Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (concluded)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Last week, under the heading of Literary Criticism (and Composition Criticism), we explored our passage (2 Cor 6:14-7:1) from the standpoint of Pauline authorship, both in terms of the immediate context of 2:14-7:4, and the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. In particular, at the close of the prior study, I gave consideration to the place of the passage within the entire letter, on the theory that our canonical book was, in fact, composed as a single letter by Paul. Compilation theories are common among critical commentators, and are plausible (more or less) to some degree, but they all face considerable difficulties with relatively little hard evidence to support them. At the same time, the structure and flow of 2 Corinthians, considered as a single letter, is also problematic.

Last week, I noted that there is a consistent (and apparently straightforward) letter at the core of 2 Corinthians, one centered on the financial collection for the Christians in Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9); it could plausibly be reconstructed as follows: 1:1-2:13; 7:5-16; chaps. 8-9; and 13:11-14 (or a comparable closing). What distorts this clean structure are the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status and relationship to the Corinthians—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:10—which fit uneasily into the formal epistolary and rhetorical pattern, and which largely account for the shifts in tone and emphasis. Both of these lengthy sections could serve as the core of letters themselves, with a self-contained structure that extends and distorts the outline of 2 Corinthians when taken as a whole. Thus, the critical view that one or both of these sections come from separate letters. But what of the possibility that they were both authored by Paul as part of the same letter (i.e. our canonical 2 Corinthians)? This could have a considerable bearing on the place and purpose of 6:14-7:1, and so should be examined in a bit more detail.

If, in fact, the financial collection for Jerusalem is the center of the letter, and Paul’s main purpose for writing, then the two ‘digressions’ on his apostolic status (in connection to the Corinthians) could be related to this. Is it possible to explain the letter’s (current) structure on this basis? and what, then, is the relationship? To begin with, in the structure of the letter as we have it, the two apostolic ‘digressions’ are embedded as part of the sections that bracket the central instruction regarding the collection for Jerusalem:

    • Extended Narration (narratio)—1:15-7:16
      [2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians]
    • Main Proposition (propositio) and Arguments (probatio) with Exhortation (exhortatio?)—8:1-9:15
    • Extended Exhortation (exhortatio), with concluding Argument/Appeal (peroratio)—10:1-13:10

Moreover, in spite of the differences in tone and style between the two apostolic discussions, they share a number of features and details in common, and are clearly related to the same basic subject—Paul’s role and status as an apostle to the Corinthians believers. Let us briefly consider the structure of these two sections—first, the discussion in 2:14-7:4:

    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)

Second, that in 10:1-13:4:

    • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
      • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
      • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
      • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
      • Closing appeal (13:1-4)

There is a general similarity in terms of structure: an initial statement, followed by three issues/arguments addressed by Paul, ending with a forceful exhortation/appeal. Admittedly, there are also significant differences, especially in terms of the thrust of each discussion. In particular, in 10:1-13:4 Paul uses a much stronger (and harsher) tone, similar in style and language to what we find in Galatians; as in that letter, Paul focuses on specific ‘opponents’, other (outside) leaders/ministers who are influencing the congregations he helped to found. There remains considerable scholarly debate as to just who these other (would-be) apostles are, along with the exact nature of Paul’s conflict with them. Based on the data in 2 Cor 10-13, we may plausibly determine the following details: (a) they were Jewish, (b) they came from outside the initial apostolic mission that founded the congregations, (c) they came with noteworthy credentials (commendatory letters), (d) they had a charismatic emphasis (more so than Paul), and perhaps were also more eloquent and impressive as speakers. It is unlikely that these were Palestinian Jewish Christians (from Jerusalem, etc); they appear to have been from the wider Hellenistic Jewish world, perhaps similar in background to Apollos. Interestingly, unlike in Galatians, Paul mentions no specific theological or doctrinal differences; his attack on them has more to do with how he viewed their personal character and understanding of the apostolic ministry.

Though it requires reading between the lines a bit, I believe the situation addressed by Paul in 10:1-13:4 is also in view in the earlier discussion of 2:14-7:4. In particular, the importance he gives to the question of letters of recommendation in chapter 3 is noteworthy. In an age when communication was extremely slow (and could be unreliable), transmission and presentation of letters played a key role in establishing a person’s legitimacy, qualifications, and intent. We also know from early Christian writings of the issues surrounding traveling ministers, the difficulties faced in establishing their pedigree and character, etc., including the potential danger an illegitimate itinerant minister could pose to a congregation. See, for example, chapters 11-13 of the so-called “Teaching (Didache) of the Twelve Apostles”. Apart from all other concerns, it was natural that a missionary like Paul would be highly protective of the congregations he played a role in founding. Moreover, from 1 Cor 1:10-17, it would seem there was a tendency among at least some in Corinth to identify themselves strongly with specific apostolic figures, in a partisan way that Paul found troubling. This could help us understand how influence from other outside ‘apostles’ could have quickly taken hold at Corinth, especially if such persons had impressive recommendations and/or demonstrated exciting charismatic abilities.

I think it may be possible to reconstruct a scenario that could explain why Paul writes as he does, including the two lengthy apostolic discussions. He wishes to see the effort of the financial collection for Jerusalem, so important in his mind, be carried through to completion (1 Cor 16:1-4, etc). However, significant problems had arisen which have disrupted and strained his relationship with the Corinthian congregations. He mentions one specific issue in 2:5-11, but it is clear that the conflict goes deeper and is more serious than this. He would not write so extensively defending and explaining his apostolic role and status, in relation to the Corinthians, were this not the case. Based on a careful reading of both apostolic discussion sections, it is possible to isolate two major (and likely related) issues: (1) the influence of other ‘apostles’ from outside who raised questions regarding Paul’s behavior and qualifications, etc, and (2) accusations/suggestions of misconduct by Paul. It is proper to consider them in this order and weight, since that is how Paul treats them in both discussions:

    • Extended discussion, with arguments, illustrations, etc, on Paul’s apostolic status and qualifications, both in relation to the Corinthians (emphasized in 2:14-7:4), and in comparison to these other ‘apostles’ (emphasized in chaps. 10-13)
    • At the close of the discussion, mention of accusations of misconduct, along with an implicit, but forceful denial.

Though less attention is given to the latter, it would seem to be the point that is most relevant for connecting the two apostolic discussions to the central matter of the financial collection for Jerusalem. The suggestions of misconduct occur at roughly the same point in each discussion—at the close of his arguments and in the context of the concluding appeal. In this first discussion, it happens to occur directly after 6:14-7:1 (a point to be further considered below), in 7:2ff. As I noted previously, Paul gives a concise three-fold denial of misconduct toward the Corinthians, using three verbs:

    • “we treated no one unjustly” (oudéna ¢dik¢samen)
    • “we corrupted no one” (oudéna ephtheíramen)
    • “we sought to have more (from) no one” (oudéna epleonekt¢¡samen)

In the second discussion, he addresses the matter in more detail, in 12:14-18:

“See, this (is the) third (time) I hold (myself) ready to come toward you, and I will not numb [i.e. weigh] you down—for I do not seek the (thing)s (that are) yours, but you. … And it must be (then), (that) I did not weigh you down; but (surely) (operat)ing under (an) all-working (cleverness), I took you with a trick! No, by any (one) whom I se(n)t forth toward you, did I seek to get more (from) you through him? I called Titus alongside and se(n)t him forth (to you) together with the brother; Titus did not (make) any attempt to get more (from) you (did he)? (and are we) not (moving) in the same track?”

Paul’s language here needs to be understood in light of the wider discussion in 2 Corinthians (especially here in chaps. 10-13), where Paul emphasizes that he did not burden the Corinthians with requests/demands for financial assistance (to support his ministry work)—on this point, see 11:7-11; 12:13, and the similar discussion in 1 Cor 9:1-18. The specific verb used in 12:14 (also 12:13 and 11:9) is katanarkᜠ(“numb down”), synonymous with katabaréœ (“weigh down”) in verse 16. This should have been viewed as a sign of Paul’s love and concern (his heart opened wide, 6:11); and yet, it appears to have played a part in suspicions and accusations against him. Twice in 12:17-18 (see the italicized words above), the verb pleonektéœ is used in this regard. It means simply “hold/have more”, but is often used in the sense of seeking to gain/get more from others (i.e. act greedily), sometimes with the harshly negative connotation of deceiving/defrauding others. This is one of the three verbs in Paul’s three-fold denial in 7:2 (see above), which would seem to confirm that the wrongdoing (adikía, “injustice”) of which he is suspected and/or accused relates primarily, if not entirely, to the idea that he is trying to get hold of money from the Corinthians through deception. If this is so, then it almost certainly is connected with the fundraising effort for Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9).

The accusation or suspicious criticism against Paul may have been along the following lines: He claims that he doesn’t ask any money of you for himself, but can you be sure he isn’t trying to defraud you with this collection? What if he is trying to trick you with these requests for money? Given the harshness of Paul’s attack in 10:1-13:4, it is likely that these other ‘apostles’ were at least partly responsible for spreading suspicions of this sort. As such, his collection efforts (and any accusations regarding them) cut right to the heart of his relation to the Corinthians as an apostle. Thus, he felt it necessary to expound and explain this to them in considerable detail—the nature of the apostolic ministry, and what it means for he (and his fellow missionaries) to be specially chosen and sent forth (i.e. an apostle) by God to proclaim the Gospel. At some level, he must have been hurt by any suspicions or accusation against him, however unfounded, and this comes through, especially in the first discussion, in the concluding exhortation/appeal (6:11-7:4), when he declares:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, …. make space for us!

The striking difference in tone between 2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4 has been noted numerous times, and this, too, can perhaps be explained in context of the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). Since the Collection is foremost in mind, central to the letter and Paul’s purpose for writing, it would make sense that he waited until the matters regarding it were addressed before embarking in his polemic against the would-be apostles that were influencing the Corinthians. In other words, the two apostolic discussions are, in effect, two halves of a single line of argument separated by the matter of the Collection. In the first half (2:14-7:4) Paul presents himself as a true apostle, whom the Corinthians should regard in their proper relationship to him; in the second half (10:1-13:4), Paul compares/contrasts himself with these would-be ‘false’ apostles. We may view this as two sides of the same conflict.

Even if this line of interpretation is essentially correct, how does 6:14-7:1 relate to it? In the previous study, I laid out a possible contextual relationship, relating the injustice (adikía) that characterizes the non-believer (6:14ff) with the accusation/suspicion that Paul has acted unjustly (vb. adikéœ, 7:2). As it happens, there is a similar sort of dynamic at the end of the second apostolic discussion; note the following comparative outline:

    • First appeal—for the the proper relationship between Paul & the Corinthians (6:11-13 / 12:14-18)
    • Warning against behavior that is improper for believers, drawing upon traditional ethical-religious instruction (6:14-7:1 / 12:19-21)
    • Second appeal—picking up and restating the substance of the first appeal (7:2-4 / 13:1-4)

Due to the harsher tone of 10:1-13:4, the warning in 12:19-21 seems less out of place than in 6:14-7:1, and it also happens to resemble more closely the type of traditional ethical instruction (utilizing standard vice lists) Paul gives elsewhere in his letters (Gal 5:19-23; Rom 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:9-11; 6:9-10). Even so, a strong argument can be made that 6:14-7:1 and 12:19-21 play the same role in both sections, and are evidence for the careful construction of those apostolic discussions within the setting of the letter as a whole. Though the context is less clear in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is strikingly evident in 12:19ff:

“In (what has) passed, do you consider that we are giv(ing) an account of ourselves to you? (It is) down before God in the Anointed {Christ} (that) we speak—and all th(ese thing)s, loved (one)s, (are) over [i.e. for] your (be)ing built (up). For I am afraid (in) no (little) way (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be)…”

In other words, the purpose of the apostolic discussions—both here and in 2:14-7:4—despite their apologetic character, where Paul seems to be defending his apostleship, is to the restore and preserve the proper relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Note the important reciprocal language he uses: “For I am afraid … (that), (in my) coming, I should not find you like I wish (you to be), and I should be found like you do not wish (me to be).” Both sides of the relationship are threatened. This reflects a key theme that runs through both Corinthian letters—the importance of unity among believers, and how this aspect of our Christian identity is threatened by divisions and partisanship. In 12:20b, Paul neatly summarizes this disruption of unity through the popular ‘vice list’ format.

As in the case of 6:14-7:1, it is fair to refer to this as a description of what should not be present among believers (pístoi, those trusting)—rather, such disputes and divisiveness would more properly be characteristic of non-believers (ápistoi, those without trust). Moreover, the kind of immaturity that would lead to such division—including, to be sure the influence of the ‘false apostles’ and suspicions/accusations against Paul—might equally show one prone to more basic immorality and improper behavior. Again, as in 6:14-7:1, Paul refers to the immorality characteristic of non-believers, here indicating more directly that this may be a genuine problem for some Christians at Corinth (12:21). Thus, while Paul may deal with such ethical-religious matters in more detail in 1 Corinthians (5:1-13; 6:9-20; 10:14ff), it is not necessarily out of place here in 2 Corinthians, where the very character of what it means to be a true believer in Christ (in unity with others) is being addressed.


It may be helpful here, in conclusion, to bring together the strands of our study by way of a brief summary.

    • That there are a significant number of unusual or atypical details—words, phrases, style, points of emphasis, etc—in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, compared with the other undisputed Pauline letters, seems rather clear, as documented especially in our first study and in the separate note on 7:1.
    • For many commentators, these differences suggest that the passage is a non-Pauline interpolation, and thus not part of the original text. Such views are often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians is a compilation of letters (or parts of letters) by Paul.
    • The passage may be characterized as Jewish Christian homiletic material, based on a verse from the Torah (Lev 19:19), with a poetic exposition that includes a short chain (catena) of Scripture references, and concluding with a forceful exhortation (7:1) for believers. See our second study, as well as the article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
    • There is evidence that Paul not infrequently made use of various sorts of traditional material—creeds, hymns, baptismal formulas, vice lists, Scripture catena, etc—which likely were not entirely his own creation, but reflect the early Christian tendency to adapt and promote traditional ways of thought and expression. A strong argument can be made that just such traditional material/expression was utilized by Paul in 6:14-7:1—this would explain many of the apparent differences in vocabulary and style, without excluding Paul as final author.
    • All interpolation theories face the profound difficulty of explaining just why 6:14-7:1 was included at its current location, especially since nearly all commentators consider 2:14-7:4, at least, to be part of a single letter. Though not without its own problems, the theory that Paul himself included the material as part of his line of argument/exhortation at the end of 2:14-7:4 is preferable. It does, however, require that some attempt be made to explain the sudden shift in tone by which our passage appears to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2.
    • Compilation theories for 2 Corinthians as whole, while plausible in varying degrees, remain highly speculative and ultimately rest on slight support. In terms of the external evidence (manuscript tradition, early versions, etc), there is no indication whatever that 2 Corinthians ever existed in a form different than our canonical text. If it is a compilation, it had to made early on, well prior to the middle of the 2nd century. Thus, it is at least worth seriously considering, on objective grounds, the possibility that Paul intended, and wrote, the letter as we have it.
    • The difficulties of structure, as well as the shifts in tone and style, are largely due to the two lengthy discussions on Paul’s apostolic status—2:14-7:4 and 10:1-13:4—which extend and distort the epistolary (and rhetorical) form of the letter. If original to 2 Corinthians, these sections surround the central discussion in chapters 8-9, on the financial collection for Jerusalem, and would have to be connected with it in some fundamental way.
    • The two apostolic ‘digressions’, while differing in tone and emphasis, share many key themes in common, as well as a basic outline—(1) initial statement, (2) discussion of three issues (with arguments, illustrations), and (3) a concluding exhortation/appeal. The primary subject in each is that of Paul’s role as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthians. These parallels strongly indicate careful authoring, with each discussion set within the structure of the letter, surrounding the matter of the financial collection.
    • Toward the end of each apostolic discussion, Paul mentions suspicions/accusations of wrongdoing on his part. Similarities in language suggest that more or less the same issue is being addressed in each discussion, and that it involves deceit/fraud related to the financial collection (on this, see above).
    • Connected with this, in each apostolic discussion, Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians regarding behavior that is improper for a believer, framing it in traditional religious-ethical terms: (a) Jewish Christian homiletic in 6:14-7:1, and (b) Greco-Roman/Jewish ‘vice lists’ in 12:19-21. Such behavior contrasts with how a true believer should behave—indeed, it is characteristic of non-believers.
    • Thus, in each instance, as part of his appeal regarding his apostolic status (and relationship to the Corinthians), Paul includes a warning to the Corinthians that they not behave like unbelievers—acting in a divisive and (potentially) immoral way. There should be unity among believers, which involves preserving the divinely ordained relationship between a true apostle (Paul) and the congregations he helped to found. The restoration/preservation of this relationship was essential for the completion of the fundraising mission for Jerusalem, but ultimately points to deeper issues as well—regarding Christian identity and how believers ought to think and act in relation to one another.

While these critical studies do not resolve all of the questions surrounding 6:14-7:1, nor of 2 Corinthians as a whole, I hope they have served to demonstrate ways that critical methods and approaches can elucidate a Scripture passage. By confronting serious critical questions head on, without glossing them over or brushing them aside, it only strengthens our understanding of the Scriptures, giving us, I believe, more insight into the inspired text and how it came to be produced. The purpose of these Saturday Studies is to introduce any and all interested readers to the techniques and methods of Biblical Criticism, and how they may be applied to our study of Scripture. Next week, we will shift are attention to an entirely different area of the Scriptures. I hope you will join me for this new study!

Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 4)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

In last week’s study, we examined 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of the critical theory that the passage is an interpolation, i.e. a secondary addition to the text. In particular, the apparent non-Pauline features—those considered unusual or atypical of Paul—were discussed (following the prior examination of the vocabulary and other details in Parts 1 and 2). This study came under the heading of redaction criticism—that is, the passage as included in the text by an editor/redactor, a view often related to the theory that 2 Corinthians as a whole represents a compilation of two or more letters by Paul (for more on this, see below).

Composition Criticism

This week, we will be considering 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 from the standpoint of Pauline authorship; our discussion now falls under the heading of composition criticism—i.e. how the passage came to be authored (or composed) in the context of the letter as we have it. The study will be divided into four sections:

    1. The structure and content of 2:14-7:4 and the (current) location of 6:14-7:1
    2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and how it might relate to 2:14-7:4
    3. The overall context of 1:1-7:16 as a unified composition (and how 6:14-7:1 fits in)
    4. Questions regarding the letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)
1. The Structure and Content of 2 Cor 2:14-7:4

Nearly all commentators (even those who view 2 Corinthians as a compilation) consider 2:14-7:4 (excluding 6:14-7:1) to be a unified composition and part of a single letter. It is for this reason, as we discussed last week, that the inclusion of our passage in the middle of this section—i.e. after 6:13 instead of 7:4—is so problematic for any interpolation/compilation theory. It will be useful now to examine briefly the structure and content of 2:14-7:4 as a whole. Most commentators and New Testament scholars today recognize that Paul, in his letters, makes use of common rhetorical (and epistolary) techniques in presenting his arguments and exhorting his readers, etc. I will be discussing the structure of 2 Corinthians in this light in the sections below. Generally we may describe the rhetorical thrust of 2:14-7:4 as deliberative, centered on two interrelated themes: (1) Paul’s relation to the Corinthians as an apostle, and (2) the importance of this relationship being maintained and/or restored. Here is how I would divide this section as a whole:

    • 2:14-17—Basic proposition: Paul and his colleagues as apostles who are honest and sincere in their ministry
    • 3:1-18—Issue/Argument #1: On letters of recommendation (for apostles/ministers)
      • Illustration: The written tablets of the Old Covenant, in relation to the New (homiletic exposition)—letter vs. Spirit (vv. 3, 7-18)
    • 4:1-6—Issue/Argument #2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry
      • Illustration: Light vs. Darkness (blindness), alluding to the Mosaic veil in the prior illustration (vv. 3-6)
    • 4:7-5:10—Issue/Argument #3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel
      • Illustration 1: The death and resurrection of Jesus—the participation of believers in it (4:10-15)
      • Illustration 2: The inner vs. outer nature of the human being (esp. the believer) (4:16-18)
      • Illustration 3: The body as a house or tent (i.e. clothing) that perishes, to be replaced by one that is imperishable (at the resurrection) (5:1-5)
      • Illustration 4: At home vs. away from home—i.e. believers in the present world (of suffering) vs. the future life in Heaven (5:6-10)
    • 5:11-6:10—Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle
      • 5:11-15—His ministry is centered on proclamation of the Gospel
      • 5:16-21—Effect of the Gospel: The life of believers is new in Christ, and does not depend on the ‘old’ standards of the world; as an apostle, his ministry serves this dynamic of making things new.
      • 6:1-10—The Corinthians must receive, realize, and act according to this new identity in Christ (vv. 1-2), which includes recognizing Paul’s relation to them as an Apostle (vv. 4-10)
    • 6:11-7:4—Personal Appeal by Paul
      • 6:11-13—First statement (“make wide [your hearts] to us”)
      • 6:14-7:1—Illustration (?) from Scripture (Lev 19:19)—Homiletic exposition/exhortation {disputed passage}
      • 7:2-4—Second(?) statement (“make space for us”)

This outline shows that 2:14-7:4 admirably forms the torso of a letter with a deliberative rhetorical thrust (i.e. seeking to persuade/exhort the reader with regard to current/future action):

Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated when 2:14-7:4 is considered in the context of 1:1-7:16 (on this, see below). How exactly does 6:14-7:1 relate to this outline for 2:14-7:4? It appears to have little, if anything, to do with the specific matters being addressed—of Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians. As most commentators recognize, the transition from 6:13 to 6:14ff is sudden, appearing to interrupt the line of thought most abruptly. Nothing in 2:14-6:13 would prepare us for the style and tone (and subject matter) of 6:14-7:1. As I mentioned last week, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 seems to have much more in common with Paul’s discussion(s) in 1 Corinthians (e.g. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13) than anything we find in 2 Corinthians.

Perhaps a clue is to be found in the immediate context. In the letter as we have it, 6:14-7:1 is bracketed by two similar, and more or less synonymous, exhortations by Paul:

    • “make wide (your hearts) also to us” [platýnth¢te kai hymeís] (end of 6:13)
    • “make space [i.e. in your hearts] for us” [chœr¢¡sate hymás] (beginning of 7:2)

As commentators have noted, removing 6:14-7:1 yields a relatively smooth and consistent statement by Paul; for example, I translate with the temporary join indicated by italics and a vertical bar:

“Our mouth has been opened up toward you, Korinthians, our heart has been made wide; you are not in a narrow space in us, but you have (only) a narrow space in your inner organs (for us)! But (to give us) the (same) wage (back) in exchange, as (my dear) offspring, I say to you—make wide (your hearts) also to us, | make space for us! We treated no one unjustly, we corrupted no one, we (desir)ed to seize much from no one. …”

At the same time, it must be admitted that 6:11-7:4 represents the climax of the composition (defined here as 2:14-7:4), and, if such a dramatic piece of exposition as 6:14-7:1 belongs anywhere in this work, it would be just where it is currently located, in the middle of the climactic appeal. But does it truly belong there? To make a fair determination, let us now consider what Paul, as author, might have intended with this passage, and possible arguments for its inclusion at the point where we have it (between 6:13 and 7:2).

2. Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 and its current location

We have already examined some of the apparent “non-Pauline” features of this passage—words, expressions, style and points of emphasis that would seem to be unusual or atypical of Paul. These are significant enough to raise legitimate questions regarding authorship, and cannot simply be brushed aside. However, we have also seen enough genuine Pauline features to establish the possibility that he is ultimately responsible for the passage. A reasonable solution would be that Paul is here making use of traditional Jewish Christian material—in style and tone, if nothing else—adapting a piece homiletic exposition (on Lev 19:19), and applying it to his Corinthian audience. While this seems fair enough, and is more or less the explanation I would adopt, there is at least one serious challenge to Pauline authorship/use that must be addressed. This is the strong idiom of ritual purity in 6:14-7:1, with the corresponding emphasis on the need for believers to separate from non-believers. According to some commentators, this line of thought and mode of expression runs contrary to Paul’s own, based on evidence from his other (undisputed) letters. I addressed this argument in the previous study (see also the separate article on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls), but is worth outlining again here the most relevant passages where Paul draws on the idea of (ritual) purity from the Pentateuch/Torah, and uses it in a similar context of exhorting believers to avoid close association with immorality and/or ‘idolatry’. The passages are:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

The last two examples from 1 Corinthians, in particular, are reasonably close to the basic message of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, and serve to demonstrate, I think, that Paul was capable of addressing believers (and especially the Corinthians) in such a manner. However, if 6:14-7:1 genuinely comes from Paul (even if as an adaptation of traditional material), can any sense be made of its use at the current location in the letter? Why would Paul address his audience this way, at this point?

Much depends on the nature of the problems existing between Paul and at least some in the Corinthian congregations. The extent to which he emphasizes both (a) his role as an apostle, and (b) the sort of relationship the Corinthians ought to have with him, in 2:14-7:4, strongly suggests that there has been a breach in the relationship, to some extent. The wording he uses in the climactic appeal at 7:2 raises the possibility that there had been accusations of wrongdoing and, perhaps, misuse of his apostolic authority. He strings together three verbal phrases, forming a three-fold denial of any such wrongdoing on his part; each beginning with an emphatic oudeís (oudéna), “no one”:

    • oudéna ¢dik¢¡samen, “we treated no one unjustly”
    • oudéna ephtheíramen, “we corrupted no one”
    • oudéna epleonekt¢samen, “we (wish)ed to take more (from) no one” (i.e., acting greedily, etc)

It is possible—and admittedly, it is only a possibility—that the digression in 6:14-7:1 is connected in some way to these ‘charges’. The initial verb used in 7:2 (adikéœ, “act without justice, act/treat unjustly, injure”) is related to the initial noun (adikía, “[being] without justice, injustice”) that establishes the contrast (between believer and non-believer) in 6:14ff. Perhaps the point Paul is making, by utilizing the homiletic of 6:14ff, is: believers are not to be closely joined with non-believers, but should not separate from other believers (unless they behave like non-believers, cf. 1 Cor 5:9ff); how much more, then, should the Corinthians remain closely joined with an apostle and minister like Paul, who has not acted wrongly toward them, but has honestly and faithfully preached the Gospel that led to their experience of new life in Christ. This could also explain Paul’s wording in 7:3: “I do not say (this) toward bringing down judgment (on you)”, i.e. I am not saying you are acting like this (i.e. like unbelievers, 6:14ff), nor that you are making such charges against me (7:2), which would be wrong. If 6:14-7:1 is actually targeting immorality or idolatrous associations among the Corinthians, such as are mentioned in 1 Corinthians, then it would, indeed, seem to be out of place in its current location. But, if the point, by drawing the contrast between believer and non-believer, is meant to enhance and emphasize the unity and bond between believers (and between minister and congregation), then the inclusion of 6:14-7:1 here could perhaps be explained. We will take this up again in the concluding study next week.

3. The context of 1:1-7:16 (as a unified composition)

Even a casual reader will notice that, after the long discussion in 2:14-7:4, the following section (7:5-16) picks up where 2:13 left off. This has led some commentators to posit that two letters have been spliced together: (1) 1:1-2:13 + 7:5-16, and (2) 2:14-7:4. I must say that I find little evidence to support such a theory; in which case, it would be more plausible to view 1:1-7:16 as (part of) a unified composition. However, this does complicate the structure of the letter considerably, since 1:8-2:13 + 7:5-16 appears to serve as the narration (narratio) portion of the letter—i.e. narrating the facts and historical circumstances, etc, related to the matter being discussed. Normally this section precedes the main proposition (propositio), presentation of arguments (probatio), and exhortation (exhortatio); for a clear example of this order, following the tenets of classical rhetoric and epistolary form, see esp. the outline of Galatians. As I noted above, 2:14-7:4 appears to have the character of the main body of the letter—propositio, probatio, exhortatio—but, if 1:1-7:16 is a single composition, then 2:14-7:4 instead functions as a (lengthy) digression in the middle of the narratio. It also would seem to require additional material to make up the body of the letter; such material, of course, would be at hand with chapters 8-9ff of 2 Corinthians as we have it. Thus, it will be useful, at the close of this part of our study, to consider the structure of the entire letter (our current 2 Corinthians), to see how 6:14-7:1 might relate to it.

4. The letter as a whole (including chaps. 8-9 and 10-13)

Upon examining chapters 8-9 and 10-13 we find two very distinct kinds of material: (a) instruction relating to the charitable collection for the Christians of Jerusalem (chaps. 8-9), and (b) a lengthy discussion on Paul’s status as an apostle, similar in some respects to that of 2:14-7:4, only much more pointed and harsher in tone, directed at specific opponents (and similar in style and manner of argument to Galatians). Thus, it is possible to isolate two structural lines, or strands, which make up the letter as we have it:

    1. A practical, and relatively straightforward letter, dealing primarily with the collection for Jerusalem, and
    2. Two lengthy treatments regarding Paul’s role and status as an apostle, and his relationship, as such, to the Corinthian churches

At first glance, these two strands seem to have little to do with each other; in particular, the harsh polemic of chaps. 10-13 appear at odds with the rest of the letter, which is why many scholars (including more traditional-conservative commentators) hold that chaps. 10-13 represent a separate letter from chaps. 1-9. If we were to remove 2:14-7:4 and chs. 10-13, temporarily, from the letter, a rather simple and straightforward outline emerges:

    • Greeting (Epistolary Prescript)—1:1-2
    • Introduction (Exordium)—1:3-11
    • Statement of the reason/purpose for writing (Causa)—1:12-14
    • Narration (Narratio)—1:15-2:13 + 7:5-16
    • Proposition (Propositio) [regarding the Collection]—8:1-7
    • Arguments/Instruction (regarding the Collection)—8:8-9:5
    • Exhortation (Exhortatio) [regarding the Collection]—9:6-15
    • Conclusion / Epistolary Postscript (?) cf. 13:11-14

The core of this letter relates to the Jerusalem Collection (chaps. 8-9). There have been some prior difficulties between Paul and the Corinthians, as he narrates (1:15-2:4); but, as was subsequently reported to him by Titus (7:5-16), to some extent at least, these seem to have been resolved. Now, following the preparatory work by Titus (8:6ff), Paul urges the Corinthians to complete their part in the Collection. How does 2:14-7:4 (much less chaps. 10-13) fit into this outline? As I have previously noted, a good number of commentators believe that 2 Corinthians represents a compilation of different letters from Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Such theories, while interesting, and not entirely implausible, remain highly speculative, with little hard evidence to support them. Ultimately, though not without difficulties, it is easier to explain 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as a single letter. Assuming this, for the moment, how would 6:14-7:1 relate to the overall structure of this letter? The lengthy excursions regarding Paul’s role as an apostle, which clearly are of prime importance to the letter, at the same time distort the rhetorical picture. Commentators who accept the integrity of the entire letter, outline this complex picture in various ways. Here is a tentative outline on my part:

  • 1:1-2—Greeting (epistolary prescript)
  • 1:3-11—Introduction (exordium)
  • 1:12-14—Reason/purpose for writing (causa)
  • 1:15-7:16—Extended Narration (narratio)
    • 1:15-2:13—Initial narration: On the prior troubles between he and the Corinthians
    • 2:14-7:4—Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
      • Basic proposition (2:14-17)
      • Issue 1: On Ministers and letters of recommendation (3:1-18)
      • Issue 2: On the honesty/sincerity of true apostles (such as Paul) in the preaching and ministry (4:1-6)
      • Issue 3: On the (physical) suffering of apostles such as Paul for the sake of the Gospel (4:7-5:10)
      • Exhortation/Appeal to the Corinthians, regarding Paul’s role as Apostle (5:11-6:10)
      • Personal (Concluding) Appeal by Paul (6:11-7:4)
    • 7:5-16—Concluding narration: On the expected resolution of troubles between he and the Corinthians
  • 8:1-7—Main Proposition (propositio), regarding the Collection for Jerusalem
  • 8:8-9:15—Arguments (probatio), in support of the Corinthians faithfully completing the Collection
  • 10:1-13:4—Extended Exhortation (exhortatio): Excursus on Paul’s relationship (as an apostle) to the Corinthians
    • Initial Appeal and Statement (10:1-6)
    • Issue 1: The nature of Paul’s (apostolic) authority—theme of boasting introduced (10:7-18)
    • Issue 2: Comparison between Paul and other would-be Apostles who are influencing(?) the Corinthians (11:1-12:13)
    • Issue 3: Paul’s apostolic authority—exercise of discipline (12:14-21)
    • Closing appeal (13:1-4)
  • 13:5-10—Concluding Argument and Appeal (peroratio)
  • 13:11-14—Closing/Benediction (epistolary postscript)

The (possible) relation of 6:14-7:1 to this outline will be considered carefully in next week’s study, which will bring our discussion of this provocative passage to a close. I hope to see you here next Saturday.

Women in the Church, Part 1: 1 Cor 11:2-16

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

As I indicated in the Introduction, proper interpretation of a Scripture passage requires first a careful study of its original historical and literary context. Trying to interpret a passage out of context, would be like taking a brick out of a wall and then trying to assign specific meaning to the brick, whereas the individual brick really only has meaning in the context of its place in the wall. I begin with the historical and literary context, then follow with a number of key exegetical notes on the passage, before concluding with a summary interpretation.

Historical Context

First Corinthians was written by Paul sometime between 53 and 57 A.D., from Ephesus, to the believers in Corinth—that is, the congregations (house-churches) in the city taken together. Paul’s initial ministry work in Corinth took place c. 50-52 A.D. (Acts 18:1-17), just several years earlier, so these would have been very young churches. There had certainly been some correspondence prior to the writing of 1 Corinthians, including a previous letter by Paul (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-11). Much of Paul’s purpose in writing was to promote and encourage unity among believers; he deals with numerous practical questions and issues related to Church life, which may be divided into two categories: (1) problems which have come to his attention, and (2) questions addressed to him by the churches (cf. 1 Cor 7:1, etc)—the latter seem to be in focus throughout much of the second half of the letter, from chapter 7 on. Many of the questions and issues deal specifically with the organized, corporate worship of the congregations; as such, 1 Corinthians provides perhaps the earliest detail on worship-meetings in the New Testament period.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the precise background to the matter Paul addresses in 1 Cor 11:2-16. Clearly it relates to the dress, or attire, of the men and women who take an active, leading (speaking) role in the worship-meeting; in particular, the covering of one’s head (and hair) is at issue. There is ample archeological and literary evidence indicating the use of head-coverings—by both men and women—during Roman religious ritual (cf. Witherington, pp. 232-9). The head-covering was used specifically by the person(s) who took an active role in the proceedings, i.e. presenting the sacrificial offering, delivering prophecy, divination, etc. (cf. Livy 10.7.10; Varro On the Latin Language 5.29.130; Juvenal, Satires 6.390ff; Witherington, p. 230f). There is some evidence for women performing religious ritual with their head/hair uncovered in the Dionysian and other ‘mystery’ cults (cf. especially the Andania Mysteries inscription, in Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum II [1917] no. 736, 4); there is also the traditional depiction of the Pythian priestess (oracle) at Delphi. It was customary, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, for married women to be veiled or with headdress, especially when seen in public, as a simple matter of decency and decorum. These are just some of the factors which may play a part in Paul’s discussion.

Literary Context

Study of Paul’s letters has benefited tremendously in recent decades by the application of rhetorical analysis—that is, the use of Greco-Roman (and Jewish) techniques of rhetoric, both in the structuring of the letter (i.e. epistolary form), and in the way different sorts of arguments and illustrations are utilized. The basic proposition (propositio) of 1 Corinthians can be found in 1:10—a call for unity among the believers and churches in Corinth—which also serves to express the main cause, or purpose, for which Paul writes. This is expounded initially in the personal narration (narratio) which follows in vv. 11-17, the last statement of which effectively centers the basis for unity in the Gospel and the cross of Christ (v. 17), rather than in the various factions and other influences at work in the churches (vv. 11-16). In terms of classical rhetoric, the main body of the letter is called the probatio (“proof, proving”), in which the author, by various means, gives the reasons in support of his point, and seeks to persuade his audience to accept it. The body of 1 Corinthians can be divided into two main sections: (a) 1:184:21, which addresses the divisions in the churches directly, and (b) 5:116:12, which deals specifically with various issues which threaten unity and proper Christian conduct/attitudes within the churches. 1 Cor 11:2-16 belongs to this latter group, specifically among those questions or issues related to organized corporate worship. The rhetorical context—i.e. the theme of unity—is clear in the short transitional section (10:31-11:1) which leads into this passage. An important subsidiary theme is that of believers’ willingness to subordinate the exercise of the (individual) freedom they have in Christ for the good of the Community (the body of Christ) as a whole.

Exegetical Notes

Verse 2—The introductory praise Paul offers in this verse (e)painw=, “I give praise upon [you]”) is a rhetorical device known as captatio benevolentae (“capture of good will”), which the speaker hopes will cultivate a favorable response from his audience. Here it also serves a specific technique for moral/ethical suasion—i.e. ‘I hope that you will, in fact, (continue to) think and act this way’.

ta\$ parado/sei$ kate/xete (“you hold down [i.e. hold firm to] the things given along”)—this is the thrust of Paul’s statement, that the Corinthians will continue to accept and live out in practice the instruction they have received. The word para/dosi$ (parádosis), from the verb paradi/dwmi (paradídœmi, “give along”), is an important term in early Christianity, referring to the authoritative teaching (and example) given down from the apostles and their companions (i.e. the first Christian missionaries) to a new generation of believers. This “tradition” covers virtually every aspect of Christian life in the early Church. In a period before the widespread use of Christian Scripture, apostles such as Paul, and his fellow-missionaries, personally—through oral and written communication—served as a fundamental source of religious authority for the various congregations which were established during their ministry. Paul urges them to continue following his example and instruction, even in difficult matters such as he is addressing—”even as I gave (them) along to you, (I hope you will) hold firm to these things (I have) given along”.

Verse 3—Paul lays the groundwork for his position with an illustrative formula, summarizing the Christian community in a relational (and hierarchical) chain: God—Christ—Man—Woman.

qe/lw de\ u(ma=$ ei)de/nai (“But I wish [i.e. want] you to see [i.e. know]…”)—this introduces Paul’s instruction, what he specifically here wants them to understand.

a)ndro/$gunaiko/$ (“of man…of woman”)—the nouns a)nh/r and gunh/ (“man” and “woman”) can also mean “husband” and “wife”, so it can be difficult to determine if Paul is speaking about the sexes in general, or if he has the marriage relationship specifically in mind. Does he assume, for example, that the woman participating (prophesying) in the worship-meeting is married? This would seem to have some bearing on his argument regarding head-covering.

kefalh/ (“head”)—the force and meaning of this word here in 1 Cor 11:3ff has been much discussed and disputed by commentators in recent decades (cf. Thistleton, pp. 811-22 for a detailed summary). It has the fundamental meaning of “head”, in a literal (physical) or figurative sense. According to the latter, it may denote (1) a position of leadership or high rank (“first, foremost”), (2) a position of authority under which another is subject, or (3) the power under which another acts or comes to be. The question is complicated by the fact that Paul makes the man-woman relationship parallel with the relationship between God and Christ. If the woman is subordinate/subject to man, then, by implication, so is Christ to God; the full chain of verse 3 is formulated: “the head of woman is man, the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God”.

Verses 4-5—Paul states his position in these two verses, regarding how men and women, respectively, who actively participate in the worship-meeting, should treat their head (kefalh/). Note the wordplay with verse 3—here the “head” is taken literally. It is important to note that Paul is referring to those who take an active, leading role (i.e. speaking) in the meeting, summarized by the two verbs proseu/xomai (“speak out toward [God]”, i.e. pray) and profhteu/w (“foretell, tell before”). The prefixed element (preposition) pro/ (“before”) can be understood as either “tell something beforehand, i.e. foretell” or “tell something before (i.e. in front of) others”. The New Testament usually has the former meaning, especially when referring to the Old Testament Prophets announcing the future (regarding Christ); however the latter meaning better fits the corresponding Hebrew abn, as referring to a spokesperson or representative of God before the people. In the context of early Christian life and worship, Paul clearly also has this broader meaning in mind, especially as prophecy (or prophesying) is regarded as the second greatest of all the “gifts” (charismata) of the Spirit (second only to apostleship), cf. 1 Cor 12:28ff; 14:1ff (also Rom 12:6). According to chapter 14, the uttering of ‘prophecy’ was central to the worship-meeting, similar to, and (it would seem) characterized as, both revelation and teaching. It refers primarily to the communication/presentation of the word of God—as such, it holds a comparable place to preaching and the traditional sermon of later times. In 14:26-31, Paul indicates that it was common practice for multiple persons to deliver a prophetic message at a meeting, though he recommends no more than two or three, in turn.

kata\ kefalh=$ e&xwn (“having/holding down [upon the] head”)—this refers to some kind of covering upon the head; it is not clear if Paul has something specific in mind, he seems to be speaking generally (i.e. anything upon the head).

kataisxu/nei th\n kefalh\n au)tou= (“he brings down shame/disgrace [upon] his head”)—Paul bluntly states that a man who prays/prophesies with something on his head disgraces/dishonors his head. The play on words (from v. 3) could mean that he dishonors Christ (his “head”) as well.

a)katalu/ptw| th=| kefalh=| (“without a cover[ing] down [upon] the head”)—for a woman who prays/prophesies, the situation is opposite: doing so without a covering on her head brings disgrace to her head. Again, according to verse 3, this could be taken to mean that she also dishonors the man (i.e. her husband, her “head”), and, by extension, Christ.

Verse 6—At the end of v. 5, Paul introduces a comparison between the shame of a woman prophesying ‘uncovered’ and that of a woman whose head/hair has been shaved off (i.e. cut by a razor, cura/w). In verse 6, he uses the parallel verb kei/rw (“shear”), which can be used of sheep, but also in the context of the Nazirite vow. Paul doubtless is indulging in a bit of rhetorical exaggeration here: he is trying to emphasize that this is no trivial matter; in his view, within the cultural-religious context of the Christian worship-meeting of the time, a woman participating in this way without head-covering, was shameful and scandalous. It must be admitted that the precise force of Paul’s argument is lost for us today.

Verses 7-9—Paul draws upon the Creation account in Genesis, establishing two arguments from Scripture: (1) Man is the image of God (v. 7, Gen 1:26-27), and (2) the woman (Eve) came out of man and was produced to be his companion (not the other way around) (vv. 8-9, Gen 2:18-23). In fairness, it should be said that neither of these arguments seems particularly compelling for us today; the first, indeed, is actually somewhat problematic. The original context of Gen 1:26-27 makes clear that “Man” (<d*a*) is best understood as (hu)mankind—male and female together—and yet here Paul seems to read <d*a* as “the man” (Adam), i.e. the male. There are, I think, two ways to interpret Paul’s specific wording in verse 7:

    • The man is the image and glory of God, while the woman is the (image and) glory of the man
    • Man (male and female) is the image (and glory) of God—the woman is (also) the glory of the man

The first interpretation indicates a strict subordination, in which it is hard to avoid the idea that the woman’s status/position is somehow subordinate to the man’s. The second view is less obviously offensive to modern-day sensibilities.

do/ca (“esteem, honor”, i.e. “glory”)—this word is typically translated as “glory”, but this can be somewhat misleading; “honor, esteem, dignity, etc” is closer to the fundamental meaning. It is used to render the Hebrew bodK*, literally “weight”, but also in the sense of “dignity, honor”, and is likewise translated “glory” frequently in English. The Genesis account (Gen 1:26-27) to which Paul alludes makes no mention of “glory”, but Paul has added this as a kind of interpretive gloss, it would seem, to make it more fitting to the man-woman relationship in his argument. It would be rather strange (and inappropriate) to speak of woman as the image (ei)kw/n) of the man; he has deftly substituted in “glory/honor/esteem” (do/ca) instead. Paul does not use the kind of reciprocal language as in 1 Cor 7:2-4 etc—he does not say “…and man is the glory of woman”. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Paul specifically has in mind the marriage relationship. Even so, in what sense is the woman (or wife) the glory/honor of the man? This must be answered in light of the conceptual framework of 11:3 (cf. above).

Verse 10—The statement is central to verses 7-9 and 11-12, both of which refer to the created order. This is key to a correct interpretation of this difficult sentence.

e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”)—the noun e)cousi/a is rather difficult to translate literally into English; it has the basic meaning of ability, i.e. the ability coming from a person to do something, though occasionally in the sense of a right or permission granted by a higher power. The verb e&xw can mean “to have”, generally, but more concretely “to hold“. The expression in context is, “to hold authority upon the head [e)pi\ th=$ kefalh=$]”—i.e., by way of the symbolic head-covering.

dia\ tou\$ a&ggelou$ (“through the Messengers”)—the preposition dia/ (“through”) is usually understood in terms of reason or purpose (i.e. “because of”). The word a&ggelo$ (ángelos) most likely refers to a heavenly Messenger (i.e. Angel), as commonly in the New Testament and other Jewish writings of the period. This seemingly ambiguous phrase will be discussed in detail (along with verse 10 as a whole) in a separate note.

Verses 11-12—Paul returns to the theme of vv. 7-9, that of man and woman (husband and wife) in the created order of things—but instead of a hierarchical (vertical) relationship emphasizing subordination, we find a reciprocal and complementary (horizontal) relationship emphasizing interconnection. Both aspects of the relationship ultimately stem from God (vv. 7, 12b), and are to be understood within the context of Christian unity—”in the Lord” (e)n kuri/w|). For more on the relation to vv. 7-9, cf. the note on verse 10.

Verses 13-15—here is a further argument from nature (fu/si$) and custom, parallel to the argument from Scripture in vv. 7-9ff. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to ‘judge for themselves’ is a rhetorical device—i.e. “surely you yourselves must realize…”—placing the argument in the context of reason and common sense. It is possible to be thrown by Paul’s syntax, but the argument in vv. 14-15 is quite simple: it is natural for a woman to have long hair, and a man to have shorter hair => it goes against nature (and is thus shameful) for a man’s hair to be long and woman’s to be short. A head-covering and long hair each serve, in their own way, as a peribo/laion—lit. something “cast around” one’s head (i.e. a mantle or hood). Long hair comes to a woman by nature, the head-covering by way of custom and ritual symbolism.

Verse 16—Paul finally appeals specifically to Christian custom and tradition. The word sunh/qeia refers to something (Christians) habitually do together, i.e. common custom. According to Paul, the custom of women praying publicly or preaching/prophesying in the worship meeting with their head covered (and the reverse for men), was something that all “the congregations [e)kklhsi/ai] of God” observe.

filo/neiko$ (“fond of quarrels”)—this adjective refers to someone who “loves a quarrel”; the element nei=ko$ connotes strife or fighting with a desire to gain victory. In English idiom we might paraphrase as “one who loves a fight and always wants to have it his/her own way”. Paul’s exact phrase here is, “if any(one) thinks/seems [dokei=] to be fond of quarrelling…” He appears to be anticipating some opposition to his instruction; it may also simply be a rhetorical device—i.e. even if you do not accept my arguments, realize that you are going against the accepted practice and custom of Churches everywhere.


In many ways early Christian life and worship represented something entirely new. In the Jewish Synagogue tradition, women were segregated from men and limited to private (silent) prayer during the worship meeting. This was not so in the early Christian Community, in which men and women, from the beginning it would seem, worshiped together side-by-side essentially as equals (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:1-4, 17-18). On the other hand, there was a tradition of women oracles and officiants of the religious ritual in the Greco-Roman (pagan) world. It is possible that Paul (along with other early missionaries) was attempting to navigate a middle way between these two competing religious-cultural approaches. Women could take an active, leading role, together with men, in the worship meeting, but only insofar as they worked within the proper order of things. This would seem to involve an established (and customary, cf. verse 16) dress code, whereby the women who spoke (praying publicly or prophesying) were expected to do so with their heads covered. Paul offers a number of arguments in support of this custom; it is not clear to what extent these are unique to Paul or reflect earlier traditional teaching. His arguments center around the relationship between men and women according to the order created/established by God. Most likely Paul (and others) felt that the (ritual) dress-code related to the worship-meeting expressed a specific Christian understanding—i.e. how men and women now relate to one another in the Community of Christ, which reflects a new created order. It is possible that some in Corinth felt that the new order (freedom in the Spirit) meant that one could ignore religious-cultural custom and convention. Paul responds to similar ideas throughout the letter (cf. especially in chaps. 8-10).

By way of summary, the following points of interpretation may be noted:

  • Women were allowed to take an active (speaking) role in the worship meeting. This included “prophesying” which, in the early Christian context, meant an inspired utterance, a communication of God’s word and will to the Community. It was central to the worship meeting (14:26-33), considered as among the ‘greatest’ of spiritual “gifts” (12:28-31; 13:8; 14:1ff; Rom 12:6ff), and may be seen as holding a place at least comparable to the traditional preaching of a sermon. There may be some similarity with words of “prophecy” in modern-day Pentecostal/Charismatic worship; but a closer parallel is perhaps found in the traditional Quaker service.
  • Women who filled this leading role were to do so with their head covered, while men performed with their head uncovered. The importance of this head-covering was three-fold:
    (1) It followed custom and decorum for women, both in the context of Greco-Roman (and Jewish) society, as well as their participation in religious ritual. There would thus be no cause for scandal when outside observers witnessed Christian worship.
    (2) It preserved a distinction between genders, which, if abolished in practice (and done so carelessly), could likewise bring shame and disgrace on the Community.
    (3) It was a symbolic reflection of the created order (as established by God), which likewise ought to be maintained within the Community.
  • The head-covering also symbolized the authority/ability of the woman to perform her (ritual) role (as prophet, etc) in the worship-meeting. It indicated that she (and the Community as a whole) recognized both: (a) her unique gifting (as a prophet, etc), and (b) the order established by God.

Application of Paul’s instruction in a modern-day (Western) setting is extremely difficult, since the overall cultural-religious context is so very different. Head-covering (and related dress codes) no longer have anything like the same meaning for us today. At one time it was customary for women to wear hats (and sometimes veils) when attending Church services, largely as a matter of pious routine, under the influence of 1 Cor 11:2-16; but this has been almost universally abandoned today. Much more important is the question of the active role of women (as speakers/preachers) in the worship meeting, as well as that of gender distinction—to what extent (and in what manner) should this distinction be preserved and symbolized in corporate worship? Central to Paul’s argument is the relationship between man and woman in the order of creation, which should continue to be reflected even in the “new creation” of the Christian Community (cf. the note on v. 10). Admittedly, Paul’s specific use and interpretation of the Creation narratives of Gen 1:26-27 and 2:18-23 is somewhat problematic for us today; yet it ought not to be simply brushed aside. Perhaps most significant of all is the entire issue of gender distinction for believers in Christ, especially in light of Paul’s famous statement in Galatians 3:28. However, before addressing this verse, it is necessary to examine the other main passage in 1 Corinthians dealing with the role of women in the worship-meeting (1 Cor 14:33b-36), which I will do in the next part of this series.

References marked “Thistelton” above are to Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC]), Eerdmans: 2000, esp. pp. 800-48. A good compendium of modern scholarship (up through 2000), with extensive bibliographic notes.
Those marked “Witherington” above are to Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, Eerdmans: 1995. Cf. also his Women in the Earliest Churches, (Cambridge: 1988).