This post is an excerpt from the ebook Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes. The ebook is available here, and the print version will be available by Aug. 31, 2017.
Each verse is given first in the King James Version, and then in the BYU New Testament Commentary Rendition.
11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ / Follow my example as I myself follow Christ’s example.
This verse should probably go with the previous chapter because it makes a very strong conclusion of the point Paul made there. In that section he noted his desire to be all things to all people in order to bring them to Christ (10:32–33). This sentence marks his request for his readers to do the same. He sincerely wanted them to be μίμηται (mimētai), which is very literally, “imitators” of him, the word denoting one who follows another as a model or example of proper behavior.
11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things / Now I commend you because you remember me in everything.
The word “brethren,” ἀδελφοί (adelphoi), found in the KJV, is a later addition. The earliest manuscripts do not have it and, therefore, it is left out of our Rendition.
The verb ἐπαίνω (epainō), “praise, commend,” expresses admiration for something done
well. Paul commends his readers for doing two things: First, they remembered him “in all
things.” The plural passive verb μέμνησθε (memnēsthe), “remember,” denotes not only calling someone to mind but also responding to that memory in an appropriate manner. In this context, it likely refers to prayers the Saints offered in the Apostle’s behalf.
11:2b and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you / and hold fast to the traditions just as I have passed them on to you:
The second item Paul praises them for is holding fast to Church traditions. Since Paul has been castigating many of his readers, it seems a bit odd that he would here commend them. Paul could be reaching out to his audience by softening his approach in an attempt to win them to his position. Though he had reached out to them before, it seems unlikely, however, that he is doing so here. Some early and medieval commentators felt that his words were ironic, if not sarcastic. Again, that is unlikely. What is more likely comes from understanding Paul’s intent here. The noun παράδοσις (paradosis), translated as “ordinance” in the KJV, denotes both content and instructions that were passed down over time through authority. Hence, though the Church was still young, the best translation of the word, in this context, would be “traditions” to give it the necessary weight of authority. The verb κατέχω (katechō) denotes “adhering firmly to convictions and traditions.” In their letter to Paul, it would seem that the Corinthian Saints expressed a willingness to follow what had become a tradition in many of the branches of the Church, and this was what Paul was commending them for. The particular tradition in focus was allowing women to participate in worship services. In their letter to him, however, they raised concerns about a new development and wanted his direction.
11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of
the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God / But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.
Paul’s introduction, θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι (thelō de hymas eidenai), “But I want you to
understand,” ties what he is about to say to what he has already said. Though he commends them for what they have accepted, they need to clearly understand a point that they have missed. Therefore, the coordinating conjunction δέ (de) is translated adversatively as “but.” In sum, they have accepted the tradition found in other branches of the Church that women have the right to prophetic speech, “but” (de) they have missed an important principle that has contributed to the present problem.
With this sentence, Paul lays down the foundation on which he will build his argument.
In doing so, he uses a word play on the noun κεφαλή (kephalē), “head,” taking it in both its literal and metaphorical senses. Literally, it denotes that part of the body in which the brain is encased and that houses the organs of sight, sound, smell, and taste. As a metaphor, however, it has a whole range of meanings. For instance, it can stand for the whole person or for someone of higher or superior rank, such as a ruler or leader. Kephalē can denote one who has preeminence. In addition, it can refer to a source, such as the “head” of a river or the progenitor of a family. Because of the semantic range of the word, precisely translating Paul’s intent presents some difficulties. To keep the ambiguity, our Rendition follows the KJV and translates kephalē simply as “head.” Nonetheless, we have chosen to explore its possible meanings.
Paul’s initial use of the word kephalē is metaphorical. From the context he most likely
used the word to indicate the preeminent or foremost nature of the subject in each case. The word “preeminence” denotes that which has the highest eminence or rank due to superlativeness and uniqueness. The word does not connote, as does the word “supremacy,” the idea of unequalled superiority such that there are no equals, nor does it connote domination or autocratic power, as does the word “ascendancy.” Rather, it points to that which is distinctive above all others and, thereby, commands respect and difference, like a citizen of the Roman Empire which Paul was. It does not necessarily refer to a leader or ruler, but designates anyone holding the position of prominence or superiority in a particular situation. One who is preeminent in one instance, therefore, may not be in another.
God has preeminence over Christ who has preeminence over all men. Men, in turn, have
preeminence over women in Paul’s metaphor. There is an order in the Church, that is, a
hierarchy, that determines how some practices are done and by whom.
In Christ’s Church, women, especially Jewish women, enjoyed freedom and place in
Church worship as never before. Though Jewish women attended worship services in the
synagogue, they were forbidden to pray, read scripture aloud, and preach. It would appear that some of the more progressive Christian women, on the other hand, began pushing the boundaries of decorum and respect. Paul pushed back, insisting that tradition dictated that certain Jewish religious norms were yet to be observed during Christian worship services.
Analysis and Summary
By way of background, in the Greco-Roman world, due to a woman’s potential of bringing great shame to her family through improper behavior and especially sexual misconduct, “women were controlled, enclosed, and guarded.” That dictated not only how they were to act in public but also what they wore. Further, in this society few, either man or woman, would have raised the question of equality. “No ancient Mediterranean man,” noted one scholar, “would have ever have thought that a woman could be his equal; only a man of similar education and social status could be. Only a man could be equal to a man, a woman to a woman.” The social boundaries were not to be crossed without censure. Therefore, many in society were sensitive to the breaking of social strictures in attitude, decorum, or dress. To step outside of these was considered shameful, a condition no family or social group wanted its members to be in.
Within the Christian circle, from the time of the Savior’s ministry, women had a remarkable participatory role. That Christian women could participate directly in worship service shows how far Christianity had moved from Judaism. For example, during the formal worship at the synagogue, though wives likely sat with their husbands, other than saying “amen” to prayers, blessings, and invocations, they played no direct role. They did not pray aloud, read or comment on scripture, give talks, or teach. Thus, Christianity, having women do all of these, gave them not only a greater participatory role unknown within Jewish culture but also more responsibility with its accompanying recognition of their importance. It also brought with it the possibility to push religious opportunities beyond their bounds. This epistle suggests some women did so by discarding their head coverings during worship service. In Roman and Hellenistic culture, the veil or hood was important because it gave a clear indication that the wearer was a person of status and respectability. There was a direct correlation between proper dress and personal success, enjoyment of public honor, and esteem by women within the general society. Most importantly, their apparel acted as a defense, showing that the woman was neither potentially nor actually available for sexual advances. According to the poet Ovid (43 BC–AD 18), who was viewed as scandalous by many contemporaries because he advocated sexual license, men should hunt women. In his poem Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, women who were “available” went out to places like the theater for the express purpose to see and be seen.
But there was more going on that likely concerned Paul far more than such social mores.
In the Christian circle, as with the man’s attire, the woman’s dress could give a very distracting signal in public worship. It was especially important that it not have any sexual overtones. For a woman to go with head uncovered made a bold statement that pushed beyond Jewish protocols and, at its core, was self-advertising. The act was dishonoring, at least in part, because it took the attention of the worshipper away from where it belonged, that is, on the Lord. Because the issues Paul addresses here, unlike those in most of this letter, are based so heavily on customs and attitudes of his day rather than on more universal norms, this portion of his epistle has little application for today. This point becomes especially evident when one understands precisely the matter Paul is addressing in this pericope. Otherwise, as the breadth of scholarship shows, one can easily get side tracked or read into it issues that are not there. Paul’s concern is with “any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered.” This point is clearly made in 11:5–6, 10, 13, 15.
 Greek word identifications are from Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Ed. F. W. Danker. 3d English ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
 Thomas Aquinas, Super Ep. Pauli, 344, §584; Peter Lumbard in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 221 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1844–64), 91:1629; Abrosiaster in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiastorum Latinorum, 81:252. Compare Moffatt, First Epistle, 149.
 Among the Greek-speaking Jews, the word referred to the teachings of the rabbis. It therefore carried the idea of authority and, with Paul, it was a tacit reminder that his instructions originated with the Divine. Friedrich Büchsel, “παράδοσις,” in TDNT, 2:172–73.
 Hays, First Corinthians, 181–84, makes a very good case for this position.
 See Fee, First Epistle, 493, who follows the NRSV, NJB, and REB.
 Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980): 483.
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 821.
 Some translations translate the noun anēr, “man” or “husband,” in the second clause as “husband” (for example, see NRSV), but the issue here seems to be with gender relations that transcend the narrow confines of the family circle and, therefore, the Rendition translates the word as “man,” following the majority of translations (see REB, NIV, NJB).
 This is true in the LDS Church today. See D&C 20:68; 28:13; 58:55; 107:84.
 Here Paul is definitely following Jewish tradition. In certain Hellenistic cult rites, women participated freely, and this may have influenced the attitude of some of the Christian women. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 133–34.
 Osiek and Blach, Families in the New Testament Times, 40–41.
 Osiek and Blach, Families in the New Testament Times, 40–41.
 Monique Susskind Goldberg, The Meḥitzah in the Synagogue, trans. Diana Villa (Jerusalem: Schechter Institution of Jewish Studies, 2004), 14–16. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 134, notes that women at this time may have been seated separately in some cases but such seating became standardized only the middle ages. Further, inscriptions exit that mention women as “leaders,” “elders,” and “mothers of the synagogue,” but it is very unlikely, especially in light of the Tannaim (t. Meg. 3:11), that women actually served in liturgical capacities.