Is Christianity Fundamentally Sexist?

Is Christianity Fundamentally Sexist? January 4, 2017

Or Women in the Apostle Paul’s Anthropology: the Image of God, Once Removed?

market wom
Statue of an old market woman, 1st century CE, Rome
I once told Nehama [Leibowitz] that the Abravanel does not believe that woman was created in the image of God. At first she said, ‘No!’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ Then she said, ‘Show me.’ When I did, she whispered, ‘Don’t tell anyone!’ (Yaakov Fogelman, quoted in Yael Unterman, Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar, 297)
I would suggest that the Declaration [Inter Insigniores] was most prudent in quickly dismissing 1 Cor 11:2-16 and passing on to other texts. For the more one examines the context, presuppositions, and arguments of Paul in 1 Cor 11:2-16, the more one opens a Pandora’s box about historical conditioning, a box the Declaration prefers to keep shut. . . . In 1 Cor 11:2-16 … Paul does not think, as Inter Insigniores does, that he is dealing with “practical disciplinary questions of only minor importance.” (John P. Meier, “On the Veiling of Hermeneutics [1 Cor 11:2-16],” 214-215)

Before I get into the substance of this post, I want to offer a couple of caveats about the main title here, as well as the content of the post itself. 
For the non-religious readers, the idea that Christianity is “fundamentally sexist” might seem self-evident, and hardly in need of any sustained arguments to support this.¹ This post isn’t really for them. Or at least it isn’t entirely for them. I just don’t think many are going to want to devote the time to reading so much about the intricacies of early Christian and Biblical theology on sex and gender; though I dare say that many atheists’ understanding of Christian theology can sometimes rest on assumptions that haven’t really been critically tested.
However, over the last few months, my blog’s amassed somewhat of a decent Christian readership; and among these readers—certainly for those who have a critical interest in theology and interpretation—many will probably be more sensitive to the loaded baggage of the charge of sexism here. For that matter, I’m sure some will be concerned with the implication in the title that “Christianity” is some kind of monolithic entity.
In this regard, I’ve offered an alternate title as sub-header here,”Women in the Apostle Paul’s Anthropology: the Image of God, Once Removed?” But in terms of the original title, a few words on this. I’m using “sexism” in its typical sense: an imposed, inherited, or even unwitting sex-based inequality or subordination of one sex under the other²; and one that, as we know, has historically benefited men at the expense of women and girls at virtually all turns.

More importantly though, I’m not talking about a sort of sexism that might be dismissed as a minor cultural artifact in the world of early Christianity (however problematically it might be so dismissed). I’m talking about one that was deeply ingrained in the anthropology and indeed overarching theology of one of the most important architects of Christianity itself, and as such was transmitted through the Biblical texts and into early Christian tradition more broadly.

That is to say, I’m not just talking about sexism in terms of cultural norms or what we know of today as “civil rights,” but instead what we might call a kind of spiritual sexism; or, as I refer to it going forward, ontological sexism: one concerned with the essence of human nature itself, in relation to God and all the other ways that this might manifest itself in thought and action, etc.

So, all that being said, this post takes a closer look at what I’ll argue is an unambiguous expression of ontological sexism in the Biblical texts, specifically in what called its paraenetic or hortatory material—one that, in concert with other Biblical texts, has had a profound influence on historic Christian theologies of sex. It’s in light of all that, then, that I talk about a fundamental sexism in this entity called Christianity in general, if only as convenient shorthand.

At the beginning of the 11th chapter of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul is praising the Corinthians in general terms for their faithfulness in observing his teachings, “just as I passed them on to you,” when he somewhat abruptly³ shifts gears:

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. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

This verse in and of itself has been no small source of contention⁴; but in any case, it serves as something of a programmatic opening⁵ for the verses that follow, in which Paul addresses the issue of veiling practices—in particular, the sex/gender difference in wearing head or hair coverings when engaged in religious activities like prayer. Paul suggests that for men to wear a head-covering while praying or “prophesying” is disgraceful, while on the other hand it’s disgraceful for women to not wear a head-covering here; and it’s clear that the latter specifically has to do with women’s hair being exposed.

Now, the exact contours of everything that Paul says throughout the larger passage here is beyond the scope of this post.⁶ And to be sure, some of it is bound up with cultural practices and beliefs that don’t have much of a modern analog. But for now, what interests me is the larger anthropological-theological justification that Paul offers for his exhortations, and particularly the first verse among these:

For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.⁷ Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. (11:7-9)

At the outset, even trying to characterize how scholars have interpreted these verses is somewhat difficult. On one hand, it’s often acknowledged that the import of what Paul suggests here hardly could have been clearer. On the other hand, it’s obvious that in another sense its implications are unclear; or perhaps, from yet another angle—a la the exchange re: Isaac Abravanel that I quoted at the very beginning of this post—that they’re unwanted, which sometimes seems to wrap back around and obfuscate the original interpretation itself.

It’s Nicholas Meyer who, in a recent monograph, offers what might be the closest approximation of this sentiment (and also lays things out in much the same terms as I did in the intro to this post, relating to “ontological sexism,” etc.):

Paul interprets the concept of the image of God in categories which have proven to be an embarrassment to modern sensibilities in general: namely, as an inherently bodily and gendered reality which, as Michael Lakey argues and we shall confirm, “presumes the metaphysical, viz. intrinsic, inferiority of women.” Given these inconveniences it is little wonder the text has proven a thorn in the side of scholars and laymen alike, often generating tortured explanations or being marginalized as unclear and limited in scope. (Adam’s Dust and Adam’s Glory: Rethinking Anthropogony and Theology in the Hodayot and the Letters of Paul, 105-106)⁸ᵃ

Similar comments have been made by others, too, however. For example, Kari Elisabeth Børresen writes that “In contemporary biblical interpretation, there is an apologetical tendency to obscure the fact that Pauline texts clearly indicate women’s lack of creational God-likeness” (“Male-Centred Christology and Female Cultic Incapability: Women’s impedimentum sexus,” 481)—which prefaces her analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:3-9.⁸ᵇ

If it’s at all possible to meaningfully speak of an empirical or at least quasi-empirical analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:7, what’s clear is that we certainly can’t find a way out of its implications on, say, syntactical grounds—try though some have.⁹ As Nathan Jastram rightly notes,

There is simply no grammatical or contextual parallel that would support an explanatory translation of 1 Cor. 11:7 along the lines of “man . . . is the image and glory of God; but woman is, though also the image of God, nevertheless merely the glory of man.” (“Man as Male and Female: Created in the Image of God,” 33, emphasis original)

At the very minimum then, as Jorunn Økland summarizes, “It is not said explicitly that women are not carriers of the image of God, but when Paul is silent on this point, many scholars agree that women’s lack of godlikeness was so taken for granted that it needed not to be stated” (Women in Their Place: Paul and the Corinthian Discourse of Gender and Sanctuary Space, 148).¹⁰

But what exactly is the background of Paul’s claim that man “is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man”? Can this elucidate what his overall point and argument is?

From what immediately follows this in v. 8, that “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man,” it’s clear that Paul was thinking of the second creation narrative from the Biblical book of Genesis (Genesis 2:4f.)—in which Eve, the first woman, is secondarily taken from the “rib” of man.¹¹ But is this what Paul primarily had in mind with man being the “image and glory of God” and yet woman implicitly not being so?

This might indeed be the end of the story, were it not for Paul specifically using the language of man being the “image” and “glory” of God—in Greek, εἰκών and δόξα.

In this language, which is in fact absent from the second creation narrative, Paul forges a virtually undeniable link to the first creation narrative of Genesis 1, in which man is made “according to the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26). In fact, even closer to this language in Genesis, some translations of 1 Corinthians 11:7, like NRSV, understand εἰκών and δόξα here not as “image” and “glory” but as “image” and “reflection.”¹² But the main problem here is that in the very next verse after Genesis 1:26, this creation in the image and likeness is clearly applied not just to males, but females too!

This has led interpreters to see the “man” in Genesis 1:26-27 here as the more inclusive term, not just referring to males, but to humanity in general, as it indeed could/can in Hebrew and Greek. Thus, translations like NRSV render Genesis 1:26-27 as

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

If Paul was aware of this verse—as he surely would have been¹³—then how can this be reconciled with what he suggests in 1 Corinthians 11:7, where it appears that Paul might deny that women really were made in the image of God?

By way of answering this, it’s worth spending some time looking at some other unusual interpretations of Genesis 1:26-27 throughout history (from before the time of Paul up until modernity), and the views of other Jewish and Christians interpreters who seemed to deny to women their nature as a reflection of the image of God, from wherever they derived they idea or however they justified it.

To start out, it might be noted that, although there isn’t exactly a lack of claimed Jewish and Christian texts and interpreters that denied women their status as an “image” of God, the early history of the idea is murky; and some proposed instances of this are tentative and/or dubious.

The first possible instance of this might be found in the apocryphal book of Jubilees. Jubilees was a ~2nd century BCE “rewrite” of the book of Genesis that was quite popular among Jews leading up to the time of Christianity, found prominently among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and clearly known to early Christians as well. While there are a multitude of ways in which the author of Jubilees reshaped and revised his source text, Paul Heger has devoted space particularly to how the author seems to have revised Genesis to diminish the role and status of women; and he suggests that

the most significant deviation the Jubilees author made from the biblical text to deny woman’s equality is the total omission of Gen 1:27 describing God’s creation of man and woman in his image. It is as though he would rather omit explicitly declaring the creation of man in God’s image than acknowledge the equality of man and woman. (Women in the Bible, Qumran and Early Rabbinic Literature: Their Status and Roles, 63)

As suggested, Heger sees this as part of the author’s wider aim in diminishing the status of women (Women in the Bible, 60f.). And although it’s not certain that this omission is related particularly to the status of women,¹⁴ other things might be suggestive of this as well, like Jubilees 3:8, where the creation of Eve is recounted in an almost impossibly belittling way: “In the first week Adam and the rib — his wife — were created.”¹⁵ Isaac Sassoon writes that Jubilees here “transmogrifies the woman of Genesis 1 into a rib . . . he trades the woman of Genesis 1 for the rib of Genesis 2” (The Status of Women in Jewish Tradition, 37-38, n. 2).¹⁶

Another recent suggestion along similar lines has been made by Rosemary Ruether, in relation to an early Jewish and/or Christian text known as the Greek Life of Adam and Eve—which expands the creation narrative at much greater length, though is of a bit more uncertain provenance than Jubilees (at least parts of it are held to be early, though, and in any case are otherwise considered important for helping to elucidate various other aspects and texts of early Christianity and Judaism). Ruether summarizes the events of the 33rd chapter of GLAE as follows:

After a long life, in which Eve continually acknowledges her fault in causing the evils that have befallen humans, Adam dies. The repentant angels arrive in a glorious chariot and fall down and worship Adam, as they were originally commanded to do by God, crying out to God that Adam is indeed God’s image (33:5). In this text, being [the] “image of God” is an exalted status of Adam as a male, not shared by Eve, who is the source of all Adam’s troubles, even though he is too kind to actually desert her as she deserves. (Women and Redemption: A Theological History, 22)

Here, too, although it’s not certain that Eve is denied her status as a reflection of the image of God (see also 35:2), the broader context may indeed be highly suggestive of this: see for example how Eve drops out of the story in chs. 12-15, and consequently the angels’ and Satan’s references to “image of God” here—even when Genesis 1:26-27 in particular seems to be referred to (see “your countenance and likeness were made in the image of God” in 13:3)—are singularly directed toward the individual male Adam.¹⁷

There are several other Jewish and Christian texts that might be looked at in this regard. As for one last suggestive one, however, as a kind of segue into my next section—which will focus on texts and traditions that unambiguously erased Eve/women’s status as the image of God—we might mention Sibylline Oracles 1.

The account here “merges the two Genesis account into one, based on the second [account],” and in so doing “passes over Gen 1:27 about making male and female” (Loader, The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality, 70). And yet it clearly retains the “image” language of Genesis 1:26, as had Paul, but specifically applied to Adam as man: it recounts that God “fashioned an animate object, making a copy from his own image, a youthful man [νέον ἄνδρα], beautiful, wonderful” (1.22), before going on to Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib after this.

In response to Eve’s creation, in Sibylline Oracles 1, Adam is awed at the emergence of “such a corresponding copy”—though, in light of what came before this, here we might call Eve a copy of a copy: not simply once removed from God (if man is already indeed once removed from God), but twice removed. Or if we think of the anthropology of 1 Corinthians 11 as a whole, we might imagine women as three times removed: God > Christ > man > woman, with whatever the exact implications are here, and however problematic this all might be.

I hope no one will feel less than satisfied if I end Part 1 of this post here. There’s no real natural way to divide the two parts up, and I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone with just a single post containing everything. (The second part will almost certainly be longer than this one; though this one has a ton of material in the footnotes, too.)

If what I’ve offered so far portends a pretty bleak conclusion, where we’re forced to affirm the presence of ontological sexism in the very heart of early Christianity… well, this wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate.

Of course, for non-Christians or other non-religious, this won’t really matter that much, and won’t be much of a surprise either. Elaine Pagels noted that ‘When George Bernard Shaw attacked Paul as the “eternal enemy of woman” — the arch chauvinist — he expressed what many people assumed was true of Paul’s attitude toward women and toward sex’¹⁸; and for that matter, if a religion is in some way known by its fruits,¹⁹ even those who were unfamiliar with the finer points of Biblical interpretation here probably could have made some inferences based on the status and treatment of women throughout historic Christendom, and sometimes still today. 

Yet to wrap up this current post on what might not be a totally negative note, I think it may be worth quoting the conclusions of Nicholas Meyer on 1 Corinthians 11 a bit here—conclusions that, among other things, point us (as many other things do) toward the idea of the diversity of views in the Bible, whether on the issue of sex/gender or whatever else it might be:

According to Paul’s reading of Genesis, Adam is the image and glory of God par excellence, the bodily representative of God on earth, while Eve’s secondary creation allows her to be defined by what she brings to and complements in Adam. Her creation ἐκ [=from] Adam puts her at a distance from the original image and glory—she is derivative. “Men” and “women” as bodily descended from Adam and Eve repristinate [=restore or reenact] this relationship of differentiation (cf. Gen 5:3). But what does this mean for whether woman is also the image of God?

The Adam and Eve “aetiology of gender,” wherein woman is derivative but of the same substance as man, is at first blush easily assimilated to what Thomas Laqueur has termed the “one-sex model” of gender, which he describes as prevailing in antiquity; here male and female are differences not in kind but in degree, with maleness being closest to deity. This “metaphysics of hierarchy” finds echoes in [1 Corinthians 11], and could militate against drawing an absolute distinction between man and woman in terms of image of God. But if Paul, as Lakey believes, thinks the male’s God-likeness lies in a unique generative capacity over-against the woman’s merely instrumental role in conception (highlighting the prepositions of v. 12), then Paul has perhaps already taken a step toward the “physiology of incommensurability,” which Laqueur describes as becoming dominant in the eighteenth century. In this case, the answer to the question, is woman the image of God, would be “no.” And yet, Lakey’s argument, while plausible, requires a surplus of meaning beyond or behind the immediate claims and connections of Paul’s argument—but so would the affirmation that woman is indeed the image of God. It seems that Paul is like Genesis, therefore, ambiguous concerning the issue. But we can be confident that he thought of the εἰκών θεοῦ [=image of God], as it applies since and within creation, first and foremost in terms of the man.

Paul’s positive affirmation of the created order in this text appears to contrast sharply with our reading of Galatians. (“Adam’s Dust and Adam’s Glory: Rethinking Anthropogony and Theology in the Hodayot and the Letters of Paul,” 139-41)

⁂       ⁂       ⁂

[Addendum: I’ve just become aware of another article here which might be quite relevant: Calcagno’s “‘In God’s Image’ and ‘Male and Female’: How a Little Punctuation Might Have Helped.” I haven’t been able to read it yet, though.]


[1] Pagels’ “Paul and Women: A Response to Recent Discussion” opens by noting ‘When George Bernard Shaw attacked Paul as the “eternal enemy of woman” — the arch chauvinist — he expressed what many people assumed was true of Paul’s attitude toward women and toward sex’ (538).

[2] By “imposed,” I’m including things like individual claims or (in a Biblical/Christian context) teachings that proclaim the superiority of one sex over another. This is getting a bit ahead of things here, but in terms of the application of “sexist” to the Biblical texts that I discuss throughout my post, G. W. Trompf writes that 11 Corinthians 11:3 and 7 are

surely so-called sexist statements, implying that women are subordinate and exist primarily for the sake of males. This requires honest admission, even if one concedes that the passage is mild for its time, or that it grants equality to women “in the final analysis” (cf. ν 11). (“On Attitudes Toward Women in Paul and Paulinist Literature: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Its Context,” 197)

See also my discussion on Sirach 42:14, which can be found in the forthcoming Part 2 of this post.

[3] Many scholars have acknowledged this. In a few different studies over the past few decades, this has been expressed in the terms in which Trompf suggests: “It is manifest that Paul’s discussions in 1 Corinthians 10-11 proceed much more smoothly if we omit 11:3-16 from the text” (“On Attitudes Toward Women in Paul and Paulinist Literature: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Its Context,” 198, citing Loisy as the “first” to notice this).

Similarly, Lamar Cope’s “1 Cor 11:2-16: One Step Further,” responding to and expanding on William Walker’s “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and Paul’s Views Regarding Women,” considers that 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is a disruptive non-Pauline interpolation: that “the insertion here is like that found in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; that is, an interpolation in mid-sentence” (435, emphasis mine). While not having exhaustively studied the issue, I’m skeptical of the interpolation hypothesis—certainly on some of the linguistic grounds as have been offered—though I concur with how unexpectedly 11:3-16 seems to appear in context. Fitzmyer cites the suggestion of E. Ellis (“Traditions in 1 Corinthians”), who “considers vv. 3–16 to be a Pauline composition, but introduced secondarily by him into the already-composed letter” (407).

Similar to the non-Pauline interpretation, there’s also the hypothesis of the presence of so-called Corinthian quotations in 1 Cor. 11:2/3-16 (cf. Trompf, 201f.). On one hand, I think Alan Padgett, in his “Paul on Women in the Church: The Contradictions of Coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11.2-16,” is right to note that, with 1 Cor. 11:2/3-16 taken as it normally is—that is, as one coherent unit, whether by Paul or (in the minority view) an interpolator—seems plainly inconsistent: in the first part, it’s suggested that women’s hair needs to be covered during prayer, etc., but in the second part women’s hair is itself a covering (vv. 13-15).

J. P. Meier attempts to explain to explain the coherence of the two ideas along these lines:

if nature, even apart from questions of prayer, provides a woman with a natural covering, is not that a hint, a natural indication, that woman also needs a covering in the order of grace, when she prays? Paul’s basic argument here is that woman must follow in prayer the lead nature gives her in daily life.

Yet he continues that

It does not seem to occur to Paul that someone might just as easily argue that, since a woman’s hair is given her by nature “as a covering” (v 15), there is no need for any further covering such as a veil. (222-23)

(In his proposed reconciliation, Meier follows the arguments of Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, 155, and Héring, The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, 110, closely. For the possibility of incoherence/inconsistency, see Engberg-Pedersen, “1 Corinthians 11:16 and the Character of Pauline Exhortation.” More recently however, Massey attempted to reconcile the apparent tension, in his 2011 article “Long Hair as a Glory and as a Covering: Removing an Ambiguity from 1 Cor 11:15.” He concludes not unlike Moffatt, Héring, and Meier: “the text becomes more intelligible if we understand that a veil is covering a married woman’s head while at the same time not obscuring the fact she has long hair ‘to her glory’. . . . veiling is a reflection or extension of long hair” [71-72, emphasis mine]. See also recently Hoelke, “Exposed heads and exposed motives: Coverings as a means to unity at Corinth,” 90f. Of course, from another angle, here we might also have reference to the series of back-and-forths that was initiated by Martin’s “Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle instead of a Head Covering?”)

Nevertheless, even if we were to assume for the sake of argument that there were some Corinthian quotations in this section, I’m convinced in light of several things—most importantly the common Pauline θέλω [δὲ] ὑμᾶς here—that 1 Cor. 11:3f. must be understood as Pauline and not “Corinthian”; contrast Padgett’s “For whatever reason, the Corinthians complained to Paul that some men and women were not wearing their hair in a dignified Greek manner in church. They explained to him at length basically what we read in vv. 3-7b, namely, that a man or woman shames his or her head (or is ugly) when he or she stands before a large group of people with an improper hairstyle” (“Paul on Women in the Church,” 77).

In any case, I certainly don’t believe that v. 7b is the start of Paul’s mitigating argument as Padgett suggests (“On the other hand, Paul argues, woman is the glory of man,” 78)—especially considering that the verses that follow this simply hammer home the subordination of women, and aren’t naturally understood as the start of a mitigating argument. Now, I suppose it’s possible that 1 Cor. 11:3-6 constitutes Paul’s own thought, before a Corinthian quotation begins in v. 7, and then presumably extends through to, say, v. 10; and then Paul would jump back in with his mitigating response in v. 11. But, really, once we’ve claimed 11:3 for Paul, is there really any reason to not claim, say, v. 7f. for him too—and then, from there, to ascribe to him everything between vv. 3 and 7, and then after v. 7, too? (Francis Watson suggests that 11:7 “translates into the anthropological language of Genesis the christological statement of v. 3 that ‘the head of every man is Christ’ whereas ‘the head of a woman is her husband’ [“Strategies,” 92]. For Meier, in 11:7 “We are back to the lower status of woman in creation which was raised in ν 3” [“On the Veiling of Hermeneutics,” 219].)

[4] See, for example, Grudem, “Does κεφαλή (‘Head’) Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority over’ in Greek Literature? A Survey of 2,336 Examples” (1985); Kroeger, the appendix “The Classical Concept of Head as ‘Source’” in Equal to Serve (1987) 267–83; Fitzmyer, “Another Look at κεφαλή in 1 Corinthians 11.3” (1989); Cervin, “Does κεφαλή Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal” (1989); Grudem, “The Meaning of κεφαλή (‘Head’): A Response to Recent Studies” (1990); Fitzmyer, “κεφαλή in I Corinthians 11:3” (1993) (and shorter discussion in his later First Corinthians, 409-11); Perriman, “The Head of a Woman: The Meaning of κεφαλή in 1 Cor. 11:3” (1994); Grudem, “The Meaning of κεφαλή (‘Head’): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged” (2001); Murphy-O’Connor, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Once Again” as updated in his Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (2009), 167f.; Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (2009), 113-140; Lakey, Image and Glory of God: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as a Case Study in Bible, Gender, and Hermeneutics (2010), 6-36.

See also commentary on the parallel to 1 Cor. 11:3 in Ephesians 5:23, e.g. the chapter “The ‘Head’ (κεφαλή) Metaphor” in Dawes, The Body in Question: Metaphor and Meaning in the Interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-33, 122f.

There’s been some renewed discussion of 1 Corinthians 11:3 in the evangelical Christological subordination debate of the past decade or so: see for example Bolt, “Three Heads in the Divine Order: The Early Church Fathers and 1 Corinthians 11:3″ (2005) and Claunch, “God Is the Head of Christ: Does 1 Corinthians 11:3 Ground Gender Complementarity in the Immanent Trinity?” in the volume One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life (2015).

[5] See Murphy-O’Connor, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Once Again” in Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (2009), 167.

[6] The academic literature exploring this passage and trying to make sense of various uncertainties within it is massive. Significant articles and other publications include John P. Meier, “On the Veiling of Hermeneutics (1 Cor 11:2-16)” (1978); Trompf, “On Attitudes Toward Women in Paul and Paulinist Literature: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Its Context” (1980); Padgett, “Paul on Women in the Church: The Contradictions of Coiffure in 1 Corinthians 11.2-16” (1984); Delobel, “1 Cor 11:2–16: Toward a Coherent Explanation” (1986); Murphy-O’Connor, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Once Again” (1988); Walker, “The Vocabulary of 1 Corinthians 11.3-16: Pauline or Non-Pauline?” (1989); Engberg-Pedersen, “1 Corinthians 11:16 and the Character of Pauline Exhortation” (1991); Jervis, “‘But I Want You to Know…’: Paul’s Midrashic Intertextual Response to the Corinthian Worshipers (1 Cor 11: 2-16)” (1993); Schirrmacher, Paulus im Kampf gegen den Schleier: Eine alternative Auslegung von 1. Korinther 11,2-16 (1993; English translation as Paul in Conflict with the Veil: An Alternative Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 2007); Padgett, “The Significance of anti in 1 Corinthians 11:15″ (1994); Gundry-Volf, “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method” (1997); Blattenberger, Rethinking 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16 Through Archaeological and Moral-Rhetorical Analysis (1997); Gielen, “Beten und Prophezeien mit unverhülltem Kopf? Die Kontroverse zwischen Paulus und der korinthischen Gemeinde um die Wahrung der Geschlechtsrollensymbolik in 1 Kor 11,2-16” (1999); BeDuhn, “‘Because of the Angels’: Unveiling Paul’s Anthropology in 1 Corinthians 11” (1999); Peerbolte, “Man, Woman and the Angels in 1 Cor 11:2-16” (2000); Watson, “The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor 11.2–16” (2000); Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (2000), 799f.; Thompson, “Creation, Shame, and Nature in 1 Cor 11:2-16: The Background and Coherence of Paul’s Argument” (2003); Jorunn Økland, Women in Their Place: Paul and the Corinthian Discourse of Gender and Sanctuary Space (discussed at several points throughout, but especially in the section “Cosmic Gender Hierachy” in the chapter “Corinthian Order”); Heil, The Rhetorical Role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians (2005), 173-190; Mount, “1 Corinthians 11:3-16: Spirit Possession and Authority in a Non-Pauline Interpolation” (2005); Böhm, “1 Kor 11,2–16. – Beobachtungen zur paulinischen Schriftrezeption und Schriftargumentation im 1. Korintherbrief” (2006); Massey, “The Meaning of κατακαλύπτω and κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16” (2007); Fitzmyer, First Corinthians (2008), 404-425; Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (2009); Finney, “Honour, Head-coverings and Headship: 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 in its Social Context” (2010); Lakey, Image and Glory of God: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as a Case Study in Bible, Gender, and Hermeneutics (2010, revised version of his 2007 dissertation “Image and glory of God, glory of man : Evangelicals and Paul’s hermeneutics of gender in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16“); Massey, “Long Hair as a Glory and as a Covering: Removing an Ambiguity from 1 Cor 11:15” (2011); Zeller, Der erste Brief an die Korinther (2011), 350f.; Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Revised Edition, 540ff. (2014); Hoelke, “Exposed heads and exposed motives: Coverings as a means to unity at Corinth” (thesis, 2014); various essays in the recent volume Frauen, Männer, Engel: Perspektiven zu 1Kor 11,2-16 (2015); Peppiatt, Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (2015).

There’s at least one forthcoming major commentary on 1 Corinthians—that of Andrew Clarke for WBC. I have a more disorganized bibliography on 1 Corinthians 11, including additional works, here.

[7] The original Greek of the first verse, 1 Corinthians 11:7, reads ἀνὴρ μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ὀφείλει κατακαλύπτεσθαι τὴν κεφαλήν, εἰκὼν καὶ δόξα θεοῦ ὑπάρχων· ἡ γυνὴ δὲ δόξα ἀνδρός ἐστιν. There are no attested textual variants here. (In fact, verses 4-13 seem to be somewhat unusually free from textual variants: NA27 lists no attested variants at all for verses 4, 6-8 and 11-13; and there are only sparse or minor variants in other verses here.) The Latin Vulgate translates Vir quidem non debet velare caput suum: quoniam imago et gloria Dei est, mulier autem gloria viri est. The other ancient versions of this verse, like the Syriac and Old Latin, have no significant differences from the Greek. (The latter reads virtually identically to the Vulgate, only having a reverse order with the verb in its quoniam imago est et gloria Dei.)

Interestingly, recently Craig Blomberg actually characterized this as “most understudied verse in an otherwise exhaustively examined passage” (“‘True Righteousness and Holiness’: The Image of God in the New Testament,” 81).

[8a] The citation is from Lakey’s Image and Glory of God, 135. As for the “tortured explanations” that this generates, Meyer’s footnote to this reads

For example, arguments which are, prima facie, historically and contextually unlikely and yet not uncommon in the interpretive discussion of this text include attempts to deny elements of subordination therein (whether in v. 3 or vv. 7-12); avowals that Paul does not distinguish between man and woman in relation to the image of God (only in terms of glory, v. 7); and the construal of Paul’s argument whereby he supports the signs of gender distinction (vv. 4-6) via hierarchical arguments in vv. 7-10, which arguments are then suddenly contradicted by vv. 11-12 (despite v. 3), but the distinctions maintained nevertheless and on new grounds in vv. 13-16! The simplest, most elegant, interpretations of this text are produced by those who place Paul in the (to us, alien and uncomfortable) context of ancient discourse on gender and cosmology and honour and shame; cf., e.g., Lakey, Image and Glory; Susan A. Calef, “Kephalē, Coverings, and Cosmology: The Impenetrable ‘Logic’ of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” JRSSup 5 (2009): 21–44; Dale B. Martin, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale Univ Press, 1995), 229–249. For theological engagements with Paul that do not by-pass an historically contextualized understanding of his constructions of gender, cf., again, Lakey, Image and Glory; also, Benjamin H. Dunning, Specters of Paul: Sexual Difference in Early Christian Thought (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). (105-106, n. 35)

[8b] Børresen quotes here Lone Fatum:

It has often been maintained that 1 Cor 11:3–9 only indirectly or implicitly denies the participation of woman in the human prerogative of being created in the image of God, and that it is due to a later, more misogynist tradition that the Pauline formulations in vv. 3 and 7 have been turned into an explicit and exclusive doctrine of the imperfection and inferiority of woman. However, this interpretation of the Pauline intention, as expressed in 11:3–9, cannot be substantiated. . . . On the contrary, Paul takes it for granted that woman is indeed not of God’s image; for he relates 11:3–9 to Gen 1:26–27a instead of 1:27b-28, indicating without any discussion that woman is not included in original humanity nor, of course, in God’s image. (From (“Image of God and Glory of Man: Women in the Pauline Congregations,” 71)

[9] In addition to what’s mentioned and cited in the previous note, see, for example, Alan Johnson, First Corinthians, 194-95. Interestingly, from the other angle, the more straightforward interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:7 that will be discussed throughout this post sometimes managed to make itself known in what purported to be actual renderings of the verse itself—e.g. if what appears in the influential 12th century canon law collection of the Decretum Gratiani is indeed understood to be part of the actual quotation of Paul himself (Hinc etiam Apostolus):

“Vir quidem,” ait, “non debet uelare caput, quia imago et gloria Dei est; mulier ideo uelat, quia non est gloria aut imago Dei.”

“Indeed a male,” he [=Paul] said, “ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; (on account of this) a woman covers, since she is neither in the glory or image of God.”

See Horowitz, “The Image of God in Man: Is Woman Included?”, 177-78. It’s possible, however, to render the Latin here to where the second half of this isn’t understood to be part of Paul’s own quotation:

“A male,” he said, “ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God,” for that reason a woman covers her head because she is not the glory or the image of God. (Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West, 121)

[10] Jastram notes that “Commentators on this verse agree that it does not teach that woman is the image of God; many agree that Paul actually denies that woman is the image of God in some sense, though not in others” (“Man as Male and Female,” 33). As for the former, Francis Watson writes that Paul “fails to affirm that woman . . . is in the image of God” (“The Authority of the Voice,” 91). As to the latter, J. P. Meier goes further in his interpretation, suggesting the essence of Paul’s teaching (and also commenting on the precise language that he expressed it in) and its implications as

Since woman is created later, from man, she is not the direct image of God. In fact, the image-terminology cannot be used of her at all. While rejecting the idea of woman as the image of God, Paul obviously would not say that woman was the image of man. That would blur the very distinction Paul wishes to uphold. So the only word applicable to woman is the one cultivated by Hellenistic-Jewish speculation, doxa. While woman cannot be the image of man, to say nothing of God, she can be the reflected glory—of man, not God. (“On the Veiling of Hermeneutics,” 219)

On the other hand, Westfall, in her Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, mildly criticizes David Cline—and the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters as a whole, in which Cline expresses this view in his “Image of God”—for presenting the view that Paul unambiguously suggested that women were not made in the image of God as “an established conclusion and not particularly controversial in mainline scholarship” (page unknown), without mention of alternate interpretations.

[10] A footnote to this reads

See, e.g., Fatum (1995: 71). See also Børresen (1995) who describes Augustine as the first author to affront 1 Cor. 11.7 by stating that women too represent God’s image together with their husbands (but not in and by themselves, p. 199-200): ‘It is important to note that all patristic exegesis understands this text as literally affirming men’s exclusive God-likeness’.

The first citation is Lone Fatum, “Image of God and Glory of Man: Women in the Pauline Congregations,” in the volume The Image of God: Gender Models in Judaeo-Christian Tradition.

[11] This is kind of beyond the scope of this post, but it’s sometime been suggested that the word often translated as “rib” can instead be interpreted and translated more broadly as side. But this itself can be virtually conclusively disputed on syntactical/philological grounds: see my comments throughout the post here, especially this one.

[12] Meyer summarizes that “[w]hile ‘glory’ does not mean ‘reflection,’ it can pick up that connotation where it is used in connection with image terminology” (Adam’s Dust and Adam’s Glory, 112). for a few references to Jewish traditions of the connection between Adam’s glory and his status as the image of God, see Hooker, “Authority on Her Head,” 415, especially note 3.

[13] One point of awareness may be found in Galatians 3:28, where Paul writes “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Note that unlike the first two contrasting pairs here, the last pair is not conjoined by “or,” but by “and,” which thus matches the language of Genesis 1:27 exactly (ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ). Taking this and other things into account, Meyer suggests that “Paul’s positive affirmation of the created order in [1 Corinthians 11] appears to contrast sharply with our reading of Galatians” (Adam’s Dust and Adam’s Glory, 116). I’ll mention this apparent contrast again later.

[14] Yair Lorberbaum, in his In God’s Image: Myth, Theology, and Law in Classical Judaism, only writes that this omission “cannot have been purely accidental” (269).

[15] The Ge’ez text reads ወበሳብዕ ፡ ቀዳሚ ፡ ተፈጥረ ፡ አዳም ፡ ወገቦ ፡ ብእሲቱ.

[16] With reference to Judith Baskin’s comments on the response to Samuel ben Naḥman’s interpretation in Genesis Rabbah 8:1—that this attempted “to show that woman was not created by God in the divine image but was formed later from the body of the already-created man” (Cf. Baskin, “Rabbinic Judaism and the Creation of Woman”).

[17] This was noted in Hooker, “Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Cor. 11.10,” 411 n. 3.

That being said, in an alternate manuscript of this text, at one point Adam clearly refers to Eve as the “image which God made.” See Levison’s “The Exoneration and Denigration of Eve, in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve” for more on all this, especially in the context of the issue of the redactional history of the texts. For more on the issue of sex and gender in GLAE more generally, see Vita Arbel’s Forming Femininity in Antiquity: Eve, Gender, and Ideologies in the Greek Life of Adam and Eve.

[18] “Paul and Women: A Response to Recent Discussion,” 538.

[19] To borrow language from Matthew 7:16f.

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