Does the cultural context of the first century in Greece affect the plain interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11? In the following debate, we go over this issue and more.

Originally Posted by hedrick

The wearing of appropriate head covering (such as a hood) denoted respect and respectability. Within the semiotic clothing code of first-century Roman society (see above on Roland Barthes) “a veil or hood constituted a warning: it signified that the wearer was a respectable woman and that no man dare approach her,” i.e., as one potentially or actually sexually “available” (my italics).145

The problem with the above assertion, is that it is not true.

One example is the wearing of the mitra, which we know was worn by prostitutes:

“I cannot abide, Quirites, a Rome of Greeks; and yet what fraction of our dregs comes from Greece? The Syrian Orontes has long since poured into the Tiber, bringing with it its lingo and its manners, its flutes and its slanting harp-strings; bringing too the timbrels of the breed, and the trulls who are bidden ply their trade at the Circus. Out upon you, all ye that delight in foreign strumpets with painted headdresses!”

ite, quibus grata est picta lupa barbara mitra! (Juvenal’s Satire Book 3, verse 66).

“Mitra” is where we get the word “mitre,” or “miter” which is the head covering typical of bishops and such in the RCC an EO churches.

For what this is worth, none of the above is scholarly research, it is my own original research. Whenever I would follow up on quotations like yours and read their sources, I would find they never quoted primary sources, but rather secondary sources.

So, we have from a contemporary primary source that the head covering was not always a reflection of respectability, but rather it commonly indicated a prostitute among the Greeks. From my own research, I have found that there were also respectable head coverings, one for example much like a wedding veil that was, just like today, worn during a wedding ceremony.

Now, the assertion from Christian scholars (but no secular scholars that actually do primary source research ironically) is that the wedding veil was worn all the time by “respectable” married Roman and Greek women.

The problem is, they don’t have evidence of this. In fact, if you take a few minutes to look at contemporary paintings of every day life such as those in Pompeii you would see, aside from all the pictures of couples having sex, that there are a plethora of unveiled women. The same can be said of Greek paintings and pottery. It seems to me that the only people that take issue with this interpretation are post 1960s Christian apologists, not secular historians of any era or any Christians before that time.

If at the very least there is some doubt that within ancient Rome alone there was a uniform head covering practice connoting respectability, isn’t it foolish to negate Scripture for something that is at present not conclusive in historical study?

Further, Paul says that the Church everywhere had no other practice, which existed throughout the Roman Empire (Greece, Libya, Egypt) and outside the pale of Rome at the time of Paul’s writing (Ethiopia, Arabia, Parthia, Armenia, some claim India, etcetera.)

It appears to me that the only reasonable historical conclusion we can draw is that the physical practice of wearing headcoverings among the ancient church ran contrary to the cultural norms of many of the societies that the Church penetrated, rather than conforming to the wider societies of the time.

We postpone for the present whether ἀκατακαλύπτῳ may conceivably denote long hair that is “loosed” down the back, since this would generate the very same signal.

Yes, the “long hair as headcovering” argument. The problem is, that Paul uses distinctly different words in Greek and internally, the passage discounts the notion:

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered (akatakalupton)? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering (peribolaiou).

The word in the Greek is different for one and the injunction “if you don’t cover your head, then cut all your hair off” doesn’t make any sense unless Paul is only against medium-length hair.

In vv. 4 (men) and 5 (women) the principle remains the same: self-advertisement, especially if it relates to perceptions of the worship leader as an object of sexual attraction, diverts attention from God who should be the center of undivided attention.

You need to take your commentary from Thiselton and throw it in the garbage now. Nowhere does the passage refer to this at all, this is made up out of whole cloth.

Paul adds his own content to the meaning of head covering, but the choice of that specific symbol was cultural.

Do you have any evidence that is not second hand of this? I just provided two pieces of evidence to the contrary.

Paul says this himself. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him.”

Yes, but this was after Paul made an argument from creation. Paul makes two arguments in favor of head coverings in the passage, one from the divine order of things (1 Cor 11:3, 7-10) and the other from nature, which in effect is arguably a reflection of the divine order of things.

Just look at verse 7:

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”

Paul doesn’t say a man ought not to be uncovered because of it being a no-no in wider society. He actually argues it is a creation ordinance.

Here’s a fuller quotation from Calvin’s commentary to show that this approach is not just some recent thing:”Doth not even nature itself. He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom—even among the Greeks—he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair. Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn.1 It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome—about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece it was reckoned an unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed.2″

To quote Calvin later:

“Let us therefore carefully mark this passage, that we may not allow ourselves to be carried away with needless disputations, provided at the same time we know how to distinguish contentious persons. For we must not always reckon as contentious the man who does not acquiesce in our decisions, or who ventures to contradict us; but when temper and obstinacy show themselves, let us then say with Paul, that contentions are at variance with the custom of the Church.”

Or, in plain English, don’t contradict the teachings of the passage and follow the custom of the Church.

It doesn’t make sense to get into a debate about how often women covered and didn’t cover their hair. That’s not the issue.

True, because anyone who invokes the cultural argument makes an argument from history, which is demonstrably inaccurate.

The claim isn’t the Paul was trying to deal with a few women who violated cultural norms, but that Paul saw covered hair as a symbol, but that the symbol was based on a cultural practice.

Again, present a non-secondhand source on this and then you have some sort of argument. Problem is, you don’t you are just reiterating a baseless presumption.

Furthermore, Paul does not invoke culture or propriety. He invokes creation itself and then nature as a way of showing how headcoverings are reflected in the creative order.

I think your hermeneutic is way off on this and one must do violence to the Scripture and put words in Paul’s mouth that he did not say invoking a rationale contrary to the one he gave himself.

It doesn’t have to be a universal cultural practice, just one that would be recognized and respected.

Paul said there should be “no other practice.”

It presumably refers to churches that those in Corinth would know and respect.

It presumably does not, simply because without doing violence to the Greek we can properly interpret passages about Christ dying for the sins of the world and etc. However, there isn’t another appropriate way to interpret that none of the churches of God have another practice and as we can see in Tertullian’s time, that remained the case in the early Church.

The reason I cited Calvin was to show that the idea that Paul’s sign was cultural is not a modern liberal understanding. I should also note that this is a Reformed group, in which Calvin’s understanding has some weight.Your paraphrase inverts the meaning of the final quotation from Calvin. Calvin is not saying that we should take Paul literally, but that we should not dispute Christians who have different understandings of it.

I am inclined to disagree, I believe you are reading Calvin out of context. He is very careful to maintain the continuance of the practice to the point of saying he must take his cap off before preaching and that if women stop, the next thing is them showing off their breasts in church:

Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρέπον — decorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther (Calvin, Commentary of 1 Corinthians, verse 4).

So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, “Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?” And then after that one will plead [for] something else: “Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?” Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. …So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show… In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard (Calvin, Sermon on 1 Cor 11:2-3 in Men, Women and Order in the Church, trans Seth Skolnitsky, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 12-13).

St Paul now continues with the subject which he had begun: namely, that women must have the decency not to come to the public assembly with their heads uncovered; and that men must also be decently attired so that there be no beastly confusion. To confirm it, however, he adds a further reason. ‘Does not nature itself teach that if a woman have no head-covering, it is a shame to her?’ he says. One would surely say that a woman was mad, if she came without hair. When he says ‘her hair is for a covering,’ he does not mean that as long as a woman has hair, that should be enough for her. He rather teaches that our Lord is giving a directive that he desires to have observed and maintained. If a woman has long hair, this is equivalent to saying to her, ‘Use your head-covering, use your hat, use your hood; do not expose yourself in that way! Why? Even if you have no head-covering, nor hood, yet you also have something to conceal yourself. You see that it would not be fitting to go bare-headed; that is something against nature.’ This is how this passage of St. Paul’s must be understood (Calvin, Sermon on 1 Cor 11:11-16, op. cit. pp. 52-53).