Friday, January 08, 2016

Stump the Priest: Because of the Angels

Question: "In 1 Corinthians 11:10, when St Paul talks about women wearing head coverings "because of the angels," what does he mean by that? I have my ideas but I don't wanna trust my ideas." 

We have already covered the question of women covering their heads in a previous article, but this question was not specifically addressed in that article.

The King James Version provides a very literal translation of the verse in question:
"For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels."
Before we get to what it means that a woman should cover her head "because of the angels" we should first consider what it means for a woman to have "power" on her head. Most modern translations follow the interpretation found in the King James Version's margin notes, and add some words that are not explicitly in the original in order to provide a clearer meaning:
"For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (NKJV).
This is consistent with the interpretation of St. John Chrysostom. And what this means specifically is that it is a symbol that the woman is under the authority of her husband.

So why should a woman wear a head covering "because of the angels"? There are four interpretations of this.

1. Tertullian interpreted this to refer to angels being tempted by the daughters of men, but this interpretation hinges on his interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, which was rejected by most of the Fathers of the Church (See: Stump the Priest: Giants in the Bible?).

2. Ambrosiaster interpreted the angels as a reference to bishops, based on an interpretation some give to the angels mention in conjunction with the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3):
"The veil signifies power, and the angels are bishops, as it says in the Revelation of John, where, because they are men, they are criticized for not rebuking the people, though good behavior on their part is also praised" (Ancient Christian Texts: Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 CorinthiansAmbrosiaster, translated and edited by Gerald L. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2009) p. 143).p. 172).
3. St. Cyril of Alexandria interpreted this to mean that the angels are offended by women who are disobedient, and show disregard for this practice:

4. Blessed Theodoret interprets this to mean that women who disregard this practice offend the guardian angels of the men who might be distracted in prayer by their lack of modesty; and their own guardian angels as well:
"By authority he referred to the covering, as it is to say, Let her show her subjection by covering herself, and not least for the sake of the angels, who are set over human beings and entrusted with their care. Likewise also in acts, "It is not he, but his angel" [Acts 12:15]; and the Lord, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones who believe in me: Amen I say to you, their angels continually look upon the face of my Father in heaven" [Matthew 18:10] ( (Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 1, trans. Robert Charles Hill, (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 205).
The interpretations of St. Cyril and Blessed Theodoret are by no means mutually exclusive, and I think together, they make the best sense of this verse.

See also:

Stump the Priest: Head Coverings