I’ve spent more time than perhaps I should’ve this week contemplating the issue of the head covering from 1 Corinthians 11. I think it’s hard for any of us, in 2019, who are sisters in the kingdom of God to approach the study without any preconceived ideas. I tried to be open and honest as I looked at the teaching, but I confess that I do not want to wear the head covering. The chief reason I do not want to wear it is that my husband—my head—-does not want me to wear it. He’s convicted that it is not commanded for women in America, in 2019, and he believes that my wearing it would be a contentious and impeding action. However, he is, as always kind and protective of my conscience. Both of us understand that, if it is commanded by God for me to do so, then our fears and concerns about anything else, are irrelevant. But if it is not a requirement for women in the 21st century, it’s our judgment that it is best for me not to wear the head-covering, particularly after examining what it actually was and when it was worn.
So for today, after much consideration and my best attempt at an open heart and mind…
If I were to wear a head covering when I pray or prophesy:
- I know I would be doing what the women in Corinth (at LEAST the women in Corinth) were commanded to do. In all of my reading, I did not find one scholar who argued that the women in Corinth were not commanded to cover their heads in I Corinthians 11 when they were praying and prophesying.
- I would wear it both inside and outside of the worship assembly. As I posited in the last installment of this study, I cannot see any way that the head covering in 1 Corinthians 11 was limited to the worship assembly for the women in Corinth. They were not to be praying or prophesying without covered heads. They also were not to be speaking in worship (I Cor. 14:34-35; I Tim. 2: 11ff), so I could be sure the praying and prophesying they were doing was not in the assembly—thus, the command for the head covering was surely not limited to the assembly. Some have asserted that the prophesying was merely a “listening to prophecy.” I see no indication of this since we know that New Testament women did prophesy, having the gift of miraculous knowledge (Acts 2:16-18; Acts 21:8,9). For them merely to be in the audience of prophecy seems to me to stretch the text.
- I would need to wear it because it is at least in some way related to nature, itself. This word nature is often used in the assertion that this teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 was not cultural; that it is inherent in the natural order; thus, is for all eras. I wanted to know if this is so, since the activity, for which the covering is specifically prescribed, seems to be, at least in part, one that women in the body no longer perform. Is it even possible that the nature word has any other connotation than meaning that the entire teaching of 1 Corinthians 11 (particularly here it would be the part about a woman having long hair) is inherent in the universal natural scheme of the earth and its elements? When I looked at this, I noticed that Strong’s gave a secondary use of the Greek word for nature in I Corinthians 11:14. It is this: as opposed to what is monstrous, abnormal, perverse. Could it be that the women of Corinth were commanded to wear this covering when praying and prophesying because it would oppose what was abnormal or perverse in their environment of Corinth? That is, could it have been that their social climate (at least a segment of it) considered the unveiling of a woman to be that which was not normal?…maybe even perverse? Could that be the nature to which the covering of long hair, in this instance, was tied? (More on this in number 8.)
- I would need to be able to wear it “to give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God” (10:32). I believe that’s an important premise to whatever Paul is teaching. It seems that Paul is not specifically addressing the worship assembly until he actually says he is addressing it in verse 17… “when you come together…” It seems to me that the teaching about the head covering is in a section (looking back at chapter 10) that’s about the interaction of Christians in a community of unbelievers. It’s about what you do when invited to a pagan feast or when you see meat that perhaps was offered to idols in the marketplace. It’s about giving God glory in whatever common activity or event you participate (10:31). An examination of where the head-covering verses lie places them pretty clearly in a section about community involvement and glorifying God in the culture. It is clearly previous to the introduction, at least, by Paul of what we do when we “come together” (2:17).
- I would, then, need to wear this covering whenever I was in public, as was the Jewish and Roman custom at the time, not just in the worship assembly.
- I’d need to be sure that the nature of my community was also of the mindset that the head-covering for worship was in opposition to the perverse. I was surprised to see, upon studying this topic, that in Genesis 38:14-16, in the culture of Judah and Tamar, it was the covered woman who was dressed as a prostitute (the opposite in that day and culture, from what it was, by nature, in the day of the first-century Corinthian church.) I believe, in the day and culture of Tamar, it would have been wrong for me to veil myself as did Tamar, but I do not believe it would be sinful today, because it does not signify prostitution in America today. (It might be a serious mistake, because it might make those in my community believe I was converting to the Muslim faith, however.)
- I’d have to do so knowing full well that the message I conveyed to my community by doing so was very different from the message the Corinthian Christian women conveyed in their wearing of the veil. As Guy Woods asserts “Corinth was made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews, and all of these three elements of her population were found in the church to which Paul wrote. The Jew and the Roman worshipped with covered and the Greek with uncovered head. Naturally, a dispute would arise as to which custom was right…Now, in the East, in Paul’s day, all women went into public assemblies with their heads veiled, and this peplum, or veil, was regarded as a badge of subordination, a sign that the woman was under the power of the man. Thus, Chardin, the traveler, says that the women of Persia wear a veil in sign that they are under subjection., a fact which Paul also asserts in this chapter.” It seems that the symbolic significance of the head-dress became very much the crux of the discussion of Paul in the first half of 1 Corinthians 11. He asserts that, if a man prayed or prophesied with a covered head, he would have appeared to be effeminate, and, if a woman did so uncovered, she would have appeared to be insubordinate, casting off her modesty and boldly asserting her independence. In my community today, were I to begin to wear a head covering in all public places, as was the custom of the Jews and Romans of the environment to which the letter was written, my message to my neighbors would be far different from what theirs would have been. It seems clear to me that Paul was encouraging the Corinthian women to refrain from needlessly crossing the culture, from introducing unnecessary innovations and distinctions which would have added to their persecutions and perhaps impeded their evangelism. If they (Corinthian women) went unveiled, their message was that they did not recognize the headship of their husbands, the authority of the God of creation, the respect due to angels (in what sense I am unsure), the standards of the society in which they lived, and the instruction of Paul. None of those messages are conveyed today, to any of my neighbors when I bow my head at our community picnics, ballgames or in the restaurant as I pray while my husband is leading the prayer.
- I would certainly wear more than a small lace cloth. In examining the societal context of what Paul is telling the Corinthian women, I can see no evidence that their covering was anything less than a full, head covering and, very likely, it was in contradistinction to the prostitutes of the temple of Aphrodite, who dared to walk around the city in that day having removed their veils. We can be fairly certain that a lot of sexual activity was related to the worship at this temple bearing the name with the same root as our word aphrodisiac. This quote from Strabo in 20 A.D. is indicative of that: “The temple of Aphrodite was once so rich that it had acquired more than a thousand prostitutes, donated by both men and women to the service of the goddess. And because of them, the city used to be jam-packed and became wealthy. The ship-captains would spend fortunes there, and so the proverb says: ‘The voyage to Corinth isn’t for just any man.’” To be fair, there are many who believe Strabo exaggerated the rampancy of prostitution, but few who believe the sexuality associated with the temple was not rampant. My belief that the covering was really a covering, however, is just because the word cover is used rather than ornamentation or cloth or lace. Here is Strong’s on that word. I just do not believe this could have/would have been done with a small lace covering.
2619. κατακαλύπτω katakalyptō; from 2596 and 2572; to cover wholly, i.e. veil: — cover, hide. to cover up, to veil or cover one’s self
- I would wear it when I led prayer in front of an exclusively female group (that’s the only place I would ever lead a prayer as per I Timothy 2 and I Corinthians 14), but I would not ever need one for prophesying. The three instances, as we have mentioned, in the New Testament that refer to women prophesying are all in a context, I believe, of miraculous spiritual gifts. Acts 2:16-18 is very clear about what kind of prophesying the daughters and handmaidens would be doing. Acts 21 draws special attention to the daughters of Philip in a way that I believe lends itself to the miraculous. (It seems to me there would be many women who regularly and routinely taught in the non-miraculous Titus 2 sense.) It seems to me that the praying and prophesying of the early part of 1 Corinthians 11 may very well have both been related to the miraculous, since it is followed closely by a fairly large portion of scripture devoted to the miraculous. (It is interesting that the scripture in Jude 20 does refer to praying in the Spirit. This very well could be referring to miraculous knowledge directing the prayers of Christians in the first century. The recorded prayers of the New Testament writers were certainly miraculously God-breathed.) This large section of scripture in chapters 12-14, interestingly is very clear about the close of the miraculous age and the end of prophecies (I Corinthians 13:8-9). I would not be dogmatic about the praying of I Corinthians 11:5, but I, personally believe that both the praying and the prophesying of that passage were activities women did in the context of the miraculous (outside of the assembly)…things we do not even do today. As Robert Taylor put it “ It is quite likely that the apostle is discussing those with miraculous powers for both praying and prophesying.”
- I’d be aware that the wearing of such a covering was likely not worn in every New Testament church. First Timothy was a letter full of instructions for Timothy to pass along to the Ephesian church. Sandwiched right between men lifting holy hands in chapter 2, verse 8 and women being silent in the assembly in verse 11, Paul describes the kind of hairstyle that women needed to avoid (or at least the hairstyle that was not to be the emphasis when they were assembled). But why would this matter all if women’s heads were covered? It simply would not. But Ephesus was a different culture than was Corinth, so it seems the admonition for the woman’s head in worship was not exactly the same. In fact, it seems it was pretty different for these two churches separated by a land distance of just under 900 miles or a trip across the Aegean Sea. It seems to me that maybe Paul could have referred to this very thing when he said in verse 16 of 1 Corinthians 11, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Maybe it was that the city from which he was writing the letter to Corinth (Ephesus) did not have such a custom; thus, “…we have no such custom (or practice).”
- I’d wonder if I should be at the door of the building each Sunday to greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. I say this, not with any sarcasm at all, but truly trying to distinguish between the cultural practice being regulated by Romans 16:16 of kissing one another and the regulation of the 1 Timothy 2 cultural practice. As Brother Woods put it in the same article cited earlier “…the mere omission of it [the covering] is no more an act of disobedience than is the failure to stand at the door and greet each member with a holy kiss.”
- I would be very careful not to bind the wearing on others. There is nothing wrong with wearing a veil, although I believe it would be inhibitive of unity and evangelism, in my case. If a woman’s conscience is violated by the omission of a veil, then certainly she should wear one. (I would beg, though, that consistency should induce her to wear a full head covering and to wear it in all public places.) But to bind this practice, intended to encourage conformity to a culture in which the covering represented submission to God and husband, I believe, is a wrong and contentious thing to do. I understand that there will be those who disagree with what I’ve written. But I am praying that this writing will not be divisive in any way. May we all strive to please Him in both our study and application and may we be gracious to each other as we strive as sisters to live under His authority in 2019 and beyond.
Sources quoted or consulted:
Faraone, Christopher A. and McClure, Laura K., Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient Word, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI. 2006, p.90.
Giselbach, Ben; Questions and Answers; https://plainsimplefaith.com/headcoverings/
Taylor, Robert; Studies in 1 Corinthians 11,Words of Truth, Volume 14, Number 37, 1978
Woods, Guy N., The Christian life of faithful subordination to God replaces a 1st century custom of veiling, Christian Times, 1993.