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Nero as Priest

William M. Ramsay on cites Dio Chrysostom to the effect that the custom of women going veiled in Tarsus was an oriental and non-Greek custom, Paul is merely reflecting his own (Jewish) background by requiring women wear head coverings (The Cities of St. Paul, 201-5).  Because of the popularity of Ramsey’s works on Paul, this theory is often repeated in modern commentaries, but it seems odd that Paul would impose this one Jewish custom on congregations when he frees them from so many other Jewish customs.

The application of this rather obscure command is usually some vague platitude that women should be dressed modestly.  If the culture includes head coverings in this then the woman ought to not offend the culture.  No one ever points out that if this is the true application, then a woman visiting a culture which is comfortable with public nudity is free to “fit right in” when they visit the beach!

I seriously doubt that modesty is the issue Paul is trying to get at in 1 Corinthians 11.  There is clear evidence in the Greco-Roman world of prostitutes wearing head coverings.  There are several artistic representations of groups of women with or without head coverings.  There is simply no evidence that head coverings were universal in the Greco-Roman world!

Based on his study of Roman statues, D. W. J. Gill has argued that it was a Roman convention to cover the head while praying or offering a libation. There are two well-known statues from Corinth, one of Nero and one of Augustus with their heads veiled. It was the leader of a prayer or sacrifice that would cover their heads, the congregation (if any) would not necessarily do so. Gill argues that the social elite in Corinth also practiced head covering while praying or participating in a sacrifice. Since the passage in 1 Cor 11 seems to cover the whole congregation, perhaps it is only the prophets who are speaking in the congregation that are covering their heads while prophesying (in 14:29 only two or three ought prophesy).

The problem in Corinth is that the Christians are (continuing) to take their cues for worship from the pagan world.  They are worshiping in the same way that they would have in a pagan rite, Paul is rejecting this mixing of the world with the Church.

If the problem that is at the heart of the veiling of men / unveiling of women is taking worship cues from the pagan world, then there is a most serious application possible.  How far we want to take this application is quite controversial, from the mega-church movement to modern praise and worship services, it is possible that the American church has taken its cues from the pagan world rather than from the Bible.  The modern American church seems to be following MTV rather than the NIV.

There is always a tension between cultural relevancy for the sake of evangelism and participating in the world because we enjoy it.  It is possible that is what was happening in Corinth.  The members of the church of Corinth were routinely acting like the world without taking into consideration how their new Christian world view speaks to a practice (sexual mores, lawsuits, feasts and banquets at temples, etc.)

The veiling of women / men may seem like a minor problem to use (“it’s just cultural”) but that misses the whole point.  If these people were indistinguishable from the world in their worship, how were they going to effectively evangelize their culture?

Bibliography:

D. W. J. Gill, “The Importance of Roman Portraiture for Head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 41 (1990): 246-60.
C. T. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Headcoverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth” BA (1988): 99-115.

Not Like This

[Audio for this study is available at Sermons.net, as is a PDF copy of the notes. You may right-click and “save as….”]

Jesus redefines the disciple-teacher relationship in John 15:14-17. His disciples are no longer to be his servants, they are his friends. We tend to read the word “friend” through the grid of contemporary friendships, that Jesus is a sort of “best friend” (or as my daughters say, Jesus is out BFF).  Despite the popularity of this mental picture, it waters down what Jesus is saying so much that we are in danger of losing his point.

I want suggest that the original audience would have heard “friendship” as a statement of status.  “Friendship” in the Greco-Roman world was a statement of social status, involving far more that the modern term. There are only three categories of people in the ancient world, friends, enemies, and people you don’t know yet. To illustrate this, I list below several lengthy quotations from Greek writers describing true friendship.

First, friendship implies loyalty (Isocrates, Dem. 1, Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.6.1).  A true friend is loyal to his friends beyond what would be expected in other relationships.

Isocrates, To Demonicus 1.1 In many respects, Demonicus, we shall find that much disparity exists between the principles of good men and the notions of the base; but most of all by far have they parted company in the quality of their friendships. The base honor their friends only when they are present; the good cherish theirs even when they are far away; and while it takes only a short time to break up the intimacies of the base, not all eternity can blot out the friendships of good men.

Second, friendship implies intimacy, shared confidences, and shared difficulties (Isocrates, To Demonicus, 1.25). I particularly like the idea that you know who your friends are when you suffer peril with them, they are “gold tried in fire.”

Isocrates, To Demonicus 1.25 Confide in them about matters which require no secrecy as if they were secrets; for if you fail you will not injure yourself, and if you succeed you will have a better knowledge of their character. Prove your friends by means of the misfortunes of life and of their fellowship in your perils; for as we try gold in the fire, so we come to know our friends when we are in misfortune. You will best serve your friends if you do not wait for them to ask your help, but go of your own accord at the crucial moment to lend them aid.

Third, friends share resources. (Aristotle, Rhet 1.5.16; Marital, Epigram 2.43.1-16; Diogenes Laertius, Vit 7.1.124).  Friends do not ask for favors or loans, they ask to share resources with their friends, even if there is no expectation of return.

Aristotle, Rhet 1.5.16 A friend is one who exerts himself to do for the sake of another what he thinks is advantageous to him. A man to whom many persons are so disposed, has many friends; if they are virtuous, he has worthy friends.

Diogenes Laertius, Vit 7.1.124 And by friendship they mean a common use of all that has to do with life, wherein we treat our friends as we should ourselves. They argue that a friend is worth having for his own sake and that it is a good thing to have many friends.

In John 15-17, Jesus declares his loyalty to his disciples as friends and reminds them that he has been sharing with them everything that the Father has revealed to him. In addition, Jesus is leaving to prepare a place in the Father’s house for his friends (14:2), and that he when he is gone he will endow them with the resources they need to do the task they have been called to preform, the Holy Spirit (14:26, 16:12-15).

Friendship also helps to explain the very difficult line “ask whatever you want in my Father’s name he will give you” (15:16). Since Jesus and his disciples are in the same circle of friends, they share resources at the Father’s disposal.  By entering a friend-relationship with the disciples, Jesus gives them access to his own “friend network” and family.  Since Jesus is the Son, the disciples now will have direct access to the Father.

A student was on the level of servant to the teacher, there was almost nothing that a teacher could not ask his disciple to do for him. Jesus rejects that sort of relationship, serving his disciples humbly (washing their feet) and then laying down his life for his friends.

By describing the relationship of the disciples as a “friendship” as wide-reaching implications for mutual care. One is responsible for a friend at a deeper level than for a servant. For example, friends share material wealth with each other. In a master / servant relationship, one does a favor with the expectation of a return on that investment. But friends are to serve one another without the expectation of a returned favor. In a Greco-Roman context, you are not supposed to say “I owe you one” to your friends.

Jesus has demonstrated this new relationship by washing his disciple’s feet. He has lowered himself below their level, showing that he does not consider them to be his servants. Instead they will all serve each other as friends!

Nero as Priest

William M. Ramsay on cites Dio Chrysostom to the effect that the custom of women going veiled in Tarsus was an oriental and non-Greek custom, Paul is merely reflecting his own (Jewish) background by requiring women wear head coverings (The Cities of St. Paul, 201-5).  Because of the popularity of Ramsey’s works on Paul, this theory is often repeated in modern commentaries, but it seems odd that Paul would impose this one Jewish custom on congregations when he frees them from so many other Jewish customs.

The application of this rather obscure command is usually some vague platitude that women should be dressed modestly.  If the culture includes head coverings in this then the woman ought to not offend the culture.  No one ever points out that if this is the true application, then a woman visiting a culture which is comfortable with public nudity is free to “fit right in” when they visit the beach!

I seriously doubt that modesty is the issue Paul is trying to get at in 1 Corinthians 11.  There is clear evidence in the Greco-Roman world of prostitutes wearing head coverings.  There are several artistic representations of groups of women with or without head coverings.  There is simply no evidence that head coverings were universal in the Greco-Roman world!

Based on his study of Roman statues, D. W. J. Gill has argued that it was a Roman convention to cover the head while praying or offering a libation.  There are two well know statues from Corinth, one of Nero and one of Augustus with their heads veiled.  It was the leader of a prayer or sacrifice that would cover their heads, the congregation (if any) would not necessarily do so.  Gill argues that the social elite in Corinth also practiced head covering while praying or participating in a sacrifice.  Since the passage seems to cover the whole congregation, though, perhaps it is only the prophets who are speaking in the congregation that are covering their heads while prophesying (in 14:29 only two or three ought prophesy.)

The problem in Corinth is that the Christians are (continuing) to take their cues for worship from the pagan world.  They are worshiping in the same way that they would have in a pagan rite, Paul is rejecting this mixing of the world with the Church.

If the problem that is at the heart of the veiling of men / unveiling of women is taking worship cues from the pagan world, then there is a most serious application possible.  How far we want to take this application is quite controversial, from the mega-church movement to modern praise and worship services, it is possible that the American church has taken its cues from the pagan world rather than from the Bible.  The modern American church seems to be following MTV rather than the NIV.

There is always a tension between cultural relevancy for the sake of evangelism and participating in the world because we enjoy it.  It is possible that is what was happening in Corinth.  The members of the church of Corinth were routinely acting like the world without taking into consideration how their new Christian world view speaks to a practice (sexual mores, lawsuits, feasts and banquets at temples, etc.)

The veiling of women / men may seem like a minor problem to use (“it’s just cultural”) but that misses the whole point.  If these people were indistinguishable from the world in their worship, how were they going to effectively evangelize their culture?

Bibliography:

D. W. J. Gill, “The Importance of Roman Portraiture for Head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” Tyndale Bulletin 41 (1990): 246-60.
C. T. Thompson, “Hairstyles, Headcoverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth” BA (1988): 99-115.

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Christian Theology

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