April 29, 2013 by Gerald Hiestand
“But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” 1 Corinthians 11:3
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man,” 1 Corinthians 11:7.
Feminine head coverings in the ancient world were a sign of chastity, and thus respect toward the male benefactor in a woman’s life (i.e., a husband, father, or brother). In both pagan and sacred culture, a woman who rejected the head covering was making a statement about her own independence, and was thus rejecting the traditional norms of chastity that her society expected of a woman. So for the early church, the matter of head coverings carried significant cultural freight. It appears, reading into the context of 1 Corinthians 11, that some of the Corinthian women converting to Christianity, perhaps independent of their husbands or fathers, where using the occasion of their conversion as a context for forgoing the traditional use of head coverings. This would have been seen by the wider ancient culture as somewhat scandalous. Hence the context for Paul’s comments.
But Paul doesn’t address the issue with a merely cultural argument; rather he offers a theological argument. For Paul, in the divinely appointed drama that is the man and the woman, the husband typologically represents Christ, and the woman typologically represents the church (see Ephesians 5:21-33, esp. vs. 32). Paul is following this same basic framework in 1 Corinthians 11, tweaking it slightly, whereby the man represents the divine (i.e., God/Christ), and the woman represents humanity (i.e. man).
The man must not cover his head when he prays, because he is the image of God. The woman must cover her head when she prays, because she is the image of man (i.e. humanity). Paul is talking here about literal heads, but it’s important to keep in mind the typology he’s just established in the 11:3. The head of the man typologically represents Christ, and the head of the woman typologically represents humanity. Thus, when a man prays with his head covered, the head that he dishonors is not his own literal head, but Christ, who is his head. Thus the man must not cover his head whey he prays, which would imply humility and creaturehood in Christ, since the man’s head typologically represents Christ. But inasmuch as the woman’s head is an image of humanity, who is a creature, it is proper that her head be covered. So the woman’s “humility” is really a statement about humanity’s humility. Thus the woman’s head covering is not, for Paul, a statement about the man’s superior worth viz a viz the woman, but quite the opposite; it is a statement about humanity’s humility.
But why can’t the man, as representative of humanity, image forth humanity’s creaturehood? Paul doesn’t answer this question directly, but we can piece together a response along the following lines: God, in the incarnation, is both divine and human, and thus it is incumbent that his image (i.e., humanity) show forth this reality. As in Ephesians 5, Paul sees the man as an image of the divine, and the woman as an image of humanity. The two together constitute the essence of redeemed (deified) humanity, and reflect the dual nature of God in Christ.
Having established the typological relationship between the man and the woman, viz a viz humanity and God, Paul evens the whole thing out by showing the interdependence of the man and the woman in vs. 11 ff. Here again the typology holds: the woman is made by (lit. ek) the man, just as humanity is made by Christ. And yet in the unfolding of human history, Christ is not independent of humanity, for he is subsequently born from the humanity which he himself created, just as the man, who is the originator of the woman, is subsequently born from the woman he himself originated. In this way the reciprocal relationship between the man and the woman mirrors the reciprocal relationship between Christ and humanity.
Which still leaves unanswered the question, “To what extent does this Pauline command still apply today?” In as much as head coverings have no contemporary cultural currency, it seems better to find other culturally relevant ways of expressing the underlying principles of feminine respect and chastity. In other words, the theological and moral aspects of Paul’s argument retain their relevance, but it is necessary to find other culturally relevant means of expressing this.2 Comments
September 3, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
As is seen all throughout the NT, the one in the power position is to use his or her power to bless the one in the vulnerable position. Per the Christ/Church typology of Ephesians 5, it is the role of the man — given his greater physical strength– to lift up and exalt the woman into a place of mutual equality. But whatever the nature of this equality, it does not mean that the husband sends his wife into the basement at 2AM to find out what that crashing noise was. The husband must not abdicates the use of his greater power, for if he abdicates his power he actually loses the capacity to exalt the woman to a place of mutual dignity and respect. It is precisely because Christ embraces his greater powerful that he is able to exalt us to a place of equality.
Thus the covering role that men are to exercise in relation to women must result in an exaltation to equality, but not in a way that attempts to disinvest men from their greater power (which isn’t possible, anyway). Too many contemporary notions of equality insist that “equality of power” is the only kind of equality that counts. But if equality of power is the only kind of power that counts in gender relations, than male/female equality is doomed from the start.0 Comments
August 11, 2012 by Gerald Hiestand
In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter refers to the woman as the “weaker vessel.” Given Peter’s use of the term “vessel” (c.f. 1 Thess 4:4), it is evident that he has in mind physical weakness (as opposed to moral, intellectual, or spiritual weakness). It might seem, on the surface, that we need not be scandalized by the mere admission of this obvious fact. But we live in a culture that conflates power with worth, and therefore views weakness as…well, a weakness.
And in large measure this is understandable, since physical weakness provides fertile soil for abuse. There is no doubt that when human cultures (or homes) go feral, women and children bear the brunt of it. Historically speaking, virtually every culture has marginalized women. At a root level, this is because men are physically stronger than women. This is not to deny that there are other forms of power. But it is to say in a world that — as Tennyson puts it – is “red in tooth and claw,” physical power—whether of entire nations, or individuals—is nearly always the deciding factor in the success of tyranny.
An obvious question thus emerges. Given the propensity for abuse, why would God create the woman physically vulnerable in relation to the man? Certainly this hasn’t come about by accident. God ordained it such, and therefore it must be good in some way. But how? The theological resources for answering this question can be found in Ephesians 5, where Paul informs us that the marriage relationship between the husband and wife “refers to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32). Which is to say, human marriage has been ordained by God as a divinely appointed type of Christ’s spiritual marriage to his Church. A bit of reflection on the power dynamics of arche-type sheds light on the power dynamics of type.
The Power Structure Between Christ and the Church
It is clear that Christ—as the heavenly bride groom—occupies a position of strength in relation to the Church—the bride. And it is likewise clear that the Church occupies a position of vulnerability in relation to Christ. And this power disparity is not principally due to the debilitating effects of sin, but even more deeply to nature. Christ’s divine nature gives him a “natural” strength that the Church does not inherently possess. Even in the perfection of the age to come, this power disparity is not erased.
And indeed, this inequality of power is central to the entire narrative of Christ and the Church, for it is precisely because the church occupies a position of vulnerability that Christ comes as her suitor. If the Church possessed by nature the same power and strength as Christ, there would be no gospel story.
But it’s important here to note how this power relation gets worked out in the Christ/Church relationship. Above all, Christ uses his greater power for the exaltation and glorification of his bride. We see this in the humility of the basin and the towel (John 13), and above all at the cross. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. Jesus’ use of power deconstructs the way the world typically uses power, where power is most often used to advance the agenda of the powerful.
But it’s not just that Jesus simply uses his power on behalf of his bride; he goes further and actually shares his power by sharing wholly of himself. In union with him, all that he has becomes hers. Thus the power dynamic of the Christ-Church relationship does not represent a mere paternal use of power. Christ lifts us up to rule and reign with him in the age to come. He grants his “natural” strength—his deity—to the Church, and makes us co-rulers with him of the kingdom of God.
And for her part, the Church (idealized in glory), entrusts herself to Christ and welcomes the benevolent use of his power on her behalf. She is obedient, and conveys her love for Christ through submission to his will (John 14). Yet she is not simply a passive presence in relation to Christ, but actively partners with him in his purposes now (the Great Commission); and reigns with him in the coming Kingdom (Revelation 21-22).
And it’s important to note that the Church never confuses her exaltation by Christ with independence from Christ; she does not seize upon grace as an occasion for contempt. The fact that Christ has exalted her to a place of equality, to be a co-heir with him does not cause her to honor him less, but more.
It is from this vantage point that we can return to our question about why God would make the woman physically weaker in relation to the man.
In as much as human marriage is a type of Christ’s marriage to the Church, the woman was made vulnerable in relation to the man so that the selfless the kind of love which Christ expresses on behalf of the Church might be more easily manifest between the husband and the wife. Indeed, the beauty of sacrificial, other-exalting love is amplified precisely because of the power inequality that exists between the man and the woman.
A Christian Use of Power
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic; just over 1,500 men, women, and children were lost. But the casualties were not equally dispersed among the passengers. Only 20% of the men survived, compared with 70% of the women and children. But that wasn’t just rotten luck for the men. The reason a higher percentage of women and children survived is because the men deployed their greater physical power in service of the women and children, and because the women and children submitted themselves to this benevolent use of masculine power. And it is precisely the inequality of power that makes the sacrifice of the men of the Titanic so potent. They could have saved themselves; they could have used their greater power to preserve their own lives. But in sacrificial love they deployed their power for the sake of those in the vulnerable position.
Too often in our gender debates we get caught up arguing about who should be in the power position, as though we had the ability to overwrite the fact of creation. The teaching of the New Testament is not so much that men should be in the power position, but rather it simply acknowledges that they are, and then instructs us that masculine power should be used in keeping with Christ’s example. Indeed the instructions regarding the use of power in marriage are in keeping with the way the New Testament calls us to navigate all power relations. The person in a position of power (whether man or woman), is to use their position of power in service of those who are vulnerable.
The feminist movement has been good for women in many ways, most notably the way that it has drawn attention to the suffering and marginalization of women at the hands of men. But where it has failed women utterly is its effort to rectify this abuse by attempting to eliminate the power gap between men and women. Women will always occupy a position of vulnerability in relation to men. This can’t be changed. The answer to abuse is not the elimination of the power gap, but love. It is God himself who ordained the power-gap, and he did so precisely because the inequality of power allows for the unique demonstration of sacrificial love in ways that would not be possible in a completely egalitarian power-structure.
Men aren’t called to go down with the ship because they are better at drowning, but because that sort of sacrifice more closely reflects the beauty of the Christ/Church relationship. When men and women navigate the power structure of the marriage relationship in harmony with the Christ-Church relationship there is great beauty and happiness — the husband laying down his life in love in order that he might raise up his wife to a place of equality and glory, and the wife at peace with her vulnerability, honoring her husband and submitting to his benevolent power, taking her place alongside of him as a co-heir of the coming kingdom.
Of course it doesn’t always work out so neatly. But the fact that the power-gap is often abused doesn’t mean we can, or should try to, overcome it. To reject the power gap is to reject its potential for beauty.
It must be said here, however, that it is never wrong to appeal to the God-ordained power structures in a quest for justice. The husband is to use his power in the home to bless. When he fails, it is well within a wife’s right to appeal to the power-structures above him — the Church and the civil authorities. But in the end, our true hope is in God.
Each of us at various times occupies both masculine and feminine power positions. Christ himself shows us how to use power properly, and how to suffer at the hands of abusive power when all appeals have been declined. Let us keep in step with him, wherever we find ourselves.
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles bexercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves (Luke 22:25-26).
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).
December 21, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
Many complementarians believe that 1 Corinthians 11:3 teaches a kind of functional (not ontological) subordination of Christ to God. While the Father and the Son are equal in essence (pertaining to ontology), the Son voluntarily submits his will to that of the Father (i.e., the Son freely chooses to make himself functionally subordinate to the Father). This functional subordination between Father and Son is then seen as the anti-type of the functional (not ontological) subordination of the wife to her husband. Or to state it again, the voluntary submission of the wife to the husband is seen as an expression/image/type of the intra-Trinitarian relationship (a typology basically identical to the Christ/Church relationship in Ephesians 5). Of course, the whole complementarian position in this regard hangs on the idea that Christ is indeed functionally subordinate to God. Egalitarians (naturally) don’t agree, and have accused complementarians of espousing a neo-Arian Christology. Consequently, both sides have sought to recruit the church Fathers to their side. Did the church Fathers recognize a functional subordination between the members of the Godhead (Christ to God, and the Holy Spirit to both God and Christ)? Or is any form of subordination beyond the pale of Trinitarian orthodoxy?
It seemed to me that a profitable way of determining the Church Father’s position on this subject was to examine the ways in which the Fathers handled the key texts of the current debate, most notably 1 Corinthians 11:3, John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 15:28-29, and the various passages which speak about the Father sending the Son. Key to this whole discussion is the extent to which the Son as God submits to the Father. Everyone (I think) generally agrees that the Son voluntarily subordinated himself to the Father during his brief sojourn on earth. But egalitarians insists that this subordination was a mere thirty-three year ordeal, and that upon Christ’s ascension he returned to “equal footing” with the Father, so to speak. What do the Fathers say? We may here profitably consult the Trinitarian writings of Augustine, Athanasius, Gregory of Nanzianus, and Gregory of Nyssa—arguably the four most important early Church Fathers regarding Trinitarian theology. Generally speaking, here’s how they handled the passages noted above. . .
When the Scriptures speak of Christ submitting to the Father, we should understand this to be a submission of Christ’s humanity. Gregory of Nazianzus writes:
What is lofty you are to apply to the Godhead, and to that nature in him which is superior to suffering and incorporeal: but all that is lowly to the composite condition of him who for your sakes made himself of no reputation and was incarnate—yes, for it is no worse thing to say—was made man, and afterwards was also exalted (Theological Orations, 18).
And Augustine agrees,
But because, on account of the incarnation of the Word of God for the working out of our salvation, that the man Christ Jesus might be the Mediator between God and men, many things are so said in the sacred books as to signify, or even most expressly declare, the Father to be greater than the Son; men have erred through a want of careful examination or consideration of the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and have endeavored to transfer those things which are said of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, to that substance of His which was eternal before the incarnation, and is eternal (De Trinitate, 1.7).
Likewise Athanasius, in describing the root error of Arian exegesis,
“They…expound of Christ’s divinity that which belongs to his manhood” (First Discourse Against the Arians, 13.55)
Thus, according to patristic exegesis, whenever Scripture speaks about Christ being somehow “less” than the Father, we are to understand this as a reference to Christ’s humanity. Thus, the Son does not submit to the Father qua Son, but rather submits to the Father as the incarnate God-man—the theanthropos. This interpretive framework is seen pretty clearly in the way the Augustine handles 1 Corinthians 15:28-29. In this passage, Paul states that Christ will subject himself to God in order that God may be all in all (the time frame of this passage is clearly eschatological). Augustine interprets this to mean that Christ as theanthropos submits himself as anthropos—and thus all of humanity with him—to God the Father (of whom the Son as theos is an equal).
At first pass, this reading of the Fathers seems to support the egalitarian position. The Son doesn’t submit to the Father qua Son, but only as man. But hold on. In as much as the incarnation is an eternal reality, a perpetual inequality of nature is present in the relationship between God the Father and Christ’s human nature. While the Son remains homousia with the Father in his divinity (he is eternally God of very God, begotten not made, etc.), the Son as theanthropos—in as much as he is now also fully human—is also ontologically inferior to the Father in his humanity. In short, the Son is ontologically equal to God in his divine nature, and ontologically inferior to God in his human nature. Which is to say that the Son is both equal to, and less then, himself!
While its true the Fathers don’t like to ascribe any kind of subjection (functional or otherwise) to Christ’s divinity, they are quite ready to acknowledge that Christ’s human nature is inferior to God’s nature. And here’s where egalitarian Christology stumbles a bit. The egalitarian position fails to reckon with a perpetual incarnation; the incarnation was not a mere thirty-three year sojourn. Christ remains eternally theanthropos. Thus even if the Son as Son does not subordinate himself to the Father, the Son as theanthropos does voluntarily submit himself to the Father—and even now continues to do so. The Son is now and forever theanthropos, and thus in some fashion his human nature is in perpetual subjection to the Father (and indeed to the Son’s own divine nature). Christ, as the everlasting theanthropos, shows us eternally what true human obedience to the Father looks like.
Thus, in as much as the man/woman relationship of 1 Corinthians 11:3 runs parallel with the God/Christ relationship, it does in this sense does appropriately entail both love and respect, as a reflection of the love and respect inherent within the God/Christ relationship. Pragmatically speaking, this way of framing things gives us the same result as the standard complementarian typology—deference and authority are viewed as everlasting elements of the Godhead, and as beautiful aspects of creation. And going this route grounds the complementarian typology more adequately in the Fathers.
A Few Loose Ends
It should be pointed out that the Fathers were battling against Arianism, and thus were very hesitant in any way to suggest that the Son was subordinate to the Father. One wonders if they would have been more favorable to complementarian exegesis under less polemical circumstances. One gets this sense in at least two areas where the Fathers affirm at least some form of priority to God the Father. In the first instance, the sending of the Son by the Father speaks of the Father’s superior position within the Godhead. God the Father sends God the Son qua Son, not merely as theanthropos. It was fitting, Augustine says, that the Father would send the Son and not the Son send the Father. (Augustine seems to be working from the assumption that the greater sends the lesser. His explanation in all of this gets pretty convoluted, and frankly, I’m not sure I follow his logic.) Additionally, the Fathers interpret John 14:6 as a reference to the Father’s generation of the Son as Son; the Father is “greater” than the Son in as much as the Father generates the Son and not vice versa (Athanasius, First Discourse Against the Arians, 13.58).
In all of this, though, I’m wondering how to think about person-hood. It seems to me that obedience/submission is rendered by a person, not by a nature. In as much as Christ’s person is divine, in what way does that factor into his submission to his heavenly Father? In what sense can the Son submit his “nature” to the Father without submitting his person? And if if he is submitting his person, than isn’t that one divine person submitting to another divine person?2 Comments