HEAD COVERING

T. PIERCE BROWN

A few days ago I received a letter from a woman asking the following questions about some things in 1 Corinthians 11. She asked, “Does this refer to an actual hat, or does it refer to a woman’s hair as a covering? If the latter, does it mean extremely long, or does it mean longer than man’s hair? Does it refer only to women praying or prophesying, or to every female?” She had some other questions, but the following is about what I wrote her. It may be that some others are asking the same question. My guess is that an increasing number do not care what the Bible actually teaches about it, and many others are saying that practically everything the Bible teaches is directed to a particular culture, and has no bearing on us today. Both attitudes are destructive to the cause of Christ and need our attention.

In 1 Corinthians 11:4, we read (literally), “Every man praying or prophesying having something down the head (kata kephalas) dishonors his head.”  This is probably a colloquial expression referring to the veil hanging down from the head. The point of the chapter is not head coverings, but the order of the headship of God, Christ, man and woman. When a man goes with his head covered, acting like a woman, he dishonors his Head, Christ.

Verse 5 states, “But the woman praying or prophesying with the head UNCOVERED (akatakalupto) dishonors her head.” The word is an intensive form of the verb “kalupto” and means, “to cover fully.” If she did not have her head “fully covered,” her husband would be dishonored.

Verse 6 indicates that if she was not “fully covered” (the word is still the intensive form “akatakalupto”), she may as well be shaven or have her hair cut short. These were marks of shame and immorality, and would not be any more disgraceful than for her to lay aside her veil. In either case, she would dishonor her husband.

Verse 7 indicates that a man should not have his head completely covered. Again the intensive form of the verb is used–“katakaluptesthai.” The verb “ought” (opheilei) denotes a general obligation, implying that a man should not act like a woman, but a man. The emphasis all the way through is on the fact that since the woman is in subjection to the man by God’s creative act, she should act like it.

Verses 8 through 12 simply show the relation of woman to man as being a “help who is suitable for him,” and therefore in subjection to him. This does not imply inferiority or degradation, but simply that she was created for and from him, and should have a symbol of that submission and authority. NOTE CAREFULLY: The little fluff of stuff that may be stuck on the top of a woman’s head with or without a hat pin today is NOT a symbol of that authority –either in or out of a “worship service.” We may well ask, “How did a `worship service’ get into the picture in the first place?” It simply says, “praying or prophesying” and this could go on outside of a “worship service,” as we usually think of the term. In fact, it appears that the prophesying would have to, for women were not allowed to prophesy in that sort of service, then or now. But the principle of women being in subjection to men has been true since creation, and is true in or out of “worship services.” However, the specific method of demonstrating that subjection may change.

In verse 13 Paul asks them to judge the matter in themselves. The question is, “Is it becoming for a woman who is not COMPLETELY COVERED  – covered with a veil – (akatakalupton) to pray to God?” The answer was then, “No.”  That is not necessarily the answer now. Whenever we can find a situation where the answer is still, “No,” then she must be completely covered. The appeal Paul makes is not an external rule that made the custom always right or wrong. It was an internal rule — a judgment in themselves, which is certainly not an eternal law of God.

In verses 14 and 15 the indication is that the natural feeling of mankind in general is that the ornamental hairdo is a glory to the woman, but a shame to a man. There are at least two words in that passage that deserve our attention. The word “nature” is “phusis,” used in Ephesians 2:3, defined by Thayer as “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature.” Their habits and custom made them feel that the thing translated “long hair” is a glory to the woman, but a shame to the man. If a person takes the position that “long hair” is sinful for a man per se, or that short hair is sinful for a woman, per se, then he must be prepared to find in the Bible a definition that God gives for long and short hair. Of course, if he cannot do that, he must logically and doctrinally conclude that God is not talking about a specific thing that is binding on all persons in all situations, but is talking about a principle  that women should be set apart from men and under their authority. Every age and culture is to abide by the principle, but not necessarily with the particular method of demonstrating that principle. God almost always deals in PRINCIPLES that are universal and eternal. If He is here making a law about the length of hair or a specific mode of dress, He is going contrary to what He invariably does elsewhere. Any person who is able to tell us that the verb, “katakalupto” means having a hat on in worship, can also tell us exactly how many inches long the hair must be. And he must be able to let us know whether those inches are to be measured from the root in the scalp or some other place. He can also tell us how far, if at all, a dress may come above the knee, ankle or calf, and when and how a person should be greeted with a holy kiss!

In the second place, the word translated “long hair” is from the word “kome,” not “thrix,” the usual word for hair. The long hair which Mary used to wipe the feet of the Lord was “thrix,” not “kome.” This suggests the fact that while “thrix” is used for hair as such, “kome” is the “hairdo” or the ornamenting of the hair in such a way as to distinguish the woman from the man. As Thayer says on page 354, “the notion of the length being only secondary and suggested.”

In other words, what Paul is saying is that for a man to wear an ornamental hairdo which characterized a woman would be a shame, and your own custom and habit (nature) teaches you the same, but that a woman is given a right to fix her hair that way for a glorious covering. This is not the word “covering’ spoken of in verses 6 and 7.  This word is “peribolaiou,” not “katakalupto,” and literally means “something thrown around.” It was normally used when speaking of an ornament or vesture. In the second place, verse 6 shows that a woman can have hair that is neither shaven nor shorn, and still be not completely covered (akatakalupto). That is, she can have a covering (peribolaiou–v. 15), or ornamental hairdo, and not have a covering (katakalupto-v. 6), for the complete covering was the veil without which she would shame her husband. The thought is, if she could go without one covering (the veil) and put him to shame, she may as well have the other cut off and put him to shame.

My conclusion, forced upon me by an examination of the text and context, is: Paul’s subject was not the hairdos or some other mere custom. His subject is the relationship of woman to man. That relationship is to be one of subjection — under his authority. Women were wrong if they neglect to demonstrate that difference and deference, even when they were praying or prophesying (which normally was a position indicating freedom in Christ). The freedom they have in Christ (not bond or free, male or female, but all one–Gal.3:27) did not then and does not now release them from the obligation to demonstrate that they are under authority.

That demonstration was done in their case by having the head completely covered (katakalupto). The passage does not even mention a hat, but relates to completely covering or hiding (cf. 2 Cor. 4:3, James5:20, Luke9:45for the same word, translated “hide”). Verses 14 and 15 are given to further show the difference between the man and woman and thus to emphasize their relationship — not to say whether or not one would wear a hat. There are two kinds of covering mentioned–neither of which is a hat. One is “katalupto,” a complete covering, such as might be provided by a veil, and the other is an ornamental covering, or hairdo–peribolaiou- that the woman used for her glory.

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