"...Let Her Be Veiled."
In Answer to Common Objections
To almost every one of God's truths, there will be people who object, and for any number of reasons. Consciously or unconsciously, it is usually in order to rationalize not having to obey some application of it. Certainly, that is the most "convenient" way to avoid His commands—to convince yourself and others that you know that is just not what the Word is saying. The sister's head veiling is a prime example of this. Following are the most frequently encountered objections to this scriptural injunction.
1. It was only a local custom of the day and not meant to be practiced perpetually.
Let's take a glimpse at just what the historical data tells us. Among the Jews, the men and women covered their heads in worship: it was an expression of humility, just as the angels in Isaiah 6. However, "The Greeks (both men and women) remained bareheaded in public prayer..." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the N.T.; see also Pulpit Commentary, etc.). Corinth, of course, was a Greek city, and reflected this custom.
In public, only the harlots went about with unveiled heads and cut hair. So although it is true that Paul was, by his teaching, commanding that the Christian women not be identified by appearance as harlots in public, it is clear from the headship principles he takes pains to establish that the Christian women's head veiling stood for much more than just that. He never mentions that they should wear the veiling in order to not be identified with harlots. One realizes too that he meant for the veiling to be worn in public at all times, or they would have been identified with them.
In the carnal church at Corinth (l Cor. 3:1-3), the sisters had apparently abused their freedom in the gospel in this area. Those of Jewish background would have been used to this practice of worshipping with veiled heads (the men too, however!), but not the Greek women. Paul too would have spent his entire life as Saul worshipping with a covered head. Therefore, it wasn't a general custom for all to worship in such a mariner, until Paul had taught God's principles on the subject.
We remember too that in writing this letter Paul had in mind "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ..." (1 Cor. 1:2). This included Jewish Christians in Israel and other places where harlots didn't necessarily go about unveiled (Tamar, when she wanted to appear as a harlot, and of course disguise her identity, put on a veil in order to seduce Judah. Gen.38: 14f.).
Quite obviously, the veiling of women was not a local custom to which Paul was enslaving the sisters for the sake of cultural conformity, convention, propriety, or the like, but because God commanded that His governmental headship principles were to be exemplified by the sisters of the church as a testimony to the world and the heavenly powers.
2. The woman's long hair takes the place of a veiling.
In verse 15 of 1 Cor. 11, Paul is, in part, appealing to an illustration from nature (the long hair for women versus the short hair for men) to clarify the necessity of the veiling. Certainly he isn't contradicting everything he had said thus far in verses 3-13 about the importance of the veiled head. Again, the word translated "covering" in verse 15 is peribolaion, which means "something cast around", as opposed to the word translated covering, uncovered, etc. in the previous verses—katakalupto, which means "something which covers completely and hangs down". Paul obviously used an entirely different word in verse 15 so as to not confuse the natural hair covering with the veiling.
If one thinks that her hair is the only covering implied in this chapter, they need only replace the word "covering" in verses 4, 5, 6, 7, and 13 with the word "hair", and they will quickly see how absurd such a notion is.
The final blow to this argument is found in verse 6, where Paul says "If a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn". The word "also" (kai) can't but be implying an artificial covering besides the hair. To paraphrase this verse with this assumption in mind, it would read, "If her head is not covered with hair, then let her hair be cut." How can you cut something that isn't there?!
The long hair alone is not the sign of authority spoken of in verse 10 since anyone, male or female, Christian or non-Christian, could have it.
3. This was just a temporary custom and therefore to command it for today is the bondage of legalism.
An important principle in Bible interpretation is that one must discover, if possible, exactly how particular verses were understood by those to whom they were written, therein discerning their true meaning. Certainly, Paul's teachings were not confusing to his hearers (readers).
Tertullian was able to testify about 150 years after this epistle was written that the Corinthians still faithfully practiced the wearing of the head veiling. There can be no doubt as to how they had interpreted his teaching an this subject.
Again, the principles upon which the head veiling is based are part of the Word of God which will stand "until heaven and earth pass away". To not believe this reflects a low view of the inspiration of the Scripture, for it is a tradition (lit. something handed down) and ordained of God, and we are told to "...stand fast and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." (2 Thes. 2:15). Later on, Paul said to the Corinthians; "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord." (1 Cor. 14:37; see also I Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 3:16; Tit. 2:10).
Is it legalism to obey the clear and simple command of God? No! In fact, it is sin and idolatry not to obey the Lord. The commands of God are not options to Christians, and it is a harlot system that says they are. Through obedience to His Word one enters into His life; partakes of His life. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." He asks for a heart obedience, motivated by pure love, which far transcends the pharisaic legalism which attempts by its own righteousness to earn favor before God.
Every faithful sister who wears the veiling out of such a loving obedience can testify of the blessings that are inherent in so doing. However, one can only fully understand the deep principles it represents when they are experiencing them in their heart and walking them out in their daily life.
4. I see the need to wear it only during worship.
Paul does not necessarily have a church gathering in mind in 1 Cor. 1-16, because in verses 17, 18, and 20, as he changes his subject to communion, he says "when you come together". This makes it clear that he did not have just the assembly in mind with his previous instructions on the veiling.
The primary purpose of the sign of the veiled head is to show God's headship order, and the faithful sister's submission to her part in it. Although it is in focus in praying and prophesying also, that is not its primary function, else one could assume that perhaps its use could be limited to worship services alone. However, if a sister was to keep silent in the assembly, how could she then prophesy, even with a veiling? This would imply an unsolvable contradiction in Paul's teachings, which were from the Lord.
Even so, God forbid that the few hours one spends a week in the assembly is the only time a sister is praying and speaking forth God's Word. The Lord also commands that we pray without ceasing and to always be ready to confess to others of the hope that is within us—if a woman is to be covered at such times, then let her be covered at all times.
One could also briefly mention that the grammatical structure of the phrase "let her be covered" is in the present, active, imperative form, which would literally translate "let her continue to be covered."
5. My church, as most, does not practice wearing the head covering.
Unfortunately, this is not the only command of God that most churches fail to practice. I personally fear not to say that the Word has predicted the apostasy of these last days, in which the church itself will be overwhelmed by a spirit of disobedience and lukewarmness of love, such as will ignore or aviod the simple obedience she is called to walk in. How many churches today teach and practice agape, nonresistant love, allegiance to God above all else, the sharing of possessions, feet washing, the holy kiss, modesty, and the avoidance of Satan's snares in the world's entertainment and fashion systems? The enemy has blinded countless churches to any spiritual discernment of these things because the desire to simply love and obey the Lord at whatever cost is lacking.
James said that to him that knows to do good but does it not, to him it is sin (Ja. 4:17). If your church is disobeying God by failing to teach and practice any essential biblical truth, and refuses to repent, perhaps you had better find a church that does teach the whole counsel of God (2 Cor. 6:17). Jesus had commanded His apostles to teach the believers all that He had commanded, and a church that fails to proclaim the fullness of His truth is inviting the judgment of a righteous and holy God.
In the sometimes popular quest today for a return to the New Testament church, many don't realize that the veiling of women and other practices mentioned are essential elements of that renewal and return. The early church in Acts "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42). Paul mentions too in 1 Cor. 11:16, in concluding the discussion on the head veiling, that all the churches of God of his day practiced it.
Some would say that wearing the head veiling is just a tradition within some denominations. True, it is practiced only by a few groups, but it was also practiced by another church—the church of the New Testament. The fact that it is so little practiced today does not speak to its lack of importance, but rather to the lack of faithfulness to God's Word among so many churches.
6. I would be embarrassed to wear the head covering.
As Scripture says, a woman's hair is her glory—all woman instinctively know this, whether they have read and believed it in the Bible or not. Billions of dollars are spent each year in this country alone for the primping and prettying of woman's hair. To cover the hair under a veil is one of the best opportunities a sister has to strike at the root of pride and vainglory in her life. Some would say the head veiling is bondage; how about being bound to the hair styles and fads of the world? If there is any bondage one should be concerned about being freed from it is the idolatry of bondage to the prideful old self, which seeks continually to grasp for glory through the vanity and lust of the flesh.
If a Christian woman truly loves the Lord, will there be any cost too great in her abandonment to Him? No—in fact, she will have an enthusiasm for anything which deals with that self-root in her life; a passion to be rid of any obstacle to a deeper love and relationship with her Lord and Savior Jesus.
If one feels embarrassed to wear the head veiling, they should recognize that it is due to a fear of man. When a sister puts on the veiling, she must realize that she will be persecuted; what hurts the most is that this persecution will come primarily from other Christians who don't share the conviction. Only a sister who has been through this will know how hot that persecution fire can get, and how brutal it can be. This is because the veiling is a direct threat to the fleshly spirit which frantically clutches for what it considers to be its rights. However, a faithful sister never needs to apologize for her obedience to God's Word.
7. I just don't feel the conviction to wear it.
That is too bad, but then one must remember this foundational truth- we aren't to depend on or trust our feelings, but rather depend on and trust God and His revealed Word and will.
In the process of growing to greater maturity in Christ, there will be many times when He will ask us to do something on faith, not feeling, and as we are obedient, He then blesses that faith obedience with a deep and solid conviction. In our faith-and-not-sight walk with the Lord, He can purge out our self-sufficiency and dependence on self-polluted feelings.
When it comes to obeying the clear command of Scripture, what is crucial is not that the Spirit has been able to develop a conviction in our hearts for it, but that we simply obey. There were many things in the O.T. which God commanded the children of Israel to do for which the only reason was that it was God who commanded it. If we have a heart for the Lord, and have surrendered our own will to Him—in other words, if He truly is our Lord, then we will obey simply because of who He is. If God says it, do it! In that step of faith and obedience He will honor you with something much more dependable than fleshly feelings—a deep, heart-felt conviction, based on His Word.
8. The husband, or the pastor of the unmarried, is the women's covering.
There certainly is some truth to this statement, since the man is head of the woman (v.3) and as her head, his responsibility includes his covering her in the sense of protection and the accountability of his God-given authority. So, positionally, he is her covering.
Nevertheless, there is no feasible way to interpret 1 Corinthians 11 to allegorize away the simple and plain teaching of the necessity for a visible sign of the headship order. Our Lord taught principles and their accompanying signs. Thus we believe in the cleansing from sin and receiving the Spirit and practice its symbol, baptism; we believe in remembering Christ's death and resurrection and its symbol, holy communion; we believe in humbly serving our brothers and its symbol, feet washing; we believe in the headship order and its symbol, the head veiling. We don't hold to the principle but reject the symbol. In maintaining the signs and symbols instituted by Christ, the church is able to witness of the government and grace of God to the world and the heavenly powers.