Exousia echein epi tEs kephalEs:
1 Cor 11:10 and the Ecclesial Authority of Women
SHEILA E. McGINN, Ph.D.
In this paper, I argue that the traditional readings of this text are irredeemable for the health and well-being of women and men in the church today. However, the text itself admits the possibility of a middle ground between the interpretation that Paul is silencing women (RSV: that women in the assembly must wear "a veil" on their heads) and the argument that this passage is a post-Pauline interpolation (e.g., Munro). I suggest that the crux of the issue is not the text, but rather a misunderstanding (and mis-translation) of the key phrase in I Cor 11:10.
If one understands the passage in I Cor 11:2-16 as an expression of Paul's eschatology, with verse 10 as the high point of this discussion, the difficulties in this passage are resolved. In 1 Corinthians, Paul's pneumatology is thoroughly eschatological (Turner), because there exists an irrefutable inner connection between what the Spirit does now in believers and what the same Spirit will do (albeit in a heightened way) at the consummation of all things. Since Paul's argument is aimed at the dress of women, not their speech, it is clear that he does not intend to silence women altogether. On the contrary, I contend that he aims to support the power of prophetic women as women. Paul argues that women prophets should dress so they are recognized as women. In the process of this argument, Paul does not place the women prophets in a position of submission and subordination to the men in the assembly. On the contrary, he broadens the range of their prophetic authority to include . . . , "power . . . over the head" (i.e., the men).
This issue is of considerable significance for New Testament translation and hermeneutics, and has important ramifications for ecclesiological structures.
click here for full text of the paper