Before I begin I have to point out that in the post I will be talking about people from Lesbos, an island off the coast of Greece. People from Lesbos are called ‘Lesbians.’ When I speak about ‘Lesbians’ I am referring to the people of Lesbos, not women with same-sex attractions. ‘Lesbians’, not ‘lesbians.’
Since I caused enough ruckus with my last ‘In Defense Of:’ post, I figured I might as well upset some more people. I don’t mean to cause division, but my interpretations are my interpretations. And, I’m not going to remain silent about things I see in scripture to try and earn social points. The opinions of man matter not to me. So, today we address head coverings. Why women don’t wear them, and why I wish that they did. Heat the tar, and gather your feathers.
The verses will be focusing on today come from Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 NASB
First, let’s look at the city of Corinth. A major city in Achaia(southern Greece), it was the home to a mixture of Romans, Greeks, and Jews. It is largely believed that the Corinthian church was founded by the Apostle Paul, and it is here where he met Priscilla and Aquila, whom would later be his travel companions. Scholars argue that Paul wrote a total of 4 letters to the church in Corinth, two being lost to time. It is believed that 1&2 Corinthians are letters 2&4. As the gospels spread from the Jews to the Gentiles, there was an increasing amount of friction within the church. Many people tried to hold onto their pagan roots and social customs that were a part of their culture. This proved problematic for those following Christ. Arguably, Vailing and modesty were inseparable from women of the Abrahamic faiths of the time. This wasn’t something they did, it was just something that was done. There was no room, or need, for argument. The Greco-Roman world was a bit more… open. When you think of the people, art, culture, etc. of the Greeks and Romans, modesty isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Aside from the known culture of the Greeks and Romans, there are also some points that are up for debate. It’s been argued that Corinthian prostitutes of the the time would shave the head to attract customers. It’s hard to find reliable information to state that as fact. There are also some who argue that women caught in adultery had their heads shaved. This is also hard to state as fact.
Cultural differences within and without Corinth aside, there was also an instance of rebellion that came from the Isle of Lesbos. Lesbos is on the eastern coast of Asia, across the Aegean sea from Greece. It’s highlighted as red on the map above. Lesbian women began to rebel against authority, you could consider this an early feminist movement. They began cutting their hair short, or shaving their heads, as well as engaging in other practices that would be considered inappropriate for women of the time. This practice gradually spread to the Greek mainland and into Corinth.
While Paul was on his missionary journey in Ephesus he received news about many issues in the Corinthian church. Around 55 A.D. he wrote 1 Corinthians. One of the issues he addressed was that of head coverings, and authority.
We see the same rebelliousness of the Lesbians play out in modern times. Did you know that in the 1950’s during the filming of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ that sponsors had issues with the fact that she wore pants on T.V., and how tight they were? Did you know that in 1989 Rebecca Morgan was the first woman to wear pants in the senate? Until that time is was considered unheard of for a woman to wear pants in the senate, and many who tried would be turned away for being dressed ‘inappropriately.’ How many times have you seen female celebrities shaving their heads claiming it’s ‘liberating?’ How often do you see women within the modern feminist movement showing no respect for the men in their lies, all while saying they want to be treated equally? Even in church I’ve heard women say ‘I don’t need a man to tell me what to do.’ As I am fond of saying, if you have a problem, take it up with Jesus.
I can understand the modern day push for equality in the workforce, and I obviously feel that one’s gender shouldn’t disallow them from social equality. But, when speaking within the confines of the church, there is an order that has been established.
(A note before we start delving into Paul’s letter, I don’t intend to only complain about women within the church. This is just the topic for today. Later, I’ll also be addressing the shortcomings of men in the modern era. And boys, we need to talk.)
To save space I’m not going to type out every line of each verse as I go over it. If you have a bible(or bible app) to read along with that would work best.
1-2 Paul starts chapter 11 by calling the Corinthians to be imitators of him, as he is an imitator of Christ, and he praises them for following the traditions he delivered. Then he tells them of the natural order they are called to live by. This section is good for pointing out that it’s not for anyone’s own benefit that each person should submit to their respective authority. Follow Christ, not charlatans.
3 As he says, the head of every man is Christ. Guys I really want you to let that one soak in. You can’t just stomp your feet and yell that you’re the boss. You are under someone’s authority too. And, the one you are under has a very high standard. As I’ve heard it said, there’s a difference between demanding respect and commanding respect. Learn the difference. You’re a shepherd, not a king.
4 If a man prays with his head covered he dishonours his head. I remember when I was younger, I once absentmindedly walked into church with my hat on, and I was very quickly reminded to take it off. I wish people still held that attitude today. It’s hard for me to look at a man with his feet propped up in a pew with a hat on like he’s at a football game. Some people say that church’s aren’t as strict as they used to be. I see it as a lack of reverence. When Moses approached God he was told to remove the sandals from his feet, and he hid his face for fear of even looking at God. Gone is the piety of the past, it seems.
5-6 Now if a woman prays uncovered, it is a dishonour to her head. A woman showing no respect to her husband, is seen as the same as a man showing no respect for Christ. Ladies let that sink in. As he says, if you aren’t going to show respect to your husband by covering your head, you may as well dress as those who have no respect at all. Too often I’ve seen women walk down the aisle on Sunday morning with shorter-than-preferred dresses that fly up their legs as they walk. I once rounded a corner only to run into the side of a woman with a plunging neckline, seeing an eyeful of things I didn’t intend to look at. I feel like I saw more of her body that day than her husband did. I’ve seen a woman wearing yoga pants standing in front of a row teen/pre-teen boys as they all stare at her… form. The head covering isn’t the only thing you should be concerned with. It should be the period at the end of the sentence when you say;
I am a woman of God.
7-9 Man was created from the image of God, but woman was made from man. There aren’t a group of ‘old white men’ trying to tell you what to do. This is a hierarchy created long before you existed. Everyone submits to the hierarchy on some level. Even the old white men.
10 Now Paul says that women should have a sign of authority ‘because of the angels.’ There a differing opinions as to what this is a reference to. Early church fathers maintained that angels were present in the gatherings of church, and that women unveiled was seen as a rebellion against God. I imagine the angels were sensitive to signs of rebellion. There are other arguments you can read into, but I’ve always thought this one held the most weight.
11-15 Men and women are not independent from each other, both are created from God, and each should show a respect for the ordained hierarchy.
16 In the final line, I would say Paul is telling the church there is no other practice. This is the way it is. Like it or not.
All things considered, people will still argue that the wearing of head coverings was only required for the church of Corinth in the first century, and doesn’t still apply today. I would counter, however, that the word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If you want to say this section doesn’t apply anymore, then why doesn’t it all no longer apply? Should we now start having drunken origies to celebrate the equinox? (No. The answer is no.) Does it make sense that the church in Corinth would have a different set of rules than that of Philippi? Do not all churches use the same book? I would argue that ‘time and space’ aren’t modifiers for scripture.
What about today? There was a time in the 20th century when women did wear coverings in church. As churches became more and more lax, people tended to think of the ‘ladies church hat’ as a fashion accessory and not a biblical mandate. I know of some church leaders who avoid possibly contentious conversations for fear of being disliked, causing division, etc. My least favourite expression of modern times is ‘I don’t want to fight that fight.’ Tragically churches have tended to loosen their adherence to scripture in favour of getting more people in the door. There is a reason the saints alive today are referred to as ‘church militant.’ Some fights need to be fought, lest we lose the war.
Some people point out that Paul only wrote about veils in church, and that it isn’t applicable outside of worship. I would argue that while these verses deal with praying and prophesying, it would be good for women to wear head coverings at all times, as most Mennonite and Amish do.
Why would it be deemed as necessary for a woman to veil herself in modern times? Let’s examine that; For this argument we’re going to use ‘Walmart’ as a baseline. I don’t know you or where you live, but when I say ‘Walmart’ I imagine you picture the same things that I do.
Are we not called to be in the world, but not of it? If you see one woman at Walmart dressed… more modern, and one dressed modestly with a headcovering, which would guess is the one not tainted by the world? Which one would you think could more easily be tempted? Which one is looking for something that the other has already found? I’m aware that putting a piece of cloth on your head doesn’t magically make you a good person. But, it does show a sign of submission. It shows to both man and angels that you revere the hierarchy from above.
For the married, it’s a sign of respect for your spouse that many women lack today. Far too often women gather together to complain about their husbands, as if it’s some kind of sport. If you set around and make jokes at your husbands expense, how would it look if your husband made jokes about Christ? Why not instead of berating him for his failings, you encourage him to triumph? Would you not want your husband to glorify Christ in all that he does? If he struggles, show him the way. You can submit and still be a role model. If I have to climb a ladder to clean a gutter, it’s nice to look down and know that someone is keeping me steady.
For the unmarried, it tells possible suitors that you are a child of God, and if they aren’t interested in that, they shouldn’t waste their time. While other girls dress for attention, and post pictures of themselves in conveniently transparent clothes online, you’re showing the world that you are worth more than rubies. A morally impoverished man can never afford a woman of noble character. You’re not a trophy to be placed on a mantle. You’re the kind of woman that the mothers of king’s write about.
You should be praised.
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