“To Veil, or Not To Veil”
…that is the question…or is it?
What does a controversial passage such as I Corinthians 11:2-16 really mean? Does a woman have to wear something on her head when meeting with the “church”? Does she only have to wear it during the Lord’s supper? What does it mean for a woman to pray or prophecy? There are so many questions that can be raised with any passage in scripture. As one who believes in the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, I have to look at this passage as important. However, what is the purpose of this passage? Is it to explain what our practice should be or to teach by way of a historic practice? We all bring some assumptions to the table and we must be aware of there existence before approaching the text.
Why Are We Getting Into This?
As we approach a text such as I Corinthians 11:2-16, we understand that we are approaching a passage of scripture which is highly debated and easily misunderstood. Having said that, I do not claim to have any divine, personal revelation from the Lord Himself concerning the text. However, I believe the motive for understanding the text should be from a desire to renew the mind by the truth of God’s Word. I neither desire to forsake something, which is commanded in God’s Word, nor teach the practice of something as if it is commanded if it is not.
It is important to remember that every human being has a grid of thinking, through which God’s Word is observed, interpreted, and applied. The goal is not to pretend that this grid does not exist, but rather allow God’s Word to correct or confirm our thinking in every area of life. As we seek to explore the teaching of I Corinthians 11:2-16, let us be vulnerable to see things outside of our own matrix, in order to make a proper evaluation of the text. If our goal is to simply persuade others to our side, then our task is meaningless. May our desire not be to prove ourselves right, but to properly understand, practice, and teach God’s Word.
Carefully Sneaking Up On The Text
As is clear in the whole of Scripture, each book has a definite purpose (possibly multiple purposes) for its inclusion into the canon of Scripture. Paul’s letter, I Corinthians, is no exception. Our ultimate purpose in this study is to determine to the best of our ability, whether the practice of head coverings is appropriate and necessary for Christians across the globe and throughout the ages. This can however, taint our view of the passage if we are attempting to find a proof text to defend our view. We must do our best to approach the text with a clear mind, ready and willing to allow the text to develop our theology and doctrine, not trying to find our theology and doctrine in the text. While they can be helpful, man-made and inserted headings for specific passages are one way that our perspective is tainted. This is true for anyone, no matter what his or her conviction on the practice of head coverings may be. To understand a passage in chapter 11 of a book, there must be some understanding of the 10 preceding chapters. If this is done, the passage in view may not be “about” what we think it is.This study will not completely address those first 10 chapters, but will work off the assumption that they have been studied and understood.
It is necessary to work through any passage of Scripture with a proper hermeneutic. The hermeneutical practice used in this study is a historical, grammatical approach to Scripture. Scripture should be taken literally; however, if scripture is using a figure of speech, sarcasm, parables, diatribe, prophecy, etc., we should literally read it that way. To look at a passage such as I Corinthians 11 and simply say, “Ah…it’s only cultural!”, is not an acceptable answer to the issue. Our understanding of the culture may however be an asset, both in our interpretation (What did this mean to the original audience?), as well as in our application (What does this mean to me?).
Cultural Setting of the Corinthian Church
At some point between A.D. 53 and A.D. 55 the apostle Paul penned a letter to the believers in the city of Corinth. The city was not drastically different from other cities in its day, but it was known for its loose and immoral standards. This would show to be an obstacle for these young believers.
The believers in Corinth would have been learning much about a “new way” of life. The idea that men, women, Jew, Greek, etc. are all on equal grounds “in Christ”, would have been an incredible revelation! The freedom that was to be found in Christ was sure to be the cause of some heated disagreements. We see this being the case throughout the New Testament. Paul’s encouragement is always consistent.
For if your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat,
you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by your food
someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let what you
consider good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God
does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy
in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is
pleasing to God and approved by people. [i] (Romans 14:15-18)
Paul did not desire for one’s freedom from the law to become an offense or obstacle for another believer. This does not mean that believers are to try to keep the law or live in bondage. Paul clearly communicated that our position before God is that of full acceptance, but before men may or may not be acceptable. In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas are sent to discuss a matter concerning the necessity of circumcision. There were men who were teaching the necessity of conforming to Judaism for salvation. This would include being circumcised. Paul did not waiver on his position. He had a proper balance of “I also try to please everyone in all things”[ii] and “Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God?”.[iii]
This freedom was new to the Corinthians as well as all Jewish believers everywhere. Jewish men were known to cover their heads when praying, while many parts of Greek culture thought it proper for the head to be bare on sacred occasions. A woman, especially if married, would have her hair concealed in some manner, from the eye of other men, because a woman’s hair was looked upon as an object of lust. As a woman, to have your hair uncovered could be viewed by some as attempting to draw attention to yourself.
In most 1st century cultures, women of character thought a veil or head covering to be indispensable to their attire. This is quite interesting, since in Genesis 38: 15 we see that Judah saw Tamar with a veil and thought that she was a cult prostitute[iv]. The fact that she had a head covering did not identify her as modest, but as a Canaanite prostitute. Then, in the 1st century, we see the opposite true. The temple prostitutes would have their head uncovered, and a woman found in adultery would have her head shaved.
In Jewish Palestine, a head covering for a woman extended even to a face veil[v]. Upper class women, however, were more concerned with flaunting their latest hairstyle and desired attention. The uncovered head of a woman, to many, would have been a serious concern in the area of sexual purity. Paul finds it necessary to give attention to this conflict between lower class and upper class, as well as between Jew and Gentile.
Context Preceding I Corinthians 11:2-16
Right from the start, Paul mentions his audience, “To the church of God which is at Corinth,…with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,[vi]”. Some would say that this statement by Paul would indicate that, “If you call upon the name of Christ, then the contents of the whole letter (including chapter 11) are then applicable to you!”[vii] This statement may be true, but not based upon this verse. The text says, “every place”, speaking in a present tense and referring to geographical location, not for all time. Does this mean that part of the Bible does not apply to people today? Absolutely not! “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…[viii]”, yet no part of scripture was written “to us”. Does this mean that the content of I Corinthians, even chapter 11, does not apply today? Again, absolutely not! It is still very applicable today, but the disagreement is whether the interpretation of the text should be the same as the application. We must remember that interpretation (What did this mean to the original audience?) may or may not be the same as application (What does this mean to me?).
Paul has dealt with many issues, which seem to have been questions of the local church in Corinth. I Corinthians 7:1 states: “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me…” Paul seemingly continues to deal with these “things of which (they) wrote”. I Corinthians 7:8 Paul says, “But I say to the unmarried…”, 7:10 “Now to the married…”, 7:12 “But to the rest…”, 7:25 begins “Now concerning virgins…”, 8:1 “Now concerning things offered to idols…”, and in 9:1 Paul begins to deal with the wise use of his apostolic authority as an example for managing their own liberty. In 10:23-11:1, Paul gives what seems to be a summation of purpose for the previous chapters, as well as a nice transition into the next section of the letter. However, as the letter continues, it is evident that Paul did not conclude his thoughts, but rather provided a reminder of his purpose of instructing the Corinthians in these areas. This may be a transition from not offending “Jews or Greeks” to not offending “the church of God”. Paul then continues to instruct them as “infants in-Christ” (as mentioned in 3:1) who need instruction regarding these particular issues.
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things
are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own,
but each one the other’s wellbeing. Eat whatever is sold in the meat
market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe
invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before
you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to
you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one
who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’s,
and all its fullness.” “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the
other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?
But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over
which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever
you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews
or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men
in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they
may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”[ix]
Paul lays out the freedom in Christ that these believers have, as well as instructs them to use their freedom for other’s profit. He explains how everything that they do should be done according to what glorifies God. They should be careful not to offend anyone (i.e. Jew, Greek, or the church of God). Paul is not encouraging them to be ‘man-pleasers’, but rather to use their freedom carefully in order “that they (others) may be saved.” The first verse of chapter 11, which is included in the last paragraph of thought in chapter 10, encourages the Corinthian believers to follow Paul’s example in his use of freedom as he follows Christ. Paul teaches the Corinthians that there are many areas of life where they have freedom, and yet they should be willing to surrender those freedoms when it would benefit others. This provides some logic of thought as we approach the text of 11:2-16.
The Text of I Corinthians 11:2-16
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
The tone coming into the section of verses 2-16 is one of “love is greater than liberty”. The Christian life is not about living for one’s self, but it is about living for the glory of God and for the good of others. Paul’s driving ambition is to live a sacrificial life as Christ did.
11:2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you.
Paul, whenever possible, gives some exhortation before reproof, and it is no exception with his spiritual children. Paul desires to help these believers, but he also understands that he must speak to them as infants. A parent does not ignore or excuse an infant or toddler’s behavior, yet he communicates differently then he would with his 18-year-old son. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary concludes that this section should begin with, “ye remember me in all things-in your general practice, though in the particular instances which follow ye fail.”
11:3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
This passage opens up making a statement regarding headship. Paul clearly taught here and elsewhere that the husband is responsible for his wife and his family. He compares the husband/wife relationship with the relationship between God the Father and Christ. Man is not better or the dominator, but rather the leader in giving himself for his wife and loving her as Christ loves the church. This is also the case when considering elders. Elders are not of more value or worth, but are in a position of great responsibility for others. The women (as well as the men) are to submit themselves to the elder’s spiritual leadership. I Corinthians 14 lets us know that this seemed to be a problem for some of the Corinthian women. Apparently some of the women were actually disagreeing/questioning either the leadership and/or their husbands.
11:4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head.
This is a good place to ask the question, “Why?” The head of every man is Christ and when a man denies his proper role, this is a disgrace. Paul also gives a specific context for “his head covered”. He seems to confine it to when a “man…prays or prophesies”. If Paul had not included this detail, we would have to conclude that a man should NEVER wear anything on his head. The fact of the matter is that Paul did specify the “when” of the matter. Paul communicates that the men should not cover their heads when praying or prophesying, and this helps us understand the specific situation in Corinth. It is possible that the men were placing something on their head when they would pray or prophesy.
There is argument for the word head either alluding to Christ or to the man’s physical head (himself). Whether it is Christ or himself, it is not a good thing. It would however be a more serious matter if it were Christ being disgraced.
11:5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head.
Similar to Paul’s dealing with the men, verse 5 instructs women not to uncover her head when praying or prophesying. Paul speaks only of the time when the women are praying or prophesying. He does not seem to be concerned with other times. The question is “Were the women supposed to cover their heads when praying or prophesying, or were they to not uncover their heads?” I believe that Paul was exhorting these believing women to not uncover their heads at this time. This doesn’t mean that every woman everywhere wore some kind of head piece, but Paul’s argumentation seems to appeal to the natural acceptance of the women having their heads covered. Verses 6 and 13 reflect on what is disgraceful for a woman and what seems proper to the Corinthians. Paul is not giving a God ordained statement that women should not have “short” or “cut” hair, but he is reasoning with them by what their own culture considered as acceptable and not acceptable. If it was not acceptable for these women to behave or act a certain way, then they should consider their testimony before God and others prior to their freedom. We cannot forget Paul’s theme of ‘love before liberty’.
Contrary to what many teach regarding women in the church, this passage does not restrict these women or rebuke them for praying or prophesying in the church meeting. Paul does not address the issue and seemingly does not have a problem with the women speaking, but does take issue with the women praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered. Does this give women the authority to teach doctrine to men as long as their heads are covered? No. This is not the same as what Paul addresses in chapter 14. In 14:34, Paul states that the women should remain silent. Are these two passages contradicting? Should we use one to “correct” the other? No. These are two different situations. The context of 14:34 is very specific. In verse 29, Paul speaks of the prophets being evaluated by the others. He says in verse 32 that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. It makes sense then to say that Paul did not want the women in the church evaluating and questioning or correcting those prophesying. This is consistent thinking with verse 39 when Paul says, “So then, brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues.” Paul did not strip these women of their opportunity to pray or prophesy (not in chapter 11 or 14), but rather instructed them to do so in an orderly manner, which would give a proper image to those observing (human or angelic).
11:6For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head.
Interestingly enough, Paul hinges this instruction on the basis of the phrase “if it is disgraceful”. (other translations use ‘shorn’ and seem to be speaking of short hair) This question is answered for the Corinthians in verse 5. Any woman who would pray or prophesy with her head uncovered was making a statement within her own culture. Since sexual immorality was so prominent within this city, many religions embraced sexual sin as part of their ceremonies. Corinth was full of temples, which had women “minister” who were nothing more than prostitutes. It would have been easy for people to assume that these Christian women were no different from other “religious” women. This would bring a disgrace on their husbands, on their own self, as well as on the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
Another thought concerning this verse, is the implication of “she should cut off her hair”. If this passage is taught for women to wear “head coverings” in every culture for all times, then if they do not, they should be instructed to shave their heads as well. The “whole” teaching must be followed.
11:7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man.
Paul then appeals to the men and women to worship and minister within their God given roles. The men should not be placing something on their head when praying or prophesying, because it was something that the women did. The women on the other hand, should submit to this tradition that Paul explains, because it is an accepted tradition and is an opportunity to help others focus on Christ.
It is controversial what Paul is saying here, but we know that he is not teaching that women are not created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 explains that both men and women have been created in the image of God. Paul does, however, say that man is the “glory” of God, and woman is the “glory” of man. The thought of this “glory” giving a higher value to the man than to the woman does not agree with the rest of the Bible. Men and women were created ABSOLUTELY equal. This is seen in very distinct roles and responsibilities, which are specifically given to either the man or the woman. The Trinity is a perfect picture of this relationship. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are 100% equal, yet have distinct roles.
In the context of this passage, I believe the example of the Trinity is perfect. Paul has been speaking of headship. A man is the “head” of his wife, Christ is the “head” of the man, and God the Father is the “head of Christ. This cannot be order of importance, or else Christ is not equal with the Father. Christ came to earth to do the will of the Father. Man is to be following Christ. A man’s wife should be able to be following God’s will by following and submitting to him as he follows Christ. It makes sense to then say that “glory” is then speaking of a life of submission to one’s “head”. Psalm 8:5 explains that all of humanity has been crowned with “glory and honor” as stewards over God’s creation. This would include both men and women, yet men have been given a unique opportunity to display God’s glory through his position as “head” of his home. A woman has not been given the responsibility as head of her husband and family, but submits to and honors him, as Christ does the Father. As in Philippians 2:1-11, the life of a married woman should not be about making much of her own name, but of honoring her husband. This was Christ’s entire life! Philippians 2:11 says that Jesus life was “to the glory of God the Father”. The husband also glorifies Christ by showing biblical love and understanding toward his wife as Christ does the church.
11:8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man.
11:9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man.
Paul refers to the creation order as evidence of the different roles for the husband and wife. The roles of both the man and woman are timeless. The principle is universal. The specific symbol of a head covering seems to have lost significance in a 21st century, North American culture. This does not mean that the passage is irrelevant, but the truth/principle of created order is what is central. In this context, Paul addressed a meaningful simple that was appropriate for unity among the believers.
A main part of a wife’s ministry is helping her husband. This is not lowly, but just the opposite. She has the same position Christ had to the Father. She also is referred to by the same word as the Holy Spirit (helper). The husband is incomplete without her. She offers skills and abilities that he does not have. A wife should desire to show proper respect and have a testimony, which supports God’s created order.
11:10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
This symbol of authority should be there, because it is seen as a symbol of authority. That may sound repetitive, but if the head covering were not seen as a symbol of authority, then Paul would not have required it for the Corinthian women. A head covering was seen as a statement to many and communicated that a woman was in a submissive relationship with her husband. This does not mean that the head covering is a God-given symbol, but rather men and women’s roles are God-given and the head covering was an opportunity for the Corinthian women to give testimony to that truth.
When Paul refers to “the angels”, what is he talking about? I will tell you. No one actually knows. There can be speculation, which is always based on certain presuppositions, but the truth is we do not know. It could be because the angels actually see a physical piece of material on a woman’s head, and praise and glorify God. It could also be that the angels are watching how men and women interact with each other and glorify God by fitting into their proper roles. It could even be a warning by referring to fallen angels whose demise stemmed out of their refusal to align with God’s position for them. The fact is we do not know. The Corinthians heard a great deal more information from Paul and historically received 2 additional letters which we do not have. It is quite possible, as well as probable, that the Corinthians new exactly what this meant.
11:11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 11:12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God.
A husband and wife are mutually and equally co-dependent on each other. The Bible does not teach a hierarchical view of marriage, nor does it teach a feminist view. God created man and woman to be united as “one flesh” and to live in codependence in a complimentary way. A husband and wife are fellow heirs together with Christ[x]. They are dependent on each other, but ultimately dependent on God.
11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
Why does Paul ask them their opinion? He actually uses what seems proper and natural to the Corinthians as an argument for what to do. This is interesting, because many today actually argue that women should wear a head covering even though it may not seem proper or natural.
In the Talmud, the Jewish interpretation of “the Law”, it considered the covering of a woman’s hair extremely necessary. It actually stated that it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife if she took her hair down in front of another man. They saw this act as promiscuous, and it was seen as an intimate act that should only be done before a woman’s husband. When we understand this, it helps to show why Paul was concerned for his spiritual children. He did not want them to mis-communicate Christianity as just another pagan, self-satisfying religion.
11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him,
This term “nature” is more than likely a term regarding what seems natural and acceptable, which is usually determined by culture. It does not make sense to understand “nature” as the season, world, animal kingdom, etc. This cannot be an ultimatum on men having long hair, or else Sampson, John the baptizer, Nazarite men under vow, etc. would have been considered a disgrace. This is hardly the case, rather the fact was that their were certain acceptable hair styles for both men and women as there are in all cultures.
11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
This also seems cultural and is understood based on “nature” in verse 14. There are cultures in the world, such as Africa, where it is completely acceptable and beautiful for a woman to have her head shaved. She is not looked down upon or thought to be in rebellion. This is even done for health issues in some places. Paul is asking the Corinthians a question to appeal to their own conscience. Their conscience is shaped by what is seen as acceptable among their own culture.
11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
It is very fitting that Paul summarizes this passage with a statement such as this. Paul never intended for this to be an area of debate and controversy. The truth in even this statement may be understood differently. Paul could be saying, “If you don’t want a head covering, tough. There is no other option.” Some translations word it in such a way that communicates that there is no practice of quarreling in the churches. Paul may have been saying, “Men and Women have God given roles, and to rebel against those roles is sin based on Romans 3:23. Sin by definition is not glorifying God.” While there are different interpretations of the text, we can agree that the Holy Spirit did not inspire confusion or controversy. We created that all on our own!
Context Following I Corinthians 11:2-16
As Paul transitions into the next “issue”, he makes the statement “when you come together,…”. This maybe the context for verses 2-16, but it is interesting when considering the “when” of the practice of head coverings. In 11:2-16 there is only one qualifying statement regarding the “when” of head coverings, which is “any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head.” (11:5) The passage says nothing of a particular time or meeting where a woman prays or prophesies, but seems to be saying one of two things: 1. anytime a woman prays or prophesies she should cover her head, or 2. when a woman prays or prophesies, she should not uncover her head. The second option is assuming that some women constantly wore a head covering, and would continue to wear it when praying or prophesying.
Additional Passages Concerning Dress
I Timothy 2:9 “Likewise the women are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, 2:10 but with good deeds, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 2:11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 2:13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 2:15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control.” N.E.T.
I Peter 3:1 “In the same way, wives, be subject to your own husbands. Then, even if some are disobedient to the word, they will be won over without a word by the way you live, 3:2 when they see your pure and reverent conduct. 3:3 Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – 3:4 but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight. 3:5 For in the same way the holy women who hoped in God long ago adorned themselves by being subject to their husbands, 3:6 like Sarah who obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You become her children when you do what is good and have no fear in doing so. 3:7 Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers.” N.E.T.
Additional Principles v/s Practice
Jesus says that when a person fasts they should “put oil on your head and wash your face” so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting? Well, if I see somebody with oil on their head I might be wondering what they are doing.
Jesus Himself instructs His disciples that they should “wash one another’s feet”. Hmm. Do we do this?
“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Are you sure?
Romans 16:16; I Corinthian 16:20; I Thessalonians 5:26
“I want the men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands…”
I Timothy 2:8
“Slaves obey your masters…”
Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22;
Many change this to fit our culture and say that it now refers to employee to employer. This is interesting. In Philippians 2:7 Jesus took the form of a slave (employee?). Ephesians 6:9 would then mean that employers have an Employer in Heaven. We must be very cautious when “tweaking” examples to fit our culture. We can however apply the principles.
In conclusion, it must be remembered that it is impossible to view Scripture completely unbiased and divorced of previous convictions; however, those approaching the text must be mindful of these presuppositions and approach with sensitivity towards the views of all positions. When Paul writes to these believers in Corinth, he deals with real life situations, in which they were struggling. As Paul moves into chapter 11, verse 2, he begins to explain why the husband and wife roles are so important. He desires for these believers to be a proper testimony in front of both believers and non-believers. It must be remembered that Paul is not writing this text for the purpose of telling the women to wear a head covering and for men not to, but teaching that believers everywhere not to be selfish and do their best not to offend others with their freedom (I Corinthians 10:31-33). Paul’s priority was to see as many people trust Christ as their Savior as possible! It seemed “natural” to their culture for a woman to show her submissiveness and purity by having her head covered. It was seen by some as a disgrace for women to have their head uncovered. It was a statement, which flaunted a woman’s beauty and was practiced by many to draw attention to them. Paul did not want Christian women to be identified with “temple prostitutes”, and as a result, Christianity would just be another self-indulging religion. The truth, which Paul was teaching, goes beyond a single head covering for a woman.
In a North American, 21st century, a woman is not identified with a prostitute if she has her head uncovered. It is unnecessary for a Christian woman to wear a head covering in order to communicate her submissiveness to her husband. For the Corinthian women this was an accepted practice for many in their culture. There are parts of the world today that it is seen as disrespectful for a woman to have her head uncovered. This raises the question, “How does a Christian woman show respect and Godly submission in the present day?” This question assumes that the specific purpose of I Corinthians 11:2-16 is about “head coverings”, which I don’t believe it is. The passage is about “headship”, which is reflected in attitude and conduct. The issue in Corinth was an issue of submission, respect, and putting love before liberty. We may not have a specific object to be equivalent to the “head covering”, but I believe the principle of the passage still applies. Everyone is under authority.
I believe that all Christians should be willing to put their freedom aside in order to not offend another. The Bible clearly communicates the importance of viewing others as more important than ourselves.
Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or
vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one
another as more important than yourself. Phil. 2:3[xi]
The concern, therefore, of I Corinthians 11:2-16, is not one of whether or not women have a veil on their head/face, or not, but whether or not the believers are valuing each other more than their own liberty.
be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak. For if, someone weak sees you who possess knowledge
dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience be “strengthened” to
eat food offered to idols? So by your knowledge the weak brother
or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed. If you sin against your
brothers or sisters in this way and wound their weak conscience, you
sin against Christ. For this reason, if food causes my brother or sister
to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I may not cause one of them
to sin.[xii] (I Cor. 8:9-13)
There is an ironic side to this issue. Paul instructed the believing Corinthian women to have their heads covered when praying or prophesying to avoid being an obstacle to the gospel. 10:33 To insist that it is necessary for women in the church to wear a head covering could actually be contradicting what Paul’s purpose was. There are some who hold to the view of the woman’s head covering being necessary. This is there freedom to do so. My wife and I would and do honor the conviction of others by practicing as they do when corporately worshipping with them. The majority of people in North America, Christian and non-Christian, attach no message to a woman’s head covering except one of extreme conservatism. A head covering, in some cases may avoid offense, in many cases, does not avoid offense but may simply raise questions or eyebrows, and in other cases is an offense. We should not do away with Scriptural teaching because of how others respond; however, how others respond should be an encouragement to go back and study Scripture so that we can be sure we are practicing a scriptural teaching.
Valuing each other, more than our own freedoms will look differently at different times and in different places. Men and women do have distinct roles and should be faithful in those roles. Our concern in every area of life should be two fold, as Paul’s was: “so that they may be saved”[xiii] and “so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another.” [xiv] “I do it all for the sake of the gospel.”[xv]
[i] Romans 14:15-18 N.E.T.
[ii] I Corinthians 10:33 N.E.T.
[iii] Galatians 1:10 N.E.T.
[iv] Glories Seen & Unseen - Warren Henderson, pg. 11
[v] The I.V.P. Bible Background Commentary N.T.-Craig S. Keener pg. 475
[vi] I Corinthians 1:2 N.K.J.V.
[vii] Glories Seen & Unseen - Warren Henderson, pg. 2-3
[viii] II Timothy 3:16 N.K.J.V.
[ix] I Corinthians 10:23-11:1 N.K.J.V.
[x] I Peter 3:7 N.E.T.
[xi] Philippians 2:3 N.E.T.
[xii] I Corinthians 8:9-13 N.E.T.
[xiii] I Corinthians 10:33 N.E.T.
[xiv] I Corinthians 12:25 N.E.T.
[xv] I Corinthians 9:23 E.S.V.
Glories Seen and Unseen-Warren Henderson
The I.V.P. Bible Background Commentary N.T.-Craig S. Keener
Head Coverings, Prophecies, & the Trinity-Thomas R. Schreiner (13 page article)
Cultural Norms & Marriage Roles-Gary DeLashmutt (5 page article)
I Corinthians 11-Women, Men, & Servanthood-Dennis McCallum (57:29 mp3)
The Weirsbe Bible Commentary N.T.-Warren W. Wiersbe
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
When Critics Ask-A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties-Norman Geisler (pg. 459 & 460)
Head Coverings-Ian Irvine (audio cassette)
The Two Debtors-Charles Price (C.D. series-“Provocative Parables of Jesus”)
N.E.T. New English Translation
E.S.V. English Standard Version
N.K.J.V. New King James Version
N.I.V. New International Version
N.A.S.B. New American Standard Bible
The Interlinear Bible-Hebrew/Greek/English