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1st Corinthians 11:  Hats or Hair?

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Question #1:  Dr. Luginbill, I want to understand more about "head coverings". I have been reading your papers and in the one on the seven churches there is a section on I Cor.11. --- where do you get the translation (disheveled hair)--I cannot find that in any translation or on the NetBible (which is a new translation). I am a woman and believe that because of the same problem Satan started in the garden women are out of line today and the mental attitude of authority is out the window. Submissiveness on the part of a woman does not mean abuse is tolerated---it is a mental and spiritual thing and the head covering is a symbol in worship that we recognize God's plan. Not a legalistic thing a relationship thing.

Response #1:  The most extensive thing I have on these issues is in Part 3 of the Satanic Rebellion series, on the creation of Eve (link: http://ichthys.com/Fall-sr3.htm#5. The Creation of Eve). See also the e-mail response "Are women required to wear hats or veils in church?" Between these two treatments, I think you will find a pretty comprehensive statement of my view. The translation you are referring to is mine. As always, unless I attribute a quote to a particular version (i.e., NIV), then you may assume that the translation is original with me (see "How to use the Bible translations at Ichthys"). Here is my translation of the verses 5-12:

Any man praying or prophesying with [hair] hanging down from his head dishonors his Head (i.e., Christ: cf. v.3). And any woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered (i.e., hair torn and unkempt as a sign of mourning) dishonors her head (i.e., husband: cf. v.3). For then she is one and the same with her who has been shaved [as a sign of disgrace]. So if a woman is not keeping her hair in good order [through styling, pinning, braiding, etc.], let her be shorn. And if it is a shameful thing for a woman to be shorn or shaved [and it is], then let her wear her hair properly arranged. For a man ought not to wear adorned hair [an effeminate mark of submission] since he is the image and glory of God. A woman, on the other hand, is the glory of her husband. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Moreover, man was not created because of woman, but woman because of man. For this reason, a woman ought to have a sign of [respect for] authority on her head (i.e., properly arranged hair) because of the angels. However, in the Lord, woman does not [have priority] over man, nor does man [have priority] over woman. For just as women are begotten by men, so men are birthed by women. But everything comes from God.
1st Corinthians 11:5-12

I understand what you are saying about submission to authority, and it is clear that this is a large part of what Paul is saying in these verses. Indeed, that is in many ways exactly his point. And his criticism is not limited to a particular point of worship-procedure, but to an attitude common in the Corinthian church (among men and women both). They seem to have felt that they were free to pick and choose how and when they would apply the scriptures (this theme runs throughout 1st Corinthians). Following pagan practices of "tearing the hair" in grief and mourning is not appropriate for Christian women because it is symbolic of rejecting authority (not to mention the fact that it proclaims "no hope" of life after death), and that is essence of these verses in my view (cf. Jer.16:6).

In Old Testament terms, disheveled hair and an uncovered head are one and the same thing. That is, the issue is the state of one's hair (and not a matter of "hat or no hat"). We see a very close parallel to the 1st Corinthians 11 passage in Leviticus 10:6, where the Hebrew para', פרע, is rendered "uncover not your heads" in the KJV, but "do not let your hair become unkempt" in the NIV. Both translations are acceptable as long as one understands that this verb has nothing to do with head coverings. It refers to the state of one's hair, not the presence of absence of a hat (Lev.13:45; 21:10). By way of contrast, well-arranged hair was the rule of acceptability for women under the Mosaic Law (Num.5:18). This is the perspective from which Paul presents the issue in 1st Corinthians 11.. For women, deliberate disheveling of the hair is unacceptable (just as it was for the Levitical priests), because it is a mark of disrespect. Not only does it disrespect God by disrespecting His appointed authority, the husband (just as if a man adopted feminine ways of wearing the hair, he would be disrespecting his "head", our Lord), but it also shows a lack of appreciation that we who have trusted in Christ have a better hope which sees beyond the grave.

However, many good people have taken the 1st Corinthians 11 passage (mistakenly, I believe) to mean that wearing hats in church is a biblical mandate for women. One very large problem with this view is that, although verse four talks about prophesying and praying (neither of which need be confined to church; similarly v.13), the rest of these verses clearly have a much more general application. That is to say, they seem to apply to all women all the time (note that "prophesying" in particular is something that women would not be doing in the assembly: 1Cor.14:34-35; 1Tim.2:11-12). To be fair to the sense of this passage, if we assume that it is talking about hats, we must also assume that it is mandating that Christian women wear hats all the time (not just on Sunday morning: e.g., verse ten's "sign" for men and angels is not given any restrictions as to time or place). In that case the practice really would resemble that of the veil which is to be worn constantly. But in verses fourteen and fifteen, Paul makes it clear that he has really been talking about hair all along (rather than hats or veils): "Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering" NIV.

I have no problem with hats in church. Indeed, it would seem to me that they represent a very proper way of carrying out the mandate that is contained in these verses, namely, of properly, respectfully, and tastefully arranged hair as a sign of respect (see the links listed above). So to the extent that Christians do just about anything that is not improper, and do so out of a genuine, from-the-heart desire to show their respect, love, loyalty and obedience to God, I am certainly not going to object. But as you quite correctly point out, it is the attitude of heart that is the key. And if the attitude of heart is genuinely and truly there, one may well ask whether the outward sign is always necessary and/or needful.

You are right to be on your guard against legalism here. In my experience of such things, while spontaneous acts of Christian faith and love are what living Christianity is all about, many deliberate and pre-meditated displays of Christianity can sometimes do more harm than good (both to the observer and to the Christian who displays them). Case in point: the athlete who prays after scoring a point, crosses him/herself and points to the sky. Perhaps the first person to do this did it out of spontaneity and genuine feeling (and we can debate the validity of that). But now it seems that a really good Christian who scores a touchdown has to do something of the sort - it has become a ritual in which God has little part and is little served (in my view). Or the sign of the fish placed one's car bumper. Now we have fish walking and fish eating fish. In my view, if someone really is a Christian, is really and truly walking close to Jesus every day, then that light will shine forth in everything the person says and does - it will not be possible to hide it under a bushel. And there will be a right time and place to share God's truth with those who are truly receptive to this genuine Christ-like light - without throwing pearls before swine on the one hand or being guilty of Pharisaical self-glorification on the other.

Dress is such an intensely personal issue - especially in our time - that it falls into a gray area (again, in my view). There are clearly some forms of dress so extreme and risque that no Christian could indulge in them without pangs of conscience. On the other hand, requiring a very specific, formal style of dress as necessary for holiness (suits and ties for men on Sunday, for example), is equally objectionable - not because of the dress itself (which may be perfectly fine), but because of the imposition of a non-biblical requirement to wear it.

I hope this is of some help to you. Thanks again for your interest and searching of the scriptures.  Here are some other related links:

Are Women Required to Wear Hats in Church?

Hats and hair length for Christian women

Hair Length:  How Short is too Short?

Short Hair and the Question of Cultures

The Image of God and 1st Corinthians 11:5-12

In Him,

Bob L.

Question #2:

Dear Bob,

I use NASV, NKJ and NetBible I believe the older manuscripts to be very important and the more we understand about them the better we are able to respond to Bible Doctrines as we learn them. Of course all this must be done in the filling of the Holy Spirit. That is a key ingredient. I do not think one tells women to cover their head---they have to see it and "submit".

According to the notes at netbible.org, Paul does not use a word specifying what type of "covering" is meant (veil, hat, etc.). The Greek word he uses here (exousia, ἐξουσία, translated symbol of authority). Paul does not mean nature in the sense of "the natural world" or "Mother Nature." It denotes "the way things are" because of God's design.

Many women now pretty much have their hair arranged properly so I do not think Paul was just talking about the Greek tearing of hair custom-- although for some that may have been pertinent. But even if your hair was a mess because of grief the symbol of authority and submission would to me not be go comb your hair---the symbol of submission is like "believe" submit to authority. Stand and deliver---women today love having the "authority".

I always look for the Lord's pattern. It has to line up. I must see Christ--- There are no conflicts with God. He has a plan and I try very hard not to let my emotions and female ambition (as Eve did) get in the way. That in itself is a "mission". There is so much He has to reveal to us about Himself and ourselves in relation to Him.

Response #2: 

I firmly agree that the Spirit's ministry is critical for any and all progress in the Word, and also in personal spiritual growth and ministry. Nothing we do that is good is all of ourselves. The best things we do are hardly "of us" at all. I am certainly conscious of that principle in every step of this ministry. That said, the Spirit can only use us when we are willing, and willingness comes in a variety of shapes and forms. Willingness is an "all day every day" affair, if we would truly fulfill our potential in Jesus Christ, and all of us are convicted by that standard to one degree or another. Getting to the point where, like Paul, we truly do "make every punch count" takes time, discipline, dedication, and persistence. But that is the fight we are in, and we need to take joy in it, encouraging each other to persevere. One of the important applications of this principle is what I will call here the "fulcrum" principle. As it says in Ecclesiastes 10:10, "if the ax is dull ..... more strength is needed". That is certainly true of God's using of us and of the Spirit's ministry to us: God will take us as far as we want to go, as far as we are willing to go, and bountifully so. The trouble is that we are not as wanting/willing as we should be. If we have a zeal for God and want to know His Word and have the gift of teaching, well and fine - but what if we are not willing to learn Greek? What if we are not willing to put in the time studying? What if we are not willing to take the risks and pay the price of choosing truth over the popular and sentimental status quo? Clearly, we all limit by our own free will what God is more than willing to do for us.

As to the manuscripts, yes this is an important issue, but not an easy one. Textual criticism is also as much art as science. In the OT, we have a very limited set of alternative witnesses (and not very good ones at that). Blessedly, the text we have, the Masoretic text, is very, very solid. In the NT, we have what the French call "an embarrassment of riches". There are so many manuscripts that one can get lost in them. The best of breed is Aleph or Sinaiticus, but even that is not perfect, and unless one has access to a good collation or facsimile, even critical editions are often insufficient. Most people assume that the Nestle editions have all the variant readings, for example, but I recently came across an important original reading in Sinaiticus which is not listed in any of the critical editions or commentaries - yet it is the true reading (thrix instead of iris at Revelation 10:1 = "the hair of his head and his face were like the sun" rather than "there was a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun"). Making the judgment call on a particular passage often calls for a very finely attuned sense of what Greek is and is not likely to say and how it is or is not likely to say it. That takes a lot of time and depth in the language. It is also critical to have some depth of understanding of the flow of truth we talked about (something many of the prestigious textual critics who make the scholarly editions often lack). For these and other reasons (addressed in the first e-mail), all translations have their strengths and weaknesses. I quote them when they have it just right and have put it in a powerful way; otherwise I translate myself (on the strengths and weaknesses of the major versions see: Read your Bible).

You clearly have a strong position on this issue, and it is well articulated. Given that you understand that it is more an issue of attitude and of symbolizing a proper attitude than a legalistic requirement, I would be reluctant to even suggest that you change your thinking on this point on my account. 1st Corinthians chapter 11 has been a matter of debate from early times. But this is because of Paul's very careful couching of this issue. There was indeed an authority problem in Corinth, with men and women both. Paul understood, I believe, that in some matters people have to have things explained to them very directly, while in other matters, they have to be led delicately to the truth. Women, in particular, as the "weaker vessel" gender, have to be approached in a certain way often times in order to make an issue clear without at the same time so upsetting or infuriating them that they miss the point (in contrast to men who often have to be hit over the head before they are willing to see the point).

There is, of course, a difference between being gentle and never even getting around to making the point (your objection in general with the state of things, I believe, and a right fine one at that). I understand the points you make here, but I suppose I would ask you to observe by way of overview that 1) this entire passage has to be taken as a whole (i.e., verses 2-16), and that 2) it is dominated by the issue of hair, not head coverings, and that 3) even more significantly it concludes with hair, not head coverings. Paul is gently inserting the issue of the treatment of hair by women, knowing full well that this a very personal and sensitive matter. He begins by introducing a point that the Corinthian believers, well-versed in Jewish practices (many of the gentiles believers at Corinth had been associated with the Jewish synagogue there even before believing, and there were of course many Jewish Christians in the ranks of that church), namely, that women did indeed wear head-coverings out of respect - the practice did no doubt continue in the Christian church at Corinth (cf. Num.5:18; and compare our treatment of Lev.10:6; in the previous e-mail; cf. Lev.13:45; 21:10). The problem, therefore, was not how these women were behaving in church meetings, but how they were behaving otherwise - their Christian witness in general. Some points:

    1) yes, the "covered head" is a symbol of respect for authority - the outside reflecting the inside (but I would argue that this symbol in context is the proper wearing of the hair at all times rather than coverings in the church meeting - a point that Paul brings his listeners too at the end of the passage, verses 12-16).

    2) angels: they observe us at all times; we are always on display; we never know when we might be entertaining angels unawares; etc. so that I believe this reference makes my point that a general behavior applicable at all times rather than a particular one on Sunday morning only is in view.

    3) nature: you say rightly it = "the way things are by God's design"; I quite agree. The idea is that even unbelievers without the Spirit feel "naturally" (i.e., by natural conscience) that long hair on men is wrong, and that shorn, shaved, disheveled hair on woman is wrong - so once again it is about hair.

    4) Paul using hair and head coverings as analogies to each other: yes, but I would argue as above that the facts that a) there is more hair than covering in the context; b) hair dominates the discussion; c) hair is in the conclusion while head coverings disappear from the argument at the end, all support the sense I find in these verses.

I don't want to quibble on this beyond measure. As I say, you make good points and have a solid biblical rationale for your position. Moreover, I thoroughly agree with your main point on women and the issue of authority. Authority is something, however, that in my view both men and women are very much averse to in today's Church. In my observation and experience, when a person truly is seeking to follow Jesus in commitment and dedication from the heart, this quickly becomes pretty much a non-issue for men and women both. The real problem, as I see it, is not really that women (or men for that matter) have not been properly instructed on the issue of authority so much as it is that many members of both genders are, in their hearts, only lukewarm about following our Master. And where Christians are reluctant to follow Him, no amount of instruction is ever going to make much of a difference until they start making the hard choices that have to be made.

Yours in Him who ran this race by the rules every step of the way in complete obedience to His Father's authority, our Savior and example, Jesus Christ.

Bob L.


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