Archive for March, 2009

Sometimes I feel like Peter when he states in 1 Peter 3:16a, “16 He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand (HCSB).” Paul speaks of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11. He speaks regarding how men and women were to cover or uncover their heads when they would pray during the worship service. Although for the most part this particular passage is likely in reference to the Roman customs regarding sexuality in that society, there is one verse that is somewhat puzzling.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:10 “10 This is why a woman should have a symbol ofauthority on her head: because of the angels (HCSB).” The problematic phrase is “because of the angels” or “on account of the angels” (διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους). This seems to be a rather obscure mention of angels in regard to what women would do during worship.

There have been several wild interpretations of this verse over the years. Tertullian (c. 160-220) stated that Paul was talking about the “evil” angels. He meant those of the Genesis 6:1-2 account. The “sons of God” that came down to the “daughters of men.” Another interpretation is that angels observe worship and are interested in the order of it. In other words, the woman’s cover would show them that she has authority to pray in a worship service.

One more is that the word “ἀγγέλος” should be rendered as messenger rather than angel. Angel meaning divine messenger and messenger meaning a human one. That Greek word can be translated either way, depending upon context. In this view, the woman is protecting those Christian leaders/messengers that are present from being tempted by her beauty. This seems rather odd and unlikely.

Possibly, Paul is drawing upon some Jewish tradition that we are unaware of or otherwise do not have access to. It is also possible that because of previous conversations that Paul had with the Corinthians, this was just one more of the questions that they had for him and they knew exactly what he was talking about.

What seems interesting is that regardless of which of these positions one takes, the theological meaning is the same. All of them fit within the framework of what Paul is saying in this passage. The issue at stake is sexuality and not acting outside of guarded parameters. One should not attend worship with the hopes of propositioning one of the opposite sex. Regardless of what Paul meant here, it seems clear that he was advocating for men to be men and for women to be women. Each had their place and worship was not a time to draw attention to oneself, but to worship God.


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