Andrée Seu has written a column in this week’s World magazine on why she is now wearing a head-covering to church. I second every attitudinal instinct she expresses in her piece, and I pray her tribe will increase!
That said, though I agree with her submission to Scripture and embrace the clear roles it gives to men and women, I don’t think a woman needs to cover her head when she goes to church.
For the same reason that I don’t think we all need to greet each other with a holy kiss. Does that mean that I have rejected what the kiss and the head covering signify?
Not on your life.
I think that the kiss points to our need to express our enthusiastic affection for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Where I live, we do that with loud greetings (always a bit surprising to the more genteel), firm handshakes that nearly yank the shoulder out of socket for the guys, respectful side-hugs for the gals, and big smiles all the way around. The enthusiasm and affection all this communicates is, I think, what Paul wants from the holy kiss.
Similarly, at our church women don’t teach men or exercise authority over them (1 Tim 2:12), and we’re trying to cultivate men and women who obey everything Paul says about marriage in a text like Ephesians 5:22-33. The women get to submit; the men get to lay down their lives. And we’re trying to leaven this all through our lives. The godly male authority and the feminine embrace of and submission thereto is, I think, what Paul wants communicated by the head covering.
It would be possible for us to kiss each other coldly, and it would be possible for the women to cover their heads but “wear the pants,” or try to. In both cases, we would be keeping the commands in the way the Pharisees kept the law. So I hope that we’re keeping the spirit of the law without its letter. That is, I hope that we have contextualized the head covering and the holy kiss so that we keep them even though the ladies don’t have anything on their heads and we don’t peck each other on the cheek.
If you convince me that we haven’t, I’d rather start giving kisses and seeing head coverings on the ladies than relegate what they signify–enthusiasm for each other and male headship–to the first century. Christ rules the church through his Word, and as Andrée Seu rightly writes, the King has spoken.
26 responses to “Amen to the Attitude!”
I’m not opposed to the “holy kiss” or head coverings. I think it’s a slippery slop when we start looking at biblical instructions as culturally relevant (I’m not accusing you of this just an observation).
I hope nobody steps in the slippery slop and slip-slides down the steep slope, at least not before enjoying a holy kiss and maybe a good foot washing. Didn’t Edwards preach on sinners standing or sliding or slipping or something. Maybe it was dangling. Chris, just having a little fun. Slippery slop – must be from all the blogal warming everyone keeps talking about.
So to clarify – you are against women wearing pants in church?
I find it passing strange that you equate these two very different literary genres. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” is a command, but it is only found in the formulaic postscripts of Paul’s letters. On the other hand, Paul’s mandate for women to wear a headcovering while praying is argued for and grounded in redemptive history and spiritual realities. It is clearly and purposefully cross-cultural. It seems to me that you are stretching a bit on this one.
As for me and my house, I’ve studied the subject a little, posted on it on my blog, and have had some very good conversations about it with my wife. Yet, my wife does not cover her head when she prays. In the end, you’re right. The symbol is to signify the heart’s submission: submission to God and man. I haven’t come to the point of asking my wife to wear a headcovering. I’m hoping that as she thinks it through, she will see, as Andree Seu has, that God has spoken, and he has made himself very clear.
No–unless the pants make her look like a man, or unless she’s using them to symbolize that she’s rejecting male headship.
We disagree. I don’t think the doxologies are formulaic postscripts, and I don’t think that the idea behind “greet one another with a holy kiss” is formulaic. Paul lives for the glory of God, and he has been marked by mercy and grace–so he ends on grace at the end of his letters–and he wants Christians to be nice, even affectionate–with one another.
I didn’t mean to infer that Paul was being disingenuous with his command to greet with a holy kiss. I know his gospel compels him to say and mean every word. I should not have used the word formulaic.
What I was trying to get at is this, greeting one another with a holy kiss does not include a well thought out argument by Paul. The practice must not be so strange or so repulsive to his hearers that he feels the need to defend the practice by arguing from creation and heaven. Rather, as he finishes his letters and sends his final greetings, he simply tells his hears to greet each other with a holy kiss.
Since Paul does not indicate that there is any special symbolism associated with a kiss of greeting that is creational in origin and especially expressive before the angels, the holy kiss seems to be a prime candidate for being replaced by other equally expressive cultural forms (the principle remains). On the other hand, if Paul had stated that this specific expression of love was a symbol that best expressed the reality behind it, then we could place these two things in the same category.
I’ve always been intrigued by the term “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20). The handshake was probably not the customary greeting in those days. Paul looked for something that relates to a deeper method to exhibit Christian love. Today the term “the right hand of fellowship” is often used. I imagine the “holy kiss” meant the same although maybe not the physical pressing of lips. But of course Paul used “philema” which is a noun…so perhaps he started something new that changed the world. 🙂
Thanks for rigorous attention to and submission to God’s Word. Dr. Schreiner’s clarity and insight is on display in his student. Question: The phrase “the spirit of the law” is not exactly biblical language, yet we hear it from time to time in theological/hermeneutical discussions. What is your biblical basis for this language and what is meant by it? Perhaps pointing to a couple of your favorite resources on the topic would suffice. Thanks.
“I heard the veiling of women was just an ancient custom we no longer keep, like ‘foot-washing.'”
· Summary: Those who offer up this excuse are attempting to equate headcovering with the ancient custom of washing a traveler’s feet (John 12:3), which is no longer observed.
· Facts: Foot washing was a hospitality custom of ancient civilizations where sandals were the chief footwear, as walking would expose a sandaled foot to the filth of the road (Matt 10:14). A host would provide water for guests to wash their feet; a wealthy host could provide a slave or servant to perform the service (Gen 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; 1 Sam 25:41). It was considered a very humble thing to do. Christ accepted the service, and considered it a sign of character (Luke 7:37-48). It was also a service Christ Himself was willing to perform (John 13:3-17).
Flaw 1.A: It is true that the washing of feet and veiling women were both ancient customs, and it is true that Christians rarely wash another’s feet today. It has, however, been persuasively argued that we continue to keep the spirit of the example.
Foot-washing was a function of hospitality; bare feet get filthy from the road. The purpose for cleaning dirty feet was, for a widow, part of several activities that show a history of hospitality to others. This is also indicated by her helping the sick, lodging strangers, and other good works (1 Tim 5:10). Since most nations now have access to socks and shoes, feet rarely get that filthy from travel, and washing clean feet is simply pointless. But there are still other practical ways to be hospitable today that are just as humbling, just as useful (like washing dirty socks), and true Christian widows will perform these acts.
If we wish to compare headcovering to foot-washing, we must now ask: “What is the purpose of covering or uncovering the head?” According to Scripture, a man must not have something on his head when he prays or prophesies because men are the “image and glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7) and that every man “dishonors Christ” if he covers his head when he prays or prophesies (1 Cor 11:4). Likewise, it is written that a woman should be covered because women are instead the “glory of man” and that she would dishonor her headman to go uncovered in prayer or prophesy (1 Cor 11:5). So Paul has revealed that the purpose of a man keeping his head unconcealed is to reveal God’s image and glory, and thus honor Christ before His head, the Father God. The reason a woman covers her head is to cover man’s glory before God, and thus honor her headman. This begs another important question: “What modern custom can replace the act of uncovering or covering while simultaneously keeping the purpose of covering, namely the exposure of God’s glory (a man’s head) to honor Christ and the concealment of man’s glory (a woman’s head)?” The answer is “none.” Logic concludes that, unlike the case of foot-washing, there is no satisfactory substitute for women covering, nor for men taking covers off, nor a practical reason to find one.
Flaw 1.B: As is seen in the first flaw (1.A), it isn’t the extreme oldness of foot-washing that discourages it, but the practicality. The custom of headcovering may be ancient, but there are plenty of ancient customs churches still keep, and worse, there is no Biblical precedence for many of them.
One relic kept in the churches today is the instalment of pews in buildings, the pew being invented in the 14th century and popularized in the 15th.*a Even though far more comfortable, economical, and practical group seating has developed over the past 600 years, and despite the lack of Scriptural support, the tradition of pews continues to be consciously associated with worship well into the 21st century. Likewise, our churches frequently celebrate weddings between young Christians. But the special dress, bridesmaids, the rings, the flowers, the flower girls and ring bearers, the cake, the candles, and the vows are all ancient traditions of the Hebrews, Pagan Greeks, Babylonians, Arabs, Romans, and Egyptians.*b Even the officiating minister is a continuation of a traditional “priestly” role.*c It should go without saying that there is absolutely no New Testament support, nor a single practical reason, to observe any of these archaic traditions, some of which predate the Law of Moses. It is true that in areas where the Scripture is silent on personal behavior, we are free to exercise behavior that does not contradict the law of Christ (1 Cor 10:23). There is nothing wrong with the customs of sitting in pews or having a white wedding. But unlike any commandments for a creaky bench or pretty bouquets of roses, the Bible does contain the commandments for covering and uncovering. To associate Christ’s religion with antiquated seating or primitive marriage traditions, while at the same time stripping religious significance from an “old” God given ordinance, is just plain hypocrisy.
Even more significant to this argument are the reasons Paul gives us for a woman being covered: men are the image and glory of God (1 Cor 11:7; Gen 1:26), the covering of a her headman’s glory to honor him (1 Cor 11:5,7; Eph 5:22-25), the shame a woman would feel at being bald should be felt when she is uncovered in prayer and prophesy (1 Cor 11:6; Isa 3:24), woman was created for man and therefore should show the angels a symbol of authority in times of prayer and prophesy (1 Cor 11:9-10; 1 Pet 1:12), a woman’s long hair is a glory for herself also (1 Cor 11:15a; Song 7:5), creation teaches that women should be covered (1 Cor 11:15b; Rom 1:20-21), and everyone with Paul and every faithful church rejected the custom of uncovered women (1 Cor 11:13,16; Eph 4:4-6). Are men no longer the image and glory of God? Were women not created to help men? Are women no longer a glory to men? Is a woman’s hair no longer a glory for her? Are women no longer ashamed of being bald? Are angels no longer the servants of God? Is the re-creation of first-century churches no longer our goal? Contrary to the idea that each of these reasons for covering are conditional to a particular time, each reason given is truly timeless.
a. The History of Pews (Cambridge, 1841)
b. Carry Me Over the Threshold: A Christian Guide to Wedding Traditions; Seleshanko (Zondervan, 2006)
c. Ritual in Early Modern Europe; Muir (Cambridge, 1997)
Flaw 1.C: In addition to the previous flaws, there is a still more important “apples & oranges” issue with this excuse. When discussing the Biblical significance of the washing of feet, careful study will show that it is a function of fellowship and a matter of showing hospitality. But can the same be said of headcovering?
In 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, Paul reveals to us when the head is to be uncovered or covered; while a man or woman prays or prophesies. Neither praying nor proclaiming the inspired word of God can be considered matters of hospitality, but, as any devout Christian can tell you, are indeed acts of worship. We are no longer speaking of ordinary social customs, but behavior associated with the way men and women come before the Father in worship. Hospitality is apples, and acts of worship are oranges— they cannot be equated. This is very significant.
Let us imagine that a teacher came into your congregation and said, “Jesus only used grape juice and unleavened bread because of the Passover traditions of the Jews; it’s simply all He had around at the time. It is more important to have the “cup” with some “bread.” Therefore we can safely replace the juice with whatever beverage we have available, and replace the unleavened bread with inexpensive white bread when observing the modern Lord’s Supper.” One can only imagine the outcry from the brethren at the declaration of such a doctrine, yet here we have an identical teaching! Because covering is an “ancient custom” it is fine disregard the Scriptures, despite women covering being a requirement of prayer and proclamation of the inspired word in the exact same way as the “ancient” elements are associated to the Table (Matt 26:26-28). So where is the outcry?
“Where is the outcry?”
I’m in my early 30s. I’ve never been in an environment where this was regularly practiced. I did once attend Dr. Joel Beeke’s church in Grand Rapids where it was observed, but even there it appeared to be more of a fashion statement (to be fair, I’m assuming that no matter where this would be practiced in our day, there would be pressure to let her glory shine through). Since folks in my generation have never seen this practiced and we’ve always been told that the practice is culturally conditioned, we’re not sure what there is to cry out about.
What I’m trying to do at this point is find out if the tradition handed down by the apostle really is trans-cultural. I’m going back to the word to try to discern the will of the Lord in this. Even if I am to come to the conclusion that this is tradition is universal in scope (geographically and temporally), there would be many other things which I’d focus on before getting bent out of shape on this one.
For instance, the pressure in the church today with regards to feminist ideology and practice makes me much more concerned at getting to the root than just focusing on the surface issues. It really doesn’t make sense to mandate a practice that does not symbolize the reality of the heart. Until churches do a better job explaining why loving leadership and faithful following are gospel issues, it would simply do us no good to ask women to wear headcoverings.
In fact, we’d soon find ourselves back in the same situation. Is this not why the practice fell away in recent years. It’s not that scholars came across any new evidence demonstrating the wearing headcoverings in the 20th Century was contra-biblical. We simply rejected the root issue; the relationship of husbands and wives described in the Bible was secondary, if not dated. Hence, headcoverings became hats and when hats fell out of fashion, we were left with a visual representation of our hearts. Men wear baseball caps to church and women wear pants.
This is why I really love Jim’s heart on these issues (though we disagree on this one in particular). His work in this area has been clear and biblical. As we go, as the Reformers did, back to the fountain of living waters and drink from that deep well, we will bring healing to families and the glory of God will be clearly seen again in his church.
Thanks for your note and your kind words! I’m just using the phrase as a figure of speech to get at the idea of keeping the intent of the law. Doing what the Lord meant for us to do when he gave the law. . .
Hope this helps!
love you brother!
you get the award…
for best blogger in the family!
You go to the heart of the argument. What is the meaning of the head covering? But the Bible doesn’t indicate that all women are followers and all men are leaders. I would guess that women leaders, such as Phoebe, the prostatis, wore head coverings in the Bible. Certainly women leaders in the Greek and Roman world wore head coverings at that time. Probably Junia also wore a head covering.
If the “leading Greek women” wore veils, then no doubt the Christian women leaders would also have done so. Let us be humble before the whole council of God.
I am deeply moved and concerned by reading that a single Christian woman today would seek “spiritual covering” from a married Christian male. Single Christian women must take on the spirit of women missionaries and mystics and trust God to be sufficient. Only God meets the need of the single woman, not someone else’s husband.
Good Afternoon Suzanne,
Your statement, “The Bible doesn’t indicate that all women are followers and all men are leaders,” is true as far as it goes, but it’s also misleading. As our creator, God knows how to use language carefully to avoid needless perversions. A broad statement like this would doubtlessly be perverted quickly and God saw fit to never write it. On the other hand, the Bible does indicate that in general terms, men lead and women follow. Since even this general statement can be misleading, the Bible gives many qualifying statements and examples to protect against perversion.
Given your contrast between married and single women (and for the sake of argument), I’m assuming we both view a married woman as, at least in some way, under the authority of her husband. Also, given that we have the most instances of this type of relationship in the Bible, I’ll not address it.
However, I certainly do not agree with your last paragraph, so I’ll try to address some things from there. First you’ll note that I never use the phrase “spiritual covering.” I don’t like the phrase because it’s unclear and likely errant. I’d rather think of physical coverings that symbolize one aspect of the mystery of Christ and his bride.
Two things: first, Paul was a single man and I don’t think it would be a stretch to hold that Paul includes himself in the command to men (you seem to take the word “man” here to refer to husbands) to leave their heads uncovered while praying. If it’s true that Paul includes himself in this command (or for that matter any other single man, Jesus comes to mind), then it could easily follow that single women would also qualify for the second half of the command, “women …,” not “wives ….”
Thus, if single women are to be included in the command, than they ought to fall under the authority of men (their own fathers and brothers or at the very least their elders). This is not to say that the elders are to “meet the needs” of single women the way a husband meets the needs of his wife. It simply means that, as we all vow when we join a church, we will obey those put in authority over us.
And so, I don’t see any special dispensation for missionaries and mystics.
Hope this helps,
I have yet to hear that there is one example in Greek literature where exousia echein means to have on one’s head a symbol of being under someone else’s authority. I would be very interested in hearing of such a case.
I have yet to hear one one example contemporary with the NT where authentein means to exercize appropriate authority.
In the absence of being able to draw firm conclusions from these verses, I would deduce that the male – female relationship in church is one of brother and sister. I do not hold that a single woman should be under the authority of a male relative, nor is that always possible.
I would consider that evey woman who founds an organization on her own initiative as a Christian woman is an example of God’s working in her in a direct way and that much of God’s work would be left undone if women were obliged to follow men.
Think of Clara Barton, who was denied the position as head of the school she founded because whe was a woman. She founded the American Red Cross on her own initiative. She did this to serve men, not to follow them. She organized the supply trains that bvrought succor to men in the battlefield. She was the first woman to have a fulltime job as clerk in the US federal gov’t. She resisted the restrictions placed on women in her day. She models direct female lea action.
In the spiritual realm, Hilda of Whitby headed up the institution that trained 5 bishops. o men want a world without Helen Roseveare, Amy Carmichael, Florence Nightingale and Florence Li Tim Oi?
Are you really telling women not to take initiative but wait for men to think of things first?
I would also point out that single women are not in a sacrifice – submission relationship. The model jim’s post suggests that single women are in an authority – submission relationship, while married women are in a sacrifice – submission relationship.
So single women in the congregation are under authority without benefitting in any way that a man as member of the congregation does not also benefit. It is a four-legged table with one leg missing. I will be interested in seeing if there is a way to rationalize this lack of balance.
I just noticed your blog and your interest in literal translations. We share many interests. I am looking for the modern translation which is as essentially literal as the KJV for Rom.16:1, 2 and 7 and 1 Cor. 11:0 and 1 Tim. 2:12. Any thoughts?
1 Cor. 11:10 – sorry – sticky keyboard.
Another Good Morning to you Suzanne,
You’ve brought up many things and I only have time for one, so I’ll address the first item you’ve brought up: the use of exousia echein in Greek literature.
Here is your argument as best I can reconstruct it:
1) You’ve not seen a single example in all of the Greek literature where exousia echein clearly means “to have on one’s head a symbol of being under someone else’s authority.”
2) You’ve not seen a single example in Koine Greek where authentein clearly means “to exercise appropriate authority.”
3) Therefore, you reason that the “male – female relationship in the church is one of brother and sister.”
Here is my response:
First, comments on blogs are no place for tight logic, but I don’t see how your conclusion necessarily follows even if I were to grant your first two points. The reason those of us who affirm what we see as a God designed and ordain patriarchy is not based on these two verses, but on the whole thrust of Scripture from beginning to end. We don’t need these verses to be overwhelmingly clear, since the rest of the Scriptures lay out a basic framework within which we can interpret them, that is, the believe that of the Bible helps clarify these otherwise confusing statements. This is the traditional doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. We don’t maintain that all parts are equally clear, but we do maintain that the light of the Word in some parts illuminates others that do not shine as brightly.
Even so, I can still agree with your conclusion as written. You are absolutely right. By in large, the male – female relationship in the church is one of brother and sister. If I were to approach another woman, married or not, and speak into her life authoritatively, in what ever form that could take, I would be out of place. I am not an elder in my church and God has not placed me in authority over any other woman in the church besides my wife and daughters.
But that is as far as I can go with the statement, since it is clear that you mean much more than that. If I’m not mistaken you hold that women can be elders and therefore exercise authority (appropriate) over her brothers.
Books have been written on this, so I’ll just make two more observations. First, if all you have going for you is the fact that you think that the interpretation of these two verses is questionable; I don’t think it would be wise to make any hard and fast conclusions based on them. What I’m getting at is this: you haven’t argued convincingly that these verses mean the opposite of what I hold, only that my interpretation is not as solid as I might have hoped. Therefore, given what you’ve stated, we should not draw any conclusions from these verses. Paul’s murky indicative simply will not support any clear imperative. Maybe that’s all you were trying to say, but you used the word “deduce” and so I have to assume that you were drawing a conclusion.
Secondly, I don’t follow your argument on the lack of Greek literature supporting my interpretation. You seem to be saying that since we do not find any instances in the Greek literature supporting the way Paul is using these words and phrases, therefore Paul must not have meant them the way the church through the ages has understood him to have meant them.
I don’t think you are one very good ground here either. First of all, it could be that Paul is introducing a new tradition to the church (I think we would both agree he is not). If he were, he would necessarily have to be using the phrases and words in ways that had never been used before. Yet even so, I think he is introducing a “new to the Greek world” tradition. That is, he is introducing new ways of thinking about men and woman and their dress. He bases these new traditions in Messianic Jewish thought. This way of speaking is totally foreign to this Greek audience (not to mention to much of his Jewish audience). Therefore, it should not surprise us at all that we can not find these phrases being used in the Greek world of Paul’s day or in previous generations. In the end, I see this way of arguing as very weak, especially in the light of the overall flow of thought in the Bible at large and the thrust of these passages specifically.
Well, books have been written and this is getting long, so I’ll stop. Do continue to read Jim’s blog, articles, and books. I think you will find over the years that he has a mind to address all your concerns.
I want you to know that I do not disregard your very kind response. However, Jim has seen fit to moderate my comments and I am not able to discuss this further here.
Please accept my regrets. I have posted my own website this time and if Jim allows this comment to remain I would invite you warmly to particpate in the discussions on our website at the Better Bibles Blog where a group of trained Bible translators post on translation issues.
The participants come from a variety of backgrounds, the focus is Bible translation and we are all well trained in the Biblical languages. I note that you share these interests.
Looks like I entered the link improperly but it is with my name.
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I imagine this is an inactive post at the moment, but as a headcovering proponent I feel inclined to weigh in, even if just for a bit.
A point and then a question.
Paul never in giving his rationale for the practice in 1 Cor 11 ever gives the culture as a reason. Yet, I always hear, “The reason Paul said this was …” and then something cultural. But he tells us his rationale.
My question: Many will say that a head covering no longer symbolizes a wife’s submission to her husband’s authority today, so that symbol doesn’t work. Then what do churches that don’t practice it do in order to demonstrate a wife’s submission to her husband?
Thanks for sparking the conversation!
Thanks for your note. I see a nod toward culture in the reference to “long hair” being ” a disgrace or a glory in 1 Cor 11:14-15. What sets the standard for what is long or short?
I think the culture sets that standard. . .
As for what communicates an embrace of biblical gender roles in our churches, I would say that for a woman it has to do with modest clothing and an inclination to be a submissive helper. And, I do think our culture has symbols that point to this, such as a married woman taking her husband’s last name, the wearing of a wedding ring, and perhaps more importantly, the way that a wife honors her husband in her conduct.
Hope this helps!
I’d heard the wedding ring before, I think from Dan Wallace the first time, but that never really jazzed me since the husband wears one as well, but some do advocate a “mutual submission” approach, but I guess that’s another discussion.
However, good point about the wife taking the husband’s name.
The only ladies I’ve known who did not take the name of their husbands certainly would not be characterized as “submissive wives.”
P.S. Good blog, brother.