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The Head Covering

Mark Best

please read 1 Cor. 11:2-16

The custom of the head-covering is a matter that has been largely discarded among professing Christians, but as being in Holy Scripture, it must be of importance to those who seek to honour the Lord Jesus Christ. The objection that this is only for the Corinthians we reject from both verse 2 of chapter 1 and verse 16 of this chapter. Neither is the protest that it is only Paul worthy of consideration (see ch. 14 v. 37).

The Apostle commends what he can among the Christians at Corinth, but when matters are not in order he writes that they may be corrected. The statement in verse 3 is absolute. It is God's order. Christ, in coming into the world must have a place of superiority in relation to mankind, but as man, He takes a place of subjection to God. He came to do the will of God (Heb. 10:7); Jehovah was always before Him (Ps. 16:8).

'The head of Christ is God.' Now, this order is maintained even though He is risen and glorified in heaven. Christ is the Head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman. Nothing in the disorderly conduct among human affairs can alter it. However, this is not the headship as He has it in Romans 5 in relation to the justification of believers where there would be no difference in terms of gender (cf. Gal. 3:28.). Here the sexes are distinguished, for 'the head of the woman is the man;' and I suggest, the order holds in principle irrespective of whether believer or unbeliever.

Two activities are mentioned. It would now be realised that praying or prophesying can only be properly carried out by believers in the power of the Holy Spirit under the Lord's authority and direction as Head. Prayer may be on the line of intercession on behalf of men* to God. Prophesying is speaking on behalf of God to men.

* In using the word 'men' here, both sexes are included as with the Greek word anthropos. When distinguishing between men and women, New Testament Greek uses aner or gune respectively.

If a man were to be engaged in such activities with a covering on his head, he would dishonour Christ his Head. With uncovered head the man acknowledges the headship of Christ. In Old Testament days, the priests covered their heads, since they were in the presence of visible symbols to display divine truth. Now, when Christ, the substance of the Old Testament shadows (Heb. 10:1 & Col. 2:17) and image of the invisible God, is hidden from view (Col. 1:15 & 3:3), the man has his head uncovered as being the image, that is, visible, representative of God. So Christ,* the Head of the man, is to be recognised in the man's action.

*It is significant that in this epistle the Church is termed 'the Christ' (ch 12.12) which of course refers to the united entity of Christ and the assembly. Christ Himself is absent from the world, but His body is the continuation of Him here, and as the anointed vessel (ch 12-13), the church by the Spirit's power is to represent God in the world as the Lord Jesus did Hence the sign gifts in I Cor 12-14, but not in Ephesians where the emphasis is on Christ's care for His Church.

Since, in the ordering of God, the man is His representative, the woman is to cover her head to indicate her submission in the divine order to the man. A woman would be acting out of order if she were to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered. She would assume a place effectively alongside the man. The shame done would be like that of a woman whose head had been shaved as a consequence of infidelity. How would the man*  feel about such a public disgrace?

* The Greek word aner can be translated either 'man' or 'husband.' The context decides which.

Now, the hair itself is not the covering as some would try to make out. This ought to be understood by careful consideration of verse 6, especially the first part. It would be nonsense for a woman to shave her hair if she already had none because her head was uncovered! Do not miss reading the word 'also.' 'Shorn or shaven' means cut with scissors or a head shaved with a razor. Both of these have been done to women to show that they are in disgrace. What a pity many do it to themselves voluntarily! It shows how far fallen nature stoops in its attempt to throw off divine authority.

Next, the Apostle shows that the order of God in Creation has never been revoked. God's purpose is that man as 'the image ... of God' will act representatively for Him in the administration of His affairs on the earth. The man to do so we now know is Christ (Eph. 1:10), but the principle laid down in Genesis 1 and 2 still applies, although in Him it will extend to the whole universe. Read Psalm 8 and see it in the light of Hebrews 2:5-9. Man as the 'glory of God' is to show a moral correspondence with Him (Gen. 1:26).

Whereas, in the first part of verse 7 the background is Genesis chapter 1, in the latter part to v. 9 it is Gen 2. There the woman is created to help the man. She is fitted for him in this way because of her likeness to him as formed from him, and not the other way round. Thus is she 'the glory of the man.' With covered head in the exercise of ministry in her particular sphere* she would not be displaying the glory of the man inasmuch as there is only one glorious Man - Christ - to be displayed. To pray or prophesy with her head uncovered would be to dishonour her head by, not only taking his place, but also in displaying the wrong man. Therefore, the woman covers her head as a sign to express that she is under authority** and submits to God's order for mankind. Angels, for whom there is no redemption when fallen, would observe the order of God in creation as entrusted to man (cf. Heb. 2:5).

* The sphere in which a woman is to exercise a ministry in audible prayer or in prophesying cannot be in the gatherings of the assembly because she is forbidden to do so in I Cor 14:34 and I Tim. 2 11 & 12. 1 suggest that possible spheres of such activity are the older women teaching the younger women (Tit. 2:3 & 4) or in the instruction of children (2 Tim. 1:5). The silent prayerful attitude of women in assembly gatherings means, of course, they cover their heads there. That the verses in I Cor. and I Tim. may not have been written by Paul or are not divinely inspired has no substance as can be seen by consulting, say, the critical apparatus in The British and Foreign Bible Society's text of the Greek New Testament.

** The Greek word translated 'power' in the AV is exousia, and should be understood in terms of someone having authority, rather than power in itself

In verse 11 the lordship of Christ is also brought to bear on the working out of the service of God particularly by those who profess to belong to Him, the man and the woman both being needed in this. Verse 12 both explains and develops this. God is the originator of all. Here it is not only the woman from the man as in verse 8, but also that every man (child) comes through the woman.

Paul then appeals to the Corinthian saints to discern the matter in terms of propriety supported by the natural world. It is important to remember that, although we are considered as dead with Christ, we are not said to be dead to nature. From it lessons can be learnt. The man, having been entrusted with a position of responsibility before God in creation, means he ought to answer to it. A man with long hair would be adopting a characteristic that is inappropriate as a distinguishing feature for the man. A womanish appearance would suggest that he has abandoned his place in God's order. This is not to put the woman down by her having long hair,* because it is hers properly as the distinctive glory of woman, and as such, she is the glory of the man.

*The Greek word translated 'long hair' in the case of the man is also the word used for the woman's hair. This reinforces the fact that a woman should have long hair.

That some have endeavoured to teach a woman's hair is all she needs on her head has already been dealt with.* Long hair, given as a veil, suggests modesty** and thus, it is her glory as representing womanly virtue. As noted earlier, she covers her head in submission to the man according to the divine order, and at the same time, that which is her glory is covered, thereby indicating that the man is the image and glory of God.

* There seems to be a double confusion by those women who want to set aside God's order. Not only do they want the place He has given in His sovereign wisdom to the man by praying audibly and teaching in the church, but neither also do they wish to wear a head covering or have long hair. Of course it is consistent in case of those who make head covering and long hair cultural matters only - no covering, short hair and taking man's place go together.

** A veil also suggests the biblical idea of separation

It would seem from verse 16 that the custom of the head-covering as taught in the early part of 1 Corinthians 11 was held universally in the apostle Paul's day. That is, apart from at Corinth itself where the matter had to be corrected. Otherwise the order was observed in every locality without question. It is a shame that so many Christians today are either ignorant of the contents of these verses, or worse, will not bow to the authority of their instruction.

The important thing is that any Christian who wants to please the Lord and be obedient to the Word of God must act on the instruction of 1 Cor 11. That the prevailing condition in the Christian profession is to set aside God's Word in this matter does not warrant anyone following the trend. It only shows how far we are from being faithful, and it is still mandatory for each one of us, especially as carrying the Lord's name to be unquestioning in our obedience to Him. However, the Apostle has not only told us about the head covering but has explained to us the reasons why.

To sum up: there is the order in headship that God has instituted in relation to man and there is the visible sign of that order in the custom of the head-covering. The man prays or prophesies with his head uncovered so that his Head, Christ, in effect is in evidence although invisible while absent from this world. The woman in similar activity (in her sphere) covers her head, because otherwise, she would be out of order in displaying the glory of man rather than allowing the man to exhibit the glory of God whose image he carries. Her covered head indicates submission to headship in man: `For the Christ also did not please Himself,' (Rom. 15:3, JND)

In an appeal to the lesson of nature, Paul proves the importance of hair length as a distinction between man and woman. The man does not have long hair. That would suggest a confusion of the sexes and a disregard for the order of creation. However. the woman does have long hair as indicating her own glory. This she would therefore want to modestly cover in submitting to her God-given place in the creation order. It is a sign in the divinely delegated authority to be observed in man by the angels.