Apostle of Persuasion– Part Nineteen

Apostle of Persuasion– Part Nineteen March 15, 2022

Q. Let’s talk for a moment about 1 Cor. 11 and the argument there. I don’t think this is really an argument about hierarchy, it is an argument about source, and of course kephale can mean source (as in the head of a river) just as it can mean head. Here Paul plays on the two meanings. Paul is thinking about the fact that Christ is the only begotten of God, so the Father is the source of the Son, and as you rightly say, following the Wisdom tradition, Christ is the pre-existent one involved in the creation of Adam, who in turn is the source of Eve. The point of this argument is not to further a male female hierarchy in that church, the rhetorical point is to explain the authorization of women praying and prophesying in the church— so long as they have ‘something down from or over their literal head’ they are authorized to do these things in church.  They have exousia.  Of course, the phrase ‘because of the angels’ has been much debated, but it would appear that it refers to angels being the guardians of proper worship order, and since a woman’s hair is her glory, no one’s glory should be evident in worship but God’s hence the head-covering for women.  I wondered if you had considered this approach to 1 Cor. 11?


A. I think interpreting kephale primarily as source is a convenient means of avoiding the embarrassment that Paul might have indicated a hierarchy of being. While source may be a dimension here, I don’t think you can avoid some sense of hierarchy, as embarrassing to us as that might be to our sensibilities. I wrote an article in the Malherbe festschrift (Early Christianity and Classical Culture) in which I worked on kephale, particularly comparing Paul’s use with that of Philo, who repeatedly uses kephale for sovereignty (e.g., “Esau is the kephale of his clan [Conf. 66.1] and Ptolemy Philadelphus is the head of the kings, Mos. 2.30). Philo gives numerous other examples. I don’t think that the point of 11:2-16 is the authorization of men and women to prophesy; Paul assumes this already. The point is to ensure decorum in all of the churches.


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