Thursday, May 11, 2006

No Such Custom

On the one hand I would like to give this up and never hear the words head covering again. On the other hand, this is probably a passage that has more variant translations than any other in the Bible. Therefore, it intrigues me. Can you believe that I step back, to enter the text, and forget that I am involved, as one who is a pawn of the word?

Here is the little research I have found time for. There is no text variant in verse 16, the Greek says "There is no such custom." As far as I can see, it was the RSV that first brought in "no other practice" and it also used a text variant in verse 10, which is now recognized as being the weaker choice, 'veil' rather than 'power'.

    But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. KJV

    If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God RSV

    But if anyone is disposed to be contentious - we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. NRSV

    If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. ESV
and here is verses 10 in the RSV.

    That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
This translation 'other' has had a powerful influence, but it is based entirely on surmise.


On the meaning of verse 10, it appears to me the a woman may have on her head one of several things. First, a sign of her own authority, second a sign of someone else's authority, and third, simply authority, or since it is her own, it is 'liberty, freedom of choice or right to act'. This is the first meaning of εξουσια in the lexicon. This is first and foremost, the most straightforward of all translations.

Now see what Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood does with this lexicon.

    Furthermore, it is not at all strained to see exousia in verse 10 as "sign of authority" or "symbol of authority." The standard lexicon for New Testament literature sees such a symbolic understanding of exousia as a viable possibility. BADG, page 278 #5 ....In an example very similar to 1 Corinthians 11:10, Diodorus of Sicily (1.47.5, written ca. BC 60-30) refers to a stone statue that has "three kingdoms on its head (echonton treis basileias epi tes kephales)," but it clearly means in the context that the statue has three crowns, which are symbols of governing kingdoms. We can conclude, then, that it is not at all unusual for something on the head to be a symbol of something else. Recovering
So I will quote BADG, page 278, #5

    Various opinions are held concerning the mng. of 1 Cor. 11:10 Many now understand it as 'a means of exercising power'.
There is then a discussion of the "three kingdoms" as above, and then this statement.

    "The veil may also have been simply a symbol of womanly dignity."

There is no discussion in BADG of a woman having a symbol of someone else's authority on her head. However, the quote from Recovering suggests, but does not clearly state, that it does.

Shall we torture the text any longer? Shall we torture the lexicons as well? Not today, but some day, it would be well worth the time to revisit this passage and review the rhetorical questions, the play on words, both 'head' and 'glory', the chiastic structure, and so on.

It is clear, however, that whatever women had, it gave them the right to pray and prophesy in the assembly. The veil had nothing to do with silence, that comes later. The veil is only associated with authority and submission in its association with the argument of the "head" in verse 3. It is only by understanding "head" as an authority/submission relationship that authority and submission are read into the rest of the chapter.

But what is the relationship of God to Christ? Let us remember that Christ submitted unto death. It was the incarnation and death of Christ that was his submission. Is that how we see the man and the woman? Shall the woman submit unto death? Is that the beauty of headship? I do not read authority and submission when this chapter talks about the head.

I read a different relationship altogether, that God gave Christ everything, absolutely everything, because God is the head of Christ.

The submission and death of Christ is indeed part of the Christian story, but it is not under discussion when the Bible says, "The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman, man, the head of Christ, God."


Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, the RSV footnote to v.10, "Greek authority (the veil being a symbol of this)", implies that the RSV translators did not rely on the very poorly attested textual variant καλυμμα kalumma, but translated like this (in defiance of their usual formal translation technique) as their own interpretation of the meaning of the text. In any case, "symbol of authority" must be understood in the sense "symbol of her own authority", rather than "symbol that she is under someone else's authority".

On v.16, I don't know why you are making a big deal of the difference between "custom" and "practice", although I agree that RSV's "other" is misleading. But it is good to see that ESV has abandoned RSV's "recognize" as well as "other" and returned to "have" and "such", for in the Greek this is clearly a matter of the customs they practise themselves, not of what customs of others they give some recognition to.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

No, just 'other' and 'such'. I wonder how the translators came up with that particlular switch.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

I wonder too. I automatically start being a bit cynical. Very interesting post...though in one sense I too would like to never read about head coverings again. :-)

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You are right about the RSV. They were not using the text variant but did say that it was 'authority' in the Greek. Somehow I thought of the RSV as being a relatively literal translation. It didn't occur to me that they would do this. Thanks for pointing that out.

Bill Heroman said...

Wow. Two years late! Found this page from your "veil" link on a recent BBB post/comment. (I've been an occasional reader there for a couple of years.)

Do you have the NT translation by classical scholar Richmond Lattimore? It's neat to observe the classicist also got the "such" done correctly.

One question: have you ever heard the idea that speaking in the "ecclesia" may refer to a woman attending the local, civic assembly?

It's a theory, anyway...