Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

1 Corinthians 11 and Subverted Hierarchy

I came across an older blog post today from Matthew Malcolm* where he notes that “Paul has a keen interest in setting up hierarchies of human honour, and then surprisingly subverting them by subjecting all humans to God. This happens at both the beginning and the end of the head-coverings discussion in chapter 11, as well as earlier on in chapter 3.”

Matthew then gives these three examples:

1 Corinthians 3:21-23

The set up: So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you…
The sting: …and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

1 Corinthians 11:3

The set up: I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife…
The sting: …and God is the head of Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:12

The set up: For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman…
The sting: …but all things come from God.

As Karl Barth said, the ‘secret nerve’ of this epistle comes in those condemning and liberating words: “from God!”

Paul nullifies hierarchies among us who are “in the Lord” by pointing out that each of us, both men and women, come from God and belong to Christ (1 Cor. 11:11-12; 3:23). Moreover, we are all equally under God’s authority who is ultimately the one, not people, who makes things happen (1 Cor. 3:7).

I think Matthew’s observations are insightful, important and liberating, and need to be shared, and he has given me permission to do so.

Subverting Hierarchy in 1 Corinthians 11*Matthew R. Malcolm is part of the Liberal Arts faculty at the University of Pelita Harapan, and is the author of several books including Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians: The Impact of Paul’s Gospel on Paul’s Macro-Rhetoric (Cambridge University Press: 2014) which is a revision of his doctoral thesis, and The World of 1 Corinthians: An Annotated Visual and Literary Source-Commentary (Paternoster and Cascade: 2012) He blogs at Cryptotheology, his blog post on subverting hierarchy is here.


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Posted October 7th, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, The "Difficult" Passages, ,

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3 comments on “1 Corinthians 11 and Subverted Hierarchy

  1. Hannah May says:

    Devil’s advocate:

    “Paul nullifies hierarchies among us who are “in the Lord” by pointing out that each of us, both men and women, come from God and belong to Christ (1 Cor. 11:11-12; 3:23).”

    Could Paul not be qualifying rather than nullifying?

    • Marg says:

      Hi Hannah May,

      I think Paul is qualifying and nullifying.

      If some Christians in Corinth were reading a gender hierarchy into origins, which I strongly suspect was the case (1 Cor 11:3, 8-9), then the simple and profound fact, that all of us who are in the Lord have our origin or source in God, does nullify a gender hierarchy based on a created order (1 Cor. 11:11-12).

      The conjunction plēn (which occurs at the beginning of verse 11 and can be translated as “except that”) indicates that Paul is expanding on (correcting?) the previous statements. He is introducing ideas contrary to the ones preceding verse 11, ideas that especially apply for us who are in the Lord.

  2. Abbie says:

    Blessed by the post…it is so liberating.

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