Archive for the ‘Head Coverings’ Category

Head Coverings – Some Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

September 25, 2013

I’ve applied some chevrons to the text of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, to try to emphasize some of the structure:

> Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
>> But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
>>> Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
>>>> But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
>>>>> For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
>>> For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
>>>> For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
(Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.)
>> Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
>>> Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
>>> But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
> But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

Next, let me provide an outline of Paul’s comments:

Follow the traditions we give you;
A) Headship explained:
i) Christ is the head of man,
ii) the husband is the head of the wife,
iii) God is the head of Christ;
B) Covering’s Relationship to Honor/Glory
i) Male covering dishonors himself;
ii) Female uncovering dishonors herself (reductio from the fact that if she was shaved it would be obviously a disgrace);
iii) Male uncovering displays God’s glory;
iv) Female covering displays the male’s power to the angels;
(But in the Lord, men and women are equal as they create one another and all are created by God.)
C) Nature Illustrates the Principle of Covering
i) It is a shame for men to have long hair;
ii) It is a glory for women to have long hair;
iii) Hair is a natural covering of the head.
But if the argument from nature doesn’t persuade you, suffice that headcovering (for women) and uncovering (for men) is the only custom we have; there is no other custom among the apostles or churches of God

Some general thoughts:

1) Men generally don’t tend to have a big problem with obeying the commands of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. After all, this is one of the nicer aspects of being man – getting to typify the glory of God and the headship of Christ.
2) Men are prone to let this go to their heads. That’s why the parenthetical about equality in the Lord is there: so we can remember that this headship men have is for this earth only and typifies the headship of God.
3) Men also should keep in mind that this headship comes with typing Christ in other words, such as providing for and sacrificing himself for his wife. (Ephesians 5:25; see also, 1 John 3:16 and Romans 16:4)
4) Women, in this age of feminism, have a problem obeying the commands.
5) Some women have a problem with this custom of showing male headship with an artificial covering, because they have a problem with male headship. This class of women should be encouraged by the parenthetical about equality in the Lord, but ought to endure male headship in this present age.
6) Some women have a problem with this custom of showing male headship with an artificial covering, because they think their natural covering is enough. This may arise from a misunderstanding of Paul’s argument from nature. Paul argues that nature itself shows that long hair is bad for men but good for women. Paul is using this to demonstrate that men should not wear artificial coverings and women should. We know this because Paul first argues that if a woman is not covered, she might as well be shorn/shaven. But if he was only referring to natural covering, then his statement makes no sense. “If she does not have long hair, she might as well have short hair” would be a tautology, but Paul is employing a reductio.
7) Some women have a problem with this custom because they believe that the custom is a cultural one. Such a conclusion is not derivable from the text. Paul argues for the custom not based on Corinthian or Graeco-Roman cultural norms, but based on (a) universal apostolic tradition; (b) the principle of headship; (c) the testimony to the angels; and (b) the light of nature. None of these arguments are culturally limited. Moreover, Paul’s admonition is not a general statement about life in the surrounding culture, but a specific statement about life in the church (“praying and prophesying”).
8) Some women have a problem with this custom because they have heard that a shaved head in Corinth suggested that a woman was a prostitute and that long hair in Corinth suggested that a man was a homosexual. Thus, placed in that context Paul was just telling people not to look like prostitutes and homosexuals. The problems with this kind of argument are as follows:
i) The evidence for the premises about hair length and its significance in Corinth is rather tenuous. If someone wanted to debate this point with me, I would want to see what evidence they had found for the ideas that a shaved head in Corinth suggested that a woman was a prostitute and that long hair in Corinth suggested that a man was a homosexual. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that such evidence exists.
ii) The argument from that evidence assumes that all Paul has in mind are natural coverings, not artificial coverings. But Paul has in mind artificial coverings, as explained above.
iii) Given that Paul has in mind artificial coverings, one would expect Paul to say that if a woman is shaven or shorn, she should cover her head artificially – but instead he phrases it the other way around. If she doesn’t cover her head artificially, she might as well shave her head. The idea that this would mark her as a prostitute in Corinth would simply enhance Paul’s reductio.
iv) The reference to praying/prophesying makes little sense if Paul’s point is one about avoiding the appearance of sexual sin. In other words, women should never dress like prostitutes and men should not dress themselves in a way that suggests homosexuality. These are general principles of avoiding the appearance of sin, not anything specific to worship.
v) The discussion of headship seems completely out of place if Paul’s point is about avoiding the appearance of sexual immorality.
vi) Conversely, the artificial covering is specifically described as “power on her head.”
vii) And as hinted at in (iii), evidence that long hair was associated with homosexuality and shaved heads with prostitution would seem to play well into Paul’s argument from the analogy of nature, but Paul does not exclusively rely on that argument, but rather on authoritative tradition.
9) Some women have a problem with this custom because they think it only applies to women in the pulpit, but they are not in the pulpit, so it does not apply to them. But even when there were women prophetesses, women were required to be silent in the church. So, the praying/prophesying is not a short-hand reference to women pastors, but rather broadly to religious worship.
10) Some women are persuaded that the Scriptures say that they should cover their head during public prayer, but are hesitant to do so because they are in the minority in their church. In fact, they might be the only such woman in their church. They fear either ridicule or judgment of their peers. This is a very understandable fear. A head covering does mark out a woman in that context. Still, such women should take encouragement from the fact that the angels observe her as well. By her head covering she is testifying to her submission to her head, and demonstrating to the angels her obedience to Christ our head and to God the the head of Christ. Moreover, she should consider that her testimony may encourage other wives to do the same – perhaps wives who have been reluctant for the same reason. Indeed, this is one visible way in which a woman can fulfill her teaching role as described in Titus 2:5.

In numbers 5-9 above, I’ve referred to women having a problem with the command. Obviously, a lot of their husbands either join with them or don’t object to them. So, there are doubtless men who have a problem with this command as well. Men’s issues with the command are less significant to me, because the command is not directed to them. Still, men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of their household, and ought properly to instruct their wives on this issue. Husbands also ought to be understanding of the fact that their wives may feel themselves under peer pressure to conform to whatever the majority of other women in the church are doing – that this will not be easy, and that many Protestant women grew up in churches that had abandoned the this ordinance that Paul delivered to the Corinthians. Be patient, but don’t neglect what Paul taught.


John Murray – Birthday and Head Coverings

October 14, 2008

John Murray was born 110 years ago today. In honor of his birthday, I’d like to present the following excerpt from a letter he wrote on the subject of head coverings. The full letter is available at Pastor Sherman Isbell’s web site (link), to whom I am indebted for bringing this letter to my attention.

*** Excerpt from Letter ***

If the Presbytery becomes convinced that a head covering for women belongs to the decorum governing the conduct of women in the worship of God, then I think Presbytery should declare accordingly. I would not suppose it necessary expressly to legislate. I think it would be enough to make a resolution for the instruction and guidance of ministers, sessions, and people. A higher judicatory has both right and duty to offer to those under its jurisdiction, guidance respecting divine obligation. This has been recognised in Reformed Churches throughout the world.

Your main question turns, of course, on the interpretation of I Corinthians 11:2-16. Permit me to offer some of my reflections in order.

1. Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (vss. 3b, vss. 7ff.), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising therefrom.

2. I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (vss. 4, & 7) and enjoined for the woman (vss. 5, 6, 15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. In this connection it is not proper to interpret verse 15b as meaning that the hair was given the woman to take the place of the head covering in view of verses 5, 6. The Greek of verse 15 is surely the Greek of equivalence as used quite often in the New Testament, and so the Greek can be rendered: “the hair is given to her for a covering.” This is within the scope of the particular agrument of verses 14, 15 and does not interfere with the demand for the additional covering contemplated in verses 5, 6, 13. Verses 14 and 15 adduce a consideration from the order of nature in support of that which is enjoined earlier in the passage but is not itself tantamount to it. In other words, the long hair is an indication from “nature” of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required (vss. 5, 6, 13) is in line with what “nature” teaches.

3. There is good reason for believing that the apostle is thinking of conduct in the public assemblies of the Church of God and of worship exercises therein in verse 17, this is clearly the case, and verse 18 is confirmatory. But there is a distinct similarity between the terms of verse 17 and of verse 2. Verse 2 begins, “Now I praise you” and verse 17, “Now in this . . . I praise you not”. The virtually identical expressions, the one positive and the other negative, would suggest, if not require, that both have in view the behaviour of the saints in their assemblies, that is, that in respect of denotation the same people are in view in the same identity as worshippers. If a radical difference, that between private and public, were contemplated, it would be difficult to maintain the appropriateness of the contrast between “I praise you” and “I praise you not”.

4. Beyond question it is in reference to praying and prophesying that the injuctions pertain, the absence of head covering for men and the presence for women. It might seem, therefore, that the passage has nothing to do with a head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church if they are not engaged in praying or prophesying, that is, in leading in prayer or exercising the gift of prophesying. And the implication would be that only when they performed these functions were they required to use head covering. The further implication would be that they would be at liberty to perform these functions provided they wore head gear. This view could easily be adopted if it were not so that Paul forbids such exercises on the part of women and does so in the same epistle, (I Cor. 14:33b-36): “As in all the Churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak” (vss. 33b-34a). It is impossible to think that Paul would, by implication, lend approval in chapter 11, to what he so expressly prohibits in chapter 14. Hence we shall have to conclude that he does not contemplate praying or prophesying on the part of women in the Church in chapter 11. The question arises: how can this be, and how can we interpret 11:5, 6, 13? It is possible to interpret the verses in chapter 11 in a way that is compatible with chapter 14:33b-36. It is as follows: —

a. In chapter 11 the decorum prescribed in 14:33b-36 is distinctly in view and Paul is showing its propriety. Praying and prophesying are functions that imply authority, the authority that belongs to the man as distinguished from the woman according to the ordinance of creation. The man in exercising this authority in praying and prophesying must not wear a head covering. Why not? The head covering is the sign of subjection, the opposite of the authority that belongs to him, exemplified in praying and prophesying, hence 11:4, 7. In a word, head covering in praying and prophesying would be a contradiction.

b. But precisely here enters the relevance of verses 5, 6, 13 as they pertain to women. If women are to pray and prophesy in the assemblies, they perform functions that imply authority and would require therefore, to remove the head covering. To do so with the head covering would involve the contradiction referred to already. But it is the impropriety of removing the head covering that is enforced in 11:5, 6 & 13. In other words, the apostle is pressing home the impropriety of the exercise of these functions — praying and prophesying — on the part of women by showing the impropriety of what it would involve, namely, the removal of the head covering. And so the rhetorical question of verse 13: “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled?”

c. This interpretation removes all discrepancy between 11:5, 6, 13 and 14:33b-36 and it seems to me feasible, and consonant with the whole drift of 11:2-16.

5. The foregoing implies that the head covering for women was understood to belong to the decorum of public worship.

6. The above line of thought would derive confirmation from I Cor. 11:10. Admittedly the reference to the angels is not immediately perspicuous. But a reasonable interpretation is that the presence of the angels with the people of God and therefore their presence in the congregations of the saints. What is being pleaded is the offence given to the holy angels when the impropriety concerned mars the sancity of God’s worship. But, in any case, the obligation asserted is apparent. It is that the woman ought to have upon her head the sign of the authority to which she is subject, in other words, the sign of her subjection. But this subjection pertains throughout and not simply when in the exercise of praying and prophesying according to the supposition that such is permitted. I submit, therefore, that the verse concerned (vs. 10) enunciates a requirement that is general within the scope of the subject with which Paul is dealing, namely, the decorum of worship in the assembly of the saints.

On these grounds my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle’s words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church, that apparently this part of decorum was recognised, and that the main point of verses 5, 6, 10, 13 was the impropriety of any interruption of the practice if women were to pray or prophesy, for, in that event, it would be necessary to remove the covering in order to signify the authority that praying and prophesying entailed, an authority not possessed by women, a non-possession signified, in turn, by the use of the covering.

*** End of Excerpt ***


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