Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after emmock.com as can particular topics eg. emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
STONE AGE MAN STANDS FOR PRESIDENT
1 Corinthians 11
2 Now I praise you because you have remembered everything I told you and observe the traditions just the way I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is the Messiah, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of the Messiah is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies wearing something down over his head brings shame to his head, 5 but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame to her head — there is no difference between her and a woman who has had her head shaved. 6 For if a woman is not veiled, let her also have her hair cut short; but if it is shameful for a woman to wear her hair cut short or to have her head shaved, then let her be veiled. 7 For a man indeed should not have his head veiled, because he is the image and glory of God, and the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man; 9 and indeed man was not created for the sake of the woman but woman for the sake of the man. 10 The reason a woman should show by veiling her head that she is under authority has to do with the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in union with the Lord neither is woman independent of man nor is man independent of woman; 12 for as the woman was made from the man, so also the man is now born through the woman. But everything is from God. 13 Decide for yourselves: is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God when she is unveiled? 14 Doesn’t the nature of things itself teach you that a man who wears his hair long degrades himself? 15 But a woman who wears her hair long enhances her appearance, because her hair has been given to her as a covering. 16 However, if anyone wants to argue about it, the fact remains that we have no such custom, nor do the Messianic communities of God.
So now we arrive at some really offensive stuff by Paul that explains his miserable image in the eyes of many. My late dear friend Bob Cummings, the most biblically-literate agnostic on the globe, would have excised the whole of the Pauline correspondence from the Bible because of the effect it had on his temper. Yet he could read that vicious imperialist Edmund Spenser with pleasure!
It’s clear enough that if Sir Tim Hunt had merely read out the above passage at a scientific seminar rather than making feeble sexist jokes, he would have been sacked from University College London in one minute rather than one day.
But the power of men over women is not a laughing matter alrhough it is the theme of Skakespeare’s comedies; it is a history of unnumbered brutalities justified by social prejudice and religious tradition. The history is so long, the prejudice so strong and the traditions so venerable that we can hardly condemn St Paul for the views expressed above, but we can make sure they are not considered binding on Christian believers nor presented publicly as Christian doctrine.
But aren’t they holy scripture, the word of God? Well, yes they are, but they are also wrong. But how can I a believer and minister of the church, dare to say that the word of God is wrong?
Firstly, all scripture is only the word of God inasmuch as it witnesses to Jesus the word made flesh; and secondly like Jesus it is a human word also, meaning it can be wrong. Yes, I am saying that if God is going to talk through human beings, his words will be spoken in a particular human context by a particular human being, and may be wrong in another time and place. Or to put it another way, when the church describes anyone or anything as the word of God, it means that a particular life as a whole, or a particular set of writings as whole embody the truth of God, but it does not mean that a particular person or set of writings is inerrant. Errors in the teaching of Jesus ( was He right to call a Canaanite woman a dog?) or in scripture ( did God really approve the massacre of the prophets of Baal by order of Elijah?) have to be discovered by the conscientious study of the church’s scholars and members although of course they have already put their trust in both as embodiments of God’s truth. If the discovery of errors began to challenge the notion of such embodiment, logic would require a revision of their original trust. In the history of the church this process has led to certain churches excising the Jewish Bible from holy writ; and to the Quakers redefining the entire Bible as little more than advisory material.
In this case we can see how Paul relies on church custom backed by his interpretation of the Genesis story of creation. He sees a hierarchy in creation: God-man-woman, which is repeated in the life of the messianic assemblies as Messiah-man-woman. Man is the glory of God and woman is glory of man. That is poor logic even for a bible scholar, for man is not the creator of woman, merely a a source of spare parts for her. God is the creator of both man and woman and Genesis chapter 1 specifically attaches the image of God to man-plus-woman. He adds that Messiah is the head of the man, while the man is the head of the woman. On the other hand, as he writes, he remembers that even men are born of woman and that in the Messiah men and women are co-dependent equals. In the end he seems to me to realise that his theological reasons are bullshit, and that he is using a steam hammer to drive in a tack, so he comes down to asserting that women appearing in the Assembly without covering their heads is contrary to good custom.
What we can see if we treat this passage as a wrong word of God is a very frequent error whereby time – honoured custom is re – presented as a divine command by the skilful or as in this instance, unskillful use of holy writ. In that sense a wrong word may teach us as much as a right word if we do it the favour of treating it as human. The paradox of incarnation is the interpretive key to the whole Christian tradition.