‘Because of the angels’

‘Because of the angels’ October 9, 2014

“For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” That’s 1 Corinthians 11:10 — a verse so baffling and strange that most of us just skip quickly past Paul’s opaque non-sequitur.

Did that make sense to the Christians in Corinth? Did they read that and think, “Ah, yes, of course. Because of the angels. It’s all so clear now …”?

If so, what did they seem to know about angels and headgear that none of us knows now? What did it mean to them?

"Because of the angels."
“Because of the angels.”

I’m sure it meant … something. But now it just seems absurdly impenetrable — a biblical madlib in which any other noun could be substituted for “angels” with no loss or addition of meaning as far as we’re concerned. “A woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the otters.” Just as clear.

For all we know, reading that, this could be a running gag that Paul sometimes randomly added to the ends of sentences. (“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments, because of the angels.“)

We shouldn’t be surprised to find odd and opaque passages like this in the Bible. We’re just as baffled by phrases we find in Shakespeare, and he was writing in English far more recently. The past really can be a foreign country and 2,000 years is a really long time ago. 

So we should expect to find things like this in a book this old. We should expect to encounter passages that make us feel like the guy in this Comcast ad:


His co-workers are speaking a shared language that’s incomprehensible to him because he hasn’t experienced what they’ve experienced. He has no sense or understanding of their culture. We’re in the same boat when it comes to whatever Paul and the Corinthian Christians had in mind with this business about hats/crowns/veils/hair/halos and “because of the angels.”

Unsurprisingly, of course, the impenetrable puzzle of this passage hasn’t stopped generations of Christian men from employing it in defense of patriarchy and male privilege. Women must be kept in place, after all, because of the angels.

Anyway, the folks at Christian Feminism Today take a stab at what this verse might mean, if you’re curious.

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