“Man, the glory of God” means what? Part One

Written by Father Bill No Comments

If anything in Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 sticks in the modern religious craw it is his statement in verse 7 of that chapter: “Man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” Most religious feminists choke at “man, the glory of God” exactly because it is juxtaposed and constrasted with “woman, the glory of man”

First of all, to avoid saying – nay, to deny – that woman is the glory of God is to insult every feminist sensability you can think of. Whatever Paul means by “man, the glory of God,” it necessarily follows that woman is not the glory of God in the same sense that the man is. Of course, it is also true that whatever Paul means by saying that woman is the glory of man, it necessarily follows that man the male not the glory of man in the way that the woman is. For that matter, the man is also also is not the glory of woman! Again, leaving aside precisely what Paul means by these concepts, they are not reciprocal. They are strictly hierachical (cf. 1 Corinthians 1 11:3)

“Glory of God” and “glory of man” are ideas that identify male and female and which distinguish each from the other. And, this can be known for certain from Paul’s exposition even if we do not understand what either of these phrases mean! Throughout the entirety of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, males and females are distinguished from one another. Their natures, their behaviors (both what they do, what they should do, what they should not do), they relationship to one another – all these are distinguished from one another over and over again.

“Man, the glory of God,” then, is an idea Paul predicates of males, not females. And, “woman, the glory of man” is an idea Paul predicates of females, not males. Before we delve into what Paul means by either phrase, we must acknowledge this: the phrases are not synonymous in any sense though they are formally identical. And, we know they are not synonymous in any sense because they are used by Paul to distinguish the man from the woman and vice versa.

To see this, examine the following text of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in which the words man and woman are rendered in a color different from the surrounding text. Just glance over the passage and you will see – in a visual rather than a semantic way – how Paul distingthishes man from woman and woman from man throughout the entire passage:

 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man , and the head of Christ is God.

4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.

7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man . 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man . 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

Again, this little exercise establishes that in Paul’s writings, this passage is undoubtedly teaching us about men (i.e. males) and women, and that it distinguishes them from one another at every point. The core distinction between men and women is contained in those phrases man, the glory of God and woman, the glory of man.

We have not yet engaged the meaning of these phrases (that’s coming in subsequent blogs).  But, even without a handle on the meanings of these phrases, we may confidently affirm the following:

  • Men and women differ from one another as glory bearers.  Man is God’s glory (whatever that means), and woman is not.  Woman is man’s glory (whatever that means), and man is not.
  • Paul’s purpose in this passage is to urge upon the Corinthians a specific practice: the covering of women and the absence of covering of men.  In just what context this practice is to be followed is the subject of another blog.  All Christians who comply with Paul’s prescription do so within some sort of context, even those Christians who, for example, have their women with some sort of covering on their heads in all settings, public and private.  Men, for example, will cover their heads because of the weather, but will uncover in settings deemed appropriate for compliance with Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 11.
  • There are three glories specified in this passage: man (who is God’s glory), woman (who is man’s glory), and the woman’s hair (which is her own glory).  Keeping these three glories in mind is critical to understanding the meaning of Paul’s prescription.  Specifically, the woman’s hair is given to her both as a covering and as a glory (both are mentioned in verse 15. Consequently, the covering Paul mandates in verse 10 covers two glories: the woman’s glory (her hair) and the woman’s head (for she is man’s glory).  Only the man (God’s glory) is uncovered.

Before fully elucidating Paul’s teaching here, there remain several interpretive points to illumine, and these are the subject of subsequent blogs.  Watch for more.


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