Saturday, 24 September 2011

Shaming the head (1 Corinthians 11:3-7)

Part 1 

1 Corinthians 11:4-6 lists three “shames” and verse 7 lists two glories. Two of these shames and glories relate directly back to the “head” and one shame relates to the person themselves. Let’s find out about the contrasting “shames” and “glories” because they are vital to understanding this difficult passage.

1 Corinthians 11:4 says:
“Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.”

“Every man” refers back to verse 3 where Paul said that Christ is the head of “every man”. Since Christ is the one who is the head of “every man”, Christ is the one who is shamed when men wear a head covering during the time that they are praying or prophesying. Notice that it isn’t just anytime that a man wears a head covering that Christ is shamed. It is only during the time that he is praying or prophesying.

Why would Christ be shamed if a man prays and prophesies with a head covering on his head? The reason is found in both the historical meaning of the head covering and also in Paul’s reference to honor in verse 7. John Lightfoot a Hebrew Scholar (1602-1675 AD) explains the historical reason for the head covering during worship and prayer. For the Jews, the covering symbolized their unworthiness to look upon God because it symbolized the shame of their sin. Are we unworthy to look upon God and are we to wear something that symbolizes the shame of our sin? Paul says no way. In 1 Corinthians 11:7, Paul says:

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God…”

The reason is simple – we are to reflect the glory of God not the shame of our sin. Jesus died in our place to cleanse us and to reconcile us to God. If men continue to wear the sign of the shame of their sin, they are disregarding Christ who died to take away that shame. Keeping a sign of the shame of our sin during worship shames Christ because it puts the emphasis on our sinful condition instead of our restored position in Christ. A man who wears a symbol of the shame of his sin shames Christ by holding onto a symbol of what was done away with in Christ when he should be bringing honor to Christ by reflecting the glory of his and head which is Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says:

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."

Our purpose is to reflect the glory of the Lord, not hold onto the shame that has been removed in Christ. Reflecting the glory of the Lord brings Jesus honor and “every man” is to bring honor to their “head”.

Part 2

Before we talked about how Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 11 that the head covering shamed Christ. This post will discuss why a woman without her head covering shamed her head. Let’s start again with 1 Corinthians 11:4, 5 -

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

Paul has identified the man’s head as Christ and the man who had his head covered during his praying and prophesying shamed Christ. Paul also identified the woman’s head was the man. When she prayed and prophesied with her head uncovered she shamed her head which is her husband (verse 3). Paul doesn’t say why going without a head covering shamed the woman’s husband since the Corinthians would have understood the cultural reason. However we need to do some research to find out why a husband would experience shame when his wife exposed her head in public.

Both the Greek women and the Jewish women wore head coverings in that day but the Jewish women had a stricter standard that punished them if they were caught without their head covering. John Lightfoot gives us a glimpse into the mindset of the Jewish culture of that day. Lightfoot was a Hebrew Scholar who lived from 1602 to 1675 and during his day there was a revival of the study of the Hebrew Bible as well as other Jewish works. Lightfoot’s scholarly writings produced several volumes called “Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica”. In these volumes Lightfoot discusses the reasons why married women wore the head covering.

On page 231 of Vol. 4 Lightfoot writes

“It was the custom of the women and that prescribed them under severe canons, that they should not go abroad but with their face veiled. If a woman do these things, she transgresseth the Jewish law; if she go out into the street, or into an open porch, and there be not a veil upon her as upon all women…”

On a woman’s wedding day she was required to veil herself. The Jewish law was that women who were married were required to cover their hair. The Talmud interprets this custom as a sign of a woman’s shame – guilt for Eve’s sin. Lightfoot elaborates:

“And they fetched the shame of the woman thence that she first brought sin into the world.”

That was their view – that the woman brought sin into the world and her veiling at her marriage was a sign of shame, because they said the woman led the man into sin. The Talmud said that as a result of Eve’s curse women must go about covered as mourners. In the Jewish culture when a woman got married, from that day on she was under compulsion to veil herself and if found in public without her veil, the Talmud prescribed strict consequences.

If she was found without the veil in public her husband could divorce her without payment of her dowry. Without her dowry she would be destitute.

The Talmud explains the reason for the shame of a uncovered head. The husband considered the hair on a woman’s head to be part of her sexuality so the public viewing of her hair was a great shame.

“Some rabbis considered the exposure of a married woman’s hair to the exposure of her private parts since they felt that a woman’s hair could be used for erotic excitement. They forbid the reciting of any blessings in the presence of a bare headed woman.”

Lightfoot goes on to explain that although women wore a veil in public, they unveiled for worship.

“But however women were veiled in the streets, yet when they resorted unto holy service they took off their veils and exposed their naked faces; and that not out of lightness, but out of religion.” Vol. 4 pg 231

Wouldn’t this have shamed their husbands by exposing their hair publicly? No, because no man would have seen them because in the synagogue the women were kept separate. Lightfoot continues:

“…that women should sit by themselves, divided from the men, where they might hear and see what is done in the synagogue, yet they themselves remain out of sight…when the women therefore did thus meet apart, it is no wonder if they took off the veils from their faces, when they were now out of sight of men, and the cause of their veiling being removed, which indeed was that they might not be seen by men.”

So the veiling was a sign of shame before men but worshipping before God she was to go with a bare face.

In Paul’s writings we find that Christians are meant to reflect the glory of God. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Men and women were both meant to reflect the glory of God and both were to come with unveiled face before in worship. Yet for those Jewish women whose husbands were not yet saved and who had not yet come to understand the glorious liberty we have in Christ, these women were in a predicament. The problem came when Christians met in homes where the men and women were together. If a Jewish woman whose husband was not a Christian found out that she had unveiled in public, he could divorce her, often at the insistence of his family for her public shame.

Paul could not tell her that she needed to unveil in worship in the Christian congregation because that would have infringed on many of their marriages. So although men were forbidden to wear the veil of shame and must pray and prophesy in public without a head covering, women were allowed to make a choice when they prayed and prophesied. Next post we will discuss more about the woman’s choice and the third reason for shame that might require a woman to veil.

But for now let’s talk about the culture that promoted the cultural sign of shame. Paul in this passage rejects the cultural sign of shame. Instead Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:7 –

“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”

Do you see that? The woman is the GLORY of man. As his glory she brings him honor. As his glory she needs to be uncovered so she can shine forth his glory. Just as the man is to shine forth the glory of God, so she is to be allowed to shine forth the glory of man. Do you see that Paul is dispelling the myth that the woman is the shame of the man? Do you see that Paul is dispelling the myth that the woman is to be hidden and kept away from the congregation and hidden and kept away from men? Paul is telling the men that the woman, his wife, is to be his glory. He is not to be ashamed of her. She is not his competitor, she is not to reflect shame - she is to be his glory!

What a marvelous freeing word from Paul! Paul hasn’t used this passage to say that women are not in the image of God nor is he saying that they are not the glory of God. He is comparing one glory with another glory. The Corinthians should be able to see that the man is God’s glory and as God’s glory he is not to be covered. Men are to be uncovered in worship in order to shine forth God’s glory. In the same way they are to see that the woman in the very same way is the husband’s glory. As the husband’s glory she is not to be covered instead she is to shine forth the man’s glory. As the glory of the man, the glory is to be barefaced and he is to be proud of her not ashamed. The culture had taught them that the woman was not the man’s glory, but Paul’s correction changed all that. Now they knew that God intended the woman to be the outshining glory of the man!

Have you ever wondered why Christian women do not wear head coverings? Now you know.

Part 3

Continuing our verse by verse through 1 Corinthians 11, we come to verse 6:

For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
We have already discussed that the cultural view of women’s hair coverings is “covered” in verse 5. We have also seen that Paul takes a non-traditional view of women by telling the men that his wife is his glory. Paul reveals that the tradition of women being covered is not God’s way of dealing with glory. Glory is meant to be shown or revealed and not covered up. Just as a man reveals God’s glory and is not to cover his head, so a woman reveals the glory of man and she too should be uncovered.

Women whose husbands are Christians and who understand the women’s freedom in Christ to reveal the glory of the Lord just as men reveal the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18) will have no reason to insist their wives cover themselves because of man’s tradition. So Paul says that “if a woman does not cover her head” then “let her also have her hair cut off”. Here Paul is talking about a woman’s freedom to have her hair cut. Is it wrong for a woman to get a hair cut? Is it wrong for her to have short hair? Paul says the tradition of not cutting one’s hair is in the same category as the tradition that women must wear a head covering.

The woman is her husband’s glory and as such she should be free from the tradition of having to cover her head. Covering the head symbolized both modesty and shame. See part 2 about what the culture thought was the woman’s shame. Once a woman is free from the tradition of covering her head, she is also free from the tradition that a woman must have long hair. She may cut her hair and this act is not breaking God’s law. This tradition is not God’s tradition. Why is that? We know that God does not forbid a woman to have her hair cut because God had regulations for a Nazirite vow that required men and women to grow their hair out when they took the vow and then later when the vow was finished, both men and women were required to shave their hair off. So if God required the woman who takes this vow to shave her hair off, then it could not be against God’s law for her to cut her hair.

If a Jewish woman who had become a Christian wanted to take a Nazirite vow, when the vow was finished, she would be required by God to shave off her hair. If a woman who had shaved off her hair was in the congregation without a head covering, she may experience shame because she had no hair. Paul made allowance for this last “shame” and he said that if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut or her hair shaved off, then she was allowed to cover her head if she had a bald head or her hair had not yet grown out. Paul gives her permission to cover her head by saying “let her cover her head”. Paul never demands that she cover, he just gives her a choice to cover.

The rules for the Nazirite vow are in Numbers chapter 6.

Numbers 6:2 Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD,
Numbers 6:5 All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.
Numbers 6:13 Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall bring the offering to the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Numbers 6:18 The Nazirite shall then shave his dedicated head of hair at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and take the dedicated hair of his head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace offerings.
The man or woman who had taken a Nazirite vow was required to shave off their hair and put it on the fire as a sacrifice. Both men and women then who had taken this vow would be bald. Men would not experience shame from being bald, but many women would experience shame from their baldness.

Paul allows a woman who has a bald head and who would experience shame because of her bald head to cover her head with a head covering. Paul has given two reasons for shame in chapter 11 that a woman may want to continue to wear a head covering. The first reason was that she may bring her non-Christian husband shame if she is caught in public without her head covering, since he may divorce her for defying the cultural tradition of the head covering.

The second reason that a woman may be covered is because of her own shame. If she was bald or if her hair had not yet fully grown out after she had taken a Nazirite vow, Paul allows her to cover her head. Paul gives a woman permission to veil because of two possible kinds of shame, but Paul never gives the man permission to veil since the culture of the day did not bring shame to a man who had a bald head and the only cultural reason for a man’s head covering shamed Christ.

Paul’s purpose in the discussion of the head covering is to bring Christians to a biblical view of our reflected glory and to discard the faulty cultural view of shame. Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 the importance of the unveiled face:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
While some have seen 1 Corinthians 11 as a mandate for women to wear the veil, a close inspection of the passage shows that Paul is advocating the exact opposite. He is not upholding man’s tradition, but blowing that tradition out of the water. Paul shows that it is God’s will that glory is to be uncovered not hidden, and man’s tradition of forcing the woman to be covered because her uncovering shamed him, is the complete opposite of what God teaches. The woman is the man’s glory not his shame. And as the man’s glory she is to be revealed not hidden.

by Cheryl Schatz
Jun 17th, 2007

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