A lot of people misunderstand Paul’s point because they do not read him holistically. His arguments sometimes span chapters and are predicated upon conclusions made paragraphs beforehand.

Paul also has a distinctive style in his writings that make them stick out. He avoids syllogisms, but he is very much a logical thinker. He uses rhetorical questions, appeals to authority, and fits them like a puzzle to demonstrate his point.

With a greater appreciation of this, we can better understand Paul’s point in the much debated section in 1 Cor 11 on headcovering. This is because, as we are about to demonstrate, Paul follows a course of argumentation in the eleventh chapter nearly identical to that in the eighth through tenth chapters.


Let’s follow Paul’s rationale for the issue of meat sacrificed to idols discussed in 1 Cor 8-10.

The underlying principle behind the imperative.

1 Cor 8:9-11 – “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.” [Paul returns to the same principle in 1 Cor 10:23-30.]

A rationale to follow the imperative.

1 Cor 10-1, 5-6 – “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers…God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.”

The imperative, plainly stated.

1 Cor 10:14 – “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry [i.e. eating meat sacrificed to idols, the issue invoked in 1 Cor 8].”

A request to judge for oneself.

1 Cor 10:15 – “I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say.”

The use of rhetorical questions in order to provide another rationale for the imperative..

1 Cor 10:16-19 – “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?”

An answer to the rhetorical question.

1 Cor 10:20 – “[T]he things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.”

Paul is tired of teaching and just tells you to do the imperative.

1 Cor 10:21 – “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”


Now let’s follow Paul’s rationale for the wearing of headcoverings. It is very similar in its construction.

The underlying principle behind the imperative.

1 Cor 11:3 – “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”

The imperative, plainly stated.

1 Cor 11:4-5 – “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.

A rationale to follow the imperative.

1 Cor 11:6-7 – “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 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.”

A request to judge for oneself.

1 Cor 11:13 – “Judge for yourselves…”

The use of rhetorical questions in order to provide another rationale for the imperative.

1 Cor 11:13-15 – “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even [oude] nature itself [aute] 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?

An answer to the rhetorical question.

1 Cor 11:15 – “For her hair is given to her for a covering.”

Paul is tired of teaching and just tells you to do the imperative.

1 Cor 11:16 – “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.


Conclusions.

  • We can see in the above that Paul argues two different points in the space of a few chapters in very similar ways.
  • The key difference is that in 1 Cor 8-10 he states the rationale for the imperative before plainly stating it. In 1 Cor 11 he goes in the opposite order.
  • 1 Cor 11 :14 in the original Greek gives us a strong reason to believe that Paul is giving another rationale for the same imperative. Proof of this is the word “even” [oude] which means nor/neither/does not even. Plainly stated, the word indicates that something by necessity precedes it in order for the statement being made to make sense. For example, when the Scripture says, “Consider the lilies of the field, not even [oude] Solomon was clothed…”it is plain to us that the lilies precede Solomon in the sentence’s reasoning. In 1 Cor 11:14, it is less plain to the reader but the reality is that the former rationale given by Paul (a covering is a dishonor to man because he is made in the image of God) is specifically in view. It is as if Paul is teaching, “Men ought not to cover because they are made in the image of God, nor should they cover because nature teaches us that long hair on a man is disgraceful.”
    • The word “itself” [aute] merely adds weight to Paul’s above point. Paul could have easily written, “Consider for yourself: Nature teaches [didaskei, present indicative conjugation of the verb “to teach”] that long hair on a man is…” However, he obviously did not because he really wanted to convey that not only that the Bible teaches a man ought to not cover (the whole image of God argument), but also nature itself compels us to take the same view.
  •  It is important that we understand the end of verse 15 (“For her hair is given to her for a covering”) in a fashion similar to 1 Cor 10:20 (“[T]he things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.”) Both serve as answers to rhetorical questions immediately preceding them.
    • 1 Cor 10:20 answers that, yes, a thing sacrificed to idols is something inasmuch that the thing sacrificed is presented to a demon.
    • 1 Cor 11:15 answers that, yes, long hair is glorious for a woman because it acts as covering. (The Greek lacks the definite article.)
  • Because the Greek lacks the definite article in 1 Cor 11:15 (and verse 15 in the Greek obviously is dependent upon the previous rationale that a headcovering honors a woman’s head because she is “the image and glory of man,”) we are supposed to conclude the following–Just as long hair is glorious for women, as nature teaches, so also is a woman covering her head (and vice versa.)
  • Further, just as the answer to the rhetorical questions in 1 Cor 10:16-19 does not undo the imperative (but rather, it bolsters our reason to follow it,) so does the answer given to 1 Cor 11:14 bolster our reason to follow 1 Cor 11:4-5.
  • Immediately after the answers to the rhetorical questions, Paul simply does his Nike routine: Just Do It. Aren’t you tired of reading all of the above explanation? So is Paul in writing it, so just do it.
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