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Do Women have to Wear Headcoverings?
In this episode, Brother Jonathan goes over the context of 1 Corinthians, the cultural customs of the day, and a brief exegesis of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Much thanks to Kevin Moore for his Master's Thesis on this subject. S2EP10 Remnant Bible Fellowship Introduction I learned a lot in studying for this episode. This passage is a greatly disputed passage by some people. One of the big problems that contributes to the confusion over this passage is that most of us do only a little bit of research and study: and that’s it. As a result, there are a lot of articles, books, Youtube channels and videos, etc., that are completely contradictory. It is pervasive. I’m not joking. People will appeal to the exact same things and teach the exact opposite things. On top of that, some people just assert some things that are completely false. When you only reference one source, and don’t examine the arguments to the contrary, you will guarantee that you’ll come to a false conclusion a lot of the time. Especially over this issue. People are very invested in how they interpret this passage on all sides of it. There is a lot of hard-heartedness, and self-righteousness, built up from the abuse of this passage of scripture. That should never be the case. I would encourage you to listen to this whole episode, because no matter which side you are coming from—from the side of “coverings are necessary” or the side of “they aren’t necessary at all”—I believe that you’ll learn something. Plead for truth I’m not going to tell you at the beginning of this episode what conclusion I came to because most people who disagree will just turn it off without even examining themselves. The question is, “Do you want what is true?” When you come to the scriptures you have to be willing to accept what it says as authoritative. If you are not willing to accept whatever the scriptures command us—whatever it is—then you will find every excuse to believe that it says something else. Usually, that’s the case when people have a line in the sand that they don’t want to cross. People get confronted with the possibility that the Bible commands something they don’t like and they think, “Well, it just can’t mean that…I mean, God wouldn’t expect that from me.” There’s almost an indignation about it. In saying that, you have to be willing to accept that your denomination, or group, may be completely wrong. That’s for any time you examine something from the scriptures and not just in this case. If you are not willing to accept that, which is certainly possible because people are not infallible, then you are just wasting your time even reading the Bible. If you love your denomination, or Church brethren, or anyone, more than the truth of Christ then He says that you’re not worthy of Him in Luke 14:26. Just go accept what your pastor says if that’s the way you feel—and that’s just idolatry. God’s Word is the authority: not you, or your church, or your denomination, or the person who discipled you. I don’t care how special a group of people are to you: they aren’t God. You’re accountable to God. So let Him have that rightful authority over your life that you claim He has if you profess to be a Christian. But I know that there are sincere people on both sides of this issue. There are people who sincerely believe that the scripture says that you don’t have to wear a headcovering, and there are people who sincerely believe that you do. If you’re sincere in your beliefs on the matter, then you ought to believe it because you believe it to be the true interpretation of scripture. You should believe what you believe solely because you believe it is true to scripture. So it’s the truth that you should want. So if evidence comes that shows that your understanding of the passage is flawed you should be willing to change your practice because you just want the truth. I only ask that you consider what I’m going to go over, and keep that in mind. Background from in the Book There are some things to consider before going through the passage: By the time of this writing Paul had already spent 18 months teaching the Corinthians in person (Acts 18:11). After that, he wrote a letter instructing them to not company with fornicators or sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9). Then he sent Timothy to remind them of his teachings (1 Cor. 4:17). Paul received some reports that there were “contentions” or divisions among them (1:11). He had also received three of them (Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus), where he probably then received their letter and questions that are mentioned in 7:1. The Corinthians had been taught and instructed for quite a long time in person, through a letter, and indirectly through Timothy without the issue of headcoverings being an issue. Any time you come to a passage you have to understand the context. Whatever someone wants to say about this passage, it was originally written to a group of people living at Corinth in the first century. Paul was not expecting that people 1,950 years later were going to be reading this letter and scrutinizing every single aspect of his content, form, and language. He was expecting these average Corinthian citizens, who were believers, to understand what he was saying. Seeing that they were first century Corinthians, you must understand the background of the social, cultural, and religious setting of the city of Corinth. The believers at Corinth lived in Corinth most likely when they were converted. This means they came from that background. Paul says to them: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) This description fit some of them in the congregation. They were those things themselves. Paul adds also: “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” (1Cor. 12:2) They, or at least it least it seems a majority of them, were previously pagans. There is very little in this epistle to suggest a large background in Judaism. There are a few mentioned by name, but the majority seem to have been Gentile converts from idolatry. We get a glimpse of the social demographic of the congregation from what Paul says in 1:26: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:” (1 Cor. 1:26) The fact that Paul says “not many” implies that there were at least some who were converted from these groups. Those wise after the world, those mighty in power and influence, and those noble. It’s been estimated that nine out of the seventeen persons and groups mentioned in the epistle are of a relatively high social status. Although we contrast this with Paul’s comments later: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13) “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” (1 Cor. 7:20-24) Paul’s addressing the idea of servants and slaves twice in the epistle indicates that there was probably a portion of them in the congregation. This fits with what we know historically that the majority of Christians early on were of the lower ranks of society. It was a source of mocking to outsiders. So in the Corinthian congregation there were various social ranks of all kinds, from slaves to chief men such as Crispus. There were some Jews, but mostly Gentiles. There were educated and uneducated. Cultural Customs Now, the cultural customs of the day cannot be ignored. In his master’s thesis on this passage, Kevin L. Moore had a lot of good things to point out about this. I was studying for this episode and I found his thesis was much more developed than what I was preparing. I also agree with his conclusion. In fact, out of all the treatments of the subject that I found, Moore’s thesis was probably the most fair and extensive. I’m going by a lot of his outline and points in this episode—so I’ll give credit to where it is due. I encourage you to read it yourself if this topic is important to you personally. I’ll put the PDF for download above the episode on the podcast page at remnantbiblefellowship.com. But Moore had some excellent points to bring out regarding the cultural customs issue. Cultural customs change over time. The Bible itself spans several thousand years from beginning to end. It is inappropriate, and misleading, to refer to how things are done in “Bible times” without being more specific to which age. If possible, the geographical location of a given practice needs to be clarified. The same ethnic group often had different practices in different regions. Moore cites Cheyne and Black, mentioning the example of the Jewish women in various places ordinarily not covering their faces while the Jewesses in Arabia did. Customs and practices changed sometimes depending on the location even when the ethnic group had the same heritage. You can’t put too much stock on evidence from paintings, sculptures, and other representations. Sometimes artists don’t depict reality. Sometimes it is depicting a classical style and not a modern one. Is it depicting a moral person or an immoral person? What class of society is the person? In the end, even if it is shown that a moral person in the first century did do something as a habitual custom it still doesn’t prove that all people across all social classes in all regions did it. Though many people try to argue that way. What is an author’s source for teaching what they do? Gordon Fee well said, “it seems to be the case of one scholar’s guess becoming a second scholar’s footnote and a third scholar’s assumption.” What is the writer’s method for arriving at his conclusion? What is the quality of his source? Books and articles are written all the time by all sorts of people. That doesn’t make them reliable or true. We have to understand a text in its original context. Only then can we ascertain whether or not it is meant for us today. If the original recipients of the writing of Paul understood it to be setting forth a custom to be perpetually observed only then can we expect it of us today. If they did not understand that to be the case then we cannot force it upon anyone today. We cannot make the mistakes of forcing the present to be bound to past customs falsely, or reading the present into the past. Both are errors. When it comes to reference works on the subject of relevant customs in ancient times it’s just a mess. If you begin looking at stuff you can get a number of scholars on your side to quote from regardless of what your view is. There is no doubt that this is a contributing factor to the confusion of people’s understanding of this topic today. Depending on who or what you read first, you may get a different understanding everyday of the week. However, when you eliminate outdated reference works and try to get down to primary sources—while acknowledging the closeness of the geographical location of the practice to Corinth—you can eliminate a lot of the conflicting evidence. Plutarch, who was a contemporary with Paul the Apostle, stated in his work An Enquiry into the Fashions and Customs of Rome that it was normal for the Roman men to have their heads uncovered and for their women to be covered except in special situations such as funerals. Plutarch is writing from the Greek perspective in his writing. The fact that he explains to the Greeks that the practice of Roman men to wear coverings and the Roman women to be uncovered under those special circumstances was unusual shows that the Greeks regularly had the men uncovered and the women covered. Plutarch himself lived in Rome for a time, and had done much research. He quoted from a number of Roman authorities directly. (Roman Questions 14) Dio Chrysostom, who lived from about 40 AD to 120 AD, also a contemporary of Paul, writes that in Tarsus, a Greek city in a Roman province of Asia minor—the hometown of Paul the Apostle—had such strict customs that women who lived there were expected to cover their head, body, and even their faces. (33:48) The Jewish Encyclopedia records that from 450 BC to the early third century AD it was considered an immoral practice for a woman to walk about with her head uncovered. It was considered a form of nakedness. It was actually a distinction of a married woman. (The Jewish Encyclopedia 2:530-1; cf. 6:158) Alfred Edersheim’s comments that it was considered disrespect for a man to pass by another with “bared head” is actually in conflict with what is recorded about how the custom came from a rabbi who died in the early fifth century, as recorded in the Jewish Encyclopedia. (2:532; cf. 6:493) Clement of Alexandria, one of the more commonly quoted references on the matter, who lived from about 153 AD to 220 AD, was a Christian teacher in northern Africa. In his work The Instructor, book 3 chapter 12, he states that women ought to pray veiled. While Alexandria is different than Corinth, it is noted by some that Apollos was from Alexandria. Apollos had influence among the Corinthians as is recorded by Luke in the book of Acts 18:24-19:1, and Apollos is mentioned by name in 1 Corinthians 1:12. Tertullian is probably one of the most referenced in regards to this custom by many people. He wrote a book on “the veiling of virgins,” and another on prayer where the custom is mentioned. He stated that is becoming for women to be veiled when praying or prophesying. He also states that the woman of his congregation, the Montanists in Carthage, that it was to be done in public and not just in Christian assemblies. John Chrysostom, who lived from 347 AD to 407AD, confirms the same in his twenty-sixth Homily on 1 Corinthians 11. He states that women were veiled all the time and not just in assemblies, and that it was a common custom and not limited to the church. There are a lot of other references that could be cited, and especially if we include the topic of women having long hair, but that’s pretty good for our discussion as being the most relevant. When looking at all the evidence, many people’s assertions are wrong. Some assert that it was normal for Jewish men to cover their heads in prayer, but the Jewish Encyclopedia says that this was not the custom until after the first century in response to the Christian practice. Also, the common view that Romans of both sexes not covering their heads is misleading. There is art and references depicting both genders covered and uncovered in various religious and everyday situations. It is not clear what “all” Romans did. When all the quality primary sources are put together though we begin to get an accurate picture. You have to have a uniform testimony from different sources and witnesses to establish what would’ve been a normal custom. I’ll cite what Kevin Moore said in summary of the matter: “While it may not be possible to be absolutely certain about the customs of Corinth in the mid-first century AD, the evidence in Paul’s writings and the above information provide a reasonably clear picture. Apparently it was the general practice among nearly all cultures, especially Roman, Greek, and Jewish, for respectable women to have long hair and to regularly keep their heads covered in public. That was particularly expected of married women, in order to show their faithfulness to their husbands. Virgins and prostitutes, on the other hand, in trying to attract men, did not always follow this practice. Men ordinarily kept their hair short and did not routinely cover their heads. For a woman to have short hair or for a man to have long hair was generally considered inappropriate, for various reasons, and was often the cause of derision. Some pagan religious practices appear to have deviated from the normal standards of decency, but this was not as universal as is sometimes argued. Based on the foregoing conclusions, the discourse in 1 Corinthians 11:2-6 seems to be consistent with the general social customs of the time.” (Moore 26) Before we begin to go through the passage it’s important to remember that Paul is writing to them plainly. When we write letters or emails to people today we expect them to get certain cultural references without us explaining everything to them. The same goes for Paul. Paul is not writing a dissertation on the history and role of headcoverings, why they have them, and who wears them. He is addressing a particular matter for them specifically. To press the matter any further than that is to go beyond the scope of the text unless it is otherwise stated. He is writing with the expectation that his audience will understand what is being said. So, now we’ll go through the text, and then at the end I’ll address some things. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” (1Cor. 11:2) Paul praises the Corinthian believers in the beginning of the passage. He praises them for the specific reason that they “remembered” him in all things. That means that they were keeping in mind how he had instructed them. He continues to say that they “keep the ordinances”. The word “ordinances” here is “paradosis,” which BDAG—BDAG is the abbreviated term used to refer to Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature—defines as, “the content of instruction that has been handed down, tradition, of teachings, commandments, narratives, et al.” BDAG is the most up-to-date lexicon there is…at least that I’m aware of. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Strong’s lexicon at the back of his concordance, or Young’s at the back of his, but BDAG is much more extensive in its entries. Though I would recommend you stay away from Vine’s because his methodology leaned a lot on etymology in a way that was in vogue for his time, but has since been shown to be flawed. So, the “ordinances” are those things that Paul had already instructed them in previously—those teachings that had been “handed down” from him to them. Now this is very important to note: Paul says that they were keeping them. He specifically states that they were keeping them “as [he] delivered them” to them. That is very important to take notice of because it shows that the issue of headcoverings was not an ordinance. Paul had taught them the ordinances, and they were keeping them. Yes, he had to correct a few things about how they were doing them, but they hadn’t perverted baptism, they hadn’t perverted communion, etc. They weren’t exercising discernment about some things, but that’s not a doctrinal issue. He specifically states here that they were keeping the ordinances, all of them, as he delivered them to them. Keep that in mind. This is strengthened as we get to v.3. “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.” (1Cor. 11:3-4) The Greek word underlying “but” here is the particle “de.” It is adversative here. That means that Paul is introducing a new subject to the Corinthians. This contradicts what some people teach saying that the headcoverings issue is part of the ordinances that he previously spoke of. People such as Kerrigan Skelly have made that mistake in their talks about this subject. I’m not attacking him either. I think that he does some good teaching. Paul is not rebuking them for something that he previously had told them. If the Corinthians were observing headcoverings as an ordinance, like that connection would mean, then Paul would not be able to say that the Corinthians were keeping the ordinances as he delivered them to them. They were confused about the matter, and that’s why Paul has to address it. Elsewhere in 1 Corinthians he has to correct them about how they are conducting certain ordinances, such as communion, but that is very different than there being contention about whether or not something is needed. Paul mentions that there was contention about this issue. That could not be the case if they were simply “keeping the ordinances” and they included headcoverings as an ordinance. No, Paul is addressing a new topic here. If you read Dan Wallace’s article about the headcoverings issue, you’ll see that he dismisses the entire “no applicability view” by several flimsy assumptions. He interprets v.2 fairly well, but then assumes that the “de”, translated usually as “but”, is transitional and not adversative. He gives no reasons why. That means that he believes that the “ordinances” that Paul praises the Corinthians for keeping includes artificial headcoverings—which doesn’t fit the passage. Based on this assumption he uses v.2 to reinterpret v.16. He also then incorrectly connects the use of “epainoo” in both v.2 and v.17 to say that the passages are talking along the same lines—again, based on his assumption that “de” is transitional and not adversative. In the end, based on his assumption that he doesn’t justify in the article, he says that the passage is still applicable today. What I find funny, though, is that he ends the article by saying that we don’t have to do it. As much as appreciate Dan Wallace’s Greek scholarship—I have his intermediate/advanced grammar on my shelf—I continually find his reasoning lacking it what he does. Paul continues by stating that the “head of every man is Christ…” etc. He introduces a theological principle, a doctrinal point, which will be the basis for his discussion about their practice. This would not have been a new concept to the Corinthians. He is merely stating the principle upon which his practical instruction is based. The issue is headship and subjection. Who is subject to who? Woman is subject to man, Man is subject to Christ, and Christ is subject to the Father. That’s the theological principle underlying the point of the practical instruction that Paul gives. When we get into v.4 we start getting into the point of our discussion. “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.” We’re going to couch the discussion of praying or prophesying for a while. Let’s focus on the actual reason people consider this passage. It’s about covering. The concept presented in this passage is that of being covered or not covered. There is not middle-ground or a third option. There is covered or not covered. But, as we look at v.4-6 I have to mention that most people miss the point of them entirely. Paul is speaking culturally. Remember what I said at the beginning, you have to look at the cultural setting first. First and foremost, Paul wrote this to the Corinthians in the first century AD. If you want to understand this passage correctly, and apply it correctly, then you need to know how they understood it first in the context of when they actually received it from Paul. You can’t just look at the Greek. You can’t just look at the text. You have to look at the culture, the Greek, and the text. If you don’t, you are going to screw up this passage. That’s why there is so much controversy over this passage. Not everyone is doing their homework. The words “his head covered” in the Greek are “kata kephales.” “Kata” is a preposition and “kephales” is in the genitive, which means that it should be understood in the sense of “down from.” There is no object here for the word. I mean that in the sense that there is nothing said here that tells us what the head is being covered with. When that’s the case it is usually because it is implied in the text and understood. Remember, Paul is writing with the understanding that the Corinthians know to what he is referring. Now “dishonoureth” is the Greek word “kataischuno”. It means the same as it’s translated, but also has the sense of shame. It’s in the present active tense. That means that as long as the action continues the dishonor, the shame, continues. In the context, it’s as long as the man prays or prophesies with his head covered that he dishonors his head. Now the word “covered” is how it’s translated in the KJV. Most Bible versions translate “kata kephales echon” as either “having his head covered” or “having something on his head.” I believe that’s a little misleading. “Kata” has here the sense of “down from”, not “covered.” Covered has a specific connotation in English to us today. I think to translate it that way is very misleading, but I understand why scholars choose it. So just remember through this passage that this verse is only emphasizing that a man should not have something “down from” his head while praying or prophesying. Another important thing to note is that there is nothing in the phrase to emphasize cloth either. It does not tell us with what the head is not to be covered. At least, not in this verse. Sometimes though we come to the passage with certain things already assumed because we see the English word “covering” or “covered” and we automatically assume a veil or cloth. Well, let’s let the passage instruct us and not insert things into it. When the passage says veil or cloth then we’ll take it, but we shouldn’t bring it up until the passage does. “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (1Cor. 11:5-6) The woman is set in contrast to the man. If she does the same thing as the man then she dishonors her head. Now in this verse the Greek word underlying covered/uncovered is different than in the last part. It is the word “akatakalupto”. Now, the only part of this word that means “covered” is “kaluptos”. The alpha at the beginning meaning “not”, and “kata” is hard to nail down. We may assume it carries the same meaning throughout the passage. You do have to be careful though in emphasizing too much the parts that make up compound Greek words for the same reason that our English word “butterfly” says nothing about butter moving through the air. A word is not necessarily the sum of its parts. In this passage though, I think it is safe to say that it does carry that same sense throughout the passage for the reason that “kata” was used independently just preceding this verse. So we may understand “akatakalupto” as meaning, “not down covered.” So as long as a woman’s head is not “down covered” she dishonors her head. The dishonor lasts as long as the action does. Now, Paul nowhere in the passage addresses the setting of the practice. He merely condemns the practice. It doesn’t matter where it is being done. The point is that it is being done. Kevin Moore in his thesis said: “In the church of the first century AD, women, as well as men, were endowed with the miraculous gift of prophecy (Acts 2:17; 21:9). They were expected to be teachers (Tit. 2:3-4) and workers in the Christian community (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 4:2-3). It stands to reason that if God had given these gifts and responsibilities to women, he would have expected them to be utilized. At the same time, however, there were certain restrictions placed upon Christian women. They were not permitted to teach or to have authority over a man (1 Tim. 2:11-12), nor were they allowed to speak as to lead the public assembly (1 Cor. 14:34-35).” (Moore, p.50) In fact, Paul had specifically addressed several times in the epistle things being done in the assembly. Again, Moore comments: “Notice that in 11:2-16 Paul does not use the words “come together” (11:17), “when you assemble in a congregation” (11:18), “come together in the same place” (11:20), “the whole congregation has come together” (14:23), or “you come together” (14:26). Because no particular setting is specified in 11:2-16, these instructions would apply generally to any situation in which praying or prophesying was done.” (Moore, p.51) Moore goes on to note how that in the early church congregations often met in homes as Paul mentions in Romans 16:23. Artificial headcoverings, according to Clement of Alexandria, (3.12), says that they were not typically worn when the woman was at home. This would raise several legitimate questions. What about all female gatherings when no male was present? Would they have to wear them then? Again, it is the general practice that Paul addresses and not the setting. Now, Paul’s statement that if a woman was uncovered that it “is even all one as if she were shaven,” strongly implies that what is being discussed is an artificial headcovering and not her hair. Both the internal evidence of the text and the external evidence of the culture indicate that an artificial headcovering is what is meant. If long hair was meant as the covering in v.5, then Paul would essentially be saying, “If a woman prays or prophesies without long hair then it’s the same as her not having long hair.” That’s redundant. It’s not what Paul is saying. Also, v.6 would then go on to say, “For if the woman does not have long hair, then let her cut it off.” If her hair is not long, then how could she cut it short? It would already be short…which is the issue. Paul here says that if the woman does not wear an artificial headcovering then she should cut off her hair. Obviously, then, the covering cannot be long hair, and it obviously wasn’t okay culturally for a woman to not wear an artificial covering even if she had long hair. Paul says in v.6 that if she refuses to be covered then she should cut off her hair. Now, some have pointed out the the “kalupto” words, the ones translated the various forms of “covered”, do not include in them a requirement of cloth. That’s true. But the culture in which the Corinthians lived dictates that it must be, in addition to the textual reasons that I just gave. Some have also tried to say that because different words such as “shorn” and “shaven” are used that there are three different hair lengths mentioned. This actually doesn’t fix the problems with the long hair covering view. “Shorn” and “shaven” are equated in the text as being inappropriate. Also, culturally, a woman was looked down on for having a shaved head uncovered, a short hairstyle uncovered, and if they have long hair uncovered. All three were seen as inappropriate. The cultural norm at the time required certain things of women. Across the ethnic lines was the idea that short hair on a woman was a shame. It was almost unanimously considered shameful. It was a punishment for adulterers, and some historians have noted that it was customary for slaves and harlots to cut their hair short. Another historian notes that a lesbian, by the name of Demonassa of Corinth, had the skin of her head shaved close. The custom of the time was that respectable women wore their hair long and had it covered in public. Paul is saying that if a woman was to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered it bears the same shame as if she were the same cultural pariah. It was unfitting for a professing Christian woman to be seen like a harlot, homosexual, or adulterer. Paul is directly appealing to the shame that a woman had culturally if she chose to go about uncovered, but especially praying or prophesying in the context. Some have tried to argue that there is nothing in the passage that appeals to custom or culture. This is where some such as David Bercot have made mistakes. Again, I’m not attacking the man, but his teachings on this matter are wrong. He too blindly follows the Ante-Nicene Fathers. They are not an infallible commentary on the scriptures. They are just men. The ones who wrote on the topic of headcoverings were not in the same geographical location as Corinth, or were in the same century as when it was written. In this verse, v.6, Paul himself appeals to the cultural expectations. He says, “but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” My question is, “If it’s a shame to who?” To whose judgment is Paul appealing? God’s? No, because he would then assert it because he is an Apostle. The church’s? Not here at least. He is appealing to the church’s judgment about whether or not it is a shame to the culture around them. He is saying, “If she refuses to wear a headcovering while praying or prophesying, then let her cut her hair and cast off the whole principle. But if it’s a shame for her to be like that in people’s eyes, then just let her wear a headcovering.” The entire point of what Paul is saying is what is appropriate to not bring a reproach upon the church in the sight of the world. This is where the analogy of a Christian woman being topless while praying or prophesying came from. It would be the same cultural shame. Paul is directly appealing to culture. Now, he is basing it on a doctrinal principle of course, but the doctrine is that of the subjection of the woman to the man. The doctrine is not artificial headcoverings. So if you take anything away from this, at least take this away: Paul is not formulating a command for women to wear artificial headcoverings. He is merely stating that a woman who ordinarily has her head covered in public should also cover her head while praying or prophesying. That is the simplicity of the matter. There are two conditional statements in v.6 that reinforce this interpretation of v.5. In essence, Paul is saying, if the latter is shameful (having the hair cut off), so too is the former (having her head uncovered). Another note before moving on, the word “also” here in v.6 is the Greek word “kai”. It is cumulative and carries with it the sense of “in addition to”. “If you are going to continue to pray or prophesy with your head uncovered, then in addition to that you might as well cut off your hair.” He is trying to impress upon them the shame of it. “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” (1Cor. 11:7) The glory of God is reflected in man’s demeanor. The glory of man is reflected in woman’s demeanor. The glory of the woman is reflected in her hair—as we’ll see later. “For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” (1Cor. 11:8-9) Paul goes back to creation to give a reason why woman is the glory of man. She was created for man. There is nothing to suggest that Paul is appealing to creation to say that headcoverings are binding today. There is no mention of Eve having an artificial headcovering. Neither is there anything mentioned in the Law of Moses—which would be expected if artificial headcoverings were binding on women from creation until the present day. Even in the New Testament, there is no mention of artificial headcoverings outside of this one passage in 1 Corinthians 11. Unless you include Paul’s recounting of Moses wearing a veil when he came down from Mt. Sinai in 2 Corinthians. “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” (1Cor. 11:10) Some have asserted that due to the ancient practice of rhetoric, and the chiastic structure of 11:2-16, that this is the focal point of the passage. Though, to be certain, and there is a general consensus among scholars, that this is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament to exegete with great certainty. In my opinion, the most weight comes to the view that Paul is appealing to the angels of God willfully subjecting themselves to God as an example to women for themselves to willfully subject themselves to men after the appropriate manner. The interpretation that this is referring to the Nephilim in any way causes many more problems that it helps to solve. But, the certain part is that Paul says that the woman ought to have “power” on her head. The word underlying “power” is “exousia,” which usually denotes, “authority, right, power.” The basic sense that is carried in this word is “freedom of choice or right.” When we think about someone having authority over us we understand that it means that they have a certain right, or freedom of choice, over us. That’s consistent with the way the word is used in 1 Corinthians up to this point (7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 5, 6, 12). If we are to understand the word in this way then Paul is saying that the woman has the freedom of choice in this matter to willfully submit herself after the same manner that the angels willfully submit themselves to God. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (1Cor. 11:11-12) “Nevertheless”, Greek word underlying is “plen”. Paul breaks off where he was at before to emphasize something important. He goes out of his way to emphasize that men, in another way, are dependent on women by means of procreation. The only man who didn’t come from a woman in that sense is Adam. Paul was most likely trying to head off any ideas of abusing women because they were subject to man. “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (1Cor. 11:13) Paul has the Corinthians make a personal judgment for the second time. This shows that women were used to covering their heads as a custom. If that wasn’t the case, then the Corinthians could not have judged it to be improper in any way for them to not cover their heads. If someone asked you to judge for yourself whether or not a red squiggly line was appropriate or not you would have no way of judging it appropriate or not unless you had some normal customary context to go by. Again, Paul shows that this is custom that he is talking about. It was cultural custom for women to go about in public with their heads covered, regardless of how long their hair was, which is why Paul can tell them to judge in themselves about the matter. “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” (1Cor. 11:14-15) God, having made man, has bore witness to this principle in nature. A man naturally desires short hair and a woman naturally desires long hair. To switch them seems off. A man is generally considered feminine to have long hair, and a woman is generally considered masculine to have short hair. The Greek word underlying “given her” is “dedotai”. It is in the perfect passive indicative, which means that it cannot be saying that God has given the woman long hair only. The main reason for this being that God has made it so that both men and women can grow long hair. God has given both men and women the same exact kind of hair essentially. Both genders are equally capable of long or short hair. What is being said goes back to the “exousia”, or the “power”, of the woman to do so. The woman has been given the liberty to wear her hair long, in contrast to the man. She has the freedom of choice to do so. Men have not been given the option for long hair in the same sense as women. We come to the most debated part of this verse, possibly of this passage, and there are competing views. The latter part of the verse, “for a covering,” The Greek word underlying “for” is “anti.” Depending on who you ask, it means different things here. The definition I use is, “(BDAG) “indicating that one thing is equivalent to another, for, as, in place of…hair as a covering.” There are differing opinions about how to interpret this though. The first view is that the equivalence of a woman’s long hair with a covering (Gr. Indicates a mantle or garment) is merely analogous. They say that Paul is merely setting the two up against one another to show the appropriateness of the artificial covering. That Paul is using the fact that God has given the woman a natural covering to bear witness to the practice of an artificial covering. The second view is that Paul is stating that the woman’s long hair has been given her in the place of an artificial headcovering. Those who hold this view say that Paul is telling us that if a woman has long hair then she doesn’t have to wear an artificial covering. There are arguments for both views that seem to make sense. Personally, I lean towards the first view, but I understand why people hold to the second also. Notwithstanding, the view that long hair is given to replace or stand in the place of an artificial covering, I believe, has insurmountable problems that we’ve gone over already. Either way, you’ll see that it’s beside the point when we consider the next verse. “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (1Cor. 11:16) “But” here is the Greek word “de” again, adversative. Paul cuts through the whole matter to make a new point. “if any man seem to be contentious,” this would seem to indicate that there were some people who being contentious. Otherwise, why would Paul say this? “we have no such custom,”—“We” indicates Paul and the other Apostles. This is understood because in the latter part of the verse it is distinct from “the churches of God.” The Greek word underlying “custom” is “sunetheia,” which means, “(2) a usage or practice that has become established or standard, custom…(b) objectively custom, habit, usage” (BDAG). The Greek word underlying “such” is “toiauten”, meaning, “of such a kind, such as this.” Some have questionably translated this as “other.” Two facts are opposed to this: it’s never translated as other anywhere else in the NT, and there are at least seven other Greek words for “other” and none of those were chosen by Paul. So, Paul says, “the apostles and I have no such habitual practice.” There are several views that have been set forth as to what custom is being referred to: Some have said that Paul is telling them that there is no such custom of being contentious in the church of God. Those who put this forth mainly do so because it is the view of Tertullian, and his disciple Cyprian. For this reason, those who are heavily influenced by the Ante-Nicene Fathers usually hold to this interpretation. I must emphasize this: the Ante-Nicene Fathers are not some infallible commentary on the scriptures. They contradict themselves and the scriptures occasionally. At best, they are good for a historical look at what a teacher in ancient times taught. They are no more infallible than your Pastor. Regarding this interpretation, there are some problems. A custom, according to how Paul uses it, is a habitual practice that has come to be accepted because of its regular usage. Why would contentiousness fit that description? Being contentious cannot be considered a custom. Also, this interpretation is unnatural to the Greek. This is usually the interpretation chosen by those who want to assert that artificial headcoverings are supposed to be in effect today. It is lacking in support though, and it ignores the context of the passage culturally. Uncovered Women. Some have said that Paul is telling them that the church of God has no such custom as uncovered women praying or prophesying. However, there is no indication that this had become a custom, or habitual practice, among the Corinthians. If it had become a custom, and was regularly practiced, and it was considered shameful by cultural standards, we would expect Paul to give a much stronger rebuke. In addition to that, if women praying or prophesying uncovered had become customary for them, then why does Paul appeal to the Corinthians to “judge in themselves” the dishonor and unfitting nature of it if that very practice was their own custom? He would be telling them to discern for themselves, based upon their own judgment, whether or not it was fitting, when that was what they are doing and had already approved. The passage does not support this interpretation. It seems forced, and has no support from the text or outside the scriptures by cultural standards. This is again a normal interpretation chosen by those who want to assert that artificial headcoverings are in effect today. Covered Women. Given the evidence of the text and the cultural customs outside of the text, the only interpretation that fits is that Paul is telling them that the Apostles had no such custom of women praying with their heads covered. It was a cultural custom that they didn’t start. Moore sums it up thus: “The evident custom, suggested in the immediate and historical contexts of this passage, is the convention of women covering their heads. Many commentators argue that Paul is here affirming the universal practice of the churches,…, but this is just the opposite of what he actually says. He is not appealing to something the churches do, but rather to something the churches do not have. It is a matter of what was practiced or not practiced in other congregations, but the point is that the head-covering custom was not a Christian dogma. It did not originate with the apostles or the churches. It was not bound by the apostles on the churches. The head-covering was likely worn by Christian ladies in many different regions, but this was part of their culture, not part of their religion. There were things which Paul taught and appointed in every congregation (4:17; 7:17), but this was obviously not one of them. It is wrong to say that human custom is never mentioned in this passage. Paul makes a distinction between the inspired precepts he had delivered to them (v.2) and “no such custom” (v.16).” (Moore, p.83) I will simply quote Moore’s summary of his conclusion, since I agree with him: “In an indirect and tactful manner, the apostle tries to assist the Corinthians in making their own decision. He complements them and introduces the underlying principle of God’s hierarchical design (v.1-2). He appeals to social disgrace (v.4-6) and to female subordination (v.7-9), while affirming the woman’s liberty (v.10) and male-female mutuality (v.11-12). He then calls for their own judgment based on propriety (v.13-15). In the end, however, Paul cannot make a binding law, so he concedes that this is neither an apostolic nor a congregational custom (v.16). This does not negate anything he has said, but it emphasizes that this matter is not a religious custom and should therefore not be an issue for congregational disputes (cf. Titus 3:9).” (Moore, p.84) Testimony Closing Now, I believe that I addressed a lot of questions that people have. I also tried to address some of the most common defenses or arguments that come up regarding this passage. In the process of my studying for this episode I came across Kevin Moore’s thesis and he honestly just had the same basic arguments that I was going to put forth, albeit, in a much more developed way. So, a lot of credit to him and his paper on this issue. I will put a tab on the podcast page, www.remnantbiblefellowship.com, above this episode so that you can download it and read it for yourself. I hope that I helped some of you to have a better understanding of this passage and issue. As always, I’m available for email, or through the facebook page, facebook.com/rbfellowship. My email is given at the end of every episode.Read more »