February 7, 2006

How Did Early Christians Interpret 1 Corinthians 11:10?

1 Corinthians 11:10 is a rather controversial verse. The classic KJV renders it "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels," but the NKJV team seems to have determined, quite correctly, that this doesn't make any sense to modern speakers of English, and so gave the modern rendering, "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." HCSB, a translation I've recently been evaluating, gives the translation, "This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head: because of the angels."

Aside from the whole "because of the angels" thing not making much sense, the word "symbol" is rather strange. The original KJV rendering is very literal (except that it says "power" whereas exousia is more properly translated "authority," as the modern translations do). As you can see, it just says the she ought to "have power on her head." There is no separate word for symbol, nor does the LSJ lexicon record any usage of exousia to mean a symbol of authority. It just means authority. It has been suggested that this means that the woman should have authority or control over her head (not that this helps us make sense of the "because of the angels" part, but it's not any worse than anything else). LSJ says that in ancient Greek it was standard to express this idea by putting the object of authority in the genitive case, rather than by using the preposition epi. However, it does record that epi is sometimes used with the verb form exousiazo in precisely this way, and the use of special cases for this sort of thing is a feature that was beginning to drop out of Greek in the first century (it has completely dropped out of modern Greek - there is no dative case, and the genitive is used only for possession), so it is only natural that we would begin to see things like this popping up. I would hazard a guess that this usage is quite common in Byzantine Greek, but I don't know where to even begin to look for evidence of that. So, this interpretation of the passage seems as good as any (indeed, it is better than most).

Now, to the occasion of this post: one way to arbitrate between different interpretations of passages in dead languages is to see if we can find out how native speakers of the language who lived near the time of writing understood them. This is, of course, not infallible, and not as good as evidence from the author himself, but clearly native speakers from near the time are in a better position to interpret the text than we are.

Today, I was reading the canons of the Council of Gangra (c. 340 AD) for my class on the Orthodox Church, and I came across Canon 17, which reads, "If a woman, from supposed asceticism, cuts of her hair which has been given her by God to remind her of her subjection, and thus renounces the command of subjection, let her be anathema." Now, I find this very interesting. The council of Grangra seems to have been concerned, as you can see even in this little snippet, with combating the excesses of asceticism. Whether this text is useful to us in interpreting and translating 1 Corinthians 11:10 will depend on a number of issues:

  1. Was the council's belief that a woman's hair was "given her by God to remind her of her subjection" based on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:10?
  2. Were the members of the council who made this interpretation native speakers of Greek?
  3. Had there been a substantial shift in the usage of these Greek words between the Paul's writing c. 40 AD, and the council c. 340 AD that might have led to a misinterpretation?
  4. Might the council have intentionally misrepresented the meaning of the text?
  5. How similar is the use of language in the discussion in this canon to the discussion in 1 Corinthians?

I'm sure there are more questions to be asked here, and I, in general, do not know the answers. However, this document may shed some light on the early church's understanding of the meaning of Paul's interpretation of head coverings. A far-reaching tradition like this may also be part of the reason for modern translations choosing the interpret it has "a symbol of authority on her head" rather than "authority over her head." Of course, the decision of one local council is my no means definitive. We must look at the NT language itself (as we have) and also at whether there are opposing interpretations, or whether the early church was in general agreement with the council's findings. It would also be nice to have the Greek text of the council's canons, but I haven't been able to locate it online. At any rate, I do think that the writings of early Christians who clearly understood the language better than we do can be quite useful in interpreting this difficult verse, but there is a great deal of additional research is needed before we can have an interpretation anywhere near definitive.

Posted by Kenny at February 7, 2006 1:31 PM
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let me know when you learn the meaning of "because of the angels" in I Corin 11:10. I thought this phrase may have something to do with angels listening for the Word of God in prayers. That they needed to know the authority of the person the prayers came from. Though I don't quite see the importance of who its (the words)come from than whose Words they are. My believe is when the Word is heard they are accomplished by the angels. Perhaps the angels need things done decent and in order. How relevant is the covering of the head these days? Yet, just because it has been discontinued does not make it unimportant. Does it?

Posted by: carolyn at June 9, 2006 8:22 AM

1 Corinthians 11:10 the woman ought to "have power on her head or a covering on her head because of the temptation of the devil "listen to lies in her emotions" in the garden eden. Secondly her emotions in Genesis 6:2 "that the sons(angels) of God saw that daughters of men that they were Fair(pretty, Beautiful, sexually desired by the angels)and they(angels) took them wives of all which they chose(not men but angels chose & took human woman)" These angels had powers over human woman and had children by these women (called giant or Nephims). They left their estate, (like in the book of Jude)heaven. This was the second time a woman was fooled by an angel. Once in the garden and in Genesis 6:2. She has no(covering) symbol of authority of power to speak, God's words unless she shows that she (has,have) control over her sexual emotions and her weakness toward this sin, She is not to pray in the public or to be prophesying in the public with her head uncover. Because some angels being fallen and will be tempted by her beautiful long hair, and will have no respect for her Godly speaking powers. Her glory and her glory to the man is in her long hair. The covering is a special power of authority not just her hair covering her head, The covering symbolizes her obedients to Christ Jesus, through her righteous husband if she is married, to Christ Jesus and to Jesus if she is not married. It's Like the all seeing eye on the top of the pyramid on a one(1) dollars Bill, it watch over the woman, If, it, is, missing(the covering) the angels may see's her as a victim that can be tempted again and again.

The Covering as some older women still wear on their heads. Says to the fallen angels I am a woman of God my Father, through Christ Jesus and by my(through) husband side if she is married. Get back in the name of Jesus I can't be tempted by you angels. .

Posted by: Elder Clifton Kirkman at August 9, 2010 1:34 AM

so, if i understood it very well, i would say that because God don't wanna be sorry again as Genesis 6:2 delares, that's why God inspiered Paul to deliver such message so that Angels are not gonna fall in love wwith women because they were uncovered.
so it might be that when the Angels came to send the message to God, they saw the nakedness of the women and it just happened live and as consequences God destroyed that Generation. by Seth Taah italy church of christian family pentecostal como.

Posted by: seth Taah at November 27, 2010 10:00 AM


Posted by: MIMI at March 25, 2011 6:22 AM

Yeah, green on black is hard to read. Brevity is the soul of wit. (I dug that comment).
Let's understand that the Lord Jesus did not create woman with a hat onher head. Nor did He make any pronouncements regarding her subjection to man before sin entered the world. Again, the the Lord didn't create woman with a hat on her head. He didn't take the woman from the bottom of the man's foot to show her subjection; he didn't take the woman from the top of man's head to show her authority: he created her from the man's side to show equality. And before sin entered the world--and before the law--there was no pronouncment of God re the "subjection" of woman to the man. None whatsoever.
The apostle Paul was a fan of the law. He could expound on th elaw forever. But he wasn't "the apostle that the Lord loved." That apostle was John, whom th e Lord also commisioned the care of his mother to. And whom the Lord gave the full Rvelation of Himself to, and we should note from reading that revelation that men and women will be equal once again like in th esinless garden of eden before sin enterd the world.
Now that sin came by a man. And that first man Adam is where sin entered the world. So we need a new Adam--which is the Lord Jesus. Who does for His Bride (the church) what the first cowardly Adam did not do: The Lord steps in, takes the blame for sin, then takes our punishment for it. Unlike Adam, who by his own volition (he was not tempted by Eve) sinned. THEN HE BLAMED THE WOMEN, THEN HE BLAMED GOD FOR MAKING HER, THEN HE BLAMED THE WOMAN AGAIN. Wow, sounds like modern guys, always blaming the woman, trying to subject them and always playing the blame game and not manning up to anything.

Posted by: Zbee1 at October 13, 2011 12:52 PM

Could it be because of something, such as Genesis 6, Jude 1, and Job 2.. Maybe Paul knew that angels had fallen in lust for earthly women once before.

Posted by: Jimmy at June 29, 2012 2:09 PM

I totally concur with "Elder Clifton Kirkman"

Posted by: greg at September 10, 2012 2:21 PM

according to strong's concordance the word (ben) that is translated as 'sons' in the KJV literally means son. where does Elder Clifton Kirkman get the idea these were angels?

Posted by: Dar at June 4, 2013 5:15 AM

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