In my previous post, I discussed the entirely errant views of complementarian thinker Kevin DeYoung regarding Genesis 1-2 (see here). In his argument DeYoung argues that Genesis necessarily establishes a gender binary as God’s express will for humanity. Thus, men and women have specific gender roles, and those roles cannot be overstated. Men are the leaders, women are to support, encourage, and supplement that leadership in full submission.* While he lists a number of supposed NT clobber passages as support, one deserves a fuller treatment, separate from the others: 1 Corinthians 11.
As a whole, 1 Corinthians 11 is one of the most controversial chapters in all the Bible. It has been used in a wide variety of ways to subjugate and silence women in the Church. In any attempt to engage this passage, it is important to consider how it functions within its specific context.
A large part of 1 Corinthians is dedicated to answering questions written to Paul by the Corinthian church (cf 7:1). The Corinthians have issued a series of challenges to Paul’s teachings and he is offering answers accordingly. Such a structure is represented in 1 Corinthians 11. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of translating ancient Greek into English, this structure, so evident in other passages, goes largely unnoticed by many (if not most) readers.
DeYoung himself seems either unaware of such a structure, or chooses to ignore it entirely. Instead, he claims his beliefs on gender binaries are fully supported by Chapter 11, while offering two seemingly contradictory quotes:
Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. (vv. 8-9)
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God. (vv. 11-12)
If DeYoung is correct, if these two verses are not juxtaposed, then Paul has intended to preserve patriarchy, the Roman establishment of pater familias. That is, if every statement in chapter 11 is indeed Paul’s own words, then he has established a system of power that seeks to define men and women as polar opposite, placing men with all the power and women as existing for the sake of men (vv. 7-9).
Such an assertion, however, renders the rhetoric of chapter 11 counterintuitive to the whole of 1 Corinthians. For instance, In 1 Corinthians 1:18-30, Paul argues that the cross undermines human claims of power. It exalts the weak (in this case women) by exposing as foolish the power systems of this world (patriarchal gender hierarchies). This is carried forward with his vow to speak only of the cross (2:2). Paul consistently points out how the Corinthian church is making cultural claims that compete with identity rooted in Christ. They are trying to enforce absurd and superfluous qualifications for serving Christ, rather than making Christ the head of his body.
This is reflected in chapter 6, where Paul states some members of the church body have severed themselves from their head, Christ, to join with prostitutes – forsaking participation in Christ for participation in pagan culture and cult. Likewise, in Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Table, he points out that some members are exercising privilege, rooted in wealth and influence, rather than heeding the call of Christ to love neighbor as self. They have shown contempt for others, for the body of Christ, by asserting their own influence and privelege at their neighbor’s expense – using their their status to guarantee they eat first, causing others to suffer and some to go hungry (11:17-22). They have also neglected Paul’s admonition that spiritual gifts are for the edification of the whole body, not for ensuring personal power or benefit (12:1-11). It is only in such a context that we can truly make sense of 11:2-16.
The following outline – supported by several scholars – shows how this passage’s rhetoric functions within this context.
Paul: vv. 1-3
Corinthians : 7-10
When this outline is applied, we begin to see how the Corinthian male leaders argue for gender roles caught up in arbitrary categories such as hair length and head coverings. They are setting up impossible standards, false piety, via circular reasoning to preserve their own power. However, Paul points out the absurdity of these arguments. Verse 6 becomes an ironic statement demonstrating this, arguing that they are setting up barriers to denigrate certain individuals.
It is notable that, when read in this fashion, Paul’s response completely undermines any patriarchal power claims; and the rhetoric of the passage becomes much less confusing. Consider verses 7-16.
Read within this outline, the Corinthians claim a hierarchy according to creation order. They argue that men bear the image of God because they were made first; and expand this to argue woman was made from man, and thus women exist for men while men exist for God.
However, Paul points out “[I]n the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.” (vv. 11-12). This is consistent with verses 2-3, where Paul de-centers the man as “head” by beginning with Christ and ending with God. He is telling them they have attempted to center authority in the Roman pater familias model instead of Christ. Paul thus calls them to return to proper identity in God through Christ. In answering this call, they will realize that male and female equally share in the image of God. Both are called to operate within community, not as independent individuals or polar opposites of a gender binary. This is a call to be defined in Christ through participation in his covenant body.
Lastly, Paul points out that an argument from nature is self defeating. If males having long hair is a disgrace and needs to be short so so their head isn’t covered, doesn’t it follow that a woman’s long hair is already a covering? He ends by telling them they are merely being contentious, this tradition has no place in Paul’s churches (vv. 14-16).
That is, far from affirming patriarchy (complementarity) Paul is condemning the notion of pater familias; forbidding it while creating an equivocation between such belief and being disposed toward disunity.
From this argument it seems reasonable to conclude that a gender hierarchy derived from 1 Corinthians 11 specifically, and more generally from creation order, is foreign to Scriptural witness and misguided. In citing four specific verses from Chapter 11 (8-9, 11-12) DeYoung intentionally sets out to subvert any discussion of context in interest of preserving his own preferred reading. While we all bring presuppositions to the text, DeYoung has taken great lengths to ensure his remain unexamined. As such, he ignores a great deal of recent work on such passages and insists that only he and his possess the accurate reading of the text.
Gender equality and same-sex marriage are not some great threat to the Church, our pride and fear are.
As followers of Christ, we would do well to recognize the hypocrisy of such teachers. Rather than insisting on objective readings, on our own position as inerrant truth, we would do well to practice humility and grace. We must become students of the text, recognize and embrace our own subjectivity, and allow the Spirit to inspire us through the appropriated text, guiding us ever towards Christ and Christ-likeness.
“[W]hoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
*Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015) pp 25-27.
**Cover photo from http://www.ancient.eu/uploads/images/533.jpg?v=1431035386**