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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on 1 Corinthians 11:10-16

Because of the angels - 1 Corinthians 11:10

Many interpretations of this phrase have been suggested, the most common being that Paul spoke either of heavenly beings who cared for the Church or of messengers from other churches. All such suggestions are speculative. The difficulty of this verse indicates that Paul assumed a lot of common understanding between himself and the Corinthians. As a result, one should be especially cautious about forming universal applications from this passage (cf. 1 Cor. 11: 4-5, 16). Pratt's remarks are very instructive:

At this point in Paul's argument, one might expect him to have concluded that wives ought to cover their heads in public worship. In fact, this is what the majority of the translations suggest, but it may not be precisely what he said. Paul concluded that women ought to have authority over their heads.

This passage presents a number of difficulties. Most major translations add to the original text the words "a sign of" or "a symbol of" so that the verse reads "a sign of authority." If this approach is correct, then it probably means that women ought to wear head coverings as symbols that they are under their husbands' authority. Generally, most interpreters prefer this option. Even if this option is correct, we must remember that head coverings were a culturally specific symbol of man's authority. Modern Christians cannot simply put veils on their wives and believe they have fulfilled the intention of Paul's teaching.

It is possible, however, that the major translations have erred by inserting the words "a sign/symbol of." It is more in keeping with the Greek original to translate the verse "the woman ought to have authority over her head," meaning that women ought to exercise authority over their physical heads. This understanding indicates that Paul wanted women to act responsibly and on their own in the matter of head coverings. This more literal reading is confirmed by the next statement, "However, woman is not independent of man" (1 Cor. 11:11). This clause appears to qualify an assertion of the women's authority encouraged in 1 Cor. 11:10.

Paul also argued that women should have a sign of authority over or on their heads because of the angels. Two interpretations of this expression are widespread. First, "angels" could refer to actual celestial creatures. The New Testament hints that churches have angels who attend to the church and represent the church to God (Rev. 2:1; 3:14). Even individuals may have such angels (Matt. 18:10). If Paul referred to these angels, then he meant that supernatural angels watched the worship in the church at Corinth to make sure this was acceptable.

Alternatively, the term angels may be translated "messengers," referring to human messengers (Luke 9:52; Acts 12:15). If this is the correct understanding of this passage, then Paul may have referred to human messengers who reported to him. In this case, Paul warned the Corinthians to remember that their behavior in worship was monitored by people who would report to him, and that he would hold them accountable.

Paul may also have referred to messengers from other churches. Some of the churches who held to the practice of head coverings for women did so on the basis that their societies required such attire for reputable women. Paul may have been worried that the messengers would be offended, and would carry bad reports about Corinth back to their own churches. This might have become an opportunity for stumbling. The Corinthian women might have negatively influenced the behavior of other churches.

Woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman - 1 Corinthians 11:11-16

1 Corinthians 11:11,12 appears to be a qualification of the previous comments. With specific reference to their relationship "in the Lord," men and women are mutually dependent since they are one in him (Gal 3:28).

Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:14, in light of the Old Testament's approval of long hair on men in certain circumstances (Num. 6:2-21; 2 Sam. 14:25-26), it seems clear that Paul was not speaking of a perpetual, universal principle. See "Biblical Hair" below. In any event, Paul expected the Corinthians to recognize and accept the fact that long hair in their setting was appropriate only for women and short hair only for men (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5). It was a cultural command. Kistemaker points out: "From coins, statues, and paintings that depict men in the Greco-Roman world of the first century, we know that men trimmed their hair."

Paul may have meant in 1 Corinthians 11:15 that since the woman's long hair served as a covering, the propriety of an external veil or other covering was indicated. Some argue, however, that Paul meant in place of a covering, thus supporting the view that Paul did not have in mind veils, but hairstyle. (cf. 1 Cor. 11:5).

Pratt explains 1 Corinthians 11:16 as follows:

Paul anticipated resistance to his argument, admitting that some Corinthian believers may have wanted to be contentious about this. The term contentious means "eager to argue or fight." Contentions could come from anyone - from men or women. Paul sought to settle the matter by appealing to the widespread practice of the church, saying, we have no other practice. This phrase may also be translated "we have no such custom."

Some interpreters have understood Paul to say that no approved custom of arguing or contention existed in the church. It is better, however, to understand Paul as the NIV[84] suggests. Paul meant that he and other church leaders, and the churches of God had no other practice than having women cover their heads in public worship. The widespread practice of the church should have caused dissenters at least to hesitate over their objections.

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