There are at least five reasons why we ought to reconsider the traditional (women ought to show submission to men in church gatherings) reading of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and these are Lucy Peppiatt’s five:
- The “spectacular array of contradictory commentary” on these verses should at least make us think we have not yet found a reasonable solution.
- The rhetorical readings of the passage, readings that genuinely resolve the tensions in the passage and with big themes in Paul’s letters, have not been refuted. They’ve most been ignored. Here she refers to Thomas Shoemaker, Alan Padgett, and Jose Vadakkedom.
- The historical reconstructions of what was at work behind the women wearing veils theory are far from convincing. Which, she asks in a telling way, is more credible? Women acting totally out of line and out of character or males emerging out of a misogynist culture acting misogynistically in church settings?
- The whole shame and honor “respect” Paul — according to traditional readings — wants to keep in tact goes against Paul’s constant rebutting of acting in a ways that bring honor. Put differently, asking Paul here to be pushing the honor categories of the Roman world asks Paul to act against his own teaching.
- Paul’s big theme of radical equality in Christ (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) is mocked by radical inequality if the traditional reading of 1 Cor 11:2-16 is right.
Lucy Peppiatt, in Women and Worship at Corinth, is right on each of these tension points. The passage has not been explained adequately by those who think each of the words in our passage stems from Paul and expresses Paul’s own theology.
The problem at Corinth is a lack of unity in the gatherings. Oneness in Christ needs to be seen in concrete social settings. How they are behaving when it comes to worship, the Lord’s Supper and spiritual gifts mock their unity. The problems in these areas — note this term — is domination by those with more social cache. (This is my term, not Lucy’s.) So, and this is my reflection, one has to wonder if that same kind of domination is not being expressed in 1 Cor 11:2-16. (At least I do.) Paul’s “in Christ” theology, again, is radical and he knows it; we cannot expect him to undo it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 by asking the Corinthians to act like the Roman culture all over again. New creation had been unleashed “in Christ” and it was to have radical implications at the social level of fellowship; it was not to be overturned out of respect to the Roman way of life.
Now to our passage: in short, the problems arise because we want to think 1 Cor 11:2-10 and 11:11-16 are expressing the same theology. A rhetorical reading, one that would have been “performed” well by the lector of this letter (see my post from yesterday), suggests these two sections do not cohere theology but conflict with one another because one is Paul’s response to the other.
Peppiatt, along with Shoemaker, Padget and Vadakkedom, proposes then that Paul interweaves words and views of the Corinthian male dominant crowd (found in the letter from Chloe) with his own responses. Thus, the passage would have been “heard” as Paul’s argument against head coverings, head coverings proposed by males who wanted females to be in submission in the public assembly.
Here is the scenario at work in the community of Christians at Corinth, and here she adapts Ben Witherington III’s scenario:
- Partisanship centered on particular Christian teachers.
- Cultural values of the wealthy that could lead to lawsuits.
- Unequal treatment of the lower status folks at the Lord’s table and dining in pagan temples.
- Hubris with respect to spiritual gifts.
- Disagreements about sexual conduct — inside and outside marriage.
- Disagreements on eschatology, esp the resurrection, and over reigning and glory.
Both Witherington and Peppiatt think — and #1 makes this clear — this is about some dominant males. The problem was well-to-do Gentile males. Bruce Winter, too, thinks there is a pervading masculine culture of dominance at work in Corinth (After Paul).
Peppiatt: Corinth was being dominated by some articulate, gifted males and they implemented some oppressive practices that was unraveling the freedom Paul’s gospel created. They wanted to display their glory, honor and authority on their heads (short hair, bald, etc) and wanted women to reflect their honor by what they wore on their heads. The males, in other words, were worldly in allowing the Roman culture of honor and shame to shape what worship looked like. This, she contends, is superior in explanation than the wild women theory.