"Covered and Uncovered Heads" Reviewed

Foy W. Vinson
Elgin, Ill.

This is the fourth article on the above topic which has recently made its appearance in TRUTH, and I am conscious of the fact that in writing this paper I am doing so at the risk of trying the patience of some readers; however, I believe that in the interest of truth some observations need to be made of the article which appeared in the April issue lest some receive the impression that it is unanswerable and thus constitutes the "end of the matter." We can only profit by a discussion of any Bible topic and I rejoice that we have mediums such as TRUTH MAGAZINE which allow such discussions among brethren.

In the article under consideration the writer states in his introduction that it appears to him that "there is considerable basis for questioning whether I Cor. 11:1-16 teaches that women must wear hats or artificial coverings today when they pray or prophesy." Then he proceeds to set forth his reasons for such doubts. He suggests two propositions or positions, either of which if established would prove that women today do not need an artificial covering in worship.

The Two Escapes

The first position or "escape" as I choose to call it (for it is an effort to escape the necessity of an artificial covering in worship) is "the viewpoint which attributes this to a custom of Paul's day." The idea behind this is that there is no basic principle involved. Paul is simply concerned about their following the established and accepted practice of the times otherwise there would be no point to his instruction. And when such a practice ceases to be in vogue, then his language becomes pointless and inapplicable.

The second "escape" is that "considerable evidence indicates that a woman's hair may be the covering given her for this purpose." So if one is not satisfied with the first explanation and feels that Paul's teaching is binding today, then this second position says to forget the first suggestion since Paul really didn't teach what was first suggested anyway. He just means that a woman ought to have long hair on her head, not an artificial covering. So that settles it. Here are two escapes. Take your choice. And it makes no difference which one you choose, for either will eliminate an artificial covering today. But someone inquires as to which position is the truth and the answer comes that it makes no difference. Hear our brother: "The difficulty of deciding which of these two (is true-I conclude he means-FWV) is spared us since in either case the result is the same." Paul said "prove all things; hold fast that which is good;" but our brother says we don't have to prove this. We can just remain in a state of indecision. But brethren (and especially sisters) if we cannot prove or know WHICH of these positions is the truth then we cannot prove or know that EITHER of them is the truth. Escapes such as these which hang in such indecision appear far too dangerous when they so blatantly fly in the face of the obvious and natural meaning of the text. As we examine more precisely these two positions I believe the cause of the uncertainty which envelops them will become apparent.

Only A Matter of Custom?

The writer states that those who object to the view that this was wholly a matter of custom claim that God would not bind a human custom on the church. Then he proceeds to show that where a failure on the part of the church to abide by a custom would bring reproach upon it, that under such circumstances the church would be instructed to conform to said custom. I think we would agree with this since Paul teaches us by example to "become all things to all men" as long as we can do so without violating God's will. However, the point is this: Would Paul seek to establish a human custom as he did establish the necessity of a woman wearing a covering in worship? Would he use the arguments which he did use if this were only a matter of human custom?

Paul's first argument is an appeal to a custom or a recognized evil. (vs. 5, 6.) The commonly recognized evil or shame was a shaven or shorn woman. Paul declares, however, that an uncovered woman in worship equals a shaven or shorn woman. It was admittedly wrong to be shaven or shorn, and yet since worship without a covering is just as shameful, women should wear a covering. This argument, however, implies that it was not considered shameful for a woman to worship without a covering! Otherwise the force of Paul's argument is removed. If the absence of the inquiry is seen to be one of magnitude. If the absence of the covering was a recognized shame and they were ignoring custom in regard to it, there was no reason to expect them to be moved by an appeal to just another custom. His appeal to that which was generally considered shameful manifests his confidence in the brethren in Corinth that they would want to avoid any shameful conduct. The very fact that at least some women were leaving off the covering proves it wasn't so considered. Hence Paul is teaching that God considers an uncovered woman just as shameful as one who is shaven or shown.

The apostle's second argument in favor of the covering conclusively excludes the possibility of it being only a matter of custom (vs. 7-9). Here he teaches that a man should not be covered because he is the glory of God, but conversely a woman should be covered because she is the glory of the man. This argument is drawn form the relationship between God, man and the woman by reason of creation. This has nothing to do with human custom. Man had nothing to do with this relationship; it was wholly determined by God at creation. So Paul says: Don't cover God's glory, man; do cover man's glory, woman. Since man is still God's glory today and woman is still the glory of man, and further, since Paul instructed Christians to manifest this distinction in worship by the use of the covering, I ask by what authority do we discard this teaching today and lightly pass it by? Brethren, we should be exceedingly careful lest we be found wrestling God's holy word. By way of explanation it might be well to observe that Paul has nothing to say about an artificial covering becoming a "symbol of subjection to mankind back in the Garden of Eden." Needless conjecture about the woman's sin being involved or resulting in some sort of "second subjection" (whatever that may be) would best be eliminated. Paul is writing to Christians in the present dispensation instructing them as to what they should do now as a result of their relationships. Let us be content with the apostle's explanation of this in verses 7 to 9.

Is Woman's Hair the Covering?

Having shown that there is more than custom involved in this discussion, we now turn to a consideration of what constitutes the covering. Having learned that this teaching is applicable even now, the object of our present inquiry is seen to be one of magnitude. Our brother mentioned Clarke, Barnes and McGarvey in support of his contention on custom, but made no mention of them when arguing that the hair is the covering. The obvious reason for this is that all three strongly content that the covering is artificial. In fact, I do not recall having read a commentator who takes another position. Of course this doesn't prove anything one way or the other, but it was interesting to me how these "eminent men" were ignored when the kind of covering came to be considered.

The chief argument which is made in endeavoring to establish the hair as the covering is that Paul had three degrees of covering under consideration which are as follows: (1) long or uncut hair; (2) shorn hair (which he defines as a complete removal of the hair) ; and (3) a degree which falls between these two, where the hair has been cut but not entirely removed. In this way the expression in verse 6, "let her also be shorn," would not then necessitate the conclusion that Paul is referring to an artificial covering. In other words it has Paul saying the following: "if the woman be not covered (that is, if she does not have long hair-hair that has not been cut or trimmed at all), let her also be shorn (let her finish the job; let her cut it all off if she has cut any of it, because she has uncovered herself by having clipped or trimmed even a single strand of hair).

Now the veracity of the above conclusion hinges on the validity of his premise-i.e.- the three degrees which he mentioned above. Did the apostle have three degrees in mind? And if so, were these the three? I agree that three degrees are mentioned but I deny that they are the three which our brother describes. He pictures "long hair" and "shorn hair" as the two extremes, the former excluding the removal of any hair and the latter including the removal of all the hair. But here he contradicts Paul. The apostle has "long hair" (Vs. 15) and a "shaven" head (Vs. 5) at opposite ends, and "shorn" hair (Vs. 6) in between the two. These are the three degrees Paul mentioned, but the writer of the article under consideration forgot about a shaven woman. And there is a difference between shaven and shorn. The first is taken from the Greek "eurasthai" and means "to shave, to get oneself shaved." The second comes from "keirasthai" and means as even our brother defined it, "to cut the hair short, to cut one's hair, or have one's hair cut." Therefore when a woman is shorn she then has short hair, but before she is shorn she has long hair. So our brother's effort is for naught. Paul is saying that if a woman is not covered then she should also remove her long hair! He wasn't writing to women with short hair. They had long hair but they were still uncovered! Charles B. Williams in his book, "New Testament," page 379, says: "Only lewd women among the Greeks wore short hair or shaved their heads." Surely the Christian women at Corinth had not thus associated themselves with such by removing or cutting off their long hair.

I believe these comments should suffice to show all why these two escapes were stated and pictured in such an indecisive manner. Our brother in his article is found opposing himself. His first position was that the covering is artificial and that it was a matter of custom and his second position has him denying what he first was endeavoring to establish. I wonder too if he is willing to accept the consequences of his second position. From a practical viewpoint he in effect is contending that most every woman today must wear a covering, for his second position is that if a woman has cut her hair at all (which describes nearly all women today) then she must put on in artificial covering. So we find him running headlong into the very thing he was trying to escape.

There are a number of other matters which were mentioned in his article pertaining to the style of covering, public and/or private worship, etc. which space forbids me to comment upon. In this article I have simply tried to answer his two principal arguments on custom and the kind of covering. It is my prayer that we will carefully weigh these matters and be constrained to submit humbly and completely to the will of the Lord in this and in every other matter pertaining to our obedience to Him.

Truth Magazine II:10, 2-3, 20
July 1958