VII. THE OUTSIDE: COVERING THE HEAD
We previously established that the "head of every man is Christ." This means Christ is the spiritual authority of man. In I Corinthians 11:4, Paul tells us that "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head." Let's look at the male position here first then I will move back into the female position.
Remember when I defined "head" several paragraphs ago? I will repeat it here again for reference so that I can pick up and continue the discussion without losing the connection to the previous paragraphs. The Greek word for head is kephale (Strong's 2776): (1) it is used as the head of both man and often animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment. (2) metaphorically, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife; of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church. Here in the first part of the definition, we find that head literally means the part of the body which is defined as the head. In the second part of the definition, it pertains to authority or position of power. In interpretation of this Scripture, we will find that both meanings are implied using the same word. The word must be taken within the context of the writing to understand whether head means the literal head of a person's body, or the authority of an individual as compared to the position of another.
Now, in verse 4, the first usage in this Scripture means the literal head of his body in the context written "having his head covered." Therefore his literal head is covered by something. The question is what is covering his head? Some argue it is a cap or turban that was Jewish custom to wear. Dake states that for a "male to be uncovered was in direct contrast to the canons of Jews that did not permit a man to pray or prophesy unless veiled. Their idea was that man is unworthy to have an open face before God" (Dake's Bible, pg 184, NT).
Albert Barnes states that “having his covered” is “with a veil, or turban, or cap, or whatever else is worn on the head. To remove the hat, the turban, or the covering of the head, is a mark of respect for a superior when in his presence. In the presence of a prince or a nobleman, it would be considered as a mark of disrespect should the head be covered. So in the presence of Christ, in whose name he ministers, it is a mark of disrespect if the head is covered. This illustration is drawn from the customs of all times and countries by which respect for a superior is indicated by removing the covering from the head. This is one reason why a man should not cover his head in public worship” (Barnes’ Notes).
I have deep respect for these great Bible teachers and others who hold this position. However, I cannot find direct connection to a cap or turban. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Why would Paul make it such as issue for a man not to cover his head with an article such as a cap or turban? Did Adam wear a cap or turban when approaching God in the Garden of Eden? I don’t think so. I know, that was before the fall of man. Okay, at what point in time did it become customary to do so? If this were only a Jewish custom, would Paul then carry a Jewish custom into Christianity? Is the cap or turban removed only in the tabernacle of God? Does God then live in the physical tabernacle or in our hearts? Are we in His presence now or are we only in His presence when we enter the tabernacle?
I interpret this as referring to his hair being long which to me is clear from the remaining portions of verses through verse 16. If "having his head covered" in this context means to have on a Jewish headdress of some sort (cap or turban), as some argue, why does Paul continually refer to hair and never refer to headdress in this entire chapter? We have already discussed verse 14 "Doth not nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" Why would Paul even bring this up if his discussion on being covered pertained to headdress? It is my opinion that such an argument that to be “covered” pertains to an article such as a cap or turban is very weak in the context of these Scriptures as well as logic.
If the covering here mentioned is a cap, hat, turban, etc., and he must remove it when praying or prophesying, then I think of the Scriptures such as I Thessalonians which states, "Pray without ceasing,” Ephesians 6:18 "Praying always," and I Timothy 2:8 "I will therefore that men pray every where." I understand these Scriptures to instruct us to live in a state of dependence upon God continually and everywhere such that we can commune with Him in our hearts and minds without assuming some particular posture of prayer in a particular place of worship. However, this is considered prayer nonetheless.
So, whatever the covering is, and I believe it is long hair on the male, we do know this for sure, the male praying or prophesying with his head covered, he "dishonoureth his head." This reference to head concerns not that part of the body above the shoulders, but authority. And the authority, or the "head of every man is Christ." Therefore, this man who is covered (with long hair), dishonors Christ who is his spiritual authority. The word for dishonor is the Greek is kataischuno (Strong's 2617). It means to dishonour, disgrace, to put to shame. Then by this man's disobedience, Christ is disgraced and put to shame.
Now the next verse says, "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head." Again, the first usage of head concerns the literal body part above the shoulders. This female is participating in worship inappropriately. She is "uncovered." If the covering was headdress as argued in the portion concerning men by some, then she is without a covering or headdress. But, the argument now gets turned around to mean a veil. I admit the term for uncovered in the Greek is akatakaluptos (Strong's 177) and is defined not only as uncovered, but also as unveiled. Yet, Paul makes not one reference to a veil here even indirectly. He clearly defines the issue in verse 15 when he says "for her hair is given her for a covering." Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. It is given here clearly as "precept upon precept and line upon line."
Now, whatever is not covering this female's literal head above her shoulders, and I believe her hair is cut, she is dishonoring her spiritual authority, which is the man, her husband. At this point, Dake states "Women were to remain under their customary veils when praying or prophesying" (Dake's Bible, pg 184). Yet, as we look at verse 6, Paul again is clearly speaking of the hair as he says, "For if the woman be not covered (Remember her hair is given her for a covering.) let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a women to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered."
In chapter five of Numbers, the trial of jealousy is described. In this case, a man suspected his wife of being unfaithful and a spirit of jealousy may come upon him. He would then bring her to the priest who would go through a ceremonial procedure to prove her guilt or innocence. One part of the procedure was to “uncover her head.” Numbers 5:18 states, “And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head.” Some consider this to be the removal of her veil while others believe her hair was shorn as a symbol of her shame. Thus here, we see the uncovering of the female to be related to being adulterous which is a form of rebellion.
The word for shorn in Greek is keiro (Strong's 2751) which means to sheer: a sheep; to get or let be shorn; sheering or cutting short the hair of the head. I interpret this as Paul saying if she is not going to be covered by her long hair, then just sheer it off very close or even shave it because this individual is already exhibiting a rebellious spirit by having cut her hair as she dishonors her head (her husband). This would leave no gray areas. She would either be covered, with long hair, or she would be shorn leaving very short hair or even shaven.
If the covering spoken of by Paul in Corinthians refers to a hat or veil, then wouldn’t a woman need to continuously carry a veil just in case there was a need to pray? If an emergency should arise, and she did not have a veil, then could she pray? What would a man such as a pilot in a military jet covered with all the headgear do if he had a desire to pray or a need arise to pray to God? Would he be accepted of God? And what about the many other positions such as police officers, construction workers, etc. who wear hats as part of their daily uniform?
If we interpret that the covering is a physical article placed on the head and adhere to these Scriptures that he has been instructed to pray always and everywhere, then a man could never wear anything on his head if we are considering in I Corinthians he is instructed not to pray with his head covered with a hat, cap, turban, etc. The same case applies to the female. If the covering is a veil and she is instructed to pray and prophesy covered and again instructed to pray always and everywhere, then she must remain veiled continually. Yet, if the covering refers to the hair, and an individual was submissive to the teaching of long hair on women and short hair on men, then the individual could be praying “always” without interruption. The argument that this applies only to community worship is often used at this point.
Perhaps you say this analysis is too strict of an interpretation and praying and prophesying only pertains to worship in the house of God. Is it only in the house of God that we come into His presence? I see myself as being before God and subject to His approval or disapproval at all points in time. Not to belittle the need and position of the established church and how we should not forsake the assembling or ourselves together, but in I Corinthians 6:19 Paul says "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" Therefore I, as a male, must continually be in a state of "uncovered" and a female must continually be in the state of "covered" as I am continually in the presence of God and I am in fact a temple of the Holy Ghost. Along these lines then, I cannot see the covering as an article that can be taken off and placed on the head at a particular time and in a particular place of worship.
Bill Burkett states: “Some brethren have shown a hateful attitude toward sisters who before God have decided to wear the covering, offering no Scriptural explanations to support their resentments in a spirit of meekness. Those brethren who look upon the prayer covering with contempt instead of respect for a sister with such spiritual convictions will surely be chastised of the Lord” (Because of the Angels, Bill Burkett, pg 3).
With the ability to understand that I currently possess, I respectfully disagree with the interpretation of the Scriptures concerning the covering to be an actual article such as a turban or cap for males and a veil for females. However, if a sister desires to wear a veil in obedience to her personal interpretation that the covering is a veil, I for one will not oppose her nor condemn her. Yet, neither can I teach nor defend this custom which I cannot find to be basis of Paul's discussion in I Corinthians 11. I agree with Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown that “The fact that nature has provided woman, and not man, with long hair, proves that man was designed to be uncovered, and woman covered.” I do not extend the teaching to include caps, turbans, or veils.