Once More, With Understanding: Headcoverings in 1 Cor. 11

With considerable gratitude for his labors, I present this post from Bnon Tennant’s website:

He faithfully and graciously cites an article I posted to a long-dormant blog back in 2009. However, his presentation is fresh and convincing. My evaluation is that he’s well-bested me for clarity and persuasiveness.

So, I happily commend this explanation of the overall logic of St. Paul’s teaching on head coverings, as well as Brother Bnon’s promise of additional exposition in the future.

In a private message to him, I said this:

I am so encouraged to read your re-presentation of ideas which in the past I, too, have often presented to men I was teaching. However, over all those years, my experience of presenting Paul’s teaching has been similar to dropping stones off an impossibly high cliff - they fall down, down, down and disappear! I never hear them land, even if they land well and true.

Your post shows me that what I was pointing to in St. Paul is something you have indeed also seen and understood. It therefore brings to me a special blessing that no one else can receive from it. I am very grateful for that!

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Bnonn said this:

The inference about why it is disgraceful for a woman to pray uncovered, and vice versa for a man, didn’t bear spelling out for him.

What the Apostles does spell out appears to contradict the thrust of this article though.

every woman who prays or prophesies with her head covered dishonors her head. (v5)

Is not Paul saying that he’s concerned for the honor of man here? If he was contending for the sole glory of God in worship, wouldn’t he write that an unconcerned woman dishonors her head’s head?

A very good article. Kudos to Bnonn and Bill.

I think you go too far by including long hair being a competing glory - verse 15 points in a different direction. I’ve unpacked that in a comment under the article itself.

Having said that, I think it’s an excellent explanation for the reasons for head covering. Looking forward to the next articles in the series.

Matthew, I don’t mean that Paul thought nothing needed to be spelled out; just the significance of glory in worship.

Is this contradictory to dishonoring God? The man is God’s glory, so an unconcerned woman dishonors that glory. Thus she dishonors both him and God.

Perhaps this objection is on the same general vector as others I have received. I’ve updated the article with some adjustments in response, particularly to clarify that while biblical theology is useful for understanding Paul’s vocabulary, he himself cashes out the glory in more specific terms as the outworking of authority and created purpose:

For Paul, glory, origin, purpose, and authority are bound up with each other. While many things can be a glory, he has in mind the glory which is tied up with honor and hierarchy (1 Corinthians 11:3–5, 10). He knows that it is glorious to rightly represent the one for whom you were made—to fittingly serve him—and he is concerned to preserve this glory in worship, ensuring its correct place in the hierarchy.

In other words, while woman originates from man and is made for man’s sake—and hence is man’s glory—man in turn originates from God and is made for God’s sake—and hence is God’s glory. Indeed, the man Jesus is “the radiance of his glory” and “the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3), into whose likeness we are all being conformed (Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Colossians 3:10; 1 John 3:2). When we think of God, especially with respect to his rulership of the earth, the thing which we naturally celebrate, the thing most worthy of honor, is his image—man.

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@Fr_Bill @bnonn

Very interesting article. Has this line of interpretation been made in older historical writings on this topic, as far as you are aware?

If you’ve not already seen it, some thoughtful opposition to this line of interpretation has been made by @Alistair (I think) here:

http://thunkerboy.simplesite.com/443355854

Finally, the context of ‘praying and prophesying’ is difficult to define. If anyone knows whether the Church historical has taken this to include only public church gatherings or also smaller gatherings or even family worship - I’d be very interested to know.

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G’day Henry.

The historical reading of “prayer and prophecy” is a little muddied. First, there is limited commentary on the passage in the first few centuries. Second, the commentary often occurred within cultures that practiced women wearing coverings outside church meetings. Third, modesty was conflated with the reasons given in the passage, though these were treated as separate discussions in some writings.

On the other hand, some writings specifically spoke of prayer or even the Lord’s Supper as being appropriate times for women to cover.

All in all, I tend toward prayer and prophesy being historically seen as within a weekly meeting, but the practice of head covering extended outside there.

My reading is nowhere near exhaustive, though.

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Good article. Thanks @bnonn.

To all who have replied with various comments to Bnon’s blog, and some ideas in it which are also in a much earlier (and less polished form than Bnon’s!) blog of my own on the same topic:

I fear my much interested impulse to reply to Alistair in particular will need to wait a bit. I am overwhelmed at the moment with two projects: (1) a weekend seminar to the men of an Anglican parish in Kansas City this weekend, presenting an overview of Five Aspects of Man, and then a closer examination of Man, the Savior.

After that comes, (2) a clericus of our Anglican jurisdiction, held at my parish the first week of October - just three weeks away from when I return from Kansas City!

I am swamped! At clericus I must deliver a homily at one of the midday prayer services, and then a lecture: “The Eucharist and Gender,” in which I will survey the Biblical iconography of sex, the Biblical iconography of male headship, and the intersection of these in the iconography of the Eucharist. I do not want to disappoint my Archbishop!

I will reply in this thread when able. But, for now, I must go back below the surface of things internetesque, until I can resurface. Hopefully in a couple of weeks.

By the way, if any of you are in Kansas City and wish to attend the Saturday seminar (this coming weekend),we start at 9:00 a.m and finish at 3:00 p.m. with breaks and lunch provided. We will meet at Fervor: 1911 Baltimore Ave Kansas City, MO 64108. It would be a kindness to register your intent to attend here.

Blessings to all. Pray for me, pretty please.

Fr. Bill

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What are some takes on what is meant by a woman praying or prophesying?

I saw Bnonn connected it to generally participating in worship, but is that borne out by the context when the apostle Paul discusses the use of gifts of prophecy in the same letter? What are other thoughts or sources?

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Hi Peter.
There are different thoughts about what praying and prophesying means, but in practice it amounts to the same thing.

Some people understand Paul to be literally talking about praying and prophesying, and would say that covering is required during those activities. Then the discussion proceeds to whether the praying or prophesying is during a gathered assembly only, or at any time. There are arguments either way.

Others say that it is a general statement referring to worhip a la Bnonn. That makes sense in the context of the subjects from 1 Cor 11-14, i.e. mainly in the gathered assembly.

Other considerations are the different ways prophecy is used throughout chapters 12 - 14. At times it’s quite specific, but in chapter 14 it becomes more general, covering, it seems, every verbal gift that is not tongues.

One other thing to note: 1 Cor 11 starts off talking about praying and prophesying, but in v13 just mentions praying. This indicates Paul is not being unfailingly literal in his choice of words.

So, as you may guess, I think it covers a general sense of public worship, (and most writings in the early church did as well), but I am open to a more literal interpretation.

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@Alistair, thanks for your thoughtful critique (http://thunkerboy.simplesite.com/443355854).

Having considered your argument, I think you make some mistakes that ultimately render it self-contradictory. However, I also think you make some points that complement and refine my own argument! Let me work through your remarks:

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.

If a woman’s hair is glorious in itself, uncovering a woman’s head would display that glory. But how can we say displaying glory is the same as cutting it off? The argument just doesn’t make sense. If her hair is a covering, however, refusing to wear something on her head is to refuse her womanly hiddenness – it is the same as rejecting her natural covering with the clippers.

On the surface your point about womanly hiddenness makes good sense, but I believe that’s because it expresses a truth we all agree on rather than because it actually meshes with Paul’s reasoning at this point. In other words, I think there’s some accidental eisegesis going on here.

The simplest reason for saying this is that glory doesn’t work the way you suggest. Glory is something revealed rather than something hidden. To say that a woman’s glory is her hiddenness, therefore, is at best very awkward. While it is certainly an honor to a woman to have this kind of hiddenness (1 Peter 3:4), glory is more than honor: glory is honor on display. The terms are related, but not synonymous. For instance, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in 1 Cor. 11, Paul consistently uses doxa (glory), while in the next chapter he consistently uses time (honor) to speak of how we bestow greater value on our weaker and less presentable parts, switching to doxazo only at the end to speak of that honor being publicly recognized by others (1 Cor. 12:22-26). I take honor to be, as it were, passive, while glory is active. Honor inheres; glory “shines.”

However, your critique isn’t entirely nonsensical either—and here it backs us into a significant biblical-theological thread that I had overlooked. The concept of glory and covering appears in the Old Testament, in a way that meshes seamlessly with 1 Corinthians 11. In Ex. 24:16; 40:34; Num. 16:42 we see glory used as a covering—and this covering is a cloud which is in turn associated with the Spirit of God (cf. Gen. 1:2; Num. 9:15-16; Ps. 105:39; Hab. 2:14). Michael Foster and myself, following Alastair Roberts and others, have made the point that women reflect God differently to men: man seems to broadly image the Son, while woman seems to broadly image the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7; see also our podcast on The Doxological Purpose of Sex).

In this vein, there is something really interesting about the glory-cloud. What is the relationship between the glory and the cloud? There is no doubt that the cloud itself is glorious (Num. 9:15; 1 Ki 8:10-11). Yet there is also no doubt that the cloud is distinct from the glory, and indeed covers the glory (cf. Isa 4:5). What I pointed out in my original article, how the glory of Yahweh is a man in Ezekiel 1:26–28 (cf. Ezek. 3:23; 8:4; 9:3; 10:18; 11:23; 43:2), is by no means unique to Ezekiel; it originates in Exodus. This is clear if you compare how various passages describe the cloud as surrounding the theophanic angel—the cloud covers the angel, who is the glory of Yahweh (see also my article Overt Christology in the Old Testament: the angel of Yahweh):

And Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. (Exodus 13:21)

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them … And in the morning watch, Yahweh in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw them into a panic. (Exodus 14:19, 24)

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank … The glory of Yahweh dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he [the glory] called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. (Exodus 24:9–11, 16)

They have heard that you, O Yahweh, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Yahweh, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them, and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. (Numbers 14:14; cf. Ex. 33:9-11; Lev. 16:2)

By the same token, Exodus 16:10 tells us that “the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud”—i.e., the cloud was distinct from, and concealed, the glory. Revelation helpfully explains that the relationship between the cloud and the glory is that the cloud is from the glory of God and from his power (Revelation 15:8). It proceeds from God, which is quite suggestive given our confession about the Holy Spirit, and what I’ve mentioned about how women image God.

With this in mind, let me circle around to how Paul connects glory and heads in 1 Corinthians 11. He says that a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God (v. 7). The way that he interchanges physical and symbolic headship in the larger passage makes it certain that he takes the head to be naturally connected with rulership. Paul understands that creation is symbolic, and that the head—obviously enough—is symbolic of headship. And given his cryptic comment about the angels in verse 10, it is hard to doubt that he at least has in mind Psalm 8:

O Yahweh, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens…
Yet you have made [man] a little lower than the angels (LXX)
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet…
O Yahweh, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Let me try to connect these various pieces.

Psalm 8 shows us that the glory with which God has crowned man is the same glory which he himself has in all the earth: the majesty of his dominion. The glory of God on earth is man, because man is his representative ruler. Man is majesty: the manifest greatness of God’s rulership. Moreover, since man’s head is a structural symbol for rulership, and rulership is the glory of man; and since the head is where the crown is placed, and the crown itself symbolizes glory; it is natural that man’s head is associated with glory/majesty.

Moreover, I think we can argue that he sees a natural connection between the glory-cloud, representing the Spirit of God, and woman, who images the Spirit of God.

Here’s where this takes us—at least as far as Paul is applying this conceptual nexus (consnexus?) He sees glory/majesty as passing through God -> Man -> Woman, and he sees both head and hair as integral symbols communicating these creational truths:

  1. Majesty is the glory of God.

  2. Man is God’s glory/majesty on earth (he is made for God, to represent him).

  3. Woman is man’s glory/majesty on earth (she is made for man, to represent him).

  4. Therefore, since all glory/majesty is from God, God’s glory/majesty in woman is concealed or mediated through man.

  5. The head is the symbol of glory/majesty.

  6. The hair (like the glory-cloud) grows out from the glory/majesty, and so serves as a barrier and concealment or mediator of it.

  7. Therefore, man should have short hair, so as not to conceal/mediate his symbol of glory/majesty, since he himself is the (exposed) glory/majesty of God.

  8. Therefore, woman should have long hair, so as to conceal/mediate her symbol of glory/majesty, since she herself is a concealed/mediated glory/majesty.

  9. Woman is man’s glory, and so directly represents his majesty rather than God’s.

  10. By merit of her hair’s function (like the glory-cloud), it too has a glory of its own.

  11. The only glory/majesty that should be revealed in worship is God’s.

  12. Therefore, in worship she should have a covering over her head (the symbol of man’s glory/majesty), and over her glorious hair.

  13. By converse logic, man should have his head (the symbol of God’s glory/majesty) uncovered.

  14. This all ensures the creation order is maintained as we enter the presence of the angels, who are naturally superior to us.

This makes better sense of Paul’s reasoning than your own argument:

Part of the answer is that long hair is a covering for the body (hence the emphasis on ‘long’) not primarily for the head. And, as we know, Paul is interested in the head.

Surely this is a stretch. Even the longest hair covers only the back; most hair covers little more than the shoulders and upper torso. If the connection between a woman’s hair and the glory-cloud is sound (and the literary-theological threads certainly pull that way), then that helps us to understand what the hair is intended to cover. The cloud may fill the temple, and cover the mountain (presumably meaning the top), yet it is nonetheless not a covering for the temple nor the mountain, but for the glory (i.e., God). In the same way, the hair may cover part of the body, yet it is nonetheless not a covering for the body, but for the head. (Clothing covers the body—and I’m sure Paul would agree that both men and women should be modestly clothed in worship.) This alone makes sense of Paul’s concern: a woman has a natural symbol, her hair, to show that her head (her majesty), is not her own, but belongs to another (her husband), and which mediates and conceals that glory that otherwise is direct from God. But this natural symbol is itself glorious, as we know from straightforward experience—it is simply an embodied fact that long hair is a glory, in the same way it is an embodied fact that a pillar of cloud and fire is pretty darned majestical. Moreover, her head itself is glorious on account of being man’s majesty. Therefore, both hair and head must be covered by a symbol of authority, to conceal them and mark their proper place in worship.

Paul begins the chapter talking about who is head of who, and moves seamlessly to the covering and uncovering of physical heads. In the context of mankind standing before God, an exposed head is symbolic of being the head, a covered head is symbolic of not being the head, and the covering is symbolic of the authority the person is under (v10).

I agree, but this actually refutes your interpretation—because if a woman’s hair just is her covering, further covering is redundant. Your interpretation explains why Paul says that a woman should not be shaved; but it fails to connect that with covering her hair, since her hair is the covering. I think my interpretation, fleshed out now above, remedies this. A woman’s hair is glorious in itself. Therefore, uncovering her hair displays that glory. In worship, this is the same as cutting it off, because to cut it off would be to play the man. A woman displaying her glory in worship is playing the man because men are supposed to be the ones displaying (God’s) glory in worship. And a woman with shaved hair in worship is playing the man because short hair is manly.

I tend to assume that really long posts like this are overcompensating for something—but in this case it has just been a case of finding a lot more to say than I had previously realized was there. Thoughts?

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Bnonn,
Perhaps I haven’t seen the entire conversation (and I don’t necessarily want to hijack this in a different direction), but have you interacted with Troy Martin’s article about head coverings? Here’s the pertinent summary:

This ancient physiological conception of hair indicates that Pauls argument from nature in 1 Cor 11:13-15 contrasts long hair in women with testicles in men. Paul states that appropriate to her nature, a woman is not given an external testicle (περιβόλαιον, 1 Cor 11:15b) but rather hair instead. Paul
states that long hollow hair on a woman’s head is her glory (δόξα, 1 Cor 11:15) because it enhances her female φύσις, which is to draw in and retain semen. Since female hair is part of the female genitalia, Paul asks the Corinthians to judge for themselves whether it is proper for a woman to display her genitalia when praying to God ( 1 Cor 11:13). Informed by the Jewish tradition, which strictly forbids display of genitalia when engaged in God s service, Pauls argument from nature cogently supports a woman’s covering her head when praying or prophesying. In Isa 6:2, the seraphim who participate in the divine liturgy have six wings. Two are for flying, two cover the face for reverence, and two cover the feet for modesty. The term feet euphemistically refers to the genitals of the seraphim…

The conclusion is that head coverings are no longer necessary because Paul had an ancient/faulty view of human anatomy. While that conclusion is a non-starter for most orthodox evangelicals (like me), I am curious as to how one refutes the logic. My own thought is that perhaps there is something inherently erotic in female hair that we post-Enlightenment Westerners don’t appreciate.

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Ken, I’m familiar with Martin’s paper. I will probably dedicate an article in the series to how we should understand peribolaion. I think Martin makes a good case, but how much we feel its force tends to depend on how much we can’t explain what the traditional reading—“her hair is given to her for a covering”—means. Many commentators feel the pinch here because it seems Paul is contradicting himself: is the hair the covering, or is the veil? But as I’ve argued above (and all credit to Alistair for the initial line of thinking), there are clear biblical-theological reasons to see both as a covering, without the need of a novel reading.

Moreover, the author of Hebrews 1:12 certainly didn’t mean that God was going to roll up the heavens like a testicle, so comparing Paul’s usage to the most immediate similar context gives us no reason to think that peribolaion must be Hippocratic language. Indeed, the allusion to Psalm 104:26 gives us yet another vector into the conceptual nexus of majesty and veiling. Robes are frequently associated with God’s glory in the Old Testament. Aside from how God wraps or covers himself with a luminous cloud (cf. Ps. 104:2), there is also a parallel between that cloud and his robe in Isaiah 6:1, 4. In v. 1, the hem of his robe fills the temple in a rather impossible-sounding way; in v. 4, it is the smoke that fills it. Perhaps we are meant to wonder if the smoke somehow is the robe.

I find we can be oddly unimaginative when we approach prophetic visions. We all know how bizarre our own dreams can be, how one thing is often somehow also another thing (we regularly describe something in a dream by saying, “it kind of was, but it also wasn’t”)—yet when we come to the prophet’s dreams or visions, we seem to expect a sharp narrative that could be shot as a modern movie. Well, let’s try shooting Zechariah as a movie and figure out how many characters we need!

All this to say, I don’t discount the possibility that Paul specifically uses peribolaion to evoke a double entendre, to allude to Hippocratic physiology—but I don’t think that is his primary meaning. Certainly he may also want his audience to think of how sensual a woman’s hair is; that it is akin to a sexual organ, and therefore should be covered in worship. That would sit alongside the broader argument from glory, and add an extra plank in the case for modesty. But note, if that’s what he’s doing, it is still true that women’s hair is sensual, even though Hippocratic physiology is false. So Martin’s conclusion that head coverings are no longer required is bunk even on his own terms.

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@Bnnon

You answered the seeming contradiction of “the glory of a woman’s hiddenness” with wonderful thoroughness. I love the phrase. To me it’s in the same vein as “the glory of the cross”, i.e. two apparent opposites used to describe a glorious truth (though of course with an infinite difference in glory). What you wrote is worth pursuing as a secondary interpretation and I’ll look forward to reading more.

But while our interpretations are converging, there are still significant differences. You are determined to make glory the central plank of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and you are not seeing how it doesn’t fit as the primary meaning. It’s like that one puzzle piece that looks like it goes in a certain place, but just won’t.

Take, for instance, verses 5-6 .

According to your interpretation, when a woman uncovers, she is displaying her glory. She is ‘playing the man’ because it is the man who displays glory. If a woman has her head shaved, she is also ‘playing the man’, so displaying her hair is equivalent to cutting her hair.

There are problems with that from the get go:

  1. Paul has not mentioned glory up to this point.

  2. Even if Paul is referring to glory, the two ‘displays’ are different. The uncovered woman displays her own glory; the uncovered man displays God’s glory. To make it consistent, a man would display his glory, in which case he’d uncover the woman himself!

  3. Even if the first and second problems can be resolved, you are still left with Paul saying in verse 5, “Displaying long hair is the same as cutting it off”. It is not. Verse 6 is alright - “If a woman displays her long hair she may as well shave her hair off” - but we need both 5 and 6 to make sense. Displaying glory is ‘playing the man’; shaving the head is ‘playing the man’; lowering the voice is ‘playing the man’, wearing men’s clothes is ‘playing the man’. If you do one, you may as well do the others (v6), but they are not equivalent (v5).

  4. And even if all that gets resolved, the fact that they need resolving shows that your solution is too complicated. It’s much easier to say, If a woman gets rid of her head covering, it is the same as getting rid of her “hair covering”. If she dishonours her head by rejecting her relationship to her head, it is the same as rejecting her womanhood.

In other words, when glory is not the main point, the interpretation flows.

Now look at verses 13-15 . Verse 13 begins, “Judge for yourselves”. What Paul says next should be obvious enough that every Christian should be able to judge for themselves.

Verse 14 says, “Does not the very nature of things teach you…”. Again, what he points out about the nature of things should be clear.

I really like your biblical and theological explorations. Long may they continue, but they require a level of theological and biblical nous that is not common to most Christians. Paul is not expecting that level of thought. He expects people to work out his meaning using commonly understood truths.

Let’s apply that to the question, What is it that long hair covers? You wrote that a woman’s long hair only covers her head. That may be defensible if it weren’t juxtaposed with a man’s short hair. A man’s short hair also covers his head. So what’s the difference? Remember, Paul intends for the answer to be obvious.

The obvious difference is that a woman’s long hair covers more than the head, it covers below her head, i.e. her body.

You replied:

Surely this is a stretch. Even the longest hair covers only the back; most hair covers little more than the shoulders and upper torso.

Does your wife have long hair? My daughter’s long hair often falls down over the front of her shoulders. And is it necessary for hair to completely cover the body in order to say it covers the body?

What we can say is that in order to for hair to be long, it must cover more than just the head. It does not matter whether a woman is clothed or not, to limit it to the head is contrary to basic observation, and basic observation is what Paul is appealing to in these verses.

One interpretation I toyed with, which usually gets laughed out of court, is that long hair is to cover the upper torso and female breasts. This resonates with the way the word used for ‘covering’ in v15 is used elsewhere, i.e. referring to a wrap-around cloak. But I think that is too clever, as well.

No matter the details, all Paul requires is for people to observe that it is womanly (a woman’s glory) to have long hair because it is a covering, and therefore it is unwomanly for a woman to pray with her head uncovered.

Lastly , you say that by pointing out the symbolism of head covering I refute my own interpretation. That would be true if (1) long hair is a covering for the head alone and (2) the artificial head covering symbolises exactly the same thing as long hair.

I don’t accept that long hair is a covering for the head alone and I understand the artificial head covering to symbolise a specific Christian truth not symbolised by long hair. Paul says the head should be covered when praying and prophesying, after all.

What sepcific Christian truth would an artificial head covering symbolise? It would have to be a truth that includes the general creation truths in vv7-9 but extends specifically to Christians. Like I said previously, I have an answer to that. And I’ll set it out in another comment below, so this comment doesn’t get too long.

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@bnonn.
The more I looked at what I wanted to say, the more I feared I had fallen prey to the same criticisms I levelled against your interpretation - too complicated and doesn’t quite fit. I’ll put them down anyway, and let you - and anyone else here - have at it.

The debates about the nature of Christ in the early centuries of the Church threw out some pithy sayings. One of them, from Gregory of Nyssa, was, “That which is not assumed is not redeemed”. As someone has noted, that is why fallen angels are not saved through Christ: (1) Christ was not an angel, and (2) angels were individually created as different species - an army of Adams if you like (see Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, i, q50, a4) - meaning Christ would have to assume many, many natures to save all the fallen angels.

Not so Man. Christ had to assume only man’s nature. In the family of man, the first man was created, the first woman taken out of him, and every other human is their child. We all share the same nature. We are a family. Therefore, because Christ shares our nature, his atonement can apply to all mankind.

That is what is behind the tradition of head covering.

V3 Christ, the man, is the head of man and the head man. He has redeemed man by sharing man’s nature.

Man is head in the family of man (consisting of woman) and is the head member of the family. Woman’s connection to man means she shares man’s nature and is saved by the Head Man, Christ.

God is the head of the members of the Godhead (only Christ is in view here) and is the head member of the Godhead. Christ is able to save man because he shares the divine nature.

Salvation, then, comes to women through their natural relationship to their head. This is acknowledged through an artificial head covering when they are praying and prophesying.

V4 If a man prays and prophesies with a covered head, he is dishonouring his head by denying his redemption (a return to the covered heads of the OT priesthood). Alternatively, a covered man is dishonouring his head by taking on the garb of a woman.

Vv5-6 If a woman prays and prophesies with an uncovered head, she dishonours her head by declaring her independence from him in salvation. It’s the same as denying her womanhood. If she could set herself up as independent of man, Christ would have been required to come as a woman as well as a man in order to save them both!

Vv7-9 Man should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God - now redeemed. Woman should cover her head because she is the glory of man - from man and for man - and so is redeemed.

V10 That’s why she should have authority over her head, because of the angels.

‘…because of the angels’ is still an opaque phrase, but it should be read with a similar structure to this:

Dad has pale skin. That’s why he should wear sunscreen because of the sun.

Either the angels are watching worship and delight in the symbol, or fallen angels look for rebellious new-creation women to influence like the head fallen angel did to their Mother, Eve, to separated them from Christ. (1 Corinthians mentions angels four times, and the other three refer either to fallen angels or are neutral).

Vv11-12 An aside: None of this is to suggest that woman is to be treated unequally in the Lord. No man would be saved if he hadn’t been born into the family of man through a woman. And everyone comes from God.

Vv13-15 Need more convincing? Woman has a natual covering that signifies her part in the human family. Wear an artificial covering to symbolise your redemption when praying.

V16 Everyone else does it!

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Not sure how relevant this is, but I’d like to throw it out there:

I was reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 14. His position on how these texts relate to one another is that Paul first prohibits the manner in which public prayer and prophecy was done by women in the church and then goes on in chapter 14 to prohibit women from doing this at all. This runs counter to how these texts were originally explained to me years ago. The argument was that Paul’s regulation of the activity in 1 Cor. 11 (i.e. head covering) was tacit permission that women should be doing these things in church. Therefore, whatever Paul is prohibiting in 1 Cor. 14 is something different than what is described in chapter 11. Henry on the other hand says that chapter 11 prohibits the manner in which these women were praying and prophesying, while chapter 14 prohibits them from doing this at all–and that there is no contradiction in this. If I recall, Calvin also takes this position in his commentary on these texts.

I’m not sure whether I agree with their take, but here are what seem to me to be the implications if true:

  1. “Pray or prophecy” is not a synecdoche for public worship as a whole, but may be a synecdoche for any prominent verbal leadership in worship. Alternately, it could be limited to literally the two acts of verbal prayer and prophecy.
  2. The presence or absence of head coverings in worship is sort of irrelevant, since the acts specified as requiring a head covering are not to be done by women at all. Presumably, if women are not doing these things, then they are not required to have a covering.

So why did Paul go on about head coverings in chapter 11 if he was just going to prohibit women from doing this activity entirely in chapter 14? I’m not entirely sure, but he does open by saying that he wanted to teach the Corinthians about headship–God’s, Christ’s, and Man’s. (1 Cor. 11:3) Perhaps this errant practice the Corinthians had of women speaking in church was a convenient illustration that also transitioned nicely into the topic of gathered worship, which he knew they needed correction in (1 Cor. 11:17)? He then gives instruction on public worship from chapters 11 through 14, and ends by revisiting the role of women in speaking in church, prohibiting it entirely.

I’m sure there are holes in this argument. But I’m finding myself becoming sympathetic to it. I’m not sure whether 1 Cor. 11:16 poses a problem for this interpretation or not.

That is Calvin’s position as well.

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I haven’t forgotten Alistair’s helpful contributions; they just require more mental energy to respond to. But the response to Calvin and Henry seems straightforward to me: it makes incoherent the universal practice of veiling since the earliest days of the church. It seems to me either Calvin and Henry are right…or the catholic witness of the church in its actual practice throughout history is.

I’d add that prayer and prophecy are used far wider in the Bible than they are today. You could include congregational singing and even silent prayer (the latter was how some early churches understood woman to pray in church).

Not convinced by that interpretation.

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How can you say this? Calvin isn’t opposed to veiling at all. On the contrary:

Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not…

Have I misunderstood what you mean?

Calvin takes Paul (I think rightly) to be talking specifically about prophecy or prayer of a sort that is publicly leading the congregation.

Prophesying I take here to mean – declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers, (as afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14],) as praying means preparing a form of prayer, and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people – which is the part of the public teacher, for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public.

I know that there wasn’t much given here except a hint about what Calvin and Henry taught. Still, I’m surprised at both of these comments how quickly you men have dismissed the historical reformed position with arguments that don’t even seem to be on point.

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