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Summary of the responses to Dr. Rodriguez’ arguments:
1. We agree: the man is declared to be the head of the woman, not her mediator.
2. We disagree: kephalē refers in context to a metaphorical head or ruler, not to a source.
3. Rodriguez misuses an Ellen White quote to justify his argument for kephalē as source.
4. The headship principle in 11:3 combines with other NT passages to show submission to the head or spiritual authority, contrary to what Rodriguez insists.
5. What Rodriguez calls “a difficult passage” is not as obscure as he says, but differentiates gender relationships.
6. Rodriguez asks if there is headship in the passage at all: clearly there is, by definition.
7. We agree: the passage “provides instructions about gender differentiation” which was “established by the Lord at creation.”But it is not only about men or women leading out.
8. We disagree: by covering her head, the woman is glorifying the man, not God directly.
9. We disagree: the authority a woman has on her head is not her own but is the man’s.
10. We disagree: there is equality in essence but not in function between the genders.
11. We disagree: in 1 Corinthians 14 the key issue is submission for order in worship, and this is in the same context of submission to headship authority as already established in 1 Corinthians 11.
12. Rodriguez omits discussion of 1 Corinthians 14:35-38, which is important for the conclusions.
As Angel Rodriguez begins to analyze the arguments for headship in 1 Corinthians 11:3, he argues that if Christ is the head of every man/male, then it can be argued that either He is not also the Head of every woman/female, or if He is the Head through the husband, then the husband becomes the spiritual mediator for his wife. Clearly, he believes that this invalidates the interpretation of the passage, since he does not believe that the husband should be a spiritual mediator for his wife—or a man for a woman. But this is a bogus argument, since the point of the passage is voluntary submission to headship authority, not mediation of spiritual matters or relationships.
Christ is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). We make no one else a mediator for either man or woman, in that sense, although clearly there are humans who act as intercessors, praying on behalf of other human beings, as many biblical texts show (1 Samuel 7:5; 1 Kings 13:6; Ephesians 6:19, 20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:1; James 5:16).
But even this is not the point of the passage. There is nothing in the passage about either intercession or mediation. It is about showing respect for designated authority, referred to by the metaphor of functioning as a head in relation to another party. This authority as it pertains to the head is explicitly mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:10: “the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (NKJV, NASB); “a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head (ESV); “the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (NIV).
The proper response to authority in Scripture is clear: it is voluntary submission. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1, 2).
Rodriguez takes up the argument that kephalē (“head”) should be rendered as “source” in this context, but there is little justification for this. Kephalē means “source” in Scripture only when it is referring to a river or stream, as the fountainhead. Teresa Reeve admits that kephalē as source “is not prominent in the lexicons, outside of reference to the head of a river” (1). But such is not the use in this context. Here we find it being used clearly as a figure for an authority, as shown above.
Walter Bauer’s lexicon, under figurative use, says kephalē is used, “in the case of living beings, to denote superior rank,” and cites examples of texts citing father, master, husband, and Christ Himself as those assigned superior rank by the term kephalē (“head”), both within and outside of Scripture. Bauer cites Artemidorus 2.9 (2d cent.), for example, as saying (using the literal head in a metaphorical sense, as Paul does), hē kephalē hyperechei tou pantos sōmatos, meaning “the head is in authority over (or rules over) the entire body” (2).
The reality is that in the LXX kephalē is equivalent to archontōn (ruler). The context of each passage makes this clear. One needs to understand kephalē in 1 Corinthians 11 as it is used in the parallel expressions found in other Pauline passages such as Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.”
The husband is certainly not the source of the wife, and it would be awkward to understand in the same context that Christ is the source of the church, since He is depicted not as Founder of the church but as its Savior, and the relationship is clearly defined in the next verse as one of submission to the head: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”Also, in Colossians 1:18, which declares Christ to be “the head of the body, the church,” the text explicitly states, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” The issue is one of rank, not of source.
Rodriguez argues in a footnote, not from within the text of 1 Corinthians 11 or from biblical evidence but from an Ellen White quotation that cites 11:3, that kephalē should be read as “source.” This is the same scholar who argues against using Paul to interpret Genesis 1-3, but he has no scruples against using a homiletical passage in Ellen White to make an exegetical interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3, despite other internal evidence to the contrary. He accuses me of not providing evidence from within the chapter for kephalē as headship authority, although I have provided it, but he has not provided any internal evidence for kephalē as source, only an indistinct quotation from Ellen White, which is neither exegetical nor explicit.
He asks if the primary purpose of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is “to reaffirm the subjection of women to church leaders,” as if that is what I had suggested. Clearly, it is not, but neither is it to assert “the origin and mission of Christ,” as he argues Ellen White is teaching by quoting from 1 Corinthians 11:3. So his argument is no more valid than mine—in fact less so, since I argue from the content of the passage itself and parallel Pauline statements, while he argues from a homiletical use of one verse by Ellen White in a single quotation, which proves nothing.
In fact, the whole passage is about church order and gender relationships in the church, which is grounded ultimately—within the text itself—in the original plan for gender relationships as revealed in the order and purpose of their creation (vv. 7-9). This is Paul’s argument, and he establishes it on biblical and theological, not local and cultural grounds.
Every argument he makes is universalized, whether citing the biblical account of creation before the Fall (vv. 7-9), the practice of the angels (v. 10), the natural order of things everywhere as a result of the created order in which God gave women long hair for a covering (vv. 13-15), even the universal practice of all the churches (v. 16). It is all about God’s order, as verse 3 establishes at the outset, and as all of the subsequent arguments support. God wants men and women to understand His system of order and submit themselves to it at the appropriate, assigned levels. Understanding kephalē as headship authority, rather than as source, is more appropriate to the context, especially in view of the explicit mention of such authority in verse 10.
While it is true, as Rodriguez says, that the passage does not explicitly declare that women are to be in submission to men who function as church leaders, it does establish the headship principle on a gender basis, grounded in the order and purpose of the creation of men and women (not of husbands and wives, as made clear in verses 11-12), and it demonstrates one application of that principle in the matter of covering the head as a representation of respect for the authority under which each is to live and act. Thus it lays the groundwork for Paul’s subsequent teaching in other passages like
1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 2-3, and Titus 1-3 regarding order in gender relationships in the home and in the church.
Combined with additional teaching regarding those who hold teaching authority in the church, namely apostles and elders, there is every reason to understand the broad teaching of Scripture regarding male headship in the home and in the church. The home establishes the pattern for the church, as taught in Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 3. The fact that the same headship principle is established within the Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:28) demonstrates that it is not a bad principle that needs to be done away with, as some would teach, but that it is a valid pattern established by God that will continue into the new creation (15:28).
In his fourth major point (p. 43), Rodriguez takes a statement of mine out of context to suggest that I can’t discern Paul’s purpose in writing the passage, so I am left to conjecture what the thrust of the passage is and end up creating the notion of headship, which is not really there at all. This is very unfair. What I was saying was that Paul does not explicitly tell us why he raised the issue being discussed in the passage (which is certainly true), whether it was an issue they had asked about or whether he was raising it on his own initiative. We certainly do know what the context of the larger passage was about, and I discussed that in some detail in my paper.
It had to do with issues that were dividing the church and creating disorder within the church. The principle expressed so clearly in 11:3 seeks to establish a theological basis upon which order could be grounded, placing ordered gender relationships clearly between the ordered relationship of man to Christ and of Christ to God the Father. Then he works out the practical application of that principle in the life of the church, distinguishing the role of women from the role of men in a public and representative way that demonstrates the acceptance on the part of each of their proper roles as established by God at creation.
There is nothing obscure about what the passage is teaching, except to those who don’t like what the text seems to be saying. It has been understood fairly consistently through the centuries until the postmodern period, when a variety of different interpretations have been made that attempt to circumvent the clear implications of the passage.
Rodriguez calls it a “difficult passage,” and points to “a good alternative” by Teresa Reeve that avoids the implications of headship that most readers would immediately find to be self-evident in the text and corroborated by other parallel texts that point to gender role distinctions in the home and in the church. After I presented my paper in July 2013, several present approached me and thanked me for presenting the first clear presentation that takes the plain reading of the text seriously, whereas so many other papers were making convoluted arguments as to why one should not read the text in a straightforward way but needs to explain away the various elements that seem plain in the text with supposed cultural practices that are neither mentioned in the text nor in harmony with the universal arguments Paul identifies for why all churches should follow the same practices.
Rodriguez asks if there is, in fact, a discussion of headship in the passage at all. The question itself is an odd one: headship is the state of being a head, and the term kephalē (“head”) is used eight times in the passage. So what is the purpose of trying to argue that the discussion of headship is not found in the passage if not merely to dismiss out of hand any discussion of such a principle.
If the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God, as the text explicitly states, then there is certainly a discussion of headship in the passage, with three different categories of the state of being a head in relation to others. To argue otherwise makes a person appear either ignorant or foolish in view of the evidence. This should not even be a point of debate. What that headship entails may be a point for discussion, but not the fact of whether or not headship is an issue in the passage.
One thing Rodriguez got right about the passage: it “provides instructions about gender differentiation” which was “established by the Lord at creation” and “reaffirmed in the church among those providing leadership to it.” This is something many are in denial about, but this admission is a starting point toward understanding what the passage is really talking about. At the same time, Rodriguez attempts to limit the counsel only to those who are leading out, which he assumes include both males and females, based on the fact that verses 4 and 5 speak about men and women praying and prophesying.
However, neither praying nor prophesying are said to be limited to spiritual leaders in Scripture. In fact anyone can pray, and Paul counsels everyone in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to desire the gift of prophecy, so in reality there is no precedent for Rodriguez’s conclusion that Paul is talking only about spiritual leaders in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul would certainly not have meant to imply that, which is why he uses the expression “every man” and “every woman” (vv. 4, 5 NKJV).
Instead, Paul is talking about how to conduct oneself in a public worship setting with appropriate gender distinctions based on the headship principle he has just established in verse 3. “Praying or prophesying” (NKJV) is his way of indicating active participation in a public worship setting. There is no basis for assuming that women are functioning as worship leaders in this passage. In fact, the force of the entire passage is to distinguish between male and female roles in worship, not to equate them. Careful exegesis, not eisegesis, is needed here.
Rodriguez also argues that by wearing a veil the woman is glorifying God, not her husband or other men. However, Paul makes a different point. He begins by stating that the head of woman is the man (v. 3), and her anatomical head should be covered because it represents her metaphorical head, the man, whom she dishonors if her anatomical head is uncovered (v. 5)—or unveiled, as Rodriguez says. The man, on the other hand, is under the headship of Christ and dishonors Christ, his metaphorical head, if his anatomical head is covered (v. 4).
Teresa Reeve recognizes this, explaining, “Metaphorically, Paul insisted, it was not only their own anatomical heads that were being shamed.” She understands that the anatomical heads of men and women represented the respective metaphorical heads spoken of in verse 3 (3). When it comes to the matter of who is being glorified, Paul declares in verse 7, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man” (ESV). This means that the man brings glory to God by not covering his head, while the woman brings glory to the man by covering her head.
Paul adds that this is because “man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (vv. 8, 9). Woman was not created for God’s glory but for man’s glory, while man was created for God’s glory. (I did not say that; Paul did.) So to argue that the woman was veiled to bring glory to God is not at all what Paul was saying. It expressed, rather, her submissive relationship to the man, who is her head, thus bringing glory to him for whom she was created. That is why Paul continues in verse 10 to add, “That is why a wife [or woman] ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (ESV). The New Jerusalem Bible reads, “And this is why it is right for a woman to wear on her head a sign of the authority over her.” The authority over her is the metaphorical or spiritual head, which is the man.
One does not have to like the implications in order to understand what the text is trying to say. Our first responsibility is to listen carefully to the text rather than bringing our own cultural baggage to the text and rejecting the message because it seems unpalatable to our modern independent thinking. The text did not present any major exegetical problems to earlier generations.
On the authority mentioned in verse 10 which a woman has on/over her head, Rodriguez asserts, “This is about the authority a woman has and not about the authority someone else has over her. It could be that ‘her head’ means ‘her own person.’” This assertion is made without any justification or explanation, but he needs it to mean that in order to support his own view.
In fact, “her head” cannot mean “her own person,” because this is the eighth time the word kephalē has been used in the passage, and in none of the previous usages does it mean one’s own person. It refers either to one’s anatomical head itself or to one’s metaphorical head. So also here. Here it is her anatomical head that is being referred to.
Verse 10 is the antithesis of verse 7, which tells why a man should not cover his anatomical head; verse 10 tells why a woman should cover her anatomical head. After adding a caveat in verses 11-12 about why man and woman are not independent of one another but ultimately interdependent, Paul continues the discussion in verses 13-15 of why a woman should not pray to God with her anatomical head uncovered, again pointing to the universal practice from the time of creation, when “her hair was given to her for a covering” (NKJV).
Against Rodriguez’s assertion, several versions demonstrate an opposite understanding of the meaning. The New Jerusalem Bible, already cited above, reads, “And this is why it is right for a woman to wear on her head a sign of the authority over her.” The McDonald Idiomatic Translation reads, “This is the reason a woman ought to have a symbol visible on her head that she is under authority.” The New Living Translation reads, “For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.” It seems evident that Rodriguez’s assertion lacks strong support.
Rodriguez closes his section on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 with the observation, “This [passage] is about equality in both essence and function. First Corinthians 11:2-16 is not about the headship of male church leaders over women in church.” Again, this is a mere assertion which has not been satisfactorily demonstrated. I believe that a better reading of the evidence supports an opposite view.
Rodriguez himself admits that the passage “provides instructions about gender differentiation” which was “established by the Lord at creation” and “reaffirmed in the church.” If there is equality in both essence and function, what kind of gender differentiation is Paul providing instructions about? Surely he is not talking about biological or anatomical differences. A plain reading of the passage reveals that he is indeed talking about proper gender roles and functions as established by the Lord at creation and now being reaffirmed by Paul in a church setting. While Rodriguez does not want to admit this, since it weakens his attack on a headship based on gender, it is really impossible to get around and still be honest with the evidence.
As Rodriguez moves into 1 Corinthians 14, he accuses me of introducing into the passage the idea of headship from 1 Corinthians 11. However, it should be noted that one cannot entirely separate what is happening in the church in chapter 14 from what is happening in the church in chapter 11. In both chapters the problem is disorder in the worship setting, into which Paul is introducing orderly solutions based on biblical principles. While the problem in chapter 11 is that of showing proper respect for role relationships in terms of head coverings or veils and the problem in chapter 14 is that of speaking out in a disruptive fashion in the worship service, the solution is essentially the same.
In chapter 11, Paul appeals primarily to the Genesis account of creation to show what the proper basis is for male-female relationships as it pertains to headship and submission. In chapter 14, Paul appeals to the principle of submission found in the Law (the Pentateuch): “For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (ESV). This is probably a reference back to the teaching already cited from Genesis 1-2 which shows the headship of the man as the first in creation order with the woman made subsequently for the glory of the man. It is the principle of submission as taught in the Law that is the solution to the problem in both chapters and is the key to understanding headship in this passage, although admittedly it is implicit rather than explicit. Yet in the context of chapter 11, it is to be under-stood in the larger context of the epistle.
Making the context even clearer, Paul goes on to add, “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (ESV). Surely, this statement makes clear that the home, with their own husbands, is the proper place for them to speak up and ask questions. There are two primary issues at hand here: one is submission and the other is order. The first is in service to the second. In order to promote order in the worship service, submission is required on the part of women, as the Law requires, and that is accomplished in the context by being silent and not speaking out in the worship service but taking their questions home and asking their own husbands in the context of the marriage relationship, still in submission.
While it is true that men also must behave in orderly ways in the worship service, as outlined in verses 26-33a and as summarized in verse 40, including being silent at certain appropriate times, there is no demand here for men to be in submission. This is not a reciprocal requirement. Only the women are required to demonstrate submission, and that not to each other but implicitly in the presence of men and of the whole assembly. Otherwise, why would Paul add that they should ask their own husbands at home? This is an intended contrast with other men in the worship setting.
Rodriguez addresses only 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, omitting discussion of verse 35, which is still an important part of the discussion. I believe, as do a number of other scholars, that verses 36-38 are also still addressing the same issue. For those who would disagree with Paul on the matter at hand, he continues discussing the alternative, beginning with the alternative pronoun ē (“or”): “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?” (NKJV).
The alternative to conforming to Paul’s requirements set forth here was for his opponents to argue that they were either the source or the sole proprietors of the word of God, that only they, not Paul, had the truth. This would be a challenge to Paul’s own prophetic authority, as some today are challenging Paul’s authority on this issue. Paul’s response is significant: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (NKJV).
Paul had already written that the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets (v. 32), and now he applies that to their claim to have the prophetic gift. His gift was prior to theirs and so becomes the test for their claim, not vice versa. If Paul received a commandment from the Lord Himself, as he claims, then their claim is invalid, since they want to proclaim something different from what he has commanded. Nor can anyone today claim to have new wisdom or insight which declares Paul’s teaching null and void, or at least no longer relevant.
Paul began this discussion of the role of women in the church setting with the words, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches” (ESV), making it clear that he was not talking only about a local situation in Corinth but a broader principle that applies everywhere. He closes the discussion with the words, “If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (ESV), implying that no other practice will be tolerated in the churches. It is similar to how he closed his discussion in 11:16: “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (ESV), referring to variants from the prescribed instructions. Clearly, Paul did not see any room for discussion of alternative practices based on different local or cultural settings. Every contrary argument is preemptively cut off.
1. Teresa Reeve, “Shall the Church Ordain Women as Pastors: Thoughts toward an Integrated NT Perspective,” paper presented July 4, 2013, to the General Conference Theology of Ordination Study Committee, Baltimore, MD, available from http://www.adventistarchives.org/shall-the-church-ordain-women-as-pastors.pdf, accessed March 12, 2014, 33.
2. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3d ed., rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), s.v. KEPHALE.
3. Reeve, p. 32.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Edwin Reynolds PHD is Professor of New Testament and Biblical Languages at Southern Adventist University and serves also as Graduate Program Coordinator for the School of Religion. His previous service includes serving as Professor of New Testament and chair of the Biblical Studies department at the Adventist international Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in Silang, Cavite, Philippines; service as a pastor, teaching at Solusi University, editor of Asia Adventist Seminary Studies and of the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society. Reynolds recently served as secretary of the NAD Theology of Ordination Study Committee, and with Clinton Whalen authored The NAD Minority Report.