Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A power on the head? 1 Corinthians 11:10

Sequel to: Difficult verses; 1 Corinthians 11

When I read this verse for the first time (in the Dutch NBG translation) I was very puzzled about it's meaning. In Dutch it reads something like:

For this cause the woman ought to have a power on the head because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11 :10)
Wow! That sounds heavy. A power on the head... But, what is it, that power that a women apparently ought to have on her head? (In Dutch it sounds just as strange as in English.)
The NIV is a bit more clear:
For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (1 Corinthians 11 :10 NIV)
But there is a problem with this translation. The word sign is not found in the source text! The translators have tried to translate this text in harmony with their interpretation of the relations between men and women. (The equality of men and women is a rather novel idea!)
Therefore, the Greek word for power (exousian) was interpreted as the authority under which the woman is. The meaning of exousia is:
power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases
The idea that here we are dealing with someone else's authority (allegedly over the woman) is foreign to the Greek.
The TNIV correctly translates:
It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.
In this passage (1 Cor. 11:3-16), willingly used by traditionalists to demonstrate the authority of men over women, the word power (exousia) is only used one time. And in that occasion it is the woman who owns that power. I assume that head in this verse has a literal meaning. (Would it be figurative, then the hierarchy would be the other way around, for as we read in verse 3, her head is the man!) Taken literally this verse could mean that (in principle) the woman can decide for herself what to do with her head (long hair, short hair, bald, veiled...)

Soon we will look at how this fits in the context and what those angels have to do with it.

The original post in Dutch can be found here.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


I just found a post by Kenny here on this chapter. I'm not sure if it helps.

Ruud Vermeij said...

Here are two quotes from (Metacrock):

Sir William Ramsay, the great archaeologist who, at the turn of the last century, proved so much accuracy for the book of Acts, and established Luke as a valid historian, openly mocked the traditional rendering! He called it "a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere (except in the New Testament, where they seem to think Greek words can mean anything commentators choose." (see Ramsay, Cities of ST. Paul (Londong: holder) 1907, 203).


Ramsay himself proved this in the Cities of St.Paul. On one of his digs he found a statue of a woman, the inscription of what claimed that she had "three powers on her head." This was Ramsey's rendering, and it was the same word. This meant, she was the wife, daughter and mother of kings.

The Dutch translation can be found here.

Kevin Knox said...


You may or may not recall that your thoughts on this chapter was my first question of you. I am relishing every word of these posts. Thank you.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I will tell you the honest truth. I find it a little awkward as a women to be arguing about the verses that are 'difficult for women' so to speak. However, I do remember you asking. After reading Rudd's blog but not quite getting it - I don't read Dutch beyond the titles - I decided it would be better this way.

I have learned a lot through this exercise. Thanks for your encouragement. I appreciate it.

And thank you, Ruud, for your participation with me.