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Thursday, November 30, 2006

We've Got You Covered

I begin this post knowing this may be one of my trickiest ever. There are only about 146 different directions I could go, yet I do not wish to dedicate the entire future of my blog to the issue of head coverings. So before I get into my primary premise, allow me to lay down some thoughts I feel need to be said, but again, are not primary.

Legalism is not a valid argument.--I've heard some people resist the concept of a literal head covering because they fear legalism. If they have been in an environment where someone has said "only women with their heads covered are God's chosen," then they may believe the head covering caused the legalism. However, that's not a valid argument. For instance, there were those in Galatia who believed only the circumcised were God's chosen, and Paul confronted them that it is by faith, not by an outward work. However, the majority of American Christians still have their boys cimcumcised, not fearing it will lead to legalism.

Current culture is not a valid argument.--I've heard some claim that we still see elements of this principle in our culture, therefore it is still valid. Most men take their hat off when praying, in fact, usually we tell men to do so. (Interestingly enough, I've always been told the reason was for respect, not for the sake of the angels.) However, just because our culture seems to reflect men praying with uncovered heads, that does not then say this is the proper practice. There are plenty of practices we share with first century middle east that are not pleasing to God.

In a nutshell, I'm not sure about headcoverings. I'll post my thoughts and would love you to review them, but there is a bigger picture I hope to show. Yes we should strive to know what a passage is saying. No, every passage is not equally discernable. No, that does not mean we should quit trying. Yes, I do believe we can still be confident about clearer passages. (If I'm making no sense, possibly my next post will clear up my purpose.) Therefore, this post is not designed to give a definitive perspective on headcoverings, but to show that this passage is unique in approach to other passages (specifically 1 Timothy 2).
    Why I'm not confident 1 Corinthians 11 means a literal head covering.

1. Heads up!--Paul uses the word "kephale" (still have no idea how to insert greek text) for head. In verse 3, he clearly means this metaphorically (for how could a man be a literal head of a woman). So in verse 4, does he immediately switch to a man's literal head (his cranium)? Is there anything in the text to clue us into this? Try this exercise. Read the entire passage seeing "kaphale" as a literal mass of flesh on top of your neck. Does every verse make sense? Next, read the passage with "kaphale" always meaning authority. Does every verse make sense? There are times when it is very clear which Paul means, but there are more than one where it is not.

2. Uncovering Coverings--"Katakalupto" is used for "cover/covered" (and "akatakaluptos" for "uncovered"). These words are only found in this very passage. Now a hapax legomenom does not dismiss authority from a word, or make the text any less inspired, but it can make things a little trickier to discern.

3. Hairy verses--Paul was not stating a woman's hair is given as a veil in a vacuum. This is not a parenthetical statement and must fit into the discussion some how. Is Paul saying a woman's hair is the covering she needs? His brevity (which we have to believe was Spirit directed) does not give us much indication.

4. Appeal to angels--Paul, again, directed by the Spirit, makes an unusual appeal for angels. The issue of head covering, authority, and gender is under consideration for the sake of the angels. But what does this really mean? In the context, he then states that men and women are both necessary for procreation. The angelic order is already set and established, they were created. Is this a distinction that the angels marvel at? That man and woman become one flesh and actually produce another man/woman? If so, how does the head covering factor into that?

5. The long and short--Like most difficult passages, we've heard abuses of this. I've heard preachers declare certain male "hair styles" shameful based upon what they determined long. Does it hang over the ears? Its too long. Touch the collar of your shirt? Your father must be embarrassed. But the text gives us no such clues. We are not told at what point hair is long or hair is short.

6. Bueller, Bueller--We can search the rest of Scripture and not really find much more explanation for this. Sure, authority and submission are all through the Word of God when it comes to a marriage, but having that tied into hair and head coverings is not established anywhere else. We are completely dependant upon this passage for our understanding.

I do not look down on a woman who literally covers her head. I do not look down on a woman who does not cover her head. (Before you think I'm getting squishy, let me say I do believe somebody is right and somebody is wrong.) Whatever a person's perspective, I think they have to admit there are elements of the passage that are troubling.

However, because this passage is vague is no reason not to search the text. It does not validate that every passage is equally difficult. We certainly can't make the claim that culture taints the entire Bible so much that we can't know what it's saying.

It's funny, this passage is difficult to understand--but if we do understand it--it would be very easy to apply (either wear a covering or don't). However, I hope to show next that 1 Timothy 2 is not hard to understand, it is just hard to apply in our culture.


  • At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You're great. I envy your congregation for having you.

    I still think headcoverings mght be a good idea. Even if you and my wife don't.


  • At 3:34 PM, Blogger Charity said…

    So does this mean I have to cancel the appointment I made to have my head shaved?

  • At 3:39 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    you could go ahead and insert in the margin of your Bible next to verse 15:

    ...besides, your husband really likes it long anyway!

  • At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ok, I'll take a shot at this one and see if my "all is cultural" holds up. I haven't done a lot of work on this, so bear with me.

    (It's almost 1:00 AM, so I'm going to try and be brief, and just set forth the outline of the theory).

    I'm assuming the actually covering of the head is literal. BUT, it's cultural, BUT it is an application of an eternal principle. So what is that eternal principle? It seems to have something to do with showing her submission to authority, while praying and/or prophesying (presumably in public). It not necessarily something that every woman has to wear 24/7 or even while only being present in the worship service.

    So, the application today might be that if a woman is to pray or prophesy (Preach??) publicly there should be some indication that she is doing so under the authority of the elders. What should it be? I don't know, but it should be something culturally relevant and identifiable as a symbol of submission to authority, or having authorization. Maybe badge, armband, I don't know. Maybe even a piece of cloth on the head! But what matters most would be the principle.

    This is intriguing since the very next chapter deals with spiritual gifts, then chapt 14 deals with prophesying in the meetings. If we 1 Cor 14 type meetings instead of one guy who does all the talking, this could be a very workable solution to inevitable problems.

    Anyhow, just some thoughts.
    Good night.

  • At 7:07 PM, Blogger Andrew Chapman said…

    Why not just do what it says? It's because of the angels. Obedience is better than sacrifice. It has nothing to do with culture at all - if it did have, no doubt Paul would have referred to it, which he didn't. Long hair can't be the covering that is required -see v6 - if that were the case, if she were uncovered she would already be shorn. It can't be a spiritual covering that he is referring to because it is not a shame for a man to be under a spiritual covering. Do it and then you will understand, as is usually true in the life of faith.

    Shalom, Andrew


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