Friday, February 26, 2010

Headcovering the Reprise, Part 1

I tackled head covering nearly three years ago, and it's been a while since we stirred up trouble on the blog, so I thought I'd revisit the subject. Actually, this was prompted by some events going on in "real" life right now and some conversations I've had in the past week. And because I think at least one regular reader will would appreciate it right now. I will attempt to refute the two main objections made against Christian women wearing a covering.

1. Hair is a woman's covering

The root of this objection comes from 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, which says,

"Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering."
Well that seems pretty clear-cut, doesn't it? But there are a few problems. First, it's using one verse to refute the rest of the passage. Verses 5-6 say,
"And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head."
So if hair is the covering the passage is referring to, these verses make no sense. "If a woman doesn't have long hair she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off, she should have long hair." That's just ridiculous - but it's what this argument is making Paul say.

Moreover, the people who make this argument never seem to follow it through to its logical conclusion for men (isn't it funny how we only ever talk about the women when we bring up this passage?). Verse 4 says that "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head [Christ]." If hair is a covering, there ought to be a lot more men in this world who shave their heads.

Another point of interest is that two different Greek words are used for covering. The words used in verses 4-7 are variations of κατακαλύπτω, which means "to cover up" or "to veil". The word used in verse 15 is περιβόλαιον, which means "a covering thrown around" or "a mantle". The definitions are very close, so using that argument alone doesn't settle the matter in my mind, but it does serve to strengthen the argument I presented above. It seems perfectly clear to me that what Paul was saying was that God gave women long hair as a natural covering, and because of that it should be obvious why God wants women to wear an extra covering when praying or prophesying.

To be continued...

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  • JunkMale

    Good points of course, but I will play devil's advocate. What if someone says that the woman's hair is a covering, but a man's hair is not?

    (In my experience, women who balk at covering their head when they pray only have pat knee-jerk reactions to this passage, such as "hair is my covering" or "it was a cultural thing," the latter of which I believe you will be covering very soon.)

  • Harmony

    First of all, I would say that there is some evidence from church history that Christians considered hair a covering for men, too. Why else did priests shave their heads? Tonsure (the priest's haircut) was an attempt to follow 1 Corinthians 11.

    Second, here's what that makes the passage say: Men, don't wear anything on your head but hair. Women, you don't have to wear anything on your head but hair. Why spend all that time discussing the subject if he's basically telling men and women the same thing? I think we have to conclude that hair is either a covering for both men and women (and therefore men need to shave their heads), or that the covering of verses 4-6 is not hair at all. And of course, I already addressed that debate above.

    And my last point: Good Biblical exegesis is consistent, especially within the same passage. It's incredibly sloppy to interpret one word two different ways in adjoining verses! In my experience, most people who use the "hair is a covering" argument have never considered what it might mean to be consistent with that interpretation.