There have been many interpretations of Biblical passages over the last fifteen hundred years and most conservative seminaries teach their students to “let the Biblical text speak for itself.” In most cases this is sound and prudent advice. Why is this so? Because there are many passages in the Holy Bible that tend to confuse a lot of people, plus there are sections in the writings of the Apostle Paul that seem to contradict each other. To get to the core interpretation of any Biblical passage there are several things the Bible student can do to aid their understanding.
1) First, just read the text. What does it say? What do you “think” it says?
2) Are they any words in the passage that you truly do not know the dictionary meaning for that particular word. Even if you think you know what the meaning is, it can sometimes be very helpful to look them up in a college level dictionary.
3) Do you know Koine Greek? If not, do you have access to a “Young’s Analytical Concordance” or a “Strong’s Concordance?” It is one thing to know what the current meaning of a particular word is and yet we also need to know what that word meant two or more thousand years ago. Because words can and do change their meanings since language is a living entity. This is why we need to know what the lexical or the native meaning of a word may be in its original setting.
This of course is just the beginning when we study the Holy Scriptures. This of course, does not leave out the power of the Holy Spirit, nor should it preclude our prayers to the Lord Jesus Christ to have His Holy Spirit teach us the meaning of a text. This also does not say that we should never read commentaries or other articles about the text in question. When we read other Christian authors it can help keep us on the right path as well. However, with that said, when the Biblical authors wrote what we now call the Bible, they were seen and heard to be espousing new and strange doctrines such as the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We take this as accepted doctrine, but at the beginning it was definitely new and strange.
This has been stated in order to lead up to what this article is really all about, namely the passage in 1 Corinthians 11. There have been many interpretations upon this passage concerning the idea of whether we should understand that women should wear veils when praying and what the modern application of this might mean as well. This also extends to the idea of a woman having authority in her own right.
This author was recently made aware of a theological paper that was written by Troy Martin. His thesis in this paper is that a woman’s hair is equivalent to the male testicles. He employs ancient medical texts to help him to understand confusing Biblical passages, such as this one in 1 Corinthians 11. I can appreciate his egalitarian stance on women having equal authority with men, for so we do since it was established by God in Genesis 1:27. However, the first question that I asked after reading about this article that was being quoted by another author, Richard Beck, was this: Even if Paul was aware of medical practices in his day would he have known every medical idea posited? Not hardly, since information such as this would have been found only in very large metropolises, such as Athens, Greece or Alexandria, Egypt and if it did travel to other regions of the then known world, it would have taken literally decades for it to travel.
Furthermore, when Paul wrote this, would all of his listeners or readers have been familiar with such medical ideas? Perhaps the more erudite and learned of his followers may have traveled to Athens or Alexandria and posssibly been made aware of such thoughts. But again, it is very unlikely that any of the poor and illiterate gentiles that made up the larger portion of the church would have undertood the analogy that Paul (according to Martin) was attempting to posit.
So, let’s just keep to the Biblical text shall we? If we examine the text in question v.2-16, the Greek word for head in v.3 is η κεφαλη which can be translated as the literal head on a person, it can also be translated as origin as in the head-waters of a river and as authority. In v.3 Paul breaks down the origin of everything and states that ultimately everything has come from God. Beginning in v.4 and ending in v.6 it has been thought that this is not the Apostle Paul setting down doctrine, rather he is quoting from a portion of their letter to him. Then in v.7, Paul begins his answer to the Corinthian church. Let us also keep in mind that Paul is probably not addressing anyone in the Jewish synagogue at this point; because when a Jewish man prayed in the Temple, he did cover his head with his talith. But the woman also covered her head when she prayed in the women’s section.
What Paul is addressing here are cultural issues in the city of Corinth. Remember also that the majority of the church that he was addressing had come from the pagan temples and they were still very much immersed in pagan ideology and traditions. Even though they were learning Christianity; converts to a new religion cannot just erase a life-time of prior traditions and cultural expressions overnight.
Then in v.10 we find that there is this strange allusion to angels and because of them a woman should have authority on her own head as well. Paul did not just pull a theological rabbit out of his hat so to speak by referring to the angels. Let us go back to 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 and we find Paul teaching that we shall be judging the world, and in v.3 he states that we shall also judge the angels. This is why he refers to the issue of angels in 11:10 and that women should have authority as well, simply because women will also be included as well as the men, and we shall judge the angels . In v.13-15 Paul equates that a woman is already covered….covered by her hair…and therefore needs no other covering. This negates the false churchianity doctrine that a woman’s husband is her covering. A woman already has her own covering and furthermore, even as Paul states that we are all one in Christ and it is this Christ that is our eternal covering.
Then in the last verse, v.16, Paul affirms for them that
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
The Bible student cannot expect to have it any clearer. Paul states: “we have no such CUSTOM… could you be any more exact? Paul was dealing with cultural issues not doctrinal issues. Furthermore, these cultural issues had their origin in pagan god worship, not the worship of the One True God. Finally, Paul closes with, “neither the churches of God.”
First and foremost in studying the Bible, we should allow the text to speak for itself and then do our word studies in English and in the Koine Greek. Through all of this we should still be reading and re-reading the text in question. Then if necessary, we should research and read various commentaries to see what other Christians have written about the subject matter. Then throughout it all, we should be seeking the teaching from the Holy Spirit. This is our final authority when it comes to understanding the Scriptures.