1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation -- By: Bruce K. Waltke

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 135:537 (Jan 1978)
Article: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation
Author: Bruce K. Waltke

1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation

Bruce K. Waltke

[Bruce K. Waltke, Professor of Old Testament, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.]

In 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 the Apostle Paul discusses the appropriate headdress for the sexes. If churches would include that passage (along with 1 Cor 11:17–34) as part of their reading at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they would be guarded against some of the extreme positions of the women’s liberation movement and the theological error that denies a hierarchical structure of the sexes. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and as a result many believers are succumbing to pressures from both without and within the church to abandon Paul’s clear teaching on this subject.

Perhaps this text has been neglected because of the many interpretive problems with which it confronts the expositor. In the light of the present crisis facing the churches regarding the social ordering of the sexes and the centrality of this text to that discussion, it seems fitting to reconsider the passage. A fresh interpretation will be attempted by considering some of its key theological terms and concepts, by reconstructing its historical background as much as possible, and by synthesizing its argument to expose Paul’s intention.

Although Paul does not say so explicitly, it seems probable to suppose that some of the individualistic Corinthians were proposing that their women throw off their traditional veils which symbolized their subordination to the men. Such a radical cultural change, they may have argued, would be consonant with the radical, revolutionary character of Christian theology.

Indeed, a strong case can be made for the social parity of the sexes and therefore against the wearing of a veil symbolizing a hierarchical relationship. For example, the Lord Jesus accepted and

promoted not the lower standard of the Mosaic law, given after man’s Fall, but the higher standard exhibited in the creation before the Fall (cf. Matt 19:3–9). Whereas the Law assumed a lower social standing for women, the creation accounts assume their ontological equality. God created man as male and female in His image, according to Genesis 1:26–28, a text showing their complementary nature and inferring their ontological equality. Moreover, Adam, when presented with his wife, exclaimed, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23), a statement showing tha...

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