The Question Column
A number of questions have been asked (and frequently confront many of us) regarding the subject of the headcovering of ladies on different occasions. We have submitted these to our esteemed brother and associate editor, Mr. James Gunn, who has recently written a paper, “Headship a n d Headcovering” (Everyday Publications Inc., Toronto). We are grateful to him for his reply to the first question. Others will follow in the next issue of Focus.
Question: Does the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, on the subject of women’s headcovering, apply to the present time, or was it intended only for the circumstances that faced the Corinthians? In their time it was considered shameful and immodest for a woman to appear in public uncovered.
Answer: Clasping of the hands may impart a deep sense of friendship; it may also offer more than that. To Paul and Barnabas it was the evidence of a respectful attitude by the pillars of the early church and the endorsement of their service (Gal. 2:9).
The kissing of the lips as an act of affection dates back to patriarchal times (Gen. 29:11).
Was the headcovering used by the women in the ancient church similarly only a custom? Is it a custom that fluctuates according to any existing local changeable practice? Is it to be modified or discontinued to “the glass of fashion and the mold of form”?
In Corinth prostitutes and immoral women went bareheaded or with shorn hair. Chaste and pure women were careful never to appear unveiled. Are Paul’s directions here reflective of only a local custom?
The headcovering of the Christian woman is mentioned in a very specific and significant manner. It is interpreted by the Word of God; it is called “a sign of authority” (1 Cor. 11:10, marg.), and it is to be accepted as the symbol of headship.
In the early chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with rumors (chs. 1-6), but in chapters which immediately follow, he is answering questions which the Corinthians had sent to him (chs. 7-10). In the opening of this section of the letter beginning with chapter 11, he is teaching doctrine. It is clear that chapter 11 begins a new section of the letter. In an earlier section (6:1-11:1), the apostle is concerned with the home life and personal testimony of the individual believer. This section stretches from 11:2-14:40. In it Paul deals with matters affecting the collective gatherings of saints.
The apostle is treating the matter of the relative position of men and women in the church. To show this he teaches the doctrine of headship. He begins by calling attention to a descending headship, headship from the highest to the lowest, from God to man.
Christ is the supreme center, the middle between God and man; from Him the line of graduation descends to man and ascends to God.
The covering or the uncovering of the head by man or woman is a sign of either acceptance or rejection of the order of divine headship, and therefore, of authority, the authority of a head. Man was created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26). When in the church redeemed man uncovers his head, he indicates that the Lord through him should be unveiled. Such is the symbolic lesson. The woman, who is the glory of the man (1 Cor. 11:7), should be figuratively covered, for human pride and glory should be hidden, and man should be considered as out of sight in the presence of the unveiled Christ.
One of the reasons for the head-covering of the Christian woman is “because of the angels,” These spirit beings are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14). God’s people are constantly under their scrutiny. The appearance of a headcovering in the case of the woman when gathered in church capacity indicates her submission to her head — namely, man, as he is the representative of Christ.
This would be a testimony to all celestial beings and a witness against those angels who left their first estate (Jude 6) which, of course, was an act of self-determination. Surely such headcovering is applicable today, yes, at any time.
Dr. John Heading wrote in his exposition of 1 Corinthians: “For the woman, her long hair is naturally her glory. Her hair is given her for a covering. In Greek, this is a different word from that occuring in verses 4, 5, 6 and 13; failure to notice this and failure to appreciate Paul’s argument throughout the paragraph has caused some to believe that a sister’s hair is an adequate covering, not requiring a second artificial covering. Such a belief is absolutely invalid, and shows either the inability to follow an argument or else a refusal to own the authority of Christ.”
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(Please send all questions to Dr. James T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop Street, Peterborough, Ontario, K9J 5S6.)