Monday, December 21, 2009

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Ehh...)

As stated earlier here on NonModern, Paul’s letters are Christian teaching applied to real situations. Knowing that fact, it could be a mistake to take all of Paul’s instruction as “normative” at face value. Instead—and especially here in 1 Corinthians where he is addressing questions posed to him and reports he is hearing—we should view his instruction as addressing specific problems in specific cultural contexts and seek out the normative principles behind the situation. Then we should see if the principles match up with the teachings elsewhere in the Bible.

In this case, we see that the specific issue Paul is addressing is not clear. It has something to do with the headship of Christ, and it almost seems as though the whole hair-discussion is being used as an example or illustration. Whatever the issue, the Corinthian believers are doing something right—Paul is praising them here. (Unlike in the second half of this chapter where he will reprimand them.) Also, Paul is not addressing worship service practice or rules. So it looks as though it would be wrong to read this passage as a normative one instructing: all women to have long hair, all men to have short hair, and women to always wear hats to church.

Other than that, it must be admitted that whatever the point Paul is addressing and what it meant to the people of his day has been largely lost on today’s audiences. Therefore this may be one of those difficult passages (that do exist in Scripture) where we would be wise not to build too much of our theology.

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