Part 2: An Eschatalogical Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16

Part 2: An Eschatalogical Reading of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16

So what might prompt the ESV translators to render the Greek word aner as both “man” and “husband” in 1 Corinthians 11:3, as well as add the word “her” to aner? Perhaps the translators assume this passage concerns the relationship of the man to the woman in the temporal institution of marriage, especially its significance in worship. On the contrary, I think that Paul is revealing something about the enduring worship of heaven.

Christ is head of every man. He is the beginning and first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. His headship has been unveiled on earth, which has led to a liturgical change. The covered head of the Mosaic order has given way to the uncovered head of the new order (Ex 28:4, 37, 40). The Son from heaven has taken on flesh and offered himself once for all. He is now the unveiled head in session over the greater and enduring sanctuary (Hebrews 1:1-4). This is symbolically represented by his unveiled male worshippers on earth, who typify Christ and the restored natural order (Col 1:15-18). I suggest that Paul tells us that God’s female worshippers publicly praying and prophesying are not that symbol. Women are representative not of the natural order, but the spiritual order of heavenly Zion. The word “spiritual” refers to the “upper register,” heaven, the realm of the glory-Spirit. In other words, the man of 1 Corinthians 11 represents the “lower register” of earth, the cosmos loved by God, pressing onward in time, and heavenward in space, toward the consummation of this age in the age to come (John 3:16; Heb. 11:6). He is juxtaposed with the woman who represents the age and the realm of the presently veiled city, Zion.

Placing the natural and supernatural order side-by-side is not unique to 1 Corinthians 11. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, the climax of Paul’s letter, the juxtaposition of the natural and spiritual is unequivocal, “‘The first man Adam became a living being,’ the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” Paul is preaching a two-realm and two-age theology, one that demands two anthropological symbols.

I suggest that in 1 Corinthians 11, Christ summons his people to worship by revealing that his male and female image bearers are living symbols of something already and something not-yet. They represent his plan since the garden to unite all things on earth and in heaven in himself (Eph. 1:10). As male and female come together to pray and prophesy in worship, they herald the consummation of God’s great cosmic plan announced in Genesis 2:2 (cf. Heb 4:11, Rev 21). God has decreed the union and communion of heaven and of earth, the realms of angels and of men.

This is why the gospel is of first importance to Paul throughout 1 Corinthians as he moves toward the end of his letter. Christ has come in the flesh, been crucified, raised, and ascended as the firstfruits of a great resurrection harvest among mankind. At that time, the natural order characterized by the worship of Eden will reach the end for which is was created, the unveiled worship of heavenly Zion. In Paul’s letter, he moves from relational sin in the church, to deference among us in love, to worship, to the Man of earth and heaven, the great hope and pledge of our never-ending union and communion with God.

The traditions Paul was establishing among the churches were traditions that pointed to that great truth. The prescriptions for worship that the Corinthians were called to imitate conform to that message. We imitate Paul in our worship on earth, because Paul is revealing the worship of heaven. The essence of that worship in both spheres is Christocentric and dynamic, ever-advancing toward the union of heaven and earth. In other words, Paul unveils an order of worship in 1 Corinthians 11 which compels us forward in time as part of the yet-veiled worship of heavenly Zion, the liturgy of the apocalypse in the age of ages.

Going back, we remember God’s words to Moses in reference to the Levitical order, “Do everything according to the heavenly pattern.” Hebrews reveals the eschatology of worship under the Old Covenant. Christ came as the final and enduring substance of the earthly shadows. Christ fulfilled the old order of tabernacle and temple by becoming both high priest and offering. Now enthroned on his holy mountain, having secured the redemption of his people, the man of heaven now gathers his earthly bride for the presently veiled joys of the age to come—“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him” (Heb 7:26-27; 12:1-3; 1 Pet 1:4-7). Our worship here and now is both an anticipation and participation in our worship there, hidden from our eyes (Heb 12:18-24). The prophet Isaiah, the writer of Hebrews, and the apostle John, all messengers of the apocalypse, have partially unveiled the worshippers and worship of heaven in the age to come (Isaiah 6:1-7; Hebrews 12:22-24; Rev 4-5; 7:9-17; 14:1-5; 19:1-8; 21-22). The glory of the woman in veiled worship anticipates the climatic unveiling of the bride on the mountain of the Lord.

I suggest that Paul is beginning to show us things—mysterious and too marvelous. Man represents the earth pressing onward toward consummation. He represents the person and work of the first and last federal heads of humanity. Woman represents the end of that work, the heavenly Mt. Zion and the great assembly. Perhaps if we begin with man and woman as symbols pointing to the consummation of our joy in the union of heaven and earth, we may come to a greater consensus on 1 Corinthians 11, and in that consensus, greater love and joy.

Like Gordon Fee and Anthony Thiselton, I see many reasons to keep aner consistently as “man,” and gyne consistently as “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. My reasons include the following: (1) the general context of the entire passage is propriety in worship for all the congregation; (2) correspondingly, there is no indication that the men and women who are praying and prophesying publicly are specifically married; (3) the relation of the husband to wife in 1 Corinthians 7, does not appear to be the overarching concern of this passage; (4) on the contrary, the focus is the general relation of men to women, beginning with the all-inclusive “the head of every man is Christ;” (it is worth noting that no translation that I have seen renders the first clause of 11:3, “The head of every husband is Christ”); (5) natural theology comes into view in 11:8-15, which argues for the broader use of both aner and gyne as “man” and “woman,” not “husband” and “wife.” In conclusion, it seems to me that by not accepting the symmetry between men and women in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, we forfeit the point of the passage.

In 11:3-4, Christ is head, the beginning and firstborn from the dead by his resurrection. The man who prays and prophesies represents Christ in his first order work, the work of redemption. The woman represents the second order, the consummation of our redemption in the eschaton. I propose that Paul says that every man in some way represents the prominence and covenantal work of the Second Adam, whose death and resurrection has secured our glorious end. This does not mean that every man is a federal head over every woman, but that every man symbolizes Christ, the covenantal head of a new humanity. Man’s symbolic headship has been realized in the headship of Christ, whose work is finished.

In contrast, every woman who prays and prophesies in public worship does so as a representative of the veiled angelic realm and heavenly congregation. She is the Sabbath creature, symbolic of the church at rest, consecrated to God. Paul is reminding us that the woman continues to represent the Sabbath sphere, the realm of life and life-givingness (Gen 3:19; Is 66:7-14). Her typology relates to the benefits secured for us by Christ’s obedience. This is in line with Genesis 2, when she built from a side taken from Adam and consecrated as the symbol of the glory extended to Adam in the covenant of works.

The nature of the woman of Genesis 2 is not associated with the dust of the ground. Her creation is immediate and supernatural and yet not earthy. She is from Adam’s side, zela, a word reserved almost exclusively for the walls of the sacred objects and structures made according to the heavenly archetype: the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:12, 14; 37:3, 5, 27); the tabernacle (Ex 26:20, 26; 36:25, 31, 32); the bronze altar (Ex 26:27, 35; 27:7); the altar of incense (30:4); the altar of of ascension (Ex 38:7); Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5, 8, 15, 16; 6:16, 35), the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 6:16); the doors of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:35); and Ezekiel’s eschatological temple (Eze 41:5, 6, 7 , 9, 11, 26). Perhaps this makes sense of the last chapter of Song of Songs, “If she is a wall, we will build a tower of silver upon her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar. I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. So I have become in his eyes like one who brings peace” (8:9, 10). Perhaps it is not a stretch to see woman as sacred space personified as mother and above all, bride, in line with the descent of the Lamb’s city at the climax of history.

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, 6, 13-15, Paul perhaps is telling us that from the beginning in the natural order of Eden, the woman’s hair was associated with her unique creation as a representative of Sabbath glory. Eve’s hair symbolized the glory of the heavenly realm (Gen 2:21-23). In the New Testament church, when the woman prays and prophesies, she does so as a representative of the heavenly congregation and sanctuary. When she is veiled, she declares our eternal glory according to its hiddenness; when she is unveiled, she declares her original glory. Both her hair and her veil point to the mountain of the Lord, the royal temple dwelling in the heavens. When she rejects the veil when praying and prophesying under the new covenant, she is rejecting the symbol of that same glory under the covenant of works. She is rejecting what she is by nature indicated by both her hair (Eden) and her veil (NT church).

1 Corinthians 11:7 seems to say that the glory associated with the firstborn from the dead is the glory of God himself. The man who who prays and prophesies in worship displays the honor and glory of God as source and Christ as first-born. In Genesis 2, Adam was both firstborn and source of Eve. By contrast, the woman represents not the alpha of Adam, but the omega of Eve, the last order, the pneumatic sphere of angels encircling his throne. As a representative of this realm, she is “for-man,” (11:9), for his comfort and for his endurance. The veil which she wears as she prays and prophesies represents angelic authority among men (2 Pet 2:11; Jude 8-9). Her symbolism points to the angels. Lest she unduly exults in her symbolism and declare her independence, Paul reminds her of her dependence on the man for original life, beginning with the word, “nevertheless” (πλὴν). Similarly, lest the man exalt in his symbolisim over the woman, he is reminded of his dependence on her for continued life.

The word “nevertheless” in verse 11 has significance for all of us. It keeps us from exalting over one another. Our representation does not make us independent of one another. Regardless of our symbolism, we can never be anything more or less than what we are by nature as image-bearing mankind, made for eternal union and communion with the self-contained triune God of the Scriptures, both individually and corporately. We do not puff ourselves up but rather rejoice in receiving what we represent, which is Christ in the New Jerusalem. Rather than exult over one another, we celebrate the dynamism inherent in our repicrocity and mutuality as male and female. This is a gift to us from God, something he has ordained for our encouragement, to compel us forward to our goal, the unveiled Christ in the presently veiled realm of Sabbath rest.

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