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Head Coverings

Head Coverings

Postby mattrose » Wed Aug 05, 2009 11:20 am

* I have been teaching through 1 Corinthians and I came to this passage and have found almost every line difficult to interpret (especially since the interpretation of each line depends in many ways on the interpretation of the others). Below are my thoughts after a few days of thinking it through. I'd love some feedback if anyone has time.


I would consider this short section to be one of the most difficult passages in Scripture to understand and apply. It is not, however, unclear what Paul is instructing here, in my opinion. He gives a hierarchy of authority (God --> Christ --> Man/Husband --> Woman/Wife). He says that men SHOULD NOT have head coverings when they pray or prophecies or they would be dishonoring Christ. He says that women SHOULD have head coverings when they do the same or they would be dishonoring their husbands. The remainder of the passage gives reasons for these instructions.

Men SHOULD NOT wear head coverings because:
- It dishonors Christ (4)
- He is the image and glory of God (7)
- Long hair on a man (which is like a covering) disgraces him (14)

Women SHOULD wear head coverings because:
- It dishonors her head (her husband, 5 & 7b-9)
- Not wearing one is like having a shaved head which is a disgrace for a woman (5-6)
- Because of the angels (10)
- Nature (long hair on women) insists on the need for covering (15)

These reasons don't seem to be difficult to list, but some or all of them are difficult to understand. WHY would a man wearing a head covering dishonor Christ? Why does the fact that man is made in the image and glory of God dictate that he should uncover his head when praying and prophesying? Aren't women created in the image of God too? Is long hair on a man universally disgraceful? WHY is a woman not wearing a head covering dishonorable to her husband? Is a shaved head for a woman universally disgraceful? What do angels have to do with it? Don't men and women both have naturally long hair (unless the culture dictates that they keep it short)? It may be nearly impossible, in this case, for us to understand Paul's argument since we are removed by both time and space, chronology and culture.

But, it seems to me, there are three principles we can state with some degree of confidence:

1. This was not to be considered an essential issue of doctrine. Paul says that the Corinthians were 'holding to the teachings' (v. 2) even though they were apparently confused about this issue. The first point depends, to some degree, on the proper translation of the final verse of this section (v. 16). Modern translations state 'we have no OTHER practice' (CAPS mine) whereas the KJV states 'we have no SUCH custom' (CAPS mine). If the modern translations are correct in their rendering, then women wearing headcoverings was a universal practice in the early church. if the KJV rendering is accurate (As it seems to be in the Greek), then he may be saying this was simply a Corinthian cultural issue (but this seems to be at odds with the context). But even if the practice was universal in scope in Paul's day, that doesn't dictate that it was a moral principle rather than a cultural issue (it could have been the culture of th entire empire at that time).

2. It should be clear that this was not an issue of the equality of women to men, but an issue of the role distinctions between men/husbands and women/wives. After all, the passage says that the head of Christ is God, but the Father and Son are co-equal. Christ has voluntarily submitted Himself to the will of the leadership of the Father. And so wives are called to submit to their husband, not because the husband is superior, but because the husband is to be the spiritual leader of the family.

When we read the passage, from our cultural context, it seems to be AGAINST women's rights and equality. But we must keep in mind that in Paul's culture the passage may have been viewed more as restrained liberation. After all, the passage does indeed assume that women will be praying and prophesying (thus, not remaining absolutely silent) in public worship. But it argues for restraint in that they should only do so when covered, so as not to dishonor their husbands.

3. This brings us to our third point and that is the question of how much of this instruction is applicable to us today given that, in our culture, head-coverings are (by and large) not utilized? The issue in Corinth (And perhaps the entire empire), it seems, was that it was the cultural custom for men to uncover in public worship and women to cover in public worship (or public in general). Some of the Corinthians churches may have been interpreting Paul's teaching to mean that these cultural customs could be simply abandoned in Christ. Paul assures them that they are right to consider life from the 'In the Lord' perspective (v. 11), but challenges their apparent conclusion that being 'in the Lord' means an abandonment of cultural customs. Instead, Paul insisted that the custom fit well with the overall Christian worldview.

The question remains, however, as to how the passage applies to Western Christians today. Seemingly, in countries where women still wear head-coverings today, the application would be easier to make (Christian women would do well to go with the flow of that culture). But in the West, where dress is less symbolic, is there an application to this text? I don't think there are any direct paralels, but I do think we would be wise to remember the three key principles (type of dress is a secondary issue, role distinction should not be eliminated in Christian worship, we should not abandon cultural customs out of hand without thinking them through).


-------------------------------------------------------
Given this overall discussion, I will now attempt (unsuccessfully) to answer the difficult questions listed above:

WHY would a man wearing a head covering dishonor Christ?
I think this was a cultural belief in the world at that time and Paul is not interested in combating the practice since it actually can be seen to fall in line with the idea that since Christ is the head of man, covering the head would be like covering Christ. But worship is supposed to glorify Christ and, thus, Christ should be exposed, not covered.

Why does the fact that man is made in the image and glory of God dictate that he should uncover his head when praying and prophesying?
I think this question is a parallel to the first question (see above).

Aren't women created in the image of God too?
Yes they are (see Genesis 1), but Genesis 2 is true as well and it declares that man was made first and woman from man. Thus, there is a sense in which woman comes from man (8) AND a sense in which man comes from woman (12). But in the most important sense, we all come from God (12b). Mankind (men and women) are created in the image of God, but within that equality there is role distinction.

Is long hair on a man universally disgraceful?
Seemingly not. Paul, at times, had long hair. Various cultures allow for long hair on men without it being considered disgraceful. Once again, this seems to be evidence that Paul's discussion is more cultural in nature than a eternal command.

WHY is a woman not wearing a head covering dishonorable to her husband?
In the cultural context, it seems that any married woman appearing in public or public worship would have brought shame upon her husband, for it was an honor shame culture and not wearing a covering may have been interpreted as almost an advertisement.

Is a shaved head for a woman universally disgraceful?
This also seems to be a cultural consideration, though longer hair on women does seem to be the majority cultural custom.

What do angels have to do with it?
Some speculate that this phrase means the women should be covered so they don't entice angels sexually with their beauty, but this seems to be quite a reach (after all, spiritual beings would seemingly not be hindered by physical clothing). More likely, angels were seen as very involved in order and worship and so the disorder caused by women not wearing head coverings in the 1st century would have been displeasing to them.

Don't men and women both have naturally long hair (unless the culture dictates that they keep it short)?
Yes, of course. This is another reason why I think there's more 'culture' here than eternal command.

So should/must women wear head-coverings in our culture?
I do not think it is a command. In our culture, to wear a head covering like those warn in Paul's day would actually draw attention to the woman, which was the opposite of the intention Paul had in mind in this passage. But I do think we should keep in mind the enduring reality that there should not be an elimination of role distinction in Christian worship.
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby steve » Wed Aug 05, 2009 5:16 pm

Hi Matt,

I have written a long article on this subject, which can be seen at the "Topical Articles" link at my website. Essentially, I reach the same answers that you have reached, though I take a longer time getting there.
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby mattrose » Wed Aug 05, 2009 5:45 pm

Our congregation will be glad to know there are longer winded people than me out there

Thanks steve :)
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby steve » Wed Aug 05, 2009 7:04 pm

Yeah...but only as long as they don't have to listen to them.
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby Homer » Thu Aug 06, 2009 9:47 am

Hi Matt,

You wrote:

Is long hair on a man universally disgraceful?
Seemingly not. Paul, at times, had long hair.


I presume you are referring to Paul's vow, Acts 18:18. This probably is no help in regard to your questions. It is assumed Paul's vow was a Nazarite vow which could have been for 30 days. Even if it was longer, his hair might not have been noticeably long in that culture; human hair on the head grows about 1/2" per month, and with poor nutrition it grows more slowly.

I have never understood Steve's view on 1 Corinthians 11:16:

1 Corinthians 11:16 (New King James Version)
16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.


It seems to me that if we understand Paul to be saying the other churches have no such custom, then, after his appeal to them to follow his instructions in this matter, he is saying, in effect, "In case you don't want to do what I have told you, just forget it because no other churches practice it either."

I got very interested in this a few years back and must have read at least 30 papers on it. It is still not easy but I have concluded it is simply a matter of observing gender distinction, which was certainly demanded by OT law.

What helped me the most was something from John Mark Hick's class notes:

Excusus on “Veils” (John Mark Hicks):

a. The headcovering in Corinth is not the middle eastern “veil” but the Roman practice of capite velato where leaders in public rituals would pull a covering over their head as part of the religious ritual. Only those leading the ritual would cover their head—both men and women. Rick Oster has demonstrated this in his article “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: Historical Context of I Cor. 11:4,” New Testament Studies 34 (1988): 481-505. There is archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic and literary evidence to prove his case.

b. Corinth was a Roman colony. The previous Greek city had been destroyed in 146 BCE. but begun again as a Roman colony in 44 BCE. The city during Paul’s day was a mixed culture, but predominately Roman.

c. Paul opposes the asexual Roman practice of headcoverings. Rather, he wants to adjust the cultural practice in order to reflect the appropriate “honor” relations in the community.

(1) Apparently, both men and women were wearing the headcovering, so he distinguishes the practice in order to introduce gender distinction. Men do not wear the headcovering, but women do.

(2) However, there must have been another problem in Corinth. Why does Paul emphasize that women should wear the headcovering? Probably there were some women, by virtue of their Greek culture (where women did not wear any headcovering in rituals), did not wear the headcovering. They may have even seen this as a sign of freedom in Christ.

d. Consequently, the headcovering is a ritual (worship) practice in Roman religion that has been carried over into the Corinthian assemblies. Paul does not mind the headcovering, but he thinks it should symbolize the honor relationships between genders. Thus, men must honor their head not wearing the headcovering and women must honor their head by wearing the headcovering.

Mb>References to the Roman Practice:

"Why is it that when they worship the gods, they cover their heads, but when they meet any of their fellow-men worthy of honour, if they happen to have the toga over the head, they uncover?" (Plutarch, Moralia, The Roman Questions 10)

"It is no piety to show oneself often with covered head, turning towards a stone and approaching every altar, none to prostrate upon the ground and to spread open the palms before shrines of the gods . . ." (Lucretius de Rerum Natura 5.1198-1201).

". . . and when now thou raisest altars and payest vows on the shore, veil thy hair with covering of purple robe, that in the worship of the gods no hostile face may intrude amid the holy fires and mar the omens" (Virgil Aeneis 3.403-409).

"It was in accordance with the traditional usages, then, that Camillus, after making his prayer and drawing his garment down over his head, wished to turn his back; . . ." (Dionysius of Halicarnassus The Roman Antiquities 12.16.4).


Hope this helps,

God bless, Homer
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby steve » Thu Aug 06, 2009 12:07 pm

It seems to me that if we understand Paul to be saying the other churches have no such custom, then, after his appeal to them to follow his instructions in this matter, he is saying, in effect, "In case you don't want to do what I have told you, just forget it because no other churches practice it either."


Not really. It would just be saying:

"This is what I recommend that you do, for the reasons I have enumerated. However, it isn't a hill to die on. If someone insists on ignoring this advice, it is not worth dividing the church over...after all, it isn't a universal moral norm of the faith, and churches in other cultures do not necessarily follow the same customs."
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby Michelle » Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:30 pm

petomaryland wrote:I thought I heard awhile back that a worldly hat or head covering would get in the way of God's seeing your spirit.

Does that make sense?

I don't know. What do you think it means?
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Re: Head Coverings

Postby Singalphile » Sun Mar 19, 2017 11:03 am

There is a view out there that says that part of the cultural background of 1 Cor 11:3-16 is that the medical/scientific community of the time was known to say that hair was to females as testicles were to men - not that they had the same function, but that they were both genitalia.

Here's an article making that claim.
And here's an article that disputes that claim.

That view would help explain a few of the statements in the passage, particularly verses 13-15. However, if you ask me, the evidence for the "female hair=genitalia" view seems pretty weak, but I'm no Greek language/history expert (obviously).

Any thoughts on that?
... that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:23
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