Daddy blog

I started this blog when I was following the Life Journal Bible reading plan on YouVersion. (I've since completed that plan.) At that time, YouVersion didn't provide any way for people to respond to my notes, other than to "like" them. So this blog is here to remedy that problem. You may comment on my notes here in the comment section.
I also have a general blog.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Problem passages: 1st Corinthians and Women.

21/5/2016

S: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

1Be imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2Now I praise you, brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. 3But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. 6For if a woman is not covered, let her hair also be cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or be shaved, let her be covered. 7For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man. 8For man is not from woman, but woman from man; 9for man wasn’t created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10For this cause the woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

11Nevertheless, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. 12For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves. Is it appropriate that a woman pray to God unveiled? 14Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do God’s assemblies.

1 Corinthians 14:34-40

34Let the women be quiet in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to be talking except in submission, as the law also says, 35if they desire to learn anything. “Let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to be talking in the assembly.” 36What!? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone? 37If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. 38But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39Therefore, brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking with other languages. 40Let all things be done decently and in order.

O: These two passages are very problematic for modern Christians because they seem to teach very misogynistic sexist nonsense.

I mean, “For this cause the woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” Because of the angels? What in the world do angels have to do with anything? And “But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or be shaved, let her be covered.” and “Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” No, nature doesn’t. What are you talking about, Paul? And hair length is clearly a cultural thing. In many cultures throughout the centuries, it's perfectly culturally acceptable for men to have long hair and women to have short hair. What nonsense are you talking about, Paul?

And what’s this nonsense about it being shameful for women to speak in church? And “as the law also says”? Mr. anti-Judiazer who argues against “the law” all the time — the term is used in their cultural context, not to mean the Old Testament, but rather, the rabbinic tradition — suddenly appealing to “the law”? And, just 2 chapters earlier, he was telling women that they must cover their heads when speaking in church... so they do speak in church?

Actually, many years ago, I have already come to an understanding about the chapter 14 passage that makes sense to me. Someone had pointed out to me that Paul was writing 1st Corinthians in reply to something the Corinthians and written to him asking a lot of things. So in 1st Corinthians, he is replying to many things stated in that earlier letter to him. What if he's quoting an argument from the earlier letter in 14:24-35? Remember, in their writing, there are no quotation marks.

Then the whole thing suddenly makes sense: some people were saying, “Women should keep quiet in church. They are not allowed to speak out but should be under authority. As rabbinic tradition says, if there is something they want to know, they should ask their own husbands at home. It is shameful for a woman to speak up like that in church.”

Paul then rebuts that with, “What!? Was it from you (men) that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you (men) alone? If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write to you, that they are the commandment of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brothers, desire earnestly to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking with other languages. Let all things be done decently and in order.”

In other words, some men were saying, because of the influence of the very misogynistic sexist rabbinic tradition, that women shouldn't be allowed to talk in church — which also means forbidding them from prophesying, speaking in tongues or praying. Indeed, in rabbinic tradition, the women were segregated behind the men behind a screen in synagogue and not allowed to speak, and they are required to ask their husbands at home. But Paul scolds them, pointing out that words from the Lord clearly come to women as well. The Holy Spirit enables women to speak as well. Don’t forbid them!

Orthodox Jews still separate the women to this day.
Now, if a passage from scripture seems to say something very obvious on the surface, we shouldn’t be eager to search for an alternate interpretation. However, there are many times when scripture seems to contradict itself, and here we have the very same epistle seeming to contradict itself — chapter 11 says women are clearly allowed to prophecy and pray in church, and the dispute is in how they’re dressed while doing that, while chapter 14 seems to be saying they can’t even speak!

So, we are compelled to search for an alternate understanding. I’m not claiming that my alternate understanding above is definitely unarguably the correct one, but it’s something that makes sense and does reconcile this seeming contradiction.

Now, how about the chapter 11 passage? We might argue that Paul was just being steeped in his own cultural context here and totally missing the bigger picture. So this is his own limited view, and not universal.

But if this is scripture, surely the Holy Spirit would have stopped him from writing it? Or at least, have him preface it with “I, not the Lord, say” like he did when talking about how he thought that staying single was better than marrying, back in chapter 7 verse 12? Also, why are these arguments based on the angels, for goodness sake? Shouldn’t it say something like “because in our culture it is shameful for women to uncover their hair or to have short hair” (which, indeed, it was — I’m told that, in their culture, to have uncovered hair in public was tantamount to announcing that you were a prostitute.)

I don’t think my technique from chapter 14 will work here, because the passage doesn’t seem to be followed up by a rebuttal. After this passage, Paul immediately goes on to discuss the next issue — holy communion.

So, how do we deal with this? I don’t know. I don’t know! Years ago, I would not have been able to accept this conclusion. But as I pointed out in my earlier Life Journal entry on the Abomination and Desolation, scripture was written so long ago in a different language and cultural context. It is not surprising that there are passages that we don’t understand when reading it in our own language and cultural context. For Matthew 24:15-30, fortunately, we have the parallel passage in Luke 21 to explain to us that the abomination of desolation meant, in their cultural and linguistic context, armies surrounding Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a passage like Luke explaining Matthew here for us to compare with to figure out what in the world Paul meant by “because of the angels” in relation to covering women’s hair. Oh well, that’s just too bad. But there's no need to get too vexed about this open question.

A: There are many passages which are puzzling in the Bible. It's not surprising, because it's such a big collection of books, and was written in a different time centuries ago and in a different culture. Things that were obvious to its original audience could easily be puzzling to us here and now.

So, we shouldn't be dismayed when we come across stuff we have difficulty understanding. There are many websites out there that discuss various difficulties. And of course, there may be things that nobody knows right now.

P: Father, thank You for Your Scripture, even the difficult passages. Help us to trust You anyway and give us Your peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Note: this is using the SOAP method. For more information, see this page (not written by me.)

1 comment:

  1. Thomas Kuruvilla: 1 Cor mentions that women should cover thei heads when praying or prophesying. It doesn't need to mean in a church.

    Ian Chai: Interesting, I was reading in NLT and it was taking about public worship, but I checked NET and the word "public" isn't there.

    Interesting also that many other web pages taking about this passage with different suggestions for interpretation then mine also talk about public... is there something in the Greek that implies public, I wonder?

    May I share this conversation with others, for the alternative view?

    Thomas Kuruvilla: Sure

    ReplyDelete