Scriptures

Women And The Head Covering!

Introduction

‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man, did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.’ 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

This may be one of toughest passages in Scripture to understand, but to help us understand it we need to understand the practices which surrounded the church who met in Corinth. This is implied in 1 Corinthians 11:16, where Paul writes,

‘If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.’

Now unlike us today who don’t live in Corinth or were around during this time, we can safely know that the people in Corinth knew exactly what Paul was talking about, as far as this ‘practice’ was concerned.

At the same time, Paul makes it clear that there are some clear principles that are involved which are unchanged regarding the Christian being pleasing to the will of God. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 11:2,

‘I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.’

Please keep in mind that we must practice the customs as dictated by the principles. The principles are eternal but the practices are temporary. What are the principles set forth in this passage? What are the practices put forward in this passage? When we answer these questions, we’ll come to a better understanding of the passage.

1. There are some very definite principles that are expressed.

‘I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.’ 1 Corinthians 11:2-3

These principles are unchanged and Paul expects the Corinthian Christians to respect them. They are that

‘God the Father is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of men and men are the head of the women’.

This isn’t talking about equality, but the structure of authority. Christ is equal to the Father, but is subject to Him in relation to His mission. Women are equal to men, but in the matter of authority, they are to be subject to the decisions of men. This is God’s structure of authority and it must be respected under all circumstances.

2. There were some practices that were common to the first century which reflected this authority structure.

‘Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.’ 1 Corinthians 11:4-6

Anyone, a Christian man or woman, who failed to keep these practices brought dishonour upon themselves. But we must remember that these practices were part of the culture of the day and in no way, reflect any permanent principles.

The only principle that we can maintain from these practices is that if in our culture, we have some practices that reflect God’s authority structure, so we too must humbly accept those practices as well to reflect our deep and permanent respect for God’s will.

The church in Corinth had the following practices

1. The man having his head covered.

2. The man having his head uncovered.

3. The woman having her head covered.

4. The woman having her head uncovered.

Paul tells us considering these practices what either dishonoured one’s authority or honoured one’s authority. These are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:4-7.

‘Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.’ 1 Corinthians 11:4-7

Notice what Paul says.

1. A man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, authority.

2. Every woman who prays or prophesies having her head unveiled dishonours her head, authority.

Why are these things the case?

1. When a woman goes about unveiled, it brings shame to her.

2. When a man goes about with a cover on his head this indicates that he doesn’t respect the fact that he is made in the image of God.

Why is it specifically the case that a woman who doesn’t wear a veil brings shame upon herself? Why specifically is it the case that when a man wears a cover he indicates that he isn’t made in the image of God? The answers to these two questions are found in the practices of the culture in which the Corinthian Christians were living.

Now Corinth is located in Greece and so would be subject to the culture of Greece inasmuch as that culture reflected and respected God’s authority structure. Inasmuch as the culture did not respect and reflect God’s authority structure, then the Corinthian Christians were not to follow those examples. What was it about the culture that reflected God’s authority structure?

It was the common practice of the Greek men of that day to wear a cover on their head, if they were slaves, but not to wear a cover on their head, if they were free. The Christians of Corinth and the church as a whole were made up of both slaves and freemen.

Earlier in the Corinthian letter Paul addresses the problem of division which they were experiencing.

1 Corinthians 1:10 ‘I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.’

One of the divisions that they had and which also affected the way they partook of the Lord’s Supper in the later part of the chapter was in association to who was a slave and who was free. When in the body of Christ, however, there are no distinctions between slave and free, 1 Corinthians 7:22

‘For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.’

Paul said later that all are one in Christ and free,

1 Corinthians 12:13 ‘For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.’

It would, therefore, be disrespectful to Christ as head to indicate such a distinction while in His body. In other words, if a man wore a head covering in the assembly, that would indicate that he was a slave to another man instead of free in Christ. The man who owned him would be honoured, but Christ would be dishonoured. That’s why all men were to have their heads uncovered so as not to bring dishonour upon their authority, Christ.

As respecting women, their authority is man, again, there was a custom throughout the ancient world regarding women as well. The International Bible Encyclopaedia says,

‘In New Testament times, however, among both Greeks and Romans, reputable women wore a veil in public and to appear without it was an act of bravado (or worse).’

In other words, the implication is that to appear without the veil would bring shame upon the woman’s authority, who is man. To appear with this veil would bring honour to her authority as well as to the authority structure of God. that’s why it was appropriate for her to wear this veil in respect of God’s authority structure.

We also must keep in mind that there is some evidence that prostitutes of that day flaunted this practice in order to be more appealing to their customers. The discarding of the veil might lead some men to conclude that she was trying to identify with women of a ‘different’ sort.

This also would bring disrespect upon God’s authority structure in that she wouldn’t be showing the proper relationship between men and women in dealing with sexuality, that of husband and wife exclusively.

Paul’s comments regarding a woman not being covered being the same as if she were shaved, aren’t to be taken literally. Rather, they indicate the degree to which the woman should go if she weren’t to respect the authority structure. If she isn’t going to wear the veil, then why not go ahead and shave the whole head and take all the covering off.

Paul now turns to the application of the principles to the practice in Corinth.

 ‘A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man, did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.’ 1 Corinthians 11:7-10

In the context of the culture of Corinth, Paul states the principles of God’s authority structure as applied to the practices of the day.

‘A man is created in the image of God’,

therefore, he needs to reflect that image in the church in showing his subjection to God, not to other men, as might be the case of a slave and to do this, he must ensure that his head is uncovered.

On the other hand, the woman is the glory of the man, she was created out of his bones and to provide help and companionship to him. Therefore, she ought to show this in her behaviour as a Christian woman and due to the presence of angels in the worship assembly.

Please note that to indicate to one of God’s angels in the worship assembly that a woman doesn’t respect God’s authority structure is to indicate the same to God. She shows the proper respect for God’s authority structure in this culture by wearing a veil.

Now it’s clear that Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to get the impression that men are to have an attitude of domination over women so he gives additional warning.

‘Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.’ 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

Paul says that both men and women are of God, so men ought not to think that men can be pleasing to God by rejecting women altogether out of the common worship assembly. As far as their relationship to the Lord is concerned, they are equal.

Paul now turns toward some self-evident judgments that indicate God’s authority structure as applied in Corinth.

‘Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.’ 1 Corinthians 11:13-15

Paul asks them, based upon their experience and judgment in living in the city of Corinth as citizens, what appears appropriate and what doesn’t. The rhetorical question indicates that it wasn’t appropriate for women to pray without a veil.

Paul first asks if it’s proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. The word ‘proper’ is a strong word to speak about ‘custom’. Paul asks what is the decorum of the day. Is it proper to go and pray uncovered? The answer is no. It would be like asking us if going outside in a loincloth would be proper? The answer is no, yet there are some places where it is proper. I am thinking of some of the tribes in Africa where that is proper.

But in this country, it’s not proper. So now Paul argues from custom, that it’s not proper for women of that day to do things like prayer without a covering.

In fact, their own experience in being citizens of Corinth taught them that it is a shameful thing for a man to have long hair, but it’s a glory for a woman to have long hair as a covering. The word ‘nature’ here doesn’t necessarily mean that one is born with the specific knowledge that long hair is good for men and bad for women.

It merely indicates something that has been habitually observed by the culture for a long period of time. This same phrase is used in Ephesians 2:3 where it is indicated that they were

‘by nature children of wrath’.

Just as no one is born committing the sin of anger, so also no one is born knowing the difference between long and short hair. It’s something that must be taught.

Some have argued from 1 Corinthians 11:15 that the hair is the covering. But that cannot work in this text because if the hair is the covering, then what is the man to do when he wants to pray or prophesy?

The man would have to be bald or have his head shaved if hair is a covering for his head is not to be covered. You see all the things we get in trouble with when we don’t pay attention to the context.

Paul started this whole talk to the men and women who were praying and prophesying outside of the assembly in public, the hair cannot be the covering. Instead Paul is using this as an illustration of the difference between men and women and their perception in culture.

Finally, Paul addresses the possibility that someone might object to these thoughts regarding the application of the principle.

‘If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.’ 1 Corinthians 11:16

As far as the practice of the church is concerned, there is no such practice. The wearing of the veil shouldn’t be considered something that is binding upon all churches in all circumstances. If a visiting woman were to pass through the church at Corinth and worship with them, they shouldn’t consider it mandatory to bind upon her the same practices that they bind upon themselves.

Summary

I don’t believe the head covering still applies today because the text is referring to women using the spiritual gifts of prayer and prophesy, 1 Corinthians 11:5, this is directly who Paul is talking to in this text.

As we know from 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, spiritual gifts ceased at the completion of the revealing of the Gospel, the perfect had come, the part will pass away.

This text even names prophesy as one of the things that will pass away. Since spiritual gifts have ceased, then the things contained in this text cannot apply.

But suppose some don’t understand this text to be talking about spiritual gifts, well, in that case the text still clearly states that these ‘traditions’ were given because of the culture of the day.

Consider how many times Paul refers to the ‘customs’ of the day in his arguments for the use of the covering. 1 Corinthians 11:6 argues that being uncovered is like having your hair cut short or shaved, which was a shame in those days.

1 Corinthians 11:13 asks what is proper. 1 Corinthians 11:14 asks about nature, the environment. 1 Corinthians 11:16 is the clearest of all, where Paul flat out calls the wearing of the covering a custom.

This is clearly a custom that Paul is asking the women to do because it was a custom of the day and he did not want them going against that custom.

If some Christians are still convicted to believe that the covering is still in force today, then they must fully obey this passage and the practices found concerning the head covering. A covering was something to cover the head and face, not the hair only.

Many who practice the covering don’t do so properly for Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that the head is to be covered.

‘But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.’

And so, a covering is that which we see in the Middle East where the women have coverings that you can only see their eyes and nose. A covering isn’t a lace cloth on the top of the head or a hat. Remember that the Scriptures teach us that the covering was for women who were

‘praying and prophesying’

with spiritual gifts in public and therefore isn’t necessary for us today, since miraculous, spiritual gifts have ceased.

1 Corinthians 13:8 ‘But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.’

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."

James 1:2

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