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Equality and Interdependence: Understanding 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 (Part 6)



Recap and Introduction

In this series, we are attempting to understand the difficult text of 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 – a text relevant to debates about the equality of women and their roles in the church. In part 5, we interpreted Paul’s mysterious phrase “because of the angels” in light of 1 Corinthians 6:2-3. We concluded that Paul is contending for women to have authority over their veiling practices on the basis of the fact that they will have the greater responsibility of judging angels in the future. In this post, we will look at the final two verses of our passage.


There are always two sides to a debate. Proverbs 18:17 wisely warns that “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”


For the majority of this series, I’ve outlined the case for my reading of 1 Corinthians 11:7-10. However, we haven’t spent much time dealing with objections or critiquing opposing views. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t surprise you that those objections and opposing views exist. Perhaps you’ve even come up with some objections yourself!


In this post, I want to engage with one particular objection. A central conclusion in my interpretation of these verses is that the word exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10 should be translated as “authority”. If I’m wrong on this point, then my entire interpretation falls.

In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Thomas Schreiner has argued against this translation. Instead, he contends that exousia should be translated “symbol of authority”.

One of his arguments is based on verses 11 and 12. The text says, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (NIV).


On page 172 of the third edition, Schriener writes,


The qualification given in verse 11… fits best with a command for women to have a head covering as a symbol of submission to men. Paul begins verse 11 with However. In verses 11–12, he guards against the misunderstanding that women are somehow inferior to men. But he would not need to say this if he had just affirmed women’s authority and right to prophesy in such strong terms in verse 10. But since, in verse 10, Paul really concludes his argument as to why women should wear head coverings as a sign of submission to male headship, he senses a need to qualify his point in verses 11–12.”

In this post, I will respond to Schriener’s argument. In the end, we will see that Schriener’s observations about the text lead to the opposite conclusion: verses 11 and 12 actually affirm my translation and interpretation.


Schriener’s Argument


In many ways, Schriener’s argument is good. He is right to point out that verses 11 and 12 contrast with verse 10. This is indicated by the word “nevertheless” or “however”.

Consequently, Schriener is right to use verses 11 and 12 to help interpret verse 10. His logic goes like this:


· Premise 1: Based on the contrast between the verses, verses 11-12 correct a possible misunderstanding based on verse 10.

· Premise 2: The correction in verses 11-12 has to do with equality.

· Conclusion 1: Therefore, the possible misunderstanding based on verse 10 has to do with inequality.

· Premise 3: The translation “symbol of authority” (and the corresponding interpretation) could give rise to a misunderstanding having to do with inequality.

· Premise 4: The translation “authority” (and the corresponding interpretation) would not give rise to a misunderstanding having to do with inequality.

· Conclusion 2: Therefore, the translation “symbol of authority” in verse 10 fits better with the contrast in verses 11-12.


The logic behind this argument is reasonable. However, the problem is with premise 2. Verses 11-12 do not have to do with equality. They have to do with interdependence.


Interdependence and Independence


Let’s look at verse 11 again. It says, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (NIV). Verses 11-12 guard against thinking that women are independent from men (and vice-versa). Rather, Paul’s view is that women and men are interdependent.


Moreover, there is no inherent connection between interdependence and equality. Masters were dependent on the work of slaves, and slaves were dependent on the provision of their masters. Nevertheless, they were not considered equals.


So, the issue in verses 11 and 12 is the interdependence between women and men. Now for the key question: Which translation of verse 10 might give rise to the misunderstanding that women are independent of men (and vice-versa)?


It is difficult to comprehend how women wearing a symbol of male authority on their head could lead to the misunderstanding that women are independent from men. How could a symbol of someone’s authority over you cause you to think you’re independent from them?

However, it is easy to understand how women having authority could lead to the misunderstanding that women are independent from men. The more authority a person has, the more independent they might consider themselves to be.


Once we correct Schriener’s misinterpretation of verse 11, we can return to his logic again. However, this time, we get the opposite result.


· Premise 1: Based on the contrast between the verses, verses 11-12 correct a possible misunderstanding based on verse 10.

· Premise 2: The correction in verses 11-12 has to do with interdependence.

· Conclusion 1: Therefore, the possible misunderstanding based on verse 10 has to do with independence.

· Premise 3: The translation “symbol of authority” would not give rise to a misunderstanding having to do with independence.

· Premise 4: The translation “authority” could give rise to a misunderstanding having to do with independence.

· Conclusion 2: Therefore, the translation “authority” in verse 10 fits better with the contrast in verses 11-12.


In the end, then, Schriener’s argument backfires. The contrast between verses 10 and 11 fit better with my interpretation and what Paul has plainly written: that a woman ought to have authority over her head.


In our final post in this series, we will tie the text together and make some concluding remarks.


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.

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