Problem Passages: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (Part 3: Verse 10)

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

1 Corinthians 11:10-12 says,

10It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (TNIV)

Summary of Disagreements

The arguments center around translation issues. Complementarians believe that women need something else beside her own authority when worshipping. Egalitarians believe a woman has her own authority.

What everyone agrees about, is that no one can be dogmatic on what the angels have to do with authority and worship. It’s a vague reference, and most modern theologians are wary to form a dogmatic theological position from it.

Translation Issues

Verse 10 has caused controversy since the first English translation, and even further. Most translations add a phrase that is not present in the Greek.  The Greek says,

[this] [reason] [owe/due] [women] [ have] [power/authority over/liberty] [on] [head] [because] [angels]

The King James words it like this: “For this cause ought the woman to have power on [her] head because of the angels.”

But many translations read like this.

“For this reason women should have a symbol of authority over her head because of the angels.”

I won’t bore you with the dusty history of this extra-biblical addition. Its roots reach to the first century. Some translators believe this additional phrase gets to the spirit of the matter, and that’s why it is still included in many modern  versions.

Egalitarian Understanding

Egalitarians find it significant that in every instance the Greek word exousia is used in the New Testament, there is no doubt that it refers to that person’s own right to exercize his power or authority. It is a word that signifies the individual’s own liberty of choice or action. Every instance, that is, except this one. When used in context with a woman, the meaning becomes hotly debated. Most Egals believe the addition of the pharase “a symbol of” distorts the freedom Paul recognizes that women inherently have.

Egalitarians believe God has given both men and women exousia, or authority, to make their own choices. But, Eglas stress the following verses, 11-12. Men and women, though equal in personal liberty, are interdependent on each other. Hence, all of our choices should be made in context with how it effects the other, and ultimately God.

Personal liberty is not dependent on gender, but on love for others and God. In the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, men should not limit a woman’s exousia, nor women to men.

Comlementarian Understanding

The additional phrase , a symbol of, bolsters the Complementarian’s position. Women may pray and prophecy (there is debate over what prophecy is), but women need a spiritual or symbolic covering over their head/man’s authority when they do these spiritual activities. Men hold the accountability as head. The head is responsible for what the woman does while under his covering. Everything she does should bring him glory; and ultimately Christ, then God will be glorified through the respective order.

So, because of the addition of “a symbol of,” Comps believe a woman can only pray and prophecy in church if she is allowed by her husband and the male leadership of the church. Some add a literal, physical covering.

1 Corinthians 11:3-16

Egals Believe… Comps Believe…
Head means source or origin. means authority or leader.
Head Covering Principle Honoring relationship is important in worship. Our clothes or behavior should not bring shame. Gender distinctions are important in worship.
Head Covering Applied Paul explains a woman’s hair is sufficient covering. Her glory should not be hidden. Women should either cover their heads literally with a hat, or metaphorically by being submissive to a male authority.
Verse 10 translation Women should have authority over their own head. Women should have a symbol of authority over their own head.
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2 thoughts on “Problem Passages: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (Part 3: Verse 10)

  1. Do not add nor subtract from the Bible. 1 Cor 11:10 is clear in the Greek and is the pivotal verse on the teaching for women, namely that they can do what they wish with their heads. This is contrasted with the teaching for men, which is that they are NOT to cover their heads. Very few people teach why a man is restricted yet a woman is not.

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  2. I agree with Bro. Johnson’s comment and feel I can add some insight. Taking Paul’s epistle as a whole indicates that his gospel was nothing other than “Christ and Him crucified. (see ch.2:2) After ch.7:1, he deviates to answering their questions, which includes our ch,11.
    From vs. 3-10, he seems to be explaining woman source of life from God, as being Adam. Then after v. 10, as a believer “In the Lord” Jesus is ones source (head) of that life. Please also see the word “sum” in Acts 22:28 for this translation of “head.”
    “Because of the angels,” ministering to her, she is quite able to posses authority over her own physical head.(Heb. 1:4) This is why neither Paul nor the churches of God, have any such custom. For the non-Christian woman, a covering of shame is appropriate.
    This passage has been quite twisted to support a misinterpretation.

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