Early Christianity and Classical Culture: Comparative Studies in Honor of Abraham J. Malherbe

By Abraham Johannes Malherbe | Go to book overview

CREATION, SHAME
AND NATURE IN I COR 11:2–16.
THE BACKGROUND AND COHERENCE OF PAUL’S ARGUMENT

James W. Thompson


Locating Paul’s Argument: A Scholarly Conundrum

Just as the Balkans have “produced more history than they can consume locally,”1 the two passages in 1 Corinthians on the roles of men and women (1 Cor 11:2–16; 14:33b–36) in the Christian assemhly have produced more than their share of debate. The intensity of the debate reflects not only the importance of the contested territory for resolving contemporary issues, but also the difficulty of this terrain. Almost every line in these passages is contested territory. Because the information available to us is fragmentary at best, we face numerous unresolved exegetical issues: the apparent inconsistency between the instructions for women 11:4–6 and 14:34–36 and the meaning of “head”

11:3), of the head covering of “because of the angels” and of “custom”

My primary concern is not to resolve the specific exegetical issues, but to determine how—or if—Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 actually works. He introduces the advice on appropriate head coverings of men and women with an appeal to the created order (11:3) and then lays out his advice in 11:4–6 with an appeal to shame, indicating that the man or woman who does not dress in a manner appropriate to his/her sex “shames his/her head”

A similar argument from shame is made in 1 Cor 14:35: “it is a shame” for a woman to speak in the assembly In 11:7–16, Paul brings together the argument from creation in verse 3 with the instruction for differences in attire, arguing that the created order is the basis for conduct; one “ought” to dress in accordance with the created order. He concludes with an appeal to what “is fitting” v. 13) and to nature arguing that it is a “dishonor”

1 See George F. Will, The Leveling Wind: Politics, the Culture and Other News, 1990- 1994 (New York: Viking, 1994) 355.

-237-

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