By Cecil N. Wright
The matter now to be considered is discussed in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 in relation particularly to praying and prophesying. And this, in turn, needs to be considered somewhat in connection with 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38 and 1 Timothy 2:8-15, having to do with related and overlapping problems in the early days of Christianity after it had become an international religion and revolutionizing force.
These passages all relate to differences between the roles of men and women in home and church — or whether there ought to be any so far as God is concerned — the physical and spiritual families respectively (a highly sensitive subject needing most careful and considerate attention). While applications of principles may differ in our day because of different cultures and customs, the principles themselves that were applicable (and applied by inspired writers) in New Testament times are as valid now as they were then. And they are being eroded and even attacked in our day the same as then — whether unwittingly (as in some cases no doubt) or wittingly (as evident in other instances). So we need to be as cognizant of them now as Christians needed to be then, and study them most earnestly.
The church at Corinth, which Paul had established, was plagued with problems of all kinds. This was due in no little part to its members being composed of comparatively recent converts from both Jews and Gentiles with their contrasting and clashing backgrounds and living in one of the most diversely wicked cities of the ancient world. The epistle of 1 Corinthians is taken up almost exclusively with efforts to resolve their problems. And approach was made, not be simply giving categorical pronouncements, by appropriate reasoning from various angles. That will be exemplified in what follows in regard to the specific topic now under consideration — which will make for a long paper, for which indulgence is asked.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16
In verses 2 and 3, seemingly in reference to a declaration that had been made to Paul, he stated: “Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions [not of men, but inspired of God], even as I delivered them unto you. But I would have you know,” etc. — evidently wanting them to know more than circumstances had occasioned his discussing with them before.
Furthermore, he made his discussion of this new matter to follow the concluding exhortation of an immediately preceding three-chapter discussion, so that it also became a fitting introduction to the one how to be treated. It was this: “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews or the Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things [that is, insofar as possible without compromising or violating divine commands and principles], not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved. Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (10:31-33; 11:1). In other words, his discussion of the matter now at hand will be such as will emphasize doing all to the glory of God, and not unnecessarily scandalize either the church or the society in which we live.
What Paul wanted “known” in that connection will now be taken up in three parts, as follows:
1. Verses 3-6: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, have his head covered, dishonoreth his head [Christ]. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head [man]; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn; but if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.”
It should be observed that in the Old Testament no legislation regarding the veil is recorded, and no uniformity of practice is described. Note the following: (a) Rebekah “took her veil, and covered herself,” when about to meet her future husband (Genesis 24:65). (b) Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, in avenging herself of his reneging in regard to the promised levirate (brother-in-law) marriage of his third son, did as follows: (1) “put off from her the garments of her widowhood,” (2) “covered herself with her veil” so that he could not see her face, (3) “wrapped herself, and sat in the gate of Enaim” by a road he would be traveling, so he would think she was a harlot and maybe stop to proposition her, which he did, as a result of which (4) she conceived and bore him twin sons (see Genesis 38 for the entire sordid yet comical story). (c) Moses, to keep the Israelites from seeing the brightness of his face after his communing with God and their being afraid to come near him, “put a veil on his face” (Exodus 34:29-35). (d) A bride is described relating a dream that “the keepers of the wall took away my mantle [or, veil] from me” (Song of Solomon 5:7). (e) Among things the Lord would take away from the wanton women of Zion would be “the veils” (Isaiah 3:23). And such is all the Old Testament scriptures have to say about the veil as an item of dress, though apparently it was common among women, married and unmarried.