Putting the Pieces Together
In the first post in this series, I offered the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle for interpretation. Each element of the text is like a piece of a puzzle. The goal of the interpreter is to understand each piece and then put the picture together in a way so that all the pieces fit.
In 1 Corinthians 11:7-12, Paul writes,
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. - NIV
Upon an initial reading, this text strikes most modern readers as misogynistic. The text ostensibly says women are inferior in glory, that the reason for their creation and existence is to serve men, and that they ought to wear a symbol of male authority over their heads when they publicly pray and prophesy.
Modern complementarians often come to softer conclusions. Nevertheless, this text is often used to subordinate women to male authority within the church.
Throughout this series, I’ve offered an alternative interpretation – an alternative way to put the puzzle pieces together. The center of this picture is a proper translation of verse 10 (as in the NIV quoted above). Paul’s central thesis is that women should have the authority to decide whether or not to veil during prayer and prophesy.
In this text, Paul offers two arguments for this thesis. The first is that women are “the glory of man.” I’ve argued that this is an additional and unique glory attributed to women rather than a statement about their inferiority. In verses 8-9, Paul offers two supporting reasons based on Genesis 2 to defend the idea that women have this additional glory.
His second reason for his thesis is the angels. If women will one day judge the angels (the greater task), then they have the capability to judge whether or not to veil (the lesser task).
Finally, in verses 11-12, Paul guards against a possible misunderstanding that could arise from his thesis. By giving women this authority, he is not advocating for their independence from men. Rather, in the Lord, men and women are interdependent upon one another.
This is one way we can put all the pieces of this text together into a unified picture.
However, by no means is it the egalitarian interpretation. With a text as difficult as this one, there are a plethora of ways to interpret the various puzzle pieces that make up the text. Nevertheless, I do believe the interpretation offered in this series is compelling and can withstand objections posed against it.
I began this series with a quote from a complementarian pastor. For him, the debate about whether women can be pastors is black-and-white. One side believes in Scripture. The other is following culture.
I recognize that this series is one microscopic contribution to a mountainous discussion. However, to the readers, I hope that these posts will go some way to combatting that mischaracterization of the debate.
Certainly, there are some egalitarians who are persuaded by culture. Nevertheless, when the best of both sides are considered, the debate is not a debate between culture and Scripture. It is a debate about how we should read and understand Scripture.
Consequently, to my fellow egalitarians who are engaged in this conversation, I would encourage us to (continue to) apply rigorous interpretative methods to the so-called “problematic” texts. As I have tried to show in this series, spending time studying these texts can bear much fruit. If my interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 is even close to correct, then we can stop seeing it as a problem. Rather, it is a text that illuminates God’s will for men and women and the equality between them.
Finally, to my complementarian readers, I would encourage you to engage with the interpretations of these texts by egalitarians. Examine our arguments in good faith. Let the text speak for itself. And, if you find our interpretations unpersuasive, then demonstrate why. In that way, we can grow closer to the truth together as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Nathan Drover is the lead pastor at Perth Andover Baptist Church. He lives in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick with his wife Sabrina. Nathan is passionate about biblical studies, the unity of the church, and seeing both men and women live out their calling for God's glory.