People have a very bad tendency of ignoring obvious teachings in Scripture, because they don’t mix well with the social norms of the day.
The issue of head coverings is one of these issues. The first time I ever read 1 Corinthians 11 I understood what it meant, because it was so simple. After getting married, my wife started wearing a hat to church, because it suffices as a head covering.
Both my wife and I have independently come to the conclusion that without doing injustice to the clear words of the text, that head coverings are something that God wants women to wear and men not to wear during worship.
The passage is simple enough (1 Cor 11:2-15) and I will discuss it section by section:
Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
It is important to note that these are not some listless traditions that have only been made clear explicitly in writing hundreds of years later. Paul takes the next few chapters to elaborate exactly what these traditions (the Lord’s Supper for one) are.
But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
This is the purpose statement of the section on head coverings. What’s the big deal here? Hierarchy between husbands and wives reflects a divine hierarchy between Father and Son, just as marriage is a reflection of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5. So, any understanding of this passage that ignores the idea of submission shows not only a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage, but a warped view of the Godhead in which one Person of the Trinity is in submission to the other.
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered (akatakaluptO) while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
A simple ordinance is set forth. Men should not put “something” on his head, while a woman should do the opposite. While it is shameful for the man to cover his head, it is as shameful for the woman to have her head uncovered. So shameful, she might as well have her beautiful hair cut off.
Also take note of the term for “uncovered” (akatakaluptO). It helps us understand what a head covering is.
For if a woman does not cover (katakaluptetai) her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover (katakaluptesthO) her head.
Obviously akatakaluptO, katakaluptetai and katakaluptesthO are all related words with very close spelling. So, the same thing, the act of covering one’s head, is being referenced.
Further, Paul is speaking rhetorically. He already set for that it is shameful for a woman to be bald in the previous passage. So, when he says “if she doesn’t cover let her cut off her hair, but if doing that is disgraceful…” not so that there are two ordinances (one of cutting hair and one of covering) but rather one. It is BECAUSE we know it to be shameful for women to be bald, it is important for women not to act shamefully and cover their heads with something.
But should we care what’s on our head in church? Is it simply Paul’s personal view of style that is at issue here? Paul gives a very telling reason:
For a man ought not to have his head covered (katakaluptesthai), since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Paul goes back to the beginning where reference is made to submission within the Godhead. If a man covers his head, he is denying he is made in the image of God. Likewise, if a woman does not cover her head, she denies that she was made to be in submission to her husband (even though she is equal heir to God’s promises according to 1 Peter 3.)
Then, there is a cryptic reference to a “symbol of authority.” It is not complicated at all if you understand why Paul even has this passage to begin with: the covering symbolizes the fact that she is under her husband’s authority and that she submits to him. Not coincidentally, Christians in other countries that still practice female head covering and in denominations that do (i.e. the Mennonites), they affirm the understanding that wives should submit to their husbands and the husbands should lovingly and sacrificially lead their wives. Also, not coincidentally, in the West where head coverings have disappeared have watched extreme doctrinal degradation and the rise of gender egalitarianism.
Lastly, what’s the deal with “the angels.” R.C. Sproul Jr. wrote, “I don’t know.” I have a good guess: every church has an angel that watches over it, as indicated by Revelation 1:20. So, what Paul is conveying is simple: We should be obedient to the ordinances set forth in the Scripture because God is watching and we are held accountable.
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered (akatakalupton)? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering (peribolaiou).
Two points can be made here. First, long hair is not a proper “head covering” for a woman. The word in the Greek is different for one and the injunction “if you don’t cover your head, then cut all your hair off” doesn’t make any sense unless Paul is only against medium-length hair.
Second, Paul is making a cultural argument here, appealing to the tastes of the Corinthians (“Does not even nature teach you?”) While some people say that this proves that this whole section applies only to the people of that era, the fact that Paul only later appeals to people’s good sense proves that the main thrust of his argument is not cultural at all. The covering issues between men and women has metaphysical importance, as it reflects the nature of the Father and the Son. Further, as Paul made clear in his reasoning, men’s and women’s order in creation necessitates it.
But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Now, if what Paul was really saying was, “As long as women submit to men and have some sort of literal, or even non-literal ‘sign’ of submission, that’s fine,” it is quite striking that the Holy Spirit put the words in his mouth stating that the church universally follows the ordinance and we should not contend or alter it in any way. Apparently, GOd likes wasting his words and confusing us with a useless ordinance, or He wants to emphasize through Paul that we shouldn’t dispute the ordinance and just do it.
Further, there was zero debate about head coverings until about 60 years ago. In the second century Tertullian noted that the whole church used head coverings for worship, but that there were other debates raging such as whether unmarried women should be compelled to wear head coverings. How could the whole church, which in the second century covered dozens of cultural and linguistic groups, have all equally understood that covering the head meant simply the wearing of head coverings for women apart from it being a serious, universally accepted practice? If it was merely a narrow cultural context in Corinth, the practice would have not spread to Armenia, Libya, Italy and other far off places where people didn’t dress the same.
My last gripe: “Cultural context” is the most abused biblical interpretation there is. It has been used to make homosexuality and fornication not a sin, destroy doctrine, and morph church governance into a 20th century egalitarian mold which God does not intend (for he does not love one century’s cultural norms more than the next). Our cultural norms should conform to Scripture, not the other way around.
The honest biblical interpreter should not even think of saying the issue of head coverings is “cultural” when the Greek does not lend itself to that interpretation, and neither does history or Paul’s logic in the passage. Thus, it requires special pleading to deny the traditional view of head coverings and it is time we abandon this practice of picking and choosing which ordinances we like and which are “out of date.” We do all things for the glory of God.
P.S. Just in case there is any confusion, this issue does not make or break one’s salvation. Rather, I see it as a matter of faithful obedience to God. Someone who has been redeemed from just punishment because God paid his penalty for him would want to be obedient to all of God’s ordinances with God’s help.
P.S.S. The Head Covering Movement linked to this article. Props to them for uploading the R.C. Sproul video above.
Lovely. A plain and simple explanation of a teaching so simple – women are to cover their heads in worship, men to uncover!
~ a Reformed Christian in New Zealand 🙂
Culturally speaking, head covering was originated from numbers 5:18 and the Rabbis expanded upon it via their oral law – which Paul was referring to when he said women were not allowed to speak. Nowhere was it written in the OT that women were not allowed to speak. Only Jewish women were compelled to wear head coverings when in public. It was not the tradition among believers in Turkey or Italy.
As I understand it, christian headcovering inspired the practice of wearing the hijab in the Middle East. They only took it to it’s logical extreme. Since there aren`t any other universal wardrobe customs, I see no need to reinstate this one. It makes women wear their religion, not men.
One last thought, in the past it was shameful for Jewish women to appear in public without some form of head covering. It was grounds for automatic divorce. Do we really want to require headcoverings and deny the freedom Jesus gives us … or should we also eat Kosher food only in the name of consistency?
“Culturally speaking, head covering was originated from numbers 5:18 and the Rabbis expanded upon it via their oral law – which Paul was referring to…”
Where’s your proof Paul was referring to it? Sounds sort of made up.
Num 5:18 does not even address the issue of head coverings. In fact, male priests had levitical coverings, which would contradict Paul’s prohibition of men keeping their head covered.
“Nowhere was it written in the OT that women were not allowed to speak. Only Jewish women were compelled to wear head coverings when in public. It was not the tradition among believers in Turkey or Italy.”
Based upon what ancient history? Tertullian made clear that the practice was unviersal. Paul refers to it being the universal practice of “the churches of God.”
“As I understand it, christian headcovering inspired the practice of wearing the hijab in the Middle East. ”
Also wrong. Tertullian writes about how Arab women covered their whole face, which shows this is an Arab cultural practice that a tleast predeates the 2nd century.
“One last thought, in the past it was shameful for Jewish women to appear in public without some form of head covering. It was grounds for automatic divorce. Do we really want to require headcoverings and deny the freedom Jesus gives us … or should we also eat Kosher food only in the name of consistency?”
You have a lot of bad history and now bad theology. Christ is the fulfilment of the whole Law. THat is why Christians are free in respect to the Law. Head Covering is not in the Law, neither is the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, or making sure Elders and Deacons are men with only one wife. We are not free to do what we want with the Lord’s SUpper, Head COverings, or anything that is not a matter of the Law but living according to the Spirit (whcih by the way, includes certain moral aspects of the Law.)
This page discusses the origin of the Jewish practice of Head Covering being Numbers 5:18. It’s an insightful read. Throughout the Bible, the Law (capitalized) and the Prophets are referred to – the Law being the rules which Moses laid down about the worship of God after the people were freed from Egypt. The Prophets makes up the vast majority of the rest of the Old Testament, excluding the writings like Psalms. Paul used to be Saul the Pharisee, and as such would have been very familiar with the oral law (un-capitalized), that which was not written, that is, until after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, around the year 70 A.D. The oral law acted as a commentary that explained the Written Law, clarifying it and making it easier to obey. Since nowhere in the Written Law was it expressly commanded for women to head covering, the only place it could have come from and be seen as authoritative was the oral law because they believed that they were carrying on in the tradition of Moses speaking God’s Word to the Children of Israel, that’s what the oral law was the equivalent of to them.
If Jesus did fulfill both the Written Law and freed us from the oral law, then it follows that we are free from teachings derived from them for they are also fulfilled. Today, it is not a shame for a woman walk down the streets with her hair hanging loosely, it is not a shame for women to appear in public without scarves, hats, hoods, veils, bandanas, fascinators, hair bands, etc. To say that it is a shame, agrees with Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – saying that a woman with a shaved head has been dishonored. Why? Perhaps because her covering of hair was removed. This together with Numbers 5:18 shows that they thought that a woman with her hair down or shaved was dishonored and shamed.
Nowhere in the Old Testament is it taught that all women everywhere must cover their covering of hair with a covering of cloth. But it is taught in the oral law, and that was something that as a Pharisee, Saul would have believed in, memorized, and had been taught to interpret. Were it truly universal, there would have been no need for Paul to explain to the Romans what the tradition was, what it meant, and why it was important. The reasoning Paul gave is distinct from that which he would have been taught as a Pharisee. Perhaps he wanted all churches to be consistent, but as challenging as that would have been in his life-time, it would be impossible today.
On the Veiling of Virgins, written by Tertullian between 160 a.d. and 225 a.d. in Carthage (modern-day Tunisia, Africa) – I’m not sure we can pin down the exact date. The last disciple, John had died around the 100 a.d., so all questions as to what Jesus said or meant or what Paul meant could only be resolved by writing to the church bishops or elders to have them try to answer whatever question was presented to them. We’re talking about the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of the apostles as the guys that are likely in charge here – to get a picture of where we are in the scope of church history. Unlike many Church Fathers, he was never canonized (made an official saint) because some of his teachings contradicted the orthodox teachings of the Catholic Church. Tertullian considered himself to be a member of the laity, and not the clergy. So he was not even an disciple or bishop or overseer or an elder in the ordained sense.
He wrote in De Cultu Feminarum, section I.I, part 2 (trans. C.W. Marx): “Do you not know that you are Eve? The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.”
As for the Veiling of Virgins – I don’t see any Bible verse that expressly commands that all female virgins wear veils, but Tertullian was writing that not even the married women should give up the practice of wearing a veil which also does not have a Bible verse to support that notion. He also mentions the angels, but he has a different reason – pointing to the Nephilim. Yes, he did refer to Arabian women: “Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face.”
This article points out that the practice did not originate with Christianity either, but it was co-opted by Christianity, whose practice was co-opted by the time Islam was founded – around the year 610, which gives them plenty of time to accept the practice as a pre-existing cultural norm in accordance with what Judaism and Christianity already taught about veiling / head covering, and one-upping them in the process. Does it not make sense that three religions that believe in the same God (as each religion understands Him) would have some similar practices? Paul wrote that he spent some time in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) so it’s quite possible that was an influence on his writings. Oddly though, he didn’t prescribe that the head covering + veil to be the practice of the whole church. Of the two, I put more stock in Paul than Tertullian. Which brings me to the conclusion that Tertullian’s words were those of a member of laity, a man with an opinion, and he was without Scriptural support for many details of what he said. He wasn’t a fan of marriage and he obviously thought less about women than Jesus did.
“On the Veiling of Virgins, written by Tertullian between 160 a.d. and 225 a.d. in Carthage (modern-day Tunisia, Africa) – I’m not sure we can pin down the exact date. The last disciple, John had died around the 100 a.d., so all questions as to what Jesus said or meant or what Paul meant could only be resolved by writing to the church bishops or elders to have them try to answer whatever question was presented to them. We’re talking about the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of the apostles as the guys that are likely in charge here…”
My point was not to put up Tertullian as a sole authority on the issue (Paul saying “WE HAVE NO OTHER PRACTICE NOR DO THE CHURCHES OF GOD” pretty much settles it. I cited Tertullian to show that your claim there were parts of the ancient world did not follow the practice is simply not found in the historical record. You are compelled to withdraw the statement.
“Yes, he did refer to Arabian women: “Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face.”
This article points out that the practice did not originate with Christianity either…”
So now you admit you are in error on this point…
“…but it was co-opted by Christianity, whose practice was co-opted by the time Islam was founded…”
Sounds like a lot of opinion here and no solid history.
“Paul wrote that he spent some time in Arabia (Galatians 1:17) so it’s quite possible that was an influence on his writings.”
Again, is what Paul writes merely his opinion or is all Scripture God breathed (2 Tim 3:16)?
Your argument would have merit if Paul hadn’t been teaching the Corinthian women that they should, in fact, cover their heads. Christ covers us with His blood, should I be stubborn and refuse a simple kerchief as recognition of His authority?
Paul does a little bit of both, but considering that there is a distinct possibility that he did not write some of the letters atributed to him, you have to ask: whose opinion ended up as God’s Word?
Well, if we don’t know what in the Bible is really God’s word, why waste our time reading it or debating about it? What is your religion based on? Unverified sayings of Jesus? The things you think sound cool.
The only consistent way to be a Christian is to submit oneself to the teaching that all Scripture is God breathed 2 Tim 3:16. Otherwise, you might as well abandon the religion and convert to Islam, which has a much more straightforward and simple manuscript tradition.
Jesus never put ink to papyrus, all of his sayings are second-hand and spread by a two thousand year old version of the telephone game. The bible doesn’t record everything Jesus ever said or did. It only recorded that He was the only person who could fulfill ancient prophecies, restore David’s kingdom, and that it cost him his life. Faith requires us to ignore evidence to hope for the impossible. I don’t doubt the original koine greek manuscripts written within the first five or so decades of Christianity, sadly, they were lost to time. Our translation of a copy hundreds of times over is anything but the original – even with translator bias, words added to clarify meaning, and errant preaching, even if God chose not to preserve Scripture in the original, the greatest story ever told remains just that … it is a matter of faith to believe it to be much more. I still don’t see how emulating this request is important or applicable today. To be consistent, we would have to legalize slavery, restore the baptism of/for the dead, and replace nuclear families with the household codes. Would you be willing to be the servant of another and give up all of your freedom? It is better to be inconsistent and leave head covering in the past. If God did end the practice of head covering, nothing humans could ever do would restore it. I asked an old woman what it meant, she said it was meaningless fashion. Meaningless fahion is not God honoring.
SO many issues here. THis is not the topic to debate manuscripts. I would just say if God can raise Himself from the dead, if He can be incarnate in the flesh, if He can be born of a virgin, and other impossible miracles, the preservation of His Scripture is surely not outside His power. We have writings, such as Clement, which are still from the first century, and they preserve for us Biblical passages, so that we know the Bible has today was the same one early on.
If you are actually interested t learn more, I suggest you invest the time in watching the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5K-AOfj1Axg
Thanks for this. I am a head covering Christian…perhaps the only one in my church. I have been covering since 2008. When I asked my pastor if I can cover, he said, “You don’t need to do that now. That was the context back then.” When I said, “But can I still cover if I want to?” He said, “You don’t need to do that…” 😦
Can we do the Lord’s Supper? “But it’s not needed for salvation.” Even still, can we do it?
I feel your pain, God bless!
Why only wear it during church? Why not all the time?
The Scripture does not tell women to wear it all the time, it says “when praying and prophesying.” Some people say that women ought to “pray without ceasing,” and thereby always cover. Then, this begs the question, ought men never cover, because a man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head?
Reblogged this on The Cross Is All We Need.