The Socially Gendered Body: Richard B. Hays

This post is part of our ongoing series on Head Coverings in Corinth.

We begin with Richard B. Hays’ perspective found in First Corinthians: An Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. As we examine the context, his interpretation of First Corinthians 11.2-16, and the conceptions of body that come from this passage, we will find that Hays conceives of the human body found in First Corinthians to be socially gendered.

Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays

Contextually, Hays emphasizes the importance of reading First Corinthians with the consciousness that modern readers are eaves dropping on a portion of an ancient conversation between Paul and the church at Corinth.[1] Concerning his approach to the text, Hays writes that interpretation involves a “process of distancing ourselves from the text enough to see its foreignness and then allowing the text to draw near again and claim us.”[2] Regarding Corinth, he notes the importance of remembering that Paul’s Corinth existed as a commercial city full of sporting games that was well acquainted with political prowess.[3] Additionally he argues for contextualizing Corinth as a colonial city full of people seeking upward mobility.[4] Socio-religiously, Hays indicates the importance of understanding the diversity of deities and centers of worship within Corinth, especially the Corinthians reputation (at least among the Athenians) for sexually promiscuous worship and the Jewish presence within the city.[5] Also noteworthy was the apparent socioeconomic diversity likely represented within any given house church.[6] Hays locates two occasions for Paul’s writing to Corinth, the first of which was Paul’s reception of a letter from “Chloe’s people” concerning dissensions among the Corinthians on matters of sexuality, legal disputes, abuses of the Lord’s Supper, and controversies concerning the resurrection of the dead.[7] Additionally, the Corinthians had written Paul asking for advice on sex within marriage, food sacrificed to idols, spiritual gifts, and Paul’s collection for Jerusalem.[8] As Hays understands it, this two-fold communication from the city indicated to Paul a church in a moment of division and crisis—hence his multiple letters to the congregation.[9] Paul’s response to these issues are framed within theological terms, however it seems clear that not every concern would have been understood by the Corinthians as a necessarily theological issue, perhaps causing even greater divisions in the church.[10] Continue reading