Paul Subverts Male Authoritarianism

Lucy Peppiatt WTCNotice this reading of 1 Corinthians 11 by Lucy Peppiatt in her book Women and Worship at Corinth:

The italics are words from those Corinthians with whom Paul is disagreeing, and what you will see here is a proposal that releases the tension that so many of us find in the Pauline teachings about women as one in Christ, about women teaching and preaching and prophesying and praying in public, and about women leaders in the church — and the seeming if not shocking alternative to such themes in 1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14. Peppiatt is not alone in seeking tension release here but she has perhaps the most complete argument for seeing Paul’s rhetoric here playing with and responding to the false teachings of authoritarian males at Corinth. Instead of seeing liberated women as the problem, the problem at Corinth was the men!

Paul: 1Cor. 11:2   I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.  3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ.

Corinthian male ideas: 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head,  5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.

Paul’s derogatory response: 6 For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.

Corinthian male ideas: 7 For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man.  8 Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.  10 For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 

Paul’s response: 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.  12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.  13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? [Paul would say, Of course!]  14 [Now tongue in cheek, Paul asks ironically:] Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him,  15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given [by God] to her for a covering.  16 But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such [not “no other”] custom, nor do the churches of God. [In other words, what the Corinthian males were insisting on was one-of-a-kind practice in the Pauline churches! Not the one teaching that ought to be in all his churches.]

We are concerned today with vv. 7-10 and here are Lucy Peppiatt’s important observations (from pp. 100-101), and I have reformatted and interrupted her words to fill in some thoughts of mine:

If this [vv. 7-10] is now understood as the voice of the Corinthians, it becomes much clearer why there is a corrupted form of Genesis 1:26-27. [That is, if this is the Corinthian males they have corrupted Genesis!]

[What were they teaching?]

The Corinthian prophetic leaders and teachers who claim that they “have the word of God” are teaching that men [not women] are the image and glory of God, and that women are merely the image and glory of man—the perfect rationale for the subordination of women and the superiority of men.

[Peppiatt is right in this conclusion:]

This theology of glory has superseded any sense of what it means for both men and women to be in Christ. This, and a particular understanding of an angelic presence in worship, underpins their view that the wearing of head coverings for women was honoring for God, men, and the angels. Moreover, this would also serve as the perfect rationale, not just for head coverings, but for keeping women silent before their husbands, as they must necessarily adopt a subordinate role, but we will come to that in due course. …

[So, she sees these words as the view of the Corinthian, authoritarian males. Many in the history of the church think these are the words of Paul and the view of Paul and that this ought to be the Christian view of males and females in church settings, but this comes at a serious theological price. That is… and I add italics:]

[But] If we do believe this phrase [that is, man as God’s glorious image; women are from men] to be Pauline, we have to accept that Paul is expressing here a theology of derivation—that woman is derivative of man. For one thing to be derived from another places the derived object in a dependent or descendant position. It is true that in the story of Eve being brought out of Adams side, that the woman is “derived” from man. However, with reference to this narrative, if woman is derivative of man then man is derivative of the dust, not of Christ. Thus, even with reference to this narrative, the theology is problematic. This is further complicated by the narratives in Genesis, which we have already referred to, that portray the simultaneous creation of man and woman by God and the creation of man by woman with the help of God. These narratives conform most happily with Paul’s claims in verse 11-16, rendering the claims in verses 8-9 not only anomalous but out of line with the story of the creation of man and woman in the Christian tradition.

[So she concludes with respect to vv. 7-10 and the so-called theology of derivation]

I suggest therefore, that this has nothing to do with Paul’s high Christology or a misplaced theology of derivation, but that it is a Corinthian christological and anthropological heresy, that Paul is totally and adamantly in disagreement with them, and that in verse 11 he turns to his own argument in order to refute theirs.

Notice how vv. 11-12 seemingly counter vv. 7-10. A simple acceptance of that counter makes vv. 7-10 suspect in that it may then be best to explain vv. 7-10 as the view of the Corinthian males and vv. 11-12 as Paul’s own view. Here is vv. 11-12:

Paul’s response: 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.  12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.

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