Thursday, June 28, 2007

On Headcovering

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 cultural argument has been way overdone.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.

Related Posts:

19 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Alan

    Very thought provoking post. After a few days on that other thread, it's comforting to read something written by a woman who is not looking for a way around the Pauline teachings about women. It disturbs me too, the lengths to which people are willing to go to justify following the pattern of modern culture.

  • Myfriendconnie

    Aaargh! That "other blog" leaves me with marks from the keyboard on my forehead (from banging my head) every time I go there! Isn't it amazing how people can twist the scriptures to excuse their personal preferences? Also, disturbing is the "it's all about my own comfort and needs" syndrome. Never mind that Jesus left us a model of self sacrifice.

    Anyway, my husband and I have long contemplated the passage you mentioned. We were just talking about it last week and wondering how a woman can pray and prophesy in the assembly and yet remain silent.

    I need to think more on it. Off to read your dad's blog now.

  • Harmony

    Connie, your reply made me laugh. :) That's how I felt too, although I only read the comments.

  • Anna

    This is an excellent post on the subject!

    I am a head covering lady who tries to encourage others to do the same. You can just imagine some of the comments I receive.


  • Headmistress, zookeeper

    I think prophesying was not always miraculous, and generally encompasses biblical teaching of any kind at any time.

    I think it's disrepecting plain teaching to dismiss Paul's statements as cultural. He lists his reasons, and not one of them (and there are several) are cultural.

    And I don't recall looking at that blog before, and I don't think I'll look at it again (at least not on purpose). My 'experience' and feeling tells me it isn't a worthy use of my time.=)

  • Alan

    One more thought. If the covering refers to hair for women, and therefore also to men, then Paul would have been prohibited from praying or prophesying prior to shaving his head in Acts 18:18. Not likely, IMO.

    IOW, if Paul was permitted to pray and prophesy in Corinth "for some time" prior to shaving his head, then head coverings discussed in 1 Cor 11 cannot be referring to hair.

    BTW, one of many great points in your post.

  • Headmistress, zookeeper

    And wouldn't you know it, I just came across something else that expresses my concerns about all those emphases on feelings vs the Word over there. Funnily enough, it's from a Catholic:
    "Never will human beings lie so glibly, or deceive themselves so easily, as when they are talking about their feelings. The reasons aren't hard to find. If I say to my wife, "Yes, I painted the picnic table," I know that she can walk out to the backyard and check. But there is no checking someone else's feelings. You can only see them in action, and, given the vagaries of feeling and the fact that we sometimes fail to act on them -- rather, we sometimes act against them -- there is no easy way to tell whether and to what extent someone is lying about them. Nor are our own feelings easy to read. "

    The rest is fantastic:
    And I got it here:

  • Myfriendconnie

    Paul says that a woman's long hair is glorious and given to her as a covering and that a man having long hair is a disgrace. Wouldn't this eliminate the question of a man needing to shave his head? I think the key is "long hair". If I'm wrong, though, I'd like to be corrected.

  • Alan


    In verse 5, "uncovered" comes from Gk akatakaluptos: a-not, kata-hanging down from, kaluptos-veiled. In verse 15, "covering" comes from Gk peribolaion: a covering thrown around; a wrapper.

    So they are two different words in Gk, not closely related as the two English words are in KJV.

    So, verse 5 says she needs a katakaluptos. Verse 15 says she has a peribolaion, which is not the same thing.

  • Myfriendconnie

    So, does this mean that our long hair is our covering? Or that we need an additional covering over our hair when we pray and prophesy? I don't do those 2 things in the assembly aloud. (It makes me wonder if there were women praying and prophesying aloud in the assembly.) How do we apply these scriptures?

  • Alan


    I can't give you the definitive answer. It seems clear you need a katakaluptos when you pray or prophesy. The answers to questions Harmony left open (about whether it applies only when speaking the prayer yourself versus listening to someone else) are less clear to me.

    If you do a Google image search for "woman praying" and note the time period of the pictures you find, I think you'll see a pretty clear pattern.

  • Harmony


    Yeah, the application is definitely the hard part. I can see three different ways in which this scripture can be interpreted (aside from the "it doesn't apply anymore" interpretation -- which I don't accept):

    1)A woman's hair is her covering -- therefore she should have long hair. I don't think that's likely (my opinion), but the scripture is unclear enough that it could be.
    2)A woman needs to wear a covering in the assembly, whenever someone else is praying or prophesying.
    3)A woman needs to wear a covering when she prays or prophesies out loud.

    Personally, I lean towards number 3, along with a belief that women should have long hair (however you define that...) because Paul said so. But I'm only a young lady with not as many years studying these things as others might have. :) All I'm 100% sure of is that treating the passage like it's completely irrelevant to today is foolish.

    I've heard that take on prophesy before. As far as today is concerned, that's certainly as close to miraculous prophesy that we have. Does anyone know if the word for 'prophesy' in the NT implies a miraculous gift?

  • Myfriendconnie

    Are you saying it would ever be appropriate for a woman to pray aloud (let's just focus on that since we're unclear on prophecy) in the assembly? I assume the assembly is what Paul was addressing.

  • Myfriendconnie

    BTW, I'm not asking any of these questions in a contentious way, but in genuine puzzlement.

  • Harmony


    I don't think he's referring to the assembly. Here's why: read through 1 Corinthians, chapters 1 to 10. It seems to me that he's addressing issues that apply in or out of a worship setting. Then read chapter 11 verse 17 through chapter 14. I think he makes a shift here to worship. When he begins to talk about Communion, he seems to switch topics as far as I can tell. To me, this means that he was talking about general Christian life in chapters 1 to 11:16. Then in v 17 he gets specific to when the saints gather: "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse."

    That makes sense to me, because of what's said in Chapter 14 about women being silent. It all fits together (to me) if you read it in that way.

    However, in some translations it seems that he's linking the two thoughts -- NASB, for example: "But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse." 'this instruction' could refer either to the thoughts before that on head covering, or the comments after about the Lord's Supper. If the former is the case, I grant that Paul might have allowed women to pray or prophesy in the assembly with the condition that their heads were covered.

    I know, that didn't really make things more concrete. :P But that's the best I can do.... Maybe some else can help us out here.

  • Headmistress, zookeeper

    Connie, I agree that Paul is not referring to the Assembly, and I also believe Alan is correct that two differen words are used here, indicating two different coverings. But we don't need to look back to the original Greek (or Aramaic) to discover this. If the hair is the covering spoken of, than every time the passage speaks of covering, head covering, covered, uncovered, etc- you ought to be able to read it by substituting 'hair' or 'without hair' for those terms and it still make sense. Like this:

    4Every man praying or prophesying, having hair on his head, dishonoureth his head.

    5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her short hair (or a shaved head) dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

    6For if the woman be not (hairless, or shaved), let her also be (hairless, or shaved): but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be (unshorn).

    7For a man indeed ought not to have hair on his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

    .... 10For this cause ought the woman to have hair on her head because of the angels.

    ... 13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God without hair?

    14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

    15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
    if it is only one covering specified and it is the hair, why does Paul specify praying or prophecying alone? You don't remove hair when done praying or teaching.

    I think the passage speaks of two coverings.

  • Myfriendconnie

    Thank you, everyone. I have some more reading and thinking to do, now.

  • RaptureOrTribulation.com

    When Paul makes the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:10 "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." He is referring to the protection of women. When a women has their "head" covered, it is covered by a man or clergy. If she is married, her husband protects her. If she is unmarried, her preacher or clergy will protect her.
    Now you ask what is she being protected from? Refer to what Jesus said in Matthew 24: 37 "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be".
    Jesus warns you that in the "last days", it will be just as it was in the days of Noah.
    Do you know why GOD destroyed the life on Earth during that time? It was very evil and mankind had been corrupted beyond repair except by taking pure humans to re-populate after he destroyed the corrupt life on Earth. How was it corrupt? Refer to Genesis 6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
    2That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.4There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
    You see, in the "last days", the fallen angels will come back and will inpregnate them and will start to corrupt mankind again. That is why a women need their head covered.
    Since we are the generation living in the "last days", all women should be aware of this!

  • RaptureOrTribulation.com

    Oh yes, one more thing. The "sons of GOD" were angels or fallen angels in those days of Noah. Well, be aware, that "sons of GOD" or fallen angels came to Earth in those day and many believe that they were in a form as aliens in ufo's. Interesting how since the Jewish holocaust in WW2, the presence of ufo's has been extreme even though many don't believe it. Some believe that as Hitler and the Illuminati were Satanists, they may have used the death of the millions of GOD's pwople(the Jews) as a major sacrafice to open the door for the fallen angels to re-enter our world again.

    Even GOD send us a ufo to show us that they do exist and in fact come from his world not other planets.

    Ezekiel 1: 3The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.

    4And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

    5Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.