Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Secular sophistry


Bill Curry said:

I understand that commentaries are very useful tools if you want to ignore a clear teaching in the text. I suppose your commentaries on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 let us know that the author intended to include the qualifier “If the appropriate Calvinist commentaries are available.”

I think it is fairly clear that you don’t think or act like the Bible is inspired. You are just in denial about it. Steve, I await you next round of insults. Let your light shine.


1.Clear to whom? The original audience? Or a modern audience?

Clear to the Corinthians? Or clear to an American living in the 21C?

Curry’s obscurantist dismissal is just as silly as saying that “commentaries on Dante or Shakespeare are very useful tools if you want to ignore the clear meaning of the text.”

We study Bible commentaries for the same reason as we bone up on Medieval Florentine cultural history and or Elizabethan cultural history if we wish to understand the text as it was meant to be understood by the implied reader.

All Curry’s objection achieves is to illustrate the intellectual backwardness of unbelief.

2.One of the primary interpretive issues in 1 Cor 11:3-16 is the cultural significance of fashion at that time and place.

It should be unnecessary to point out that where a 1C Greco-Roman or Jewish dress-code is concerned, what would be “clear” to the Corinthians is not automatically clear to a 21C American.

The inspiration of Scripture is irrelevant to the issue at hand. Christians believe in historical revelation. The interpretation of Scripture is naturally bound up with the customs and conventions in which it was revealed. That’s the port of entry. The inspired writers exploit the cultural preunderstanding of their target audience to convey their message.

3.Let’s looks at just a few of the salient considerations. As one commentator explains:


Research by classicists demonstrates an unevenness and fluidity in the expectations and status of women in mid-century Roman culture, depending on a variety of factors…Augustus reformed family law in ways which affected the status of women some three times between 18BC and AD 9.

How does this relate to language about “head” (kephale)? (i) The laws of Augustus to which we have alluded also modified the system of guardianship (tutela) of women inherited from the closing yeas of the Republic…Under Claudius guardianship of freeborn women was abolished, although not for freedwomen.

Further, a considerable amount of archaeological research on this subject also demands attention…Archaeological evidence shows “the side-spread use of male liturgical head coverings in the city of Rome, in Italy, and in numerous cities in the Roman East…on coins, statues and architectural monuments from around the Mediterranean Basin.” Men covering their heads in the context of prayer and prophecy was a common pattern of Roman piety.

A. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans 2000), 801-802,805.


This is from the standard commentary on the Greek text of 1 Corinthians. I’d add that Thiselton is not a “Calvinist commentator.” And he inclines to the egalitarian position, which puts him to the left of me. So I’m not citing a sympathetic source.

The background in Roman law and Roman piety, which would be clear to readers living in the mid-1C Roman Empire, would not be clear to modern readers.



Why should the length of a man’s hair be an issue? In Paul’s world, for a man to attach too much importance to the way his hair was dressed hinted at effeminacy, at sexual ambiguity. If he let his hair grow long, it proclaimed his homosexuality both for Jews and for Gentiles. The Roman Juvenal speaks dismissively of “a long-haired catamite” (Satires 8:130), whereas the Jewish philosopher Philo rails against homosexuals because of the “provocative way they curl and dress their hair” (The Special Laws 3:36). Hair was grown long in order to create a feminine hairdo. The normal hair length for men was the short-back-and-sides that one sees on Roman statues of the period. For Jews the standard was set by the priests: “They shall not have their heads or let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair on their heads” (Ezk 44:20).

Lesbians shaved their heads to be comfortable when wearing wigs, or else cut it short as men did. Lucian describes a woman “with her hair closely clipped in the Spartan style, boyish-looking and quite Masculine” (The runaways, 27).

J. Murphy-O-Connor, 1 Corinthians (Doubleday 1998), 112-113.


Murphy-O’Connor is not a “Calvinist commentator.” He is a liberal Catholic Bible scholar and authority on Roman Corinth.

And what he says about hairdos at the time of writing is not interchangeable with modern American culture.



In Jerusalem, Tarsus, and for some of the women of Corinth (including members of eastern immigrant communities, probably including many Jews), it sufficed to cover the hair, the most prized potentially public object of male desire (e.g., Apuleius Metam. 2.8; Sipre Num . 11:2.1-3). Traditionalists expected modest wives to shield their beauty from other men’s gaze (e.g., Seneca Controv. 2.7.6).

Few expected single girls, who were supposed to need husbands, to cover their hair, but married women were to protect their hair from public view. Well-to-do Roman matrons, however, paid well for expensive hairstyles, following fashions generated by the impresses; upper-class women were far less likely to cover their heads (cf. 1 Tim 2:9). In public, even well-to-do roman women probably pulled a mantle over their heads, but if the church met in homes, the need for such behavior may not have been evidence. Because mot Christians gathered in the wealthier homes, Christians of different social strata and background met together.

C. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians (Cambridge 2005), 91-92.


Keener is not a “Calvinist commentator.” His hails from the Assemblies of God. And he’s an egalitarian, unlike me.

He’s describing the unwritten rules of a multicultural civilization very unlike our own.

Once again, this sort of historical context is not something which would be plain to a modern reader belonging to an entirely different culture.

Militant unbelievers are so duplicitous. On the one hand, they dismiss the Bible as the product of a Bronze or Iron Age culture.

On the other hand, they dismiss an interpretation which is culturally sensitive to, and historically informed by, the customs and conventions of that time and place.

But I want to thank Bill Curry for once again reminding us of how retrograde unbelievers must be to justify their unbelief.


  1. Looks like you made a prophet out of Bill. You not only ignore Luke 6:30, but also Luke 6:31 with further name calling. I suppose someone like Jason will come in and explain that "Do unto others" is really just hyperbole.

    Anyway, I notice your commentaries don't address the central problem. There may be many good reasons for thinking that Paul's demand of head covering doesn't apply today. I could have bought off on some that you offer, such as that from Keener or the others. The problem is Paul gives us the reasons why women need to wear hats and they have nothing to do with the reasons Keener offers. They have to do with the very order of creation as it occurred with Adam and Eve, how Adam was created first, then Eve, and how Eve is created for Adam, not vice versa. Paul says for this reason and because of the angels, women need head coverings. Nothing about lesbians. Nothing about homosexuals. Why are you unwilling to discuss the reasons Paul offers? Are his reasons valid in your mind?

  2. I was going to aks Jon what in the world Luke 6:30-31 had to do with 1 Corinthians 11:3-16.

    Then I realized Jon probably didn't even read Steve's post.

    Either that or his idea of context is so skewed when it comes to Steve writing about a specific passage that it's no wonder Jon can't grasp Biblical context either.

    Neither of those two options would surprise me.

  3. Looks like you made a prophet out of Bill. You not only ignore Luke 6:30, but also Luke 6:31 with further name calling. I suppose someone like Jason will come in and explain that "Do unto others" is really just hyperbole.

    No, I'll simply point you to Levitcus 19:17 - 18. The text you cite is part of a recapitulation of the OT Law, and this section of Leviticus happens to lie behind what Jesus says in the text you cite. With respect to 6:30, that's about stolen property, yet elsewhere we are permitted to let the lawcourts play out. These texts in Luke are about taking revenge, not abject pacificism. The texts about the way to deal with apostates are the appropriate texts to which you should look for the treatment of unbelievers. I'd add that in the OT law, the same person that you would help (Exodus 23: 4 - 5) is the same person against whom you may defend yourself to the death if necessary.

    The problem is Paul gives us the reasons why women need to wear hats and they have nothing to do with the reasons Keener offers.

    Notice that the word "hats" is never, ever mentioned in this text. This is your appellation.

    They have to do with the very order of creation as it occurred with Adam and Eve, how Adam was created first, then Eve, and how Eve is created for Adam, not vice versa

    For starters, Mr. Curry has failed, yet again to get the most basic information in this passage correct. Paul's point of departure for male/female relationships in marriage and the church is predicated on a Trinitarian understanding of God, not the creation of man itself as an isolated event. He appeals to the creation order because the creation order results in the Imago Dei with respect to mankind. That is, in turn, inclusive of the Trinity. Adam is first as the Father is first. Eve is second as the Son is second. Children are third, as the Spirit is third. All things, including the creation order originate from God (vs.12). He gives us the ground for that assertion in vs. 3, Mr. Curry.

    For those who believe that a complementarian understanding of these texts is somehow indicative that we affirm that men are of less value than women, then we must also believe that they will argue that Trinitarianism affirms the Son is less divine than the Father and of less value than the Father. Here, in 1 Cor. Paul will discuss the headship of God the Father over Christ (15:24 - 28). So, in the very text of this letter, we have another discussion of headship. The context is one of authority and role, not intrinsic value or essence.

    When we understand the expression head to mean “authority,” however, these parallels hold true. Christ has authority over man, man over woman, and God over
    Christ. Yet this authority does not necessarily imply the superiority of one party and the inferiority of the other. Even though God has authority over Christ (see 15:24–28),
    Christ is not inferior to God the Father. In a similar manner, “the authority of man over woman does not imply the inferiority of woman or the superiority of men.” (Schriener, “Head Coverings, Prophecies and the Trinity,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1991), p.130. Onthe contrary... Just as Christ in his essence is equal to God the Father, so woman in her being and worth is equal to man.

    In a discussion on the word head in the current text, we ought to look at the other places where Paul uses this term. In his epistles it occurs seventeen times, of which
    seven instances have the literal meaning of the word and ten the figurative connotation. Literal: I Cor. 11:4 (twice), 5 (twice), 7, 10; 12:21. Figurative: I Cor. 11:3 (three
    times); Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23 (twice); Col. 1:18; 2:10, 19. (Kistemaker)

    Moreover, the direct parallel here is between 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:25, Mr. Curry. Just as Christ is the head of every man and of the church, so the husband is the head of the wife. As Christ submits to God the Father, so the wife submits to her husband. So, Paul is predicating what he says in both texts, just as I noted above, on the Trintarian economy. If you wish to attack our view of 1 Cor. 11, I suggest you attempt to mount an attack on the Trinity.

    As to the reference to "angels" you will find no commentator who can you definiitively what Paul has in mind.

    Vs. 8 and Vs. 12 are, in point of fact, adversative. As man does not come from woman but woman come from man...for as the woman is from the man, even so is the man through the woman. So, what we have here is not a demeaning of women, but a statement about the equality of men and women with respect to their value in the body of Christ.

    Paul ia saying, Man was not created for the sake of the woman, " but he continues, "in the Lord man is nothing apart from woman." Woman was created for the sake of man (to be his companion, mate, and helper, but Paul balances this with "However, in the Lord, woman is nothing apart from man." In short, the two genders are interdependent and complement each other the same way that the Father and the Son complement each other in the Godhead.

    Nothing about lesbians. Nothing about homosexuals. Why are you unwilling to discuss the reasons Paul offers? Are his reasons valid in your mind?

    Why are you unwilling to discuss the cultural backdrop in this passage? For example, what would short hair on a woman in Corinth in the first century have signified? What would long hair for a male have signified? Why are you unwilling to countenance these questions?

    However, Paul is not concerned about their value, but their function in worship and the order of the church, over and against the pagan worship surrounding the Corinthian church.

    Moving on...

    With respect to v.4 Kistemaker, who IS a Calvinist commentator agrees with the other Steve has listed: Before we begin the explanation of this verse, we should realize
    that dress codes vary from culture to culture and from age to age. The city of Corinth had a mixed population of Greeks, Romans, Jews, and a number of people of other
    nationalities. When Paul discusses hairstyles and head coverings, we have to keep in mind that he was telling his readers to adopt Christian practices in a pagan world. Paul
    objected to blurring the genders but wanted the Corinthians to demonstrate visually the clear distinction between men and women/

    This is important, because the Brothers Curry are more literal than the most literal fundamentalist. Mr. Curry, we use the grammatical-historical method, not the "wooden literal" method of interpreting Scripture. You're mounting an attack on this text from a position not supported by the GHM.

    Let's see how Kistemaker handles this: In their native land and in their colonies the Romans covered their heads during private and public devotions. Offering sacrifices, praying or prophesying, they would pull their toga forward over their heads. This devotional practice may have penetrated society in Corinth, which was a Roman colony. “So when Paul reminds Christian men to pray and prophesy with head uncovered, the recommendation fits the context of shunning the worship of idols.” Paul wanted the Corinthians to separate themselves from pagan customs and be distinct in their Christian practice.

    Last, does the second occurrence of “head” have the same meaning as the first (the physical head) or does it allude to Christ (the spiritual head)? Commentators are
    divided on this point. The preceding verse (v. 3) teaches that Christ is the head of man and the husband is the head of the wife. By extension, then, the man with a covered
    head dishonors Christ and the wife with an uncovered head dishonors her husband. However, if we take the second occurrence to refer to Christ, then the message of
    verse 7 seems to be redundant. The succeeding context, moreover, seems to indicate that the woman who prays or prophesies with an uncovered head dishonors not only
    her husband but also her own head. If this is so, a literal interpretation for verse 4 is not altogether out of place. We do well, therefore, to accept both the literal and
    figurative explanations.

    Paul wishes to maintain a clear distinction between the sexes, so that no man and no woman will bring dishonor to the church. He does not want a man to cover his
    head at a public worship service, for that act reflects pagan practice and implicitly rejects the creation order (see the commentary on vv. 5–6, 13–15). Correspondingly,
    he does not want a woman to come to the worship services without a head covering.

    He will continue:

    a. “But every woman who prays or prophesies.” Verses 4 and 5 are parallel and reveal the equality of men and women in the church. In the Old Testament era, not the
    woman but the man received the sign of the covenant (e.g., Gen. 17). He served as representative for the woman. But in the New Testament era, male and female are one
    in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). That is, both man and woman are equal before the Lord.

    This becomes evident when Paul ascribes the religious functions of praying and prophesying to both man and woman. Both men and women know that their
    prophesying consists of teaching and preaching God’s revelation or exhorting and counseling others from the Scriptures (see Acts 18:26).

    b. “With her head uncovered dishonors her head.” The interpretation of this verse depends on verse 3, where Paul says that the man is the head of woman, which in the
    family circle means that the husband is the wife’s head. If the Corinthian woman puts aside her head covering in public, she thereby renounces the subordination to her
    husband that God intended her to show. She appropriates to herself authority that belongs to her husband. When in the Corinthian church a woman goes against the
    structure of creation, she dishonors her husband.

    In Paul’s day, a woman should cover her head. If she failed to do this, she dishonored not only her own head but also showed disrespect to her husband. She
    ought to have respected her husband by wearing a head covering in public. But, we ask, does she have to have her head covered when she neither prays nor prophesies?
    In the privacy of her home no; in public, yes.

    c. “For she is one and the same as a woman whose head is shaved.” At first glance, this remark appears to be tactless and harsh. But we must consider these
    words in the cultural context of first-century Corinth.
    Paul explains himself in succeeding verses, where he notes that nature itself teaches that long hair is the glory
    of a woman (v. 15). For a woman to have her head shaved was and still is a mark of disgrace and humiliation. Whether Paul is thinking of the practice of humiliating an adulterous woman by cropping her hair is difficult to say. First-century Roman author Dio Chrysostom mentions that, on the island of Cyprus, a woman who had committed adultery was shorn by the authorities to identify her as a prostitute. The message Paul conveys to the Corinthian women is that they should honor their husbands by
    observing the cultural standards of their day.

    Writes David W. J. Gill,
    What Paul may be saying is that if women in the church will not wear a veil, then
    they will be seen as dishonouring their husbands which might affect their place in
    society. If the wife insists on being unveiled then she might as well wear a sign of
    humiliation by having her hair cut. If she does not wish to bring such shame to her
    husband, herself and her family then she should be veiled.

    The principle was for the wife to honor her husband; the application of this principle was to wear a veil in public. To not wear a veil was a sign of rebellion on the
    part of a wife.

    d. “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off.” Paul presents a logical approach to the whole matter by saying that a wife who is
    unveiled in public is as much a shame to her husband as a shorn and shaven head is to herself.

    e. “But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaven, let her cover her head.” The emphasis in the last part of this verse is on the word disgraceful.
    Paul puts the wife in the uncomfortable position of having to make a choice: if she wants to go without a veil in public, let her be shaved and consort with disreputable
    women; if she objects to being shorn and shaved, let her wear a veil and associate with respectable women. Notice that not the husband but the wife must make the
    decision. And the decision is a matter of her willingness to have a submissive relationship with her husband “by the ordinance of creation."

    Now, let's look at the practical considerations:

    Mr. Curry, when you accuse us of "rationalizing away the stupid passages in the Bible" you are confusing interpretation and application.

    Cultural standards differ from country to country and change in the course of time. When we consider hairstyles and head coverings, the variations are especially
    striking. Hair can be either long or short, and in many cultures the covering of the head relates to religious observances (e.g., Judaism, Islam, and branches of

    In the Christian church, head coverings were considered a necessity in colder climates. During the Reformation, John Calvin and his colleagues wore skullcaps to
    ward off the cold. But would they wear these caps during a worship service or follow Paul’s prescription not to pray or prophesy with a covered head? Writes Calvin,

    For we should not be so hide-bound by conscientious principles as to think a teacher
    is doing anything wrong in wearing a skull-cap on his head, when he is speaking to
    the people from the pulpit. But all that Paul is after is that it may be made clear that
    he man is in authority, and that the woman is in subjection to him, and that is done
    when the man uncovers his head in the sight of the congregation, even if he puts his
    skull-cap on again afterwards so as not to catch cold.


    Two centuries later, in 1741, the German New Testament commentator John Albert Bengel had to face a different cultural development: What to think of wigs? He
    remarks that wigs are substitutes for hair that is too thin. “Therefore the head of a man is scarcely more dishonored by them, while he prays, than while he does not pray.”
    Yet Bengel is of the opinion that if he would be able to ask Paul, the apostle would persuade people not to wear wigs because they are “unbecoming to men, especially
    those who pray.”

    During the first half of the twentieth century, women adhered to the custom of wearing hats in church. But in the second half of this century, those ladies who adorn
    their heads with hats in Christian churches are few indeed.

    How do we apply Paul’s words on head coverings, or the lack of them, today? Is Paul reflecting cultural patterns of his day in the Corinthian church and elsewhere (v.
    16), patterns which are no longer in vogue? And are cultural patterns that are subject to change actually indicators of basic and abiding principles?

    Paul proclaims Christ’s gospel that sets people free from the Jewish civil and ceremonial laws. He rejects the idea of asking Gentiles to adopt Jewish customs as a
    step in becoming Christians (Gal. 5:1–6). Similarly, Paul does not intend to tell believers everywhere throughout the centuries to adopt the customs he wants the
    Corinthian Christians to follow.
    What he does stress in this segment is that in the marriage relationship the wife honors and respects her husband and the husband loves
    and leads the wife. This is the basic principle that may be applied in diverse ways in the varying cultures throughout the world. The principle remains the same, even
    though its application varies.

    If Paul allows women to pray or prophesy in a worship service, is he not contradicting himself with respect to the wife submitting to the authority of her
    husband? No, not necessarily. Within the marriage relationship the wife must honor her husband by being submissive to him. But in the church, the Holy Spirit filled both
    the men and the women and thus both prayed and prophesied. Before the Lord, both men and women were recipients of the gifts of the Spirit. However, Paul is not abrogating the distinctive roles of each gender. Although men and women are new creatures in Christ, the husband-wife relationship remains intact.

  4. Steve’s (and others’) argument is essentially the same explanation my late father and pastor gave for not requiring head coverings in church. I have deep respect for those men, but I have trouble buying the argument. For me, it’s is a frightening notion to simply dismiss a direct, clear biblical mandate on the basis what seems a very heavy dose of speculation. I could, after all, speculate “until the cows come home” to justify behaviors and even theological positions that are, say, more agreeable to my disposition or socially acceptable but that violate the plain sense meaning of scripture; I believe examples of this practice are myriad nowadays.

    What are the biblical controls on an interpretive framework that relies so heavily on manmade categories? The arguments that have been floated here that favor setting aside a mandate that Paul, himself, makes no effort to qualify as time bound or culture bound seem devoid of the kind of exegis that is ubiquitously celebrated on this blog. From my perspective it plays into the hands of the opponent to suggest we can shunt aside entire passages on the basis of appeals to considerations that are completely external to the text. Why would God make the path to true understanding be so circuitous?

    If I, due to ignorance of, say, the cultural milieu in which Paul was writing, accept the plain sense meaning of the Bible (regarding head coverings) as opposed to the heavily nuanced, theory-laden interpretations offered thus far, have I not been deceived by the Bible itself? And if contextual considerations trump the literal sense in this case, what seals us off from the possibility that beliefs that we currently consider essential will be set aside at some future date by a more “sophisticated” and “historically informed” interpretive grid?


  5. A fascinating and refreshing post, Stuart. It is good to see honesty and a willingness to admit that some issues are difficult and cannot simply be dismissed with the wave of a hand. I face the same difficulties with the problem of evil, because I believe in God. But I don't bother with the trite responses to the problem that Christians often offer. It's a hard issue and I'm willing to admit that I don't have all the answers.

    But I must warn you that you may not be able to survive as a Christian with this honest approach to the Scriptures. Steve is so comfortable man-handling the text of the Bible that he can even dismiss "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" from Lk 6:31 with the simple excuse that it is a "distraction". If you aren't going to appeal to nuanced, theory laden interpretations of the Bible, then what will you do with Mt 16:28 or Mt 24?

    I think C.S. Lewis was right when he talked about how even minor decisions you make today are affecting what your character will be like later in life. Steve made his decisions a while back, and today the Bible is Play-Doh. Whatever he wants it to say it will say. When 2 Pet 2:1 says "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them" for Steve that still means Christ only died for the elect. When I Tim 2:12 says that women need to be silent in church, for Steve it doesn't mean that. When I Cor 11 says women need covering on their head, Steve makes it say something else. And now Luke 6:31 can be discarded. This is a verse that many consider to be one of the central aspects of Christ's teaching. The Bible means nothing for Steve. He might as well throw it out. You may be facing decisions right now that Steve faced long ago. Will the Bible be Play-Doh, kind of like the Supreme Court treats the Constitution, or will you accept it for what it says? I made my decision, as difficult as it was. I was sorely tempted to take the path of least resistance as Steve probably did. I'm proud to say I took honesty over comfort. Will you? Will you put hats on the women? Who knows where that could lead you.

  6. Stuart,

    There are some fallacies at work in your ideas. They are difficult to detect because we normally don't think about them! However, in this instance they become important.

    The problem comes about from the idea of the "plain meaning" of Scripture that you hold. What is the "plain meaning" of anything? For instance, what is the "plain meaning" of the idiom: "Cool as a cucumber."

    When we look at the meaning of words in general, we have to realize that they are defined conventionally. That is, words are defined by their usage. Therefore, if we are to interpret the "plain meaning" of an author, we must know how the words were used when the author wrote it.

    And that's even when the original author and you (the reader) speak the same language. Add into that the translation from different languages and the problems increase.

    Naturally, deconstructionists take this too far and suppose that it's impossible to get any meaning whatsoever from any text. This is obviously false (as demonstrated by the fact that deconstructionists will use pursuasive words to demonstrate words have no meaning).

    It is possible to understand what an author meant, but it does require you to understand the context the author wrote in. Providing context, therefore, is not the same thing as ignoring the "plain meaning" of a passage. It is, instead, the means by which one can actually understand the original intent of the text.

    Now I don't want to sound too harsh with you. In fact, you are wise in stating: "For me, it’s is a frightening notion to simply dismiss a direct, clear biblical mandate on the basis what seems a very heavy dose of speculation." Because deconstructionists so abuse the ideas of language, it is indeed wise to demand someone present an argument and not just mere speculation.

    In this case, however, I think Steve has done just that. He has provided the argument by giving the surrounding context from various sources. Far from ignorning the "plain meaning" of the texts, he is establishing how one can know for sure what Paul meant by his words. Given the historical context, we can then make an appropriate judgment as to what specifically Paul was mandating and how, specifically, it applies to us today.