I was reading the comment section to an article my dad linked. I was struck by one of the comments, and would have responded there except that I doubt the original commenter would ever read my response (the comments on that blog have since moved to another post) -- and my response would have been entirely too long. It simply reminded me of an attitude I see in church these days that bothers me. Her comment was as follows:
The command for silence for all time is problematic, but maybe not as much as the command for women to wear head coverings for all time when the church is gathered.It is my opinion that the prejudice women today have against wearing a head covering is entirely unfounded. And, yes, I am well aware that I am about to open a can of worms... but I really do believe that most of society (and especially Christians) today are making a big fuss over nothing. Let me explain.
The passage referred to above is from 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. Verse 5 is the first one that mentions women and head coverings, and it reads as follows: "And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved."
The 'head' spoken of in that verse is explained in verse 3: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." So the 'head' is man. Perhaps this refers to her husband, or men in general. I do not know. But the gist of verse 5 is that if a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, she dishonors men.
(It should be well noted that women these days spend prodigious amounts of time dishonoring men. Therefore, deciding not to keep this passage amounts to just another drop in the bucket. If women will not honor their husbands in general, they are only hypocrites if they choose to keep this passage.)
The cultural argument has been way overdone. I'm not going to go into it here (although I personally do not believe Paul was motivated by culture when he wrote this) because I think the vast majority of women only use the cultural argument to get out of obeying a scripture they find overwhelming or offensive. I know that's what I did for a long time, until I actually decided to check out the cultural argument myself. But did you catch what the passage actually says? This is not an Islam-esque command to wear a burkha around all the time. Paul says that women should wear a head covering when they pray or prophesy. Now for all the Christian women out there, when was the last time you prophesied? Some Christians do believe that prophesy is still alive and well in the Church, so perhaps there are some. But the majority of us have never prophesied. So that just leaves one instance where Paul says to wear a covering: when you pray. You see, this isn't even a command that extends through the entire worship service. In fact, some might even contend that it doesn't even apply to the worship service.
Why might someone say that, you ask? Let me explain further. Paul begins 1 Corinthians by addressing problems in the church. And up through the beginning of chapter 11, he is speaking of issues not specifically related to worship. First he spoke of divisions (perhaps relating to worship, but more just dealing with squabbling brethren), then about sin in the church with the immoral brother, then about lawsuits and sexual immorality, marriage and divorce, eating food sacrificed to idols, and then finally we hit chapter 11 and the discussion of head coverings. Then, in the middle of chapter 11, Paul turns towards the assembly when he says, "In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good." (ch. 11 v. 17) He then proceeds to speak about the Lord's Supper, spiritual gifts, and orderly worship.
Another argument might be that in chapter 14, Paul gives instruction for women to remain silent in the churches (ch. 14 v. 34). Some would say that this instruction includes prayer and prophesy. Others would contend that there was an exception given for women who wore head coverings. Personally, I do not think there were exceptions given, based on the instruction Paul gave to certain Christians who had the gift of prophesy:
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (ch. 14 v. 29-32, emphasis mine - obviously)It seems to me that just because God reveals a prophesy to you does not mean that you had to share that prophesy in the assembly. Therefore, it could be consistent to have a woman with the gift of prophesy (which we know to be true, since Philip's daughters were prophetesses) who never prophesied during the assembly. This, to me, is the most consistent reading of the passages. Now, that is not to say that the directives in the beginning of chapter 11 do not apply to the worship setting -- just that the context does not force that meaning.
Regardless, in most conservative Christian churches today, women neither pray nor prophesy out loud. So the question remains, does the passage in chapter 11 refer to listening to a prayer or prophesy, or does it mean when a woman prays or prophesies herself?
This is much more difficult to discern, IMO. I do not profess (haha) to have the answer to this, but it is my opinion that Paul was speaking of when a woman prays or prophesies herself, not when she is listening to someone else pray or prophesy. I think that at the very least, the passage surely includes when a woman is praying or prophesying herself -- meaning when she is at home -- but it could very well include listening to prayers as well. Feel free to study this for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Then tell them to me, please. My mind is far from made up on that point.
So maybe some of you are saying at this point, "Wow, I never thought of it that way. It's not so bad as I thought!" That was my reaction to my study of the subject, so maybe there will be some of you who think like I do. :) My instinct, though, is that many of you will still think that the passage is 'unfair' to women. And for those who feel this way, let me analyze another portion of that same passage for you.
Did you know that 1 Corinthians 11 is even stricter with men than with women? I know, the ONLY time you ever hear this verse read, it is talking about women -- 95% of the time used to refute 1 Corinthians 14, an argument which has always annoyed me -- but the truth is that Paul gives just as strict a command to men as he does to women. In fact, he tells men that if they do not remove any covering from their heads when they pray and prophesy, they dishonor Christ (ch. 11 v.3-4). Now, I know it is a bad thing to dishonor my husband, but think of just how much more severe it is to dishonor Christ.
Some Christians believe that hair is sufficient covering for a woman. If a woman can call hair a covering, why can't a man? And Paul clearly states that "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head." So if this is true, every Christian man must shave his head before praying or prophesying -- and personally, I would consider that to be a much harsher teaching than simply saying that women must wear something on their heads when they pray. I think as women we have it pretty easy. We run the risk of dishonoring men -- men run the risk of dishonoring Christ.
I know I wouldn't say anything about culture, but I just can't help it. Did you know that in the time of the NT writings, Jewish men wore head coverings when they worshiped? Why do you think Jewish men today wear a yarmulka? It seems obvious to me that Paul was giving a new, Christian, instruction rather than forcing Jewish custom down the Gentile's throats (Besides, where else in the NT do you see Paul making Gentiles become more Jewish? Wasn't his entire ministry focused on refuting the Judaizers?). Here's a quote for you:
As to the obligation of wearing a yarmulke, halakhic experts agree that it is a custom. The prevailing view among Rabbinical authorities is that this custom has taken on a kind of force of law (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 2:6), because it is an act of Kiddush Ha-Shem, "Sanctifying the Holy Name". From a strictly talmudic point of view, however, the only moment when a Jewish man is required to cover his head is during prayer (Mishne Torah, Ahavah, Hilkhot Tefilah 5:5)
The Mishne part of the Talmud was written in about 200 AD, and I think it well reflects the customs of the time of Christ and the early church.