It is our desire to give a practical exposition of one of the most difficult portions of the New Testament. It has been many years since any significant evangelical labor has been expended on the head-covering issue. Since this practice is largely confined to Catholic or Anabaptist denominations, most evangelicals have never thought through their own position on the subject.
In years past, there has been very little interaction between Anabaptist groups and evangelical churches. But this is changing. Due to several popular family-life seminars, evangelicals and Anabaptists find themselves sitting together. This has led to a natural curiosity on the part of both groups. Evangelical ask, “Why do your women wear those little caps?” and the Anabaptists ask, “Why don’t your women were a head covering?”
It is in this context of mutual love and respect that we now put forth why evangelical women are not required to wear a head covering. We do this to fulfill the royal mandate found in I Peter 3:l5, “Be prepared to give a reasonable reply to those who ask you about the hope you harbor in your heart, but do so with humility and respect.”
This study is not intended to be an attack on any group but, rather, a practical exposition of the evangelical position on head coverings.
The first step in exegeting the passage under study is to set forth its literary context; for one of the most fundamental hermeneutical rules is that we must interpret a passage in the light of its context.
As we approach I Cor. ll:4-l6, the context of this passage becomes crucial. The evangelical position states that the Apostle Paul recommends head coverings as an application of the general principle of the believer’s responsibility to conform to the standards of decency, respectability and morality in the culture in which he/she lives. They are to do this in order to preach the Gospel without unnecessary hindrances or offenses to the general populace.
On the other hand, the Anabaptist’s position is that Paul commands head coverings as an absolute rule because it is the sign of submission. Thus head coverings are to be worn in all cultures regardless of that culture’s standards of decency and morality.
To the evangelical, Paul is simply recommending that the Corinthians conform themselves to the Corinthian standards of decency and morality. To the Anabaptist, Paul is stating an absolute law, which must be obeyed even in cultures where the head coverings imply indecency and immorality. For example, in Germany men wore a head covering while engaged in worship in order to show reverence and respect before God’s presence.1
To the evangelical, Paul would have written to them that men should wear a head covering for this would conform to the then existing German standards of decency, morality and respectability. For the Anabaptist, male German Christians would have to be bareheaded and thus be stigmatized by their culture as being immodest and disrespectful.
With these brief descriptions of both positions, let us lay the text before us.
Since the original Greek does not have the chapter divisions that are present in the English text, we will omit chapter and verse divisions in order to obtain a feel for the literary context, theme and thrust of the passage under study. Please stop and read I Cor. l0:32-ll:l6 for the context.
In terms of the immediate context, before Paul takes up the subject of head coverings, he lays before the Corinthians his heart’s desire that they should follow his example by conforming themselves to the customs of the ethnic group in whose community they live.
Perhaps a paraphrase of I Cor. 10:32-11:1 would help to bring out Paul’s introduction to his discussion on head coverings:
“Do not create unnecessary stumbling blocks or hindrances (to the free preaching of the Gospel) among Jews, Greeks or even Christians. I conform myself to the social customs of whatever ethnic or national group that I am seeking to evangelize. I do this because I am not selfish. I can reach more people for Christ by my adopting their customs than by my hanging on to my cultural background. So then, you should follow my example in conforming yourselves to the customs of the society in which you live. Remember, even Christ adopted our customs in order to avoid any unnecessary hindrances. Follow me as I follow Christ.”
From the context, it is clear that Paul’s concern as he approached the issue of head coverings was that of social conformity to cultural customs for the sake of the Gospel. In I Cor. l0:32-ll:l, the divine principle of rule is set forth. Then in I Cor. ll:2-l6, Paul applies this principle to the Corinthians in the light of their non-compliance with this very basic principle of the Christian life.
Having stated this principle which he is going to apply, Paul wisely begins by praising them before he chides them. We will paraphrase here and elsewhere to bring out the force of the original.
“I would like to thank you for remembering me personally and for holding firm to the things which I taught you” (v.2). After his brief “thank you,” Paul sets forth a basic theological concept which would provide the common ground between them. Thus, he first begins with what they all agree upon and then he proceeds to the area of disagreement.
“Now, one of the things I taught you is that Christ is the ‘head’ of every man, the husband is the ‘head’ of his wife and God (the Father) is the ‘head’ of Christ.”
Although Christ as God the Son is not in any way inferior to God the Father in terms of being, essence, glory, nature or person yet, for the purposes of executing the plan of salvation, there is a voluntary subordination of the Son to the Father. God the Son as “Christ” i.e., the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, looked to the Father for all things.
In the same way, although women are not inferior to men in any way, for the purposes of marriage harmony, God has ordained that the husband shall be the “head” of the wife. Just as there is a voluntary functional subordination of Christ to the Father, so there is a voluntary functional subordination of the wife to the husband.
A problem in the Corinthian church had arisen because the women had misunderstood Paul’s teaching that “in Christ” there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). Paul did teach that women were not inferior to men; but he was speaking in terms of their nature and person. He was not denying a functional subordination which was pragmatically necessary to maintain marriage harmony. Thus he skillfully shows that just as both equality and subordination exist in the divine family of the Trinity, both things can and should exist in the human family as well. It is not either equality or subordination but both equality and subordination. Paul’s position is a third way which escapes the women’s liberation position and the chauvinistic sexist positions at the same time.
Having clarified his position on equality and subordination in the Divine and human family, Paul now applies the principle of cultural adaptation for the sake of the Gospel in vs.4-6. There are several exegetical observations which should be pointed out.
Paul is clearly referring to the attire of men and woman when they are personally engaged in taking part in public worship. He envisions both the man and the woman as publicly praying or prophesying. This is so clear that nearly all commentators agree.2 This leads us to several observations.
- There is nothing in the text to indicate what a man or woman is to wear outside of the public assembly.
- To state that a woman should wear a covering at all times means that no man can wear a covering at any time. Since some of the Anabaptists have their women wear caps at all times, they are not consistent, for their men wear hats much of the time.
- Any deviation from verse four makes any obedience to verse five hypocritical and selective. To gloss over verse four and to dogmatize on verse five reveals faulty exegesis as well as sexist application.
- It must also be pointed out, that since the early church thought of itself as a Body and not a building, it was not entering a “church” building that required the presence or absence of a head-covering. Paul limits his discussion to those who are “up front,” i.e., those who are actually taking an active and public role in praying or prophesying. First, any putting off or on of a head covering merely because one enters a building, reveals a faulty concept of the Biblical doctrine of the church. To be consistent, the only time you could observe this rule on head coverings is when the people of God meet in small groups or in the assembly and when you are standing up to pray or prophesy publicly before others.
Second, where did the custom of head coverings being put off or on when engaged in public praying or prophesying originate? What are the origins of this practice? The issue as discussed by Paul assumed that the Corinthians knew of the practice. Their problem was non-compliance and not ignorance.
Paul referred to a bald head as “public disgrace.” What “public” did he have in mind? Who thought that men with a head covering and women without a head covering when engaged in public praying or prophesying were disgraceful or disrespectful? Did it come from the Bible of their day, the Old Testament? Is there, in the Old Testament, any examples, commands or precepts that it is wrong for a man to pray or prophesy with his head covered or for a woman to do so without her head covered? NO! Indeed, the High Priest, on the most holy day, covered his head with a miter in order to go into the Holy of Holies before the presence of God! There is no Old Testament practice to which Paul would possibly be referring. The practice did not originate in God’s Word. This leads us to the following conclusions:
- The head covering practice was not a Scriptural issue or problem. Paul never once quoted the O.T. or said, “It is written” in reference to the practice of head coverings. There are no O.T. laws to which Paul could appeal.
- The practice of head coverings cannot be a Moral Law for all Moral Laws were revealed in the Scriptures, and the Jews were forbidden to look elsewhere for any more.
- The head covering practice was not a part of the essence of worship. If it were, it would have been revealed in the O.T.
- Thus, while the functional subordination of women was taught in the O.T., the practice of head coverings was not needed to illustrate or support it. Thus, the practice of head coverings is not essential to the concept of subordination. Second, did it come from Jewish culture? Did the Jews of Paul’s day observe the custom he described to the Corinthians? Ans: NO! According to overwhelming evidence, the Jews practiced exactly the opposite. Jewish men wore a covering and the women went without a covering. 3
Dr. J. B. Lightfoot comments,
“It was the custom of the Jews that they prayed not, unless first their heads were veiled and that for this reason—that by this rite they might show themselves reverent and ashamed before God and unworthy with an open face to behold Him.” 4
Even T. Edwards admits,
“Among the Jews the men veiled their faces in prayer. The Tallith dates back to the time of Christ and probably earlier” (Handbook to the Bible, p. l94 5
The Corinthian church was clearly Gentile in composition and origin (I Cor. 6:9-l0). They had little contact with Jewish culture. Even given this fact, it is still remarkable that Paul would abandon his Jewish customs. The only rational explanation of his action must point to his fierce desire to become all things to all men. He stated this desire I Cor. 9:19-23.
Third, did the practice of head coverings described by Paul originate in Greek culture? Was it a Greco-Roman ethnic cultural custom prevalent at Corinth? Does this practice find its origin in the pagan temples of Corinth? YES! What Paul recommended to the Corinthians is that they should follow the head covering practices which were the standards of decency, morality and respectability in the religious culture of Corinth. That this is true is an indisputable fact of archaeology and history. The following references give some of the verification for the Greco-Roman origin of Paul’s recommendation.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol.II, p. l348:
“the Pauline injunction as to the veiling of women in public gatherings of the Christians (I Cor. ll:5), while men were instructed to appear bareheaded, must be mentioned. This is diametrically opposed to the Jewish custom, according to which men wore the head covered by the tallith or prayer shawl, while women were considered sufficiently covered by their long hair. The Apostle here simply commends a Greek custom for the congregation residency among Greek population; in other words, recommends obedience to local standards of decency and good order.”
The Expositor’s Greek Testament , vol. II, pp. 872-873:
“The argument here appeals to Greek and Eastern sentiment.”
“The usage here prescribed seems to be an adoption of Greek customs to Christian concepts.”
“(It is) an appeal to social sentiment.”
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament , vol. IV, pp. l59-l60:
“The Greeks remained bareheaded in public prayer and this usage Paul commends for the men.”
B. Lenski, The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, pp. 434-435:
“Clearly Paul uses such strong language because of the effect on a woman’s reputation in Corinth by such conduct that proclaimed her a lewd woman. Social custom varied in the world then as now, but there was no alternative in Corinth.”
Paul now applies the facts, which he has stated concerning headship to the customs, as they existed in Corinth and elsewhere. Generally speaking, among the Greeks only slaves were covered, and the uncovered head was a sign of freedom. The Romans reversed this. The free man wore the pileus, the slave went bareheaded. When the latter was emancipated he was said vocari ad pileum. Yet the Romans—and we must add the Germans—were accustomed to pray while they were veiled. The Jews had the same custom; and we should not forget that Paul was originally a Jew. This veiling expressed reverence, the proper feeling of unworthiness to appear before God with an open face. Maimonides says: “Let not the Wise Men, nor the scholars of the Wise Men, pray unless they be covered.” The Jewish covering was called the tallith.
C. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. III, p. 246:
“The (male) Romans, like the Jews, prayed with the head veiled. The Greeks remained bareheaded during prayer or sacrifice. The Greek usage, which had become prevalent in the Grecian churches, seems to have commended itself to Paul . . .”
D. Matthew Henry, p. 560:
“their veils, the common token of subjection to their husbands in that part of the world.”
E. Alford, The Greek Testament, vol. II, pp. 564-565:
“(That Paul is talking or describing) Greek and Roman customs is important.”
F. Poole, M., A Commentary on the Holy Bible, p. 577:
Interpreters rightly agree, that this and the following verses are to be interpreted from the customs of countries. In Corinth the uncovered head was a sign of authority.
G. Ellicott, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 327:
The Greek practice was for men to have their heads uncovered when joining in religious ceremonies. To this practice St. Paul would incline, as being the national custom of the country.
H. Hodge, C., Commentary to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 204-205:
“Having corrected the more private abuses which prevailed among the Corinthians, the Apostle brings in this chapter to consider those which relate to the mode of conducting public worship. The first of these is the habit of women appearing in public without a veil. Dress is in a great degree conventional. A costume which is proper in one country, would be indecorous in another. The principle insisted upon in this paragraph is, that women should conform in matters of dress to all those usages which the public sentiment of the community in which they live demands. The veil in all eastern countries was and to a great extent still is, the symbol of modesty and subjection. For a woman, therefore, in Corinth to discard the veil was to renounce her claim to modesty and to refuse to recognize her subordination to her husband. It is on the assumption of this significancy in the use of the veil, that the apostle’s whole argument in this paragraph is founded.”
I. Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. l0, p. 224:
According to the usage of the Greeks, men appeared in public religious service with face and head uncovered.
J. Godet, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, vol. l, p. l04:
“The (pagan) ancients in general laid down a difference between the bearing of men and that of women in their appearances in public. Plutarch relates that at the funeral ceremony of parents, the sons appeared with their heads covered, the daughters with their heads uncovered and their hair flowing. This author adds by way of explanation: ‘To mourning belongs the extraordinary, that is to say, what is done on this occasion, is the opposite of what is done in general. What would be improper at an ordinary time becomes proper then. Plutarch also relates that among the Greeks it was customary for the women in circumstances of distress to cut off their hair, whereas the men allowed it to grow: why so? Because the custom of the latter is to cut it and of the former to let it grow.” In Corinthian society, for women to cut their hair or for men to have long hair meant that they were either cultic prostitutes of the fertility rite temples which abounded in Corinth or that they were slaves. Hence, Paul recommended that the Christians in Corinth avoid dressing or looking like immoral or lewd people.
K. Hodge, ibid. p. 204:
“An unveiled woman, therefore, in Corinth proclaimed herself as not only insubordinate, but as immodest. If she wishes to be regarded as a reputable woman, let her conform to the established usage. But if she has no regard to her reputation, let her act as other women of her class. She must conform either to the reputable or disreputable class of her sex, for a departure from the one is conforming to the other. These imperatives are not to be taken as commands, but rather as expressing what consistence would require.”
L. The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. II, pp. 872-875:
“Amongst the Greeks only the (prostitutes), so numerous in Corinth, went about unveiled; slave-women wore the shaven head—also a punishment of the adulterous: with these the Christian woman who emancipates herself from becoming restraints of dress, is in effect identified.”
M. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. IV, pp. l59-l60:
“Probably some of the women had violated this custom. Among Greeks only the hetairai, so numerous in Corinth, went about unveiled; slave-women wore the shaven head.” “He does not here condemn the act, but the breach of custom which would bring reproach. A woman convicted of adultery had her hair shorn (Isa. 7:20). The Justinian Code prescribed shaving the head for an adulterous woman whom the husband refused to receive back after two years. Paul does not tell Corinthian Christian women to put themselves on a level with courtesans.”
N. Godet, ibid. p. l04:
“The Greek slave had her head shaved in token of her servitude; the same was done among the Hebrews to the adulteress.”
O. Matthew Henry, ibid. p. 577:
“(Cutting the hair) was the practice of those beastly she-priests of Bacchus, who like frantic persons, performed those pretended religious rites.”
P. Alford, ibid. p. 565:
“It was a punishment of adulteresses.”
Q. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 254:
“Probably prostitutes used to or were compelled to cut their hair and to keep it very short. Paul’s argument can be summed up as follows: If immoral women were shaven and if they behaved like men, then honorable women should cover their heads . . . or else place themselves on a level with immoral women.
R. Vincent, ibid. p. 247:
“Paul means that a woman praying or prophesying uncovered puts herself in public opinion on a level with a courtesan.”
S. Lange, ibid. p. 224:
“(a shaven head) that is, she assumes the characteristic mark of a disreputable woman.”
It is clear that the head covering issue was not just a church issue, but it was a cultural issue that involved the whole Corinthian society. Paul did not feel that Christians should dress in such a way as to bring public scandal and shame on the Gospel. To the Greeks, they should become as Greeks for the sake of the Gospel.
T. What did these head coverings look like? Charles Hodge comments,
“The veils worn by Grecian women were of different kinds. One and perhaps the most common, was the peplum or mantle, which in public was thrown over the head and enveloped the whole person. The other was more in the fashion of the common eastern veil which covered the face, with the exception of the eyes. In one form or other, the custom was universal for all respectable women to appear veiled in public. The apostle therefore says, that a woman who speaks in public with her head uncovered, dishonoureth her head. Here (it) is used, her own head; not her husband, but herself. This is plain, not only from the force of the words, but from the next clause, for that is even all one as if she were shaven. This is the reason why she disgraces herself. She puts herself in the same class with women whose hair has been cut off. Cutting off the hair, which is the principal natural ornament of women, was either a sign of grief, Deut. 2l:l2 or a disgraceful punishment. The literal translation of this clause is: she is one and the same thing with one who is shaven. She assumes the characteristic mark of a disreputable woman.”
U. In order to show that the Greek customs were acceptable to Christians and not in conflict with Christian thought, Paul argues: (vs.7-l5).
A man can have his head uncovered; is not he created in the image and glory of God? But, a woman was created in the (image) and glory of man. So, she can be covered. Remember that Eve was created out of Adam and not Adam out of Eve. Adam was not created to be Eve’s help-meet, but Eve was created to be his help-meet. For this reason and because of the angels, a woman can have a head-covering, which (in Corinth) is a sign of being under authority.
This is not to say that men are independent of (or better than) women or that women are independent of (or better than) men. All men are born from women just as Eve came from Adam. Everything in the end comes from God.
So, you decide what is proper with your own sense of propriety: Is it proper (in Corinth) for a woman to pray publicly to God with her head uncovered? Does not (Greek and Corinthian) custom and culture tell you that long hair on a man is shameful while on a woman, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. Now, if anyone really wants to fight about this, let him or her know that we and the other churches do not allow the practice of women publicly praying or prophesying with an uncovered head.
First of all, Paul argues that the Greek custom is adaptable by Christians by stating how it illustrates various facts drawn from O.T. history (v.7-l2).
At no point does Paul appeal to particular texts, but he bases his argument on events in history. He does not say, “It is written” and then quote Scripture. He is simply showing that the Corinthian custom was adaptable by Christians. The line of argument which Paul is using is the same theological basis for 20th century Christians observing such cultural practices as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. While there is no Scripture we can quote to prove that Christians should observe such cultural customs, it is obvious that Christians can adopt such customs in order to show reverence to their parents.
Secondly, Paul appeals to angels in verse l0. What Paul had in mind has been a controversy for the last l900 years. The safest interpretation is that the angels are involved in protecting the assembly from satanic attack, and they join with the saints in worship (Psa. l03:20-22; Heb. l2:l8-24). These angels who assist us in our worship services would be insulted to see men and women behaving in a lewd and indecent manner. To say more than this enters into pure speculation. 6
Thirdly, Paul appeals to the Corinthians to examine their own feelings (v.l3). He challenges them to judge the issue for themselves by their own sense of decency or propriety.
Does Paul ever argue for moral laws or absolute truths by appealing to people to examine their feelings? NO! This insight strengthens the evangelical position. Paul is dealing with an application of a general principle. The application is culturally bound and limited. The principle will be applied according to each culture. That this is what Paul is saying in verse l3 is supported by nearly all classic commentaries.
V. The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol. ll, p. 873f:
“(It is) an appeal to social sentiment”
W. Matthew Henry, ibid.:
“Custom is in a great measure the rule of decency.”
X. C. Hodge, ibid. p. 2l2:
“This is an appeal to their own sense of propriety.”
Y. R. C. Lenski, p. 446:
“The obligation which Paul points out in v. 7 and v. l0 rests, as he shows, on the facts of creation. It amounts to this: customs that symbolize and reflect these facts are proper. The Corinthians may judge this as far as it applies to them. They need to do no more than to ask the question regarding the propriety of the custom in vogue in their midst...”
Z. Grosheide, p. 239
“the Apostle appeals to the common sense of the Corinthians.”
AA. Alford, p. 568
“v. l3 appeals to their own sense of propriety.”
BB. A. T. Robertson, p. l6l
“Paul appeals to the sense of propriety among the Christians.” In verse l3, Paul is pointing to a subjective witness in the Corinthians themselves. Their own sense of propriety, shaped by the customs of the culture in which they lived, spoke out in favor of Paul’s argument. While engaged in public worship, men should not have their heads covered. Neither should women have their heads uncovered while leading in prayer or publicly prophesying. The cultural upbringing of the Corinthians was a valid witness for Paul’s case. Fourthly, having appealed to a subjective witness within the Corinthians, Paul now appeals to an objective witness in v. l4. He appeals to “nature” as “teaching” them that while it is shameful for men to have long hair, it is the woman’s glory to have long hair. What Paul meant by “nature” is a much debated subject. There are as many opinions as there are commentators. Even though a “final” interpretation is perhaps impossible (cf. II Pet. 3:l6), several things are abundantly clear.
(1) Since Paul has just appealed to a subjective witness in verse l3, he is surely not appealing to something subjective again. Whatever he means by “nature,” it refers to something external or objective to the Corinthians. (2) This objective witness cannot be based on a Newtonian world view in which there are “natural laws” inherent in the creation. Many commentators have made the fatal mistake of reading l9th and 20th century scientific world views into this first century text. Thus Paul could not mean “natural law” when he wrote “nature.” Any interpretation which claims that Paul is talking about “laws in the creation order” is isegesis and not exegesis. (3) Since the Greek word translated “nature” is used in various ways in the New Testament, nothing can be “proved” by its etymology. The safest meaning of the word “nature” would be the objective cultural customs of the society in which they lived. This would be the normal everyday meaning of “nature” in any given culture. As Matthew Henry pointed out, “custom is in a great measure the rule of decency.” 7 Every culture legislates what is “natural” and “unnatural,” i.e., what is against “nature” or in conformity to “nature.”
CC. John Calvin comments,
“Paul again sets nature before them as a teacher of what is proper. Now he means by “natural” what was accepted by common consent and usage at that time, certainly as far as the Greeks were concerned. For long hair was not always regarded as a disgraceful thing in men. Historical works relate that long ago i.e., in the earliest times, men wore long hair in every country. But since the Greeks did not consider it very manly to have long hair, branding those who had it effeminate, Paul conceded that their custom, accepted in his own day was in conformity with nature. 8 The word “Nature” refers to what was culturally acceptable.”
DD. Charles Hodge points out,
“The form which these feelings assume is necessarily determined in a great measure by education and habit. The instinctive sense of propriety in an eastern maiden prompts her, when surprised by strangers, to cover her face. In a European it would not produce that effect. In writing, therefore, to eastern females, it would be correct to ask whether their native sense of propriety did not prompt them to cover their heads in public. The response would infallibly be in the affirmative. It is in this sense the word nature is commonly taken here.” 9
It was for this reason that the great J. Meyer said,
“The instinctive consciousness of propriety on this point had been established by custom and had become nature.” 10
This understanding of nature as custom was held by such commentators as Chrysostom, Calvin, Grotius, Meyer, etc. 11 It is the only position which best conforms to the context of the passage and the line of argumentation that Paul is using.
Paul’s fifth witness for his argument is the universal practice of the churches he had established (v.l6). He appealed to the fact that all his other churches adopted the Greek cultural standards of decency in public worship. l2
Again, we must ask, did Paul ever use Argumentum ad Populum to prove a moral law or an absolute truth? NO! Paul is dealing with a practical application of a general principle and not seeking to establish a rule of head coverings.
Paul has demonstrated that it is the Christian’s responsibility to conform himself or herself to the customs of the culture in which they live as long as these customs are adaptable to
Christian ideas and ideals.
We conclude with some closing comments by several noted expositors.
Matthew Poole concludes,
“Interpreters rightly agree, that this and the following verses are to interpreted from the customs of the countries; and all that can be concluded from the verse is, that it is the duty of men employed in divine ministrations, to look to behave themselves as those who are to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, behaving themselves with a just authority and gravity that belongeth his ambassadors, which decent gravity is to be judged from the common opinion and account of the country wherein they live. Nothing in this is a further rule to Christians, than that it is the duty in praying and preaching, to use postures and habits that are not naturally, nor according to the customs of the place they live, uncomely and irreverent as looked upon.” l3
And to this Lenski adds,
“All of this shows us that Paul is not laying down an absolute rule that is to be observed by Christians of all times in regard to covering the head or leaving it uncovered during worship. Not the custom as a custom is vital but the significance of a custom. If Paul were writing to Jews or to Romans or to Germans, all of whom covered the head during worship because of reverence and shame in God’s presence, he would have to tell them that any man among them who violated this custom thereby showed lack of reverence and shame. But to write this to Greeks would be incomprehensible to them. They had an entirely different custom which had an entirely different significance. This significance is sound and good. Hence Paul explains it to the Corinthians at length and bids them to abide by their custom. For to abbrogate it and to fly in the face of it means in their case, not only to violate that significance but at the same time to disavow that significance. The fact that Paul sees this significance with a Christian’s eye as pertaining to the true God and not with a pagan’s eye as pertaining to idol gods should cause no confusion. The fact that he would use the Christian’s eye if he were dealing with the opposite custom of other nationalities and not the pagan’s eye is again beyond question. By so doing Paul is not introducing into these national customs something that is foreign and unjustifiable of these customs which non-Christians grasped or felt only partially because the glory of the true God was hidden from them.” l4
Practical and Theological Considerations
In the present controversy over head-coverings, there are crucial practical and theological considerations which present great problems to those who feel that I Cor. II legislates certain special clothing to be worn when engaged in public worship.
First, where in the Spirit or text of the New Testament do we find that certain articles of clothing are designated as being “Christian” i.e., spiritual or holy? Does the New Testament stipulate “priestly” attire for those involved in public worship? Where is it said that an external piece of cloth qualifies a person to worship God?
Second, New Covenant worship in the New Testament is definitely taught to be internal and spiritual having to do with the attitude of the soul toward God through Christ.
1. Our Lord clearly taught in John 4:l9-24 that New Covenant worship has to do with “Spirit and truth” and not with such external things as mountains or, as we believe, clothing. Where in the above passage would head-coverings fit? A believer’s worship is acceptable to God if it is spiritual and not idolatrous. Christ’s answer points to the inner and spiritual character of New Covenant worship. Thus while Old Covenant worship stipulated where, when, how and in what attire to worship God, the liberty of the people of God under the New Covenant leads to a worship of God which centers on the attitudes of the inner-man and leaves much up to the liberty of the Spirit (II Cor. 3:l-6, l7-l8).
2. Paul in Phil. 3:l-3 follows Christ’s teaching that New Covenant worship is internal and spiritual in character instead of being concerned with external and carnal things.
The Judaizers taught that external matters determined if your worship was acceptable to God. They “put confidence in the flesh” (v. 3). But New Covenant worship is not involved in placing external things such as circumcision or clothing between God and man. We worship God acceptably because it is rendered through the One Mediator, Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit and in total reliance on these spiritual things alone thus “putting no confidence in the flesh.”
Where would the presence or absence of a hat or veil fit into the spiritual character of New Covenant worship? To think that your worship is acceptable to God if you do or do not have a hat on, is in the last analysis, to threaten the centrality of faith, the singularity of Christ’s mediatorship and the effectuality of the Spirit’s assistance in worship. God is concerned with the inner soul or spirit and not with the outward person.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (I Sam. l6:7).
3. The Apostle Peter also points out where the emphasis of the New Covenant lies in I Pet. 3:l-6. Peter places the emphasis not on external things such as clothing, but on inward attitudes and Christ-like character qualities. A Christian’s holiness is not something externally visible like a hat or cap but it should be seen in living a Spirit-filled life.
Third, in our examination of pro-covering articles, we do not find a clear distinguishing between the essential and non-essential elements in Biblical worship.
1. The essence of worship resides in those attitudes and activities which are commanded in Scripture as constituting acceptable worship to God. Something is essential to worship if it makes worship acceptable to God.
The pro-covering apologists must clearly declare whether the absence or presence of a head-covering is essential to acceptable worship. If a male believer publicly worships the Father through the Son by the Spirit with a hat on, is his worship rejected by God on the sole basis of his having a hat on? If a female believer publicly worships the Father through the Son by the Spirit without a hat on, is her worship rejected or accepted?
To say that it is essential to true worship is to make an external and carnal item essential to worship. This contradicts the character of New Covenant worship which is internal and spiritual.
2. The non-essential elements of worship concern the details of the order of service which are left up to the exercise of Christian liberty within the context of the culture of the local church.
To those who wish to observe the rule on head-covering, we say “May God richly bless you.” But let them not fall into the assumption that their worship is acceptable because of a hat, cap or scarf. Let them not judge others who do not follow the rule. Let them place the emphasis on the inner and spiritual attitudes and Christ-like character qualities which make a believer’s worship acceptable to God. Let them not think that they are more “holy” because of the clothing they wear. According to the New Covenant, our holiness is to be seen in our character—not in distinctive clothing.
To those who do not feel that the rule on head-coverings applies to them, we say, “May God richly bless you.” But let them not judge those who practice head-coverings. Let them not get proud over their “liberty.” Let them not scorn the weaker brothers and sisters whose conscience tells them to observe the rule.
In the light of Rom. l4:l-23, let us allow the love of God to temper our passions and the truth of God to guide our convictions. There is no reason why Christians who disagree over this non-essential aspect of public worship cannot dwell together in unity.
1. Lenski, R., The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, Augsburg Pub. House, Minn., l963, p. 435.
2. Edwards, T., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, A.C. Armstrong & Son, N.Y., l886, p. 268.
Poole, M., A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Banner of Truth Trust, London, l969, p. 577.
Calvin, J., The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, l968, p. 227.
The Expositor’s Greek Testament, ed. W. Nicole, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, l967, vol. II, p. 870.
Robertson, A. T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, Broadman Press, Nashville, l93l, vol. IV, p. l60.
Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, ed., C. Ellicott, Zondervan Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, l959, vol. VII, p. 327.
Alford, H., The Greek Testament, Moody Press, Chicago, l968, vol. II, p. 563.
One Volume New Testament Commentary, Baker Pub. House, Grand Rapids, l963, N.P., on I Cor. ll:l.
Godet, F., Commentary on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Zondervan Pub.
House, Grand Rapids, l957, vol. II, p. l03.
Henry, M., Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Fleming H. Revell Co., N.P., N.D., vol. VI, p. 560.
Hodge, C., Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.,
Grand Rapids, l965, p. 204.
Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed. J. Lange, Zondervan Pub. House, Grand Rapids, l960, vol. VI in N.T., p. 223.
3. The evidence is so overwhelming that only the uninformed or prejudiced will not accept it. That the Jew’s custom was opposite of what Paul recommends in I Cor. II is supported by the following sources:
Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans
Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, l969, p. 246, 247.
Lenski, ibid. p. 435.
Alford, ibid. p. 564.
Lange, ibid. p. 224.
One Volume New Testament Commentary, ibid.
Ellicott, ibid. p. 327.
Hodge, ibid. p. 207.
Expositor’s Greek Testament, ibid., p. 872.
Hurley, J., Did Paul Require Veils or the Silence of Women? A Consideration of I Cor. ll:2-l6
and I Cor. l4:33-36, W.
J. J., vol. XXV, p. l95.
2. One Volume New Testament Commentary, ibid.
3. Edwards, ibid. p. 270.
4. Hodge, ibid. p. 209.
5. Henry, ibid. p. 560.
6. Calvin. ibid., p. 235.
7. Hodge, ibid. p. 2l3.
8. One Volume New Testament Commentary, ibid.
9. Edwards, p. 279.
10. The idea that Paul is saying that “controversy” is not practiced in the churches, is unworthy of refutation.
11. Poole, ibid. p. 577.
12. Lenski, ibid. p. 435.
13. Poole, ibid. p. 577.
14. Lenski, ibid. p. 435.