Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Head Coverings - Some Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

I've applied some chevrons to the text of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, to try to emphasize some of the structure:
> Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
>> 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.
>>>> 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.
>>> 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.
>>>> 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. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
(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.)
>> Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
>>> 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.
> But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
Next, let me provide an outline of Paul's comments:
Follow the traditions we give you;
A) Headship explained:
i) Christ is the head of man,
ii) the husband is the head of the wife,
iii) God is the head of Christ;
B) Covering's Relationship to Honor/Glory
i) Male covering dishonors himself;
ii) Female uncovering dishonors herself (reductio from the fact that if she was shaved it would be obviously a disgrace);
iii) Male uncovering displays God's glory;
iv) Female covering displays the male's power to the angels;
(But in the Lord, men and women are equal as they create one another and all are created by God.)
C) Nature Illustrates the Principle of Covering
i) It is a shame for men to have long hair;
ii) It is a glory for women to have long hair;
iii) Hair is a natural covering of the head.
But if the argument from nature doesn't persuade you, suffice that headcovering (for women) and uncovering (for men) is the only custom we have; there is no other custom among the apostles or churches of God
Some general thoughts:

1) Men generally don't tend to have a big problem with obeying the commands of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. After all, this is one of the nicer aspects of being man - getting to typify the glory of God and the headship of Christ.
2) Men are prone to let this go to their heads. That's why the parenthetical about equality in the Lord is there: so we can remember that this headship men have is for this earth only and typifies the headship of God.
3) Men also should keep in mind that this headship comes with typing Christ in other words, such as providing for and sacrificing himself for his wife. (Ephesians 5:25; see also, 1 John 3:16 and Romans 16:4)
4) Women, in this age of feminism, have a problem obeying the commands.
5) Some women have a problem with this custom of showing male headship with an artificial covering, because they have a problem with male headship. This class of women should be encouraged by the parenthetical about equality in the Lord, but ought to endure male headship in this present age.
6) Some women have a problem with this custom of showing male headship with an artificial covering, because they think their natural covering is enough. This may arise from a misunderstanding of Paul's argument from nature. Paul argues that nature itself shows that long hair is bad for men but good for women. Paul is using this to demonstrate that men should not wear artificial coverings and women should. We know this because Paul first argues that if a woman is not covered, she might as well be shorn/shaven. But if he was only referring to natural covering, then his statement makes no sense. "If she does not have long hair, she might as well have short hair" would be a tautology, but Paul is employing a reductio.
7) Some women have a problem with this custom because they believe that the custom is a cultural one. Such a conclusion is not derivable from the text. Paul argues for the custom not based on Corinthian or Graeco-Roman cultural norms, but based on (a) universal apostolic tradition; (b) the principle of headship; (c) the testimony to the angels; and (b) the light of nature. None of these arguments are culturally limited. Moreover, Paul's admonition is not a general statement about life in the surrounding culture, but a specific statement about life in the church ("praying and prophesying").
8) Some women have a problem with this custom because they have heard that a shaved head in Corinth suggested that a woman was a prostitute and that long hair in Corinth suggested that a man was a homosexual. Thus, placed in that context Paul was just telling people not to look like prostitutes and homosexuals. The problems with this kind of argument are as follows:
i) The evidence for the premises about hair length and its significance in Corinth is rather tenuous. If someone wanted to debate this point with me, I would want to see what evidence they had found for the ideas that a shaved head in Corinth suggested that a woman was a prostitute and that long hair in Corinth suggested that a man was a homosexual. But let's assume for the sake of argument that such evidence exists.
ii) The argument from that evidence assumes that all Paul has in mind are natural coverings, not artificial coverings. But Paul has in mind artificial coverings, as explained above.
iii) Given that Paul has in mind artificial coverings, one would expect Paul to say that if a woman is shaven or shorn, she should cover her head artificially - but instead he phrases it the other way around. If she doesn't cover her head artificially, she might as well shave her head. The idea that this would mark her as a prostitute in Corinth would simply enhance Paul's reductio.
iv) The reference to praying/prophesying makes little sense if Paul's point is one about avoiding the appearance of sexual sin. In other words, women should never dress like prostitutes and men should not dress themselves in a way that suggests homosexuality. These are general principles of avoiding the appearance of sin, not anything specific to worship.
v) The discussion of headship seems completely out of place if Paul's point is about avoiding the appearance of sexual immorality.
vi) Conversely, the artificial covering is specifically described as "power on her head."
vii) And as hinted at in (iii), evidence that long hair was associated with homosexuality and shaved heads with prostitution would seem to play well into Paul's argument from the analogy of nature, but Paul does not exclusively rely on that argument, but rather on authoritative tradition.
9) Some women have a problem with this custom because they think it only applies to women in the pulpit, but they are not in the pulpit, so it does not apply to them. But even when there were women prophetesses, women were required to be silent in the church. So, the praying/prophesying is not a short-hand reference to women pastors, but rather broadly to religious worship.
10) Some women are persuaded that the Scriptures say that they should cover their head during public prayer, but are hesitant to do so because they are in the minority in their church. In fact, they might be the only such woman in their church. They fear either ridicule or judgment of their peers. This is a very understandable fear. A head covering does mark out a woman in that context. Still, such women should take encouragement from the fact that the angels observe her as well. By her head covering she is testifying to her submission to her head, and demonstrating to the angels her obedience to Christ our head and to God the the head of Christ. Moreover, she should consider that her testimony may encourage other wives to do the same - perhaps wives who have been reluctant for the same reason. Indeed, this is one visible way in which a woman can fulfill her teaching role as described in Titus 2:5.

In numbers 5-9 above, I've referred to women having a problem with the command. Obviously, a lot of their husbands either join with them or don't object to them. So, there are doubtless men who have a problem with this command as well. Men's issues with the command are less significant to me, because the command is not directed to them. Still, men are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of their household, and ought properly to instruct their wives on this issue. Husbands also ought to be understanding of the fact that their wives may feel themselves under peer pressure to conform to whatever the majority of other women in the church are doing - that this will not be easy, and that many Protestant women grew up in churches that had abandoned the this ordinance that Paul delivered to the Corinthians. Be patient, but don't neglect what Paul taught.



Jeff said...

how is a topic this contentious not getting any comments? is the internet broken?

John said...

I wondering if you can expand on the nature part. I was under the impression that cultural argument is part of what he means when he mentions nature. Thanks.

Nan said...

I assumed it was cultural for a couple of reasons, the mention of nature, and the lack of this command anywhere else in scripture. Feminism challenges cultures everywhere. How often do we see Christian liberty abused even today. Perhaps if Paul was writing to America it would be hyphenated names or the removal of wedding rings, as these demonstrate headship in our culture. I am even seeing where husbands are hyphenating their names with the wife's maiden name. We are not told what to cover the head with, seems it is not the primary topic. The christian church had not spread too far yet and was head coverings common for that area and time as a show of submission to a husband like we take our husband name? What we show the culture around us is important, Christian liberty is not what many think, perhaps this is another place Paul was dealing with false notions.

Philip Larson said...

I'm not aware than any men are seriously avoiding an artificial head covering. Until this happens, I'm not sure why I should take seriously the claim that women should wear them.

Roy said...

I am a man and I seriously avoid artificial head covering

Lee said...

TurretinFan, what do you think of this recent article on American Vision on head coverings.

Tim H. said...

T-fan, this exposition is masterful for both brevity and cogency. Truly, your years of disciplined and intelligent study are starting to pay off for the church.
I would only add to points 2 and 5 (only for this earth), "as far we know for certain." As far as we know, the principle involved in headship may persist through eternity, though perhaps with expanded or reduced scope. The players could be inverted from what we see now, or the same. Etc. Any dogma one way or the other on this would need to be backed up with argumentation.

Wildcat Girl said...

Where are the comments about how men have a problem obeying God and being servant leaders and loving their wives? Where are the lectures to tell men to stop lusting after women? You people of this world and this country are so consumed with scolding women and gullible women buy this crap. Heck, any common sense person ought to know that men are the real sinners with all the sins n' stuff. 11-5-13

Bo Williams said...

Very nicely done!
All doxa/glory is to be covered except YHWH's. The artificial covering in the woman accomplishes the covering of both man's and the woman's glory since his is her and hers is her long hair. The idea is not to get rid of our glory, but to cover it. Otherwise not only would the wife have to cut all her hair off, the man would have to divorce his wife.


BSDN said...

WCF 1:6

. . . .and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.o

o 1 Cor. 11:13. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14. Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 14:26. How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 40. Let all things be done decently and in order.

Unknown said...

The scriptrue means what it says. We should cover. The whole 1. Cor. is written to the Cor. AND to every believer, Ch.1.
The last 80 years are not a mirror of what we should consider right. Pauls asked: is it right, that she prays without cov.? - then the nature thing and his OWN answer: he doesn´t know such coustom (not to cover) HE CANNOT have meant that he knows no custom WIth cov. , he did not lie: every believing woman covered her hair. The jewish and the jewish who believed in the Messiah!!!! NoT to cover was not known!!! We can simply do it, modern, chic, pretty - even others say, they like my style...So it doesn´t need to look boring and odd. It does not end never make me holier...And when I help my mother or pastor? Does this make me holier? No nothing - we do it when we believe that God means what He says. And it is not for men/human - to cover. It is for the angels - and they were not only in Corinth, were they?, They are here and there in 2014.

Kristen Dugas said...

I would just like to say that I believe 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16 consists of three parts. They are as follows:

Verse 3 - Paul's model.
Verses 4-6 - Paul quotes a faction of men who wrote him.
Verses 7-16 - Paul's rebuttal where he refers back to his model.

Now there are two reasons why I believe that verses 4-6 are quoted. The first reason is that Jesus Christ (not man) is the image and glory of God. (See 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3, Rev. 21:23.) Paul, in verse 7, is referring to a man's figurative head and is using Jesus Christ as a correlation as to why women should not be veiled. Again, he does this because a faction of men wanted women to be veiled while praying and prophesying. And the second reason I believe that verse 4-6 are quoted is because the rebuttal portion completely contradicts the quoted portion. (Note: One must look at the actual Greek to discover this because the translators have added words in the rebuttal portion that are not in the original Greek in an attempt to harmonize it with the quoted portion.) So I believe that Paul has very ingeniously placed the mens words in between his model and rebuttal to explain exactly why women are not to be veiled. If you would like to see more on this you can visit my website at Take care and God bless.

Craig said...

What's James White think about it?