Science and Religion Friday: Quickie Quote

Hey guys, I’ve been a bit busy lately, so instead of fully fleshed out post I’m just going to give a quick quote:

From Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Basic Questions in Theology is this:

Science achieves its success, however, precisely in that, and to the extent that, it remains keenly aware of the finitude of every step it takes.

Do you agree? Disagree? How is the current state of science in line with this? What about popular science? Leave your thoughts below and have a great Friday!


The Consumer Quandry: or What Would Jesus buy?

I’ve been thinking about Christian ethics quite a bit lately. Whether this is because I recently acted as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for an ethics class, or whether its because of the various ethical situations and morally ambiguous choices that seem to be put upon me, I don’t know. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the products we buy. Living in the “industrialized West” as we might call the countries that are made up of most of Western Europe, the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, and, of course, the United States (as well as other similar cultures) I’ve noticed that we are increasingly bombarded with people trying to sell us things.

This is nothing new, of course, but as information is more readily available, and advertisers begin to realize they need to be more creative (and more persistent) in their campaigns (sorry Madmen fans, advertisers can’t run a business the Don Draper way anymore), there seems to be an increased sense of need instilled in us. It’s no longer that it would be nice to have certain gadgets or clothing items, etc. It’s also no longer that we would want to have them. Currently, there is a culture being constructed for us that tells us we need to have the latest item.

When I was in High School, the campaign known as “What Would Jesus Do?” really began to gain traction. People everywhere were wearing cloth bracelets with the letters WWJD written on them. Of course, this wasn’t a perfect illustration; as more than one person pointed out, we should be asking “What would Jesus have me do?” Fair enough, but the sentiment was, nevertheless, a good one I believe, one that goes back certainly as far as Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, and conceivably to some early Christian interpretations of the Levitical Command to “be holy as I am holy” or as Jesus put it “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” While we acknowledge it wasn’t entirely possible, it gave us a goal for which to strive. The problem is, though, that we liked the idea, so long as at it meant we could still live in our culture. We thought we should only ask the question when presented with an ethical dilemma, we didn’t want to actually change the overall picture of our lives. If Jesus really did live in our culture, I’ve thought, what would he do?

I seem to recall someone asking once “What car would Jesus drive?” They wanted to know if they should get a more environmentally friendly car, or an older inefficient one, or something else entirely.  I wondered if he would actually even drive a car. If Jesus needed to go farther than walking would take him (or more quickly) in our culture would he take the bus? or cycle? hitchhike? I just couldn’t see Jesus owning a car. As I thought back to that campaign, I wonder what it would look like in our consumerist mindset. What would Jesus buy? we might ask. Except, would he buy anything? Jesus seemed to live a beggar type lifestyle; not that he actually begged on the street, but that he relied upon other people to provide him with food an shelter as he acted the part of itinerant preacher. Was that a cultural thing? Clearly he was financially supported, so he wouldn’t be completely against having some assets. But still, how much is too much? I might flip the question and ask: would Jesus want me to make this purchase or use it elsewhere.

Where these thoughts are coming from is because I have had an ethical dilemma shoved into my face. As you are probably aware, the iPhone 5 just came out (like the previous iPhone but longer and lighter apparently). You may have also have heard about the (poorly timed from Apple’s perspective) riots that erupted at a Foxconn factory in China. Although that particular factory doesn’t manufacture parts for the iPhone 5, Apple does use the company to manufacture many of its parts and they had previously made news for their poor working conditions and instillation of “suicide prevention nets” to stop workers from killing themselves by jumping off the roofs of factories.

While it might be easy to condemn Apple in this situation. The fact is, they are far from the only company to use Foxconn. Other companies include Intel, Microsoft, Sony, Cisco, Dell. It seems that virtually all electronic companies either use Foxconn directly, or use parts that are made by other companies using Foxconn. So the computer I’m typing this on, the computer or phone or tablet that you’re reading this on, or the printer that this was printed out on (if that applies to anyone), probably features parts from Foxconn. This is an example of products that have a cost that exceeds their price, or so it seems. Would Jesus condone these purchases?

Here’s another kicker: Foxconn is primarily famous because its the biggest, not because its the worst of these companies. In fact, Foxconn plants have better employee treatment records and lower suicide rates than most manufacturing plants in China. The fact is that most of our consumer goods (not even just electronics) feature some part that is built in China, and likely in appalling working conditions. This is what happens when we accept a consumer culture that is built around imagined needs for things we want at lower costs, or when we want the next best status symbol to show others we are better than them (or at least on par with them). I’m as guilty of buying into this on occasion as anyone else. If someone handed me the keys and signed over the title to a Bugatti Veyron, I’m not so sure I’d be able to sell it for a more reasonable car and donate the remainder to charity (and even if I was, it probably wouldn’t be right away, I’d want to drive a little while first). But what do we do with the very real fact that virtually everything we buy is in someway connected to these poor working conditions. If we buy only fully American (or British, or French or whatever) made products, would that make things better or worse for the individual employees of these corporations? Would there be layoffs if we demanded they have better working conditions?

In Luke’s Gospel, the beatitudes look a little different than they do in Matthew’s Gospel. There, in what is known as the “sermon on the plain” (since it parallels many things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount recorded by Matthew), Jesus blesses those who are poor (the physical poor and physically hungry) and curses, or suggests trouble to come, for those who are wealthy. You can read it here. The problem is, someone at the poverty line in the US is rich relative to some of the factory workers in China. Those factory workers, too, are rich compared to those with no money or housing or medical help. It is very unlikely that you will find someone to whom you would appear rich (in some physical sense) in this life. Are we all under a curse or should prepare for “woe”?

It seems that it really comes down to an attitude. Elsewhere Jesus said you cannot serve God and mammon (usually translated money). Mammon is a little bit more ubiquitous than money. It refers to anything used for non-essential living. Anything that can be construed as a luxury item. So anything beyond the most basic of foods (say rice and lentils), the most basic clothing (nothing designer that’s for sure), the most basic housing (four walls, and a roof), and the most basic tools (if it’s electronic or gas powered its beyond basic) can be considered “mammon.” Yet these things are not forbidden outright. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of the heart. Do you give a thought for other people when you buy or consume “mammon”? Do you try to follow God’s commandment towards these your neighbors, particularly those who are “the least of these”? Or are you centered on yourself? Martin Luther described sin as being bent in toward one’s self. He, of course, had in mind these rams whose horns could, if not cut, grow into their skull, killing them. Is your obsession with self, the products you want, the status symbol you get, leading you to consume more and care less? It’s killing you slowly if it is (and you don’t even realize it). The solution would be to let Christ cut this obsession off of you. Yes it is painful, yes it hurts. Yes you lose something of yourself and can no longer display your grand horns to others, but it saves your life. In losing your life for the sake of others, in Christ and by dying with him, He will save it.

Church History Minute: William Tyndale

So I’ve been doing something of a mini-series on the bible in English and I end it today by examining the last major translator of the bible into English prior to the King James Version: William Tyndale

Who was he? William Tyndale is most well known, of course, for his translation work. While there were bibles in most European languages by the time Tyndale showed up on the scene, the bible in English has been declared illegal and many of the ones that existed previously had been gathered and destroyed. Even those that remained were of a somewhat sub-par quality, and had been translations from the Latin Vulgate. Tyndale’s translation was unique in that it was the first English Bible to be translated from the Greek and Hebrew, as well as the first one to successfully use the printing press. Although Tyndale did invent, or reemphasize some English words, he nevertheless wanted his translation to be highly readable. Thus he often employed language that was more “earthy” than that found in the later King James Version.

The other major thing he is known for is his work The Obedience of Man, which is often credited with giving Henry VIII the courage to break from Rome and establish England as its own church. Tyndale was executed as a heretic while in Brussels.

Where might I have heard of him? He was a reformer in the English Church and is usually associated with his translation work. Many bible translating organizations, academic groups, and publishers have taken on his name in one form or another. Perhaps the most famous being Tyndale House, the name of both a study house (similar to a college) at the University of Cambridge and a (not really affiliated) publishing company.

Fun Facts: Yes that was plural. Even though Tyndale was enthusiastic for the Reformation of England, and may have been influenced in that direction during his time spent in Germany (where he had to go to learn Hebrew, since the Jews had been expelled from England, and where the first Tyndale Bibles were published), he was not willing to compromise as much as others. When Henry VIII first began entertaining the idea of divorcing his wife to marry Anne Boleyn, Tyndale was adamantly opposed (thus incurring the wrath of the king). Also, it seems Tyndale was in favor of even more extreme reforms than what took place in England during his time, advocating believer’s baptism and denying a platonic conception of the soul.

Why was he important? It is arguable that without him the English (and later British) stream of the Reformation would not have been successful, or even happened at all. Also his influence on all subsequent translations of the bible into English, and even the English language, is indisputable.

Do we have a soul?

So I recently attended and presented at a conference on the soul and body at Oxford. It seems, however, that the theme actually shifted to talking about identity generally, which was identified as the soul, rather than the soul as a separate thing.

A reason for this shift was a general skepticism surrounding the idea of a platonic soul. If you are unaware of that term, it is the conception of the soul most frequently portrayed in popular media. A sort of “ghosty” type of thing that is identifiable as us, and yet has no material form. While some medieval theologians might have taken exception to the fact that it is sometimes portrayed as visible, the idea still seems to accurately reflect this idea of the soul. According to that view, then, people are essentially embodied souls. In other words, the you that is you (i.e. your soul) is simply occupying and manipulating your body, which is not you.

The problem is, this is not the biblical view of the soul. It is clearly platonic (whether we have Augustine or Rene Descartes or someone/something else to thank for its pervasiveness is another issue). The Hebrew Bible always and only refers to people as entire units. There is nothing separate from the body. When someone loses an arm, their body doesn’t lose an arm the person does. There isn’t a separate soul. Alister McGrath noted that if you take every instance of the word soul in the Old Testament and replace it with life, the verses would read just the same, and sometimes more clearly than by retaining the word soul. I feel comfortable sharing this bit of his talk, of course, because it is a fairly uncontroversial (and not generally disputed claim); I doubt he’d object.

The New Testament doesn’t seem to help very much either with the idea of a Platonic soul. In fact, the New Testament is adamant that the thing which is raised and transformed into an eternal thing is the entire body, not jut a separate soul. That’s why Jesus’ bodily resurrection is important. That’s what Paul is going on and on about in 1 Corinthians 15. There isn’t a separate soul independent of our bodies. Instead our identity (or soul) is a way of talking about ourselves, and in particular our minds, even if it “emerges” in some way. This is a very subtle shift in thinking that I think might be very important.

While I certainly believe that God can and will transform our bodies into something new and eternal when Christ returns, this has the potential to transform our thinking about the physical world. If we are platonists about the soul, then we devalue the physical body. This leads to all sorts of problems. The body then becomes something of a prison to escape, something that is constantly our adversary, not who we are. This can lead to self-loathing, self-abuse, willingness to take abuse and unhealthy attitudes about sex (for instance, the idea that, even when married, sex should not really be a source of pleasure ever). It also leads to a devaluing of other aspects of creation. But if, instead, we believe that our bodies are the source of our identity/soul rather than something our soul inhabits, then we begin to value it. We feel we must take care of it and, within appropriate ways we can celebrate aspects of it: athletic ability, a good steak (in moderation), a slowly sipped cup of coffee. We can appreciate our physical stuff, because that’s the thing that we are, and that’s what Jesus is redeeming and beginning to transform. It also means we value other people’s bodies. They are not tools to be used for personal gain, objects to be oggled, but when you see someone else’s physical form you are looking at another person. That is important and is something we’ve lost. If we begin to recapture it, it means that our bodies, our blood and sweat and tears, our aches and pains and joys, the tickling that my kids love, the feeling of a warm mug in cold hands, all of this matters in a way we can’t even fathom yet.

But what do you think? Should we instead hang on to the platonic notion of the soul? Does it have more biblical grounding than I’m giving it credit? Does this idea have some other pitfalls?

Difficult Passages: 1 Corinthians 11 (part 3)

So over the past two weeks, I’ve looked at the difficult passage of 1 Corinthians. Most of the time spent on it is focus in the first half, which last week and the week before addressed. This week, though, I’d like to examine the latter half: verses 17-34.

What seems to be the issue of difficulty is not the instruction, necessarily, but the penalty for failing to keep it. Specifically I want to address the passage beginning in verse 27:

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Is God that concerned with the liturgy of the ordinance (or sacrament) that he would punish people by sickness and death? Well, sort of. It seems, as in most of 1 Corinthians, that the issue is not the external worship, but rather the unity of the Church. As in the first half of the verse, Paul is telling the Corinthian Church that our worship should look different from the surrounding culture.

The pagan temple and emperor worship of Rome often included a drunken feast. There was a bit of “oneupmanship” as people tried to show themselves better than others by throwing more lavish feasts. Clearly, social distinctions were maintained, though, and the wealthy only invited other wealthy persons. It seems that prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist or Communion, they are essentially the same) a big supper was held. This may have been because when Jesus initiated the practice, it was at the end of the Jewish Passover meal, and the Jewish Seder can put many an American Thanksgiving to shame. At any rate, this meal, often termed a “love feast,” seems to be where the drunken gluttony was occurring, while many of the poorer persons went hungry

For Paul, however, the concern is not necessarily the exact liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, but that certain people failed to “discern the body.” The body, in this instance, clearly refers to the Church. They had taken what should have been an act of worship, and turned it into a divisive and prideful activity. This was the problem. Even today, then, it seems whenever we shift worship to an occasion to distinguish ourselves, and possibly even when we eat without considering those unable to eat as plentiful a meal as we are, we are failing “to consider the body.” The Church is intended to be God’s Kingdom on earth. Because of that, we should be focused on the benefit of each other and the glorification of God.

What do you think?

And do you have a difficult passage you’d like to see covered?

Sidenote: it is possible to read verse 30 as a rhetorical question “Is it for this reason [this drunken, gluttonous division] that many of you have been afflicted, injured, or killed?” Possibly reminding the Corinthian church that their past persecution, which may have resulted in temporary pain, long lasting injury, or death, was for the sake of unity and Worship of God, not self-glorification. However, the verbal order does not make this the most likely rendering. Still, it is possible (and certainly not too bizarre a rendering). Part of the difficulty of pre-modern Greek is the lack of clear punctuation

Science and Religion Friday: The Galileo Affair, Part 3

In previous posts, I’ve noted how the central points of conflict between Galileo and his opponents were between different ideologies and personalities, and not religious in nature. Today, I’m going to talk about the actual period of trials Galileo underwent.

The First Examination of Galileo

Following the sermon by Caccini condemning Galileo, and after Caccini’s superior personally apologized to Galilelo, an investigation was opened into Galileo’s views. Another Dominican and friend of Caccini, Niccolo Lorini, submitted a formal complaint to the Roman Inquisition. This led to the respected theologian Robert Cardinal Bellarmine being appointed to arbitrate between the various sides. In general, it seems Bellarmine had no issue with heliocentrism and, for the most part, was very favorably disposed toward Galileo. At no point during this period was Galileo ever condemned, nor was he ever even under trial. The primary problem that Galileo would need to overcome, as he saw it, would be the issue of reconciling heliocentrism with Scripture. One attempt to do so can be found in Galileo’s lengthy letter, written the summer of 1615, to the Grand Duchess Christina. In the letter, Galileo quotes at length from older theologians, though tending to focus primarily upon Augustine, and affirms the absolute truthfulness of Scripture. At one point saying:

It being true that [these] two truths cannot contradict one another, it is the function of wise expositors to seek out the true senses of scriptural texts. These will unquestionably accord with the physical conclusions which manifest sense and necessary demonstrations have previously made certain to us.

Galileo himself thought that there was no genuine contradiction between the witness of Scripture and his support for a heliocentric universe.

However, in February of 1616, possibly under pressure from the current pope (who may have felt some pressure from the Dominicans), the “qualifiers” of the inquisition gave their report that heliocentrism was somewhat dubious and told Galileo to cease publicly promoting Copernican astronomy. It seems that, for the most part, Galileo complied until a new pope was installed.

More Popes, More Problems (or something like that)

In 1623, Pope Urban VIII was installed as the new Pope. He was considerably more favorably disposed toward Galileo, and so Galileo took this as an indication he could resume his work on the heliocentric universe. Roughly a decade later, in 1632, he published A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican, defending his heliocentric ideas. Apparently, this raised the ire of some prominent Domicans, already a bit disgruntled by his lesser known, but equally anti-Aristotelian work, The Assayer. And the inquisition reconvened.

It should be noted that by this time, Galileo’s lifelong nemesis, the Jesuit Christoph Scheiner, whom I mentioned last week, was also in Rome and the records indicate he gave advice to the inquisition that was against Galileo. The result was, as we known, the censure of Galileo’s book, which he was ordered to recant of as “vehemently suspect of heresy” and Galileo was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. It seems that not even a friendship with the pope was enough this time. It should be noted that Galileo himself was never condemned of heresy and, barely more than a century later, his book was removed from the censure list.


This brings us back to the primary question of this series, was the Galileo Affair an incident of Religion and Science in conflict. I have suggested throughout that the actual conflict was the result of competing secular philosophies, on the one hand, but more substantially competing personalities, on the other. It wasn’t Galileo’s ideas in and of themselves that were at issue, but the manner in which Galileo treated those he encountered. In other words, he embarrassed the wrong people. I’m not the only one who thinks so. A number of philosophers have suggested that the primary reason for the conflict was Galileo’s approach, not his thoughts, such as atheist philosopher Ernst Bloch. What do you think? Is this a valid example of conflict between science and religion?

Early Christian Papyrus Fragment and what it (doesn’t) mean for you

So yesterday, I stumbled upon/(was bombarded by) the news that an early Christian script, probably from the fourth century, had been discovered that indicated Jesus was married.

My first thought was “…and?” For whatever reason this gathered a lot of attention from the media. Now, the fourth century is quite early, but we have more complete documents fro the second and third centuries that make no mention of Jesus’ wife. It seems that this is the earliest instance of a writer saying that Jesus Christ was married, but it dates to the same time when writings emerged saying that Jesus definitely was not married. Here are a few thoughts.

1) No one is saying this does mean Jesus was married. In fact this type of language (of Jesus having a wife, possibly Mary Magdalene) is fairly common of the Gnostic writers whom we know were active during this time. Gnosticism is a group of people who, for time, claimed to be Christian, but were actually a rather odd group of Neo-Platonists whose theology had more in common with pre-existent paganism mixed with Plato than Christianity whose roots were in the monotheism of Judaism. So in that respect, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find this coptic (indicating it was from the part of Egypt where the Gnostics seem to have been most active) fragment.

2) If Jesus was, in fact, married (which I don’t think seems to be likely), what difference would that make? The only possible difference, it seems, would be that Roman Catholic priests would not be required to be celibate. That’s it. There is no indication that this would change anything else about anything. This means, incidentally, that as far as Protestant (and some Eastern Orthodox) churches are concerned, nothing would be different. Marriage is neither dirty nor sinful for Christians (in fact it’s a really good thing) What’s the big deal?
I will say, the end of the CNN article (linked above) seemed to summarize it best when quoting scholar Tom Reese: “This is a nice academic footnote, but beyond that, it is not going to be all that important.”

What do you think? Is this earth shattering? Did I miss something?


Well, since this has come out a number of other sources have covered (including the NY Times, which ran it on some of its front pages yesterday). As one of the commentors below noted (Beth), some scholars, including Darrell Bock, suggest this might be metaphorical language for the Church, a notion even King (the lead researcher on this fragment) suggests might be possible.
The text does not specifically link Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife, though on Mary (likely Jesus’ mother) is mentioned in the legible text. So this is possible.

However, the detailed research done by Tyndale House seems to indicate this is almost certainly a Gnostic document. The fact that it originated in Egypt and was written in Coptic** (not the standard Hellenistic Greek) and dates from the 300s are all indicators of Gnostic origin. The fact that the fragment, in the sections that are legible, seem to reflect the same language as other well-known Gnostic manuscripts, as the researchers at Tyndale House have noted, make it likely that it is Gnostic. If it is Gnostic, then it is also likely that it would be claiming a marital relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, since that is a favourite claim of certain branches of Gnosticism.

For the record, while I acknowledge that Jesus’ did state the Church was his bride, and while I also believe he was not married, I do not think that the first claim (nor claims about his divinity) are made in any way problematic were it to actually be the case that he was married. Maybe that makes me odd, but I don’t think it should. One is an eternal relationship, the other would be merely an earthly one. It would not be until the resurrection, which being an eschatological event would be without the former marital relationships on earth, that he calls the Church his bride. Still, I understand that this might be a hard pill for others to swallow. Regardless, I don’t think that Jesus was actually married (such a revelation now would be incredibly odd considering the complete lack of mention of it beforehand), nor do I think it even can be demonstrated that he was. So that may simply be a moot point. Thanks for the dialogue below, keep it up.

Church History Minute: Jan Hus

Who was he? Jan Hus was a theologian in what is now the Czech Republic (then Bohemia) who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century. It is unclear whether he was a direct follower of John Wycliffe or not early on in his career, but his message was essentially the same: because of the priesthood of believers, everyone should be able to read and interpret the bible in her or his own language. By 1406, it seems he acquired a eulogy for John Wycliffe, and despite having been warned to cease propagating Wycliffe’s ideas, he read it out. In 1409 Hus was excommunicated via Papal Bull (published in 1410) for purporting the then heretical views of Wycliffe. By 1412 he had not only not stopped preaching, but began to publicly condemn the practice of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. He was put on trial and condemned in 1415 and, after refusing to recant, was executed via burning at the stake.

Where might I have heard of him? In discussions about bible translation or certain events leading up to the protestant reformation.

Why was he important? Aside from carrying on the Wycliffe, Tyndale tradition, it seems that Hus was wildly influential upon Martin Luther. Further, a Hussite movement existed following Jan Hus’s death. He is, among many in the Czech Republic, and particularly Prague, considered a national hero.

What is the Christian response to the unrest around the world concerning Americans?

I’m not offering any answers today, only questions. As an American living in a city where a massive protest against the US has recently taken place, where similar protests have turned violent in the Middle East, I am certainly concerned. I’m also greatly saddened by the loss of an American ambassador who believed the country where he served had great promise. I am also saddened by all those injured or killed in these attacks.

On the other end, I am a bit confused and troubled by the calls from many of my citizens for war, or for the US to exert more military might. Haven’t we been in a war we regretted getting into? Who would we declare war on? The mob? What about those people who were not engaged in the violence, or who condemned it? Should they, by virtue of their citizenship, be equally condemned?

I am saddened and troubled and curious as to what you think. Should the US increase its military presence? Should it treat hostile actions with equal hostility? I don’t personally like to get to political (so you can bet I have another question). My real question is, what is the Christian response? Should we pray for those who persecute us and continue to do good to them? What if they aren’t persecuting us for our faith, but our nationality? Should Christians advocate violent action? Is inaction preferable? Again, I don’t have any easy answers, and I’m a little wary of those who do offer easy answers. These are hard questions. These are things with which I grapple. What I want to know is what you think, and more importantly, why.

Difficult Passages: 1 Corinthians 11, part 2 of 3: What does it mean to say that man is the head of woman?

Apparently this didn’t publish earlier (I scheduled it improperly). Sorry if you had been expecting it earlier.

Last week, I discussed the entire issue of headcovering and what it means in the context of Rome during the first few centuries AD (CE). In the end, it was demonstrated that the issue of headcovering was Paul’s way of calling to Church to be different in its worship of God than the way the surrounding culture worshipped their pagan deities. The actual practice of covering or not is not normative. Further, I pointed out that, in the early Church, it seems that women did in fact prophesy and pray publicly, which may cause some interesting conflicts when put with that passage in 1 Timothy 2 (incidentally, I won’t cover that passage for a while because I have a student writing a paper on it, so you’ll have to wait until springtime at the earliest if you want that one covered).

1 Corinthians 11

However, Paul gives a further clarification for understanding this. He states that, beyond the cultural reason, such an action is appropriate because it paints a picture of the relationship between the man and woman, and ultimately between God the Father and Christ. Specifically, Paul says that “the head of woman is man and the head of Christ is God” This is a hotly contested issue, so let me lay out the different arguments.


According to this view, men are naturally to be in positions of authority over women, particularly in marital relationship, and that’s what Paul is saying. There are a number of problems with this view. First, the authority of man over woman issue is not a natural order, at least not in the sense of how we were created. Rather, it is the result of the initial fall of sin. Whether this was meant to continue to be normative after Christ or not (in whom there is no male nor female) is another issue. But there is another problem.

The parallel Paul draws is “the head of Christ is God.” Here’s the issue. To say that God is the head of Christ in the subordinationist sense (that is a natural order of authority) would be to imply that Christ was somehow lesser than God. It would indicate that Jesus was not the same as God and (possibly) some sort of created being. The name of this heresy is “subordinationism” and states, as the name implies, that Christ is inferior or subordinate to the Father. It would make the Father to be the one God and Christ to be some sort of other divine being. This calls into question our redemption and an entire host of other problems that I won’t get into at the moment. It is not a valid option for the Christian adhering to the orthodox faith.


Egalitarianism is the view that, in Christ, men and women are equal in all respects and have equal authority. The husband-wife relationship here is one of “mutual submission.” While this passage is not brought in as support for this view (they look elsewhere for that), it is one that might present a problem for this view. The most common interpretation of this passage according to this view is that, here, “head” means source. Now nothing is theologically objectionable about that interpretation on the surface. It would be saying that, as recorded in Genesis 2, the woman was taken from the source of man. This view may have the support fo verse 8, which really drives this home. With respect to God it would be casting this in the light of “procession.” The orthodox view of the relationship between the Father and Son is that the Son is “eternally begotten” of the Father. So, in this somewhat unusual, but by no means unwarranted, understanding of “head” it is saying that the Son is the one begotten from the Father, and not the reverse.

Well, yet again, there are some problems with this interpretation. First, this would be imposing language that Paul may not have had in mind at all, especially considering that it wasn’t until the 3rd or 4th century that this sort of language begins to appear in the Christian faith. Second, although “head” can mean “source” in the way that water comes from a head (such as a river flowing from a head), it has been demonstrated that the only evidence of this is with water, and then in the plural (i.e. head waters). This may not be entirely problematic (and is certainly still debated at New Testament conferences), but it leaves untouched the bigger issue. What relevance would such a reading have for this passage? Why would Paul invoke that to discuss head coverings? Maybe we need to look elsewhere.


The Complementarian view suggests that, while men and women are certainly equal in all respects, and can perform the same tasks most often, there are nevertheless certain situations where the tasks of men and women are different and each are better suited to their particular positions. This is clearly an advancement on the old hierarchical (or subordinationist) view of gender relations. In this particular passage, they would argue that while Christ and God the Father are certainly equal, each person nevertheless performs different functions. In fact, the New Testament is full of statements about Christ submitting himself to the authority of God the Father as an act of the will (he chose to do it, even though he wasn’t necessarily obliged to do so). For instance, Philippians 2 , talks about Christ humbling himself and becoming obedient, given as a model. If that is the case, it could likewise be that Paul is saying that women should choose to humble themselves (as Christ did to God) in order to paint a picture of the divine reality. That is certainly a good view to have, and if one is going to argue that this passage means you should be a complementarian, then that seems to be the best option for this passage, however it too has problems.

The other times the bible talks about the marriage relationship with Christ, including every instance it uses the word “head,” the one who gives the picture of Christ is the male, not the woman. This would be a very unusual turn of events to make the man into the God person in this sense (in fact it would have no precedence at all). Further, considering the surrounding passages seem to affirm the generally equal stance of all believers in the worship service, so long as they worship in an orderly fashion, it would be completely out of place to suggest some strict leadership roles in this place. It doesn’t mean there aren’t leadership roles, it just means that those roles do not seem to be Paul’s primary emphasis in the Corinthian letter. This is especially true in the second half of the chapter where Paul seems to want to demolish other barriers given by the various “roles” they believed society had given them (rich versus poor there). It would be counterproductive for him to, at this precise moment in the letter, suggest some other sort of authority. (And in chapter 12, he really doesn’t want to increase a sense of superiority among anyone).

Instead, a large part of 1 Corinthians seems to be focused on Christ and who he is and how the Church there can not only focus on Christ themselves, but help to point the culture around them toward Christ. As mentioned last week, one particular example was the refusal for men and women to “reverse” their covering (or uncovered) heads like the pagan worshippers did. The Church is supposed to be different. The same holds true here.

A Different Perspective

Instead, I’d like to propose a different perspective, one that could easily fit into either the complementarian or egalitarian camp, but which is neither with respect to this passage. John Chrysostom, a late fourth century Greek preacher and theologian, and Theodoret, an early fifth century bishop and theologian, both have interesting takes on this passage, ones that have been ignored for too long in this debate. Considering that both were native (or near native) Greek speakers and that both lived, relative to us, near to the time and culture of Paul’s writing, we should listen to what they say.

John Chrysostom states: Jesus, therefore, must be of the same essence as God: for, since the man is the head of the woman, and since the head is of the same essence as the body, and God is the head of the Son, it follows the Son is of the same essence as the Father.

Later Theodoret concurs and elaborates: The woman is of the essence of the man, and not made by the man; so, too, the Son is not made by the Father, but of the essence of the Father.

Admittedly, it seems their primary concern was to avoid some sort of subordinationist heresy (see above), but it should be noted that they both seem read it initially to be that the “head” is the “essence” of the body. If you think about it, that makes perfect sense. When you recall someone whom you know very well, do you recall their body or their head (more specifically, their face)? Paul seems to be using the term “head” in part because that is what is at issue, but is also making a greater theological claim. The point of all worship, as indicated in the passage, is to point toward Christ. In their worship, then, they should give a reminder, or point toward Christ, who should be their essence. Let’s try that in the passage: “the {essence} of every man is Christ, and the {essence} of the woman is man, and the head {essence} of Christ is God.”

First, if this is talking about the marital relationship, the saying that the essence of man is (to be) Christ fits in extremely well with everything Paul has ever said about the marriage relationship (with man acting as Christ and the woman acting as the Church). Second there is the issue of what the uncovered head of a woman meant in pagan worship. If you didn’t catch it last week, let me be explicit now: when a woman in the pagan temple uncovered her head to act as a prophetess or priestess, he religious role was primarily to act as a temple prostitute. The uncovering of the head was meant to sexually excite the men. If, however, she is to act as the essence of her husband (as that word “man” usually means in such a context), that is to point towards her husband, then it is saying she should be dressed not provocatively, but should instead be sure to remind men that she is married (or if single that she might one day be married). In other words, the worship time is not meant to be a “meat market” sort of thing. When the church comes together it is neither a dating service (as some single groups can feel at times), nor should it in any way promote immoral thoughts or even the opening twinges of adultery. In our culture, then, the best way to understand this might be for married couples to worship together if it is a mixed company. Not because the women have done anything wrong, but because of the dangerous potential it has to make men stumble (again not through the fault of the woman). Men who glance around should be reminded that these are married women (when they are) and be reminded to turn their focus back to God and Christ. If you don’t think there are sexual undertones that Paul is cautioning against in 1 Corinthians, you’re in for a surprise if you read the rest of 1 Corinthians. Apparently it was a problem for that church.

By shifting the head coverings away from the Pagan style, and then relating it to Christ, Paul is saying a few very important and profound things:

1) In Christ we did not see another prophet, nor one of the many pretenders to be the Messiah who were apparently somewhat common in Jesus’ day. Nor did we see simply a rabbi, or even a merely a good man. Instead, we saw God himself, walking amongst us.

2) Our worship is likewise of a different sort than the worship around us. It isn’t sexual, it isn’t shameful, and it doesn’t disrespect either man or woman. Instead, it is a focus upon Christ and Christ alone (or at least it is supposed to be). Our worship is different in both practice and focus.

3) We should not exploit our freedom at the expense of others around us. This means that, in order to help everyone keep their focus on Christ, men and women should dress modestly. This is not because there is something wrong with women, but because, in this respect at least, men tend to be, on the whole anyway, the “weaker brothers” and so should have a certain measure of deference given them. Simply put, if your clothes are distracting, or call attention to yourself, you’re doing it wrong. All attention should always be on Christ and sometimes we all need help with that.

That’s how I’d look at it anyway.

Well, I failed to make this short. Oh well. What do you think? Next week I’ll try to be more concise as I deal with the second half of 1 Corinthians 11.