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:
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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