Headcovering Identified and Enjoin
(1 Corinthians 11:3-6).
An Exegesis of Verses 3-6
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.
In this verse Paul lays the foundation for everything he is about to teach. It is very purposeful that headship is introduced at the very beginning, because it is the lesson being taught by the headcovering. God has placed an order of authority into His creation. For there to be peace and tranquility in His world, this order of authority must be recognized and honored. This is an indisputable fact and we hear this matter-of-fact tone in Paulʼs words “But I would have you know,...”
If the principle of authority is neglected, in any area of creation, Anarchy and his twin brother Chaos rule. This is especially true in the kingdom of God.
Discontentment with oneʼs sphere of authority was the original sin that divided heaven and created the Devil (Isaiah 14:12-14; Revelation 12: respectively). This original sin of Lucifer was threatening the Apostleʼs congregation at Corinth - and has raised its head to threaten Christʼs Church today. Here, Paul is giving an apostolic edict, which if obeyed, would maintain a bulwark against Anarchy and Chaos throughout the ages to come.
Paul demonstrates his prowess as a master teacher in verse 3. His task is to enjoin a headcovering for Christian women on the grounds that they have an authority over them, and they were to function in the kingdom of God in respect to this headship, or authority. (I might mention here that Paul employs the word “head” throughout his writings to indicate authority: e.g. Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 1:18; 2:10.) To bring this truth to bear he wisely shows that everyone from Christ down functions under the order of headship (authority). Since he is targeting the women in this ordinance he softens his approach by listing the manʼs head first -- then concludes by showing that even Christ has a head. The Christian woman finds herself in the middle position between man, who functions under the authority of Christ, and Christ who, functions under the authority of God. Therefore, her position in the economy of the Kingdom is supported and encouraged by the knowledge of man having an authority over him on one side and Christ having an authority over Him on the other side. Man and Christ, then, form book ends that bolster her in her role.
Notice that the role of the woman in Kingdom economy is to operate beneath the headship of her male leadership. The text says the “head of the woman is THE man.” Attention must be given to the definite article “THE.” The text does not read: “the head of the woman is man;” if it did, men in general would be in authority over women in general. By the introduction of the definite article Paul has the individual particular woman in view; the individual particular woman would then have an individual particular man as her head. Thus, the “head” of a virgin would be her father or perhaps an older brother, if the father had passed; for a married woman her head would be her husband. For a woman who was widowed or divorced the question of headship may become more involved. In the Old Testament, widows and divorcees stood for themselves before God without being subject to male headship. This is seen from Numbers 30:9, “...every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.” “Thus, both the widow and the divorcee hold the same status - in regard to a vow. This is true because neither of the two are under the authority of a Man. If the woman was married and her husband was alive then any vow that she might have made would need to be validated by her male headship. However, since the womanʼs husband was either dead or divorced from her she stood for herself before God” (Finding the Grace of God in Divorce And Remarriage by Bishop Jerry Hayes, Seventh Millennium Publications). In the Lordʼs Church it may be scriptural to assign the pastor as the head to widows and divorcees in that the Saints represent the bride of Christ, while the pastor represents Christ to the church.
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.
Here, the Apostle introduces the subject at hand; namely, the proper decorum of apostolic worshipers in the assembly. We know that the assembly is in view in this entire passage because the subject is praying and/or prophesying. These two (praying and prophesying) are a coupling in the case before us: they are two parts of a whole. The idea is: speaking in the assembly, either to God on behalf of the congregation (i.e. leading in prayer), or speaking to the congregation on behalf of God (i.e. preaching or operating in the gifts). It should be noticed, at this point, that prophesying requires an audience. One does not prophesy in private. The public arena is in view here. Also, since prophecy is listed, one may extrapolate this list to include all three of the spoken gifts of the Spirit: tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:10). The ministry of preaching should clearly be included. (Because of the emphasis on the assemble, it is doubtful if headcovering could be enforced scripturally outside the meeting place - though some Christian women feel as though they should wear the headcovering at all times in case the Holy Spirit wanted to speak through them while outside of the congregation.)
From verse 4, then, the Church is instructed that the proper decorum for a man when praying (leading the congregation in prayer), or prophesying (speaking in behalf of God to the congregation) is to be bareheaded. (The Greek: kata kephaleis echon; lit. “having anything down over his head.”
The Amplified Bible reads; “For a man ought not to wear anything on his head.”
It should be pointed out that this is a drastic departure from the Jewish custom of the yarmulke and prayer shawl. Paulʼs instruction (and that of the other apostles: see verse 16) was a new wineskin (i.e. Christian religious form) to hold and preserve the new wine (Christian worship principle). Whereas, the Jews pray with covered heads in the synagogues the Christian men were to pray with uncovered heads.
yarmulke |ˈyämə(l)kə| (also yarmulka)
a skullcap worn in public by Orthodox Jewish men or during prayer by other Jewish men.
(The reader will notice that this practice, of praying or preaching with uncovered heads, continues to be observed by Christian men universally even in areas of the world where Christian women have neglected the ordinance - like the USA.)
In verse 4 “head” is listed twice. The former references the physical head of the man, while the latter is a metaphor for Christ since verse 3 tells us that Christ is the “head of man.” Therefore, Paul teaches: For a man to speak in the assembly with something on his head brings dishonor to Christ, who is the head of man. One must never suggest that this passage mandates a prohibition on women only, for this mandate also, and perhaps more importantly, prohibits men from being covered in the assembly. I say: “more importantly” because to dishonor Christ is more severe than dishonoring man.
Now as servants of Christ, we do not need to know how or why this is a dishonor, we just need to obey, and as men, not speak in the assembly with covered heads. We are not of the world (John 14:16). The physical worldly mind says: “If I understand, I will believe;” the spirit world says: “Believe, then you may understand.”
Every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
In verse five Paul drives to his objective: the womanʼs head covering.
Notice that the opposite is true for the woman as was true for the man. In verse 4, if a man (any man: notice the word “every”) speaks in the assembly with something on his head he dishonors Christ - who is his head. The statement: “that is all one as if she was shaved” is a clear indicator that the Christian faith is not practiced in a vacuum. Paul brings the Corinthianʼs attention to the natural covering of women (not only Christian women) in general and reminds them how shameful it was for a woman to have her head shaved. (A parallel is drawn between the natural covering of hair and the religious covering. They are not the same [ two different Greek words are used to reference each in its turn]; but are compared for the sake of illustration.) This has been true in every society and age of civilized peoples. To disgrace a woman, her head was shaved. If a woman committed adultery or was found collaborating with her peopleʼs enemies her hair was cut off, or her head shaved in the public square, as it were.
The Apostle is making a hard comparison here: for a Christian woman to appear in the assembly with uncovered head was the same dishonor to her male head (father, husband, or perhaps pastor) in the religious arena, as fornicating or collaborating with an enemy would have been in the secular arena.
It is also important to notice that according to this verse (verse 5) the covering is the evidence of submission to Godʼs appointed headship. It is the evidence of humility. “Every woman that prays or prophesies” the Bible says “with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” Therefore, for the woman to pray or prophesy with a covered head is demonstrating respect to her head, which stations her in a position of humility.
Moreover, we are told in verse three that the head of the woman is the man. We see therefore that the womanʼs headcovering is the token of her submission to the man. Now, on the other hand verse 5 states that the removal of the headcovering is a matter of grave disrespect to the womanʼs head, i.e. husband, father, or pastor as her guardian. The headcovering, then, shows favor; it also shows respect.
The matter of favor and respect can be seen in the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24:65. In this account, as Rebecca was delivering herself into Isaacʼs possession she covered herself with a veil as a token of her respect. I realize what I am teaching is a very unpopular subject in the midst of a time of great feminist fervor. As important as it is to me that the reader be informed of my awareness of how women have been misused and abused throughout history by men lording over them in an ungodly and cruel manner, it is even more important for the reader to acknowledge that the Christian faith elevates the woman from the position she held in days of antiquity, where she was only chattel, to a loving position beside her male counterpart. However, bear in mind that there is still a God ordained order - there is a position of headship that must be maintained in society at large and especially in the Lordʼs Church. If the position of headship is not maintained and is not everywhere asserted then the Church becomes out of order. When the church is out of order God cannot bless in the way He has purposed to do. The Bible clearly teaches a superiority and inferiority between the roles of men and women in society. It does not teach either sex to be a superior gender. Pertaining to their humanity men and women are absolutely, positively equal. This truth must be acknowledged and everywhere observed by those who call on the name of Christ. The distinction between the sexes is to be found, not in their value as human beings (as in Islam were it takes two women to equal one man), but in the roles they fulfill in the family, the church, and society at large. This distinction is to be limited to the roles that men and women fill in life, and is not to be assigned to the inherent value of gender. This truth can best be illustrated by drawing a parallel between the relationship of people within the armed services. On one end of the spectrum you have the general, and on the other end the private. The general is no greater or lesser a human being than the private; nor is the private a lesser or greater human being than the general. However, there is a clear distinction in their rank. Therefore, it is in this way that men and women are separated and distinct in the economy of God. Paul stated clearly in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man.” Furthermore, Matthew Henry, a respected Bible scholar, said: “This is a situation in which God has placed the woman, and for that reason she should have a mind suited for her rank and do nothing that looks like an affectation of changing places.”
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.
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.
This particular verse is the very text that convinced this writer, once and for all, that the “covering” required of the New Testament Church (by its apostolic authority) was indeed an artificial covering, a religious garment, and not the natural covering of hair that is alleged by so many. Long hair is viewed by many as the covering the Apostle is commanding. This conclusion is arrived at through a misunderstanding and misappropriation of verse 15 which states that a womanʼs hair is given her for a covering.
We will deal with this verse in its proper course. For now, we must honestly deal with verse 6.
If one does not have a proper understanding of verse 6 a correct mental grasp of the entire passage will be out of reach.
To those of you who are reading this article and believe that the hair is the covering Paul is teaching, I ask you to reason with me from this sixth verse. I am sure that we all will be agreed that the word “shaven” means to have oneʼs hair shaved completely from oneʼs head. It would not be unreasonable to assume that we also would agree that to have oneʼs hair shorn would mean to have oneʼs hair cut off shorter than it would be if it was left to grow. Therefore oneʼs head would be covered only if the hair was left uncut; for to cut the hair at any length would be shearing the hair. From this line of argument, then, it would be concluded that a woman would be uncovered if her hair was cut or her head shaved. (This is exactly the position of many holiness groups such as the United Pentecostal Church International and sister fellowships.)
Honestly, if this is the correct interpretation of what Paul meant by being covered or uncovered it leaves verse 6 in a very silly and nonsensical position.
Let me explain: If the hair is the covering then we should be able to replace the phrase “not covered” with the phrase “have her hair cut.” Notice then how verse 6 would read if such were the case: “For if the woman be not covered (have her hair cut), let her also be shorn (have her hair cut):”
Here we give it more plainly: “For if a woman have her hair cut, let her also have her hair cut.”
If Paul meant that the woman's headcovering were the hair itself, this verse would be saying, "If a woman does not have hair on her head, let her also have her hair cut off."
It is linguistically impossible to say that the woman's headcovering is nothing more than her hair. If the hair were the only "covering," then an "uncovered" woman would be a woman who already had her "hair cut off." An already hairless woman cannot be commanded to have her hair cut off. It would be like saying, "Let the bald man get a haircut" or "Let the beardless man shave his beard."
What verse six means is this: if the woman refuses to wear a scarf or shawl, she should also remove the natural covering, her hair. In other words, she should wear both coverings or none at all (which is shameful). Watchman Nee comments on this verse with these strong words: "Today people keep neither of these two commands of the Bible. If a sister will not cover her hair but shears or shaves it, she may yet be reckoned as hearkening to the words of the Bible. But today women neither shave nor cover their hair -- a double disobedience.” (Watchman Nee, Love One Another, Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publ., 94.)
To imagine that the Apostle, who wrote over half of the New Testament, would write in such a silly manner is to insult both him and the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write. Do you, my friend, really believe that Paul, who was argumentatively the most educated of the Lordʼs apostles, would actually write: “For if a woman have her hair cut, let her also have her hair cut?”
If you, as I, do not think Paul would write in such a manner, nor reason in such a silly way, then you must agree that it is not long hair, but an artificial covering, which he is requiring of Christian women.
It should be obvious from the above illustration that the apostle Paul has an artificial headcovering in view and not the hair. The instructions are clear and simple: if it is a shame for a woman to have her natural covering, i.e. her hair, cut or shaved, then, she should not remove her headcovering when in the assembly. Paul simply said: “If you will not cut your hair off, do not remove your headcovering.”
The apostle Paul teaches that women should wear a covering when prophesying or praying in the Christian assembly. Furthermore, the Apostle tells us that all the churches of Christ feel the same way and have the same practice and custom (1 Corinthians 11:16).
☩ David Ignatius
Read more from the Bishop on this topic at: http://bishopjlhayes.hubpages.com/hub/Biblical-Teaching-of-Headship-and-the-Christian-Womans-Headcovering