Several posts back we talked about how Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 11 that the head covering shamed Christ. This post will discuss why a woman without her head covering shamed her head. Let’s start again with 1 Corinthians 11:4, 5 –
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
Paul has identified the man’s head as Christ and the man who had his head covered during his praying and prophesying shamed Christ. Paul also identified the woman’s head was the man. When she prayed and prophesied with her head uncovered she shamed her head which is her husband (verse 3). Paul doesn’t say why going without a head covering shamed the woman’s husband since the Corinthians would have understood the cultural reason. However we need to do some research to find out why a husband would experience shame when his wife exposed her head in public.
Both the Greek women and the Jewish women wore head coverings in that day but the Jewish women had a stricter standard that punished them if they were caught without their head covering. John Lightfoot gives us a glimpse into the mindset of the Jewish culture of that day. Lightfoot was a Hebrew Scholar who lived from 1602 to 1675 and during his day there was a revival of the study of the Hebrew Bible as well as other Jewish works. Lightfoot’s scholarly writings produced several volumes called “Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica”. In these volumes Lightfoot discusses the reasons why married women wore the head covering.
On page 231 of Vol. 4 Lightfoot writes
“It was the custom of the women and that prescribed them under severe canons, that they should not go abroad but with their face veiled. If a woman do these things, she transgresseth the Jewish law; if she go out into the street, or into an open porch, and there be not a veil upon her as upon all women…”
On a woman’s wedding day she was required to veil herself. The Jewish law was that women who were married were required to cover their hair. The Talmud interprets this custom as a sign of a woman’s shame – guilt for Eve’s sin. Lightfoot elaborates:
“And they fetched the shame of the woman thence that she first brought sin into the world.”
That was their view – that the woman brought sin into the world and her veiling at her marriage was a sign of shame, because they said the woman led the man into sin. The Talmud said that as a result of Eve’s curse women must go about covered as mourners. In the Jewish culture when a woman got married, from that day on she was under compulsion to veil herself and if found in public without her veil, the Talmud prescribed strict consequences.
If she was found without the veil in public her husband could divorce her without payment of her dowry. Without her dowry she would be destitute.
The Talmud explains the reason for the shame of a uncovered head. The husband considered the hair on a woman’s head to be part of her sexuality so the public viewing of her hair was a great shame.
“Some rabbis considered the exposure of a married woman’s hair to the exposure of her private parts since they felt that a woman’s hair could be used for erotic excitement. They forbid the reciting of any blessings in the presence of a bare headed woman.”
Lightfoot goes on to explain that although women wore a veil in public, they unveiled for worship.
“But however women were veiled in the streets, yet when they resorted unto holy service they took off their veils and exposed their naked faces; and that not out of lightness, but out of religion.” Vol. 4 pg 231
Wouldn’t this have shamed their husbands by exposing their hair publicly? No, because no man would have seen them because in the synagogue the women were kept separate. Lightfoot continues:
“…that women should sit by themselves, divided from the men, where they might hear and see what is done in the synagogue, yet they themselves remain out of sight…when the women therefore did thus meet apart, it is no wonder if they took off the veils from their faces, when they were now out of sight of men, and the cause of their veiling being removed, which indeed was that they might not be seen by men.”
So the veiling was a sign of shame before men but worshipping before God she was to go with a bare face.
In Paul’s writings we find that Christians are meant to reflect the glory of God. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 3:17, 18
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face, beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Men and women were both meant to reflect the glory of God and both were to come with unveiled face before in worship. Yet for those Jewish women whose husbands were not yet saved and who had not yet come to understand the glorious liberty we have in Christ, these women were in a predicament. The problem came when Christians met in homes where the men and women were together. If a Jewish woman whose husband was not a Christian found out that she had unveiled in public, he could divorce her, often at the insistence of his family for her public shame.
Paul could not tell her that she needed to unveil in worship in the Christian congregation because that would have infringed on many of their marriages. So although men were forbidden to wear the veil of shame and must pray and prophesy in public without a head covering, women were allowed to make a choice when they prayed and prophesied. Next post we will discuss more about the woman’s choice and the third reason for shame that might require a woman to veil.
But for now let’s talk about the culture that promoted the cultural sign of shame. Paul in this passage rejects the cultural sign of shame. Instead Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:7 –
“For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”
Do you see that? The woman is the GLORY of man. As his glory she brings him honor. As his glory she needs to be uncovered so she can shine forth his glory. Just as the man is to shine forth the glory of God, so she is to be allowed to shine forth the glory of man. Do you see that Paul is dispelling the myth that the woman is the shame of the man? Do you see that Paul is dispelling the myth that the woman is to be hidden and kept away from the congregation and hidden and kept away from men? Paul is telling the men that the woman, his wife, is to be his glory. He is not to be ashamed of her. She is not his competitor, she is not to reflect shame – she is to be his glory!
What a marvelous freeing word from Paul! Paul hasn’t used this passage to say that women are not in the image of God nor is he saying that they are not the glory of God. He is comparing one glory with another glory. The Corinthians should be able to see that the man is God’s glory and as God’s glory he is not to be covered. Men are to be uncovered in worship in order to shine forth God’s glory. In the same way they are to see that the woman in the very same way is the husband’s glory. As the husband’s glory she is not to be covered instead she is to shine forth the man’s glory. As the glory of the man, the glory is to be barefaced and he is to be proud of her not ashamed. The culture had taught them that the woman was not the man’s glory, but Paul’s correction changed all that. Now they knew that God intended the woman to be the outshining glory of the man!
Have you ever wondered why Christian women do not wear head coverings? Now you know.
Here are links to the posts in this series: