Friday, December 16, 2011

To Grow or Not to Grow: The Priority Argument in First Corinthians 11:2-16

This will be the first of two installments on the issue of head-coverings/hair length as a distinguishing expression of gender. This first is taken from my thesis (that is not even near what the chapter needs to be yet), and the second will be more of my interaction with contemporary Christianity's interaction with the passage and the evangelical idea that physical appearance is not important to God and that anyone who suggests otherwise is being offensive. I thought it was important to discuss the exegesis first (even though my thesis isn't about exegeting the passage for all its worth, it does contain some important insights into the passage).

A “priority argument” is one that appeals to the beginning, or creation, of the world or institution in order to support the universal application of an idea or practice by appealing to the original intent of its originator. In the Bible, God is the originator, and thus, His intent is seen in both the creation of the world and in the creation of Israel. Whenever New Testament authors, then, make an appeal to creation, they are making a priority argument in order to say that what God originally intended overrides anything that originates later from culture or even divine concession toward culture. In the use of such an argument, the New Testament writers call their audience back to what God originally expressed as His desire for His people to believe or practice.

One of the passages that display uses of the priority argument is First Corinthians 11:2–16. A good summary of scholarly commentary on the passage is found in Garland.

The complexity of 11:2–16 continues to vex modern interpreters, and its comments about women rile many modern readers.  Because it contains one of the lengthiest discussions in the NT on the relationship between men and women, it has attracted the attention of many and the indignation of some. The danger lurks that interpreters will try to make it say what they would like it to say. Engberg-Pedersen (1991: 679) observes, “The nonscholarly interest of scholars very often influences heavily their decisions on the exegetical questions.” To penetrate its meaning we need more cultural information. But which bits of cultural information apply to this situation? The most reliable clues to the passage’s meaning lie in its structure.
The problem centers on head attire in worship, but interpreters cannot agree whether it has to do with some kind of head covering, hairstyles, or properly tended hair, and whether it involves both men and women or only women. Many recent interpreters assume that the problem has theological roots. Some imagine that Corinthian spiritualists attempted to blur the distinctions between the sexes to symbolize their new status in Christ. Women prophets either threw off their veils, “symbols of the inferiority and subordination which characterized their day to day living,” to show that they had transcended sexual differentiation (M. MacDonald 1990b: 166) or let their hair down in a deliberate attempt “to discard a traditional marker of gender distinction” (Hays 1997: 183–84). In either case, it is assumed that the Corinthian women got carried away with their transformed spiritual status and carried things too far by breaching sexual decorum. They misapplied Paul’s teaching that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28) and, influenced by a “realized eschatology,” sought to eradicate any conventional male/female distinctions (see Meeks 1974: 202). Murphy-O’Connor (1980) surmises that the problem involved men as well as women and contends that it centered on hairdos. Women wore their hair in an unfeminine way, and men wore their hair in an unmasculine way. The hairstyle option has gained popularity. Dunn (1998: 590–91) claims that Paul’s circuitous argument is intended primarily to support the custom of bound-up hair for women so that when they prophesy “with a ‘proper’ hairstyle,” they will not be “distracting.” Gielen (1999) modifies the hairstyle hypothesis by contending that the Corinthian women adopted a short, masculine hairstyle and that Paul argues that they should have long hair. Hjort (2001) claims that Paul argues against a form of androgyny in which the differences between the sexes are being neutralized by a kind of transvestism, in which men and particularly women are dressing and cutting their hair according to the customs of the other sex. Hjort attributes it to a carryover from some of the Corinthians’ past participation in the cult of Dionysus and its transgendered revelry. All these views understand Paul’s main point to be that the sexual differences between men and women are part of God’s purposes in creation and that they should not be obscured in worship.[1]

The passage is usually translated along the lines of the NASB as follows:

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has [something] on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore the woman ought to have [a symbol of] authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man [has his birth] through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God [with her head] uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

            Many of the words, as indicated in brackets, are supplied by the English translations. In reality, much of what is supplied depends upon one’s understanding of what the passage is essentially arguing. Hence, it is important to get a look at the passage as it appears in Greek in order to evaluate what can be gleaned from the text without filling in the gaps first. From what we can see in the bare bones of this passage, Paul makes the following arguments (the “X” in v. 11–12 representing what needs to be supplied):

1)      The delineation of headship is from God to Christ, Christ to man, and man to woman (v. 3).
2)      The man who has kata kefalh “down from a head” is shamed, and the woman who does not have a her head covered is shamed and the same as one who is bald (vv. 4–6).
3)      The man is the glory and image of God, whereas the woman is the glory of man (v. 7).
4)      Man is not from the woman, but the woman is from man (v. 8).
5)      Man is not created on account of the woman, but the woman is created on account of the man (v. 9).
6)      The angels are observing the worship service (v. 10).
7)      Neither is a woman X without man, nor a man X without woman, and this is still true when they are “in the Lord” (v. 11). As the woman X from the man, so also the man X by the woman, and all things X from God.
8)      Nature teaches that it is a shame for a man to have long hair, but that long hair is beautiful on a woman (vv. 14–15a).
9)      Her long hair functions as a veil/covering (v. 15b).
10)  Neither the apostles or the churches of God have a practice that accommodates differing views (v. 16).
11)  Therefore, by both explicit statements within the passage, and by way of implicature, a man is to have short hair and a woman is to have long hair if they are to prophesy and pray in the assembly.

Whether there is more to this passage, i.e., that women are to wear a traditional covering in addition to having long hair, or that what is said should be applied to all spheres of life, not just within the assembly, must be argued from one’s interpretation of these texts. It seems clear that at the very least, the Apostle Paul is implying that hair length is something that distinguishes men from women, and that such a distinction ought to be maintained as ideal within the community. Hence, only those persons that exhibit that distinction should be allowed to represent God to the church (via prophesy) or the church to God (via prayer).
The question one must ask for this study, however, pertains as to whether Paul is presenting an argument simply for his time and culture, or whether it is his intent to relay a universal message to all of the churches, for all time, after him?  In other words, does he intend this argument to be limited to his Corinthian audience, or is this practice to be standard in the churches of God everywhere regardless of cultural practices? 
In order to find the answer one must isolate the basis for Paul’s argument.  Does the language used for the foundation of this argument contain cultural indicators (something that lets the primary, or initial, reader know that the argument is specifically to him or her and not necessarily the relation a universal principle or a specific application of a universal principle), or does it contain universal indicators to let the reader know that there is no argument (cultural or otherwise) to counter either the principle, or perhaps, even the specific application of the principle?
I believe there are four universal indicators, one of which is a priority argument.  In order to display the function of priority arguments as universal reasoning, this work will discuss the other universal indicators, which give credit to it, within the passage.
The first universal indicator is that Paul has delivered (v. 2) the traditions (parado/seij) passed down to him to the Corinthians.  This is often read as a cultural indicator, providing evidence that Paul is simply passing along a non-universal, cultural practice.[2]
 However, that is not the way Paul uses the term.  In fact, the apostle uses the same related terminology of both the Eucharist in 11:23 as well as the central gospel message in 15:1-4 (two very universal teachings).  The terminology denotes that the following argument carries with it apostolic authority passed down to the current day of Paul’s writing.  Therefore, the apostle’s purpose in using this term is to give greater weight of authority to what is being said, not weaken its application as simply a limited cultural opinion.  In fact, this reasoning could be a type of priority argument since it appeals to teachings first taught within the Church and passed down to the contemporary generation as an authority which supersedes any other practice among the Corinthian church.[3]
However, the tradition past down is likely a reference to the equality of the sexes in Christ. This is the tradition to which Paul likely refers here, a tradition based upon the text of Genesis 1, where both man and woman are made in God’s image and have now been liberated to reenter that role of true humanity through Christ. However, the de/ in v. 3 is likely adversative, which means that what follows is a clarification of the previous tradition handed down. What this means is that the general rule needs to be understood within the light that follows. What that means by way of implication is that what follows is as universal as the tradition handed down.
One must note, then, that Paul is specifically interacting with a previous teaching he gave them. In fact, he compliments them for attempting to keep the teaching he handed down to them (which is what para&dosij“tradition” means here).[4] Jervis argues that this previous teaching is similar to that found in Galatians 3:28, where there is neither male nor female in Christ, based upon a teaching that both are restored as the image of God when they become Christians. She argues that Paul, then, seeks to correct the misunderstanding that such a status means that physical symbols that express gender roles and distinctions are obliterated.[5]
The second universal indicator is at the end of the pericope.  Paul states that “if anyone is inclined to be contentious on the issue, we have no other custom [sunh/qeian] nor do the churches of God” (v. 16).  The Greek literally states “if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.”  Hence, the emphasis is placed upon the faulty practice rather than the appropriate practice.  There is no such custom with a woman praying or prophesying without some sort of covering.[6] Hence, the contentious person cannot be accommodated by a variant practice as there is no practice that is in accord with an interpretation of Genesis 1 that does not take Genesis 2 into account.
The universal element here is the word sunh/qeian (custom or practice) and the appeal to the churches of God in relation to it.  In secular Koine, such as in Philo and Josephus, the term sunh/qeian denotes a mutual habit or practice.  Paul uses the term in First Corinthians 8:7 to denote a type of thinking that has been fostered within a person, i.e., something that a person has become convinced of through another.  This is probably the correct interpretation of the word in this context.  Paul is arguing, as before, that the practice fostered among the churches of God is the standard apostolic tradition passed down to them, and no other practice should be set up in opposition to it.  Thus, the last phrase in v. 16 sets up an inclusio for the pericope begun in v. 2, and sandwiches the argument in universal language, where neither we (i.e., the apostles) or the churches of God practice anything resembling a practice that does not maintain gender distinction through, at the very least, hair length.
The third universal indicator upon which this study will focus is a speculative one.  The statement in vv. 11-12 are often taken as indicative of Paul’s balancing out his previous statement concerning the origin of the woman in opposition to the rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 2, which often made women inferior in nature to men.  It is true that the apostle does this elsewhere (Gal 3:28); but the verses actually contain no statement that man “has his birth through the woman.”[7]  The actual statement in the Greek is ou}te gunh\ xwri_j a)ndro_v “neither man apart from woman, nor woman apart from man in the Lord.” He continues by stating, “ For as the woman from the man, so also the man by the woman; and all things from God.” 
Although typically taken as an argument from origins, the phrase may be an argument in favor of Paul’s main thrust that men and women should be distinct because one needs the other to distinguish gender.[8] In fact, Jervis believes that Paul here is correcting a misinterpretation, and subsequent misapplication, of his teaching that all are one “in the Lord” that taught gender distinction to be a thing of the past.[9]
The common understanding in Second Temple Judaism (including Hellenistic Judaism as displayed in authors such as Philo of Alexandria) that the original man of Genesis 1 was androgynous.[10] Thus, if the more spiritual person attains to the image of Genesis 1 then he or she seeks to be an androgynous human without gender distinction in physical appearance. Paul here corrects this misunderstanding by arguing from Genesis 2 that man and woman are to remain distinct in their roles and in their appearances, specifically signified, not simply by clothing, but by the hair lengths given to them. The woman especially ought to keep her hair length long as it distinguishes her from the man and is a specific symbol of her femininity that God intended for her and not for the man. Instead, it represents her delegated authority in creation that she acquires from her relationship with the man, something the angels seek to maintain as the guardians of the created order.[11]
Therefore, the argument Paul is making would sound something like this paraphrase: “neither is man [recognizable] apart from [his distinction] from the woman, nor is woman apart from [her being defined] by the man in the Lord; because just as the woman [gains her identity] from the existence of the masculine gender, so also the man [gains his identity] through the existence of the feminine; and indeed all things are [distinguished] from God.”
The phrase “in the Lord” as it is used by Paul seems to indicate that Christian people are being spoken of here. Hence, it is the distinctions between the Christian man and the Christian woman that are to be maintained, and what distinguishes the Christian man and the Christian woman are head-coverings, here interpreted by Paul as hair lengths. As Jervis notes:

In 1 Cor 11:2–16 Paul is concerned to correct the Corinthinans’ interpretation of his preaching on liberty in Christ and its consequent reprehensible practice. On the basis of their Jewish-Hellenistic approach to Paul’s earlier teaching on the unity of man and woman in Christ, the Corinthian spirituals considered that they had been transformed into the image of the one who is beyond gender. Accordingly, they believed that customary gender-specific hairdressing andn apparel no longer expressed their new life . . . What he highlights through his midrash is that God intended there to be two distinct genders who would live in harmony in the Lord.
While Paul affirms his original proclamation (v. 11), he does not do so until he has clarified the appropriate context in which to understand it.[12]

Hence, Paul is making the argument that to be “in the Lord,” a variation of “in Christ Jesus” found in Galatians 3:28 and mimicked here in v.
This interpretation would make more sense in light of Paul’s larger argument here, as well as offer an interpretation that was consistent with the larger context rather than in opposition to it.[13]
If this interpretation is correct, then there is a third universal indicator here, since Paul would not be arguing that men and women are only distinguishable genders in Corinth.  He is therefore making an argument for a universal distinction.
There is also support for the idea that gender distinction via appearance was a concern in Second Temple Judaism, especially as it clashed with certain elements within Hellenistic culture. Greek culture was itself at odds with the issue. Epictetus remarks on the matter as follows:
Come, let us leave the chief works of nature, and consider merely what she does in passing. Can anything be more useless than the hairs on a chin? Well, what then? Has not nature used even these in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between the male and the female? Does not the nature of each one among us cry aloud forthwith from afar, ‘I am a man; on this understanding approach me, on this understanding talk with me; ask no further; behold the signs’? Again, in the case of women, just as nature has mingled in their voice a certain softer note, so likewise she has taken the hair from their chins. Not so, you say; on the contrary the human animal ought to have been left without distinguishing features, and each of us ought to proclaim by word of mouth, ‘I am a man.’ Nay, but how fair and becoming and dignified the sign is! How much more fair than the cock’s comb, how much more magnificent than the lion’s mane! Wherefore, we ought to preserve the signs which God has given; we ought not to throw them away; we ought not, so far as in us lies, to confuse the sexes which have been distinguished in this fashion.[14]

But it is clear that some argued that long hair was a majestic quality for certain men, as philosophers often wore their hair this way.[15] Regardless, however, short-hair was the normal hairstyle for men in Greco-Roman culture.[16]

 Philo discusses the man who arranges his hair like a woman (as well as putting on perfume/make-up as an androgynon, who has disgraced himself, society, and nature (H. Philo 1. De Specialibus Legibus 3.37-42). In Vit.Cont. 59-63, he repeats this about the effeminate who he views as androgynous, the distinctions having been destroyed by changes in external appearance.
He calls the woman who does this a gynandros (De Sacrificiis Abelis et Caini 100, Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres sit 274, De Virtutibus 20-21), and states:

The true man should maintain his masculinity, particularly in his clothes, which as he always wears them by day and night ought to have nothing to suggest unmanliness. In the same way he trained the woman to decency of adornment and forbade her to assume the dress of a man, with the further object of guarding against the mannish-woman (hos androgynos houtos kai gynandrous phulaxamenos).

In other words, women and men should not dress in the opposite gender’s clothes in order to guard against a loss of gender distinction. Of course, these arguments are geared toward pederasty, but the point Philo is making is that pederasty is wrong because of its destruction of gender distinction rather than vice versa.
What is interesting about Paul’s argument is that he seems to attribute more to hair length than clothing per se, as he takes for granted the idea that women were meant to have long hair. In verse 15b, Paul states that her hair “has been given (de/dotai) in place of (a)nti/) a covering.” Hence, he argues here that the woman was given hair for an additional purpose to that for which man was given hair (i.e., to function in place of a covering). It is here that one can see that Paul’s argument is not about external head-coverings/head-dresses, but instead concerning the length of one’s hair. The “head-coverings” to which he has been referring throughout the passage is long hair. Thus, kata_ kefalh~j in verse 4 refers to a man who has long hair (lit. “[hanging] down from the head”), coinciding with verse 14, and the covering a woman ought to have upon her head, in contrast to this, that which function as a covering (i.e., koma~|, “to wear one’s hair long”).

Based upon this study, I would propose a translation of First Corinthians 11:2–16 as follows:

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
Every man who has [something] on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.
But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also cut off her hair; but since it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she is to cover her head.
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
Therefore the woman ought to have [a symbol of] delineated authority on her head, because of the angels.
However, in the Lord, neither is woman [distinguished] apart from the man, nor is man [distinguished] apart from the woman.
For just as the woman [gains her identity in distinction] from the man, so also the man [gains his distinction] through the woman; and all things [are distinguished] from God.
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God without covering?
Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Thus, Paul’s argument seeks to correct the misinterpretation of his previous teaching that all are one in Christ by clarifying that this does not mean roles and genders have been abandoned, but rather that the new equal status of Christians of both genders before God is one that must be expressed through gender in worship, not apart from it. Paul reminds the Corinthians that Genesis 1 and 2, as the grounds for basing God’s intentions toward humanity, are to be considered authoritative in the discussion, and that this accords with both nature and current church practice. The individual, therefore, who comes to different conclusions is being contentious toward God’s very work in creation and in the church. Thus, Paul employs the priority argument by appealing to creation as the foundation for understanding worship through gender expression rather than in gender suppression, as the Gnostics who argue that it is through the androgynous man that salvation is accomplished.[17]

[1]Garland, David E.: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Academic, 2003 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 505. Garland himself rejects these in view of a cultural practice where traditional head-coverings were worn.
[2] Although, most egalitarians do see what is being argued as a universal that has something to do with gender distinction. For instance, Craig Blomberg’s reasons for seeing the text as arguing a universal (NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995], 216) are typical of both camps:

(1) “Creation ordinances” (arguments based on how God set things up before the Fall of Gen. 3 [what I call “priority arguments”]) are regularly used throughout the New Testament as desirable, timeless principles that all Christians should follow . . . (2) Paul himself supplies verses 8–9 as a rationale for behavior he is commanding of Christians, not unredeemed people. (3) Verses 8–9 would be meaningless and unnecessary if verses 11–12 entirely canceled them out . . . (5) The interdependence that verses 11–12 stress actually reinforces Paul’s insistence in the first half of the passage that wives not dishonor their husbands.

However, what Blomberg gives with one hand he takes away with the other by divorcing the concept of hair length from gender distinction, which ironically, is exactly the opposite of what Paul is arguing as a universal (Ibid., 215).
Such a commitment to modern culture seems to run contrary to his astute observation that the wordplay concerning kefalh& gives us an indication of what Paul is arguing, as he states that “the main point of this paragraph is the claim that what one does or doesn’t put on one’s physical head either honors or dishonors one’s spiritual head” (208). Hence, such argumentation lends credence to the idea that Paul is arguing a universal idea here concerning actual hair length and its relationship with gender distinction.
[3] In this regard, PA’s concerning apostolic tradition will continue into the Patristic period with just such reasoning (as the Patristic period itself will be later used by the Church throughout its history as a beginning point from which to argue doctrine and practice).
[4] Cf. the verbal form in 15:3 as that which pertains to the proclamation of the gospel itself..
[5] J. Ann Jervis, “‘But I Want You to Know . . .’ Paul’s Midrashic Intertextual Response to the Corinthian Worshipers (1 Cor 11:2–16)” JBL 112 (1993) 231–46.
[6] One might conclude that the statement that “there is no such custom” refers to Paul’s argument that women ought to have long hair, but here is one of those places that the use of the PA lends reciprocal support to a particular ambiguity in the text. If Paul’s argument is that God has ordered creation in such a way then the claim that there is no need to practice such in the church, and thus is it not practiced, would essentially argue against God’s intended order. This is surely not what the apostle intended to communicate. Hence, the phrase must refer to the opposing view, i.e., the view of the contentious that is not customarily practiced in the church.
[7] These words are added by the NASB.
[8] This is in fact a primary argument for Gen 1¾ that God makes them male and female to distinguish them from Himself.
[9] Jervis, “‘But I Want You to Know,” 234–35.
[10] See, for instance, Richard A. Baer, Jr., Philo’s Use of the Categories Male and Female (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970).
[11] Blomberg understands the phrase e0cousi/an e!xein e0pi_ as referring, not to a delegated authority the woman has in prophesying or praying, based upon her status in creation, but simply as an authority over her head, meaning that she ought to control what is on her head (1 Corinthians, 212).
[12] Jervis, “‘But I Want You to Know,” 246.
[13] Thiselton, First Corinthians, 803. However, Thiselton sets up a false dichotomy when he states that “Paul’s concern is not with subordination but with gender distinction” (Ibid., 805), as gender distinction is only important if differing duties/roles exist between them, and a part of those duties may include the subordination of one gender to the other, which seems to be the point made in v. 3.
[14] Epictetus 1.16.9-14. Page, T.E., ed. Oldfather, W.A., trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.
[15] See, for instance, Dio Chrysostom, who defends his long hair by attributing it to the glory of kings and philosophers, but also declares that it is not a virtue in and of itself (Thirty-fifth Discourse, sect. 10-12. Dio Chrysostom, vol. 3, pp. 401-403).
[16] Thompson, Cynthia L. “Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth.” Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 51, no. 2, June, 1988, p. 100-103. Plutarch argued that it was common in Greece for men to cut their hair short and women to cut their hair long  (Plutarch. Moralia, vol. 4., p. 27 Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936. A.k.a. Moralia, The Roman Questions 267b).
[17] See, for instance, the androgynous arguments made in the Gospels of Thomas and Philip.

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