The Veil of Recognition

The Veil of Recognition

Archie Naismith, M.A.

We appreciate this lucid treatment of a much disputed subject by Archie Naismith, M.A. Our brother, a former missionary to India, has provided us throughout the years with many excellent articles but none more important than this one.

As Rebekah neared the end of her long journey and saw her future husband Isaac walking in the field, she alighted from her camel and, in token of her subordination as Isaac’s betrothed, took a veil and covered herself. The same recognition of authority as vested in the man is practised to this day in Eastern lands; and there, too, in a similar fashion, divine authority is recognized. Indian Christian women, as they enter the place of worship cover their heads with that part of the sari which has hung loose over their shoulders while they walked from their homes. Christian women in Malaysia carry with them veils of white material that resemble brides’ veils and cover their heads as they reach the threshold of the house of prayer.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 the Holy Spirit directs the Apostle Paul to show from the divine viewpoint why the woman should be veiled. The R.S.V. rendering of 1 Corinthians 11:5, 6 is: “But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonours her head — it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil”: and in verse 13, “Judge for yourselves, is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.” In the course of these fifteen verses the verb related to the noun — “kalumma,” a veil — occurs five times in various forms. The last word in verse 13, above quoted, is one of these and might be translated “unveiled.”

A brief statement of graded Headships, denoting divinely-appointed authority in certain relationships, is the Apostle’s introduction to the practice with which he is about to deal. Various headships are indicated in the New Testament in differing contexts. Romans 5:12-17 distinguishes two federal headships, to one or other of which each human being belongs. We are either “in Adam,” the first man, by whom sin entered into the world, or “in Christ,” the second Man, who delivers from sin’s power. The Church of God, composed of all the redeemed, recognizes the pre-eminence of Christ Jesus who is the Head of the Church (Col. 1:18). The headships in 1 Corinthians 11 are of a different order, neither federal nor ecclesiastical, but universal. The head of the woman is the man: the head of the man is Christ: and the head of Christ is God. Here the principle of subordination to ordained authority is emphasized, the woman being subordinate to the man, the man to Christ, and Christ, as the One who in incarnation voluntarily took the place of dependence, to God. Though this is a general principle that applies to all mankind, only those who are Christ’s recognize and observe it. In the systems of this world men maintain and contend for the equality of the sexes in every sphere.

The conditions under which believers are contemplated as meeting together in this first paragraph of 1 Corinthians 11 are not defined as church gatherings. Not till verse 18, in the paragraph that follows and deals with the Lord’s Supper, does the Apostle refer to the occasion as “when you assemble as a church.” There are thus occasions other than assembly meetings when women may pray and testify audibly: but the rule of silence imposed on the women in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is to be observed in all church gatherings.

It is significant that the outward sign of divine authority and human subordination, as outlined in those headships in verse 3, should be centred in the physical head. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, that is, Christ. Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled (or uncovered) dishonours her head, that is, her husband if she is a married woman, or the male sex in general if unmarried or a widow. What the Apostle thus sets forth for the guidance and observance of all believers is that, when we meet to wait before God, the male should have his hair short and his head uncovered, and the female should have her hair long and her head covered. Two reasons are given for the wearing of a veil or covering, the symbol of authority, by the woman: first, as a godly recognition of submission to divinely-appointed authority; and second, as an intelligent recognition of the interest of angelic beings in the divine wisdom displayed in the Church. “Because of the angels” — is probably a reference to the significance of the inspired statement in Ephesians 3:10, which in the Amplified New Testament is rendered — “that through the Church the complicated, many-sided wisdom of God in its infinite variety and innumerable aspects might now be made known to the angelic rulers and authorities in the heavenly sphere.” Commenting on this verse (1 Cor. 11:10) W. E. Vine has written, “The veiled condition of the woman, therefore, sets forth the authority of Christ.”

The sexes therefore should be visibly distinguished by their hair and their head-dress when they come together to approach God in the presence of the angels.

While insisting thus on the recognition and observance of these divinely-ordered headships which imply authority and subordination, Paul adds, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Each of the sexes is necessary to the other in the Lord: they are mutually dependent, each recognizing His authority. Thus, seen “in Christ,” they are equal in God’s sight but complementary in their spheres of service and activity. In summing up the position resulting from the doctrine he has stated, Paul adds that, even out of consideration for natural propriety, the man should appear before God with his hair short and his head uncovered, and the woman with her hair long and her head covered.