“Man, the glory of God” Means What? Part Two

Written by Father Bill No Comments

Getting at an answer to the question “What does it mean to say that man is the glory of God?” is not really all that difficult. But, before laying out an answer, it’s vital to dismiss two false answers that are sometimes given to this question, lest they confuse subsequent discussion of the meaning of these phrases.

First, some claim that “man is the glory of God” is telling us that man glorifies God in the sense of giving glory to God or ascribing (or being) an honor to God.

There are a couple of things wrong with this idea.

As noted in an earlier blog, Paul is everywhere in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 drawing distinctions between man and woman. Note also the formal identity between the phrases “man, the glory of God” and “woman, the glory of man.” Each follows the form “A is the glory of B.” So, if the point of such a phrase is that “A gives glory to B,” then the two phrases about man and woman distinguish men from women only insofar as each sex gives glory and honor to different “targets” as it were.

This understanding of “man, the glory of God” and “woman, the glory of man” leads to spurious conclusions. Manifestly, such a sense does not distinguish men from women or vice versa. Women give glory to God, for example. They do so in most of the ways men do: singing God’s praises, confessing faith in Him, offering petitions to Him, and so forth. While women were not required to attend the three annual feasts of the Lord under the Old Covenant, they were always permitted to do so. And, so, Mary went up to the Feast of the Passover with Joseph on the occasion that Jesus stayed behind in the Temple.

And, if “man, the glory of God” means that men give glory to God, it follows that “woman, the glory of man” means that women give glory to men, and that in pretty much the same way that men give glory to God. Such an idea – no matter how one tempers it with caveats – is far afield of whatever Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 11!

So, “man, the glory of God” does not mean “the man (i.e. the male of the species) gives glory to God.” He may, in fact do so of course; but, that is not what this Pauline phrase is telling us.

Another failed interpretation of the phrase understands “man” to mean “mankind.” And, so, “man the glory of God” means that mankind glorifies God, or mankind gives glory to God, or something similar.

And, of course, one may argue on other grounds and from other statements in Scripture that mankind does exactly that. Indeed, the kings of the earth are exhorted in the strongest possible terms in Psalm 2 to do this:

10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear, And rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way,

When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

But, “mankind gives glory to God” is not what Paul is getting at when he says that “man is the image and glory of God.” For one thing, the use of the word “image” pulls us back into Genesis 1:27 where “mankind” (in our vocabulary) is said to be created male and female. “Man” in Genesis 1:27 is the inclusive masculine – referring to both males and females, as the immediate context confirms. “Man” in the Pauline phrase “man, the glory of God” must be referring to man as a collective noun for the male of the species, for it is contrasted with “woman” which is a collective noun for the female of the species.

The one place where “man” may, indeed, be the male inclusive for “mankind” is, ironically, in the phrase “woman is the glory of man.” But, to see this clearly, we must turn our attention, finally, to elucidating what it means to say that “A is the glory of B,” a subject for the next blog in this series.

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