Whilst some today consent to the teaching regarding Christ’s Headship over His church as set forth in 1 Corinthians 11, and recognise God’s order in the distinctions made between male and female, and also recognise that such ordinances having nothing to do with legalism, but everything to do with faithful obedience to God’s word and a loving desire to willingly submit to Christ’s authority and Headship in His church, and to demonstrate that…they nevertheless explain away Paul’s intent in this passage regarding headcoverings by claiming that the woman’s hair itself is the only covering necessary in worship (see verse 15).
However it is not Paul’s intent in his illustration from nature in verses 14 and 15 to argue that the woman’s long hair is the same covering described in verses 5-7 (indeed a different Greek word is translated as ‘cover’ in verse 15 from that word translated similarly in verse 5 which more literally would be translated ‘veiled’), but it is instead to demonstrate from this natural comparison of male and female (in which a woman has a natural covering of longer hair than men in order to show God’s order in the natural realm) that the covering of a woman’s head in approaching unto God in public worship, with an additional cover over the hair, is both right and proper for “does not even nature itself teach you…?”.
Indeed if the hair alone were the cover of which Paul speaks in verse 5, then not only would it make a nonsense of the statement made in verse 5 itself (since not being covered would actually then mean being shaven, if the cover is the hair, hence the statement “for that is even all one as if she were shaven” would become irrelevant), but it would also require that men approach unto God bald, for it is not the length of covering which is stressed in verse 5 but the respective presence of a covering or not, so if hair be the covering, men should not have a covering, and hence they should be shaved!
Now, it is not my desire to labour such points, but faithful exegesis of the passage can really lead one to no other conclusion but that Christ’s Headship in His church is to be demonstrated visibly in its public assembly by the men having uncovered heads and the women wearing headcoverings – a practice which has been the accepted ‘norm’ within Christianity for hundreds of years, and has only really begun to be set aside with the rise of the feminist movement since the 1960s.
John Gill, for example, in his comments on 1 Corinthians 11 presents such sound exegesis and is well worth reading. This all said however, it cannot be stressed enough that outward forms in worship, in and of themselves are of nothing worth, if the thing pictured by the form is not understood.
Sadly, there are many who can be very strict about adherence to such practices as headcoverings who think little of what the form pictures and who in their hearts are not subject to the Headship of Christ in His church, just as many others argue and divide over the correct application or mode of baptism. But that such things can be abused or adopted in a legal manner does not mean that they should in any way be set aside, but rather that they should be practiced in the right spirit and attitude, looking past the forms to the glorious truths set forth by them, with God-given faith.
May God keep us from a legal spirit and grant gracious hearts to worship Him in the ekklesia in spirit and in truth.
By Ian Potts