Monday, September 26, 2011

1 Corinthians 11:4, Garment or Hair? Wonderful Greek Idioms!

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 tends to be “controversial” at best.  For the most part, the argument around the passage has to do with if the “head covering” spoken of in verse 4 is “hair” (long or short) or some type of "garment" or "veil".  For starters, let’s look at the renderings in the most popular English translations:
11:4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (Christ)*. 
11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head (Christ)*. 
Both renderings pretty much look the same.  But what does “having his head covered” mean?  One must consider the Greek idiom κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων behind the translation “having his head covered”.
Here is a literal translation from the Greek.  Take note of the idiom.
11:4 Every man praying and prophesying, having down from the head, puts his head (Christ)* to shame.
As we can see, it is not as easy as it seems to translate the passage because of the Greek idiom.  So, how should we try to resolve this?  We must find out what κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων (having down from the head) meant in ancient times and what better place to look than the Bible itself!  The idiom can be found in Esther 6:12 of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) where the Greek idiom was used to translate the Hebrew for “head covered”.
Let’s take a look at our most popular translations again for an English rendering of the Hebrew.
6:12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief

6:12 And Mordecai came again to the king’s gate. But Haman hasted to his house mourning, and having his head covered
Now the LXX:
Ἐσθήρ 6·12 ἐπέστρεψεν δὲ ὁ Μαρδοχαῖος εἰς τὴν αὐλήν, Αμαν δὲ ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὰ ἴδια λυπούμενος κατὰ κεφαλῆς
6:12 And Mordecai returned into the courtyard, but Haman returned home grieving down from the head.
As we can see from the Greek idiom, Paul is not referring to “hair” as the covering.  He is referring to some type of garment as indicated in Esther 6:12.
So what does this mean for the total passage?  Well, there are still many unanswered questions as we just don’t know what the “tradition” was that the Corinthians were keeping that Paul had passed to them.  One thing is for sure: Paul sets up an allegory between “head coverings” and “hair” later in the passage which results in the following:
No head covering garment = short hair = man
Head covering garment = long hair = woman

*Christ is the “head” of a man per verse 3.  παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἡ κεφαλὴ ὁ Χριστός ἐστιν (The head of every man is Christ/The Anointed One).

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