A few years ago, I was teaching a class on hermeneutics while I was struggling through my antiviral therapy for Hepatitis C. In that class, we would spend part of the class going through the hermeneutical rules we had learned and attempt to apply them to difficult texts. It was a very enjoyable exercise for most, and one of the difficult texts we tackled was 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. I’ve recently been asked about 1 Corinthians 11 and the issue of head covering, and that question comes up regularly for me. Knowing that convictions on an issue come through personally working through the Scripture instead of having someone spoon-feed you an answer, I wanted to provide my bible study on 1 Corinthians 11 for the benefit of a few readers.
I’ve modified it a slight to incorporate a little more interpretive helps, seeing that I’m not there personally with you to help answer questions. Also, you may want to refresh yourself on the basic rules of Bible study here. Also, here’s some basic rules that are part of every Bible study I write:
- The text upon which the study is based is ESV.
- No flippies. Scripture interprets Scripture, sure, but the main focus of the way I study the Bible is to draw meaning from the text at hand. That means no flipping to other chapters, unless you’re told otherwise. Most Christians love to toss out the “Scripture interprets Scripture” line, but in practice it becomes an excuse for what I call “concordant exegesis”: using a concordance to interpret the text rather than the nouns and verbs in their various ascending circles of context (sentence, paragraph, pericope, logical argument, book, testament, theology, history, geography). One should never use one verse to “interpret” another just because they share a common term in an English translation. Dragging the meaning of terms from one passage, in an entirely different context, into another, is a guaranteed way to misunderstand whatever text is currently in front of your eyes. It’s a horrible interpretive habit that has become sanctified simply because it’s common.
- Dig here. Most of the questions are actually as simple as they seem. In my Bible studies, I try to “go deep”, which means I go deep into what the author wrote in this text. That means getting the surface reading right: the terms, the grammar, and the argument/example/principle being put forward. If you miss that but find a whole bunch of cool speculative intertextual or typological connections, you’ve ultimately missed the meaning of the text. When that happens, your Bible Study becomes the exegetical equivalent of all icing and no cake. It might sound great at first, but around 4 pounds into a 9 pound pail of chocolate buttercreme icing, you’ll have an involuntary change of heart (and stomach).
Believe me, I’ve tried…and painfully lost a bet in the process.
- Harder questions are marked. An asterisk (*) question is a “think a little more about this” question. That’s my indication that the question is not a surface level question.
With that small foundation laid, let’s dig through it!
Dealing with a Difficult Text: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
11:2 – What does Paul commend the Corinthians for?
11:3 – What does Paul say he wants the Corinthians to understand?
– *What is the main idea here that Paul wants the Corinthians to understand?
note – The debate here will be on the meaning of “head” (kephale in Greek), but the debate will boil down to people who say kephale is a figure of speech meaning either “authority” or “source”. The idea of kephale meaning “source” may be possible in the first two clauses, but certainly not in the third. The only reasonable understanding of kephale in the third clause is “authority”. It’s also worth pointing out that the whole “kephale means ‘source’ ” argument is based on demonstrable and objective error. Wayne Grudem has done an exhaustive study of kephale in all ancient Greek literature, essentially eradicating all debate on questions related to the meaning of the term. The word never means “source”, anywhere in Greek literature, ever. People who claim otherwise are simply misinformed and in error…but don’t take my word for it. Both journal articles, though quite technical, are highly comprehensive and freely available online:
11:4-5 – What word comes up in 11:4-5 that also came up in 11:3?
– Is Paul using that word in the same way in 11:4-5 as he was in 11:3?
– If husbands cover their heads when prophesying, who is dishonored?
– If wives uncover their heads when prophesying, who is dishonored?
– If a wife uncovers her head while prophesying, what is that parallel to?
11:6– What does Paul suggest for a wife to do if she refuses to cover her head while prophesying?
– Why would she not do this?
– When Paul says that it’s disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair/shave her head, is he quoting Scripture? If so, which chapter and verse?
11:7-9 – Why should a husband not cover his head?
– In v. 7, is Paul quoting Scripture? If so, which chapter and verse?
– Why is the woman the glory of man?
– Does this idea come from a clear teaching of scripture? If so, chapter and verse?
– What is the obvious change between 11:6-7 and 11:8-9?
11:10 – What is the conclusion of Paul’s argument in the previous verses?
– *What is the principle here?
– *Why do you think Paul connects that principle to the angels?
– *How does the principle in vs. 10 connect with the main point of the passage as expressed in vs. 3?
11:11-12 – What is the contrast between 11:11-12 and the previous verses?
– *How does Paul direct the application of the principle in 11:10 via 11:11-12?
– What is the new principle introduced in 11:11?
– How does Paul support this principle in 11:12
11:13-15 – Does the equality of men and women “in the Lord” overturn the created order?
– What is the specific activity to which Paul applies his argument here? (note – Paul’s already mentioned it in vs. 4)
11:16 – In the light of 11:11-15, what angle is Paul anticipating regarding people who are contentious against his teaching?
– Will Paul tolerate some sort of overriding of the created order on the basis of male/female equality in the new birth?
That wraps it up.
Normally, I would walk through a passage and give a limited interpretation of it, but this is a little different. I haven’t used a bunch of pictures so as to not distract from the task at hand. Also, I’ve provided this for readers who want to sort through the passage on their own without being told the answers (though I did provide a note on the most contested component to help focus discussion and remove the most common element of confusion). If there are further questions, feel free to fire away in the comments and I’ll do what I can for you.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Just Trying To Understand The Text” Unger