Ask Sanityville: Would retaining head coverings have prevented feminism?

This is one reason (not the only one, of course) why I am an Anglican and not a member of one of the other evangelical bodies which think Apostolic teaching can be picked or dismissed. I customarily chide my brethren (as I suppose I am going to be seen to do so here) for cherry picking their way toward Jerusalem.

Well, at least using the same arguments that Christian feminists ordinarily use when rejecting things like the head covering.

Ummm … well, yes. Just how our Lord is going to adjudicate this at the Doom is going to be interesting, perhaps dismaying. If headcovering is not one of the weightier matters of the Law of Christ, then those who follow it will be seen to put stock in what was unnecessary. On the other hand, if it turns out to be one of the weightier matters of our Lord’s Law (cf. 1 Cor 11:16), then those who dismissed it as irrelevant . . . well, will it go better for them than those who followed it unnecessarily?

I’m not aware of an Apostolic teaching running for 16 verses which include multiple appeals to Scripture, angels, and nature, on the topic of kneeling in prayer. I do find such for headcoverings. I wonder why?

Headcoverings in our day are like the canary in the mine. When a few square inches of fabric atop a woman’s head provokes a reaction equivalent to asking her to put a pound of freshly ground beef atop her head . . . well, again, why?


Ah, yes…the Anglican tradition, founded on Henry VIII’s picking and dismissing apostolic teaching on divorce, that’ll protect us from wrong thinking! :wink:

These are good points, and precisely why my husband has me do what I do.

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I’m a four…


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This is not correct. It’s a topic for a different thread.

Henry was wrong. And, for that matter, the Roman Church at the time was also wrong, as it was entirely licit via Roman thinking for the Pope to grant Henry’s wish. That he refused to do so was a political matter, not a theological one. Pope Leo was in the thrall of Phillip, King of Spain, who supported Leo against other Papal antogonists. Like I said, a matter for a different discussion.

And I think that answers the original question. Would the practice of headcoverings prevented feminism? Not without retaining the meaning behind it. But it’s abandonment was a strong indication that the doctrine behind it was gone. The canary in the mine.


In the past I have always said, “I don’t know why the Bible says women should wear headcoverings, but I don’t know why not.”

Nowadays I’m confident in my understanding of why the Bible requires this. And just recently I heard a point supporting the command as ongoing as opposed to cultural, which was:

Suppose we were giving a cultural teaching about how people should wear black to funerals. How would we teach that? Would we ground it in creation, two members of the Trinity, and angels, even if the principles behind it were timeless? If we would not, (and I find it hard to imagine a teaching like that), why would Paul?


Hey Joel,

Sure thing. What I meant was simply this:

For the first 1900 years of the church, women covering their heads was the universal practice, across an extraordinarily diverse range of societies with all kinds of widely different cultural practices and symbols. Then the West figured to solve the social issues of the industrial revolution by treating women like men (suffrage etc), and within 50 years the Western practice of covering women’s heads was in precipitous decline. Within another 50, the idea of recovering the practice was widely regarded as a return to oppression.

This is the social milieu in which arguments about symbols no longer communicating what they have universally communicated arose. There are obvious parallels between this reasoning, and the kind of arguments you see feminists making about “head” really meaning “source,” about “weaker vessel” referring only to physical strength, about “Eve was deceived” having no connection to women not being allowed to teach, etc.

In short, when new arguments are being innovated that coincidentally were never required prior to a new and wicked sea change, and which coincidentally conform to that new and wicked sea change, the natural presumption is that those arguments are concessions to, and rationalizations of, the new and wicked sea change.


This is not the reasoning I advanced. How is my reasoning obviously feministic, other than I arrive at a conclusion with which you disagree?

Joel, it may be helpful to re-read the thought sequence here. I am indeed responding exactly to what you said.

Mr. Roberts, do you have a video or article somewhere that outlines your thinking on this issue? I skimmed through the titles on your YouTube channel, but didn’t see one about this specifically.

If one is attempting to critique another’s reasoning, a starting point ought to be engaging with what the other has actually said, not inventing a narrative that one imputes to the other.

I think you have me mixed up with Alastair Roberts. I can give you an outline of his thinking, however.

The principles remain; the headcovering is cultural.

I have written on this topic, but it’s no longer on the web, and nowhere near as fascinating as I find Alastair Roberts’ writing, even when I disagree.

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LOLOL my bad!! I don’t know how my eyes pulled the wool over- wait, that metaphor doesn’t work…

I did read Roberts instead of Robertson. And I didn’t even realize the I versus A in your first names.

So you’re saying the Actual Alastair Roberts thinks headcovering is no longer necessary?

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Yes, though he is a bit more involved than that.

He recently posted a video on the image of God in women which I believe stemmed originally from 1 Corinthians 11:8-9. I think it’s quite insightful.

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9 posts were split to a new topic: Is our beloved Alistair Robertson the same man as Alastair Roberts?

To confirm: Your original reasoning was this:


Oh, in case it was in doubt, I’m a 4.


Yes, Alistair.

I don’t see what is feminist about a view that head covering may no longer serve the same symbolic function at our present time but another symbol might.

Edited to add: or in a different culture.

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You know, I agree here, though not in the way you might suppose, and certainly not to the point you’d draw from it. I refer you to The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament under the article for the veil: κάλυμα kaluma. To summarize what you find there:

  1. We have evidence for the practice of women wearing veils that are textual and graphic, the latter in the form of statuary, coins, medallions, and frescos.

  2. These sources are non-Christian, rather Greco-Roman. For this reason, they are especially useful for evaluating a common and mistaken notion about the deployment of headcovering in Corinth in the First Century.

  3. In non-religious contexts, women are routinely portrayed with and without headcoverings. There are no contexts where covering of women is either mandatory or prohibited.

  4. In religious contexts (portrayals of female deities, female worshipers of any sort of deity), females (goddesses or worshipers) exhibit the same diversity in practice - sometimes with veils, sometimes with none. No pattern related to context is provable.

Things change dramatically, however, when we move to eastward. There lived a Roman statesman and historian named Dio Cassius (c. 155 – c. 235), many of whose works, including speeches, have survived. One of these speeches, referenced in the TDNT article above, was delivered in Tarsus, Paul’s home town (!). In its introduction, Dio Cassius comments favorably on the Eastern practice of the women being veiled in public, evidently viewing a number of these in the crowd gathered in a public square to whom he addressed himself from a balcony.

Two implications may be drawn from this. First, that what Dio Cassius was commenting on was not an ordinary custom by women in the Greco-Roman West. Second, it validates in summary fashion what the article on the Veil in TDNT also reports - in the Greco-Roman west, there was no pan-cultural practice regarding the veiling of women.

Add to this, Tertullian’s aplogia for the veiling of virgins notes that Jewesses in North Africa were recognizeable because they (like the women Dio Cassius noticed) veiled themselves in public.

How does this bear upon Paul’s 16 verses devoted to this topic in the First Corinthian Epistle?

First, it shows how utterly erroneous the notion that Paul was taking the Corinthian Christian women to task because they were flaunting a common custom. In Corinth there was no common custom regarding the covering of women.

Second, in a culture where there was no common custom regarding the veiling of women, Paul is imposing an Eastern and Jewish cultural custom upon the Christians who inhabited a Greco-Roman culture!

Fast forward 2,000 years, two millennia in which Christians followed the Apostolic teaching of Paul (until the middle of the 20th Century, that is), and ask yourself - what becomes of those rationales bandied about for dismissing Paul’s teaching? If those rationales “work” today, they should have worked just as well in Paul’s day, wouldn’t you think?


Once again, misunderstood :slight_smile: I was communicating Alastair Roberts’ view, not my own.

I agree with you, and have done my own fairly extensive reading of (translated) original sources and secondary sources. My conclusion is that there is very little support for understanding headcovering as cultural. The writings of present day non-Christian historians rarely support the cultural view, though the changes to their conclusions about veiling over time don’t speak well to the reliability of their conclusions for our purposes :).

As much as I like Bruce Ware, after tracking down the sources he cites, I could not see how they support his arguments at all (if you are aware of them). His writings recieved virtually no attention outside of Christian circles last time I looked. But again, does that matter one way or the other?

My understanding is that headcovering, even though it is misunderstood, should still be practiced, even as the Lord’s Supper was still practiced in light of accusations of cannibalism.

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