1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (ESV)
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him,15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
The ESV gives the most accurate translation of the Greek and we should note the following – The term “angels” in verse 10 can also be translated “spies” or “messengers”.
In verse 16 we see the correct use of “Such” in the the term “no such practice” whilst other bibles translate “no other practice” which is not accurate, as any reference to the Greek text will confirm.
There seem to be four approaches to the application of this passage:
1) There are many that see this passage as an outdated accommodation to ancient ideas of masculine dominance in as society that saw women as inferior and as these are no longer relevant or in accord with the present gender equality, abandonment is the best option and therefore the custom of head-covering and the reasons given by Paul should be abandoned altogether.
2) Then we have others who suggest that the custom described still holds validity today and should be followed precisely as it was by those in Corinth. Both the ideas of male headship and the veiling of women should not be altered and retained.
3) Again others believe that the general principle of male authority remains and should be upheld by the covering of a woman’s head, but that this does not need to be in the same manner as that of the covering of Greek women as long as the principle is upheld.
4) Then there are those who would retain the principle of male authority within marriage expressed in the home and church, but consider head-covering to be a local custom of the period and locality which is not binding today.
5) Then those that simply consider head-covering to be a local custom of the period and locality which is not binding today.
Having studied the topic at length and considered the external evidence available from classical historical records and archaeology I’m convinced that the 5th approach is the most reasonable approach to the application of the this passage whilst accepting that the 4th approach has some further study to establish my views on the interpretation of Ephesians Chapter 5 and this may require a new post in time.
Over the next few weeks I will be dealing with two elements of Greco Roman culture that have influenced my approach to the application of this text. I’ll be looking at the significance of male head-covering in the temple worship of Roman society and what it actually meant for a man to cover his head. Then there is the matter of the use of the “Palla” by women and its significance in the culture of the day. Finally I will consider a controversial topic which considers Greco-Roman ideas of sexual reproduction and the significance of long hair for reproduction and fertility. I hope that after considering these matters we will be able to have confidence in an understanding of the cultural practices of the time and be able to apply this passage with integrity to our lives. I hope you’ll join me in the coming weeks as we look closely at this topic and enjoy the journey together.
Above: A close up image from the Ara Pacis in Rome which depicts the emperor Augustus with covered head.