Q&A: The Covering

Q: Why would a woman wear an artificial head covering in the assemblies of Christians?

A: The practice is based in Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16:

Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you. 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, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; 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. For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man: for this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God. Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

We do well to explore this passage in terms of Paul’s argument structure. Paul began by commending the Corinthian Christians for holding fast to the apostolic traditions as he delivered them (1 Corinthians 11:2). He established the divine hierarchy: the head of Christ is God, the head of man is Christ, the head of woman is man (or possibly wife is husband; 1 Corinthians 11:3). He then introduced the explicit instruction: when praying or prophesying men are to maintain uncovered heads, while women ought to have their heads covered (Greek akatakalupto; 1 Corinthians 11:4-5). The woman who prays or prophesies without her head covered dishonors her head, as if she were shaven; if she would not cover, she should cut off her hair; but since it remains shameful for her to have short hair, let her be covered (1 Corinthians 11:5-6; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:15). Having set forth the expected practice, he began defending the practice with his primary argument rooted in the creation: a man is not to be covered because he is the glory of God, yet woman is the glory of man, since woman was created from man and woman was created for man, not man for the woman (1 Corinthians 11:7-9; cf. Genesis 2:18-25). Paul gave the angels as the reason why women needed a covering, as a sign of authority, on her head (1 Corinthians 11:10): perhaps lest the angels lust after the “daughters of men” again as in the antediluvian days (Genesis 6:1-4), or to see that the people of God understand their relative standing and give angels no reason to rebel. Lest he be accused of not properly honoring woman’s station in life Paul then reassured the Corinthians that men and women are not without each other in the Lord and that all men are born of women, but all are from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). He then asked a rhetorical question, asking the Corinthian Christians to judge for themselves whether it is appropriate for women to pray or prophesy with head uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:13). Paul continued with his secondary argument from physis, nature or reality: “nature” teaches that it is shameful for men to have long hair, but long hair is the glory of women, for it is given to her for a covering (Greek peribolaiou; 1 Corinthians 11:14-15). Paul concluded his discussion of the matter by declaring that if any would be contentious, they have no such custom, neither do the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16).

Unfortunately, ever since, the passage and the practice have proven very contentious. Some details do seem a bit obscure: why does Paul never explicitly identify a covering? Why not just have women be shorn? Why does his reasoning involve the angels? Why would he make any argument, even if secondary, based on “nature” or “reality,” especially since among many cultures it is not shameful for men to have long hair? Why is the covering mentioned only in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and nowhere else? These questions are understandable, valid, and impossible to answer without additional revelation from God.

As Christians we do well to believe that God has equipped the man of God for every good work through what He has revealed in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-17); our goal is to make the best sense of what God has made known and ground ourselves in what we can explicitly demonstrate is true and faithful from its pages. There are practices which are right and cannot be wrong based on convictions about what Scripture says is true. In all matters of faith each must be fully convinced in his or her own mind; what is not of faith is of sin, but we must be careful lest we are condemned in what we approve (Romans 14:5, 21-23). In terms of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, we hazard that we do best to fulfill the passage as written, that such is right and cannot be wrong if a woman covers her head when praying and a man maintain an uncovered head.

Other conclusions have been offered. Some believe that Paul overthrows all of 1 Corinthians 11:4-15 by what he says in 1 Corinthians 11:16, believing that the “custom” is the covering itself. There is no other passage in Scripture which exists and then is entirely overthrown by its conclusion; why make the argument as is if it is ultimately meaningless? We do better to understand that contentiousness is not the custom of Paul or the churches of God: it is one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, and thus such an interpretation is consistent with the rest of what God has made known in Scripture. Others believe that the long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:15 is the covering. As noted above, the Greek words for “uncovered” and “covered” in 1 Corinthians 11:4-13 are not the same as the term used in 1 Corinthians 11:16; the former truly mean cover (or veil)/uncovered (or unveiled), while the latter carries a connotation of something thrown around a person, a mantle; the verbal form of the term is used to describe Solomon “arrayed” in clothing in Matthew 6:29. 1 Corinthians 11:15 is best understood to explain that a woman’s long hair is given to her as a mantle, especially since women tended to wear only the tunic without the toga/cloak that the man would generally also wear. If long hair were the covering, it seems odd to restrict the covering to two practices (praying or prophesying); Paul’s determination that a woman who does not wear a covering is as if shorn is also very odd; and would it demand that a man who would be uncovered must shave his head bald to be so?

Some wonder if “men” and “women” are better translated “husbands” and “wives.” This is not a new dispute; Tertullian, ca. 200 CE, wrote about it in his treatise On the Veiling of Virgins. Christians in his day are making the same argument; he does well in asking if it means that unmarried men should be covered, among other objections. If nothing else, Tertullian’s treatise demonstrates that whereas there were disagreements in belief as to whether all women or just wives were to be covered, all agreed that what Paul declared to the Corinthian Christians 150 years earlier still demanded respect and satisfaction among Christians in North Africa and elsewhere.

Many more accept the text as written yet believe that it was a cultural custom or only based in the exercise of spiritual gifts. We do well to note that Paul does not say “praying and prophesying,” but “praying or prophesying” (Greek he, not kai; 1 Corinthians 11:4-5). We no longer prophesy, but we still do pray (1 Corinthians 13:8-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:16); Christian women may not lead prayer in mixed groups or the assembly, but they still participate in the collective prayer (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 33-35, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). As to cultural custom, such a position has been frequently advanced but not historically substantiated. It is one thing to claim it was a cultural practice, but where is the evidence that it is uniquely cultural for all women to be covered in prayer while men are not in Corinth in the first century? For that matter, if it were merely cultural, why do Tertullian and other early Christians continue to insist on its practice 150 years later? Why did it remain a practice among Christians for a very long time, likely even influencing current Jewish and Muslim practice? And, above all things, why does Paul ground his argument in the order of creation if it is merely a cultural phenomenon, the same ground on which he will argue about gender roles in the church in every other situation (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:33-35, 1 Timothy 2:9-15)? Those who would be in opposition regarding women in leadership in the congregation are not unjust in pointing out the inconsistency to claim the cultural argument in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 while denying it in terms of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

In the end, let everyone be fully convinced in their own minds; each will stand before God on the judgment day in terms of their decision about the proper interpretation and application of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Nevertheless, the above is offered to demonstrate that a woman is not sin by wearing an artificial covering while praying, and does so in order to take seriously and fulfill Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Ethan R. Longhenry

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Q&A: Suffering Evil Despite Doing Good

Q: Sometimes I get mad at God or wonder if He is even there when bad things happen to me or those I love even though I have done good things. How can God allow bad things to happen when I have done the good and right thing?

A: A lot of people find themselves asking this question at some point in their lives. Either they or someone they love experience terrible evil despite having done good. How could God allow such things to happen?

Christians in modern-day Turkey experienced this same difficulty in the first century. They sought to follow Jesus in their environment; they had sought to do good even to those who stood against them; they then began to suffer even greater difficulty because they had done good things. They seemed to despair; the Apostle Peter wrote to them to encourage them. They would experience trials, but God is faithful and reserved for them a glorious inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-9). It is a blessed thing to suffer for doing good, for that is exactly what Jesus experienced (1 Peter 2:18-25). As Christians, we should expect trials and suffering, and should seek to faithfully endure (1 Peter 4:12-19).

How could Peter respond in this way? Is he not taking the question seriously?

The question, as stated, does not really have an answer. No one really knows why bad things happen to people who have done well. We can argue that none of us are really good, and so none of us really deserves to have good things to happen to us, and we should just be thankful that we do not always get what we deserve (cf. Romans 3:1-23, 6:23). We can “know” that people sin because they are free moral agents, and sin has consequences, not only for those who practice them, but also for other unfortunate people who happened to be involved or at the wrong place at the wrong time (Romans 3:23). God reserves the right to intervene at times, but is under no compulsion to intervene so that people do not experience the consequences of sin; likewise, God does not intervene so that sinners do not experience the “consequences” of people engaging in free moral actions of blessing and benefit to others that are not deserved. Yet do these “answers” really satisfy? No, not really.

We do get wisdom from the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 8:14:

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth, that there are righteous men unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

The Preacher says that such questions are “vanity,” or futile. There can be no practical argument against this response; why, after all, do we want to know why such things happen? We want to know because we vainly imagine that if we know we can somehow change the result or manipulate the situation to our betterment. We cannot really know; even if reasons were granted in various circumstances, would it change the situation? Not at all.

Evil exists in the creation; people both suffer it and perpetuate it. The reasons behind this reality are not explained in Scripture; for that matter, no other endeavor of human exploration or understanding has found any better answer.

Should this mean that we lose faith in God? We first do well to think about our expectations. After all, if there is no God, from where would you or I or anyone else get any expectation that “good” or “bad” should happen to anyone? What is “good” or “bad”? If there is no God, is not everything simply based on the laws of physics? An action has an equal and opposite reaction; there would be no meaning behind it at all, and whatever happens just takes place. There would be no ground to expect any “good” or “bad.” Some people can take solace in this answer; most humans find it intolerable, and for good reason. We are “meaning-full” creatures; we seek meaning in everything, and that is because we are made in the image of God who created all things for His good purpose (Genesis 1:1-2:3).

It is not as if we are the first people to grapple with these difficult questions. They lie at the heart of Job’s contention with God. What did Job have to learn? The ways of the creation are too great for his understanding; it is for him to trust in God and His goodness and covenant loyalty toward His people (Job 42:1-6). And thus we return to Peter’s recommendations to the Christians in modern-day Turkey. Yes, bad things will sometimes happen to us, not only despite doing good, but sometimes precisely because we have done good. As Christians it is not for us to question why such things are so; we need to trust in God that in Jesus He is overcoming evil, sin, and death, and that through suffering evil without responding in kind we also can overcome and gain the resurrection, in which righteousness dwells, and no more pain and suffering (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-22:6)!

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Q&A: Resurrection in Ancient Near Eastern Myths

Q: I have heard some people claim that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is based on ancient Near Eastern myths about resurrection. Is there any truth to these claims?

A: Resurrection, or at least rejuvenation, is a major theme in ancient cultures. There is a reason why the remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection in spring became associated with “Easter”: Bede claimed the term derived from a Saxon goddess Eostre, likely a goddess of dawn and thus rebirth (Bede, The Reckoning of Time).

The vernal equinox was often associated with rebirth and rejuvenation since the increased sunlight would lead to increased warmth and the sprouting of plants; other areas would have similar festivals and observances when plants would sprout after the appropriate rainy or flood season. Agricultural life depended on plants “dying” and “rising again.”

And so it is that many cultures had some myth or story of death and rebirth. The famous Egyptian version is the myth of Osiris: Osiris, an Egyptian king, is married to Isis. His jealous brother Set conspires against him and kills him. By some machination Isis brings Osiris back to life just long enough to procreate with him. Isis begets a son, Horus, who bests Set and takes his rightful place on the throne. All these characters were god-men and became part of the Egyptian pantheon; the story has many variations but is generally as set above.

It is worth emphasizing that Osiris is not fully resurrected: he is brought back to life just long enough to reproduce. He then becomes god of the underworld. The Egyptians saw the contest among Osiris, Set, and Horus as playing out continually in the land: Osiris was the Pharaoh in death, and the living Pharaoh was Horus, always seeking to preserve order and stability against Set and the forces of anarchy and chaos. The Egyptian story thus seeks to explain things as they are; death is not defeated, but part of life.

Osiris-tomb-of-Nefertari

The Mesopotamian version is the story of Inanna/Ishtar and Dumuzi/Tammuz, the observance of which in Israel is condemned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:13-15). Ishtar was the goddess of fertility/love, and Tammuz the god of food and vegetation. In the various stories told about them, the same motif appears: to explain the presence of crops and fertility part of the year but not all year, there is a story of someone escaping from the underworld but having to pay the price, and that price is that another spends time in the underworld. Thus Tammuz “dies” every year, and is mourned, but is expected to come back.

This same theme is present in the annual contest between Baal (storm god) and Mot (death) in Canaanite mythology; the same is true with Demeter and Persephone among the Greeks. All of these stories seek to explain either the annual agricultural cycle or the life cycle of humanity in general.

Jesus’ resurrection is an altogether different feature, and has been thus noted from the beginning. Jesus dies and is raised from the dead, but never to die again (Romans 6:1-11). The Apostles did not preach the continuation of the life-cycle as it had always existed; they proclaimed that Jesus overcame sin and death in His death and resurrection, and in so doing pave the way to overcome that cycle (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). They pointed to Jesus as one still living, fully God, fully human, reigning as Lord over all, the one like a son of man given an eternal dominion (Daniel 7:13-14, Acts 7:55-56, 1 Timothy 2:5, Revelation 1:12-20).

Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of an afterlife, of the coming judgment, of a hope that the creation, currently enslaved to the bondage of decay and corruption, would one day be set free as in the beginning (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 8:18-25). What was claimed of Jesus is categorically different from all the rejuvenation legends and myths that came before or which have come since, for all others died again and perpetuated the life cycle. Jesus, and only Jesus, is claimed to have overcome the life cycle, being raised bodily, transformed, and never to die again, and who extends that same hope to all who will follow Him (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). May we put our trust in Jesus and our hope in the resurrection!

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Q&A: Campus Preachers

Q: I see some “preachers” on campus who spend their time yelling at people and accusing them of sin. Why do they do that? Is that the way we should be telling people about Jesus?

A: We have spoken somewhat of such persons in Fanatics.

Most people who are motivated to go out and condemn people in their sins have developed a theology that conflates the prophetic witness of the Old Testament to Israel with a belief in the United States of America as God’s chosen nation. Such people believe that all Americans should be Christians because God has chosen America; therefore, they are not to be evangelized as if they knew nothing about Jesus but instead as apostatizing and backsliding chosen people.

There is no basis upon which to assert that God has chosen the United States of America in any special way. There is no reason to believe that the United States of America is the new Israel or has been granted a special election. Instead, in the USA, there are righteous people and there are sinners, just as there are in every nation. Those in the world, as sinners, are to hear the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, lordship, and return, just as in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 2:14-36, Acts 17:22-31, etc.). They are sinners, separated from God; we should not speak to them or presume that they have understanding of God, but exhort them as the Apostles before us did (cf. ibid., Ephesians 2:1-18).

Therefore such is not the way to tell people about Jesus; it is the way to repel people and keep them far away from Jesus and salvation, and thus is truly lamentable. God does not want unbelievers to be condemned and roast for their sins; such is why He sent His Son to die for them, and wishes for them to be saved (John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 2:4). We do well to love such people and point them to Jesus for salvation and hope!

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Q&A: Forgiveness and Trust

Q: I understand that the Bible teaches that we must forgive those who sin against us. Does forgiveness demand that we fully trust that person again?

A: As can be seen in Matthew 18:21-35, Christians must be willing to continually forgive our fellow man when they sin against us. Nevertheless, the New Testament does not suggest that we “forgive and forget”; the master in Matthew 18:32-34 demands repayment of the debt owed by the unforgiving servant after he was originally “forgiven,” indicating that even if the master were willing to no longer hold the debt against the servant at the beginning, it was not entirely forgotten.

bible3Instead, as with God, so we are to “remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). There is a difference: to not remember is to remove from active, conscious memory, and refers to how we treat people; we do not hold past transgressions against them. But that doesn’t mean that we can, or will, completely forget. In a sense, forgetting would be easier, because then there would be no temptation to hold a person’s past transgressions against them!

In forgiveness we release a person and absorb the loss, be it pain, suffering, or actual property loss. But does that demand that we must trust the person again fully? Whenever possible we should move back toward trust, but it will most likely depend on who the person is who has wronged us. The less intimate the relationship, and thus the greater the distance, the less likely we are to have that trust fully restored or be put in a position where it has to be restored; the closer we are, the more likely we will need to rebuild and rehabilitate that trust.

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