1Corinthians 11:2-16 (Headcovering: Tradition or Commandment? Part 2)

What does Paul say nature has bestowed upon women as a physical manifestation and visual representation of her glory?  See 1Co 11:15; cf. Pro 20:29, Num 6:5,18.  Did Paul believe it was disgraceful for a woman to have short hair?  See 1Co 11:5-6.  Is it significant, or just a coincidence, that as women in western society ceased covering their heads they also donned shorter hairstyles?  How do we know that the head-covering Paul has in mind for a woman to have while praying or prophesying is not the woman’s hair itself?  See 1Co 11:6 and think: how would this verse make sense if the covering he has in mind is her hair?  Observe also that the Greek word for covering in 1Co 11:15 (peribolaion) is different from those used in 1Co 11:6 and 7 (katakalupto), and no one for the first 1950 years of the Christian church understood it this way.

When does Paul say it is inappropriate for a man to cover his head, or a woman to uncover her head, and what is significant about such times?  See 1Co 11:4-5.  What is meant by prophesying?  See 1Co 14:3.  Does Paul have in mind that women prophesied to the whole church?  See 14:34, 1 Tim 2:12.  To whom did they prophesy?  See Titus 2:3-5 and cf. Acts 21:8-11.  Who does Paul say a man disgraces by praying or prophesying with his head covered?  See 1Co 11:4.  Who does he say a woman disgraces by praying or prophesying with her head uncovered?  See 1Co 11:5.  Do Paul’s words seem to apply to any time a prayer is offered, even in private or silently when others would not know one is praying, or only in a public assembly on such occasions when gathered publicly in the presence of God?  Think: does a godly man dishonor his head by not removing his cap as he goes about his work throughout the day in constant communion with God praying without ceasing (1Th 5:17)?  Does a godly woman dishonor her head by not covering her head as she does the same?  Is it necessarily wrong for a man to never wear a cap that covers his head?  Is he more godly for doing so?  Is it necessarily wrong for a woman to cover her head at all times?  Is she more godly for doing so?  In what ways might one whose faith was not deep and spiritual but carnal and worldly distort this tradition Paul handed down in order to present an outward appearance of piety, even if there was no heartfelt understanding or agreement with the headship principle?  In what ways would a requirement that men never cover their heads, or that women always cover theirs, be similar to the tradition of the elders about not eating bread with unclean hands that the Pharisees condemned Christ’s disciples for violating?

When gathered publicly on occasions when prayer or Biblical exhortation may occur, why does Paul say that a man should not cover his physical head and so dishonor his spiritual head, but a woman should cover her physical head so as to not dishonor her spiritual head?  See 1Co 11:7.  Why in such circumstances is it inappropriate for woman to display the glory of her head, or for a man to conceal the glory of his head?  See Isa 48:11 and think: if the Queen of England was to appear at a public parade in one’s local community in her royal coach pulled by beautiful white horses, or the President of the United States in his black limousine, would it be appropriate for the mayor of the city to go right before or behind them on the Budweiser Clydesdales, or in a bright red Ferrari?  Why not?  Why would it be equally inappropriate for the mayor to walk behind the President’s motorcade in everyday clothes, or to follow the Queen with a shovel and wheelbarrow to keep the street clean behind her coach?  How much more ought we be careful to not detract from the glory of the Almighty God of the universe when publicly gathered in His presence and observe the proper decorum of our place in God’s order of headship?  When we gather in the presence of Almighty God whose splendor infinitely exceeds every office or majesty on earth of which we can conceive, do we honor Him whom we love with even a smidgeon of the decorum we would offer human dignitaries who are our political enemies?  Consider the example of the Seraphim in Isa 6, who although having six wings, covered their glorious personages in God’s presence with four of them, as well as the cherubim in Eze 1:11 (cf. Eze 10:20).  Do we fail to observe the same dignities when we gather for worship that the early church did because we fail to understand or don’t take as seriously as they did our privilege and what it means to be in the presence of God?  Cf. Mar 15:38, Lev 16:2,12-13, Isa 6:1-5.

In this light, what does Paul mean that a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels?  See Heb 1:14, John 5:4 and consider what barrier a failure to acknowledge the authority God has established might pose to the service God’s holy angels are meant to render to those who will inherit salvation.  Consider too that “authority” refers not just to her husband’s authority over her (cf. Rebecca’s example in Gen 24:64-65), but to her own authority, her right to gather in the presence of God because she is in submission to the authority God has established as a testimony to the angels themselves, one third of whom rebelled against God’s authority (Rev 12:4); cf. Eph 3:10[1].

Does Scripture say with what a woman ought to cover her head when gathered publicly in the presence of God?  What does the large variety of different head coverings women have donned over the ages indicate about the different ways a woman might do so?  In light of its spiritual significance as veiling in the presence of God the natural glory of her hair, should her covering be of such extravagant nature as to draw attention to herself?  Considering our present culture’s rejection of the headship principle and the head covering, how much spiritual courage and strength is necessary today for a Christian woman to cover herself in public?  How much grace and wisdom from God is necessary for how she might do so without drawing attention to herself or appearing “holier than thou”?  In keeping with its spiritual significance, what one word should always be able to describe a Christian woman’s head covering?  If a woman’s heart is not humble, will a humble covering ever be becoming to her?  If her heart is humble before God and in her heart she is in submission to the headship principle Paul describes as the basis for the practice, will such a covering appear out of place, or will it be the witness to all creation, including the holy angels, that God meant it to be?  Compared to other “women’s ministries”, what need is there for such a ministry to women today? [2]  See again Tit 2:3-5.

What final argument does Paul present in 1Co 11:16 both for a woman covering her head during worship, and a man uncovering his, and what does it indicate about the spiritual meaning of it being difficult to understand and a point of contention even in that day?



1. “When a woman comes into a church gathering with her head covered, she performs a ministry to the hosts of heaven.  She becomes to the angels an object lesson of submission to divine headship.  What a rebuke she is to the wicked angels!  Their sin is that of rebelling against divine authority.  What a delight to the obedient angels, as they see also the man’s head uncovered portraying the unshielded glory of God and His accepted authority!”  (Glories Seen and Unseen, pg. 80).

2. “Commenting on obedience to Biblical Christian practices, Charles Finney once proclaimed, ‘You will appear eccentric.  Your obedience will challenge others’.  Our society is bulging with self-seeking, and self-promoting people that need to be challenged to consider submitting to God.  In a culture that loathes meekness and submission to authority, it requires spiritual strength and sheer bravery for a sister to cover herself in public.  Perhaps for those sisters who are persecuted for their convictions the veil itself becomes a badge of courage for all to witness!  Be of good cheer—the Lord is pleased.  Remember He did not entrust the visual beauty of the local assembly to the brothers, but to the sisters.  Sisters, you’re on display for the entire universe to see.  The angels are watching you.  Will you be a glory seen or unseen?”  (Glories Seen and Unseen, pg. 140).

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