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1 Corinthians 11:3-16 addresses the issue of women and head coverings. The context of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is submission to the God-given order and "chain of command." A "cov...
The issue of head-coverings for women is, I think, one of the most difficult life-style issues in the New Testament. On the one hand are those who feel that these commands were general (because Paul appeals to Creation) and should still be followed by Christians today. On the other hand are those who feel that these commands were only for first century believers, for whom a woman wearing a veil had a certain meaning. It's almost funny sometimes that the same pastor who would argue from these verses that women no longer need to be covered would be boo'd out of the pulpit or even fired if he DARED preach or pray wearing a baseball cap. As Christians we must be consistent and have a reason for our actions, and also realize how strong a role our culture and fashion play in what we do. Allow me to make a few observations, both as a fashion historian and a devout Christian woman who has studied this passage extensively. 1) Christian women of the 1st century wore veils (a relatively heavy piece of cloth over their heads.) This was the common practice at the time, and art from the period clearly shows it. They did not generally wear veils over their faces, however. The fact that Christian women wore veils is also clearly attested by the early Christian document On the Veiling of Virgins by Tertullian, in which he argues that not only should married women wear veils, but also unmarried girls. His argument is partially based on modesty...but we won't go into that. He goes far beyond the Bible in some of his statements. You can read an English translation of this document online for free if you're interested. Not only did 1st century women wear veils, but Christian women until the early 20th century wore some type of head-covering in church. This passed through various forms of veils, hats, hoods, coifs, bonnets, and finally little doilies. Even as late as the 1980s I had to wear a mantilla-doily on my head when visiting a Catholic church in Mexico; and some Orthodox women still wear some type of kerchief or covering today, as do Old Order Mennonites, Amish, and similar groups. You see the decline in women's head-coverings for worship during the 20th century in the U.S. 2) A close reading of this passage shows that long hair cannot be substituted for wearing a veil (cloth covering.) Sorry. If a woman wouldn't wear a veil, her hair was to be shaven/cut short. To say that if she wouldn't wear long hair, her hair was to be shaven/cut short makes little sense. (Two different Greek words for "covering" are also used here.) 3) Some people misinterpret Paul saying that wearing veils was not the tradition in the churches, but again a close reading makes this illogical. Why make such a long argument and then brush it aside? And, too, we know from history that women DID wear veils. 4) So we are left with a very simple, evident fact: in the early church assembly women had their heads covered and men were to be bare-headed. (The context is public worship; Paul does not say that women are ALWAYS to wear head-coverings although some groups hotly debate this.) 5) The dress of prostitutes in Corinth may or may not have been an issue. Paul doesn't mention it; instead he alludes to the authority structure of Creation when making his case, not that being veil-less was immodest. 6) As an aside, you will occasionally find someone arguing that Christian women need to wear a veil so that angels will know who to protect. To me, this is an illogical argument, as many non-Christian women and even secular women in certain cultures wear head-coverings/veils. I think angels know whom to protect because God tells them, not because of a certain article of dress. 7) The one issue to me that indicates that this MIGHT be a culture-specific teaching has to do with Paul's statement that nature teaches that a man's hair should be short. Obviously he was speaking only from a Roman point of view, as Samson and other Jewish men who had taken the Nazarite vow grew their hair long. Samson was punished for cutting his hair; not for growing it out. 7) After several years of study, I'm assured that for 1st Century believers this was a clear command. For me, however, in my heart, I have to ask whether or not wearing a head-covering still carries the same message in my rural Texas community that it did in the 1st century Roman Empire. Most people in the 21st century U.S. would not identify a woman wearing a head-covering as a good Christian wife, but might even think the wearer was Moslem, Orthodox Jewish, or a member of a certain sect. Perhaps worst of all, after listening to some head-covering women talk about the very positive responses they'd received about their coverings, I suddenly realized that some people probably thought these women (especially those with turbans) were cancer patients! I don't think the head-covering women had even considered this possibility or meant to be deceptive. Obviously, if we do choose to wear a head-covering, we need to choose carefully. I won't even go into the arguments tossed around for certain types of head-coverings: those who feel that only veils are appropriate or those (like myself) who feel that the covering, if worn, is symbolic, and can be represented by a small covering and does not need to cover the hair. To me, a lot of it boils down to the message you're sending to your culture. If you are living in certain Eastern European countries, or in an Old Order Amish community where wearing a head-covering is a symbol of being a Christian wife, OR if you feel that your conscience is telling you to wear one, then by all means go ahead and do so. It's certain NOT a sin for a woman to wear a covering during worship or even more. There are some really attractive coverings out there that would not cause you to be identified as a person of another faith or as a person undergoing chemo. I do think we need to use wisdom, however, in determining what the spirit of this command really was, and then deciding by that means we can best honor God in our particular situation. God bless you in your search for His will for your life.
In my growing up years as a Christian girl child, there were no Pentecostal churches, all we had then were the orthodox churches like the Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Apostolic and also the Catholic. My family belonged to the Apostolic Church and women and girls were taught to cover their heads when coming to Church and when praying even in our homes. As I grew up, in my environment,I discovered that everybody I saw going to church or praying had their heads covered. Therefore, that experience and the doctrine I had as a girl child stocked with me till today. I can hardly pray without a covering, even if it is ordinary slumber net. What I am trying to say here is that the culture, environment and upbringing of an individual tend to have a life long influence on such person. In the part of the globe where I was born in the early 50s, every girl child covered up their heads except when going to school; whether a Christian, Moslem or pagan. At that time I thought it was the custom to do so and not because we were being made to obey the word of God as contained in the bible. However, I discovered later on that the issue of covering by sisters in some of our Pentecostal churches are no longer being enforced as it used to be. This i think may be due to the interpretation given to 1Cor. 11:15, which I believe is debatable. For instance, are we saying that ladies with long hair are exempted from covering, while those with short or not so long hairs should be the only ones to cover their heads? Some ladies are not so endowed with long hairs, especially we African ladies. I remember that years ago, as you approach the entrance of the church with your head uncovered, ushers or church wardens will give you free new scarf that has been provided by the church. I am not in any way at the judgment seat castigating sisters that don't cover their heads in the church or while praying, as long as they are okay and comfortable with themselves doing so they are free so to do. Some of us are from the 'old school' block and no matter the interpretation given to the above mentioned passage, we won't drop the scarf or the hat. One day, one of my grandchildren asked me this question, ' grandma, why are you always covering your head to Church and to pray?' I told her it was the right thing to do. She now said,' but my mummy doesn't '. I said well, it's because grandma is used to covering her head. She said what about mummy? I said she should ask her mummy,as she will be in the best position to explain why she doesn't cover her head. I did not want her to get confused. I don't want to sound like a preacher here, but whatever we do, we should allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. Heaven should be our goal. May we all finish strong in Jesus' Name. Amen
A major portion of Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians deals with problems which existed in their Church. He gives his "frank answers" to more than ten of their questions. God in His Sovereign wisdom has included this Epistle in the canon of the Scriptures because the issues dealt with by the apostle are timeless. The first half of the eleventh chapter of the Epistle discusses the matter of head covering. I urge you to go through verses 1 to 16 atleast thrice without prejudice before reading the comments below. "Women's hair was a common object of lust in antiquity. To fail to cover their hair was thought to provoke male lust. Headcovering prevailed in Jewish Palestine and elsewhere, but upper-class women eager to show off their fashionable hairstyles did not practise it. Therefore Paul had to address a clash in the Church between upper-class fashion and lower-class concern" (The IVP Bible Background Commentary). It is beyond doubt that the apostle took a positive stand in favour of headcovering. He gave atleast four reasons for his conclusion. First, the headship of God, of Christ and of man (1 Cor 11:3-8). Secondly, he presents God's purpose of creation of man and woman (v 9). Thirdly, he speaks of the angels who observe our worship and are concerned about God's order of administration in the Church (v 10). Remember, the archangel who rebelled against God's headship became Satan? Lastly, Paul reminds us of "nature" (v15). This verse implies that for a woman to have a headcovering in addition to her long hair is to say amen to the divine ordination. It is unwise to totally set aside the matter of headcovering as merely cultural. Such an approach will ultimately discard so many precious New Testament passages as irrelevant. For example, the Lord's Supper, which is discussed in the second half of the same chapter, is essentially symbolic and it was also instituted in the Jewish cultural context! We must guard ourselves against losing the power of symbolism in Christian life. Modern hairstyles and dress fashions are erasing the sex distinctions. Keeping the apostolic "traditions" will save us from a cataclysmic collapse (v 2). Anyone who understands the trend of the age with the mind of the Lord will only urge for a conservative conduct in the House of God where men and women gather for worship (Jer 6:16; 1 Tim 3:14,15). Moreover, covering of head by women in the Church generally offends no one whereas if they don't cover, it does offend atleast some. What do we lose by embracing an ancient symbolic custom upheld by the apostles? Eighty percent of Indian population is rural and this is the most unevangelised sector. Headcovering by women in villages as a mark of respect and reverence is deep-rooted in culture. Let's preserve it while planting Churches here. There are many sincere believers who hold an exactly opposite view in this matter of headcovering. The conclusion of Paul to his argument will help us maintain a spiritual unity in spite of such differences: "If anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God" (v16).
It is very clearly stated in 1Corinthians 11:15 "But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her, FOR HER HAIR IS GIVEN TO HER FOR A COVERING."(NKJV) The reference to covering here is not about hats but a woman's hair. God's Word has not changed and it still holds that a woman should have long hair. These verses in 1Cor 11 refer to a woman's long hair which gives her authority, it is a sign of submission, honouring her head. It is her glory and covering.
Hats have always been worn as a signifier of authority. Crowns for a king, helmets for firemen and soldiers, braid for officers and policemen on duty. Men who wore hats up until the 1960's would doff their cap to a lady, and take their hat off when entering someone else's area of authority. Like another man's house, or Church. In olden days men with plumed hats swept it off in a deep bow before the Queen, and in Elizabethan times men would wear their hat at home, sitting by the fire or sitting down to eat at table. Women would wear their hat to show status and authority when ordering goods from a visiting tradesman or out shopping, and when directing staff in the kitchen or household. Her grand hat would denote her wealth and rights to command people and resources. In church an man would doff his cap to bow to the higher authority of the master of this house. Why then did Paul tell women not to take their hats off? It could be..... The head of her household had bowed his head for all the family, so her authority remains on her head to show that she is covered by his action. Also.... The new church of St Paul was to be inclusive of all as equals, men, women, slaves, landowners.... so why do women demonstrate their obedience to the head of house by keeping on their covering of household authority? there were some women there who had no wealth nor home. And prostitutes traditionally had short hair. By covering their hair then all women could be equal.
I have always asked myself this question - If the hair is a covering for the head of the woman, should it not be a covering for the man? Will man be required to remove that covering each time they bow to pray to God? My take is that it is better to do the 'extra' that we may think is not necessary than to ignore it and later find out at the end of our race here on earth, when there will be no opportunity to right the wrong that it (the'extra') is a must and not an option. The scripture says that there is a way that seems right to man, but the end of it is death, so wisdom is the principal thing.
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