Should we attempt to “improve” or “clear up” what the Holy Spirit chose to do?

Recently we led a study in a Roman Catholic church on biblical teachings about men-women relationships. We were pleased to find that the church had provided seminar participants copies of Good News for Modern Man—a translation now generally approved for Roman Catholics.

In answer to a question, we asked the women to read 1 Corinthians 11:3–12, which describes in detail how men and women were to pray and prophesy in the church at Corinth.

The passage begins (literal translation from the Greek), “Indeed, I want you [plural] to know that the head of every man is the Christ; and head of every woman is the man; and head of Christ is God.”

This is a difficult passage; the sense of some of the rest of the chapter depends on what Paul meant here by the word “head.” We explained that “head” in Greek usage (according to the standard Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell, Scott, Jones, McKenzie) does not mean “boss” or “final authority.” In classical Greek “head” usually meant a person’s physical head; as a figure of speech it sometimes stood for the whole person or for life itself (e.g., “I stake my head on that”); or it could also mean the brim or upper part of something, as the “head” of an architectural column. A more common meaning was source, or origin, as we use it in the “head of the Mississippi River.” This was the meaning it apparently had for Paul in Colossians 1:18: “He [Christ] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”

We began to explain to the women that this meaning of origin or source that Paul used elsewhere made good sense in the phrase “and the head of every ...

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