This continues the series on Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. While I can only briefly highlight key points from chapters 6-13, readers are highly encouraged to spend time with this masterpiece. (Note: Those who choose to ignore the footnotes do so to their loss. Payne has painstakingly annotated all of his sources and provided considerable comments showing where some have either misrepresented or under-represented the data to support their alternative interpretations.)

Chapter 6 “1 Corinthians 11:2-16: Introduction” outlines the task of demonstrating “a coherent interpretation of this passage that presents Paul’s argument as proceeding logically, that remains faithful to the vocabulary and structure of the passage and Paul’s related teaching elsewhere, and that fits the cultural situation of Corinth in the first century.” Payne shows in subsequent chapters that

“most interpretations have not taken into account two crucially relevant cultural conventions regarding head coverings. First, it was generally regarded as disgraceful for men to wear long effeminate hair…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. Most of the relatively few cases of hair let down loose depict disgraceful revelries.”

Chapter 7 “1 Corinthians 11:2-3: Head/Source Relationships” is worth the price of the book many times over. Payne canvasses all the relevant historical and contemporary interpretations for the meaning of κεφαλη (“head”) giving fifteen reasons to understand this term to mean “source” and not “authority.” Payne charges that some have imposed an anachronistic reading of κεφαλη (“head”) to argue that “the translation of ‘head’ in English implies a hierarchical structure of authority and corresponding obligation of the subordinate to submit to that authority.” Even translators have committed this error. Payne writes: “The LXX translators [Greek translation of the Old Testament] overwhelmingly (in 226 of 239 instances) chose κεφαλη to translate literal instances of ‘head.’ Yet in only 6 of 171 instances where ‘head’ [in Hebrew] may convey ‘leader’ did they translate it with the metaphor κεφαλη in a way that clearly means leader. In contrast, the NASB, reflecting the natural metaphorical use of ‘head’ to convey ‘leader’ in English, translates 115 of these 171 instances ‘head.'”

Payne offers a viable alternative in translating κεφαλη in this passage (and one can only hope that the 2011 NIV/TNIV translation committee will take note). He opines that:

the contextual support for κεφαλη meaning “source” is clear, [and] any translation of [1 Corinthians 11:2-16] should convey this sense to the reader. In English, however “head” does not convey “source,” but rather “authority over,” so it is misleading merely to translate “head” here. The best solution is probably to translate κεφαλη as “source” and add a note, “literally, “head.”

One of the fifteen reasons given to support reading κεφαλη as “source” rather than “authority” includes “the items listed in 1 Cor 11:3 are not listed in a descending or ascending order of authority, but they are listed chronologically: man came from Christ’s creative work [cf., John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17], woman came from ‘the man,’ [he notes the articular expression is crucial] Christ came from God in the incarnation.” Of course, this makes perfect sense of the passage if we strip away our assumption that Paul meant for κεφαλη to indicate “authority.”

Before leaving Chapter 7, I want to mention that Payne’s case against a subordinationist Christology is carefully argued and deserves a keen look (along with references to Kevin Giles’s works; see footnote 85, pp. 133). The underlying theological assumptions supporting hierarchical arrangements between men and women must be carefully supported and defended. After all, if a theological foundation purported to support any practice is faulty, then the foundation requires a closer look. What is at stake, according to Kevin Giles (and others), are the core teachings of orthodoxy regarding the Trinity. Payne could not be clearer, to wit:

Subordinationism conflicts with Paul’s affirmations of Christ being now “over every power and authority” (e.g., Eph 1:20-22; Phil 3:21; Col 2:9-10), that God “has put everything under his feet” (1 Cor 15:27), and that Christ will turn over all authority to God the Father only in the future consummation (1 Cor 15:24-28). Revelation 7:17 even describes “the Lamb at the center of the throne.” Revelation 22:3 depicts “the throne of God and of the Lamb” in the New Jerusalem, and Rev 3:21 and 12:5 depict Jesus Christ on the throne of God [contra Wayne Grudem, see note 86, p. 133.]….Subordinationism also conflicts with Christ’s ontological equality with God the Father (e.g., Rom 9:5; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 2:9; Titus 2:13).

Chapter 8 “1 Corinthians 11:4: The Disgrace of a Man “Having Down from the Head” shows the importance of understanding the background of Corinth and the situation Paul is addressing. Fourteen reasons are given to show the expression “hanging down from the head” is addressing “long, effeminate hair (or its homosexual symbolism)” on men as disgraceful. Since Christ is man’s source (1 Cor 11:3), then having hair like a woman undermines not only marriage, but blurs the lines of sexual distinction between men and women, thus bringing shame on the work of Christ in creation.

Chapter 9 “1 Corinthians 11:5-6: The Disgrace of a Woman’s Head ‘Uncovered'” answers the question “What ‘uncovering’ was disgraceful for every woman leading in worship?” (given Paul was providing regulations surrounding women praying and prophesying in public, the vertical and horizontal dimensions of worship; see 1 Cor 11:5). Since it was customary in Dionysiac worship (Corinth was home to a temple dedicated to this cult) for women to let their hair down during “prophesy” and engage in sexual debauchery (see Payne, pp. 162ff), Corinthian women in the church were likely taking liberties with hairstyles that were generally unacceptable (Note: The Corinthian church was not short on taking liberties, which Paul regularly corrected; see 1 Cor 5-6). Furthermore, since Greek, Roman, and Jewish cultures portrayed respectable women wearing their hair done up in public, it maligned a woman’s dignity and honor to let down her hair. Payne offers fourteen reasons why the “uncovering” meant letting down a woman’s hair.

One of those reasons caught my attention because I’ve always been confused by what Paul meant in 1 Cor 11:5 “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.” Payne clarifies:

In Paul’s day, an accused adulteress had her hair let down, and shaving was the penalty of a convicted adulteress. This explains why an uncovered woman is the same as a woman with shorn hair (11:5). This explanation works only if “uncovered” refers to hair let down.

Chapter 10 “1 Corinthians 11:7-10: Theological Reasons for Head-Covering Rules” removes a great deal of mystery surrounding this passage and paints a coherent picture for the entire pericope. The underlying question of 11:7 is “What does it mean for man to be the ‘image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man?'” Payne explains, “Men wearing effeminate hair were deliberately making their hair look like a woman’s hair, thus making themselves into the ‘image’ or ‘likeness’ of a woman” rather than “accept themselves as the men that God made them.” The sexual differentiation between man and woman that collectively portray the image of God is undermined by effeminate hair. Similarly, woman is the glory of man, not because she is subject to him, but because she, not another man, is the sexual partner designed for him at creation. “Woman is depicted as the crowning glory of creation made specifically to be man’s partner” (see Gen 2:23 for the exultation from man when first seeing his created partner).

Verse 10, NASB, “a symbol of” is inserted and not in the original. Clearly this is anachronistic, since the text reads “δια τουτο οφειλει η γυνη εξουσιαν εχειν επι της κεφαλης” or “because of this the woman ought to have authority over her head”) by wearing her hair up. Moreover, Payne suggests that the influence of literal head coverings as a sign of subjection to authority comes from the Arabian culture, which explains the insertion here. Finally, the text says it is the woman who possesses and retains authority over her own head; it is not imposed by a symbol or by a male. Put differently, a woman should crown her physical presence (specifically by wearing her hair up) in such a way as to highlight her female qualities as created by God so as to show she is the only adequate sexual partner for the man.

What about the “angels” Paul mentions in verse 10? Payne’s explanation really piqued my interest. After noting how Paul highlights the roles of angels elsewhere with their implied presence in the world and in worship (1 Cor 4:9; 13:1; 1 Tim 5:21; see also Heb 1:14; Rev 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14), Payne states:

It ought to be embarrassing enough for a woman to be seen by others in the church with her hair let down, but knowing she is being observed by God’s holy angels should be reason enough for even the most foolhardy woman to restrain her urge to let her hair down. Consequently, Paul writes that a woman ought to have control over her head on account of the angels’ presence in worship.

Chapter 11 “1 Corinthians 11:11-12: The Equal Standing of Woman and Man in Christ” makes the case for full equality between man and woman in the church. The central concern of verse 11 is the meaning of χωρις (“set apart” but see NIV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, which translate χωρις as “independent of”). Upon showing Pauline usage of χωρις and noting all the lexical renderings, Payne concludes χωρις means “set apart” since “the normal meaning of χωρις virtually demands that this statement be understood as an affirmation that in Christ there is no separation between woman and man.” Taken together with verse 12 this

“provides reasoning that supports Paul’s affirmation of the equality of woman and man in the Lord. It does this by pointing out that every man’s source in woman balances woman’s source in Adam and by asserting that all this comes from God. Thus, the equal standing of woman and man in Christ is rooted in creation and biology and has its source in God.”

Most importantly, Payne argues that 1 Cor 11:12 actually undermines hierarchical views of man and woman. Paul makes it clear

“not that man as the source of woman has priority over woman, [but he] highlights that in giving birth, woman is man’s source. Paul is intentionally counterbalancing his earlier statement that man is the source of woman [see 1 Cor 11:8]. As Adam was the instrumental source of the first woman, so woman is the instrumental source in the order of nature of all subsequent men…Consequently, both men and women should show respect to the other as their source.”

To emphasize the priority of source relationships and to show complete equality (is there any other kind?) of male and female, Paul concludes that “all is from God.” This, says Payne, necessarily excludes any subordination of one sex over the other because the man and the woman are mere instrumental sources of each other, whereas God is the ultimate source of all. Man is in need of woman as a sexual partner for biological reasons and in need of a like partner for relational reasons, not in need of a mere mate to subdue in subordination.

Chapter 12 “1 Corinthians 11:13-16: Shameful Head Coverings Explained as Hair” gives the reason why hair, not literal head coverings, was Paul’s main focal point. Even the Stoics maintained culture must reflect what is natural or “the way things are.” Nature teaches that long hair is natural for women and short hair natural for men. [Incidentally, Payne mentions the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6 and notes that 1) it was an exception, showing that it was normal for men to have short hair and 2) Paul is not speaking in a purely biological sense; he surely knew that a man’s hair could grow long. Cultural perception of what constitutes the “natural order of things” and what also upholds the distinction between the sexes is likely what Paul had in mind.] The text unambiguously insists that men with long hair are a disgrace to themselves and their Creator, going against the natural order. On the other hand, women with long hair properly worn up as a covering portrays her glory and distinctive beauty as created by God. This is the custom of the churches Paul administered and this is what is intended in all God’s churches.

Chapter 13 “1 Corinthians 11:2-16: Conclusion and Application”. My own summary is brief. It runs something like this. Paul objects to:

  1. Men in leadership with effeminate hairstyles because of the association with homosexuality and the repudiation of the distinction between the sexes.
  2. Women in leadership with hair hanging loosely because of the association with the sexually promiscuous and because it repudiates the distinction between the sexes.

And, 1 Cor 11:11-12 clearly demonstrates that both male and female are equal in the Church yet retain their uniqueness as exclusive partners created for one another.

Of course, this is far too brief and, since I’ve already surpassed 2,000 words and taken most blog readers beyond their threshold, a few more words won’t matter. Those who have traveled the distance of this post will benefit from this wise counsel because there is much here to reflect upon and many opportunities for application.

Payne shows a sensitive pastoral tone that is in touch not only with the church of the first century but that of the twenty-first century. He is well aware that long hair on men and women today does not convey the same messages and associations as it once did. Yet Payne warns “Don’t use your freedom in Christ as an excuse to dress in a way that is sexually suggestive or subversive. Keep it clean!” And, above all else, men and women must show mutual respect to one another “honoring the opposite sex as their source [and all] believers must affirm the equal rights and privileges of women and men in the Lord.” While the church’s doors must remain open to sinners who need to hear the Gospel, in the vast cultural diversity today the church must also use its “collective judgment to exclude only what in its culture is disgraceful and symbolizes a repudiation of Christian sexual morality and marriage.”

The significance is clear.

The next post in this series will discuss chapter 14, “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Did Paul Forbid Women to Speak in Church?”


  1. Thanks Paul for this series of posts. I have the book and it is on my reading list. Your series makes me want to get to it all the more sooner.

  2. Ah…good to hear Louis. That’s certainly one of my goals; to get others exposed to this excellent material.

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