Myths About the Headcovering
I began a study on the headcovering when I was in college to find a basis that God no longer required the headcovering for today. I did not see a need for it. As I have studied the head covering in depth, I have discovered that there are many false teachings about the headcovering stated as truth. These false teachings are in many of the commentaries. They have been preached from the pulpit, and have been passed from one Christian to another to give a "clear" understanding of what they want the Bible to say, but which have no Biblical or historical basis. They have been repeated so often, that people believe them to be true and don't verify it for themselves. As a result the church is teaching, acting, and reacting on the subject of the head veil based on faulty information. In general, I have found a lack of good scholarly research on the headcovering.
The following are some of the more significant myths about the headcovering and why they are false:
This is an example of Scripture twisting to make the Bible say what one wants it to say. The Greek cannot be translated as it is in the NIV footnote. Words were added to and subtracted from the Greek to get this interpretation. The NIV is not totally a word for word translation. There are places where the biases of the translators comes through. This is one of them. I have not been able to find any basis in history or in studying the Greek for this interpretation. It is fairly clear from history and the Greek that I Cor. 11 is saying that women should have two coverings - long hair and a veil.
This myth has been passed along because of a lack of good scholarly historical research. Ancient Greece and the time of Corinth under the Roman Empire have been lumped together. It would be similar to someone a thousand years from now saying how we lived in 2000 by studying life in colonial America.
The ancient city of Corinth with its temple prostitute system was destroyed in 146 BC. Julius Caesar restored Corinth a hundred years later. By the time I Corinthians was written 200 years later, Corinth was a thoroughly Roman city. Life in the Roman Empire during this time was in many ways more like society today than any other time in history. Women had a lot of "freedoms" that they did not have before. They were allowed to educate themselves, speak in public, and initiate a divorce. Women used contraceptives, practiced abortion, and exercised "sexual freedom."
The book of Acts mentions "chief" women in several of the cities, and women at Paul's speech on Mars Hill. Many non-Christian women during this time did not cover their heads with a veil, although there were some who did. Elaborate hair styles also became popular during this time.
There is no command in the NT where the Church is instructed to follow the practices of non-Christians. We are not to pattern our lives after the world but after Jesus and His commands. As you can see from the description of women in the Roman Empire, the teaching in I Cor. 11 was not based on the Corinthian culture. Nor was it based on the Jewish culture, where both men and women covered their heads. Jewish men were easily recognized by their broad brimmed hats.
I Cor. 11 is a practice that is distinctly Christian. The command for women to cover their heads and men not to cover their heads is based on creation, not culture 7(v.7-10)
Part of this myth has been already addressed, but it has been perpetuated in commentaries because of an ignorance of geography. Corinth is located in Greece which is part of Europe not the middle east! The church in Corinth consisted primarily of non-Jews. It was not a predominately Jewish church. (ICor. 12:2, Acts 18:6)
This myth is usually given along with speculations about what was happening in the Corinthian church and why this was written, and why it does not apply today. This myth ignores the fact that I Corinthians is Scripture - the Word of God. The book of I Corinthians was written to all Christians, not just the Corinthians (I Cor.1:2; 11:16) It is dangerous for us (spiritually) to ignore a passage of Scripture and say it does not apply to me.
Many scholars speculate on why something was written and confidently state their speculations as facts. It is part of higher criticism. Be careful about accepting a line of reasoning as true when you see words like: "it was probably", "evidently", "most likely", "obviously", etc. It usually is the speculation of man rather than truth.
This myth attacks directly at the inspiration of Scripture. This myth is often cloaked in terms like: "what Paul was saying was", "Paul was writing to address…" It makes commands in the Bible into doctrines of men. God, not Paul, is the author of I Corinthians. Paul was only the secretary, not the author of I Corinthians. The Holy Spirit told Paul what to write. Paul did not write on his own authority (1 Cor. 14:37). There is no basis historically or otherwise to say that Paul gave this command rather than God.
I Cor. 11 definitely includes public worship, but it not say that this is the only place it is to be practiced. We are commanded in Scripture to pray without ceasing, not just pray in church. The early church practiced the use of the headcovering throughout the week, not just on Sunday.
This myth has been perpetuated through the biases of translators and commentators. The heading in the NIV, "Propriety in Worship" (and other headings in other translations), has been added by the translators and is not in the Greek. The Christian woman is to have her head covered anytime she approaches God, at home or in public worship. The man is to have his head uncovered when he prays at home or in public.
God addresses this myth in verses 11 & 12. Both men and women are necessary and of equal importance. Husbands are not to operate independently from their wives and vice versa. Each has their God-given role that is of equal importance. Men cannot exist without women - they are born from a woman. Women cannot exist without men - they are conceived by a man. As Christians, God wants us to view each other as equally important, not inferior and superior.
This myth occurs in congregations that have over regulated the headcovering with the commands of men. Traditionally Mennonites have made a certain type(s) of covering(s) the only valid covering. In doing that a specific covering style has been made the symbol of a covered head while excluding other covered heads by calling it "protective headgear" or as "worldly". For example, many conservative Mennonite men disregard I Corinthians 11 by covering their heads most of the time with a hat. The head is not considered to be "covered" because it is not their congregation's required style of headcovering for the women, even though the hat may cover more of the head then the woman's covering. The Mennonite white cap style of covering has much more meaning to many Mennonites than only as a headcovering for praying or prophesying. Relatively small changes in shape, size, and strings identify and label a person as liberal or conservative. Some use these small differences in style to judge a person's spirituality.
Requiring a specific style of covering is often done because of a fear of what the changes will lead to in the headcovering no longer being worn. That very mentality caused the exact opposite reaction in me as a young person and in many other young people, in seeing the headcovering as a command of men, because the Mennonite white cap style is not specified in the Bible. It is not wrong for a congregation to agree for the women to all use the same style or certain styles of head covering, as long as the focus of the people is not placed primarily on the style, but on the covered head for women and the uncovered head for men.
I Cor. 11 gives us the principle of the covered head for women and the uncovered head for men. The focus of the entire passage is on the covered or uncovered head, not the covering itself. The covered head, not the covering, is the symbol of submission.
People in the Church need to feel that the focus of the Church is first on following I Cor. 11, and secondly on style. When people, especially young people, feel the focus of the Church is mainly on the style and secondarily on following I Cor. 11, they will react and throw the covering out as false teaching or as a teaching that is not required in the Bible.
It has been amazing to me in studying the headcovering how much we have been told by Christian sources that is not true. It appears that despite the high level of education today among Christians, people are relying on other people's research or opinions rather then studying things for themselves. I challenge you to study I Cor. 11 and other subjects for yourself as if you were hunting for hidden treasure (Prov. 2:4). It is amazing what you will discover. Don't ignore I Cor. 11 just because "everyone else" thinks the headcovering does not apply to today.