Monday, April 26, 2010

More Thoughts on Headcovering

If you've been a reader of this blog for a long time, you probably know that I wear a head covering when I pray. I have also recently begun wearing one during worship services, and I am currently (and very reluctantly) toying with the idea of wearing one more often, perhaps all the time. This is a serious matter to me, and I have been thinking through it for a long time. My head is full of all the thoughts I have on this right now, so I decided that if I put all of it down in 1's and 0's it might help me sort through my thoughts.

This is going to be long, and I'm not going to break it down into more than one post (because, really, anyone who is interested in reading this post will probably not care how long it is, and the rest of you probably wish I would stop cluttering my blog up with posts about headcovering!).

First, the reasons against wearing a covering full-time:

  1. It is not commanded in the Bible. There, that was easy. ;-) There are verses commanding the Corinthian women to wear a covering when praying or prophesying, and I believe those verses apply to today (see my reasons why here), but to my knowledge, no where in the Bible does God command any group of women to wear a covering all the time. This is the only good reason I have, because my other reasons are
  2. I don't want to
  3. It's weird
  4. I really don't want to
  5. I look stupid in hats, scarves, and pretty much anything else that might be considered a covering
  6. All of the above, especially 2 and 4.
But if it's not a direct Biblical command, why am I even considering it? Because the Bible isn't just a rule book. Sometimes God doesn't spell out a rule in the Bible, and yet we still are guided by godly principles that make the rule a good idea, even if it isn't an explicit Thou Shalt or Thou Shalt Not. The best example I can give of this is abortion. There is NO command in the Bible forbidding abortion, but the Scriptures are littered with verses that demonstrate that God values the lives of the unborn. The question for me is whether there is enough Biblical evidence to support full-time Christian head covering.

So what is the case for covering? I think there are several points that might make it a good idea:
  1. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 - "Pray without ceasing." If I am supposed to wear a covering when I pray, and if I am supposed to pray without ceasing, then it seems to follow that I should wear a covering all the time.
  2. Old Testament examples - we see from Old Testament examples (and extra-Biblical Jewish accounts) that it was the Jewish custom for women to be veiled all the time. We are not Jews, but based on what many commentators think Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 11, I think the Old Testament evidence is important.
  3. Modesty. Obviously, we are not required to wear a covering for modesty, but we are commanded to dress modestly. So depending on whether hair is sensual or not (and I'll leave that up to the men to decide), you could make a case for covering separate and apart (haha) from 1 Corinthians 11.
Let's look at these in more detail.

1. "Pray without ceasing."

Honestly, I think this one speaks for itself. A woman should pray with her head covered, and Christians should pray without ceasing. It seems simple enough to me. But 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is widely considered to be hyperbole - obviously Christians are not praying all the time. But even with this verse only encouraging us to pray often and not being a command to spend every minute in prayer, I think this applies. Since developing a conviction about wearing a covering while praying, I have noticed that I don't pray as much as I used to. The reason for this is very simple: if I'm not already wearing a covering, I tell myself that I'll pray about it later, when I have my covering on. But I forget, or life happens, and it never quite gets done. I really think wearing a covering most or all of the day would improve my prayer life. Perhaps you are different, but this is probably the best argument for me on the subject.

2. Old Testament examples/Jewish tradition

Numbers 5:18 - And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD and unbind the hair of the woman's head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.

The Hebrew word translated "unbind" in the ESV means to uncover, or to make naked. The sense is that the priest has to take off her veil. Now if we're going to be nit-picky about this verse, we could say that the priest was required to hold to the letter of the law, and so one could say that the necessary inference (pardon my use of CENI *smile*) of this verse is that Jewish women should otherwise be veiled. The removal of her veil is supposed to be shameful, as though he had taken off more clothing. He is making her head naked. That assumes that she is accustomed to wearing something on her head. Have you ever made a comment that you felt naked without your watch, or your glasses? You wear it all the time, so often that it becomes part of your normal attire. If that was not the way OT women felt about their veil, then this verse would make no sense.

Likewise, Isaiah 47:2 ("Take the millstones and grind flour, put off your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers.") speaks of taking off a veil, and then goes into verse 3, where God explains the humiliation and disgrace involved in removing a veil: "Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one." So to the Jewish women (and to God, it seems), the veil was a necessary article of clothing. It was universally worn, and to remove it in public was a humiliation.

Now let's relate that to 1 Corinthians 11. As I discussed before, Greeks and Romans covered their heads far less often than Jews, and Greek women in particular didn't cover during worship. The city of Corinth is in Greece, and the predominant culture would probably have been Greek. Many of the commentors I've read have suggested that Paul is addressing the Christian women attempting to emulate the Greek custom of worship, and that's what he took issue with. McGarvey says,
"The Jew and the Roman worshipped with covered, and the Greek with uncovered, head. Naturally a dispute would arise as to which custom was right. Moreover, as the women were beyond all doubt acquainted with the principle that there is neither male nor female in the spiritual realm (Gal 3:28), they seem to have added to the confusion by taking sides in the controversy, so that some of them asserted the right to worship with uncovered heads after the fashion of the Greeks."
So, potentially, what Paul is doing in 1 Corinthains 11 is judging between the customs of the surrounding cultures. Which is right? Paul says it's the Jewish custom. Why does he say this? In other matters (circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols, etc) he takes the Gentile side, so that makes it even more clear to me that he is judging the Jewish custom to be right in God's eyes. And that makes me wonder if we shouldn't give the Old Testament examples more weight.

3. Modesty
"[W]omen should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire," 1 Timothy 2:9
Modest dress is essential for a Christian woman. So if it is immodest to uncover my head, then I ought to wear a covering. But that's a sticky subject. I think most people would agree that a woman is more modest with her hair covered, but does it necessarily follow that an uncovered woman is immodest? I don't know. Some cultures (Muslim, Amish, Anabaptist) certainly believe so, but my gut feeling is that most men in America wouldn't say anything of the sort.

Among men who completed the Modesty Survey (Christian men, mostly younger men), 61% agreed that a woman playing with her hair is not a stumbling block. This means that 39% thought that at least in some ways, playing with hair could be tempting. So I think you could make a case for a head covering being a modesty issue, in which case wearing it in church or just when you pray isn't going to cut it.

I admit to being drawn to the Jewish idea that
"the bride and groom are totally and utterly dedicated to each other in a holy coupling. This dedication manifests itself in both an internal and an external form, in many ways, and for both partners.

One of these ways is by a woman covering her hair, which is viewed by Judaism as a sensual and private part of a married woman’s appearance. By covering her hair (even with a wig, which may be mistaken for real hair*) a woman is expressing her exclusive devotion, love for, and unique connection to her husband."

I'm a hopeless romantic, so the idea of a covering not only representing my obedience to God, but also my devotion to my husband, is incredibly appealing. But it is a tradition of man and not a command of God, as lovely as the symbolism is.

(*J, if you're reading this, I thought that was especially interesting given your conversation with your Orthodox Jewish friend....)


And so I wonder. To cover or not to cover. My conclusion is that the reasons to cover probably outweigh the reasons not to (especially reasons 2-6). The issue of my prayer life seems to be the biggest pro. I think I probably ought to wear a covering more often for that reason alone. All the time? Well, I don't know. I'm not there yet. And I really, really wish I looked better in hats and scarves. I'm also a bit scared of telling family (not the family that reads this blog, but other family) and friends who have known me for ages. This is such a small thing, but it seems like a complete upheaval in my life that I can imagine certain family members making a stink about. I hope they don't. It was hard enough to start wearing one at church, and there are even other women at church who cover!

But if I need to wear a hat or a scarf in order to more closely follow Christ, then that is what I must do.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Related Posts:

4 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Alan

    I feel obligated to point out the irony of the following sentence:

    So I think you could make a case for a head covering being a modesty issue, in which case wearing it in church or just when you pray isn't going to cut it
    But on a more serious note... although you know I lean more heavily on the "not required all the time" side, I have great respect for those who, out of conviction and faith, do that which is unpopular .

  • Smockity Frocks

    Very interesting. I admire you for hoding every thought captive!

    What are your thoughts about a woman's long hair being the covering? I keep coming back to that verse in 1 Cor.

  • modest

    I just came across this blog and found it very interesting indeed.


  • Joanne

    Hello - I just wanted to encourage you on your walk with the Lord. Please keep seeking out and following after the truth, no matter what is popular around you. I'll mark your page so I can find it again.

    I just posted a blog on modesty, I pray it is a blessing to others. Here is the direct link: http://fewtherebethatfindit.blogspot.com/2010/04/modesty-and-role-of-women.html

    Lord bless you as you follow Him.

    In Christ, Joanne in MO