Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Sign of Authority

So, I'm currently reading an interesting little book by Craig Keener (who'll be coming to Asbury to teach this summer; very exciting), Paul, Women & Wives, in which he discusses various passages relating to gender roles within the church. In chapter 1 he works through 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which discusses women wearing head coverings in the church. Several times in the discussion he makes reference to verse 10 demonstrating that a woman has authority over what she wears on her head. This is a fairly striking claim if you read, well, pretty much any translation of this passage ever, because they all say something along the lines of "therefore a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head" (NASB). So, being a good little Bible student, I flipped open my Greek New Testament. It turns out that there is nothing in the Greek text corresponding to "sign" or "symbol." The translations all get "symbol/sign of authority" from the word εξουσια [exousia]

The weird thing about that is that, unless I am very much mistaken, εξουσια never means "symbol of authority." Rather it just means "authority." So far as I am aware, if it means "symbol of authority" here, this is the only place in all of Greek literature where it has that meaning. So, as Keener points out, the most natural reading of the Greek in this verse is "a woman ought to have authority over her own head."

Now, I'm not the type to just assume that I'm right and those responsible for every English translation (and one French!) I was able to lay hands on are all wrong. But. The way I read the Greek text, the "symbol of authority" translation is awfully difficult to defend.

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