Is 1Corinthians 11:2-16 a Prohibition of Homosexuality? -- By: Kirk R. MacGregor

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:662 (Apr 2009)
Article: Is 1Corinthians 11:2-16 a Prohibition of Homosexuality?
Author: Kirk R. MacGregor


Is 1Corinthians 11:2-16 a Prohibition of Homosexuality?

Kirk R. MacGregor

Kirk R. MacGregor is Assistant Professor of Religion, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Throughout church history 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has been one of the least understood and therefore most controversial passages in all of Scripture. Here Paul commanded women to cover their heads and men not to cover their heads during, at least, church assemblies. Since the sixteenth century three main responses to this text have emerged, all based on the presupposition that the text means that women are to don a head garment of some kind. First, some groups have insisted that women wear a bonnetlike “prayer covering,” veil, or hat in church and often in all settings outside the home. Second, others, who seek to discover and reapply the principle of the temporal directive for female head garments that was exclusively applicable in late antique Mediterranean society, consider that the passage has been properly applied when certain ministerial offices, usually pastor and elder, are limited to men.1 Third, the most common approach simply

ignores or glosses over the text in an attempt to avoid ecclesiastical controversy. However, if the presupposition underlying these approaches is false, then all of them fail to grasp the central issue confronting Paul.

This study contends that the reasons marshaled in favor of the view that by κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων (“having something down from the head”)2 Paul referred to some form of headgear evince fatal hermeneutical and historical flaws. Rather, the principles of grammatical-historical exegesis render it highly probable that κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων refers to long hair, as seen in verses 14-15. Consequently Paul forbade men from wearing long hair and women from wearing short hair. Drawing on contemporaneous Jewish, Greek, and Roman sources, this article indentifies the purpose of Paul’s injunction as the prohibition of both homosexuality in the church at large and the particular practices of men and women appearing and behaving in ways characteristic of the opposite sex which were indicative of homosexuality.3 Such a solution harmonizes with the known problem of homosexuality at Corinth as well as with Paul’s

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