Monday, June 2, 2014

Essay 6—Closing Remarks—(6.b) Leadership and Admonitions

Outline: 033-E6.b-Leadership and Admonitions
Passage: 1 Corinthians 16:15-24
Discussion Audio (1h07m)

Paul continues winding down the letter. In these last few paragraphs Paul brings up Stephanas and his example. He sends greetings from the Christians in Asia Minor, and then from himself.

Paul exhorts the Corinthians to recognize and follow Stephanas as a Christian leader among them. Not because Stephanas exhibits traditional leadership characteristics such as vision, ambition, or gregariousness, but because he has, over time, demonstrated his willingness to love and serve his fellow brothers and sisters. The rallying cry for Christians is not “follow the one who leads” but rather, “follow the one who serves.” Not only Stephanas, but his entire household is commended as those whom the Corinthian Christians ought to follow and support. This would include Stephanas, his wife, and household servants, slaves, and freedmen. Christian leadership is not limited to those whom society, culture, or tradition regards as “leadership worthy,” or to those that a formal hierarchy or organization appoints, but to anyone who demonstrates self-giving service. Neither is this service is not limited to social assistance type work, but to any service gifted by the Spirit (including teaching and preaching).

The last few sentences are greetings to the Corinthians. In spite of all the problems found in the Corinthian church, Paul loves them. He desires that genuine reconciliation come about amongst the feuding parties. The Christian community is one, in spite of all the problems and differences.

Essay 6—Closing Remarks—(6.a) Finance for Ministry

Outline: 032-E6.a-Finance for the Ministry
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:58-16:14
Discussion Audio (1h07m)

The closing of the First Epistle covers a few miscellaneous topics. The first two regards financing and travels. These two topics feature in the first half of chapter 16.

The topic of financing is not about general giving or collections, but about some specific needs. The first need is one that regards the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul’s desire is that through participation in bringing relief to Jerusalem, the Jewish and Gentile Christians will come to a better understanding of one another, that they are one in Christ, and that they are not at odds.

The second need is for Paul himself. He desires to travel to new areas, but needs financing to do so. He expects the Corinthian church to help him in this respect. Earlier he had to defend his refusal to accept pay for ministry, but here he is requesting aid. The difference? While ministering in a location, he is able to work and fund himself, but while traveling he is unable to do so. In addition, acceptance of pay means some degree of control over him by those paying him. On the other hand acceptance of travel funds (especially if his destination is not disclosed) hold no strings over his ministry.

The third need is for Timothy. Paul is sending Timothy to Corinth, but he tells the Corinthians that it is their responsibility to send Timothy back.

All of this comes from Paul’s missiology. First, those funding the missionary do not get a say in how or where ministry happens. Second, the first step for a missionary is to come in need to those whom he or she ministers. Third, the people who have enjoyed the benefits of a missionary have a responsibility to send her or him back.

Looking at Paul’s missiology I sense that there is a significant difference between his principles and modern mission principles. Modern missions goes in well-funded, primarily to give, and funders want to know how and where their funds will be used. Maybe this isn’t all bad, but maybe there are some things missions can learn from how Paul practiced it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Essay 5—Resurrection—(5) Victory

Outline: 031-E5.5-Resurrection-Victory
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
Discussion Audio (50m)

The Resurrection is the assurance, confidence, and power
that drives the work of Christian mission.

Jesus didn’t stay dead and buried. If he had, Christianity probably would be just a footnote (if at all) in any number of Jewish sects that have come and gone.  But Jesus didn’t stay dead.

No, Jesus rose from the grave and was witnessed in bodily form by hundreds. That is the assurance that life, the power of the love of God, has defeated death. This is the confidence that death will be swallowed up in victory. And this is the power that drives the mission work of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power that has sustained Christianity for nearly two-thousand years. It is this power that will continue to sustain it until our Lord Jesus Christ returns.

Because destruction of death is certain there is nothing in this world that can derail the gospel work. In confidence Paul can write this doxology, “As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15:58 CEB) The physical lives of Christians may be interrupted temporarily by physical death, but no work of service given for our Lord Jesus Christ is ever in vain. We can stand firm and steadfast on that certainty.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sermon: The Power of Christ’s Resurrection

Lectionary, Year A, Second Sunday of Easter

What is the power of the resurrection
and why is it important for Christians today?

This is a sermon given at the First Presbyterian Church in Petersburg, AK on April 27, 2014. The sermon explores topics of sin, fear, gospel, and the bodily resurrection. I give some reasons why I believe the disciples’ fears turned to joy when they saw that Jesus was resurrected bodily, and why this is the central piece of the apostles’ proclamation of the gospel.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Essay 5—Resurrection—(4) Nature of the Resurrected Body

Outline: 030-E5.4-Resurrection-Nature of Body
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:35-50
Discussion Audio (42m)

The Resurrection is not primarily about an afterlife,
but about the process of transformation
that begins in the present time.

The Corinthian Christians were so appalled by the idea of rotting corpses coming to life (known today as “zombies”) that they were on the verge of rejecting the doctrine of the resurrection altogether. Part of it had to do with the Greek philosophy of dualism of spirit and body, in which the spirit was good and the body, evil. Where one of the reasons for this life was to shed the evil body to release the “good” spirit. The Corinthian Christians were likely influenced by this philosophy.

Paul argues throughout in 1 Corinthians 15 that there is no existence apart from a body. There is no “spirit” that continues apart from a body. In vv. 35-50 Paul further explains the nature of bodies and more specifically, the nature of the resurrected body.

Paul employs a variety of parables (or analogies) to show that there are a variety of bodies: plants, animals, humans, and celestial bodies. Through these analogies he shows that the “body” is not synonymous with “flesh”. He shows that the “body” is not evil. He explains that at the present time, human bodies are composed of “flesh” that is perishable, but that it is still not evil. He explains that the nature of bodies change from one type of existence to another (the parable of the seed and plant). He explains that Christian bodies will be changed from one form (perishable flesh) to another (imperishable, spiritual bodies). But in all cases, there will be a body – a body that is most suitable to each type of existence, as determined by God.

Paul uses the analogies of the two Adams to further explain the two different types of human bodies: one is for the present, earthly existence; and a different one for the eternal, spiritual existence. The spiritual existence is not immaterial and ethereal, but just like the resurrected Christ’s it will be substantial and physical – just not perishable flesh. Just as Christ’s death and resurrection transformed the nature of his body, a Christian experiences transformation of the body at the resurrection.

Paul explains in v. 49 that the process of resurrection is primarily about transformation. The Resurrection of Christ is the evidence of the power of God to transform people in mind, spirit, and finally, body. Christians are participating in the Resurrection in their present lives, in their present bodies as their mind and spirit are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Resurrection does not necessarily require a physical death, as v. 51 will show. But a transformation is necessary. A transformation of being is necessary so that when Christ returns, the perishable body can be replaced by an imperishable one. Christ is the life-giver who gives a new body to all who belong to him.

Christians participate in the work of Christ’s Resurrection as they allow themselves to be transformed by Christ’s Spirit, and as they bring the power of transformation to the people and the world around them. The kingdom of God, eternal life, begins today.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Essay 5—Resurrection—(3) Ethics

Outline: 029-E5.3-Resurrection-Ethics
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:29-34
Discussion Audio (58m)

The proof of a resurrected life in a Christian
is whether or not their lives contribute
to the improvement of lives around them.

In the heart of Essay Five Paul discusses aspects of the ethics of a Christian life. He utilizes ad hominem argumentation to demonstrate the absurdity that results if the Corinthian position is assumed to be true.

There are at least two issues as we deal with this passage. The first is that verse 29 (baptism for the dead) is one of the most unusual and difficult texts to interpret. I’ve read that there are anywhere from a couple of dozen to over two-hundred different interpretations that have been suggested for this verse. The second issue is that the specific problems and applications of ethics given are far removed from 21st century American life. How are we to take what Paul has written and understand it as something meaningful in our Christian lives?

The two most viable explanations (in my mind) that have been offered in regards to verse 29 both understand the “baptism for the dead” to NOT mean “someone being baptized vicariously on the behalf of someone who has died.” In the first explanation the “dead” refers to the physical body that symbolically “dies” during the baptism ritual.

So understood, a translation might read, "Otherwise [i.e., if there is not a future resurrection] what will those being baptized accomplish for the corpses? If corpses are not raised at all, why are they being baptized for them?" Here, in agreement with the Greek fathers, corpses refer to the bodies of the people being baptized. If in baptism one's body is immersed in water (dying and being buried with Christ) in hope of being united with Christ in a resurrection like his, if there is no future resurrection, then what is the point of the baptismal liturgy? The common Christian experience of baptism demands belief in a future resurrection.[1]

The second explanation does mean the “dead” to refer to someone (e.g., a family member) who has died, but explains “baptized for the dead” to mean that the person being baptized is doing so (going through conversion) in the hope of becoming reunited with their loved ones at Christ’s return.[2]

The absurdity Paul points out then is that if there is no (bodily) resurrection, as the Corinthians assert, then there is no point to baptism, because first, the ritual of baptism assumes a bodily resurrection. Second, if people are converting to Christianity in the hopes of becoming reunited with their dead loved ones, if there is no resurrection, there is no point in the conversion. Paul has already argued that if there is no bodily resurrection, there is no Christianity – it is all a lie. So the very act of going through baptism proclaims the reality of a future, bodily resurrection.

The next point is that the very fact that Paul and the apostles are willing to subject themselves to privations and sufferings is proof that the resurrection is fact. Paul argues that if it were not, why would he place himself in danger, face the reality of death every day, and do battle with “beasts”? (The “beasts” should be understood metaphorically as those who oppose Christian teachings.) It is because he believes in the gospel: the death, burial, and most of all, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If the resurrection is false or even merely metaphorical, then there is no hope. Sin and death have won the victory at the Cross. God has lost. Evil has triumphed over good. Self-centeredness has overcome self-sacrificing love. Jesus should have accepted Satan’s deal (at the Temptation). People should live each day doing their best to drown out despair and sorrow, because that’s all there is.

But the resurrection is true. Life has overcome Death. Love has overcome self-preservation. Good will triumph over all evil. God has won. This is the gospel. This is why Paul is able to endure and find joy, even when he is harassed and placed in danger and harmed.

Because Paul believes in the victory at the Resurrection, he is able to believe in the destruction of death at the end of time. Because Paul believes good will triumph over evil, he does not succumb to despair and hopelessness. Instead he works with all his might to bring the gospel and be an agent of hopeful change to all he reaches. He is willing to take on the character of God, in spite of all the problems and dangers that brings, to show the world what genuine strength looks like.

Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians is for them to live in the same way: to look out for the good of one another and to be agents of good in the present time. Resurrection has both present and future components. Redemption begins here and now. Christian life, eternal life, is not only about the future, but about the present; in fact, there is no future life if it does not being now, in this world, in this physical body.

Probably because most people have had such a difficult time knowing what to do with v.29, there has been a strange silence in the church with regard to this paragraph. Yet it stands as one of the more significant texts pointing to a genuine relationship between what one believes about the future and how one behaves in the present (c.f. 2 Pet. 2-3). This is not to say that the future is the only motivation for correct behavior, but it is to plead that it is a proper one because it ultimately has to do with the nature and character of God. We should be living in this world as those whose confidence in the final vindication of Christ through our own resurrection determines the present.[3]

What kind of lives are we living today? Is it merely motions of Christian rituals? Or are we putting in our best efforts to improve the lives of all those around us?

[1] Reading the New Testament: Corinthians, entry for 1 Cor. 15:20-32.

[2] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, quoting Thiselton; location 5319.

[3] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 15:34.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Essay 5—Resurrection—(2) The End of All Things

Outline: 028-E5.2-Resurrection-End of All Things
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:21-28
Discussion Audio (1h21m)

The Resurrection is the gospel.
Everything else is secondary.

Paul continues the discussion of the centrality of Christ’s bodily Resurrection, witnessed by hundreds of human eyes, to Christianity. It is the one event that distinguishes Christianity from all other belief systems and philosophies. Many martyrs have died. But only one has risen. Death does not define Christianity. Life does.

For Paul, the Time of the End begins with Christ’s resurrection. It assures him that Death has been defeated and it is in the process of being destroyed, along with all earthly rule, powers, and authorities. When Christ returns, the destruction of death will be complete, never to return. The resurrection of all who have died “in Christ” is its visible proof that death has given up its dead.

Readers need to be careful to note that Paul does not address the question of what happens to those who have died prior to Christ, or who have died without knowing Christ. His audience is the Corinthian believers who hold in common the knowledge about and resurrection of Christ. To use this passage to teach that only those who are Christians will be saved misses the point.

It must be noted at the outset that the general resurrection of the dead is not Paul's concern, neither here nor elsewhere in the argument.[1]

Another point to note is that Paul’s focus is not eschatological chronology, but the logical process of eschatology. In other words, the Christ’s resurrection as the firstfruit logically guarantees that all who have died in Christ must be resurrected. And the resurrection of believers is logical proof that death and all powers logically resulting from death have been destroyed.

The crucifixion of Christ shows the power of sin and death. If it ended there, sin and death could claim victory over God, life, and love. That’s why the resurrection, and not the cross, is the center of Christianity. That’s why the resurrection, and not the cross, is the focus of the gospel. The resurrection is the power of God at work to destroy sin and death.

Paul is thereby saying to his readers, “If Christ is not raised, then this vision of the end of all things is a lie. But Christ is raised, and we the apostles have seen him. If you deny him as the reigning Lord, you are the losers.”[2]

The Resurrection is about more than just Easter.

Christians and Christian Churches should perhaps consider focusing more on the Resurrection and less on the Cross. The Christian faith should focus more on life and less on death. Easter should be celebrated far more often than just on Easter Sunday.

This is one of the great passages in the NT… in terms of the true significance of Easter. It is therefore unfortunate that at times this powerful demonstration of the certainty of our own resurrection is overlooked in favor of an apologetic of trying to prove the resurrection to unbelievers. First of all, that is not what Paul is trying to do. What he has going for him is the common ground of their common faith in the resurrection of Christ. There is a place for apologetics, that is, the defense of Christianity to the unconverted; but Easter is not that place. Easter, which should be celebrated more frequently in the church, and not just at the Easter season, calls for our reaffirming the faith to the converted. The resurrection of Christ has determined our existence for all time and eternity. We do not merely live out our length of days and then have the hope of resurrection as an addendum; rather, as Paul makes plain in this passage, Christ's resurrection has set in motion a chain of inexorable events that absolutely determines our present and our future.[3]

[1] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 15:21-22.

[2] Bailey, location 5289.

[3] NICNT, entry for 15:28.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Essay 5—Resurrection—(1) Message and Validity of Faith

Outline: 027-E5.1-Resurrection-Faith
Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:1-20
Discussion Audio (1h14m)

Without the bodily resurrection of Jesus,
nothing else in Christianity makes sense --
Not even the Cross.

Paul is addressing yet another problem and misunderstanding within the Christian believers of Corinth. Partly based on their disdain for the physical body (body-spirit dualism from Greek philosophy) they accepted the idea of a resurrection, but rejected a resurrection into a physical body. And possibly based on their overrealized eschatology, they may have believed that they were already “spiritually resurrected” with their baptism.

This is a passage that modern English readers can misinterpret due to our assumption that “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (15:12b) means that there is no resurrection at all. But that is not what the Corinthians meant and not what Paul would have heard. What they meant was that “there is no bodily, physical resurrection of the dead.” The Corinthians still believed in at least the concept of a resurrection and some kind of existence after death. It is the nature of the resurrection and existence that was in question.

Paul’s first defense of the bodily resurrection is that all the apostles teach it. He reminds the Corinthians that when he first came to them, this is the gospel that he taught them and that one that they accepted and believed.

His second defense of the bodily resurrection is that if it is not true, then nothing about Christianity is true, because it all rises or falls on the veracity of the hundreds of witness accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Here is another mistake modern Christians make with this passage. It is used as an apologetics for the resurrection against unbelievers. That is not the point of this passage. Paul writes with the assumption that there is a resurrection. He does not try to prove it. His argument is with the nature of the resurrection.

… Paul will next turn to a direct confrontation with the Corinthians over their denial of the resurrection of the dead. The nature of that argument makes it plain that the purpose of this opening paragraph is not to prove Christ’s resurrection but to reestablish that fundamental premise as the common denominator from which to argue with them… The reason for the catalogue of witnesses is therefore not to prove that Jesus rose but to emphasize that the resurrection of Christ, which they believed, had objective reality…

On the other hand, there are those who use this passage to try to prove the Resurrection to unbelievers. What they fail to recognize is that such “proofs” are valid only to those who believe.[1]

Paul explains the “essential” of the gospel in 15:3b-5a. It is the death, burial, resurrection of Jesus and the many witnesses to the events. The focus of the gospel is the resurrection, not the death. The focus of the gospel is not payment for sins, punishment for sins, or satisfying the “wrath of God,” but in the power of God to overcome and destroy the power of Sin, i.e., Death.

(See my previous post on why Paul does not teach the penal-substitution theory of the atonement.)

Kenneth Bailey writes:

This is another case where the third-party substitutionary theory of the atonement, with its focus on penalty, can lead astray. Imagine a scenario in which God takes Jesus to heaven seconds after the great cry, “It is finished.” Had that happened, would there be any salvation for believers? If the focus is on penalty, then of course there is salvation because “Jesus paid it all…” Does that not mean that the great work of salvation is completed? Not for Paul. For him, without the resurrection all faith is futile and believers are still in their sins. As noted, the central focus is rescue, not penalty. Without the resurrection the death of Jesus is like the death of John the Baptist. If there is no resurrection, Jesus is one more rabbi who tried to renew Israel and failed…

The resurrection affirms that sin and death do not have the last word. At the cross the finest religion of the ancient world (Judaism), and the finest system of justice of the ancient world (Rome), joined to torture this good man to death. These were not evil forces. They were the best institutions the ancient world had to offer, and yet together they produced the cross. But that was not the end. After the cross came the victory of resurrection…[2]

Rev. Russell Rathbun writes in his lectionary discussion on Lazarus’ resurrection (“When Resurrections Go Bad,” posted March 30, 2014; John 11:1-45):

The core of the Christian faith is the proclamation that, Christ has risen. It is way different when Jesus does it. Jesus defeats death—death no longer has power. Jesus ushers in the fullness of life for all. Jesus returns from the dead not to punish his murderers, but to redeem them. Jesus’ resurrection brings a new life. This is the gospel. [Emphasis mine.]

I’ve often felt that too much of modern Christianity is obsessed with the death of Christ, with sins, with the so-called payment for sins, with satisfying some kind of demand placed by the wrath of God, with hell and punishment. First Corinthians 15 and Paul’s writings should be seen in their proper light. The gospel is not about the cross, but about the resurrection. It is not about death, but victory over death. Humankind, fallen under the power of Sin and Death, killed Jesus, and tried to kill God. But the good news – the gospel – is that the power of God is greater than the power of Sin. The resurrection is proof of that power.

[1] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 15:11.

[2] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, location 5203-5212.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Christus Victor in 1 Corinthians 15

What did Paul mean when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins”? [1 Cor. 15:3; italics supplied.] This is part of our study for this Saturday (March 29). As a preview, this is a little of what Ken Bailey writes in Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.[1]

“Christ died because of our sins” is the preferred (legitimate) Arabic translation of this text…

Theologian Miroslav Volf has written,

“Let us beware that some accounts of what it means for Christ to have died on behalf of the ungodly—what theologians sometimes call his “substitutionary” death—are deeply problematic. If we view Christ on the cross as a third party being punished for the sins of transgressors, we have widely missed the mark…”

William Temple points out that the New Testament always starts with the love of God, not his wrath. He writes,

“… So the forgiveness that Christ wins for us is not chiefly a remission of penalty; it is the restoration to the affectionate intimacy of sons with their Father…”

God is angry at sin, but, as Temple argues,

“[God’s anger] is not anger, if by anger we mean the emotional reaction of an offended self-concern; it is anger, if by anger we mean the resolute and relentless opposition of a will set on righteousness against a will directed elsewhere… He seeks to abolish sinners by winning them out of their sin into the loyalty and love of children in their Father’s home… It is only through preoccupation with thoughts of punishment that people have come to invent doctrines of transferred penalty…”

Suffering is the divine choice in which we participate. Temple writes,

“There are two ways of expressing antagonism to sin; one is to inflict suffering on the sinner, the other is to endure suffering…”

The issue is the reform of the sinner. Temple concludes,

“Fear of punishment might deter me from sinful action, but it could not change my sinful desires… But to realize what my selfishness means to the Father who loves me with a love such as Christ reveals, fills me with horror of the selfishness and calls out an answering love… We plead His Passion, not as a transferred penalty, but as an act of self-sacrifice which re-makes us in its own likeness.”

What Bailey describes by quoting Volf and Temple is Christus Victor – where the atonement is not about paying the penalty but about love transcending the demands of the law, and where love transforms wrath into grace and mercy, so that sinners may recognize and accept the power to transform into Christlikeness. The resurrection is the most vital part of the gospel because it is proof that love has conquered death and the grave.

[1] Bailey, locations 5118-5169.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(6,7) Silence During Worship

Outline: 026-E4.6-Silence During Worship
Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:26-40
Discussion Audio (1h04m)

Respect one another’s rights to
speak, listen, and learn during public worship.

The present passage includes verses that are sometimes pointed to as “proof” that women are to remain silent in church and, by inference, that they are not to take part in leading public worship (vv.34-35, 37). I found it an curious coincidence that discussion of this passage fell precisely on this year’s International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014.

There are many problems with using these verses to support the idea that women must maintain a lesser role in public worship. The first is that in the immediately preceding set of verses (vv.26-33), both the tongues-speaker and prophets are instructed to “remain silent” (v.28) or “be silent” (v.30) under certain conditions. The women are instructed to “keep silent” (v.34) as a third group in the series. The problem for modern interpreters is that Paul does not appear to provide any limiting circumstances in the text itself.

In our study we have already established that women did prophesy and lead in public worship (11:5). The second problem then is that Paul would appear to be contradicting himself if (vv.34-35) is interpreted as literal and universal.

A third problem is that in its context, what is frequently translated as “women” is, in this case, best translated as “wives.” This means that at the very least, unmarried women are not included in Paul’s instruction.

The final problem I note here is with the “command” Paul refers to in v.37. Frequently for those who wish to “prove” that Paul issued women’s silence in worship as a binding and universal command will point to this verse. On the surface it could be read as pointing back to its immediate antecedent, which is indeed the command to remain silent and ask their husbands at home. But when the entire rhetoric of vv.37-40 is viewed, the command most likely refers to the command that love be the context for all Christian activity that is found in chapter 13 (see diagram, from Bailey, location 4954).


The crux for interpreting, understanding, and applying this passage comes in v.33a, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” This appears to be a hinge verse that summarizes why the gifts of tongues and prophecy must be employed in a controlled manner, such that in some cases silence is necessary. It also introduces that reason why Paul instructs wives to remain silent. The Christian wives in the Corinthian church were disrupting worship and causing confusion, preventing other worshipers from hearing and learning.

Kenneth Bailey provides, in great depth, a reconstruction of what he believes was happening in the Corinthian church, based upon his experiences among the present-day peoples of the area. This is found in Chapter 4.7, “Women and Men Worshiping: No Chatting in Church”, of Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. His line of thought, briefly, is thus:

  1. The Corinthian church was perhaps the most diverse in composition – including those fluent in Greek and those with just enough to get by
  2. Some of those speaking during worship may have had strong accents of a non-native Greek speaker – making understanding difficult for some hearers – thus they might inquire amongst themselves what they were hearing
  3. Due to their cultural upbringing, women were handicapped with a very short attention span, as short as fifteen seconds
  4. When they were not being directly addressed and/or didn’t understand what was being said, they would quickly begin chatting amongst themselves
  5. Men and women may have sat separately. If this was the case, wives may have shouted across the divide to their husbands to ask them to explain
  6. Therefore, the wives are instructed to respect the others in worship and remain silent and ask questions once at home
  7. In a predominantly oral culture, as soon as the speaker pauses the audience begins discussing the subject amongst themselves. It is particularly prominent in women’s gatherings. It is their way of learning and retaining information.
  8. Paul’s instruction is not that women should stop participating, speaking, and leading worship. Paul’s instruction is that they should keep quiet so that everyone is afforded the opportunity to hear what the speaker is saying.

C. H. Talbert, in Reading Corinthians, summarizing 1 Corinthians 11-14 writes:

On the one hand, the Corinthian spirituals contended that some gifts were better than others; indicated that they wanted the higher gifts; took the position that tongues were a sign for unbelievers, prophecy for believers; and held that women should not occupy a leadership role in Christian worship. On the other hand, the apostle argued that there are a variety of gifts and that each one makes its own contribution to the common good; showed love to be the indispensable motivation for the manifesting of any gift; insisted that understandable speech is mandatory in corporate worship for both believer and unbeliever; and stood firm for the principle that Christian corporate worship is not a male-dominated enterprise.[1]

Nowhere in 1 Corinthians does Paul give a universal command, applicable to all places, peoples and times, that women and men have different roles in the church.[2] Paul affirms the right of women to lead, speak, and teach the entire church during public worship.

To see it otherwise is terribly faulty and holds dire consequences for the integrity and health of the church. To maintain practices that divide the service of men and women in the church is, in effect, doing that which the Corinthians were being corrected by Paul – condoning and encouraging divisions, creating a class of people that were considered “more spiritual” by the nature of gifts. Paul would be appalled.

The message of this passage is clear and simple: When in public worship, respect one another. Show love by remaining silent when others are speaking so that those around you can listen and learn. Nothing more, nothing less.

[1] Reading the New Testament: Reading Corinthians, 1 Cor. 14:20-36, “Conclusion”.

[2] And I hasten to add that such instruction is not found in any of the remaining undisputed Pauline writings.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(5) Spiritual Gifts in the Body

Outline: 025-E4.5-Spiritual Gifts in the Body
Passage: 1 Corinthians 14:1-25
Discussion Audio (1h14m)

Public Worship Should be Inclusive and Participatory

Paul returns to the discussion of tongues and prophecy in the first half of chapter 14. It is easy to see the point of this section as the better value of prophecy over tongues. However, in the overall context of the entire essay and in particular the corresponding portion of the chiastic pair found in chapter 12, the thesis of this passage is around the appropriate use of spiritual gifts in public (corporate) worship. Tongues and prophecy happen to be the two examples that Paul picks up and uses in this passage because both involve speaking, and the Corinthian believers (at least some of them) considered one (tongues) more “spiritual” than all other gifts.

A couple of other questionable conclusions sometimes drawn from this passage are: 1) that this passage is defining the theology of the spiritual gift of tongues[1]; and 2) that tongues are less valuable, and possibly even bad/evil, because the use of tongues is selfish[2] and/or does not engage the mind.[3]

The most important contextual point to keep in mind during the reading and interpretation of this passage is that Paul’s parenesis is directed at what happens during public worship. Private devotions are not a concern here.

The first part of this passage (vv.1-5) discuss the purpose of each gift. Tongues are for uttering to God mysteries that human language cannot convey. Prophecy is for uttering messages from God for the edification of the entire community. Since tongues edify only the individual and prophecy edifies the entire assembly, Paul’s preference is for prophecy in public worship.

The reason for prophecy is that it speaks "edification, exhortation and comfort" to the rest of the people. These three words set forth the parameters of the divine intent of prophecy, and probably indicate that in Paul's view the primary focus of a prophetic utterance is not the future, but the present situations of the people of God.[4]

The second part (vv.6-12) provides a number of different illustrations in which Paul shows that intelligibility is necessary in public worship. The parable of the foreign languages is sometimes used as a basis for defining the gift of tongues as the ability to speak foreign languages, but the context does not support this interpretation.

The analogy is not that the tongues-speaker is also speaking a foreign language, as some have suggested,  but that the hearer cannot understand the one speaking in tongues any more than he can the one who speaks a foreign language.[5]

In the third and final part (vv.13-25) Paul discusses why intelligibility is necessary in public worship. Worship is a communal experience. Everything that takes place should be done in a manner that invites participation from all present. If some people cannot understand what is going on, they are unable to participate. This goes against the purpose of unity of fellowship through worship. Not only are all invited to participate, but all are expected to participate.[6] In this section also, Paul affirms the value of the gift of tongues, but in public worship it must be made intelligible through the presence of an interpreter.

Verse 22 contains words that pose difficulties for interpretation. It is commentary on verse 21, but its sense is not immediately clear. C.H. Talbert offers one possibility.[7] He sees verses 21 and 22 as assertions being made by some of the Corinthian believers and verses 23-25 as Paul’s response against the assertions. In this interpretation the Corinthians are asserting that tongues are a sign from God as proof to unbelievers of their spirituality. Prophecy, on the other hand, is not for unbelievers because mysteries of God are only for believers. Paul turns their assertion upside down. He writes that when unbelievers see them speaking in tongues, they will associate it with the madness of pagan cultic worship. Intelligible words of prophecy work to convict all who hear, so it is more desirable in public worship.

The other alternative sees Paul’s position reflected in the whole of verses 21-25. In this interpretation, “signs” are a manifestation of God that can mean either blessing or judgment. Paul agrees that tongues are certainly from God, but when unbelievers and outsiders hear it, they won’t understand and instead of drawing them toward God, they will see this as madness and something to stay away from. Thus tongues, instead of having a good effect, has the negative effect of forcing people away from God and into judgment. On the other hand prophecy is also from God, but the utterances are understandable by all. It has the effect of bringing conviction to outsiders and unbelievers (who choose to come to a church assembly – this isn’t about general evangelism outside of a church setting) so that they are moved away from judgment into the community of grace; i.e., building up the church. The “sign” of God’s favor is the building up of the church through the conviction of unbelievers and outsiders, not manifestations of the Spirit.

Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians is about some of the principles of public (corporate) worship. It is not primarily a discussion about spiritual gifts, such as tongues and prophecy. The primary principle is that worship must be intelligible to all. Secondary principles arise out the primary: that it must be inclusive (believers, unbelievers, those who are well-versed in Christianity, and those who are not); and that it should be participatory (there are no spectators, all are invited to preach and teach as God directs). Whatever takes place during corporate worship must be edifying to the entire assembly. No one should be excluded.

For the 21st century church a major application I see is in the form of a question. How do our assumptions about religious topics, liturgy, language (jargon), etc. exclude people from participating in worship? How can we turn corporate worship from a primarily spectator activity into a participatory one?

At the same time Paul's clear preference for prophetic utterances is often neglected throughout the church. By prophecy of course, as the full evidence of this chapter makes clear, he does not mean a prepared sermon, but the spontaneous word given to God's people for the edification of the whole. Most contemporary churches would have to be radically reconstructed in terms of their self-understanding for such to take place.[8]

[1] That is not to say one can derive part of a theology of tongues from this passage.

[2] 14:4, “build up himself” (ESV). In response Gordon Fee writes (New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, 14:2-4) “The edifying of oneself is not self- centeredness, but the personal edifying of the believer that comes through private prayer and praise.”

[3] 14:14, “my mind is unfruitful” (ESV).

[4] NICNT, 1 Cor. 14:2-4.

[5] NICNT, 1 Cor. 14:10-11.

[6] 14:24, “But if all prophesy,” with the implication that Paul assumes all present could prophesy if they so desired and God enabled them to do so – but not that all must prophesy or that all will.

[7] Reading the New Testament Series: Reading Corinthians, 1 Cor. 14-20-36.

[8] NICNT, 1 Cor. 14:5

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(4) The Way of Love

Outline: 024-E4.4-The Way of Love
Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1a
Discussion Audio (1h29m)

It’s not “love vs. gifts” but “love and gifts”

In many ways this section is what Paul has been leading up to in this letter. Although chapter 13 is frequently read as a standalone passage, and the overall rhetoric of the letter doesn’t seem to require it, examination of its details show that Paul tailored the topic and language to specifically direct attention to the problems in the Corinthian church. Gordon Fee writes,

Unfortunately, however, the love affair with this love chapter has also allowed it to be read regularly apart from its context, which does not make it less true but causes one to miss too much. Even worse is that reading of it in context which sees it as set over against "spiritual gifts." Paul would wince.[1]

One way in which this chapter has been misread (in conjunction with misreading chapter 12 on spiritual gifts, particularly 12:28 as a hierarchy of gifts) is that chapter 13 is describing something (i.e., love) better than spiritual gifts. This reading pits love against the spiritual gifts. It devalues spiritual gifts as something that is nice to have but really not necessary, because love is the most important thing for a Christian to pursue and have.

This is a terrible misreading and misinterpretation. Fee writes,

Thus it is not "love versus gifts" that Paul has in mind, but "love as the only context for gifts"; for without the former, the latter have no usefulness at all—but then neither does much of anything else in the Christian life…[2]

Love is not an idea for Paul, not even a "motivating factor" for behavior.  It is behavior. To love is to act; anything short of action is not love at all. Second, love is not set over against the gifts, precisely because it belongs in a different category altogether. For Paul it is not "gifts to be sure, but better yet love"; rather, love is the way in which the gifts are to function. To desire earnestly expressions of the Spirit that will build up the community is how love acts in this context.[3]

As I was preparing for the discussion on this passage, what really resonated were two sentences I read from Fee (above): “Love is not an idea for Paul, not even a ‘motivating factor’ for behavior.  It is behavior.” So often I’ve heard and have been taught that “Christian action must be motivated by love” or something similar to that. What I read from Fee turned this understanding upside down. For a Christian, “I do this because I love you” is a non-starter. It’s not a valid reason. Love simply acts. It doesn’t ponder motivations. If a Christian has to motivate herself or himself “because of love” then it isn’t love. This idea is genuinely convicting and something that is difficult, not only to live out, but even to accept.

There are many interesting things in this passage in regards to language, imagery, and historical-cultural context that the outline lists in more detail.

The main point Paul is attempting to make is that, for the Christian, there are permanent things and there are temporary things. Love belongs to the former and spiritual gifts belong to the latter. Love will continue throughout eternity whereas spiritual gifts will cease once God is revealed in his fullness at the completion of the Eschaton. What this implies is the purpose of spiritual gifts.

The Corinthian Christians seemed to think that manifestations of spiritual gifts were an end to themselves. They were the sign – in particular, manifestation of tongues – of having achieved spiritual maturity (completeness, perfection). Paul turns around their thinking: the presence of spiritual gifts is a sign that completeness has not yet arrived. Their very purpose is to reveal a partial picture of God in order to build up the church, for the common good of the community. In their pursuit of spiritual gifts, they had forgotten love and the church had become divided.

The solution to their problems (and ours): love. Not love as reciprocating goodness or positive feelings toward another, but love as actively participating in doing what it takes (which sometimes means refraining from taking hurtful actions that human nature might desire toward others) to seek the common good, to build up the church community. Spiritual gifts are valuable and necessary, but they are merely part of the “toolset” to be used in exercising love.

One must not mistake this emphasis with a devaluation of the gifts themselves. The fact is that we are still in the present; and therefore in chap. 14 Paul will go on not only to correct an imbalance with regard to the gifts, but to urge their proper use. Pursue love (14:1), he says, because that alone is forever (13:8, 13); but that also means that in the present you should eagerly desire manifestations of the Spirit that build up the community (14:1–5).[4]

[1] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, “3. The More Excellent Way (13:1-13)”

[2] NICNT, 1 Cor. 12:31

[3] NICNT, “3. The More Excellent Way (13:1-13)”

[4] NICNT, “c. The permanence of love (13:8-13)”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(3) Spiritual Gifts and the Body

Outline: 023-E4.3-Spiritual Gifts and the Body
Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1-30
Discussion Audio (1h09m)

Unity of the body requires diversity of its members.

Another problem in the Corinthian church appears to have been their overvaluing of the ecstatic gifts, particularly of “tongues,” over all other gifts. So much so that it was seen as the sign of true spirituality, of having “arrived.” In the process people in the church who did not show this sign may have been told “we don’t need you.” Perhaps in not so many words, but in the attitudes toward them. In addition, the problem between the haves and have-nots from the previous section, the disorder around the Lord’s Supper, may be playing a part here. The haves may have felt they were sufficient to themselves and they did not need the have-nots.

Whatever the precise nature of the problem, Paul writes a corrective: all members are necessary to the health and building up of the body of Christ.

Christ here is not the name of an individual, Jesus, but of the community that derives its existence and identity from the individual. Just as in the Old Testament Israel could serve as the name of an individual (Gen 32:28) and of a people, so in Paul the name Christ is used both for the individual (1 Cor 2:2; Rom 5:17) and for the Christian community (1 Cor 15:22).[1]

Paul writes to the Corinthians that the gifts are not signs of anything – he reminds them that in pagan worship, there are signs of ecstasy – but are tools given by the Spirit for the common good. It is only the appropriate use of these gifts that is evidence of the type of spirituality of the person exhibiting the gift.

It is in this context that Paul introduces an extended “parable of the body.” It speaks both to those who might feel marginalized as well as those who assert self-sufficiency. All parts of the body are necessary. All are equally valuable. The head is not more valuable than the feet. The head cannot sustain itself without the mouth and the rest of the digestive system.

The center of the parable is the statement, “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (v.18, ESV). There is no hierarchy of gifts. Every member is interdependent on another. One has no more authority than another. Verse 28 begins, “And God has appointed…” Ken Bailey writes:

The emphasis is again on “God has appointed.” Paul is not discussing elected church officers or natural abilities, but spiritual gifts.[2]

Bailey also writes that the principle of mutual interdependency can be applied beyond a single congregation to include all congregations:

The emphasis is on the problem of self-sufficiency. This cameo can be understood to reach beyond the status of individual Christians and apply also congregations… [Congregations] needed each other… The strong tendency then and now was and is for each tradition to become self-sufficient and say to the rest of the Christian world, “We do not need you! We have our own language, liturgy, history, theology, tradition and culture. All we need we find within ourselves.” … God’s Spirit is not promised uniquely to us in our divergent organizational structures, but in our faithfulness to the one body of Christ. The sin condemned is not pride but self-sufficiency. The deepest problem is not, “I am better than you” but rather, “I don’t need you.” … God has made us so that we will need each other. No church is an island.[4]

Human nature leads us to associate with people with whom we find much in common, i.e., people like us. We prefer uniformity. It is more comfortable. Denominations form around what is common. Denominations strive to maintain what are core and common. Large congregations feel they can minister to their communities by themselves. There is a temptation for congregations and denominations to think of themselves as “specially chosen by God” so that all other churches are “less-than” and not really necessary. Maybe not explicitly, but often subconsciously. In public we might say that all churches are valuable and fulfilling God’s purpose, but do we sometimes think “we don’t need you” in the privacy of our minds?

Paul writes that all Christians, from individuals members to distinct congregations, are all necessary. Each one has been placed there specifically according to God’s purpose. Diversity of beliefs and practices are necessary for the unity of the body of Christ and for its upbuilding.

The “parable of the body” ends with a discussion of the “unmentionables” – the genitals, the reproductive organs of the body. Ken Bailey observes that the body which cannot reproduce will die.[4] Based upon this observation he suggests that evangelism is like sex (my interpretation). He provides the following seven points in support[5]:

  1. Evangelism is primary a very private affair
  2. Evangelism involves deep personal relations
  3. Evangelism is intended to be sacred and honorable
  4. Long-term commitments are assumed
  5. Personal advantage must never be involved
  6. Evangelism must always be motivated by love, not by a will to power
  7. The fact the Paul repeats this theme four times in a row is surely indicative of its importance

In fact then, spiritual gifts is not really the main focus of this passage. Paul is trying to focus his readers away from the specifics of gifts to the mutual interdependency of actions that take place within the church. When something happens to a member of the body, the whole body is affected, for good or for bad. No one can be over another because every member has equal value and every ministry is equally necessary. No one can claim a role based on birth, social status, ethnicity, or even gender because it is God who determines where he places a person and what gift will be given to fulfill his purposes.

Spiritual gifts are not roles or abilities.
They are actions that build up the body of Christ.

[1] Reading Corinthians from Reading the New Testament Commentary Series, entry for 1 Cor. 12:12-27.

[2] Bailey, location 4089.

[3] Bailey, location 4034.

[4] Bailey, location 4067.

[5] Bailey, locations 4051-4067.

[6] Bailey, location 4094.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(2) Order in Worship—Eucharist

Outline: 022-E4.2-Order in Worship-Eucharist
Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Discussion Audio (1h09m)

Actions and attitudes in the Christian church that abuse the poor
is the same as abusing Christ

The English Standard Version Study Bible notes gives the heading for this section of 1 Corinthians as “Social snobbery at the Lord’s Table.” Reading Corinthians from Reading the New Testament commentary series gives it the subheading “Social Significance of the Supper.” In other words, theology has direct bearing on social relationships. What, then, is Paul’s theology in this passage?

The passage is broken into three major sections:

  1. The problem statement (vv.17-22)
  2. Theology (vv.23-26)
  3. Observations and solutions (vv.27-34)

The Problem

The Corinthian letter to Paul did not mention this problem. It is entirely possible that those in leadership did not even recognize it to be a problem. Or, they were too embarrassed to bring it up to Paul. Whatever the case, Paul heard about it, quite possibly from the servants and/or slaves of the house in which the Corinthian church met.

The best reconstruction of the problem appears to be that it happened during the meals held at the Corinthian assembly (gathering, church) at which time the Last Supper of Jesus was remembered. The church consisted of members from all social strata – from nobility and the wealthy to the slaves and the poor. It appears that the church was following Roman customs in its meals; i.e., those with leisure time – the wealthy – arrived early and had access to the triclenium and the best foods and drinks offered there, while the less well-to-do arrived later, hungry, and had to make-do with what was left and had to settle for seating or standing outside in the atrium area. Instead of united fellowship the meal was an event in which social divisions were heightened in visibility.

Paul offers no commendation (praise) for allowing this divisive cultural tradition/norm to exist at a church function. The Corinthians may be repeating words from the Last Supper, but because of their present actions, Paul writes that this is not “the Lord’s Supper” but “their own supper.” Instead of fostering community and communal good, the meal is dividing and highlighting the harmful aspects of individualism.


Paul writes that “remembrance” is not merely recollection about Jesus and the events of the Last Supper, but for it to be truly remembrance the church must participate actively in what the supper means.

Paul writes that the supper is an activity in which social divisions and hierarchies of authority are erased. It is a remembrance of the act of love of Jesus that led to his death on the cross. It is a remembrance of the birth of a new community, based not on nationality, race, gender, or social status, but on adoption into God’s family as a friend and brother of Jesus.

The manner in which the Corinthian church “remembered” the Last Supper was a travesty of what it was supposed to teach. The Lord’s Supper was supposed to be a proclamation of the gospel of restoration of relationships from hierarchy and roles to egalitarianism, but the Corinthians had made it the exact opposite of that.

Observations and Solutions

Paul writes that the church must examine herself before partaking of the Lord’s Supper to see if she is worthy. This section, in particular, has been lifted out of context by much of traditional Christian interpretations. It has been made to say that individual Christians must examine themselves to determine if there is any sin that might cause them to be unworthy of partaking of the Supper, and that if done unworthily, they will incur judgment from God.

That is not what Paul intended. The entire context is in the framework of social justice. The Corinthian church, as a whole, was allowing and even promoting social divisions and inequality through her actions. Paul is writing against this “sin.” It is a sin committed by the entire church, not specifically individuals. Paul is calling on the church to examine herself.

In the context of this letter and in the light of the discussion he has offered the Corinthians up to this point, one should see that, for Paul, to eat the bread and to drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way is eating and drinking with an attitude of self- centeredness, of individualism or arrogance.[1]

This is not a call for deep personal introspection to determine whether one is worthy of the Table… [It is] a call to truly Christian behavior at the Table. It is in this sense that the Corinthians are urged to examine themselves. Their behavior has belied the gospel they claim to embrace. Before they participate in the meal, they should examine themselves in terms of their attitudes toward the body, how they are treating others, since the meal itself is a place of proclaiming the gospel.[2]

When the church allows traditional and cultural social divisions into her life, she becomes unworthy and guilty of abusing Christ himself.

Such an abuse of the "body" is an abuse of Christ himself. The bread represents his crucified body, which, along with his poured out blood, effected the death that ratified the New Covenant. By their abuse of one another, they were also abusing the One through whose death and resurrection they had been brought to life and formed into this new eschatological fellowship, his body the church.[3]

Paul perceives that all is not well with the church and places fault on how the church is treating the poor. He attributes this to “judgment from the Lord.” But that should not be read as God causing or punishing, but as allowing consequences of their poor behavior to bear its fruits. It is also vital to note that Paul never writes that individuals will be the direct recipient of judgment but rather the church.

The solutions Paul proposes are twofold. First – his recommended solution – is that the church correct her abuses and welcome everyone to the Table so that she will become a worthy participant in the Lord’s Supper. The second suggestion that Paul makes is that if there are groups or factions that cannot accept the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper and want to continue traditional Roman banquets that they do so in their own homes before coming to meet with the rest of the church. That way judgment will not fall upon the church.

Throughout this passage Paul never directly attacks social and cultural customs. He never commands the wealthy to share with the poor. He never writes that social inequities are wrong. But what he does by introducing a theology of equality and egalitarianism is to quietly chip away at the foundations of human priorities of wealth and privilege, and the status and security those things can afford. What Paul does write is that within the church assembly, such things must not become sources of division and factions. When the church gathers, no individual or group must be allowed to feel shame and dishonor because of what they don’t have or who they are not.

As noted throughout, this paragraph has had an unfortunate history of understanding in the church. The very Table that is God's reminder, and therefore his repeated gift, of grace, the Table where we affirm again who and whose we are, has been allowed to become a table of condemnation for the very people who most truly need the assurance of acceptance that this table affords—the sinful, the weak, the weary. One does not have to "get rid of the sin in one's life" in order to partake. Here by faith one may once again receive the assurance that "Christ receiveth sinners."

On the other hand, any magical view of the sacrament that allows the unrepentant to partake without "discerning the body" makes the offer of grace a place of judgment. Grace "received" that is not recognized as such is not grace at all; and grace "received" that does not recognize the need to be gracious to others is to miss the point of the Table altogether.[4]

[1] Understanding the Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians, entry for 1 Cor. 11:27.

[2] New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 11:28.

[3] NICNT, introduction entry on 1 Cor. 11:17-34 (D. Abuse of the Lord’s Supper).

[4] NICNT, entry for 1 Cor. 11:31-32.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Essay 4—Men and Women in Worship—(1) Leading in Worship

Outline: 021-E4.1-Leading in Worship
Passage: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Discussion Audio (1h13m)

Paul could have easily solved the controversy
by commanding the women, “Stop leading in worship.”
But he didn’t.

Women (and men) were leading worship in the Corinthian (and all other) churches. They were leading prayers and proclaiming the word of God to the church through the spiritual gift of prophecy.

What then, was the problem?

The problem wasn’t with women preaching and leading in church.

The problem was with “clerical garb.”[1] Or, the problem was with “eschatological women,” believing that they had already become “like angels,” were casting off all symbols of gender distinctions.[2]

Many English translations of this passage are interpretations based on preconceived traditions of patriarchy and complementarianism. They fail to render words consistently. As a result they end up with biases with which many readers take as the “word of God” when in fact they are interpretations of men (literally!).

When Paul writes “head” (κεφαλή kephale) it is not ever meant to imply authority or establishment of hierarchy but simply “origin of life.” Fee writes, “Paul’s understanding of the metaphor, therefore, and almost certainly the only one the Corinthians would have grasped, is ‘head’ as ‘source,’ especially ‘source of life.’”[3]

Many translations mix “man” and “husband” when it should be rendered as “man” (ἀνήρ anēr) each time. Likewise with “woman” and “wife” (γυνή gyne). Paul did indeed speak to single and marital relationships in chapter 7 but in this passage he is broadening the discussion to relationships of “every man” and “every woman” to the church. It is inappropriate and out-of-context to read any kind of marriage relationships into this passage.

Another major translation issue involves how to translate διά (dia) in verses 9-10. Many translations translate this as “for” in verse 9 and “because of” in verse 10. As a result English readers get the idea that Paul writes in verse 9 that “woman [was created] for man,” i.e., woman/wife as a servant/subordinate role to man/husband. When dia is rendered consistently what is seen is,

For man was not created because of {dia} woman, but woman because of {dia} the man. Because of {dia} this the woman should have authority {exousia} on the head, because of {dia} the angels.

This rendering removes any kind of role or subordination and what is seen is simply the creation account of Genesis 2 in which the man is formed first and then the woman from [because of] the man.

Just in case the reader might be tempted to think that creation order matters, Paul counters that in verses 11-12 that the order, in fact, does not matter. Even more, if one thinks thinks that being first means priority in importance, the first creation account of Genesis 1 shows that later is better. Bailey writes,

The difficulty with this conclusion [that created first means more important] is that the creation stories begin with the lesser forms of life and move on to the more advanced forms. If created earlier equals more important, then animals are more important than people, the plants are more important than the animals and the primitive earth “without form and void” is the most important of all![4]

The creation account forms the center of Paul’s argument in regards to women’s right and authority to lead churches and worship. In Genesis 2 the woman is created as a helper (‘ezera) for the man.[5] The God of Israel is often referred to as ‘Ezer when he comes to save his people. Helper then refers to a being or a person who holds superior powers to the one being helped. In other words, if one is to read the Genesis account literally, woman is superior to man, who was found to be helpless. Lest women think they are superior to men Paul’s words in verses 11-12 apply just as equally to women as well as men. Bailey writes in regard to Paul’s argument in this passage,

Seen in this light, our understanding of the text and of Paul’s view of women are transformed. Women, for Paul, are not created “for men” … Rather women, as descendants of Eve, are placed by God in the human scene as the strong who come to help/save the needy (the men)… Paul emerges as a compassionate figure who boldly affirms the equality and mutual interdependency of men and women in the new covenant.[6]

The climax in the center affirms women in worship leadership and gives them a
sign of their authority… A part of this new creation is the restoration of the
equality and mutual interdependence between men and women in Christ.[7]

It appears that the women thought that part of their new freedom in Christ was to cast off traditional garbs of women, that they could (or should, even must?) appear as men when leading worship. For some in the congregation this was seen as unacceptable and even sexually enticing. Paul was apparently trying to find a compromise in a congregation of mixed cultural traditions. He tells the women, “I commend you for leading in worship, but please, keep your head covered so as not to be distracting to some in your congregation.”

Later in this essay (chapter 12 and 14) Paul will discuss spiritual gifts more fully. But he is foreshadowing the topic by writing that spiritual gifts are not distributed based on gender but on need, to build up the church.

To define ministry roles based on gender is
tantamount to destroying the church.

[1] Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, locations 3484-3498.

[2] Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle, entry for 1 Cor. 11:3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bailey, location 3522.

[5] Bailey, location 3620.

[6] Bailey, location 3623.

[7] Bailey, locations 3655, 3659.