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Friday, May 19, 2006

Rhetorical Questions ll

In answer to yesterday's discussion of how rhetorical questions are marked, it appears from the rest of 1 Corinthians that they are often directly followed by an answer. However, they can be answered in either the positive or the negative. They may be introduced by κρινω, 'you examine the question', or 'you decide.' So it seems correct to translate 1 Cor. 11:13 as, "You decide. Is it proper for a women to pray with her head uncovered?"

However, the answer is less obvious. Is it "Does not nature itself teach you?" or "Nature itself does not teach you?" I find little support for the first option. The natural world does not teach us this. Nor does the Old Testament, with its stories of Samson and Absalom. Experience might teach you to keep long hair tied back, that is reasonable. The other interpretation is contrary to what we know.

Neither is there a single dominant custom regarding head covering. And if 'nature' means 'custom' then how does one explain the following verse, "We have no such custom." Even though this option appears to contradict verse 4, it seems to be the only clear choice.

If verse 14 contradicts verse 4, verse 11

    πλην ουτε γυνη χωρις ανδρος, ουτε ανηρ χωρις γυναικος εν κυριω
also contradicts verse 8.

    ου γαρ εστιν ανηρ εκ γυναικος, αλλα γυνη εξ ανδρος
And we achieve a consistent pattern. Then verse 10 is the pivot. After reading over 1 Corinthians, I can only interpret δια τουτο οφειλει η γυνη εξουσια εχειν επι της κεφαλης as having Christian liberty, since this is Paul's repeated use of the phrase in Corinthians.

It seems clear that a woman should have liberty regarding her own head. I have a definite doubt about whether a woman should take this liberty if it will cause others to stumble. That is, if an older woman always wears a hat out of her own upbringing and conscience, a younger woman might also where a hat, even if she felt no requirement. That has often been done. If a head covering correctly communicates a married status it seems reasonable to wear one. Today it does not.

Paul discusses many Christian liberties. But we should not necessarily take them. It would surprise me very much if any woman ever spoke up in a Brethren breaking of bread service. I cannot ever remember hearing a woman speak in a situation where she had not been given that liberty by the men. (I have just recently heard that there are Brethren assemblies that allow women to teach. I know little about them.)

That does not mean that a woman should always keep silent. The first time I ever challenged church elders, it was over a matter of serious abuse. I do not in any way think that I should have kept quiet. But I went to the home and spoke in private. No one should look out for their own interests but for the interests of others. 1 Cor. 10:24.

The first women ordained in Canada had served as deacons and teachers for a lifetime before they were formally recognized for the service they had given, often in remote locations. They had no more to do with modern worldly feminism, than Florence Nightingale. They took the Christian liberty of working for the gospel in a place where no one else did and many scholarly and traditional men realized that this was of God.


At Sat May 20, 08:33:00 AM, Blogger Bill Combs said...

"However, the answer is less obvious. Is it 'Does not nature itself teach you?' or 'Nature itself does not teach you?' I find little support for the first option. The natural world does not teach us this."

What about this interpretation?

What does Paul mean by the word “nature?” Paul’s use of the term elsewhere and the use of the term teach suggest that he is referring to the natural and instinctive sense of right and wrong that God has planted in us, especially with respect to sexuality. This sense of what is appropriate or fitting has been implanted in human beings from creation. In this sense “nature teaches” us. In Rom 1:26–27 Paul says that women and men involved in a homosexual relationship have exchanged the natural function of sexuality for what is contrary to nature, that is, they have violated the God-given created order and natural instinct by engaging in sexual relations with others of the same sex.

We can say, then, that nature teaches in this sense, in the sense that our natural instincts and perceptions of masculinity and femininity are manifested in particular cultural situations. Or to say it another way, nature teaches in that the natural inclination of men and women is to feel shame when they abandon the culturally established symbols of masculinity or femininity. Thus, a male instinctively and naturally shrinks away from doing anything that his culture labels as feminine. So, too, females have a natural inclination to dress like women rather than men. Paul’s point, then, is that how men and women wear their hair is a significant indication of whether they are abiding by the created order, that is, acting like males or females. Of course, what is appropriately masculine or feminine in hairstyle may vary from culture to culture, but in Corinth men were generally identified with short hair and women with longer hair.

At Sat May 20, 09:46:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Bill, this is interesting. There could well be a link between a dread of homosexuality and insistence on distinctive hair lengths for men and women. But there is a clear sense in which homosexuality is "unnatural": it does not contribute towards the continuation of the human race. That can be understood without bringing in anything about a natural sense of shame - and so continues to be valid even in a modern world in which this sense of shame about homosexuality is in such decline. But the same is not true about hair coverings: men having short hair and women having long hair does not contribute to the continuation of the human race - unless I suppose you want to argue that it helps people to select appropriate partners! So the same argument about what is "unnatural" does not apply.

At Sat May 20, 01:15:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Nature teaches us that the hair on a man or womans head will grow long by nature, and without purposeful trimming it verily will do so. If you look at the varied hair styles of the Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Egyptians, etc., these are all culturally induced fashions throughout the millenia.

If you were an "all-natural" man or woman, you would have quite long hair. This nature teaches us.

The headcoverings can be viewed like this: it was culturally significant at the time Paul was writing, otherwise he would not even mention it, whether retorical or qualitatively. This would be the same as now, if a man or woman does not wear their wedding ring in public, though they are married, this is shunned. It needs to be clear what you are, and who you are. If all modern women dress in miniskirts, even the Christian women, what good is that?

This, of course, is all tied into the cultural interpretation of this incredibly ambiguous (or at least hard to comprehend) passage! And I for one admit that my interpretations could be wrong.

All I know is this, I don't remember anyone ever mentioning that Eve wore a head covering... something to think about or look into.

*I make no claims that I am correct in my interpretation of this passage, your mileage may vary*

At Sat May 20, 01:21:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

I forgot to mention, much of what is containted in the book of 1 Corinthians is obviously damage control being run by Paul, and much of what is said (quotes, sayings, etc.) is clearly regional in nature. This makes for a quite difficult interpretation of much that is in 1 Corinthians, in my opinion.

At Sat May 20, 02:48:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Sat May 20, 02:58:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I don't imagine that I present here a final interpretation of any verse. But that is not an excuse to disengage. We must make clear our understandings in order to interact with others.

I have been reading Finally Feminist today by John Stackhouse, a fellow Canadian and fellow Brethren. He writes about the hermeneutic spiral. One can enter the discussion either through the details or the big picture, but in any case you will go around many times without necessarily finding resolution. The important thing is not to close off dscussion and dialogue, and not to be hampered from acting for the gospel.

I heard him speak last week, and it was very refreshing to hear him refer, not to his wife, but to his sisters. He asked men to repent of their sexaul reading of women. It was a relief to me.

I have to assume that Stackhouse is not presently attending a Brethren assembly, but he maintains connections and mentioned to me a group of Brethren which include women teachers.

He, like myself, found the sexism of the Christian community to be almost unbearable after many years in a secular university. It is regrettable, that Christianity pioneered education for women(among the first women medical doctors in Canada were many Baptist missionaries) but now that same Christianity, is imposing limitations on women not encountered elsewhere.

At Sat May 20, 07:15:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

The perception of imposed limitations on women by some segments of Christianity (if you're a liberal, you got all the freedom you want) is unfortunate, but a sign of life, in my opinion. Christians are trying to maintain fundamental beliefs and adapt to an ever changing cultural environment without abandoning their faith. Many liberals have taken this much to far in one direction (women can do anything a man can do, even sexually), while many conservatives and fundamentalists take it much to far the other direction (women should get pregnant, and cook, all at home).

It doesn't help that we can't figure out exactly what scripture is saying in places like this. The 1st letter to the Corinthians is, however, as I said before, notorious for this (being misread, that is).

We need to study carefully what God expects of a man, and what he expects of a woman. I look at myself in a mirror, and I know that my body is not created for the exact same things that my wife is.

We have to be very careful. I interpret this verse culturally, as in my previous post. However, I do not stand confidently beside my interpretation and application, becase this passage is so difficult.

Matthew Mansini

At Sat May 20, 07:22:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

However, I do not stand confidently beside my interpretation and application, because this passage is so difficult.

I appreciate your attitude, Matthew, and I appreciate that you have been courageous enough to state it so transparently here in public. I used to "know" things much more confidently about the Bible than I do today. Having had to wrestle with the biblical text for many years to translate it into another language has caused me to question many things I once thought were certain doctrine. At the same time, I think I believe even more strongly things which seem to be in focus and stated rather clearly and repeatedly throughout the Bible.

Thanks, again, for your helpful comment.


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