The Headcovering Re-Examined
I had written an article awhile back in relation to the defense of the biblical teaching of the headcovering. For those who are not familiar of this particular teaching (which is most of Christianity today) it is a doctrine or practice found in the text of 1 Corinthians 11 which demonstrates Godly order and headship. In other words a woman wears a headcovering while a man doesn’t in order to show honour to their head! Some would see this as sexist in light of our culture today however it is merely a means of order that God has chosen to have order and respect among those in the body of Christ. The headcovering being a symbol of subjection in the order of the gathering.
I have been very confused lately regarding what is referred to as “assembly practices” in my “local church”. I have not been attending my meetings at all over the past few weeks due to issues discussed in earlier posts. I did receive an email from a sister whom I cherish deeply who wrote to the effect that there is no other place that honours the Lord in keeping to the New Testament Principles like these churches. I have made it known to her that I do agree that much of the practices involved with the gathering are scriptural. I have attempted to look a little further at the issue surrounding the headcovering since this one seems to come up each and everytime. There are many churches that practice the headcovering and indeed I do see scriptural support for this practice.
There are many however that don’t agree with this practice and they have come up with some different interpretations regarding this text. I want to post a portion of the article that I had written in response to four of the objections presented by critics of this passage. With that said, the fourth argument on this list I wish to detract and re-address. Why you might ask? After looking at this text and my argumentation, I feel that my position has changed on this key point. Here are the three first point and a response to the fourth point:
The cultural argument
When studying scripture I have often found some benefit to have a good understanding of the culture of the day in which the passage or book was written. I have taken great pains in order to appreciate or have a better knowledge of the Jewish culture since the apostles had such a strong Jewish background that some elements of what they wrote had Jewish rudiments. Obviously to read scripture with only a historical analysis would be only receiving a fragment of the value of the whole Word itself. We must in essence always focus primarily on the spiritual aspect of scripture and utilize the study of scripture to accent this.
Because of our feministic generation, the teaching of the woman’s head-covering has been minimized in order to conform to the norm of this movement and even bible believing churches have shied away from the usage of head-coverings for the sisters. One main argument used by those who would have the head-covering of the woman thought of as non-exigent is that the head-covering was simply a historical citing by Paul as to the culture of the day and should not apply to the believers of today! While this may sound appealing to some, in order to be consistent, we must however ask what other passages of scripture would be effected and non-essential.
The bible says that “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and if we are to have a consistent method of biblical obedience, we must absolutely adhere to all of God’s revelation as “God breathed”. Notice how Paul expresses the totality of scriptural inspiration without leaving out a single passage or word. To use this type of argumentation in brushing aside this teaching is simply limiting the extent of inspiration of the scriptures. Everything in scripture is there for a reason and profitable in some way or another to the believer. God has used the woman’s head-covering for a purpose; as a symbolic truth to remind us of the lineage of subjection. V. 10 confirms the usage of the covering as such when Paul states that it is a “symbol of authority on her head”. This was done to preserve order in the gathering of the people of God. Notice how Paul expresses how we are to “hold firmly to the traditions, just as I have delivered them to you”. (v.2) There is a sense of urgency in Paul’s statement and he seems to be issuing a convincing statement not merely a verse to give the cultural conditions of the time. Vines writes:
The “Traditions” consisted of apostolic teaching concerning believers in their assembly…the word has a wider scope than “ordinances” (as in the A.V.). The definitive article used with the word here shows that these were of apostolic authority in general for all churches. (The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine, Vol.2, W.E. Vine, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996, Page 75)
If Paul’s intentions were simply to give a glimpse into the culture of the day, it would seem quite odd that he issued such an importance in the opening of this chapter. It would also be unusual that such a large amount of the chapter is dedicated to the expression of cultural definitions while using as many verses to the significance of the Lord’s Supper. Notice how both are purposely expressed as remembrance objects. Would we be inclined to say that the bread and the wine are merely mentioned due to cultural information? Although it is with sad admittance that I must convey that the essential and beautiful truth of the Lord’s supper is in some circles becoming trivial as well. The thought that Paul’s statement as to a woman having her head covered is somehow not essential to Christian woman today due to it having only educational information is astounding. Much like many other symbolic truths, the Lord has chosen this as a remembrance to Christian order yet, much like the Lord’s supper, it is being tarnished with lack of reverence for the great Master.
The prostitute argument
The City of Corinth was the capital of a Greek Province named Achaia and was rightly established as a well-situated trading place for a variety of commerce. Obviously, like many other large cities (even in this age), immoral standards were the norm and Corinth was established as a place of freedom for wickedness. Gaebelein comments:
The whole city was steeped in immoralities of various kinds. Drunkedness, gluttony, and above all religiously licensed prostitution were at their worst in Corinth. The Greek worship of Aphrodite was of the most degraded nature. So great was the moral corruptioin that the Greek word Corinthazesthai, which means “to live like a Corinthian,” had become a byword of shame and vileness among the profligate heathen of that time ( 1 Corinthians-Ironside Commentaries, H.A. Ironside, Introductory notes by Arno Gaebelein, Loizeaux Bros.,2001, Page 8)
Our second example of reasoning by those who would challenge the teaching of the woman’s head-covering is as followed: It is supposed that Paul is referring to a specific group of prostitutes and were well known to have their heads shaven and uncovered. It is argued that Paul is asking these specific prostitutes, who were new converts, to cover their heads until their hair was long enough to serve as a covering. Henderson explains:
The vestal virgins of the temple of Aprodite were prostitutes and were known to be such because their heads were shaved and uncovered (supposedly). Therefore, when the women of the Corinthian church had their liberation movement and cast off their coverings, the saved temple prostitutes in the assembly were left completely uncovered (having neither hair or a veil) and thus needed some covering. (Glories Seen & Unseen, Warren Henderson, Living Stone Bookshop Ltd., 2002, Page 107)
This is probably the most preposterous of the four arguments since an effortless evaluation of the text refutes the reasoning put forward. Notice in v. 4 how the man is addressed and not the woman, if this was simply proposed for a specific group of female prostitutes, why is Paul bothering with the masculine side of this concern? The fact is that Paul is not writing to a specific group but in a general sense to the Corinthians. It should be noted that Paul’s flow of deliberation isn’t brought to a halt with the head-covering issue yet continues into his writing about the Lord’s Supper. Are we to suppose that the Lord’s supper was intended for converted prostitutes as well? Paul in addition gives his reasoning for this teaching since, in v.12, he argues the order of creation not that of prostitutes with shaved heads waiting for hair to grow or even for them to wear a covering as a sign of dissociation with the Corinthian temple of Aprodite. If we keep with the text and let it firstly explain itself previous to beginning with historical data that is somewhat irrelevant in this case, we find that this passage has to support the symbolic truth of the woman’s head-covering and that the logic understood but the denier simply strays too far away from the text of scripture.
The Eisegetical argument: The long hair suffices for covering argument
I have often defended, to a certain degree, the New International Translation of the Bible yet with time I have come to be more critical of this translation due to the freedoms taken by the translators. In the footnote for 1 Corinthians 11:6 in the New International Version, we read:
If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair, but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again.
This is unfortunately either a very flawed translation of the text or, as I would be incline to affirm, an interpretation of the passage found in v.6 and unfortunately ghastly deceptive. The NIV has taken the liberty to interpret the passage to denote the covering as hair. This is but an example of the extent of the ambitions of people who refuse to take this passage with any sort of literal reading.
The third argument in our short series is to interpret this passage to mean that the long hair of the woman serves as a covering for her hence there is no reason for a woman to wear another covering on her head. It is based on verse 15 where we read “For her hair is given to her for a covering”.
We must begin by stating that there is a difference in function between the hair and the covering. The woman’s long hair is “a glory to her” hence we can acknowledge that it is brilliance and splendor to the Lord. The lineage of glory goes from God, to Christ, to man, to woman since “he is the image and glory of God” (v.7) and the woman is “the glory from man”. The man having short hair and the woman having long hair physically portrays this glory. We can now associate hair with glory!
This chapter begins with the understanding of subjection, how Christ is subject to God, man is subject to Christ and the woman is subject to man. The manner in which a man physically shows his subjection to his head is by not wearing a covering and the manner in which a woman shows this subjection is by wearing a covering. This is really no different than Rebekah who veiled herself to go meet her husband and showed her humility to him by covering her head (Genesis 24:64-65). She was showing her submission to him by covering her head.
But the question lies in, is this covering simply her hair? We must address what the term “covered” actually implies. The word is from the Greek term “katakalupto” which is defined as “to veil or cover one’s self” (J. Thayer) yet the opposite is used as “akatakalupto” which refers to no covering. If we are to use simple logic, we must conclude that the hair is not the covering spoken of in vs. 5,6,7 & 13 since if the hair serves as a covering for the woman then by common sense a man must have no hair at all for he is to be left uncovered. We know that a man must have short hair yet there is no reason for introducing baldness in this passage.
Another point that should be addressed is that in v. 15, the term “covering” is a different word used in the Greek. It is the term “peribolain” which refers to the action of covering. If the hair is simply the covering, then how does one cover and uncover since hair is fixed on a person’s head? The point that Paul was writing about to the Corinthians is simply that a woman’s glory should be veiled in order to show her subjection to her man and in doing this is showing honour and glory to the Lord in respecting her place in the gathering.
The argument as to when praying or prophesizing
The final case I will address in this short but important blog series is the argument that the headcovering is only to be worn when a woman is leading the assembly in prayer and teaching. The evidence used is from v.5 where we read:
“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head.”
Keeping insistently to the context we must evaluate the purpose of Paul’s writing this passage. The entire motivation of the passage is subjection to your head and in keeping with this respects how we honour our head. The point of praying and prophesying is not meant to somehow condone the preaching of women in the assembly since it is clear in other portions of scripture that the woman are to be silent in the gathering. 1 Corinthians 14:34 reads:
“The Women are to keep silent in the Churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”
Clearly Paul was not condoning the public audible teaching or prayer of a woman. Such is also stated in 1 Timothy 2:12 where we read:
“ Do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
As we can see, Paul had no intention to promote an audible female teacher in the gathering of the Saints. What Paul is trying to focus on in 1 Cor. 11:5 is that a woman must respect her head while praying, does this necessarily mean audible prayers? The women are always taking part in silent prayer while gathering with fellow believers hence when we take scripture as a whole, we must conclude that it is silent prayer given to the sister to pray. If we address the issue of prophesying, which essentially means to “teach”, we know that a woman can’t teach a man yet a woman is free to teach other woman (Titus 2:3-5) and also children is the Sunday School.
Now, the problem with point #4 I am having is that originally I had not taken into account the text in v.4 where we read: “every man who has something on his dead while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. There is a paralell with v.5 where the same phraseology is used for the woman. Paul is specific about the time or situation when a woman is to wear a covering over her head. The common practice is that a woman wear it whenever she is in church or during any church activity however the only time specified by Paul is when she is “praying or prophesying”. The point of fact is that if the text in v.4 is stating that a man prays or prophecies in an audible fashion, then the same must be said of the woman! My references to 1 Corinthians 14:24 & 1 Timothy 2:12 are essentially speaking of a woman teaching a man hence woman’s prayers and prophesying are something completely different.
I am on a quest to re-examine these church principles and I ask the reader to keep me in their prayers!