Women

 

 

A Christian woman is not bound to cover her head with a veil when she prays or prophesies

 

 

 

Most Protestant Churches (among which also many Pentecostal Churches) teach that a Christian woman is not bound to cover her head with a veil or to wear a head covering when she prays or prophesies, even though Paul says the very opposite in his first epistle to the Corinthians (11:2-16). These Churches reject this biblical commandment for several reasons. The reasons generally given against it are these:

1) The words of Paul have no applicability to us today. Paul is speaking about a ‘tradition’ that he has handed on. Hence, since this is not the tradition of the modern church, we hardly need to consider his words. So, according to those who hold this view, the practice of wearing a veil was just a nice custom followed by the Churches of God at that time; but in our day, since most churches no longer have this custom, and it is not within our ability to change the customs which are followed, women are not required to wear a head covering.

2) The head covering is the hair. In other words, a woman’s hair is given to her instead of a veil. A woman who has long hair is effectively veiled and covered. Hence, the applicability today is that women should wear long hair. Paul wants women to wear long hair in order to show that they are submissive to male headship.

3) The head covering is a meaningful symbol in the ancient world that needs some sort of corresponding symbol today, but not necessarily a head covering. Here is how Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D. Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at the Dallas Theological Seminary, explains this view: ‘This is the view that I currently adopt. In essence, it is based on an understanding of the role of head coverings in the ancient world vs. the modern world. In the ancient world head coverings were apparently in vogue in some parts of the Graeco-Roman empire. Some groups expected the men to wear head coverings; others expected women to wear them. Still others felt that such were optional for both men and women. It is not important to determine which group did what. The important thing to note is that the early church adopted a convention already in use in society and gave it a distinctively Christian hue. That Paul could say that no other churches had any other practice may well indicate how easily such a practice could be adopted. This finds parallels with baptism in Israel. The Pharisees did not ask John, “What are you doing?” Instead, they asked, “Why are you doing this?” They understood baptism (even though John’s baptism was apparently the first to be other-baptism rather than self-baptism); what they didn’t understand was John’s authority and what his baptism symbolized. In a similar way, the early church practice of requiring the women to wear a head covering when praying or prophesying would not have been viewed as an unusual request. In the cosmopolitan cities of Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, no one would feel out of place. Head coverings were everywhere. When a woman wore one in the church, she was showing her subordination to her husband, but was not out of place with society. One could easily imagine a woman walking down the street to the worship service with a head covering on without being noticed. Today, however, the situation is quite different, at least in the West. For a woman to wear a head covering would seem to be a distinctively humiliating experience. Many women--even biblically submissive wives--resist the notion precisely because they feel awkward and self-conscious. But the head covering in Paul’s day was intended only to display the woman’s subordination, not her humiliation. Today, ironically, to require a head covering for women in the worship service would be tantamount to asking them to shave their heads! The effect, therefore, would be just the opposite of what Paul intended. Thus, in attempting to fulfil the spirit of the apostle’s instruction, not just his words, some suitable substitute symbol needs to be found.’

 

Confutation

 

Now I am going to refute the above mentioned views.

 

First view

 

According to the Scripture, the practice of wearing a head covering for women was indeed one of the traditions Paul had handed down to the saints of Corinth, for Paul at the beginning of the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians says: “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you,” (1 Corinthians 11:2 – NKJV) and immediately after he begins to speak about the veil. However, the Greek word for tradition used by Paul, that is, paradosis, does not mean ‘tradition’ in the modern English sense of the word of a nice custom that one can dispense with if desired, because the tradition about the head covering for women was a teaching which Paul delivered to the saints which had thus to be followed, just as all his other teachings. Listen to what Paul says: “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10 – NKJV). That the traditions Paul passed on the saints were teachings which had to be followed by every Christian is evident from the following words he wrote to the Thessalonians: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle …. We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6 – NKJV). The Greek word for ‘tradition’ used by Paul in these words is the same Greek word I cited before, that is, paradosis. As you can see, the saints were commanded to hold the traditions Paul and his fellow workers had delivered to them, and to withdraw from every brother who did not walk according to those traditions. Note that Paul says to the Thessalonians that anyone who does not walk according to the tradition he has received from the apostles walks disorderly. Furthermore, it must be said that in the days of the apostles the teaching about the veil or the practice of wearing a headcovering was followed not only by the Churches founded by Paul but by all the churches of God, for Paul says to the Corinthians: “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16 – NKJV). If then Paul appealed to what the churches of God did, that means the custom of wearing a headcovering was accepted by all the Churches in those days, or rather by all those Churches who were not contentious. In the light of this, therefore, the teaching about the female headcovering must be followed by all Churches. On the other hand, as we saw before, Paul says that the woman ought to have a symbol of authority – which is the veil, that shows her submission to the man - on her head because of the angels, so we can’t affirm that his teaching on the veil is optional for the angels of God still watch the saints and are around them all over the world and consequently the woman must cover her head with a veil in order to show the angels of God her submission to man. In other words, how can one say that a Christian woman is not bound to cover her head with a veil, when Paul says that it is because of the angels that she ought to cover her head with a veil in order to show the angels her submission to man? How can one say that the woman is not bound to cover her head with a veil, when the veil on her head demonstrates the divine order of authority and submission that God decreed, for - as you know - God has put the woman under the authority of man, as it is written that the head of every woman is the man? However, the point is that many Christian women, knowing that the veil is a symbol of their submission to men, refuse to wear a veil when praying or prophesying for they refuse to show the angels of God their submission to man. And they cover their haughtiness and hardness of heart with empty words, such as, ‘Brother, what Paul says about the woman’s headcovering is optional!’

 

Second view

 

It is true that Paul says: “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Corinthians 11:15 – NKJV), but by those words he did not mean at all that a woman’s long hair is the headcovering or the veil a woman is commanded to wear when praying or prophesying. What did he mean by those words then? Well, he simply meant that a woman’s long hair is her natural covering, given to her by God, which distinguishes her from man. In other words, Paul meant that long hair is a glory to the woman for it serves as a natural covering for her. However, her long hair is not the sign or symbol of authority which she must have on her head in order to show the angels of God her submission to man’s authority. No doubt a woman does a right thing in wearing long hair, for she abides by the God-given created order and natural instinct (while she does a wrong thing in wearing short hair for short hair makes her look like a man), but that is not the woman’s headcovering Paul speaks of. If one reads carefully the two preceding verses, that is, verses 13 and 14, he will realize that Paul did not teach that if a woman wears long hair she does not need to cover her head with a veil. Here are the words of Paul: “Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:13-14 - NKJV) As you can see, Paul, in order to demonstrate that it is improper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered, speaks of what the very nature of things teaches us concerning long hair, saying that if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him for he looks like a woman, while if a woman has long hair it is a glory to her for her hair is given to her for a natural covering. Therefore, as it is proper for a woman to wear long hair for it shows her glory, so it is proper for her to wear a headcovering, too, while praying or prophesying, for the headcovering shows her submission to man’s authority.

 

Third view

 

Paul clearly said that a woman must cover her head while praying or prophesying, that is, she must have a symbol or sign of authority on her head, as it is written: “For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10 – NKJV). What symbol or sign did he refer to? He referred to a veil, for in the book of Genesis we read that when Rebekah saw Isaac “she took a veil and covered herself” (Genesis 24:65 – NKJV), that is to say, she took her veil and covered her hair with the veil.

 

Conclusion

 

I want to conclude by saying some words to all the Christian women who do not wear a veil when they pray or prophesy, and to all those pastors and teachers who oppose this custom or ignore it.

Sisters in the Lord, know this, that what Paul says about the woman’s headcovering is not optional but mandatory. So wear a veil when you pray or prophesy, in order to honor your head, that is, man. You may say to me, ‘The Church I attend does not follow this custom!’ It doesn’t matter, wear a veil, for you are called to pray or prophesy with your head covered with a veil. God will honor your decision, for it is a right decision. Know this, that for a woman to wear a headcovering is not a humiliating experience but a beautiful experience for by wearing a headcovering she honors her head showing the angels of God her submission to man. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for God wants you to cover your head with a veil. Do not be afraid of those Christians who are ready to criticize or even to rebuke a Christian woman if she covers her head with a veil when she prays or prophesies, but they keep silent if she wears a miniskirt or a see-through dress or some other indecent dress. These Christians are contentious and do not want to abide by the words of the apostle Paul (which are sound words), for they walk according to the worldly lusts. Do not listen to them!

You who are pastors and teachers, who have taught so far that women are not bound to cover their head with a veil, repent and start urging women to wear a veil when praying or prophesying. God will certainly honor your decision too, for the Lord honors all those who honor His Word. Do not be afraid of those who will criticize you and oppose you. Be of good courage and proclaim to the saints this part of the counsel of God too.

 

 

 

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