Wednesday, August 01, 2007

veils, anyone?

So, would anyone like to tell me just how they make sense of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16?

Just wondering.


Steven Baird said...

i suppose you could just disregard anything paul says. other than that, I've got nothing.

Anonymous said...

For one... the royal we of post-Enlightment Christianity, and even possibly post-Constantinian respectability, don't prophecy. That, at least, is just as big a potential problem-or not-as the head covering; especially since prophesying is so part of the Christian way in this picture of it that it's assumed.

Secondly, Paul is making an argument from nature. And, it seems that he is quite aware that he is making an argument--"now i want you to know." There are times in Paul when he says I, and times when he says the Lord's command is. Are these (I say/the Lord says) the same; are they different? Or, maybe more to the point of this passage, are those moments when Paul is exegeting Scripture the same as "The Lord commands"? Or, is this an instance of his saying "I say this," and "I say this for these reasons"? And, could one not also say, that's nice Paul, I see you've chosen the creation account where woman was created as helpmeet, and not the one where both were created simultaneously in the image of the God who refers to self with the pronoun we.

Thirdly, could one not argue that the "true" nugget of this passage is when Paul himself balks in verses 11 and 12? Where he sort of says, "despite all of the above, especially that woman being made for man, but not man for woman stuff," in the Lord things are different. "In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God."

Certainly there is something that he is trying to get at with the veil stuff, namely, it seems, the cosmic order of gender relations. But, he himself concludes, that we are dependent on each other (which is very reminiscent of Ephesians where the call is to submit one to the other) and that everything comes from God. Beyond the particulars of the practice of head covering, even beyond the particulars of the gender order that stands behind the practice, it seems that the realization of verses 11 and 12 are the ones that tap into the vein of the Gospel teaching that runs through Paul. After all, there are countless first century worship practices that we do not do and have not done for almost two millenia.

JTB said...

Hi Steven! Nothing like a nice in-person encounter to effect a de-lurking, eh?

HJ, I think verses 11-12 are exactly where Paul makes his central theological claim. I think these are his answer to the unpardonable exclusion of women from sharing in the imago Dei earlier in the passage. ("Man is the image and reflection of God, but woman is the reflection of man." Woman is at best a reflection of the image, but certainly not a full sharer in it.)

What I don't see, however, is any way to reconcile the theological claims on vs 11-12 with the argument from nature. At all. So, I am left with the problem of figuring out why Paul seems to endorse it to begin (I think this is rhetorical summary of the position to refute, actually), reverses himself to make the awesome theological claims of 11-12, and then reverses himself again in v14, lapsing into "does not nature herself teach you..." I'm convinced that there is an opposition of authorities playing out here: God v Nature. And of course, God trumps Nature...but then why, why the reversal in vs. 14?

Anonymous said...

I was going to offer that it could be Paul summarizing what he will refute, sort of like he does with the women keeping silent (except it's so hard for us to read an ironic Paul), but it was his return to nature, as you point out, that made me keep silent on the possibility.

There are many times when Paul, despite being someone who marshals arguments, and not elliptical mysteries (like John), leaves me scratching my head; leaves me simply not getting how he thinks or argues.

Brian said...

What does Paul mean by "nature" here, anyway?

Obviously, if we just let Nature take it's course, everybody would have long hair, men and women alike.

And how does whatever is meant by "nature" affect Paul's argument from "nature" in Romans 1?

Mark said...

Hey, I don't have any idea, though I'm attracted to the idea that 11-12 are the climactic answer to what he's doing there. Also, one of my classmates recently had some interesting thoughts. See her post here (

JTB said...

Hi Mark,

I did indeed find this through your blog awhile back. I found it interesting reading, even though (to be rudely truthful) it put me back up in a way I didn't really analyze fully. I suppose, on re-reading it now, that it has to do with my own high-school/college literary reading skills pointing me to the hugely problematic exclusion of women from the imago Dei--the theological foundation upon which the necessity of the practice of head covering is predicated. Frankly, I don't care who said it: if we can't recognize the exclusion of a part of humanity from the imago Dei as wrong...then I don't know what theology or Christianity is really about. So the conclusion of the post--the willingness to obey without understanding because it seems clear that the message is "do this"--might be okay in some other situation (although I must pause to confess that my drivenness to understand makes this a difficult position for me religiously on pretty much anything), but here, it means accepting that women are not fully human in the same way men are, not directly connected to God, and therefore lesser beings who must signal their inferior status with a visible symbol so that no one forgets it.

All of the above is what makes it impossible for me to take at face value the verse 14 reversal. Paul, for all his problems, simply would not endorse the exclusion of woman from imago Dei. Oh, I could be wrong; maybe he would and maybe he did. In which case I think we as Christians are bound to not follow Paul on that.

Mark said...

I'm with you. It seems kind of clear that any "simple face reading" or whatever you want to call it, that assumes firstly that the passage is clear, and secondly that it commands veils based on female subordination in terms of the image of God is not as neutral or simple as they would like to think.
If, on the other hand, there is a way to seek obedience in a way that does notsubordinate but rather celebrates gender and difference within the imago dei, then I'm for it, but I haven't seen that yet.

JTB said...

Hi Brian,

I think your question here is crucial. And I find the juxtaposition of vs 14's appeal to "nature herself" and vs 16's appeal to tradition/custom very illuminating. Why does the appeal to nature need buttressing with an appeal to practices? because Nature is a cultural construct. And I think this has everything to do with the nature argument in Romans. Ultimately, in my opinion, appeals to nature as a means of making theological arguments are always suspect strategy. "Nature" with the capital N stands in for God, carrying the weight of divine authority, but is not God. The contrast in this passage between the authority of God and the spurious authority of Nature is perhaps the most important theological element in it, I think.

Shannon said...

Judith Gundry Volf has a good article I think. I haven't looked at it since college so I don't remember specifics except that I was doing a survey of recent interpretations of the passage and her's stood out to me as both theologically and exegetically astute and helpful.
Gundry-Volf, Judith M. “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method.” Evangelium Schriftauslegung Kirche: Festschrift fur Peter Stukemacher Zum 65. Geburtstag. Ed. Von Jostein Adma. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1997.

Maybe you're preaching this morning though and it is too late

JTB said...

Hi Shannon--thanks immensely, I will find that article...although, if it's in German I may just ask you to summarize it for me! :)

Anonymous said...

hey jenn!

writing you from sunny (and frickin' hot georgia). I hope your move to NYC goes smoothly.

I actually wrote a paper on that text in NT101 (ah it brings me back..hee hee). Actually, it is probably one of my better papers at PTS. My writing went downhill as Annika got older and I got pregnant again ;-) I'll send it to you if I find it on my harddrive.

Give Clare a kiss from me!

Jess HB

scoots said...

Hey Jen-

You should read the article in JBL 123 (2004):75-84. You might be able to get it in full-text online through ATLA. It's called “PAUL’S ARGUMENT FROM NATURE

I don't know if NT scholars have mostly accepted or rejected this, but it's certainly thought-provoking. When I get a chance, I'll blog on it and send you a link.

JTB said...

Thanks! I did find the Martin article on the testicle idea, and skimmed it (can't say I read it thoroughly). I'm not sure what I think of it other than yeah, that certainly is interesting!

Jess, I'd love to read your paper should you ever find it, deadlines notwithstanding. Hope y'all are doing well!