The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraints that it be between eight and twelve pages, with at least eight academic sources, two of which had to be journals.
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First Corinthians 11:2–16 is one of the most controversial passages in modern hermeneutics. The plain meaning of the text is straightforward: Paul argues that men ought to have their heads uncovered and women ought to have their heads covered when praying or prophesying in the church. The interpretive challenge stems from three interwoven issues.
First, the interpreter must decide how to resolve a number of perplexing textual difficulties in the passage. Second, since Paul’s injunction seems to be culturally situated—no one today wears clothing remotely like that of Paul’s day, head coverings included—interpreters must decide how to respond to Paul’s instructions. It is impossible to follow his instructions as the recipients of his letter would, as it is unclear exactly what the “head covering” was. Moreover, as will be seen, Paul’s argument is complex, leaning on a combination of the creation order, and a universal sense of what is appropriate to men and women. Thus, correct interpretation must respect both the creation order and variations in cultural perceptions of propriety. Third, the interpretation of the passage’s comments on the “headship” relationship between men and women have been the subject of much controversy. These difficulties notwithstanding, Paul’s central thesis remains clear: men and women ought to dress in a way that demonstrates the differences between the genders. Read on, intrepid explorer →