In America we have since a few years the so called head covering movement. This movement wants to restore the apostolic practice to women and girls practice the head covering during corporate worship. The website of the head-covering movement is:http://www.headcoveringmovement.com. I heartily agree with the aim of this movement. When the former century began, all over the world women came with a covered head to church, but in this same century this biblical custom disappeared in most congregations.
Already several years ago I wrote in answer to questions of a friend of mine with regard to head covering a short contribution. I republish it now on my weblog. I point not only to the head covering, but also to the wearing of long hair by women.
The exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12:2-16
In 1 Corinthians 11:2 a new part of the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians begins. Paul speaks about three items: 1) the hairstyle of women and their head-covering when praying and prophesying (11:2-16); 2) how to come to the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner (11:17-34); 3) how to use the gifts of the Spirit (12-14). He uses the word “ordinances” in this connection. That word means that the things, about which Paul writes, are authoritative apostolic commands. We are not allowed to say, that some of the things Paul states here, are culture-bound directions.
When we say that what Paul says about the head-covering of women is culture-bound, there is no reason to say not the same in relation of Paul’s commands regarding the Lord’s Supper. Only when the Scripture itself indicates, that commands were only meant for a certain period or for certain circumstances we are allowed to defend that position. The Word of God is our only and ultimately standard in all things relating to faith and practice.
In verse 3 Paul states that the husband/man is the head of the wife/woman and Christ the head of the husband/man. Christ came to save sinners from their sins. He did not come to annul the creation-ordinances. It is a creation-ordinance that the man is the head of the woman. That remains the case in the Christian family and in the Christian church. Both men and women are heirs of salvation, but they do not have in the same position in the family, the church and the society.
The verses 4 and 5 make clear that several women in the congregation of Corinth wanted to blur all distinctions between men and women. They rejected to wear a head-covering when the congregation came together to worship (praying and prophesying being the main parts of Christian worship; after the apostolic age and the closing of the new testament canon the place of the extra-ordinary gift of prophesying was take over by the preaching of the Word).
Paul says that when a woman refuses to wear a head-covering it would be the same as it she was shaven. He takes it for granted that women have long hair. He makes a distinction between the long hair of women and the wearing of a head-covering. So we cannot say that the head-covering is just the long hair of women. The fact that women ought to have long hair is one of Paul’s arguments to defend the wearing of a head-covering.
The wearing of the head-covering has a deep symbolic meaning. The women profess by wearing a head-covering that they want to honour the creation ordinances of the Lord. By Christ, the head of the church, these creation ordinances were not annulled but established. By not wearing a head-covering, women are bringing shame on the God-ordered male-female relationship.
Ultimately it is disobedience of Christ as head of the Church. (Men are not expected to wear a head-covering in the gatherings of the Christian congregation. They are free in Christ. In the Jewish synagogues men are expected to cover there heads. It is a declaration of loyalty to the law of Moses and to one’s intent to seek salvation by the law.)
In verse 6 stresses the point that it is a disgrace for women not to have long hair. This was taken for granted in Corinth. The problem in Corinth was that several women did not wear a head-covering in the assembled church.
In the verses 7-10 Paul relates the ordinance that women ought to wear a head-covering in worship to the creation-order. A second argument he uses in this connection is that they ought to do it for the sake of the angels. The best explanation is that one of the tasks of the angels is to guard the ordinances of God.
In the verses 11-12 Paul stresses the point the men and women need each other. Although they have a different position in the family and the Christian church they have all free entrance to God through Christ. The duty of men and women is to honour God. In that era there is no difference.
In the verses 13-15 Paul does an appeal on the Corinthians themselves. They themselves know that it is not proper for a woman to pray without a head-covering. They know that because nature teaches us it. Is nature just a word for culture or that it mean God’s creation ordinance. When we compare the use of nature in 1 Corinthians 11 with its use in Romans 1, it is clear that Paul meant the latter. Nature means God’s creation order.
In verse 15 Paul states that the long hair is give to the women for a covering. The view that Paul means that the long hair is the head-covering he pleads for, is in contradiction with the verses 5 and 6. We must understand the meaning of this verse by analogy. Since women have by nature been given long hair as a covering, that in itself points to their need to be covered when praying and prophesying.
In verse 16 Paul makes a final argument. Several women in Corinth were contentious in defending the view that women are not obliged to wear a head-covering in the assembled church. Paul argues that neither he nor the Christian churches elsewhere agree with that point of view. Everywhere women were wearing head-covering in the assembled church.
The way I explain this passage of Scripture is in accordance with the view of the expositors of the Bible during the centuries. I mention only Calvin and Matthew Henry. Also the majority of modern commentators agree with this explanation as such.The problem lies with their application for now.
Most of them say then that we are not obliged to follow Paul’s command concerning the head-covering because we live in a different cultural situation.That is a dangerous argument. Paul himself does not present what he says as culture-bound directions. When we argue in this way we open the door for Bible-criticism declaring the things we don not want to believe or to do to be just culture-bound.
The gospel must be preached full and free, but we must adore the preaching of the gospel with a close walk with God. The head-covering of the women during corporate worship is an element of that close walk with God.