Thursday, November 5, 2009

Going to the Source: The Central Meaning of 1 Corinthians 11.3

I am still here in the Trinity series, talking today about 1 Corinthians 11:3 and its implications for women in ministry.

I’ve made it clear here at the site that one cannot give Christ an “eternal” functional subordination without also giving Him an eternal “ontological” subordination—a subordination in essence, which now makes Him “less God” than the Father, the Spirit being “less God” than the Son.

Today I’m back to deal with this passage and some comments from Erickson’s book.
In his chapter on “The Gradational Authority View,” Erickson quotes from the work of George Knight III regarding the role of women. In 1977, Knight published a book titled “The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women,” in which he claims to “set the record straight” about men and women and how they should relate to each other. Regarding 1 Corinthians 11:3, Knight writes,

“For the basis of man’s headship and woman’s submission, the apostle Paul appeals to the analogy of God the Father’s headship over Jesus Christ, His incarnate Son (1 Cor. 11:3);...with full authority and with absolute and permanent reasons, Paul argues for the form of this relationship between man and would have to deny Paul’s argument or his explanation and application of Genesis 2 to overturn the fact that this is the teaching of the apostles which they intended to be believed and obeyed” (George Knight III, cited by Millard Erickson, “The Gradational View”; from “Who’s Tampering With the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate.” Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2009, page 34).

Now that we know how Knight feels about women, let’s look at Scripture itself, 1 Corinthians 11—

“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. FOR MAN IS NOT FROM WOMAN, BUT WOMAN FROM MAN. NOR WAS MAN CREATED FOR THE WOMAN, BUT THE WOMAN FOR THE MAN” (1 Corinthians 11:2-9, NKJV).

As you can see, the issue here is clearly “origin” or source, for we are told that “woman is from man” and woman was created for the man, both pieces of information supplied in verses 8 and 9. The “symbol of authority” found in verse 10 is to be worn because the origin of the woman is the man. The woman comes from the man, in the same way that Eve came from Adam’s rib in Genesis.

But look at verses 11 and 12:

“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as WOMAN CAME FROM MAN, even so MAN ALSO COMES THROUGH WOMAN; BUT ALL THINGS ARE FROM GOD” (1 Cor. 11:11-12, NKJV).

Look at Paul’s argument. It is easy to look at verses 8 and 9 and get lost in that portion of the argument without looking to Paul’s conclusion in verses 11 and 12. In these two verses, though, Paul is arguing that, whereas the EARLIER ORIGIN of mankind is the man, the MODERN ORIGIN of man is the woman, since man is born of a woman. This is why Paul writes in verse 11 that “neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.” The man comes from the woman just like the woman comes from the man. In Genesis, Eve needed Adam to be created; however, Adam needed Eve to bring children into the world, as all men need women to bear children today (for only women can do so).

And notice what Paul says about Christ and God?

“but all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11:12b).

As we’ve seen in verses 11 and 12, Paul trumps the argument of women wearing head coverings because they came from “man.” Paul argues instead that if men should not wear head coverings, there is also an argument that women shouldn’t either—because they are the origin of new life today that comes into the world.

If he claims that man and woman are not “independent in the Lord” (v.11), then he would be making the same statement about Christ and God—neither is independent of the other. The Father needs the Son and the Son needs the Father. According to Giles, Athanasius made the same argument:

“To put it succinctly, for Athanasius the Father and the Son are eternally correlated. The Father never stands alone or works alone. Pannenberg states that ‘Athanasius’ most important argument [was] that THE FATHER WOULD NOT BE THE FATHER WITHOUT THE SON (Contra Arian 1.29).’ The words ‘begotten’ and ‘offspring’ are for Athanasius helpful terms to use of the Father-Son relationship because they ‘signify a Son...and beholding the Son we see the Father’” (Kevin Giles, “Jesus and the Father: Modern Evangelicals Reinvent the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006, page 136).

I’ll state it again: Athanasius’ greatest argument was that “the Father would not be the Father without the Son.” And I think this matches Paul’s point regarding the origin of men and women in 1 Corinthians 11. Without Adam, there would never have been an “Eve.” But today, without the “woman,” no “man” would exist. Thus, we see a dependence of the woman on the man, and a dependence of the man on the woman. In the same way, we see the mutual dependence of God and Christ on one another. And both relationships, whether divine or human, are both based on interdependence and trust. This, then, is the meaning of relationship; and until subordinationists figure out what “relationship” is, they’ll continue to get it wrong.


  1. Rachel,

    Thanks so much for linking this article to your blog.

    I believe that complementarians get it wrong when they attempt to use the earlier verses of 1 Corinthians 11 to justify men over women and argue that "kephale" means "head" rather than "source." Contextually, there is no basis for such a belief (for, even after mentioning "kephale," Paul goes into genealogy-- that woman comes from the man). He doesn't even spend time arguing, like complementarians, that Adam was created first...oh no, I did not say that :-)

    Thanks for the support...and keep reading.


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