Sunday, December 21, 2008

Headcovering and exegesis

Brian at "The Ironing Board" posed the question:

Head Coverings

Does Paul teach in 1 Cor. 11:3-16 that women must wear a head covering when they are “praying in worship” or not? Please prove by sound exegesis.

I posted my response on their blog, here is what I wrote in response to the question:

Wouldn't the exegetical burden here fall on those who claim that headcovering is not normative? The statement by Paul is pretty clear:

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 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." (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)

The covering of men is dishonoring and the uncovering of women who pray is dishonoring. That is not vague at all, nor is the command:

“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. 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.” (1 Corinthians 11:6-7)

Her hair is not used as a sufficient substitute, the argument is that she should have her head covered and if she is not going to cover her head in rebellion, she might as well just shave her hair off which is also shameful.

So the remedy Paul is giving to the church is for women, I would argue in public and private prayer (i.e. in corporate worship or in the home), to cover their head when in prayer. It is not merely a cultural command or one directed only to Corinth and only at that time. 1 Corinthians is addressed to the church in Corinth but not JUST the church in Corinth:

“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)

Note that Paul is addressing the church at Corinth AND all those in every place who call upon Christ. This is not directed specifically just at Corinth but all believers everywhere, and I would say at every time no differently that the Lord’s Supper or his later admonitions to Timothy. The command to cover is no different than any other command in 1 Corinthians because Paul specifically addressed his letter to the church in Corinth and the universal body of believers as an apostle.

Paul is not merely arguing from a cultural norm, he appeals to the creation order and the covenant headship of man over woman...

“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. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” (1 Corinthians 11:7-10)

A wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, and it is not long hair. There is no substitute in our culture. A wedding ring is not a substitute because it is not indicative of authority over her, it is if anything an egalitarian symbol. Her hair is not a covering sufficient for the command. The plain reading of these verses clearly points to a command for wives to cover their heads in prayer, at a very minimum in corporate worship. There are lots of accompanying questions regarding the specifics of the passage, but those questions do not detract from the imperative for women to cover their heads (unless you argue that women do not participate in public prayer?)

It was the tradition in church for women to cover their heads up until recently. If you elect to not have your wife cover her hear in public worship and prayer it would seem that you should be able to argue in the negative regarding this commandment. We don't treat most other commandments this way.

(HT: Those Headcoverings)

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