The Impossible Puzzle: Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

In my house, there are two jigsaw puzzles framed and hanging on two separate walls. The puzzles achieved “frame and wall-mount” status because they were both very difficult to put together; each demanding months of time, and in one case, a few years. If you’re not a puzzle person, then I may have just lost you, and it’s quite possible you think I’m crazy. But I’m not crazy; my fellow puzzlers may/will attest to this: puzzles often take massive amounts of time depending on the complexity of the picture.

One puzzle that’s hanging is a large picture of a massive group of penguins in the different stages of molting from furry to sleek. That’s it. ALL. PENGUINS. The other puzzle that’s hanging (and this is the one that took me a few years) is a bit more complicated. It has no edge pieces, the image is repeating, each piece is cut the same, and, wait for it, there are 5 extra pieces thrown in. The puzzle is rightly part of a series of puzzles called: “Impossibles.”

These are not puzzles for your average puzzler; they will surely weed out the puzzling mice from the puzzling humans. It does this weeding because there’s no way to do this puzzle according to normal puzzling conventions. There are no edge pieces to find. Sorting in any constructive way is pointless; you get (about) three piles: black cat pieces, white cat pieces, and pink marble background pieces. And with every piece cut the same and that there are extra means: pure puzzling mayhem.

In order to complete the puzzle, you must let the puzzle tell you how to put it together. It reveals its puzzle-self to you and contradicts everything you know about puzzles. The wisdom of the puzzle doesn’t make sense; it completely defies puzzling common sense. By all means, it’s foolishness…

For the word (proclamation)[1] of the cross (on one hand) is foolishness to the ones who are being destroyed (on their way to ruin), (…)[2] 

The word of the cross is foolishness from our human perspective because it’s counter-intuitive to our common sense. It contradicts everything we hold to be true. Justice defined as retribution makes sense; justice as reconciliation… Come again? The first, the powerful, the rich, the strong should be first and blessed; what is this about the last, the meek, the poor, and the lame being first and most blessed in the Kingdom of God? “God helps those who help themselves”; nope, God helps those who can’t help themselves because they are burdened by systems of oppression.

There’s very little in the proclamation of the gospel that isn’t cacophonous to my ears that are strained toward the solo of self illusion. Me. Tell me more about me, and then I’ll listen. What makes sense to me, what coincides with my reason about myself and about the world and even about the divine is what I want to hear. Let me be content with the image of God I’ve constructed, and thus the image of humanity with it. Share with me whatever it is that won’t tear back the protective layers of my cozy cocoon. Keep me comfortable and well sedated on the continual drip of saccharine sweetened words of self-affirmation. Tell me everything’s okay, even if it’s not. Tell me not to worry, even when there’s ample reason to worry and worry a lot. Lie to me.

The proclamation of the cross is a direct assault on our common sense and our self-centered orientation. In fact, it’s a flat out revolution against us. It’s such an assault that it causes offense, great offense. Our knee jerk reaction is to reject the message and continue on our way to destruction and ruin. We are not hard wired to the good defined by the word of the cross; we abhor it and thus reject it. It’s clearly foolishness.

However, the validity of the proclamation of the cross rests in the divine wisdom behind it and not in whether or not I agree.[3] Thus, my rejection of the proclamation of the cross is the declaration that I believe it to be a lie. If the proclamation of the cross is actually divine wisdom,[4] then my foolish human wisdom and I both stand condemned and continue on our way to destruction and ruin.[5] Continuing on my way to destruction and ruin is surely folly, but the power of the lie that blinds me is strong.

…but (on the other hand) to the ones being[6] saved, it is the power of God to us.

But there’s good news in verse 18. For those who have been encountered by God in the event of faith, the proclamation of the cross is life. The revolutionary word of God in the proclamation of the cross is revolution against my lies and those of the world; it is oriented toward life. It is, to quote Paul, “the power of God to us.”

Paul presents two distinct groups of people: those who are on their way to life and those who are on their way to destruction. Those who are on their way to destruction are doing so by depending not on the wisdom of God but on the wisdom of the world, on their own wisdom. But those who are “being saved” are so because God is operative[7] in them through the proclamation of the cross. They have been exposed by the illuminating word of God and have been brought through the death to self that is the ash-bed of new life. They are on their way to being saved and to living life rightly oriented to God and to neighbor.

In God’s self-disclosure in the word of the cross, the one who is encountered therein in the event of faith is transitioned from the folly of the wisdom of the world and is ushered into the wisdom of God that is the form and substance of the kingdom of God. And, thusly, this wisdom of God, the word of the cross, is the constitutive power of those who are being saved and the constitutive element of living as disciples in the kingdom of God.

Those who are disciples in the kingdom of God cannot devolve back toward the self-deceptive lies of the wisdom of the world and obsessive orientation of the self toward the self[8]; this is a skin that no longer fits or feels comfortable. Death and destruction are not befitting a creature created for life and blessing.

For it has been written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and I will declare invalid the intelligence of the intelligent. Where is the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the debaters of this world order?[9] Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Now, the bad news of that good news we just discussed is that I can’t get there from here, especially of my own intellectual efforts. I spent the first part of this sermon talking about how my own conceptions of what is right, sensible, and wise are the sure path to destruction and ruin because they are in contradiction to the wisdom of God. Apologetics fails here. Natural theology fails here. Reasonable arguments fail here. The cross is offensive and appalling and foolishness until I can see it otherwise. Apart from divine intervention and illumination in God’s self-disclosure,[10] I cannot see the truth and goodness of the divine activity in the world as proclaimed by the word of the cross.

The key to the divine intervention and illumination that I need is expressed here in v.19, where Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14, “‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and I will declare invalid the intelligence of the intelligent.’” And also in verse 20d, “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” My wisdom and I need to be destroyed, my intelligence and I need to be declared invalid. The world needs to come into conflict with the divine word of the cross and suffer its death throes. I need to come into conflict with the divine word of the cross and suffer my death throes. And it’s in the encounter with God in the event of faith that this destruction, invalidation, and death throes occur. But it would not merely be death working for death’s sake (this would be the trajectory of the wisdom of the world), but in operation for the sake of new life (the power to those who are being saved). [11]

The word of God is destructive, specifically the word of the cross. And here in lies a distinction and a demand: destructive destruction or creative destruction? You are going to be destroyed one way or another, would you like to be destroyed unto death or destroyed unto life? No one who is encountered by the word of the cross is left untouched. There’s no part of the person in the event of faith that is not razed to the ground. We, the liars are exposed as liars.[12] The cross is a word of death. For the hearer who is encountered in the event of God’s self-disclosure in Christ and the conflict that ensues within the person in this event of encounter a demand is felt and that demand is to die to the self, to self-empty, and to self-abandon[13] and to let go. But this letting go and self-emptying and self-abandonment is not into a dark abyss of nothingness (destructive destruction) but into God and God’s self (creative destruction).

Thus, the word of the cross is also the word of life for we must hold in conjunction with the event of the death of Christ on the cross, Christ’s resurrections. Thus, the word of the cross is life for those who have been brought to death (for those who are being saved). If there was ever a moment for tabula rasa[14] in the life of a person, it’s at the very intersection of death into new life. New life lies in entering into that darkness, into death, being destroyed by the word of God. But rather than the flat-line being the last thing the we hear as we enter into the darkness of death, we hear the trumpet summoning us awake, resurrecting us from death in to new creation and new life.

Helmut Gollwitzer writes,

“…[God] is already ‘with us on the scene with his Spirit and his gifts’. He has already bound himself to us indissolubly in Jesus. The victorious battle has already been waged on the Cross and made secure, so that destruction, wickedness, the devil and death do not have the last word, but life, light, and the promise of God. There is not only a promise for a distant future. He fulfills already the promise in the midst of the unchanged world through liberations now, through fellowship with God now, so that now we do not merely hope fore eternal life, but again and again experience new life, and can bear witness not merely to the future of a new life at the end of the old world, but to the presence of the new life in the midst of the old world—and on these grounds can go forward into stronger hope.”[15]

Our new life marked by the proclamation of “a Christ crucified,” by the proclamation of the cross takes on a decidedly active cruciformity. Our new life’s peculiarity is marked by a revolutionary and new orientation:[16] others rather than me, giving and sharing rather than taking and holding, last rather than the first, the weak rather than the strong, the meek rather than the powerful, reconciliation rather than retribution. [17]

The wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are in radical contradiction, in fact (as mentioned above) the wisdom of God articulated in the proclamation of the Cross is a full blown revolution against the wisdom of the world. [18] Thus, it is necessary that Christians, because of their encounter with God, will also exist as revolution and in contradiction to the wisdom of the world. As the world walks in one direction according to its wisdom, we, through our encounter with our “resurrected Lord” are “‘[forced]…into a totally different direction’”[19] that is the wisdom of God. Proclamation of the cross is not strictly preaching about the word of the cross from the pulpit, but is also (and especially?) the living out the word of the cross[20] in both word and deed.[21] It’s about living and speaking dangerously in distinction and in opposition to the natural inclinations of humanity and of the world.[22]

Because the foolishness of God is wiser [than the wisdom] of humanity and the weakness of God stronger [than the strength] of humanity (I Cor. 1:25).

God’s wisdom reveals itself to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And in this self-revelation we are brought into and through destruction into new life that retains the characteristics of the God who has breathed life back into the ashes of ourselves. God is the impossible puzzle, you cannot determine God from your common sense and worldly wisdom; God discloses God’s self.

And in correspondence with God (and God’s activity in the world), the church and the disciples of Christ are impossible puzzles in the world; revealing God in the proclamation of the crucified Christ to the world. And in that proclamation revealing themselves to the world rather than being defined by worldly wisdom and common sense. And because we as a church and as disciples are created and sustained by the proclamation of the cross, sustained by the wisdom of God which is the power of God to us who are being saved, let us live and love radically. Let the entire world and all of humanity know us by our [radical] love and [revolutionary] life.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NRSV).

 

 

[1] Anthony C. ThiseltonThe First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2000. “Since της μωριας describes του κηρυγματος in v. 21 where the two aspects of thought are parallel, we may justifiably assume that proclamation most adequately conveys the aspect of λογος which Paul has in view. Message of the cross…risks too narrow a concentration on cognitive or informational content. Such content is certainly included but it tends to point away from the transformative dimensions of proclamation.” 153

[2] The 1 Corinthian passage translation in the sermon is my translation.

[3] Thiselton 155. “The proclamation is folly unless God, not human wisdom, stands behind it to validate and to underwrite it.”

[4] Thiselton, 154. “But, as Conzelmann correctly notes, the contrast between being on their way to ruin and being on our way to salvation does not correspond to the antithesis between human folly and human wisdom; it reflects the contrast between human folly (μωρια) and divine power (δυναμις θεου).”

[5] Karl Barth CD II.1 “Because the foolish are without faith in Him and therefore do not belong to the true people of God, they can obviously see in the news of the death of Jesus Christ (either with or without that of His resurrection, and even more so with it) only the news of a further demonstration of the meaninglessness of human life; and probably indeed the proclamation of the paradox that the meaninglessness reveals here too is as such its true meaning. So then, as I s described in Acts 17:32, they turn away in impatience or alarm from this foolish Gospel. But they do not realize that by doing this, and by making this judgment, the are already condemned, exposed and revealed as the mother of the dead child.”

[6]Thiselton 156 “The temptation to assume that Christians have already ‘arrived’ nourishes a mood of self-congratulation which is entirely at odds with the proclamation of the cross: a Christ wounded, humiliated, and done-to-death. Hence ‘It is highly characteristic of Pauls’ soteriology that he does not speak of “the saved” (which would be “sesosmenoi”) but of those who are being saved (sozomenoi). Salvation is not yet gained in its totality.’” (Hering qtd in).

[7] Thiselton 156. “The cross, then, constitutes the point at which, and/or the means through which, God’s presence and promise becomes operative as that which actualizes and transforms. It differs from human weakness and folly not in degree but in kind…a merely rhetorical or psychological exercise in communicating some belief system remains empty if it fails to engage with the cross precisely as a saving proclamation…”

[8] Thiselton 157. “The latter brings illusion and self-deception which marks their way to ruin, for recognition of one’s ignorance and one’s need to continue to learn and to grow marks our way to salvation. However, unlike the tradition of the Greek sage, Paul bases everything on the proclamation of the cross. By its very nature this determined the pattern of Christian disciples as living for others, at whatever personal cost.”

[9] Thiselton 165 “In Jewish and Christian eschatology the phrase occurs most characteristically to set in contrast ‘this age’ from ‘the age to come.’ But if we translate this age, we encounter a lack of contextual understanding brought to the text by modern readers who may have little understanding of a Jewish eschatology of the two ages of apocalyptic.”

[10] John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion II.ii.20, “Because these mysteries are deeply hidden form human insight, they are disclosed solely by the revelation of the Spirit. Hence, where the Spirit of God does not illumine them, they are considered folly.” 280. And Karl Barth CD IV.2.350, “Where the Holy Spirit intervenes and is at work between Him and us as the Spirit of Jesus Christ, as the self-activation and self-revelation of the living Jesus Christ, we can believe and confess it in face of that hard antithesis.”

[11] Thiselton 161. “……in the wisdom of his own purposes God chose to reverse what was perceived as wise in an event which appeared to consist in weakness and failure. But would lead in the longer term to new beginnings and to a chastened, transformed, people.” And, 162, “Here the semantic contrast functions in relation to God as power (v.18), as denoting that which is effective, valid, operative, and capable of achieving its goal. Against the background of Isaiah 29 the contrast suggests a parallel between the vulnerability and fragility of time spent devising strategies for self-preservation or self-enhancement as against seeking alignment of the self with divine purpose.”

[12] Karl Barth CD IV.3.1.390 “And it is as He attests the truth, Himself, in this form, that He unmasks us as liars. It is in this form of suffering, as the wholly Rejected, Judged, Despised, Bound, Impotent, Slain and Crucified, and therefore as the Victor, that He marches with us and to us through the times, alive in the promise of Spirit. In this form he is at the core not only of the kerygmatic theology of Paul but also of the kerygmatic accounts of the Gospels.”

[13] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 16. “Only by self-emptying in encounter with what is alien, unknown and different does [a person] achieve selfhood…trust in the hidden and guaranteed identity with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) makes possible the self-abandonment, the road into non-identity and unidentifiability, which neither clings to ancient forms of identity, nor anxiously reaches out for the forms of identity of those one is fighting in common.”

[14] Karl Barth, CD II.1.435, “‘Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world?…There is none. By the very fact of what God has done through this Gospel He has made tabula rasa of all that is published in the world as wisdom but is not.” I’m applying this to the person in the event of justification.

[15] Helmut Gollwitzer, The Way to Life. 63.

[16] Thiselton 166. “…the event of the cross is like the new frame of reference brought to the sick by health, or to children or to the unsound in mind by full, rational maturity.” I think it’s more than just a new frame of reference. Due to the destructive and re-creative nature of the encounter with God in the event of faith, I’m not merely handed a new key to the world, but recreated to be oriented in a different way within the world.

[17] Thiselton 162. “Paul invites his addressees to say what is left of a human wisdom which Gods saving acts have left high and dry in the light of a cross. The cross places giving, receiving, and serving above achieving or ‘finding the right formula.’”

[18] Thiselton 169. The wisdom of God “…stands in antithetical opposition to the wisdom of this world order, which is fallible, temporary, short-term, and self-absorbed. The links with apocalyptic verdict, whether in the cross or at the end time, cannot be avoided. For what some may perceive as foolish is in fact definitive, and will expose its transient opposite as deceptive and illusory.”

[19] W. Travis McMaken Our God Loves Justice: An Introduction to Helmut Gollwitzer. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2017. 150-1. “What overcomes this ecclesiastical banality is encounter with the church’s resurrected Lord, with ‘the Easter story [that] broken into our world, bringing with it a power, a world-overcoming revolution, which makes everything different in our life, which forces the church into a totally different direction.’ This encounter delegitimizes the church’s banality and demands that the church become an agent in proclaiming this world-overcoming revolution through word and deed. Instead of leaving the church to its comfortable domestication, ‘the one thing that matters for the church is that she should be both a danger and a help to the world.’ Gollwitzer’s ecclesiology calls for a dangerous church because a church that is not dangerous is not help at all.”

[20] Thiselton 167. “‘The word kerygma…here means not the act of preaching itself, but the content of that proclamation…The point is worth making, first because the emphasis falls on the limits of natural human inquiry and discovery. Second, Schrage places the emphasis on the divine decree and its basis, not on the mode of communicated as such, and on the difference between gospel proclamation and human discovery. It has nothing to with whether the mode of communication is in a pulpit rather than variety of modes which may or may not include lectures, dialogue, disputation, or living the gospel out.”

[21] See fn17.

[22] See fn17.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. v:1 Cor 14:33b-35)

1 Cor. 14: 33b-35

vv.33b-35. Within two chapters Paul* has gone from allowing women to prophesy and pray in church as long as they wore a symbol of authority—a head covering—to saying that women should not speak in church.  What is the cultural situation behind Paul’s statement?  Keener observes that although “Women had made serious gains in terms of public speaking in Roman culture…some Romans and many Greeks still frowned on it, potentially introducing cultural conflict in the church again.  Some would consider women’s speech in gender-mixed company ‘shameful’ (14:35), just like public display of wives’ uncovered hair (11:5-6)” (118).  Keener suggests that Paul, who had submitted to ‘the law” before (1 Cor. 9:20) is doing so here in order to not cause offense, “Wifely submission remained an ideal in his day…especially in terms of behavior to avoid shaming ones husband (14;35; cf. 11:5-6) (Keener 118).

In Greek society, Greek women were “…discouraged from saying anything in public.  Plutarch says that the virtuous woman ‘ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders’ (Advice to Bride and Groom, 31); again, ‘a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband’ (ibid., 32)” (Morris 197).  And, according to Morris, “The Jews regarded it as a sin to teach a woman, and the position was not much better elsewhere” (198).  As the Gospel was the message of true freedom and liberation for women, women of the ancient society would be learning in the setting of the church.  Since the majority of women were not as educated as men, it is plausible to assume that they were asking many questions.  Keener writes,

…many hearers resented questions considered rude, inappropriate, or unlearned; these risked slowing other learners down.  It is possible, although not certain, the women were more apt to ask unlearned questions.  Although Judean boys learned to recite the law growing up (m. ‘Abbot 5:21), the privilege was rarer among girls even in regions where some are attested.  Literate men may have outnumbered literate women five to one, and even among aristocratic Greeks and Romans, where education was most widely available, a woman’s education usually ended by her mid-teens (Keener 119).

On the same note, Keener observes that husbands though their wives incapable of understanding “intellectual ideas” (119).  Referring to Plutarch, Keener writes,

…Plutarch notes that he is exceptional in advising a groom that his bride can learn (but then adds his own sexist twist, arguing that women if left to themselves produce only base passions; Bride 48, Mor. 145BE)….Because of conversions often followed household (cf. 1:16; 16:15) most of the wives Paul addresses would in fact have husbands who had heard the teaching and prophecies (although clearly this was not always the case; 7:12-16; cf. 1 Pet 3:1) (119).

Therefore, Paul is not necessarily abiding by a subjugating law that does not allow women, specifically wives, to never speak in Church, but is constituting an orderliness to the gathering.  In light of his society and how that society had been treating women, Paul addressed the situation with seemliness and proper conduct, but in the freedom of Christ.

And, remember, what’s important here is this (and I’m quoting Sarah Ruden at length):

But whatever the exact standards of anyone involved here, modern readers tend to come at [this] passage in 1 Corinthians from the wrong angle. It would not have been remarkable that women were forbidden to speak among the Christians. It’s remarkable that they were speaking in the first place. It’s remarkable that they were even there, in an ekklesia, perhaps for all kinds of worship and deliberation, and that their questions needed answers, if not on the spot. Paul’s negativity–even his typical snapping about authority–is extremely modest against the polytheistic background (Paul Among the People, 81).

Women were THERE. Women were SPEAKING, ASKING questions, and being HEARD. Let’s not miss the gem here.

*I’m going with the tradition understanding that Paul wrote _all_ of Corinthians even this. I’m aware of the many arguments for and against Pauline authorship here (some considering it to be a gloss, added by a redactor later in time). 

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. iv:1 Cor 11:2-16)

Literary Context

The passage under examination follows Paul’s discourse on idolatry (8:1-11:1) and precedes his discussion about propriety and impropriety in the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34) (Hjort 60).  Brigitte Hjort recommends seeing the framing of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 as part of a cohesive discussion about idol worship and/or religious abuse specifically related to food and drink (8:1-11:34) (61, 63).  However, in chapter 12, Paul begins with his examination of the proper use of Spiritual gifts within the worship service concluding in chapter 14 (vv.26-40) with a discussion on “orderly worship” and the function of the different parts of the body (12:1-14:40).  It appears that the content of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 is more closely linked with what follows rather than what precedes, thus, this passage appears to be the introduction to Paul’s lengthy address on proper versus improper conduct during worship (Hays 181).

Head Coverings (11:2-16).

v.2.  Paul begins the pericope by praising the Corinthians for remembering him and for keeping the traditions that he gave to them (v.2).  The Greek word (Ἐπαινῶ) has a stronger connotation than the typical translation “I commend”.  epaino is often associated in Biblical Greek with praising God or honoring a person (Thiselton 809).  Thiselton writes, “In the context of an honor/shame culture some forceful attribution of honor (praise) is required…” (809).  Paul is using purposeful rhetoric to grab his audience’s attention.

Why is Paul praising the Corinthians?  Because they have kept the traditions (παραδόσεις) that he has handed down to them (παρέδωκα).  Thiselton explains that the active sense of parado,seij (from the verb paradi,dwmi) is “betrayal” and the passive sense is “tradition”, “that which is handed on, including teachings, creeds, narratives, catchesis” (810).  F.F. Bruce comments, “The traditions [paradoseis]…were the instructions, relating to matters of doctrine and practice alike, which [Paul] delivered to his churches on the authority of Christ” (102).  Likewise Thiselton, referring to Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement, and Origen comments, “In early Christian literature the words soon come to denote an authoritative tradition of Christian teaching” (810).  But Bruce warns his reader that though “apostolic tradition” may find its roots “‘from the Lord’” paradoseis and kurios are not to be mistaken as synonymous (103); thus, “…the…‘tradition’ of which [Paul] goes on to emphasize [vv.3-16]…probably does not go back beyond his own teaching” (Bruce 103).  However, what follows is not to be discarded for Paul was one to have the mind of Christ (Bruce 103).

v.3.  After grabbing the Corinthians’ attention, Paul begins his discourse on head-coverings by giving three examples of the headship relationship (the “kephale-structure” (Bjort, 64)): Christ and man, husband and wife, and Christ and God.  Thiselton refers to the translation of this verse as one that “…has caused more personal agony and difficulty than any other in the epistle…” due to the ambiguousness of the meaning of the Greek word κεφαλὴ, (811)[2], and to the vagueness of Paul’s motives for starting his discussion about head coverings with the “kephale-structure”.  To better understand this verse, we will examine the Greek word translated as “head” (kephale) and the “kephale-structure”.

Some scholars argue for translation of kephale, as “source”; Leon Morris, Gordon Fee, and F.F. Bruce (et al) defend this position (see Thiselton 814).  Morris argues for “source” based off the assumption that “…the functions of the central nervous system were not known to the ancients, who held that we think with the midriff, the phrēn (JTS, n.s., v, 1954, pp. 211-215).  The head was not the controlling factor” (149; and Bruce 103).  Though “source” seems to mend the inherent difficulties within the passage under consideration, Thiselton points out that “…the paucity of lexicographical evidence remains a major obstacle to this translation” (820).  And, considering Paul’s argument in the rest of the passage is based on the theme of “glory” and “honor/shame”, “source” as a translation of kephale, does not contextually flow with Paul’s skillfully devised rhetoric and appears disconnected from Paul’s point.

Traditionally, the translation of kephale, has been “authority, supremacy, leadership,” a view supported by scholars such as Wayne Grudem, J. Fitzmeyer, and others (Thiselton 812-3).  Richard Hays writes, “…in view of the whole shape of the argument, the patriarchal implications of v.3 are undeniable” thus, the concept of “authority” is to be retained (184) and David Ewert writes, “…‘head’ is…used in the sense of ‘leader’, and…[that sense] is not absent here.  As Christ in his incarnation submitted to God, and man is subject to Christ…so the married woman is subject to her husband” (115).  Culturally, the Corinthians would have understood kefalh, to have the connotation of “authority” due to the Empire’s rhetoric of the paterfamilias.  Daniel Arichea writes, “The idea of ‘authority’ would reflect the structure of the household in Roman society, where there is an emphasis on the paterfamilias” (461).  Craig Keener agrees, “…ancient literature…applies [kephale,] often to ‘authority’ or to the ‘most honored [or prominent] part.’  Both ‘authority’ and ‘honored part’ fit Paul’s Christology (11:3) as well as the normal structure of the household in Paul’s’ environment” (1-2 Corinthians 92).  Is Paul touting the party line of the Roman Empire and its hierarchical structure of state and family or is he subverting the empire, subjecting it all to Christ?  If kephale, only means “authority” (or the like) in this pericope, then we may be left with a Christ that has restored everything but the relationship between man and woman.  Another issue I have with translating kephale as “authority” within this verse is that one would be prone to see the Trinity in terms of subordinationism.  If Paul is talking about hierarchy and authority within the “kephale-structure” of this verse, then God is “authority” over (i.e. greater than, super-ordinated over) the incarnated Christ thus the implication is that Christ is somehow inferior (subordinated) to God.  If Christ, in His incarnation, is not fully God (and fully man) then we are left in our sins and are without hope.  Referring to Chrysostom, Thiselton writes,

Chrysostom is aware that a parallel between men/women and God/Christ should not give ‘the heretics’ grounds for subordinationist Christology.  In certain respects head denotes a kind of primacy, but both God and Christ on one side and men and women on the other are the same mode of being. ‘For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection…he would not have brought forward the instance of a woman (or wife), but rather of a slave and a master….It is a wife (or woman) as free, as equal in honour; and the Son also, though He did become obedient to the Father, it was as the Son of God; it was God’….Chrysostom…reflects Paul’s notion that in the context of love between God and Christ, or between man and woman, obedience or response is chosen, not imposed… (819).

One must not confuse “submission” with “subjection”.  The Father did not force Christ to the cross, rather, Christ submitted Himself to the Father to death on a Cross (Phil. 2:8).  This submission was an oblation, was an offering of Himself to God in order to glorify God by atoning for the sins of humanity, thus restoring humanity to God.  As well, a wife’s submission to her husband is her oblation, her offering, a laying down of herself for the glory of her husband and not because he is her authority but because she glorifies him.

Thus, there is a third (and better) way to look at the word kephale.  It is possible that kephale translated as “head” contains the notion “that which is glorified”.  When looking at the relationships Paul uses in this verse (every man and Christ, woman and man, and Christ and God), one may notice that one part of the coupling is the person/being that is glorified and that the other is the agent by which the glorification occurs (i.e. woman glorifies man, man is glorified by woman).  However, the glorification is not a selfish desire by the one in detriment to the other.  It is just the opposite; there is mutual reciprocity with in the “kephale-structure” (Thiselton 804).  As one is glorified so is the other part (Thiselton 804).  Thiselton offers,

The Greek Fathers’ use of the term perichoresis well suggests the dialectic of distinctiveness, reciprocity, and oneness which Paul beings to unfold.…The God-Christ relation has nothing to do with self-glory or with affirmation of the self at the expense of the other…This shared love controls the use of freedom, and thereby each brings ‘glory to the other by assuming distinctive roles for a common purpose.  This is the context that gives currently to the widespread comment that ‘the relationship between man and woman is thus in some sense paralleled by that between God and Christ (804, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Keener writes, “Although some argue plausibly that ‘head’ figuratively functions as ‘source’ or ‘first part’…ancient literature also applies it…to the ‘most honored [or prominent] part….‘honored part’ fit[s] Paul’s Christology (11:3) as well as the normal structure of the household in Paul’s’ environment” (92).  Thisleton offers, “preeminent, foremost, and synecdoche for a representative whole” as the translation of kephale that

…has the merit of most clearly drawing interactively on the metaphorical conjunction between physiological head (which is far and away the most frequent, ‘normal’ meaning) and the notion of prominence, i.e., the most conspicuous or topmost manifestation of that for which the term also functions as synecdoche for the whole.  The public face is linked with responsibility and representation in the public domain, since head is both the part of a person which is most conspicuous and that by which they are most readily distinguished or recognized.  These aspects feature more frequently and prominently in first-century Greek texts than either the notions of ruler or source… (821, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Each of the secondary (not inferior) parts of the “kephale-structure[s]” reflect and glorify the primary parts as that which is conspicuous, the preeminent part, the part “by which they [the secondary aspects] are most readily distinguished or recognized.”  It is through God that one recognizes Jesus, it is through man that one recognizes woman, and it is through Jesus that one recognizes redeemed man.  Through the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, God is glorified because Jesus was the perfect propitiation for our sins and creation is restored to God, through Jesus we know God.  Through the creation of woman (Gen 2:18-23) man is glorified and is man because of her creation and is able to commune with God; through woman we know man.  Through redeemed man Jesus is glorified—for it was the first man, Adam, brought to life by the intimate breath of God (Gen. 2:7), that was the prototype to the last Adam, Jesus, who would exhale that same breath on the cross, finally restoring the creature to the Creator (John 30:19); through redeemed man we see Jesus.  If kephale is translated in this way, one is made aware of the reciprocity and mutuality between the two parts of the relationships—God and Christ, man and woman, and Jesus and man—described by Paul in v.3.  And, in light of the honor/shame (and glory v. 7) argument that follows, this translation of kephale. fits well and adheres to Paul’s rhetoric.

vv.4-6.[3]  Paul continues his argument started in the previous verse (v.3) with a discussion on the propriety of men and women covering their heads while praying or prophesying.  It is important to notice here that Paul is using kephale in two different ways.  One way is in the literal sense “head” as in “The head of a man or beast” (Brown 157; Bruce 104); and, the second is in the way described in v.3 (see above) “head” as in the part that is glorified.

The primary difficulty of these verses (vv. 4-6) is the translation of the phrase κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων.  Ralph Yeager explains, “exwn is intransitive.  There is no object expressed.  Kata literally means ‘down’ and kephale is a genitive which serves to accent the person or thing affected—thus, ‘having (something) down upon his head’” (6).  Is Paul referring to long hair or veils?  Alan Johnson writes,

…Paul, rather than referring to some external cloth covering on the head, is actually referring to the way their hair was worn or coiffured, differentiating in this manner males from females in worship leadership. The case for this view relies heavily on an abundance of archaeological evidence from the Mediterranean world of Paul’s day… (189).

Johnson refers to the culture of the Corinthians to defend his argument.  Hairstyles were socially used to differentiate gender identity; thus, men having long hair and women having short, blurred the “social boundaries between the sexes and act[ed] against nature (that is, culture)” (Johnson186-7).  “This [blurred social boundary] brought ‘shame’ on individuals and their corresponding ‘head.’  The problem Paul is addressing is the incurring of social shame through boundary-transgressing hairstyles…(Johnson 186-7).

Arguing from Greaco-Roman social history, Horsley adds to the argument for longhair,

…men normally had short hair and women long hair braided or otherwise wound up around their heads (thus portrayed on coins and statues)….It was also standard social custom for women as well as men to have their head uncovered, as can be seen in portraits of women, including Roman women in Corinth….Thus ‘down the head’ in verse 4 is best taken as a reference to long hair, which would have been considered disgraceful for a man, particularly when praying or prophesying (154; Hays 185).

Richard Hays comments, “For women to have loose hair in public, however, was conventionally seen as shameful, a sign associated either with prostitutes or…with women caught up in the ecstatic worship practices of the cults associated with Dionysis, Cybele, and Isis” (185-6).

Bruce, Morris, and Thiselton argue (or defend) that Paul is referring not to long hair but to a “veil”.  Bruce writes, “…what Paul has in mind is a veil which covers the whole head and in particular conceals all the hair…” (104).  Morris argues that though “long hair” would fit the scope of the later part of Paul’s argument, it ultimately runs into problems in relation to the terms “covered and uncovered” (150).  And, after a detailed survey of the argument (823-6), Thiselton writes, “We are forced to conclude that although [the] case is strong [for long hair], we cannot regard it as conclusive, while lexicography and the Roman background…suggests that with his head covered remains in the end more probably” (825).  Finally, Troy Martin uses v.15b as the key to understanding the passage and the translation of περιβολαίου (“testicle”) to explain that the Graeco-Roman period saw the hair on the woman’s head as a part of her genitalia and as an equivalent part to the male testicle, thus women should keep it covered up (83-4).

Considering Greco-Roman custom (discussed here and above), the context of the verse and Paul’s argument, I believe that Paul is Paul is referring to the way men and women keep their hair rather than to “veils” in these verses.

The point of vv4-6 is honor and shame, about propriety and impropriety within the worship context.  As Thiselton points out, a better title for the pericope would be, “‘Mutuality and Reciprocity: Self Respect, Respect for the Other, and Gender Identity in Public Worship” (825).  Johnson comments about the honor/shame code for women within the Greco-Roman culture,

…the ancient Mediterranean world had in place an elaborate honor-shame code governing the public and private behavior of men and women….A woman’s honor…was her shame, in the sense that her honor was her good reputation and chastity, which required her to have a sensitive consciousness of her sexual vulnerability.  She was to excel in the practice of sexual modesty, being discreet, shy, restrained, timid and subordinate to male authority (186-7).

Thiselton further elaborates on the honor/shame code within the Roman imperial period,

…it was men, rather than women, on whom a woman’s clothing most reflected.  Regulation was required when ‘men participated in status-seeking by means of the clothing of their women….The usual purpose of honouring women was to exalt the men to whom they were mothers, wives, or sisters.’  In this context language about glory, source, and reciprocity becomes important (802).

Honor/shame, glory, source and reciprocity are embedded, according to the above two scholars, within the community of Corinth.  It appears, from vv.4-6, that Paul is placating the current social honor/shame codes and keeping women in a situation that is inferior to men.  However, Thisleton provides insight into what Paul may be doing in these verses, “…Paul intends…to enact a rhetorical shock: do you really want to shame yourself, your family, and your God in such a way?  Or alternatively: are you really serious about no longer wanting to be honored as a women, or do you genuinely want to use ‘gospel freedom’ to eradicate all that relates to gender distinctiveness?…” (832, emphasis Thiselton’s).

vv.7-10.[4]  Paul furthers his argument about honor and shame with in the genders based off of a brief explanation of Gen 2:18-23 and concludes (in v.10) that a wife, because of the angels, should have a symbol of authority on her head.  V. 7 initiates Paul’s discussion about covered/uncovered heads by referring to man as the image and glory of God therefore he should not cover his head.  Paul continues in v.7b that woman is the glory of man and explains in vv. 8-9 why she is the glory of man.  There is a significantly troubling aspect to these verses (7-9): is Paul touting the hierarchical/patriarchical line by saying that since the woman does not reflect the image of God as man does, and was created from and for him she is inferior?  Bruce highlights the unparallel structure between the two parts of the v.7, “Paul does not deny that woman also bears the image of God; indeed, he implies that she does by carefully avoiding complete parallelism” (105). Thiselton adds, “If we give due care to the nuances and force of image and glory in the biblical writings…it becomes clear that the emphasis falls less on hierarchy…than on relationality” (833, emphasis Thiselton’s).

Man stands as the image and glory of God because he was the first of all creation (Gen 2:7), and it was with this created man that God formed His covenant, for God intimately breathed into him, bringing him to life like no other creature (Barth CD III/1 236).  Thiselton writes, “…man as male first comes onto the cosmic scene as the image which is to manifest God in his life and deeds, since authentic personhood entails living ‘for’ and ‘in relation to’ an Other, not as one centered upon the self” (834).  Karl Barth writes it beautifully,

…it is in the…free love that He has resolved in Himself from all eternity on His fellowship with man in the person of His own Son.  As this free love is revealed, i.e., made visible outside His own being, His hidden glory is revealed.  And this is creation to the extent that it makes the creature the exponent, sign and witness of the divine meaning and necessity (CD III/1 230).

It is Adam that God first creates and makes his covenant with (woman is not exempted from this covenant, for she is created from the one who the covenant was first formed).  However, Adam’s state of loneliness (Gen. 2:18), which is not good, prevents him from being in a relationship with and living for the “Other” who created him; thus woman is created to save Adam from loneliness and become man’s glory (Gen.21-22).  However, woman is only the glory but not the image of man, for if she were the image, it would have exacerbated Adam’s condition of loneliness for that other would not have been woman, but another man—it would have been himself.  Consequently, the intended relationship between God and His image, man, would have remained disrupted.  Woman had to be a different yet similar being to draw Adam out of his loneliness and into a relationship with God.  It is through the creation of woman that man becomes more man and through the relationship with man that woman becomes more woman.  The two beings are interdependent rather than hierarchical/patriarchical (as vv.11-12 will draw out).  According to Paul’s argument in vv.7-10, man who reflects the Glory and Image of God should not cover that Image or Glory; however, in worship, where God is the focus and not man, woman should cloak her glory, which is the glory of man, as to not draw attention away from the focus: Christ (1:18) (Morris 151; Keener 1-2 Corinthians 93).  Paul, through terms of glory and reflection, is speaking about honor and shame (Horsley 155).

The conclusion of Paul’s argument in vv.7-10 culminates in an awkward statement: “That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (v.10).  Primarily, it is Paul’s use of ἐξουσίαν (“authority”) in this verse that is troubling.  The secondary issue is the qualifier, “because of the angels.”  Yeager explains, “A variant reading has kalumma instead of exousian…[the prior indicates] that the passage means that the woman should wear upon her head a veil to symbolize her subjection to the superior authority of her husband, and to the Lord who ordained in creation that it should be so” (14).  However, Paul specifically used ἐξουσίαν to express a specific point.  Ewert illuminates that Paul is subverting the common understanding of women and authority; in light of the culture we should “…expect Paul to say the opposite, namely that she should be in submission to authority and wear the head covering as a symbol of her submission” rather than the covering (her hair) as a sign of her authority (117).  Hays writes, “The expression ‘to have authority’ in Greek always means, just as it does in English, to exercise authority, not to submit to it (187).  Morris agrees, “Far from being a symbol of woman’s subjection to man…her head-covering is what Paul calls it—authority: in prayer and prophecy she, like the man, is under the authority of God’” (M.D. Hooker qtd in Morris 152).  Jason BeDuhn comments that the combination of ἐξουσίαν and ὀφείλει is significant for Paul, “… ‘this does not imply external compulsion but obligation.’  Paul always employs opheilei with the sense of performing one’s duty and acting upon one’s own responsibility and commitment” (303).  Bruce writes,

Here, as elsewhere in this letter, ‘authority’ is probably to be understood in an active sense: the [covering] is not a sign of the woman’s submission to her husband’s authority…. it is a sign of her authority.  In the synagogue service a woman could play no significant part: her presence would not even suffice to make up the requisite quorum of ten (all ten must be males).  In Christ she received equality of status with man: she might pray or prophesy at meetings of the church and her [covering] was a sign of this new authority…” (106).

The woman is to take charge of her physical head.  Paul is transforming “…the symbolic connotations of the head covering: the bound hair becomes a fitting symbol of the self-control and orderliness that Paul desires for the community as a whole” (188).

διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους in v.10 has been cause for great speculation for translators and exegetes “since the era of Tertullian (c. AD 200)” (Thiselton 837).  Many explanations have been offered for Paul’s terminology; however, the most cogent explanation is made by Thiselton and Hays.  Thiselton writes, “Among the Jewish traditions which find their way into the NT, those in which angles are perceived as ‘guardians of order’ as well as ‘participants in the church’s praise to God’ prove the best clue to Paul’s meaning…this element is noted in the Qumran writings…[and] in Gal 3:19 Paul observes that the law was put into operation ‘through angels by a mediator,’…” (841, emphasis Thiselton’s; Hays 188; Ewert 118).

vv.11-12.  Though woman can have authority, Paul emphasizes that woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman.  In light of the above discussion on vv. 3-10, there is no reason for Paul to change the subject in order to back track and explain the equality between the sexes.  However, one cannot dismiss that Paul’s use of the strong adverb πλὴν signifies that Paul is going to go in a different direction (Johnson 197).  It is true that Paul is changing the subject but for a different reason; Paul is drawing his audience back to the main point: you are not independent in yourselves for everything is from God.  Paul is restating his thesis of the letter: this is about Christ and the cross not about you.  In light of the placement of the pericope, in the beginning of the discussion of propriety and impropriety during worship, the Corinthians’ conduct is a reflection of God, of Christ to the community.  Thiselton writes,

…Paul insists that true human relationality entails otherness and indeed respect for the otherness of the other as a necessary basis for true reciprocity, mutuality, and relationality that constitutes what it is to be human.  Yet he adds that this in turn depends on how these roles are fulfilled in relation to God’s will as creator who ordered the world…and to God’s saving action through Christ as Lord of the church…” (843).

vv.13-15.  In case Paul’s scriptural arguments from v.3-12 have proved fruitless in proving his point, he calls the Corinthians to use their cultural experience to judge for themselves what is proper.  Paul’s rhetorical question (v.13) expects a “no, its not proper” answer (Yeager 17).  “Paul…appeals to the mores and values of the Greek world…a number of Greek sources inform us that Greek men did not grow their hair long.  For a man to wear his hair long would be to dishonor (atimia) his position as a male in society.  In the Hellenized world that cherished order, men were supposed to look like men” and women like women (Burton 278).

A translation of φύσις (v.14) may provide lexical help in understanding Paul’s point in vv. 13-15 for to argue from nature seems convoluted because both a man’s and a woman’s hair grows in nature.  Thiselton offers helpful insight to the word hay phusis, “…Paul may use φύσις  sometimes to denote the very ‘grain’ of the created order as a whole, or at other times (as here) to denote ‘how things are’ in more situation or society terms” (845; Johnson 199).  Thus, the better translation should be “the very nature of things” rather than “nature” (Johnson 199).  Paul is not appealing to nature but to the culture of the Corinthians, “Does not your own culture show you that this (vv. 14-15) is inappropriate?”  Paul’s concern in vv.14-15, then, is, as Thiselton states, “…simply to press the issue of gender differentiation and its expression through some semiotic code such as hair or dress.  Semiotic code depends on shared conventions, and social norms generally encourage gender differentiation” (846).

v.16.  To conclude his discussion, Paul arbitrarily closes with a warning that contention over this matter will not be tolerated, for there are no other practices not even in all of the churches of God.  The Corinthians had a natural tendency “to be a law to [themselves], without reference to Christian procedure elsewhere” (1 Cor. 14:36) (Bruce 108).  Hays writes, “…Even if they do not accept his other arguments, the Corinthians should conform their head-covering practice to those of the other churches, because they are called to be one with ‘all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:2)” (190).  The Corinthians are not only to be a unified body in Christ within their own congregation, but they are to be unified with the other churches of God.  Once again, Paul concludes his argument by bringing his audience back to the point of his letter: Christ and the Cross.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. III:1 Cor 7:1-7)

1 Corinthians 7:1-7:

Principles for Marriage

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

v.1.  Paul, in response to the questions of the Corinthians, writes, “‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’”  Johnson writes about the expression translated as “not to touch a woman”, “…the expression…is not the equivalent of ‘not to marry.’ In Hebrew and Greek it is a euphemism for not to have sexual intercourse with woman (Gen 20:6; Prov 6:29)” (108).  Johnson continues by adding that the expression does not necessarily belong to Paul but is a Corinthian colloquialism: the Corinthians were rejecting sexual intercourse with their wives in order to achieve a more intimate relationship with Sophia (Johnson 108-9).  Bruce adds this scenario, “…[Paul is] deal[ing] with ascetics who, partly perhaps in reaction against the libertines, argued that sexual relations of every kind were to be deprecated, that Christians who were married should henceforth live as though they were unmarried, and those who were unmarried should remains so, even if they were already engaged to be married” (Bruce 66).

v.2.  Leon Morris writes, “Since fornication was so common at Corinth it was hard for the unmarried to remain chaste and hard for them to persuade others that they were, in fact, chaste” (Morris 102).  And Keener observes, “Paul may refute [the Corinthian’s] point about a man not ‘touching’ a woman…but if he is conceding it, he applies it to unmarried intercourse only (6:12-21); he goes on to demonstrate that married people must have intercourse (7:2-7).  Contrast ‘It is well,” kalon, with ‘It is not good,’ ou kalon, in Gen 2:18, a context Paul has just quoted in 6:16)” (62).  Paul’s Jewish background would have provided him with the understanding of the  value of marriage and childbearing; but this was not restricted to Paul and his contemporaries, but was manifest in August’s legislation, “…to replenish the Roman aristocracy two generations before Paul’s time.  Augustus’s laws reward with tax incentives widows and divorcees of childbearing age who remarried as quickly as possible” (Keener 63).  On the other hand, Keener also notes that “Some thinkers…believed that marriage proved a distraction from high pursuits (e.g., Cynics in Epictetus Diatr. 3.22.69-76).  Some radical philosophers (especially Cynics) therefore eschewed marriage, nevertheless condoning the release of sexual passions on prostitutes (cf. 6:12-21)” (Keener 63).  Paul may have been dealing with the same group of people who were causing trouble in 6 as in 7 (Keener 63).

v.3.  Morris writes, “Each partner in a marriage has rights and Paul calls on each to pay what is due….Paul does not stress the duty of either partner at the expense of the other, but puts them on a level, a noteworthy position in the male-dominated society of the time” (103).  What is most striking in Paul’s language is the idea of “giving” rather than “getting”; in a culture that was obsessed with getting somewhere weather socially or spiritually, this command to give is countercultural.  “Marriage is the giving of oneself to another” (Morris 103).  Essentially, marriage is not the getting from one what one wants or thinks they deserve.  Horsley observes,

The Therapeutics near Alexandria, described by Philo, provides a striking similar example of women and men who leave their spouses and become ‘elderly virgins.’ Their motivation for spurning the pleasures of the body, moreover, is their devotion to Sophia, whom they consider to be their spiritual life-mate.  This makes the comparison all the more compelling, considering the importance of Sophia to the Corinthian spirituals addressed in chapters 1-4 (Horsley 96).

vv.4-5. Keeping in mind the discussion above about the Roman woman being the property of the husband, the first half of this verse is very much within the constraints of Roman society at that time.  However, the later part introduced by “likewise” is the countercultural statement.  Johnson writes that neither one has the right to do with their body what they want, “…because the other has a rightful claim to sexual satisfaction.  This requires mutual submission (Eph 5:21)….the principal of mutual submission and mutual consent (v.5) is very important in minimizing abuse…Paul’s view of marriage [is a] profound union that entails a shared body, the two becoming ‘one flesh’ (Eph 5:31) (Johnson 110-1).  And Bruce adds, “By the marriage vow each relinquishes the exclusive right to his or her own body and gives the other a claim to it; the verb rule over is exousiazō, denoting the exercise of exousia (‘authority’)” (67).  Horsley proposes that Paul is responding to a Corinthian-ism, “‘[a woman had] authority over her own body’” (97).  Horsley writes, “After reversing that principle, Paul sweetens his denial of authority over her own body with the reciprocal wife’s authority over her husband’s body.  This is certainly a break with patriarchal marriage patterns, at least rhetorically” (Horsley 97).

About Paul’s use of “authority”, Horsley comments, “Among the Corinthians it could have been an expression of empowerment, whether in liberation from parochial taboos such as dietary restrictions (eating food offered to idols, in chaps. 8-10) or old-fashioned customs such as patriarchal property rights (the man ‘having’ his father’s wife, in chap. 5)” (97).

In v.5, Paul makes it clear that it is okay to abstain; however, abstention was only to be for prayer and only for an agreed amount of time.  After the abstention, husband and wife were to return to intimate sexual relations with each other to avoid Satan’s temptation and the Corinthian’s lack of self-control.  Horsley writes, “Permanent abstention from sexual relations is often associated with women in prophetic or other religious roles in other New Testament cases and in the general Hellenistic-Roman culture…” (Horsley 97).  Women were able to find their way out from under Patriarchal domination by submitting themselves to the pursuit of Sophia which involved, as discussed above, devoting all their energy to toward the intimate relationship with Sophia and away from their sexual relations with their husband.  Thistleton observes,

‘With prostitutes and mistresses abundantly available (recall 6:12-20) Corinthian men unable to have sex with their wives would often look elsewhere.’…from the papyri and from Plutarch the double standards of a degree of extramarital relationships in the case of men in the Roman world, in contrast to married women.  Paul’s moral and pastoral principle remains either (a) monogamy (with a full relationship for most of the time; cf. v. 5); or (b) celibacy; but not (c) irregular physical relationships.  Paul…[is]…offer[ing] an antidote to a Corinthian desire to change everything with their new-found status” (Blomberg qtd in Thisleton 503).

(Next: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and The Pastorals (pt. II)

A brief history of Corinth:

Corinth in Brief

Prior to the Roman conquering in 146 B.C., “Corinth had been a leading center of Greek power.…In 44 B.C.E, Caesar refounded Corinth as a Roman colony,” and during Paul’s day, Corinth was officially, according to architecture and inscription, Roman (Keener 6-7).  Alan Johnson writes, “…the city’s architecture looked Roman, it was governed by a Roman civic structure, and it was inhabited largely by Roman people—a small contingent of Caesar’s military veterans, many freedmen and women, and urban plebeians” (14).  F. F. Bruce adds, “…its citizens were Romans, probably freemen from Italy, but the population was augmented by Greeks and Levantines, including Jews” (Bruce 19).  “Evidence for the prominence of Roman, rather than Greek, patterns of culture in the most respected mores….[is the] clear example concern[ing] the wearing of hoods by women in public, especially in public worship, as well as the issue of head covering (just possibly an issue about hair) for men (1 Cor 11:2-16)….” (Thiselton 5).

In the first century, “…the city was a bustling commercial crossroads for Europe and Asia.  Ships from the west traveling from Italy through the Corinthian Gulf would head for the port of Lechaeum, Corinth’s eastern harbor.  Those from the east could harbor at Cenchreae, which faced eastward toward the Saronic gulf, which eventually led to the Aegean Se and Asia.  An ancient cargo roadway a few miles to the north connected the western sea lanes with the eastern across the isthmus at is narrowest point…” (Johnson 15).  In addition to being the primary harbor for ships, Corinth was also known for the manufacturing of goods (Johnson 15).  Keener notes, “Its location on the Isthmus had long involved Corinth in trade….Local banking, artisans, and finally the current provincial seat would have further augmented the city’s wealth” (7).

Bruce provides some insight into “Old Corinth” Prior to Roman conquering,

Old Corinth had been a by-word for licentiousness, and this hotch-potch of races would have hastened the process by which the new Corinth acquired an equally unsavoury reputation.  AM Hunter says that in the popular mind Corinth suggested ‘culture and courtesans… “Corinthian words” implied pretensions to philosophy and letters, and to ‘Corinthianize’ was popular Greek for ‘go to the devil’….[Corinth] acquired a reputation for luxury, and its name became proverbial for sexual license.  It was a centre of the worship of Aphrodite, whose temple stood on the summit of the Acrocointhus… (18).

Even after Rome conquered Corinth and turned it from Greek ways to Roman ways, Corinth was able regain its wealth (Bruce 18).  However, with the return of its wealth  “…the old reputation for sexual laxity also returned: the temple of Aphrodite was staffed by 1, 000 female slaves dedicated to her worship, who are said to have made the city a tourist attraction and enhanced its prosperity (Strabo, Geog. Viii. Vi. 20)” (Bruce 18-9).

Though there was a vast amount of wealth in Corinth, Horsley observes that there was a ‘gulf’ between the scant wealthy and powerful and the larger, poorer population (31).  He writes,

Despite this, or perhaps partly because of this, Greek society—and even more so Roman society—was obsessed with rank and status…. women were subordinated to and under the power of their husbands and masters.  In Corinth the lower strata must have been every bit as concerned with their status as the elite scrambling for provincial honors and imperial favor (Horsley 31).

Keener makes the point that “condescending below” one’s social classes “was considered shameful in terms of social intercourse” (8).

However, though there was a vast gap between the haves and the have-nots, Johnson proclaims that  growth between the classes was possible, “…at Corinth the culture allowed a rapid rise in social status for many people.  Power (to achieve goals), education, wealth, knowledge, religious and moral purity, family and ethnic group position, and local community status were prized goals in this highly status conscious society” (18).  “‘Corinth was a city where public boasting and self-promotion had become an art form.  The Corinthian people thus lived with an honor-shame cultural orientation, where public recognition was often more important than facts…’” (Witherington qtd. in Thiselton 13).

In fact, this status seeking tendency was not localized in the pagan society surrounding the budding churches in Corinth, Johnson observes,

Many characteristics of the cultural life of first-century Corinth were seeping into the life of the Christian community.  Instead of being transformed by Christian values and viewpoints, they were behaving like their counterparts in the pagan society around them.  Status seeking, self-promotion, a competitive drive for adulation and success, even use of the Christian church as a means of self-promotion and advancement are themes that reoccur though out the letter.  There was a spirit of self-satisfaction and boasting, a spirit of having arrived and not needing anything else (4:6-8).  Those without means were being marginalized, neglected and even humiliated in the church’s meetings (11;7-34; 12:21-26).  A wrong notion of Christian freedom, more like the ‘freedom’ of the surrounding culture, was prevailing in their relationships with each other and toward the wider culture (6:12; 8:9; 10:23) (Johnson 22-3).

It is not naïve to assume that there was a predominance of Greco-Roman ways and thoughts that were infiltrating the Corinthian churches and are the reasons why Paul treats those Corinthian questions in the manner in which he does (Morris 18).  “Only when Paul went to Corinth did he encounter a Hellenistic urban ethos that was both the product of and fully assimilated into the Roman imperial order” (Horsley 28).

It is typically understood by scholars that the Corinthians, as a society, were immensely concerned with Sophia, and the effects Sophia had on their social relations.  “Their strong enlightened consciousness freed them from the parochial prejudices of conventional moral codes.  Spiritual experiences in particular were given for the satisfaction, illumination, and personal fulfillment of the individual” (Horsley 37).  Horsley notes, “The Corinthian’s exalted spiritual status and immortality gained from their intimate relationship with Sophia had significant implications for mundane social relations.  On the one hand, for some Corinthians the all-important cultivation of their relationship with heavenly Sophia required devoting their energies to the spiritual life” (Horsley 37).  The intimacy with Sophia was not restricted to men, but was available to women, as well.  Intimacy with Sophia as described by Horsley above meant, “devoting their [men’s and women’s] energies to the spiritual life.”  Therefore, as Horsley comments, “…intimacy with Sophia meant avoidance of marital/sexual relations, and perhaps, by implication, liberation from confining subordination in a traditional patriarchal marriage for women” (Horsley 37).