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Volume 12, Issue 3: Recipio

Head Coverings

Ben Merkle

When it comes to the topic of head coverings, Iím often much more impressed with the integrity of those women that wear a cloth or hat of some sort than I am with the non-doily wearers, despite the fact that my convictions would put me in the latter category. Although I might disagree with the exegesis of those believing that head coverings are required, I certainly would prefer to disagree over how we are to obey rather than whether we are to obey. Many Christians wave off the whole topic without ever addressing Paulís teaching on the subject. Paul does teach something about head coverings, and we do not have the option of ignoring the passage. Although I disagree with those who require an additional covering, at least they understand the principle that we must examine and apply whatever Scripture teaches.

The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 11:2Ė16. In the course of his discussion, Paul makes it clear three times that the principle of his teaching is not confined by a particular culture. The context of the head covering issue is the relationship between God, Christ, man and woman in v. 3, which does not change from culture to culture. He goes on to appeal to "nature itself" in v. 14 and explains that none of the churches of God differ on this teaching (v. 16). So whether this passage applies to us or not is not really the question. It is very clear that what ever principle Paul is teaching regarding head coverings remains applicable.
I believe that it can be argued that the required covering is simply hairó"...if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him" (v. 14) "But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering" (v. 15) and that the woman is uncovered when her hair is either shaved off or let down in a dishevelled manner. (In Numbers 5, the bitter water ceremony, a test for adultery, involved "uncovering" the womanís head, v. 18. This meant that her hair, which was normally tied back behind her head, would be pulled down. This unkempt hair style signified that the woman was accused of adultery.) The passage requires women to have long hair that is kempt. The fact that the passage might not be requiring an extra covering doesnít remove the fact that the passage still requires something.
However, modern exegesis of this passage seems to only focus on the negative aspects of this teaching. Instead of searching for what we are commanded to do, our discussion centers on what the passage doesnít teach. Itís as if we received a command from God to come out from amongst the pagans and idolaters and we quickly replied, "you mean that spiritually right? You donít mean to physically separate ourselves from them?" Then we promptly pull out our lexicons and systematic textbooks and point out how the context of the entire head covering passage is of the heavenly register and therefore the entire passage should be taken as figurative and having no real relevance down here on earth. But if we want to be honest Christians, we are bound to take the command and to apply it to our lives.
Paul is telling us that the way we wear our hair says something about our spiritual condition. He also describes this phenomena as universally true. In the Greek culture a woman in rebellion, particularly one in rebellion of a demonic nature, is commonly described with her hair being either shaved off or let loose in a wild manner. The prostitutes that staffed the temple to Aphrodite in Corinth all had shaven heads, and all were in a perverse sort of rebellion.
Greek literature often dwells particularly on the hair style of women in rebellion against any sort of male headship. During the Bachic festival, the women were urged to "untie the ribbon that bound their hair." When the women became worked up into a frenzy and attacked Orpheus, special notice was given to the leader of the bandís hair being loose and tossing about in the wind. But these arenít merely oddities of the Greek culture. Our own language reflects how these principles are proverbial to us. When a young man is described as "clean cut" a particular hair cut is being used to picture what type of man he is. When a woman is said to "let her hair down" what does that signify? The same thing it always has, she is cutting loose.
Although I donít believe that the additional covering is necessary, I would rather deal with a church that differed on how we should obey Paulís teaching rather than whether we should obey. Not only that, but we must concede that additional head coverings do have their place. How else can a woman who, for medical reasons, has had her head shaved distinguish herself from a woman in rebellion? We regularly rebuke young men for wearing hats in worship. But this would only make sense if we were considering the hat as an additional covering and therefore inappropriate for a man to wear during worship. And if we consider the hat an inappropriate covering on a man who already has short hair, then we certainly have no reason to gripe at a woman who wears an additional covering over already long hair.
An uncovered head indicates a woman in rebellion, whereas, hair is a womanís glory. This means that when you walk into a church, the way people have their hair done should tell you something about their spiritual condition. But we refuse to accept this teaching. We plead diplomatic immunity on this issue. Why? Because this is a cultural issue. We speak as if the sphere of culture had some sort of autonomy from Scripture. But Christ is Lord of all, and every sphere must bow to Him.

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