man and woman-exegesis of biblical texts

By - manan251

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Instalment 2

INSTALMENT 2 – Exegetically determining what “exousia/authority on the head” means. It is referrring to neither man’s authority nor to woman’s authority.

What does 1 Cor 11:10 “authority on the head” mean? A SIMPLE EXEGETICAL PROPOSAL.

I don’t intend to list the different views and translations, other than to say the fact that some translations need to add extra words into the text (“symbol of”) indicates that this has been a difficult verse to translate and to come to an agreed meaning upon.

I propose a 2 pronged approach to understanding.

The first looks at other uses of the phrase in the New Testament. The second looks at the role the phrase plays in its immediate sentence and the structure of Paul’s argument.


Other uses of the phrase in the New Testament. BUT, isn’t the problem in understanding this verse and the whole section on headcoverings, isn’t the problem that it is actually not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament? Yes and No.
It is true that the whole phrase “to have exousia (authority) on the head” is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

But, the phrase “having exousia on” actually can be found elsewhere in the New Testament.
Much of the analysis of “to have authority on the head” has treated the word “”exousia/authority” in isolation. It has focused on the word “exousia” as a noun, and as a noun in isolation from its use as part of a phrase. Most of the discussion and arguments have thus been about the rights or authority pertaining to either the man or the woman. However, a noun is not always a noun. It can be part of a phrase which is to be taken as a whole unit. And that whole unit can be acting like a verb. This is what I propose is happening with the phrase “to have exousia/authority on” “exousian echein epi”.

To see this, let us look at the other instances of this phrase which are in the book of Revelation.

All four instances have the verbal phrase “has/have/having exousia over”. The fourth 20:6 is a bit harder to find the word “epi/over” but it is there earlier in the sentence.
11:6 “they …. have exousia over the waters” → i.e control over the waters.
14:18 “having exousia over the fire” → i.e control over the fire.
16:9 “God, the one having the exousia over these ones” → ie. control over these ones.
20:6 “the second death …. has no exousia (over)… these ones” → ie. power/control of … these ones.

{Note: There are also other times the phrase “have exousia ”is used in the New Testatment but they do not include the word “epi/over” in the phrase, so I have not included them in this study}.

These phrases are all verbal phrases (ie. a phrase acting as a verb), each containing the noun “exousia” and with each having the same idea of authority in action ie. Control or control over. So, it is seems that the use of this verbal phrase “have exousia over” means “control” or “control over”. And, equally obvious is that this was probably readily understood by the original readers of the 1Cor 11 v10a.

So, “woman ought to have exousia over the head” simply means “woman ought to have control over the head” or “woman ought to control her head”. It is a statement about something the woman ought to be doing. It is not a statement about her status, her authority. And it is not a statement about the man’s status, his authority. It is simply a statement about something she ought to be doing, namely, having control over her head.


But, how does this understanding fit in with the whole passage and how does it relate to, if indeed it does, to headcovering?

In my earlier post I said that v10a “the woman ought to ……” forms an inclusio with v7a “the man ought not to ……”. Inclusio may be the wrong word. What is really happening in Paul’s writing in this passage is that he is making parallel statements within his main argument.
Below, is a re-arrangement of the text to show you how this parallelism is working in regard to Paul’s main argument. I have left out verses and sentences which are supporting background information and supporting arguments and citing of theology by Paul.

V4 & 7a combined and color coded (unfortunately the color coding did not work when I copied and pasted it here. I will take a screenshot from my Publisher file and hopefully I can insert it below)

4“every man praying or prophesying having down head, dishonours the head of him …
7a…for indeed a man ought not TO COVER the head”

V5 & 10a combined and colour coded
5a“but, every woman praying or prophesying uncovered the head, dishonours the head of her …
10a… because of this, the woman ought TO HAVE EXOUSIA/CONTROL OVER the head”

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You should be able to see this parallel use of words and phrases and argument by Paul in regard to man and woman.

What is relevant is the parallelism of v7a “not TO COVER” AND v10 “TO HAVE EXOUSIA/CONTROL OVER”

V7a “TO COVER” is a verb which finds its parallel in v10 “TO HAVE EXOUSIA/CONTROL OVER” which is a verbal phrase, as discussed above.

That is, we are not to read “exousia/authority” as an isolated noun. If we read it as an isolated noun, we will have many discussions about whose exousia it is, the man or the woman’s BUT we will not understand what Paul is saying. He is simply, telling the woman she needs to control her physical head.

AND additionally by association through parallelism with v7a ”to cover”, the way she is to control her head is by covering it.

So, both the FIRST and the SECOND approaches support each other.
In Revelation, “have exousia over” is a verbal phrase.

In 1 Corinthians 11:10 “to have exousia over” is a verbal phrase that parallels the verb “to cover” in v7.

The meaning of v10 is thus “the woman ought to control her head (by covering it)”.

Paul is abundantly clear in what he is saying. He is telling women to cover their heads and he is telling men not to cover their heads.

Even, if we didn’t have or if we don’t understand his theological reasoning for doing these, it is still abundantly clear what he is telling men and women what they ought to do.

RESPONSE TO A SUGGESTION THAT “exousia on the head” is being used as a Metonym.

as I analysed the structure of the passage I came to the conclusion that it is the parallelism inherent in Paul’s argument that leads to the conclusion that covering is the meaning. Seeing “exousia” as a metonym is not necessary. There is something more basic, more fundamental going on in the structure of Paul’s argument, ie. in the parallelism.

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“Not to cover” is parallel to “to have exousia over”. What we expect Paul to say is “to cover”. But, he says “to have exousia over”. He is paralleling one action “to cover” with another “to have exousia over” – one verb to another verb.
And so I went searching to see if this verb, this verbal phrase “to have exousia over” has an understandable meaning. And as I pointed out above it does in those passages in Revelation. It means “to have control over”. So because of the parallelism, the reader would expect Paul to say “ought to cover the head” but instead he says “ought to have control over the head”. So because of the parallelism there is now an association between between “to cover the head” and “to have control over head”. So, the reader hears in their mind “to have control over the head by covering it”.
Why does Paul do it like this? 1. It emphatically puts the responisibility strongly on the woman that she is responsible for her actions. She is to have control over herself in this matter, and cover her head. 2. It is a masterful play by Paul with the word “exousia”. Exousia elsewhere in 1 Cor is used as a noun – rights. But, as you read there what Paul says about exousia, being in Christ leads us to exercise our responsibilities towards others rather than our claiming and using our rights. So, now in 1Cor 11:10 Paul uses the “rights” word in a clever way, he uses it as part of a verbal phrase where it points out the woman’s responsibility to control herself and cover her head. It is most definitely not about anyones rights. It is not about the woman’s rights, as it is something she ought to be doing.
3. It is not only this verse that Paul is using this parallelism in regard to headcovering, or in this case the state of being covered or uncovered. It is also present in vv 4&5 . “having down head” in v4a parallels “uncovered the head” in v5a. This time it is not an action that is being paralleled but a state. V5 is clear in its language “uncovered the head” and the seemingly more obscure “having down head” is paralleled to it. Once again, the reader is not expecting “having down head” but ““having the head covered”. So, here also, by parallelism Paul’s meaning is clear, whatever he means by saying “having down head” it is a state of having the head covered.
Finally, seeing the meaning through the parallelism, helps us to see the logic and structure of Paul’s main argument in this whole passage. He is not giving any possibility of escape from the logic that man is not to be in a state of having his head covered and woman is not to act in a way that leaves her head uncovered.
Second finally, it is this main argument around which the whole passage v1-16 is built. Once, you see the main argument, you can then determine what part everything else plays in it. An Illustration.
A father says to a child “Go to bed” is the main argument. But, he also says additional things “because 8 oclock is your bedtime, that is the rule” and “because children get tired and cranky the next day if they do not get enough sleep”. Once you know the main argument then you can understand why the other things are said.
If we see what is Paul’s main argument, then that frees us to classify the other things he is saying and so to better understand them. In my next instalment, I will suggest a way to classify the other things that Paul says and so make sense of the whole passage as a coherent whole. Classification is necessary for without it, one can make something that is not theology into theology. e.g. many people make a theology out of Paul’s mention of long hair ie. they make a law about long hair in men. But, is Paul really using theology when he talks about long hair in man?
It is recognising Paul’s main argument that enables us to have any chance of making sense of all the other things that he says.
Third and final finally. The great difficulty with this passage 1 Cor 11:1-16 is understanding how everything fits together. One would normally expect Paul to be making a logical and coherent argument, with each part fitting together to make the whole. Starting from what I call the main argument

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I will in the following instalments attempt to show you how all the various things Paul says meld together in a logical and sensible whole.

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