Continuing our verse by verse through 1 Corinthians 11, we come to verse 6:
For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
We have already discussed that the cultural view of women’s hair coverings is “covered” in verse 5. We have also seen that Paul takes a non-traditional view of women by telling the men that his wife is his glory. Paul reveals that the tradition of women being covered is not God’s way of dealing with glory. Glory is meant to be shown or revealed and not covered up. Just as a man reveals God’s glory and is not to cover his head, so a woman reveals the glory of man and she too should be uncovered.
Women whose husbands are Christians and who understand the women’s freedom in Christ to reveal the glory of the Lord just as men reveal the glory of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18) will have no reason to insist their wives cover themselves because of man’s tradition. So Paul says that “if a woman does not cover her head” then “let her also have her hair cut off”. Here Paul is talking about a woman’s freedom to have her hair cut. Is it wrong for a woman to get a hair cut? Is it wrong for her to have short hair? Paul says the tradition of not cutting one’s hair is in the same category as the tradition that women must wear a head covering.
The woman is her husband’s glory and as such she should be free from the tradition of having to cover her head. Covering the head symbolized both modesty and shame. See the previous post about what the culture thought was the woman’s shame. Once a woman is free from the tradition of covering her head, she is also free from the tradition that a woman must have long hair. She may cut her hair and this act is not breaking God’s law. This tradition is not God’s tradition. Why is that? We know that God does not forbid a woman to have her hair cut because God had regulations for a Nazirite vow that required men and women to grow their hair out when they took the vow and then later when the vow was finished, both men and women were required to shave their hair off. So if God required the woman who takes this vow to shave her hair off, then it could not be against God’s law for her to cut her hair.
If a Jewish woman who had become a Christian wanted to take a Nazirite vow, when the vow was finished, she would be required by God to shave off her hair. If a woman who had shaved off her hair was in the congregation without a head covering, she may experience shame because she had no hair. Paul made allowance for this last “shame” and he said that if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut or her hair shaved off, then she was allowed to cover her head if she had a bald head or her hair had not yet grown out. Paul gives her permission to cover her head by saying “let her cover her head”. Paul never demands that she cover, he just gives her a choice to cover.
The rules for the Nazirite vow are in Numbers chapter 6.
Numbers 6:2 Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the LORD,
Numbers 6:5 All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.
Numbers 6:13 Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall bring the offering to the doorway of the tent of meeting.
Numbers 6:18 The Nazirite shall then shave his dedicated head of hair at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and take the dedicated hair of his head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of peace offerings.
The man or woman who had taken a Nazirite vow was required to shave off their hair and put it on the fire as a sacrifice. Both men and women then who had taken this vow would be bald. Men would not experience shame from being bald, but many women would experience shame from their baldness.
Paul allows a woman who has a bald head and who would experience shame because of her bald head to cover her head with a head covering. Paul has given two reasons for shame in chapter 11 that a woman may want to continue to wear a head covering. The first reason was that she may bring her non-Christian husband shame if she is caught in public without her head covering, since he may divorce her for defying the cultural tradition of the head covering.
The second reason that a woman may be covered is because of her own shame. If she was bald or if her hair had not yet fully grown out after she had taken a Nazirite vow, Paul allows her to cover her head. Paul gives a woman permission to veil because of two possible kinds of shame, but Paul never gives the man permission to veil since the culture of the day did not bring shame to a man who had a bald head and the only cultural reason for a man’s head covering shamed Christ.
Paul’s purpose in the discussion of the head covering is to bring Christians to a biblical view of our reflected glory and to discard the faulty cultural view of shame. Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 the importance of the unveiled face:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as 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.
While some have seen 1 Corinthians 11 as a mandate for women to wear the veil, a close inspection of the passage shows that Paul is advocating the exact opposite. He is not upholding man’s tradition, but blowing that tradition out of the water. Paul shows that it is God’s will that glory is to be uncovered not hidden, and man’s tradition of forcing the woman to be covered because her uncovering shamed him, is the complete opposite of what God teaches. The woman is the man’s glory not his shame. And as the man’s glory she is to be revealed not hidden.
Since we have already covered verse 10 in a previous post, the next post will pick up at verse 11 and discuss the importance of origins and interdependence.
Here are links to the posts in this series: