19 July 2009

Head Coverings: I Corinthians 11:2-16

2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

I don't know why, but I got a bee in my bonnet today about head coverings (like the head covering reference?). I started thinking about this for a couple of reasons. First, I believe scripture is inerrant and I want to understand scripture accordingly. Second, I fear that the Christian church picks certain issues to harp on but minimizes others. For example, the church is often concerned with homosexuality as sinful (I Corinthians 6:9, among others), but may overlook other issues addressed in the New Testament as cultural. The head covering reference seems to be a perfect example.

I think it is easy to dismiss this one as cultural. Apparently, temple prostitutes in Corinth would keep their heads shaved and so this reference had real meaning to them. I am struck however, by verse 10 and verse 16. I don't think it is so easy to dismiss the idea of head coverings as simply "cultural."

I guess I am left with verse 15, where it states that a woman's hair is given to her as a covering. Anyone else care to share your insights?

5 comments:

Jon said...

I've always struggled with understanding this one too. I can't quite get how men honor our head (Christ) by being uncovered, but women honor their head (man) by being covered. I wonder if somehow it has to do with Christ being holy God and man needing to be uncovered to not disgrace His holiness, but women are covered because man is not, in himself, holy.

The one thing that I really can't understand is verse 10 saying that women need to have a symbol of authority "because of the angels." Why because of the angels? I'm not sure how they fit in and act as a reason to have a symbol of authority. Maybe if I understood that it would make more sense.

Jason Kanz said...

One thing I read was that the angels look to men to understand their relationship to God, but that doesn't make sense to me either.

Jon said...

I looked up a couple different translations of verse 10 to see if they gave any insight:

NLT: For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.

AMP: Therefore she should [be subject to his authority and should] have a covering on her head [as a token, a symbol, of her submission to authority, [b]that she may show reverence as do] the angels [and not displease them].

ESV footnote on the word 'angels': Or messengers, that is, people sent to observe and report

So if you combine these, it tends to say that 'because of the angels' means 'because the angels are watching and reporting back to God'. I think that seems to make sense.

That still doesn't clear up the confusion of the rest of the passage, but at least that verse is a little clearer now.

Jon said...

I've been really studying this tonight, looking at footnotes, commentaries, and cross references. Something just kinda popped for me as I was reading verse 13 though combining it with verse 3. Is it right that a woman comes before the head of her head uncovered? Man is made in the image and glory of God (verse 7), so he can come uncovered. However, woman is made of man and not directly the image and glory of God but is the glory of man who is the image and glory of God (again, verse 7).

So following the hierarchy of verse 3: woman could come before man uncovered but not before God uncovered; man can come before Christ uncovered but not before God uncovered; Christ comes before God uncovered on our behalf.

I'm not sure if I'm completely right on with this, but I think it's at least getting closer.

Bundt said...

I can remember being confused about this as early as college and debating it in numerous circles. I agree with your point that those who claim to submit to the inerrancy of scripture apparently pick and choose the topics in scripture on which we hold fast. Whether women are allowed to hold positions of leadership over men is also in this passage along with instructions about communion. I have a time believing this is simply cultural when a) we use all of the surrounding teaching as timeless b) Paul references creation itself in justification and c) Paul indicates that there is no other practice in the other churches.

The best teaching I have encountered on this began with the "glory of God" and "glory of man" phrases. These seemed to be honoring and diminishing respectively to me. However, man is the "glory of God" in so much as he displays (with serious flaws) on a human level the relationship God has with his people: father, son, brother, husband, bride-groom, king, priest, warrior, leader, protector, etc. In so much as we are redeemed by Christ and walk in obedience, we are able to offer people pictures of the God that is unseen. Following this, woman displays (with serious flaws) on a human level the relationship and roles of mankind toward God: bride, wife, responsive, submitting, etc.

Both of these are honorable and powerful. To the extent that we each fulfill them righteously, we may help people understand God and His relationship with people. Neither is more significant than the other nor is either diminutive. Neither is possible without the other to complement it.

So, if this is a trustworthy explanation, this helps me grapple with the headcoverings. When we meet in worship, the service is in honor of God and no one else. Our focus and actions should all center on glorifying him. As such, it would not make sense for men to cover their heads since, in doing so, they would be covering those who are the glory of God, as Paul indicates. The men themselves are not worthy because of what they have done but because of what they are representing. Similarly, women then cover their heads because by not doing so they are placing on display and drawing attention to a) the glory of man (as Paul points out) and b) the glory of woman (her hair).

An interesting aside: Could Farrah Fawcett have become what she became without "the hair"?

On the matter of the angels, they appear to all be masculine according to all references in scripture. I have yet to find any references suggesting otherwise. If true, they have no frame of reference for "sex" in the sense of the relationship between masculinity and femininity, i.e. God and Israel, Jesus and the Church, man and woman. This then would make some sense out of the "for the angels" reference. We actually have the opportunity to reveal something wonderful to them (a mystery revealed -- as Eph 5 indicates).

Everytime I revisit this passage I grapple with it in and hope to better understand and submit to it. I trust God is leading me to do so in Spirit and in truth.