I mentioned on Wednesday that there is a different culture in Kentucky than there is here. I said that the people in the church we visited eat differently than we do. They still use knives an forks, but some of their food is not generally found around here. Judy came home with several recipes, including “Kentucky Hot Browns” and a glazed grape salad. Perhaps not everyone in Kentucky likes those two dishes, but I can’t image why they wouldn’t. Another difference, in some of those people, is a degree of politeness which is off the charts. Pastor Spears, for example, must have said, “Yes sir” and “Yes ma’am” three dozen times to Judy and me before we finished supper on Wednesday. It wasn’t a matter of undue respect for us – it appears that he speaks that way to everyone. And it was not in a stinted, formal way, because he was often friendly and even joking but prefacing his comment with a humble “Yes sir,” along with a sly smile. There were others just like that, but it was not universal among the congregation or visitors. I believe that he trained himself to speak that way, and he taught his family to follow his example. It was a cultural thing. And speaking of speaking, I have reason to believe that most Kentuckians speak English, but that doesn’t mean that we always understood what they were saying.
Another cultural difference between us, and even within themselves, was the ladies’ use of head-coverings during the services. There were ladies who came to church wearing various kinds of hats – plain, stylish, large and small. Forty-five years ago, Judy and I were in southern churches where it appeared that some of the women were in a competition to wear the largest or most outlandish hat possible. We have been services where a woman had two feet of empty space around her, because no one could sit close to her due to the size her hat. Judy told me after the recent conference she saw only one lady whose hat was really excessive. They were tasteful and conservative for the most part. During the week there was a variety of hats, one or two of which, I wouldn’t have mind wearing myself. Then there were other ladies wearing six-inch by six-inch crocheted head-coverings. And there were others whose coverings were much larger veils, but they draped down the backs of their heads and not across their faces. I would say that those head-coverings were evenly split between the three styles.
While it was obvious that many of these ladies took their head-coverings seriously, to my knowledge no one made it a matter of controversy. To my knowledge no one came to my wife, demanding that she cover up. And in the course of the preaching I heard only one “veiled” comment to head-coverings. Perhaps in some of the other churches represented at the conference, head-covering is an issue over which to quarrel and fight. But among the membership of the host church, that was clearly not the case. Head-covering was a matter left up to the father of the family or to the conscience of the lady. It appeared to me that half the ladies of the church wore some sort of head-covering and half did not. And other than girls still living at home with fathers having strong opinions, it appeared to me that, generally-speaking, the older ladies wore head-coverings, while the younger married ladies did not. At Bryan Station Baptist Church – ladies’ head-coverings is a subject for discussion but not division. There was a pamphlet on the subject in their tract rack, but there were no signs above the door ordering women to cover their heads.
Now, you might be wondering why I am bringing this issue up if it isn’t an issue. I can assure that it is not in attempt to MAKE it an issue. If every lady member came to the service next Sunday with hats and veils, I might be surprised, but I wouldn’t be angry. This is an issue about which each person should be given liberty to form his or her own opinions. And in a minute I’ll try to illustrate my reason for saying that. On the other hand, what if you were traveling and you visited a church which practiced head-covering. I think it would be good for you to know some of the arguments – pro and con. And there could one day be someone who moves from here from the South, wanting to join our church. That person might bring with him a serious conviction about this practice. There have been churches which have been seriously hurt by in-fighting over this issue. It would be good for you to have heard some of the arguments before that every occurred.
But these are not the direct reason we are looking at the subject tonight. Wednesday morning, I had no intention of preparing this lesson for today. But then the Holy Spirit seemed to say, “Here is your subject for this Sunday evening.” In addition to my exposure to head-coverings last week, Wednesday I got an email from an acquaintance in Alaska, who basically said, “What do you think about my exposition of I Corinthians 11?” With that man’s pdf, the Lord laid upon my heart this lesson. My thoughts this evening are coming from two things – an exposition prepared by Craig Thurman, a friend of Ken Carter, and a tract which Judy picked up in Kentucky – written by a very good man named H. Boyce Taylor. Taylor advocated the use of head-coverings, while Brother Thurman does not. I confess that my pastor, Ken Johnson, who was from Texas and schooled in Southern Tennessee, taught me that a woman’s hair was her head-covering. I am predisposed NOT to demand head-coverings. Is my predisposition important? Yes it is, because the scripture before can be interpreted either way.
I will start by summarizing the points in Brother Taylor’s tract.
And the truth of the matter is that I am not smart enough to refute everything he says. On the other hand, he doesn’t address some of the points which I will bring up in a few minutes. And it is this inability on both sides to rout the arguments of the other which should force us to be tolerant towards the various opinions on the subject.
The outline H. Boyce Taylor gives us is this – this an close paraphrase of the His tract – Hair is not the covering that God commands a woman to wear – Boyce Taylor’s words. Why should Paul have mentioned the matter at all if the hair was the covering God required? The “also” in verse 6 is the indisputable proof Paul was talking about a covering in addition to the hair. What Paul really said was: “If a woman does not have a covering on her head in addition to her hair, let her hair be cut or her head shaven as a badge of her shamefulness.” But says someone: “Doesn’t Paul say in verse 15 that he hair is given for a covering?” Taylor says, No he does not, because the Greek word is different in that verse from the other verses. He says, Paul was not writing for Corinthian women only. The reason he assigns for wearing the covering applies to all women. He makes this known in verse 16. God does not always condescend to give reasons for His commands. Man is the head of the woman and the woman who does not wear a covering on her “dishonoreth her head.” Woman was create as man’s helpmeet. As a sign of her submission she ought to wear a covering on her head. Verse 10 – women are told to have a covering on their heads … because of the angels. The churches everywhere had no such custom as women going to their place of worship with uncovered heads. Brother Taylor’s last paragraph gets a little harsh – “These are God’s reasons for the command given for women to wear a covering when they come to the house of God. So we believe and teach this great truth. So must all others do and teach, who believe I Corinthians 11:1-16 to be inspired Word of God, and understand it and obey it.”
What Brother Taylor does not do is give us an exposition of the chapter. I don’t fault him for this, because there is only so much that can be done in a short article. And it is very likely that he was “preaching to the choir” – people already well-exposed to the issue. He was not thinking about us dummies out here in the uncivilized, uncultured West.
Let’s try to grasp what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 11.
Again, I must stress that my interpretations may be open to some debate, but highly respected men have held to these interpretations long before I ever came along. And something else to consider is that this is the only scripture dealing with this subject. Brother Taylor says, “We believe and teach this GREAT truth.” But if this is such a great and important truth, I would expect it to be taught in more than one scripture.
Paul begins by exhorting the brethren – “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” Paul commends the church for clinging to some of the things which he had previously taught them. But this was a worldly church, filled with divisions and problems. It was not as spiritual as it ought to have been. Like every other church, there were lessons which it had not learned and applied.
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” One of the problems in Corinth was understanding the offices and roles of men and women under Christ. The word “head” is used in two ways in this chapter, and it can be applied in a third way. In this verse “head” refers to authority – “the head of every man is Christ.” So it speaks of an office – a God-designed office. Notice that Paul didn’t say that “Jesus” is the head of the man, and he didn’t say “Jesus Christ.” He simply said “Christ” – the “Messiah” – the anointed of God. Jesus, in His office as the Christ, is the head of every man. So the subject is all about offices and relationships – Christ above the man; the man above the woman.
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.” In verse 4 the first use of the word “head” refers to the lump which sits atop the man’s neck. But to which head does the second word refer? It would be nice if the Holy Spirit had used different Greek words, but He didn’t. I think that He is referring to the authority which Christ has over that man. Paul is saying that a man dishonors his office, the role that he has been given as a man, when he prays or prophesies while having his physical head covered – his office is dishonored.
Brother Thurman raises a good question at this point which doesn’t directly relate to this verse, but it should be kept in mind reading the rest of passage – Does a hat or head-covering distinguish the office of a man from the office of a woman? I saw a very nice hat on a lady’s head at a service at the conference which wouldn’t mind owning and wearing. The hat didn’t distinguish the gender of the wearer. But isn’t there a natural, observable element which makes a distinction between a man and a woman? Until rebellion enters the equation – in either men or women – a person’s hair quickly tells us if the wearer is a man or a lady.
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” What is it to pray? I think we all know the answer to that question. What is it to prophesy? On rare occasions, it refers to receiving special revelation from God and sharing it as prophets. But more commonly, it refers to speaking on behalf of God; it can mean preaching or teaching. Remember that women are not to usurp authority over men, so unlike verse 4, this is not speaking of women leading in congregational prayer or preaching to the church. So this is referring to private prayer and teaching women and children. In contrast to the man, a woman who ever prays or teaches without her head covered dishonors both her own office and the authority above her – herself, her husband, and thus also Christ.
Please notice that Paul has not yet defined the covering. This is where culture and our preconceived opinions enter the equation. H. Boyce Taylor believes that this is talking about an extra covering for the woman’s head. Ken Johnson, Craig Thurman and David Oldfield, picture the woman’s hair in this verse. But Paul hasn’t yet told us what it is. If the hat-proscribing people are correct, when a woman prays without a head-covering, she dishonors her office, and so she might has well be shaved bald. If the hair is the “hair-is-the-covering” people are correct, if a woman has a man’s style hair, she might as well go all the way and have her head shaved bald. I confess that this is a difficult verse either way, especially when isolated from its context. But there is something which shines a bit of light on our interpretation. The man is never commanded to uncover his head – but not to cover it. And the woman is never commanded to cover her head – but not to uncover it. In other words, normally the man’s head is already uncovered, and the woman’s head is already covered. It appears to me that if we interpret this scripture to speak of an extra head-covering then it should be worn at all times, not just when in church. And a womanly hair-style does exactly that. One of the problems with the extra-head-covering practice, is that it isn’t worn at all times. “Pray without ceasing” should mean that the head-covering is worn on Monday as well as Sunday.
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” How likely is it, as the weather gets colder, that you meet a man wearing a hat to protect his health? Do you think any less of him for covering his head and his hair? Is his office destroyed by a hat? It is not destroyed until he begins to preach or pray with his big cowboy hat riding on his head. But what should we think about a man, with or without a hat, whose hair is down below his shoulders? Perhaps I don’t think of him as effeminate, but I will think of him as a rebel. It may be fashionable in some churches for long-haired, unkempt men to play their guitars and sing their version of the songs of Zion, but it will not happen here as long as I am pastor. I believe that it is forbidden by God as well as being contrary to nature and custom. Nazarite is not a Christian office. God created man to bring Him glory, and God created women to be the glory of their husbands. Hair styles, not hat styles, are symbols of those relationships.
“For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” The word “of” should be understood as “from” – man is not from the woman, but vice versa. And when God created them – He equipped them with the means of carrying out their responsibilities. What kind of head-covering did the Lord place on Adam and Eve when she lived in the garden? Afterwards? Every picture I have ever seen of Adam and Eve, he had short hair and she had long hair. And neither one was warning a hat or veil. (Of course I am being facetious. But what scriptural evidence do we have?)
“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” Because of God’s order and His established offices, a woman should display the sign of her proper authority. The word “power” is “exousia” – authority. What have angels to do with all this? It is hard to say. Except that God’s angels are very interested in the honor and glory of their divine Master. They are ashamed and confused when God’s people sin and when they rebel. I believe they are angelically embarrassed when professing Christian men look like girls, and when professing Christian ladies look like men.
“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” Originally God formed the first woman out of the first man – see Genesis 2. But since then every man has come as a baby boy from his mother, just as God ordained. And God has ordained that each is bettered by his or her mate.
“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” I began this message suggesting that head-covering is a matter of culture – a matter of upbringing. I am sure that H. Boyce Taylor and others could get very upset by that thought, telling me that it is an issue of Biblical doctrine and sound theology. But it appears to me that the last few verses of this passage suggest I am correct – it IS personal opinion and culture. Paul says, “Ask yourself – what is your opinion – is it comely for an uncovered woman to pray? Judge in yourselves – what does the Holy Spirit tell your heart about this matter?” Yes, it is unseemly – not comely or proper for a shaved woman to pray. And my heart says that it is also unbecoming for man with a hat to lead in prayer. But Paul’s next statement doesn’t speak about hats – it speaks of long hair.
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” Doesn’t even the natural order of things tell you that long hair on a man is shameful? Why is it shameful? Because his head is improperly covered with a woman’s hair style. The word translated “shame” is also rendered “dishonor” and “a reproach.” Then in Romans 1:26 it is even more pointed. “For this cause God gave them up unto VILE (shameful) affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” Once again the word “shame” is brought back to that which is against nature. If long feminine hair dishonors the office of the man, what is it which dishonors the office of the woman? Isn’t is to have the hair-style of the man? Where does an extra head-covering fit into this verse? As Brother Thurman summarizes it: “For the man: if long hair brings shame to his office, and being covered brings shame to that same office, then long hair and being covered are the same thing. And for the woman: If being uncovered is a dishonor to her office, but long hair is her glory, then, being covered and having long hair must be the same thing.”
“But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” When I was an assistant to Brother Johnson, whenever this issue came up he, who was an expert in the Greek language, would simply point to I Corinthians 11:15 and ask, “What does the scripture say?” Your King James Bible says that the woman’s hair is her covering. But, says Brother Taylor, this word translated “covering” is not the same Greek word for the earlier “covering” and “uncovering.” I will grant you that, but let me ask this – what form of speech is “for a covering?” Isn’t this a noun? The earlier “coverings” were used as some sort of verb. There is good reason for using different words, but they don’t demand different kinds of coverings. For fourteen verses what we use to cover or uncover our heads is left undefined. Some will say that it is an extra head-covering of some sort, but do they have Biblical authority to do so? Others will say that it is hair in one form or another, but again for 14 verses they have no authority. Until we come to verse 15 – “her hair is given her for a covering.”
“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” This is another of the verses in this scripture which I find difficult to explain. The men on both sides of the question point to the other muttering “contentious.” May God help me not to be contentious about this subject. I think the word “custom” comes into play, and with it “contention” should be eliminated. Customs and traditions should not be the basis of our doctrine, although they may have something to do with our practice of things. “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
Brother Thurman concluded his article with several questions and summaries.
He asks, can we prove by the Word of God that this practice is restricted to a congregational setting? There is nothing which says either way. This refers to people who are directly praying and prophesying. There is no reference this man and woman sitting and hearing others praying or prophesying. Shouldn’t we take this text to apply to our every day life? In other words, shouldn’t the woman who insists that this be an external head-covering, wear that head-covering all the time – every time she prays?
He says, if hair is the covering under consideration here, then it is true that for men to cover their heads with things other than hair they still maintain the honor of their role as men. Removing our caps for prayer is an American tradition, not a Bible doctrine. Aaron wore a mitre as the high priest when he was in prayer, and the priests all wore bonnets. Did they dishonor their heads by ministering in this way. Of course not. The external covering was not a consideration at all. I can assure you by the Word of God that these men honored their office or function as men by the way that they appeared with and without the mitre and the bonnets. In the Old Testament men and women covered their heads in times of great distress. Such a covering was not a disgrace or dishonor to their offices, because this covering was an added feature for a totally different purpose … i.e. mourning. When did the man and the woman receive their respective offices or roles to be a man and a woman? When they were saved? When they were baptized? Perhaps when they joined the church? The honor of the man and the woman and its related responsibilities to God were established at creation. When did they begin to honor their respective offices? Immediately. So what must Eve have used as her covering? Without more revelation, the only answer that we can give is – hair. Why? Because they were both originally naked. No hats, veils, or head-coverings of any kind. Hair was good enough in their few moments of innocence, and has been so to this day.
I confess that for years, I have not spent any considerable time considering this subject. But this week I have spent several hours looking at both sides of the issue. I admit to have been raised in one position, but my time on the subject this week has not changed my opinion. I believe that a woman’s hair is the covering God proscribed for her to honor her position under God.