The Veil: Law or Custom?

W. E. Warnock
Akron, Ohio

(The following explanatory notes are not written with the view of trying to prohibit women from wearing an artificial "covering" in worship. W o m e n wearing a "covering" or not wearing one is a matter of indifference with me. My purpose in dealing with these passages is to show that wearing a "covering" is not obligatory, and, therefore, no person has a right to bind such practice upon Christian women. In the words of Paul, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5).

Verse 1. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." This verse would be better fitted at the close of chapter 10. The American Standard Version puts it there.

Verse 2. "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you." The Greek word for "ordinances" is "paradoseis" and means, "What is delivered, the substance of the teaching . . . of the particular injunctions of Paul's instruction" (Thayer). This verse does not mean that everything stated in the letter is law. Else, I Cor. 7:6-9, 26-28 is still in force and the holy kiss of I Cor. 16:20 would have to be practiced. Hence, everything in I Cor. 11:116 is not necessarily binding today.

Verse 3. "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." This is the order God has decreed for all time. Any practice that reverses this order is wrong. Apparently some of the Corinthians were guilty of such reversions by failing to comply with their customary practices that denoted or manifested the proper order. If they were not guilty of such, the apostle was at least writing to prevent them from becoming guilty.

Verse 4. "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered (veiled), dishonoureth his head." It was the customary practice for a Jew to cover his head with the Tallith when he entered the assembly for worship. The covering was placed like a veil over his head or like a scarf over his shoulders. (Conybeare & Howson) The fourcornered Tallith was a badge of an Israelite. On I Cor. 11:4, 7, Conybeare & Howson say, "It is quite possible that the Tallith, though generally worn in the congregation, might be removed by anyone who rose to speak or who prayed aloud." Whether this be so or not, one thing is quite clear: Paul says that the man was not permitted to have a covering (a veil hanging down from his head, Thayer) while praying or prophesying. The veiled man would appear as one subordinate to man and not as one having authority over the woman. He would therefore dishonor his head and also would not manifest himself as the image and glory of God (v. 7).

Verse 5. "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered (unveiled) dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven." We know from Acts 2:17-18; Acts 21:9 that there were women prophetesses in the early church. We also know from this present verse that women prayed. Since praying is mentioned along with prophesying, a miraculous gift, we confidently assert that praying in these passages was miraculous too. I Cor. 14:14-16 leaves no doubt that praying was done at times under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul is showing how both sexes are to manifest their proper relationship in the exercise of these supernatural functions. When the women prayed or prophesied, they had to be covered (veiled, according to Thayer). When the men did these things, they had to be uncovered or unveiled. As these women did the same acts that the men performed in verse 4, they had to put on a veil which was a sign or symbol of their subordination to man (v. 10). The veil removed brought disgrace because it put her on the plane with man and by so doing she arrogated to herself an honor that is not hers. Let us keep in mind just here that what Paul says in regard to the women being veiled is not applicable when the whole church comes together. The women could neither lead in prayer nor (prophesy as they were to keep silent in the assemblies (I Cor. 14:34). The veils were only to be worn when praying or prophesying. Those who use this passage to try to bind on women the wearing of an artificial covering when the whole church meets are being most presumptuous. The apostle says nothing about being veiled in public worship, but rather when praying or prophesying. It is mere assumption to say that I Cor. 11:1-16 is referring to the public assembly of the church. Paul's dealings with the public assembly begins in I Cor. 11:17. I Cor. 14:34 shows that I Cor. 11:1-16 could not be a public assembly or else there is a contradiction. Praying and prophesying were to be exercised as opportunities afforded themselves. However, the public assemblies of the church were not the opportune places.

Verse 6. "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered (veiled)." Hair is given the woman for a covering (verse 15). This is the natural covering that all women are to have. The artificial covering (veil) was to be used only by those women that prayed or prophesied. Removing the veil would put her on the plane with man. So, she had just as well been shorn and be altogether like a man.

Verse 7. "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man." The veil was a sign of woman's subordination to man. Since man is to rule over the woman, and in this respect he is the image and glory of God, man ought not to have the veil on his head while praying or prophesying. Thayer says image "is applied to man, on account of his power of command." As to man's glory, Thayer states, "whose function of government reflects the majesty of the divine ruler." Woman is the glory of the man in that she was made for him, from him, to be a help to him.

Verse 8. "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man." Man was first, then the woman. Man has the priority as "Adam was first formed then Eve" (I Tim. 2:13)

Verse 9. "Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man." Albert Barnes wrote, "The woman was made for the comfort and happiness of man. Not to be a slave, but a help-meet .... He is to be the head; the ruler; the presider in the family.... Her rank is therefore honorable, though it is subordinate."

Verse 10. "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her heed because of the angels." Thayer says in regards to "power on her head" the following: "a sign of the husband's authority over his wife, i. e. the veil with which propriety required a woman to cover herself." Thayer calls the wearing of the veil an act of propriety. Propriety pertains to that which is suitable, fit, and customary. (Webster) Therefore, wearing the veil while praying or prophesying was nothing more than an act of propriety, which at the time, signified subordination. I think the subordination is to man in general and not to the husband in particular as Thayer states. Read verse three again. Thayer says, "because of the angels" means, "that she may show reverence for the angels, invisibly present in the religious assemblies of Christians, and not displease them." (Italics, Thayer) We might challenge Thayer's statement that angels were invisibly present in the religious assemblies, but the rest of his remarks are most plausible. We know that angels are interested in our doing right (Lk. 15:10). Hence, women were to manifest their proper place by wearing the veil when praying or prophesying to also please the angels.

Verse 11. "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." To prevent the man becoming filled with pride from the facts previously stated about his being the head, etc., Paul points out the dependence that man has on the woman and woman the man.

Verse 12. "For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God." Man is born of woman and is by the woman. The thought in verse 11 is continued.

Verse 13. "Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" "Decide yourselves'' Paul writes or "From the standpoint of common sense," is it "comely" that a woman pray "uncovered" (unveiled, Thayer on "akatakaluptos")? "Prepo" is the Greek word for "comely.', It means, "to be becoming, seemly, fit." (Thayer) Paul is simply saying that propriety should regulate the woman's wearing the veil when praying.

Verse 14. Doth not even nature teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" "Phusis" is the Greek word translated "nature." It means, "the native sense of propriety." (Thayer)

Verse 15. "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." Hair is woman's natural covering. It is a distinguishing feature between her and man. Nature taught that long hair on man was a shame, but on the woman, her glory. There is nothing in this passage that prohibits a woman's cutting the hair. It simply states that her long (a relative term) hair is her glory and covering. Based on custom or "nature," the length of woman's hair will vary from time to time. Long hair now would have been considered short a century ago.

Verse 16. "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." The view occupied by some brethren is that if any is contentious about conforming to what Paul wrote in the preceding verses, he can just ignore the entire matter. But this position makes Paul invalidate in one verse all that he had said in the previous verses. This interpretation holds no merit whatsoever. The thought in the verse is that some might want to be quarrelsome and desire to change what Paul has taught. Hence, he lets them know that "we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." The apostle is saying in effect that "our custom or practice is: (1) Men are to pray and prophesy with unveiled heads; (2) Women are to veil themselves while praying or prophesying; (3) All women are to be veiled with long hair." In short, Paul is saying that the Corinthians must comply with the acts of propriety or custom.

Some Reflections

Today, since the veil no longer carries the connotation of subordination, the woman that prays or teaches is under no obligation to be veiled. A woman without the veil would no longer clash with the divine facts manifested in the custom. Too, women no longer pray or prophesy as they did in I Cor. 11.

If a Christian woman does not have to wear the veil today, hanging down from her head, but may substitute a hat, which in many cases, just covers a small portion of the top of the head' how small does a hat have to become before a woman would be "uncovered?''

What is the difference between substituting a hat for a veil and substituting sprinkling for baptism, that is, if being covered is a law of God?

If feet washing and the holy kiss were compulsory practices, and yet not laws, why could not the wearing of the veil be in the same category? As hospitality and affection are now shown without feet washing and the holy kiss, so is subordination now manifested without the woman being veiled.

Some say, "In order to be safe, the woman ought to wear hats to worship." No, if this reasoning is going to be used on "coverings," the women, in order to be safe, ought to wear veils to worship. Paul said "veils," not "hats." You are urged to read the American Standard Version on I Cor 11 in order to get the proper meaning of "covering."

Finally, let us notice once again that the public assembly of the church is not under consideration in I Cor. 11:1-16. Paul's instructions for the women to veil themselves when praying or prophesying would have been absurd if the public assembly is included, as three chapters later, he commands them to be silent. Why would Paul tell the women how to adorn themselves for prophesying in the public assembly, and then inform them that they can't prophesy after all?

TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 5, pp. 16-18 February 1966