Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 -- By: Philip B. Payne

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 20:3 (Summer 2006)
Article: Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Author: Philip B. Payne

Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Philip B. Payne

© 2006 Payne Loving Trust. All rights reserved.

PHILIP B. PAYNE earned his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies at Cambridge University. He has taught New Testament Studies at Cambridge University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary. A more detailed exegesis of this passage and all of Paul’s other passages about women is forthcoming in his Man & Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan). He has been researching this topic since 1973.


C. F. D. Moule wrote that the problems raised by 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 “still await a really convincing explanation.”1 G. B. Caird added, “It can hardly be said that the passage has yet surrendered its secret.”2 W. Meeks regarded it as “one of the most obscure passages in the Pauline letters.”3

The Central Problem

First Corinthians 11 repeatedly identifies problems regarding men’s and women’s “head coverings” as disgraceful, improper, and degrading (vv. 4, 5, 6, 13, 14) and morally what one “ought not” to do (vv. 7, 10). Nevertheless, interpretations typically identify the “head covering” as something that was not generally regarded as disgraceful or a symbol of immorality in Hellenistic and Roman culture. Most interpretations have not taken into account two crucial cultural conventions regarding head coverings. First, it was generally regarded as disgraceful for men to wear long effeminate hair. Effeminate hair was commonly ridiculed as disgraceful because of its association with homosexuality. Second, in Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish cultures, for centuries preceding and following the time of Paul, virtually all of the portraiture, sculpture, and other graphic evidence depicts respectable women’s hair done up, not let down loose.4 Most of the relatively few cases of hair let down loose depict disgraceful revelries. Recognizing these two cultural backgrounds is the key to understanding the various puzzling expressions in the passage.

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