1 Corinthians 11:10 (continued)
As a follow-up to the previous day’s note (on 1 Cor 11:10), I thought it worth exploring a bit further the key expression e)cousi/an e&xein (“to hold authority”). The verb e&xw is often translated “(to) have”, but more properly means “(to) hold“, that is, to hold in one’s possession or control. The noun e)cousi/a (exousía) is derived from the verb e&cesti[n] (éxesti[n])—the preposition e)c (“out of”) + the verb of being ei)mi. It indicates that which is, or comes, from a particular person or source. It generally refers to the ability for a person to do something, often in the specific sense of something which is permitted or allowed. The English word “authority” offers as good a translation as any.
The noun e)cousi/a occurs fairly frequently (just over 100 times) in the New Testament, including 27 times in the Pauline letters. When we consider the used of the word in verse 1 Cor 11:10, it is stated that the woman ought to hold the e)cousi/a upon her head, through (or because of) the order of creation as now realized in Christ (“in the Lord”, v. 11). But just what is this e)cousi/a (“ability, authority, power” etc)? The best guide to meaning, in addition to the immediate context, is the use of e)cousi/a elsewhere in the (undisputed) letters of Paul. Of the 27 instances of the word in the Pauline writings, 12 occur in 1 and 2 Corinthians, including several instances with the same verb e&xw (“hold, have”):
- 1 Cor 7:37—to a man having/holding his will or (sexual) desire under his (own) control
- 1 Cor 9:4-6—to the apostles having/holding the right to be given food and drink (i.e. not to have to earn a living through other labor), to have a wife, etc; cf. also vv. 12, 18, and 2 Thess 3:9.
- Cf. Rom 9:21—illustration of the potter (God) having/holding the right (and power) to shape the clay as he wishes
These other instances of e)cousi/a with e&xw in 1 Corinthians (and 2 Thess 3:9) relate generally to the idea of having the (personal) right or ability to do something, but that one’s own will or desire is subordinated to the good of the Community (as also in 1 Cor 8:9). The other instances of e)cousi/a are:
- 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10—of power/authority given to Paul (and other apostles) by God
- Rom 13:1-3—reference to the ruling/governing authorities (i.e. civil government)
- 1 Cor 15:24—similarly to the heavenly/angelic power that rules/controls the world (Col 1:16; 2:10); often understood as evil/demonic power over the (fallen) world, cf. Col 1:13; 2:15 (cf. also Eph 1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12)
If we turn to the rest of the New Testament writings, e)cousi/a with the verb e&xw (i.e. “hold authority”) is found in several other places:
- Mark 1:22 par, where it is said by those observing Jesus that he taught “as (one) holding authority”, in contrast to the other Jewish teachers of the Law.
- Mark 2:10 par—Jesus declares that “the Son of Man holds (the) authority to release [i.e. forgive] sins”. Here too there is a contrast (conflict) with the Jewish teachers and leaders (vv. 7ff). According to Matt 9:8, it is God who gives/grants this authority.
- Mk 3:15—Jesus grants to his disciples, i.e. allows them, “to hold (the) authority” to cast out daimons (evil spirits causing disease, madness, etc); it is the same kind of authority/ability which Jesus had exhibited in his miracles.
- Matt 8:9—here it is used by the centurion who requests Jesus to heal his servant; he states, “I am a man under authority, holding (authority over the) soldiers under me”. Cp. Acts 9:14.
- John 10:18—in a foreshadowing of his upcoming death (and resurrection), Jesus declares that “no ones takes it [i.e. my soul/life] (away) from me, but I set it (down) from myself; I hold authority to set it (down), and I hold authority to take it (up) again—this is the charge (placed) on (me) I received (from) alongside my Father”. Cf. the same idea expressed in 19:10-11 (addressed to Pilate).
- Heb 13:10—drawing upon the Old Testament sacrificial and ritual imagery, the author states that believers have (lit. hold) an altar from which “the ones performing service in the Tent [i.e. Tabernacle/Temple] do not hold (the) authority to eat”. In other words, believers are allowed to partake (spiritually) in the holiest things of God through the person and work of Christ.
- Rev 9:3, etc—the idiom occurs frequently in the book of Revelation, indicating how the Angels (and other messengers of God) were given authority to perform certain miraculous actions at the end-time. In Rev 20:6 a different idea is expressed—that the “second death” (that is, death/punishment following the Last Judgment) “holds no authority” over believers.
Two basic observations may be gleaned from all these passages: (1) the idiom refers to ability/authority a person has in his/her own personal control, and (2) that it has been given/granted by someone higher. The chain of authority is clear and simple: God —> Christ —> the believer. Upon returning to 1 Cor 11:10, we can see how this applies. First, the woman holds the authority herself; it is not held by another (the man), but genuinely by her. There is no sense that this ministering authority is given to her by the man; however, it does reflect the chain of authority expressed in 1 Cor 11:3. This is the second key point, and is why, for Paul, the use of the head covering is so important (however obscure it may seem to us today)—it allows the woman to exercise her authority within the context of the established order of creation. Even though the church embodies the new creation in Christ, it still reflects the original created order, fundamental aspects of which ought to be maintained. And yet, the use of the verb e&xw in v. 10 strongly indicates that the emphasis is truly on something that the woman holds (a right, power, ability, etc) in her own person. In my view, the emphasis is not on the authority of the man/husband over the woman. Her gifting to speak comes from the Spirit, but it must be exercised within the order established by God.