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The Demeanour of Women in Public Worship.


The Demeanour of Women in Public Worship.

James Dodson


Frédéric Louis Godet

(Chap. 11:2–16)

The apostle has just treated a series of subjects belonging to the domain of the Church’s moral life, especially in connection with Christian liberty (chaps. 6–10). He now passes to various subjects relating to public worship, beginning with that which lies nearest the domain of liberty: the external demeanour of women in public worship. Then will follow the disorders which have crept into the celebration of the Holy Supper and into the administration of spiritual gifts. Such are the three subjects Paul conjoins in the closely connected chaps. 11–14.

The ancients in general laid down a difference between the bearing of men and that of women in their appearances in public. Plutarch (Quæst. Rom. xiv.) relates that at the funeral ceremony of parents, the sons appeared with their heads covered, the daughters with their heads uncovered and their hair flowing. This author adds by way of explanation: “To mourning belongs the extraordinary,” that is to say, what is done on this occasion, is the opposite of what is done in general. What would be improper at an ordinary time becomes proper then. Plutarch also relates that among the Greeks it was customary for the women in circumstances of distress to cut off their hair, whereas the men allowed it to grow; why so? Because the custom of the latter is to cut it, and of the former to let it grow (see Heinrici, pp. 300, 301). According to several passages from ancient authors, while the long hair of the woman was regarded as her best ornament, the man who, by the care he bestowed on his hair, effaced the difference of the sexes, was despised as a voluptuary. The Greek slave had her head shaved in token of her servitude; the same was done among the Hebrews to the adulteress (Num. 5:18; comp. Isa. 3:17). In regard to acts of public worship there existed a remarkable difference between the Greeks and the Romans. The Greek prayed with his head uncovered, whereas the Roman veiled his head. The ancients explain these opposite usages in various ways. Probably in the Roman rite there was expressed the idea of the scrupulous reverence which should be brought into the service of the deity, while the Greek rite bespoke the feeling of liberty with which man should appear before the gods of Olympus. The Jewish high priest officiated with his mitre on his head, and the Jew of the present day prays with his head covered, no doubt in token of reverence and submission. It appears from all these facts what an intimate relation the feeling of the ancients established between the worshipper’s demeanour, as regards the noblest part of his being, the head, and his moral and social position. “The point here was not only,” as Heinrici well says, “a matter of decorum.” His conduct in this respect corresponded to a profound religious feeling.

This is the point of view at which we must place ourselves to understand the following discussion. St. Paul was accustomed to say: “In Christ all things are made new; there is neither male nor female, neither bond nor free, neither Greek nor Jew.” How easy was it from this to jump to the conclusion: Then there is no longer any difference, especially in worship, where we are all before God, between the demeanour of the male and that of the female. If the male speaks to his brethren or to God with his head uncovered, why should not the female do so also? And with the spirit of freedom which animated the Church of Corinth, it is not probable that they had stopped short at theory. They had already gone the length of practice; this seems to be implied by vers. 15, 16. The apostle had learned it, not from the letter of the Corinthians, to which he does not here make any allusion (as in 8:1), but probably from the deputies of the Church.

He begins with a general commendation in regard to the manner in which the Church remains faithful to the ecclesiastical institutions he had established among them.

Ver. 2. “Now I praise [1] you, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”—The now is progressive; it is the transition to the new subject. Edwards takes it adversatively (in contrast to the expression imitators of me): “But, if you do not imitate me in everything, I acknowledge that in these things you observe my instructions.” This connection does not seem to me natural.—The word παραδόσεις here certainly denotes the traditions relating to ecclesiastical customs, and not doctrinal instructions; these will come to be treated 15:3.—The μου, me, seems to me to be the complement of the μέμνησθε, ye remember; the πάντα is in that case an adverbial qualification: in all things, on all points. Rückert thinks he can make πάντα the direct object of the verb, and μου the complement of πάντα: “You remember all that proceeds from me.” But, not to speak of the usual construction of the verb (with the genitive), there would be something harsh in the expression πάντα μου (all things of me). Finally, the other construction more delicately expresses the personal remembrance of which Paul feels himself to be the object on their part.—But there was a point on which the apostle had not expressly pronounced in his oral teaching, probably because the occasion had not occurred, no woman having made trial in his presence of the right of speaking, and that with her head uncovered. Things had changed since his departure.

Vers. 3–6

Ver. 3. “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is the [2] Christ; and the man is [the] head of the woman; and God [the] head of the [3] Christ.”—The δέ is adversative: but; Paul proceeds to a point to which the eulogy he has just passed does not apply.—One is tempted to ask, as he reads the following sentences, why the apostle thinks it necessary to take things on so high a level, and to connect what is apparently so secondary a matter with relations so exalted as those of man with Christ, and of Christ with God. To explain his method, we must bear in mind the pride of the Corinthians, who thought they knew everything, and whom the apostle wishes, no doubt, to teach that they have yet something to learn: “I would have you know.” It is likely enough, from ver. 16, that the ultra-liberals of Corinth spoke with a certain disdain of the ecclesiastical prescriptions left by the apostle, and that in the name of the Spirit some claimed to throw his rules overboard. Paul would give them to understand that everything hangs together in one, both in good and in evil; that unfaithfulness to the Divine order, even in things most external, may involve an assault on the most sublime relations, and that the pious keeping up of proprieties, even in these things, is an element of Christian holiness. Hence he begins with placing this special point in the life of the Church under the light of the two holiest analogies that can be conceived, and in which he shows the revelation of a Divine order. Those who criticise him presumptuously will thus be able to understand whence he derives the rules which he lays down in the Church.

There exist three relations, which together form a sort of hierarchy: lowest in the scale, the purely human relation between man and woman; higher, the Divine-human relation between Christ and man; highest in the scale, the purely Divine relation between God and Christ. The common term whereby Paul characterizes these three relations is κεφαλή (hence our word chief), head. This figurative term includes two ideas: community of life, and inequality within this community. So between the man and the woman: by the bond of marriage there is formed between them the bond of a common life, but in such a way that the one is the strong and directing element, the other the receptive and dependent element. The same is the case in the relation between Christ and the man. Formed by the bond of faith, it also establishes a community of life, in which there are distinguished an active and directing principle, and a receptive and directed factor. An analogous relation appears higher still in the mystery of the Divine essence. By the bond of filiation, there is between Christ and God communiön of Divine life, but such that impulse proceeds from the Father, and that “the Son does nothing but what he sees the Father do” (John 5:19).—The relation between Christ and the man is put first. It is, so to speak, the link of union between the other two, reflecting the sublimity of the one and marking the other with a sacred character, which should secure it from the violence with which it is threatened. The only question is whether, as has been thought by Hofmann, Holsten, etc., the point in question is the natural relation between Christ and man, due to the dignity of the pre-existing Christ as creator (Hofmann), or as the heavenly Man, the prototype of earthly humanity (Holsten),—or whether, as is held by Meyer, Heinrici, etc., Paul means to describe the relation between Christ and men by redemption. The expression: every man, seems to speak in favour of the first sense; and the passages 8:6 and 10:4 might serve to confirm this meaning. Christ as having been the organ of creation, is the head of every man created in His image, believing or unbelieving. But vers. 4 and 5 seem to me to prove that Paul is thinking not of man in general, but of the Christian husband. “Every man …, every woman who prays, who prophesies …,” this can only apply to believers. It is from ver. 7 that Paul passes from the spiritual order to the domain of creation in general. What is true in the first sense, is that every man is ordained to believe in Christ and to take Him for his head, that is to say, to become a Christian husband.—The article ἡ is to be remarked with κεφαλή in the first proposition (it is wanting in the other two). This arises, no doubt, from the fact that the man may have many other heads than Christ; the article serves to point out Christ as the only normal head. In the other two relations, this was understood of itself.

This relation belonging to the kingdom of God has for its counterpart in the family the relation between husband and wife. Paul is here thinking chiefly of the natural and social relation, in virtue of which the husband directs and the wife is in a position of subordination. But this natural relation is not abolished by the life of faith; on the contrary, it takes hold of it and sanctifies it. Must we conclude, from the term used by Paul, that the Christian wife has not also Christ for her head, in respect of her eternal personality? By no means; salvation in Christ is the same for the wife as for the husband, and the bond by which she is united to Christ does not differ from that which unites the man to the Lord. The saying: “Ye are branches, I am the vine,” applies to the one sex as much as to the other. But from the standpoint of the earthly manifestation and of social position, the woman, even under the gospel economy, preserves her subordinate position. There will come a day when the distinction between the sexes will cease (Luke 20:34–36). But that day does not belong to the terrestrial form of the kingdom of God. As long as the present physical constitution of humanity lasts, the subordinate position of the woman will remain, even in the Christian woman. As the child realizes its communion with the Lord in the form of filial obedience to its parents, the Christian mother realizes her communion with the Lord in the form of subordination to her husband, without her communion being thereby less direct and close than his. The husband is not between her and the Lord; she is subject to him in the Lord; it is in Him that she loves him, and it is by aiding him that she lives for the Lord. If from the social standpoint she is his wife, from the standpoint of redemption she is his sister. Thus are harmonized these two sayings proceeding from the same pen: “In Christ there is neither male nor female,” and: “The husband is the head of the wife.”

These two relations, that of Christ to the man, and that of the man to his wife, rest on a law which flows from the nature of God Himself. In the oneness of the Divine essence there are found these two poles, the one directive, the other dependent: God and Christ. Paul evidently desires to rise to the highest point, above which we can conceive nothing. Some, like Heinrici, Edwards, etc., think that this expression: the head of Christ, can only apply to the Christ incarnate. But if the relation were thus understood, one of the two essential features would be wanting, indicated by the term head, and which characterize the two preceding relations: community of life and nature. We cannot, therefore, confine this saying to the Lord’s human nature, and we think there is no ground for shrinking from the notion of subordination applied to the Divine being of Christ; see on 3:23. [NOTE] This idea of the subordination of Christ, conceived as a pre-existent being (8:6, 10:4), springs out of the terms Son and Word, by which He is designated, as well as from the very passages where the divinity of Christ is most clearly affirmed (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2, 3; John 1:1, 18; Rev. 1:1). Holsten thinks that he escapes all difficulty by bringing in here the idea of Christ as the heavenly Man, according to the discovery made by Baur by means of the passage 15:45 seq. It is very certain that had it not been found in that passage, nobody would have extracted it from the one we are explaining. For the examination of this conception ascribed to Paul, we shall therefore refer to the passage quoted.

Thus, then, in the apostle’s view, the relation between husband and wife in marriage is a reflection of that which unites Christ and the believer, as this again reproduces the still more sublime relation which exists between God and His manifestation in the person of Christ. Paul certainly could not say more in the Epistle to the Ephesians to express a higher notion of marriage than these words. M. Sabatier, expounding the idea of marriage in the Epistle to the Ephesians, says: “Husband and wife form an indissoluble organic unity.” Exactly; but can this “indissoluble unity” be more forcibly expressed than by comparing it, as Paul does in our passage, to the unity of Christ with the believer and of God with Christ? M. Sabatier adds, still expounding the contents of Ephesians: “The one does not reach the fulness of existence without the other.” Certainly; but is not this exactly what Paul teaches here in vers. 11, 12: “The man is not without the woman in the Lord, nor the woman without the man.” And on such grounds a progress is alleged as having taken place in Paul’s ideas on marriage, in the interval between the Epistle to the Corinthians and that to the Ephesians!

After recognising, as a principle which controls all community of life, Divine and human, that duality of factors, the one active, the other receptive, which forms the basis of marriage, the apostle passes by an asyndeton to the application which he wishes to make of it to the case in question at Corinth.

Vers. 4–6. “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.”—Chrysostom has concluded from ver. 4, as Edwards also does, that the men too, at Corinth, did violence to their proper dignity by being covered. But it is not probable that abuses arose in that direction, especially in Greece (see above, p. 104). The demeanour which becomes the man is only mentioned to bring out by contrast that which alone is becoming in the woman.—The two acts of prophesying and praying will be again brought together in chap. 14, where we shall speak of them more specially Let us only say here, that in chap. 14 (comp. especially vers. 14–17) prayer is more or less identified with speaking in a tongue, a gift which is treated conjointly with prophecy. This observation leads us to suppose, as Baur has already done, that by the prayer of which Paul speaks, in our vers. 4, 5, he means chiefly a prayer in a tongue, that is to say, in ecstatic language. The phrase κατὰ κεφ. ἔχειν is elliptical: “having down from the head,” that is to say, wearing a kerchief in the form of a veil coming down from the head over the shoulders.—In the last words: dishonoureth her head, the word head has often been understood literally (Erasmus, Beza, Bengel, Neander, Meyer, etc.): By veiling the head made to appear uncovered, he covers it with shame. But why in this case prefix to ver. 4 the reflection of ver. 3: “The head of every man is Christ”? If this remark had a purpose, it should be to prepare for the idea of ver. 4, and consequently to justify the application of the term head to Christ Himself; which does not prevent us from holding, with many critics, that there is here a delicately intended play on words: “By dishonouring his own head, the believer, who covers himself, dishonours Christ also, whose glory he ought to be.” Indeed, as Holsten says, every man who, in performing a religious act, covers his head, thereby acknowledges himself dependent on some earthly head other than his heavenly head, and thereby takes from the latter the honour which accrues to Him as the head of man. The head uncovered, the brow open and radiant, the look uplifted and confident, the noble covering of hair, like, as some one has said, “to a crown of extinct rays,” [4] such are the insignia of the king of nature, who has no other head in the universe than the invisible Lord of all. If, then, he is not to impair the honour of his Lord, he must respect himself by not covering his head.

Ver. 5. But precisely because the woman is in a position contrasted with that of the man, in so far as she has here below a visible head, she would dishonour this head by affecting a costume which would be a symbol of independence. And since the woman does not naturally belong to public life, if it happen that in the spiritual domain she has to exercise a function which brings her into prominence, she ought to strive the more to put herself out of view by covering herself with the veil, which declares the dependence in which she remains relatively to her husband. As Heinrici says, it can only be to the shame of her husband if a wife present herself in a dress which belongs to the man. By uncovering her head (in the literal sense) she dishonours her head (in the figurative sense).—Here a difficulty arises. The apostle, by laying down for the woman the condition of wearing the veil, seems decidedly to authorize the act to which this condition applies, that is to say, he permits the woman to pray and to prophesy in public. Now in chap. 14:34 he says, absolutely and without restriction: “Let your women keep silence in the Churches.” This apparent contradiction has led Hofmann, Meyer, Beet, and others to the idea, that, in our chapter, Paul had in view only gatherings for family worship (Hofmann) or private meetings (Meyer), composed exclusively of women (Beet). But it is impossible to hold that the apostle would have imposed the obligation of the veil on a mother praying while surrounded by her husband and children.[NOTE] Neither is it possible to see how the idea of Meyer and of Beet could be reconciled with ver. 10 of our chapter (because of the angels). Besides, ver. 16 naturally implies that Paul is thinking of public worship (the Churches of God). Finally, in vers. 34 and 35 of chap. 14, he is not distinguishing between different kinds of assemblies; but he is contrasting assemblies in general with the time when husband and wife find themselves alone together at home: “Let the women keep silence in the Churches …” (ver. 34), “let them ask their husbands at home” (ver. 35).—Heinrici proposes to restrict the prohibition laid on women, in chap. 14, to the tokens of admiration which they liked to give to those who spoke in tongues, or also to the curious questions which they put to the prophets, thus of course disturbing the decorum of the assemblies. Some writers in England have even supposed that in chap. 14. Paul simply means to forbid women to indulge in the whisperings and private conversations which would break the stillness of worship. But it is impossible so to restrict the meaning of the word λαλεῖν, to speak, in chap. 14, applied as it is in that chapter to all the forms of public speaking. Besides, the prohibition, if it had one of these meanings, should have been addressed to men as much as to women. What the passage in chap. 14 forbids to women, is not ill-speaking or ill-timed speaking, it is speaking; and what Paul contrasts with the term speaking, is keeping silence or asking at home.—It might be supposed that the apostle meant to let the speaking of women in the form of prophesying or praying pass for the moment only, contemplating returning to it afterwards to forbid it altogether, when he should have laid down the principles necessary to justify this complete prohibition. So it was that he proceeded in chap. 6, in regard to lawsuits between Christians, beginning by laying down a simple restriction in ver. 4, to condemn them afterwards altogether in ver. 7. We have also observed the use of a similar method in the discussion regarding the participation of the Corinthians in idolatrous feasts; the passage, 8:10, seemed first to authorize it; then, afterwards, when the time has come, he forbids it absolutely (10:21, 22), because he then judges that the minds of his readers are better prepared to accept such a decision. But this solution is unsatisfactory, because it remains true that one does not lay down a condition to the doing of a thing which he intends afterwards to forbid absolutely.—It has also been thought that the term λαλεῖν, speaking, should be taken in chap. 14 solely in the sense of teaching. Thus the woman might prophesy or pray in an unknown tongue; but she must never indulge in teaching. But it is impossible to accept so limited a meaning of the word λαλεῖν in a chapter where it is used all through to denote both prophetical speaking and speaking in tongues. This solution is not, perhaps, radically false, but it is impossible to deduce it from the word speaking in chap. 14 in contrast to the terms prophesying and praying in chap. 11—I rather think, therefore, that while rejecting, as a rule, the speaking of women in Churches, Paul yet meant to leave them a certain degree of liberty for the exceptional case in which, in consequence of a sudden revelation (prophesying), or under the influence of a strong inspiration of prayer and thanksgiving (speaking in tongues), the woman should feel herself constrained to give utterance to this extraordinary impulse of the Spirit. Only at the time when she thus went out of her natural position of reserve and dependence, he insisted the more that she should not forget, nor the Church with her, the abnormal character of the action; and this was the end which the veil was intended to serve. Moreover, Paul does not seem to think that such cases could be frequent. For in chap. 14 prophetesses are not once mentioned along with prophets, and yet the name προφῆτις was familiar in the Old Testament, and is not wanting in the New (Luke 2:36; Rev. 2:20). Probably in making the concession which we find in this passage, the apostle was thinking only of married women. The question could hardly have been even raised as to young women. Reuss says: “In Greece a woman of character did not appear in public [note well] without a veil.” How much more must it have been so with unmarried persons! And if Paul had extended to the latter the permission implied in his words, he would still less have suppressed in their case the condition of the veil imposed on the former.

In the last words of ver. 5, Paul likens the woman who appears in public [note well] with her head uncovered to one who has her head shaven. This was never found among the Greeks, except in the case of women who were slaves; among the Jews, only in the case of the woman accused of adultery by her husband (Num. 5:18). A similar usage seems to have prevailed among other nations besides.—The subject of the proposition, according to most, is understood: every woman that speaketh with her head uncovered (see Meyer). But is it not simpler to make ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτό, one and the same thing, the subject of ἐστί: “One and the same [condition] is the woman’s who is shaven [as hers who is not veiled].” The verb ξυρέω, or ξυράω, or ξύρω, signifies to shave to the skin.

Ver. 6. To impress the revolting character of such a course, the apostle supposes it pushed to extremity. There is something of indignation in his words: “If this woman has effrontery enough to do the first of these acts, well and good, better also do the second!” The repulsive character of the one should make that of the other felt. The word ξυρασθαι is usually accented, as if it were the present infinitive passive of ξυράω (ξυρᾶσθαι). But why should it not be regarded as the aorist infinitive middle, like κείρασθαι, of the form ξύρω (ξύρασθαι)? See Passow. There is a gradation from the one of these verbs to the other: To cut the hair or even to shave the head.—The word αἰσχρόν, shameful, includes the two notions of physical ugliness and moral indecency.

Vers. 7–12

Thus far the apostle has been arguing from the parallel between the subordinate position which Christian principle ascribes to the woman (ver. 3), and the receptive position of the man relatively to Christ, and of Christ Himself relatively to God. Now he shows that the conclusion he has drawn from this double analogy is confirmed by the mode of the woman’s creation. For in the apostle’s eyes the kingdom of nature does not proceed from another God than that of grace. On the contrary, it is in the sphere of redemption that the Divine thoughts, which are only sketched in the kingdom of nature, reach perfection.

Vers. 7–9. “The man indeed, being the image and glory of God, ought not to cover his head: but the [5] woman is the glory of the man. 8. For the man is not taken from the woman; but the woman from the man. 9. And the man indeed was not created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”—The γάρ, for, leads us to expect a confirmation drawn from a domain other than the preceding. The omission of the article before the words εἰκών, image, and δόξα, glory, gives these two substantives a qualitative significance.—The meaning of the first is that man, by his sovereignty over the terrestrial creation, visibly reflects the sovereignty of the invisible Creator over all things. We here find the idea of man’s lordly position in nature, as it is expressed Gen. 1:26–28, and celebrated in Ps. 8.—The second, glory of God, expresses the honour which is shed on God Himself from this visible image which He has formed here below, especially when man, carrying out his destiny, voluntarily renders Him homage for his high position, and adoringly casts at His feet the crown which God has put on his head. Analogous to this is the meaning in 2 Cor. 8:23, where the deputies of the Churches are called the glory of Christ, because they make the Lord’s work, in the Churches they represent, shine before the eyes of those to whom they are delegated.—The man existing in this double character (ὑπάρχων), as image and glory of God, ought not to veil this dignity by covering himself when he acts publicly. This would be in a way to tarnish the reflection of the Divine brightness with which God has adorned him, and which ought at such a time to shine forth in his person. But in virtue of the very same law, the woman ought to act in an opposite way. If, in the discharge of such an office, the veil is opposed to the man’s sovereignty, it is from that very fact in keeping with the woman’s condition. She, indeed, was created as the glory of the man, because, as is said in the following verses, she was taken from him and formed for him (vers. 8, 9). It is an honour, the highest of all undoubtedly, for one being to become the object of another’s love and devotion; and the more the being who loves and is self-devoted is exalted in talent and beauty, the more is this honour increased. Can there therefore be a greater glory to man than to possess, as a loving and devoted helpmeet, a being so admirably endowed as woman! All the perfection that belongs to her is homage rendered to the man, from whom and for whom she was made, especially when she consecrates herself freely to him in the devotion of love. Critics have been exercised, and justly, about the reason why the apostle has not in the second case repeated the term image. De Wette has thought that had he made woman the image of man, the apostle would have denied to her the possession of God’s image. Meyer thinks that this expression would wrongly imply, on the part of the woman, a certain participation in the sovereignty of the man. The second ground seems to me truer and more in keeping with the context. The image of the husband in the family is not the wife, but the son. It is he who is heir of the paternal sovereignty.—The inference from this relation in regard to the woman’s demeanour will be drawn in ver. 10.

Vers. 8, 9 serve to prove the expression: glory of the man. In ver. 8 the narrative of Genesis (2:22, 23) is referred to, according to which the man did not appear as proceeding from the woman; but inversely. And why so? For a reason (γάρ) which is at the same time a new proof (καί) of the expression: glory of man, in ver. 7. The woman proceeded from the man because she was intended to serve as his helper, and to complete his existence.—The διά, on account of, alludes to the saying of Genesis (2:18): “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make a helpmeet for him.”—The practical conclusion, ver. 10:

Ver. 10. “For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of power on her head because of the angels.”—For this cause: because she was formed from him and for him.—Literally it is: “the woman ought to have on her head a power.” This term power has been understood in many ways; but they are not worth the trouble of enumeration, the meaning is so clear and simple. Power is put here for a sign of power, and of power not exercised, but submitted to. The woman ought to wear on her head the sign of the power under which she has been placed. It is a frequent way of speaking in all languages, to use the sign of a thing to denote the thing itself, for example the sword for war, the crown for sovereignty. But it is rarer to find, as here, the thing itself put for the sign; but examples are also found of this other form of metonymy; thus when Diodorus, describing the statue of the mother of the Egyptian king Osimandias, says that she has three kingships on her head, he means, evidently: three diadems, symbols of three kingships; or when the same historian gives the name ἀλήθεια, truth, to the ornament which the Egyptian priests wore to symbolize their possession of this highest good.—The difficulty of the verse lies in the last words: because of the angels. Have we here a second reason? In that case it would require to be connected with the preceding (as was indicated by the word for this cause) by some such particle as: and, and also, or and besides. Is it, on the contrary, the same reason presented in another form? But in that case it is difficult to understand the relation between such different modes of expression to convey the same idea. Heinrici, who has thoroughly felt this difficulty, seeks to resolve it by maintaining that the angels are here mentioned because they were God’s agents in the work of creation, of which mention was made vers. 8, 9, and therefore sure to be particularly offended by a mode of acting opposed to the normal relation established in the beginning between man and woman. This solution is certainly not far from the truth. Only it seems to us that we must set aside the idea of the intervention of angels in the work of creation. They no doubt beheld that work, according to Job 38:7, with songs of joy, but without any co-operation on their part being indicated. We are called rather to bear in mind, that, according to Luke 15:7, 10, the angels in heaven hail the conversion of every sinner; that, according to Eph. 3:10, they behold with adoration the infinitely diversified wonders which the Divine Spirit works within the Church; that, according to 1 Tim. 5:21, they are, as well as God and Jesus Christ, witnesses of the ministry of Christ’s servants; finally, that, in this very Epistle (4:9), they form along with men that intelligent universe which is the spectator of the apostolical struggles and sufferings. Why, then, should they not be invisibly present at the worship of the Church in which are wrought so large a number of those works of grace? How could an action contrary to the Divine order, and offending that supreme decorum of which the angels are the perfect representatives, fail to sadden them? And how, finally, could the pain and shame felt by these invisible witnesses fail to spread a sombre shade over the serenity of the worship? In Christ heaven and earth are brought together (John 1:51). As there is henceforth community of joy, there is also community of sorrow between the inhabitants of these two spheres. The Jews had already a similar sentiment in their worship. This is what has led the Greek translators to say (Ps. 138:1): “I will praise Thee before the angels,” instead of: “I will praise Thee before Elohim.” This explanation is more or less that of Chrysostom and Augustine; it is that of Grotius and of most of the moderns (Rückert, de Wette, Meyer, Osiander, etc.). Edwards thinks it is as models of humility in general life, and not only in worship, that the angels are here proposed as an example to Christian women; but the preposition διά, because of, expresses a different relation from that of example. It is rather to the presence of the angels that it calls our attention.—There has often been reproduced, in recent times, an idea which occurs so early as in Tertullian: Paul is held to be speaking here of the evil angels whose passions might be excited by the view of unveiled women. Or, thinking of angels in general, there has been found in our passage an allusion to Gen. 6:1–4 (Kurtz, Hofmann, Hilgenfeld). But if good angels are in question, they have many other opportunities of seeing woman unveiled than in Christian worship; and if evil angels, this temptation makes no change in their state. Besides, there is no special indication leading us to find here an allusion to Gen. 6—Storr, Flatt, etc., have taken the ἄγγελοι to be spies sent by the heathen to watch Christian worship (Jas. 2:25); Clement of Alexandria: the most pious members; Beza: the prophets of the Church; Ambrose: the pastors (Rev. 1:20). Such significations are now only mentioned as matters of history.

Baur and Neander, finding it impossible to connect with the reason indicated by the words: for this cause, the reason contained in these: because of the angels, have proposed to suppress the last words as a later interpolation. Holsten goes further; he extends this supposition to the whole of ver. 10, but for a different reason. Giving to this verse a meaning almost the same as that of Hofmann (allusion to Gen. 6), he concludes therefrom, very logically, as it seems to me, that such a saying cannot be ascribed to the apostle. Only the premiss (the meaning ascribed by him to the verse) is false, consequently also the conclusion which he draws from it. As the documents present no variants, the authenticity of the verse may be regarded as certain.

After having thus declared the natural dependence of woman in relation to man, the apostle yet feels the need of completing the exposition of this relation by exhibiting the other side of the truth; this he does in vers. 11, 12.

Vers. 11, 12. “If, however, the woman is not without the man, neither is the man without the woman, [6] in the Lord; 12. for as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; and all things of God.”—The subordination of the wife to her husband is tempered in Christ by the oneness of the spiritual life which they both draw from the Lord. The one is not without the other, and that evidently as believers; there is community of prayer between them, the constant exchange of spiritual aid and active co-operation. The words in the Lord refer not to God, but, as usual in the New Testament, to Christ; the mention of God only comes later, in ver. 12. It does not seem to me that there is sufficient reason for finding here, with Holsten, an allusion to the softening which the gospel has introduced into the wife’s subordination, as it was laid down in Genesis; the reason alleged in ver. 10 rather carries us back to the order of nature which is recognised and sanctioned by the gospel.—The order of the propositions followed by the T. R., contrary to the great majority of the Mjj., is evidently mistaken.

Ver. 12. The for indicates that the relative equality of the two sexes in Christ was already prefigured, so to speak, by a fact belonging to the order of natural life. So it was that the for of ver. 7 served to give a reason for the wife’s moral subordination by a fact drawn from the inferior domain. If, so far as creation goes, the woman is of the man,—this is the proof of her dependence (ver. 8),—on the other hand, as to the conservation of the race, the man is of the woman, and this decisive fact in the life of humanity, restores equality to a certain extent between the two sexes. The natural order makes woman not only man’s spouse, but also his mother; therewith all is said. We see here with what wisdom the apostle could apply to the domain of spiritual life, not only the scriptural types, but also the hieroglyphics of nature. And thus are explained to us the last words of the verse: “And all things are of God.” He is the Author of nature as well as of grace, and He has laid in the first the outlines, so to speak, of the Divine thoughts, which he realizes perfectly in the second.

Vers. 13–16

The apostle concludes by appealing to the natural impression which ought to follow from a particular feature in the physical conformation of the man and the woman. This last argument is strictly connected with the last words of ver. 12.

Vers. 13–15. “Judge in yourselves: Is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14. Doth not [7] nature itself [8] teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15. but if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her [9] for a covering.”—After appealing to the sacred analogies mentioned in vers. 3–6, and to the relation established by creation between the sexes (vers. 7–12), Paul finally takes to witness a fact nearer to us, inherent in the human person itself. We here come to a formula similar to that with which he had closed the previous discussion 10:15: “Judge of yourselves!” These words appeal to the instinct of truth which ought to exist in his readers themselves.—The following question finds its solution in vers. 14, 15, where the fact is stated which should serve as the basis of their judgment.—The addition of the words τῷ Θεῷ, to God, is difficult to explain; for it appears as if it were precisely in speaking to God that the woman could speak without impropriety unveiled. But let us remember that we are here in full public worship, and that it is at the moment when the woman’s voice is uttering the deepest impressions and the holiest emotions of adoration and love, that a feeling of holy modesty ought to constrain her to secure herself from every indiscreet and profane look. For the very reason that she is speaking to God, she ought in this sacred act to veil her figure from the eyes of men. These words: to God, are therefore, whatever Holsten may say, perfectly in place.

Ver. 14. The ἤ, or, of the T. R. might be suitable so far as the sense goes: “Or indeed, if you answer my question in the negative, does not nature teach you …?” This use of the ἤ is frequent in Paul. But for this very reason the particle might easily have been introduced; the authorities in its favour are weak.

Ver. 14 must therefore be regarded as directly answering the question put in ver. 13: “After all I have said to resolve the question, is there not another master whose voice you ought of yourselves to hear, and who will teach you that …?” This master is nature, ἡ φύσις, a word which here can neither signify moral instinct nor established usage [note well]. It follows indeed from ver. 15 that Paul is thinking of the physical organization of woman. If we receive the reading of the T. R., αὐτὴ ἡ φύσις, even nature, the idea is: “That which seemed unable to teach us anything in such a domain.” But if we follow the other reading, ἡ φύσις αὐτή, nature itself, the meaning is rather: “itself, without me, without my teaching.”—Hofmann and Heinrici understand the following ὅτι in the sense of because, and make the διδάσκει an intransitive verb: “Does not nature itself instruct you?” But the ὅτι after such a verb as διδάσκειν naturally signifies that, and all the more because the ὅτι at the end of ver. 15 really signifies because, and serves to explain the bearing of the two preceding ὅτι: “Does not nature itself show you that … and that …, seeing that …?” By not giving the man long hair, like the woman’s, nature itself has shown that an uncovered head, and an open brow, suit his dignity as king of creation. The hair of the man is a crown, while, as the following verse adds, that of the woman is a veil.

Ver. 15. By giving to the woman a covering of hair, which envelopes her, in a manner, from head to foot, nature itself has shown that it is suitable to her to withdraw as much as possible from view, and to remain concealed. This long and rich hair is given to her ἀντὶ περιβολαίου, in place of a veil. This substantive does not merely denote, as κάλυμμα would do, an ornament for the head; it is a vestment enveloping the whole body, a sort of peplum. It is a natural symbol of reserve and modesty, woman’s most beautiful ornament.—It has been objected, not without a touch of irony, that for the very reason that nature has endowed woman with such a covering, she does not need to add a second and artificial one (Holsten). But this is to mistake the real bearing of the apostle’s argument. All is spiritual in his view. He means that nature, by constituting as it has done each of the two sexes, has given both to understand the manner in which they will fulfil their destiny; for man, it will be public and independent action; for woman, life in domestic retirement and silence. Whoever has the least appreciation of the things of nature, will recognise the profound truth of this symbolism.—The Greco-Lat. and Byz. reading omits the αὐτῇ at the end of the verse. The meaning is not affected by the omission (contrary to Holsten).

Notwithstanding the unanimity of the Mjj. and Vss. in favour of the text of this passage, Holsten has thought right to propose a whole list of rejections; that, for example, of vers. 5b and 6, of ver. 10, and even of vers. 13–15. We have refuted this critic’s objections when it seemed to us necessary. They arise from certain general ideas about the passage, which we think false; the first: that Paul has in view only husbands and wives who are Christians; the second: that if the wife is bound to speak veiled it is only in presence of her own husband, to whom she ought to show, that while fulfilling this function, she does not forget her dependence on him; the third: that on reaching the last section (vers. 13–15), the text passes, in a far from logical way, from the domain of moral obligation—which is Paul’s true standpoint—to that of social propriety, which, according to Holsten, is the interpolator’s standpoint. But (1) from the outset, and even in ver. 3, it is of the difference of the sexes as such that the apostle is thinking. He is speaking of man and woman in general, regarding young men and young women as naturally destined for marriage. The whole female sex is in his eyes created with a view to its subordination to the male sex, as Tertullian well says (see Heinrici): “Si caput mulieris vir est, utique et virginis, de quâ fit mulier quœ nupsit.” (2) It is not because of her husband only that the woman who speaks in public ought to continue veiled; it is as a woman, and to maintain in her own consciousness and in that of the Church her permanent character of dependence. (3) The passage vers. 13–15 does not give a reason which lies outside of moral obligation. Woman’s physical constitution is a revelation of the Creator’s will regarding her. Not to conform to this indication, is not merely to offend social propriety, it is to transgress the will of the Creator. Thus fall all Holsten’s objections against the authenticity of the text of our passage.

The apostle closes with a sentence which seems to say: Now, enough of discussion; let us have done with it.

Ver. 16. “But if any man seem to be contentious … we have no such custom, neither the Churches of God.”—Holsten and others regard this saying as a kind of confession that the apostle feels the insufficiency of the proofs which he has just alleged. But such a supposition would do violence to his moral character, and Paul’s words do not really signify anything of the kind. They simply prove that there are at Corinth controversial spirits, who, on such a subject, will never tire of arguing and raising objections indefinitely. That does not mean that, as to himself, he does not regard the question as solved and well solved.—The word δοκεῖν is used here in the same sense as 3:18, 10:12, Gal. 6:3, to denote a vain pretence. Undoubtedly nobody takes glory from a fault, such as love of disputation (φιλόνεικος); but Paul means to say: “If any one wishes to play the part of a man whom it is impossible to reduce to silence, who has always something to answer …” This was one of the natural features of the Greek character.—The principal proposition does not correspond logically to the subordinate one beginning with if; we must understand a clause such as this: “Let him know that …” or: “I have only one thing to say to him, namely, that …” I cannot understand how eminent critics, such as the old Greek expositors, then Calvin, de Wette, Meyer, Kling, Reuss, Edwards, could imagine that the custom of which the apostle speaks is that of disputing! The love of disputation is a fault, a bad habit, but not a custom. To call the habit of discussion an ecclesiastical usage! No. The only custom of which there can be any question here is that on which the whole passage has turned: women speaking without being veiled. Paul means that neither he, nor the Christians formed by him, nor in general any of the Churches of God, either those which he has not founded or those properly his own, allow such procedure in their ecclesiastical usages; comp. 14:36, 37, where the idea simply indicated here is developed.—The material proof of this assertion of Paul’s is found in the Christian representations which have been discovered in the Catacombs, where the men always wear their hair cut short, and the women the palla, a kerchief falling over the shoulders, and which can be raised so as to conceal the face (Heinrici, p. 324).—The complement of God is intended to bring out the dignity and holiness of all these Churches, and consequently the respect due to their religious sentiment, which contrasts with the presumptuous levity of the Corinthians.

We hope we have justified the thought expressed by the apostle regarding the social position of woman, as well as the particular application which he deduces from it. Holsten thinks that whatever may be said, the apostle thereby puts himself in contradiction to the principle so often enunciated by him: “In Christ there is neither male nor female,” and on this account when he came to the end of the passage, he felt, as it were, the ground going from under him. But the apostle’s personal conviction, as he expresses it here, was certainly very deliberate; the loyalty of his character forbids us to doubt it. Was this conviction solely a matter of time and place, so that it is possible to suppose, that if he lived now, and in the West, the apostle would express himself differently? This supposition is not admissible; for the reasons which he alleges are taken, not from contemporary usages, but from permanent facts, which will last as long as the present earthly economy. The physical constitution of woman (vers. 13–15) is still the same as it was when Paul wrote, and will continue so till the renewing of all things. The history of creation, to which he appeals (vers. 8–12), remains the principle of the social state now as in the time of the apostle; and the sublime analogies between the relations of God to Christ, Christ to man, and man to woman, have not changed to this hour, so that it must be said either that the apostle was wholly wrong in his reasoning, or that his reasons, if they were true for his time, are still so for ours, and will be so to the end. As to the parity of man and woman in Christ, it is clear, and that from this very passage, that Paul means to speak of their relation to Christ in redemption, and not of the social part they are called to play.


[1] T. R. with D E F G K L It. Syr. here reads αδελφοι (brethren).

[2] א B D F G omit ο (the) before Χριστος.

[3] T. R. with C F G K L P omits του (of the) before Χριστου.

[4] “A une couronne de rayons éteints.”

[5] T. R. with א C E K L omits the article η.

[6] T. R. with A L Syr. reverses the order of the two parallel propositions.

[7] T. R. with E K L reads, before ουδε, η (or), which is omitted by all the rest.

[8] T. R. with C L reads αυτη η φυσις; all the rest: η φυσις αυτη.

[9] T. R. with א A B reads αυτη (to her) after δεδοται; the rest omit it.

NOTE: As the Church possesses all things because it depends on Christ, Christ possesses all things because He depends on God; comp. 11:3. God in Christ, such then for man is the one subject of glorying (1:31). It has been asked, from the first ages of the Church, whether these words referred to Christ as man, or as a Divine Being. The old commentators and several of the Fathers, even Athanasius (see Edwards), applied them to the eternal relation between the Son and the Father. This is done also by Meyer, Kling, etc. Hence would follow the subordination of the Son to the Father, even within the Trinity. Others, Augustine, Calvin, Olshausen, de Wette, Edwards, apply them to Christ only in His humanity, in order to maintain the essential equality of the Father and the Son. It must be remembered, above all, that they refer to the Lord in His present state of glory, for it is as glorified that He is the Head of the Church. But this itself proves that the first explanation is not less true than the second; they are as inseparable from one another as the two states, the human and Divine, in the person of the exalted Christ. That is to say, we apply the notion of dependence contained in Paul’s expression, not only to the Lord’s humanity, but also to His Divinity. Is not this implied besides in the names of Son and Word used to denote His Divine being? And is not Beet right in affirming that only this notion of the essential subordination of the Son to the Father enables us to conceive the unity in the Divine Trinity? The meaning therefore is, that as to His one and indivisible person as Son of God and Son of man, Jesus receives all from the Father, and consequently belongs to Him wholly. It is on this absolute dependence that His universal sovereignty rests.

NOTE: [What Godet is asserting is that there is something about the use of the veil which gathers its necessity from public appearances of women. It is not some ritual requirement for prayer but an ordinance of nature for public order. Thus, in the privacy of her home and in the presence of her immediate family, she may be unveiled. ED.]