30
This is a description of a theology of sublimation, and nothing I find in any other reading, even the most elaborate ones, is able categorically to refute this from the text. In fact, it is perfectly in line with what we see in Chrysostom, Calvin, and Hodge and is, in my view, the most “plain sense” reading.
My conclusion and my most serious point in relation to this passage is the following: Whichever way you read 11:7, and the implications and application of this verse, the message of the text as it has most often been understood is that the woman lacks something that the man does not, and that this is rooted in the creation order. It might be a physical deficiency in an Aristotelian sense, a symbolic positioning below the male, a lack of authority in a spiritual sense in the sight of the angels, a creational deficiency in her own image and glory, or maybe all of the above in some way. Furthermore, this lack is a source of shame.
And the remedy to this: a head covering, a hairstyle, a scarf? To approach God in prayer, she covers her head, and thus becomes acceptable. Woman’s cosmic cultic infraction against God via her relation to man, merely by virtue of being a woman, is annulled through her wearing of a veil. In many cases, it is this theological principle that is taken and transmuted to the present day to a male/priestly presence “covering” the participation of a woman in some form of Christian leadership or public ministry.
Glory in man becomes shame if it is covered. Woman has glory when she is covered or hidden—not, as we might and should expect, covered or hidden in Christ, but hidden under a symbol of the conferred authority that is clearly not hers by right either as a creature made in God’s image or a co-heir with Christ. Lakey concludes, “Paul’s argument presumes the . . . intrinsic inferiority of women. Without this assumption his argument lacks coherence, with it, the argument is logical, continuous, but unacceptable to Moderns.”31 Lakey issues a challenge to those readers of Paul who see enduring significance within the passage for modern men and women. He concludes that “the generative codes of this passage are, from the perspective of current readers, aberrant and implausible,” and thus “we cannot be constrained by them in an identical fashion.”32
However we choose to treat these passages, I hope I have demonstrated that it is not only moderns who have struggled here, and that the text poses immense challenges for us if we believe these verses genuinely reflect Paul’s views on men and women. My own view of Paul, in line with scholars such as Scot McKnight, N. T. Wright, John Barclay, Craig Keener, and many others, is that Paul did not hold to the view that women were created as lesser beings, but was an apostle with a radical vision for a new humanity for whom a theology of sublimation applied to Jew/Gentile, slave/free or male/female would have been anathema.
For these reasons, among many others, I make a case in my own work for assigning these views and practices not to the apostle, but to a group of domineering male leaders within the Corinthian church that Paul himself is correcting. In Women and Worship at Corinth, I argue that Paul is not muddled, inconsistent, or misguided, but that he is using this letter as an opportunity to oppose the distorted theology of the Corinthians that has led to oppressive practices towards women.
1. Perspicuity is the doctrine that, because of inspiration, the main thrust of the Bible is clear and can be understood by essentially any literate and well-intentioned person.
2. I deliberately avoid the terms “egalitarian” and “complementarian,” for I believe them to be misnomers when applied to male/female relations in the way they are currently used.
3. Chrysostom, “John,” NPNF 1–14. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff (T&T Clark, 1889).
4. John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/calvin/1 _corinthians/11.htm).
5. Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Banner of Truth Trust, 1959) 106.
6. Lucy Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (Cascade, 2015).
7. Marc Cortez, Theological Anthropology: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2010) Loc. 602.
8. Michael J. Lakey, Image and Glory of God: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 as a Case Study in Bible, Gender and Hermeneutics (T&T Clark, 2010) 111.
9. See for example Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1994); Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (Oxford University Press, 2009).
10. Augustine, De Trinitate, ed. Edmund Hill (New City, 1991) 261.
11. Augustine also discusses the animus (the rational) and anima (the soul) as aspects of the psyche, but this is not relevant to this particular argument. For further insight into Augustine’s view on the distinction of men and women at creation and the fall, see his commentary on Genesis.
12. Augustine, De Trin., 261.
13. Augustine, De Trin., 262.
14. Augustine, De Trin., 262.
15. Aquinas includes a reference to this verse within a general discussion on the nature of humanity as the image of God. By way of explaining Paul’s theology in the light of Genesis, Aquinas sees man as the “principle” of woman, and indeed the principle of the whole human race (ST 1a.92.2). He then differentiates between a primary, principal signification of the image found in both men and women, as we see in Genesis, and a secondary signification, which is not found in woman, as we see in 1 Cor 11:7. “The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. [quotes Gen 1:27] . . . But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the beginning and end of every creature. So when the Apostle had said that ‘man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man,’ he adds his reason for saying this; ‘For man is not of woman, but woman of man, and was not created for woman, but woman for man’” (ST 1a.93.4).
16. See Hill’s comments in Augustine, De Trin., 330 fn 28 on this section for a defense of Augustine’s mutualist position.
17. Augustine, De Trin., 328.
18. Chrysostom, Hom., 26.3.
19. This is what he claims Paul is doing in 11:11–12. See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Hendrickson, 2014) III:1, 309.
20. Barth’s claim in relation to the origins of humanity is that woman’s glory is greater than man’s. Man receives an incomprehensible honour and distinction, and woman is this honour of his in her own person. “It is her existence which signifies the completion of the humanity of his own creation.” CD III:2, 302. “Without her he could not be the glory of God.” CD III:2, 303.
21. CD III:2, 312. Eph 5 and the marriage metaphor dominate his ecclesiology and his anthropology. Christ is who he is with the church. “It is with them (the community) that Jesus Christ is God’s image.” He continues: “this christological equation has at the root an inclusive character, so that it is also an ecclesiological and therefore even an anthropological equation” CD III:1, 205. As woman is in man as the image, so the community is in Christ as his image, which is the image and glory of God.
22. Barth notes: “But it is to subordination that the husband himself is summoned. That he should love his wife is his particular part or function in the mutual subordination demanded in [Eph 5:21]” CD III:2, 316. He has to address the passive, derived status of woman, which he does by way of election. Woman is chosen by man—elect of him—in her acceptance. She becomes not only the passive recipient of existence, but she chooses him. Barth sees the marriage mandate as balancing the creation story and turning it on its head. The leaving and cleaving of man and the dependence on his wife for fulfillment leaves him the weaker half. Even Paul endorses this, after all, which Barth points out in vv. 11–12 which he claims is Paul’s “enthusiastic attempt . . . to introduce equality” (CD III:2, 309) and where, in Barth’s view, “Paul tells us plainly enough that he does not retract anything he says in Gal 3:28” III/2, 309.
23. CD III:2, 311.
24. “If it is no little thing for man to be kephalē in relation to woman, i.e., the one who has precedence, initiative and authority, the representative of the order which embraces them both, it is no little thing for woman to take the place which she is assigned in relation to man and therefore not to be kephalē but to be led by him, to accept his authority, to recognize the order which claims them both as it is represented by him” (CD III:2, 311).
25. CD III:2, 312.
26. Lakey, Image and Glory, 111.
27. Lakey, Image and Glory, 111.
28. Lakey, Image and Glory, 111.
29. Lakey, Image and Glory, 111.
30. Lakey, Image and Glory, 112.
31. Lakey, Image and Glory, 135.
32. Lakey, Image and Glory, 181.