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The Issue of Head Covering

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Samuel Smith
5

LESSON 6

THE ISSUE OF HEAD COVERING: AN EXPOSITION ON PAUL'S WORDS IN 1 CORINTHIANS 11:1-16

You are welcome to another edition of Insights from God's Word, a Bible study programme that is committed to sharing God's Word by allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

Friends, I want to thank the Lord so much for how far He has brought us. This study will be the last in our series on Christian Adornment. In this last study, we will consider the topic: The Issue of Head Covering: An Exposition on Paul's Words in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Among the topics that has created a lot of contention within Christendom is the issue of whether or not women should cover their head with veil while praying or prophesying.

Some denominations in Christendom have pointed to the Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 to support the stance that women should not pray or prophesy at church without the covering veil on their head. In this study, I will want us to consider the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 to ascertain for ourselves whether or not Paul's words in the passage serve as a mandatory command for women to always put on a veil while praying or prophesying. In order for us to critically examine this topic, we will categorise this study into three sub-sections as follows:

1) THE CONTEXT OF PAUL'S ADMONITION IN 1 CORINTHIANS 11

The context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is basically about the biblical principle of submission and love that must take root in all marriages. The Bible basically teaches that husbands must love their wives, whiles wives on the other hand should submit to or respect their husbands. On this issue of love and submission in marriage, Paul wrote clearly to the Colossian church: "3:18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them."

(Colossians 3:18-19)
Using similar wording, Paul wrote to the Ephesian church the following: "5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

5:28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

5:33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband."

(Ephesians 5:22-25, 28, 33)
Friends, from these love letters from Paul to these churches, we can deduce very meaningful insights into our key text for today (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). Besides the clear teaching from the Bible quotes above that husbands must love their wives, and wives on the other hand must respect their husbands, we also notice from Paul's letter to the Ephesians how "the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23).

At this point in our study, an important question that begs for an answer is this: What did the apostle Paul want to communicate by saying that the husband is the head of the wife? Beloved, by comparing Scripture with Scripture, it is clear that the apostle Paul wanted to impress upon the minds of the members of the Ephesian Church that within the family circle, the husband should be regarded as the leader, the one who directs and nourishes the family unit in the fear of the Lord. The fact that the wife is admonished by Scripture to submit to the husband does not mean that she is in any way inferior. However, the Scripture makes it clear that the woman was created to complement the efforts of the man (see Genesis 2:20-24), recognizing his authority as the leader in the family circle (review Colossians 3:18; Ephesians 5:22-24).

Friends, just as the principle of leadership cannot be thrown out the window in any healthy organisation, so is leadership in a marriage union key for its survival. You see, the biblical fact that wives must submit to their husbands while husbands love their wives is a very important admonition in our 21st century society of equal rights. Oh! How many marriages will be saved from disaster if this simple principle of love and respect is shown by both husbands and wives?

2) AN ANALYSIS OF THE PASSAGE OF CONTENTION (1 CORINTHIANS 11:1-16)

With the background we have gone through above, I believe we are now ready to delve into the seemingly controversial passage of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Before we proceed, it is important for us to note that the issue at stake is whether or not women should cover their HEAD while praying or prophesying. In other words, the issue is about HEAD covering not HAIR covering. An understanding of this point will serve us well as we proceed in the lesson. We will now consider the passage of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. I will be providing some key explanations on some of the verses as we go along:

11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

11:3 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.

Key Explanation: In this verse, Paul is basically expressing a concept in relation to ranks of authority. The apostle Paul makes it clear that the head or leader of the woman is the man, the head of the man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God.

11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

Key Explanation: In this text, we find the word 'head' appearing two times. The first one is used in reference to physical head while the second one is used in relation to a rank of authority. The apostle Paul is basically saying in this verse that if a man covers his physical head while praying or prophesying (preaching), he dishonours his Lord Jesus Christ, who is his Head.

11:5 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.

Key Explanation: In this text too, we find the word 'head' appearing two times. Just as in the previous verse, the first one is used in reference to physical head while the second one is used in relation to a rank of authority. The apostle Paul is basically saying in this verse that if a woman fails to cover her physical head while praying or prophesying (preaching), he dishonours his husband, who is her head (leader). At this point, an important question that begs for an answer is this: The women praying or prophesying were to cover their physical heads with what? I will not attempt to answer this question as Paul himself will bring out the answer in a subsequent verse.

11:6 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.

Key Explanation: In this text, Paul was only emphasizing the point that it was important for the women in the Corinthian Church to cover their physical heads during prayer or prophesying (preaching). The verses that follow are basically self-explanatory:

11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head (physical head), forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

Key Explanation: In this text, we obtain an insight or clue that it seemed the Corinthian women were supposed to cover their physical heads as a sign of respect to their heads (husbands). As we progress, this point becomes more glaring and clear.

11:8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.

11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

Key Explanation: In this text, the word 'angels' is used in reference to church elders or leaders (see a similar usage of the word 'angels' in Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 3:14). The context of the text suggests that Paul was basically telling the Corinthian women that if they did not care about dishonoring their heads (husbands) by uncovering their physical heads, they should at least show respect to the angels (elders) by covering their physical heads at church. From 1 Timothy 3:1-13, it is clear that the elders chosen to lead the early Christian churches were all males. Thus, the command from Paul to the Corinthian women was likely to have been based on their local culture where women were expected to cover their physical heads as a sign of respect for their husbands and other men in general. As we progress in the study, we will find out more in relation to this point.

11:11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

11:12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

11:13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?"

Key Explanation: In using a rhetorical question, Paul reinforced the position that it was important for the Corinthian women to cover their physical heads while praying. The verses that follow shed more light on this seemingly confusing passage.

11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

Key Explanation: In this text, Paul is basically saying that if a man covers his physical head with long hair, it is a shame unto him. We notice from this verse that Paul's advice that the men should not cover their head actually meant that they were not to leave their hair to grow very long as that of women. Read the verse 14 again to catch this point very well.

11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Key Explanation: In this verse, Paul actually provides the answer as to what the women at Corinth should use to cover their heads. The apostle to the Gentiles clearly makes the point that the women were to cover their physical heads with their LONG HAIR. Paul does not express any ambiguity in this statement; for the text actually says "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her HAIR is given her for a COVERING" (1 Corinthian 11:15; Capital Emphasis Added).

Friends, it is clear in this text that when the apostle Paul asked the Corinthian women to cover their physical heads while praying or prophesying (preaching), he was not asking them to cover their physical heads with any other thing besides their long hair. It is sad to note how some modern dynamic translations have inserted words such as veil in the text to take away the clear meaning of Paul's words in this passage. The last verse leads us to discover more beautiful insights in relation to this topic.

11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

Key Explanation: In this text, the apostle Paul makes it clear that the issue he was trying to address was a local problem that was ingrained in the culture of the people of Corinth. The text actually suggests that the people of Corinth had a custom whereby their women covered their physical heads with their long hair as a sign of submission or respect to their husbands, as well as other men in general. It is likely that in the process of time, some of the Christian women followed other women to disregard their head covering custom of submission, and even attended church without the covering of their long hair.

Imagine some of the women in the Corinthian church trying to wear the same short hair as their male brethren. This behaviour obviously did not go down well with the elders (angels) in the Corinthian church. The issue without a doubt generated contentions in the church. Paul felt the need to write a letter in which he would address this issue. In his final words on this issue in 1 Corinthian 11, Paul clearly addressed the Corinthian church that the admonition he had given them was enough to resolve the problem, and that the issue should not lead to contentions as it had nothing to do with core or fundamental Christian teachings.

3) From the scriptural passages we have reviewed so far, it is clear that the Pauline passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 does not teach that women should cover their heads with veil while praying or prophesying (preaching). The context makes it clear that the issue bothered around a local custom whereby women were expected to cover their heads with their long hair as a sign of respect for their husbands and other men in general. Since this custom was not contradictory to the virtues of the Christian faith, the apostle Paul encouraged the Christian women at Corinth to practice it. And so as a woman, if you are impressed to wear the veil, that's no problem. However, don't condemn those who don't because the Bible does not command that Christian women should cover their head with veil.

Beloved, one may travel through the entire Scripture, and will not find any other text or passage dealing with this issue of head covering. It is sad to learn that this sole letter that was written to resolve a particular cultural problem has led to serious divisions in various mainstream Christian churches, and led to the formation of several offshoot groups. As God's people, we must endeavour to remember that the thrust of Paul's message to the Corinthian church still bothered around the Christian ideals of love, submission, humility and respect, which are expressed in a Christian family unit where Christ reigns supreme.

Exhortation: From the beloved apostle, we read the following in relation to the future joyful relationship that will characterise the church of God and her Head: "19:6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

19:7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

19:8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

(Revelation 19:6-8)
Stay blessed and keep shining for King Jesus.

Maranatha!

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