the 2nd

Bits, back-ups and miscellaneous.

Letter to Bnonn: In response to your 'central argument' argument.

This article is like a baby in an old people's home. It's a new bit of writing on a slowly populated archive site. What can I say? I had nowhere else to put it.

Dear Bnonn,

It might be the heavy doses of caffeine I’ve taken this week, but I’m feeling a compulsion to pull the loose thread in your piece on the central argument of 1 Corinthian 11:3-16. I’ve written to you about this on your website and I thank you for your reply. But I kept pulling and what I found unravels your argument far more than I realised.

The thread I’m talking about is a woman’s glory.

First the repeat.

Verse 15.

The common reading of verse 15 is that a woman’s long hair is her glory. It’s not. At least, not on its own. Most men agree that a woman who is blessed with long, luscious, beautiful hair is extremely attractive, but Paul limits the glory of long hair to one thing: it is given to woman as a covering. His argument is, since nature shows us women have long hair as a covering, it is proper for a woman to cover her head when praying (see v13).

You are sympathetic to that reading, you said, but not convinced. Okay. But I kept thinking like the obsessive, caffeine-fuelled, over-thinker coffee turns me into. Will it help to see Paul uses exactly the same argumentation earlier in the chapter?

Verses 5-6.

Look at vv5-6. Verse 5, in particular, does not work unless the glory of a woman’s long hair is her covering, rather than a shining display of its beauty.

5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.

If a woman’s hair is glorious in itself, uncovering a woman’s head would display that glory. But how can we say displaying glory is the same as cutting it off? The argument just doesn’t make sense. If her hair is a covering, however, refusing to wear something on her head is to refuse her womanly hiddenness – it is the same as rejecting her natural covering with the clippers.

So we come to this conclusion: the covering of long hair is a woman’s glory. Paul doesn’t say wearing something on her head is hiding her glory; he says it is consistent with it.

Does that sway you? I don’t know if it does, but continue to give the argument your sympathy and you'll see how it weakens your central argument.

Long hair given as a covering is a woman’s glory. But why? Verses 5 and 6 strongly imply that the rationale for Christian head coverings in v8-9 applies to the natural covering to be given to all created woman:

8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

In short, woman is the behind-the-scenes member of the family of man. She’s part of the family (woman came from man v8) and she works to help man so he can bring glory to God (woman was created for man v9). As far as mankind is concerned, man is the face of the family backed by woman. This makes a natural covering appropriate for woman, as it reflects humanity's gendered purposes.

Anyone who has thought this far should then ask the question, Why should woman wear a covering over her head in a gathering of the church if she already has long hair?

Part of the answer is that long hair is a covering for the body (hence the emphasis on ‘long’) not primarily for the head. And, as we know, Paul is interested in the head.

Paul begins the chapter talking about who is head of who, and moves seamlessly to the covering and uncovering of physical heads. In the context of mankind standing before God, an exposed head is symbolic of being the head, a covered head is symbolic of not being the head, and the covering is symbolic of the authority the person is under (v10).

That doesn't give the full answer, though. Why is Paul, in agreement with all the churches of God (v16), emphasising headship in Christian gatherings to the point where a covering on the head is required?

I do have an answer to give, but it leads me away from the text into theological deduction. I think we've got enough to say that, while the glory of man and woman factor in the reasons behind wearing head coverings, at the very least it is not necessary to say that it is to cover glory other than God's glory. The second part of the answer, once explained, will only strengthen that conclusion.

Bnonn, we, (I include myself), have been saying that it is a sin to display man’s glory in the presence of God’s glory – that’s why women should cover their heads. But I think that’s too negative. Nowhere else in the Bible is anyone or anything required to hide their glory before God. It never happens. Never does anyone say, “Wait, I need to make sure my glory doesn’t compete with God’s glory.” Any hiding that goes on is because God’s glory is too much to handle! Pride is humbled by God saying, “Do you have anything that I did not give you?” He takes all other glories and either smashes them or boasts of them to his own glory.

And thinking about it, when a woman is told, “The glory you represent is too distracting/earth-bound/competitive to display before God”, there is a tension there that does not sit well.

No, men uncover their heads before God to symbolise that man represents the family of mankind, and women cover their heads to symbolise that they are that family. It’s proper, like wearing clothes (1 Corinthians 12:23-24) or showing respect (Ephesians 5:33, 1 Peter 2:17), and it is peaceful, because men and woman are in line with how they were created.

In the end, all of this doesn’t affect practice. But it does affect understanding, and that was Paul’s stated aim when he first started talking about it in v3. The exciting thing is, there is still more unanswered questions here to work through.

If only I were a king (Proverbs 25:2).