Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

First century Roman woman, Stabiae

This article was written for Ethos, the Evangelical Alliance Centre for Christianity and Society (in Australia), and appears on their website here

On the last Saturday in May 2017, three thousand Christian women attended a conference at the Sydney Convention Centre, while another sixteen hundred women viewed conference sessions via a live stream. In one session, on the topic of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, a speaker showed a photo of actress Kristen Stewart with a buzz cut. And the idea was put forward that there is something rebellious about long hair for men and short hair for women.[1]

Does Kristen Stewart’s short hair have any relevance to Paul’s comments on hair in his letter to the Christian community at Corinth? What were Paul’s views or concerns about women’s hair or head coverings? And what, if any, is the relevance of short or long hair for Christian women living in Sydney today?

The Respectable Roman Matron

In the first century, Corinth was a Roman colony and its inhabitants were bound by Roman law. Some of these laws governed what men and women wore and how they presented themselves in public. As in other parts of the Roman Empire, Corinthian society was highly stratified and class-conscious, and most of the laws concerning appearance were directly tied to a person’s social status.

For example, only a Roman matron, a respectable married or widowed woman, could wear a stola, a long dress worn over a basic tunic. And only a matron could wear a palla, a garment like a shawl that could be pulled over the head when stepping out of doors. Wearing a stola, and wearing a palla or veil, was a status symbol. These garments signified that a woman was married or widowed and that she was unavailable. Wearing the usual garb of a Roman matron offered women protection against sexual harassment, as it was illegal for a man to harass, ask for sex, or to molest a woman when she was out in public if she was dressed as a matron.

A palla or veil did not signify subordination, as some have suggested.[2] In fact, the most subordinate of women in Roman society did not wear veils. It was illegal for slaves, prostitutes, freedwomen, and women from the lowest classes to wear either a stola or a palla. In usual social contexts, they were forbidden by law from veiling their heads in public.

There were no laws to protect poorer women or slave women from sexual harassment, and there were no laws to protect upper-class women who chose not to dress as matrons.[3] In Australia, however, we have sexual harassment laws that apply to everyone, and potentially protect everyone, both men and women, regardless of social standing or what they wear.

But what about the hairstyles of Corinthian women?

Hairstyles of the Rich and Not So Rich

Statues, busts, reliefs, mosaics, frescoes, ceramics and coins survive that depict first-century Roman women. Few of these women wear a veil. Their heads are exposed, and so we can see that many had elaborate hairstyles with intricate braids or curls.[4] In his first letter to Timothy, Paul says nothing at all about veils, but urges women not to wear fancy hairstyles (or costly jewellery or luxurious clothing) (1 Tim. 2:9; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3). If the women in Ephesus were wearing veils, their hair would be covered and the problem of intricately braided hairstyles, as a display and statement of wealth, would not have posed so much of a problem for the Christian community at Ephesus. But Paul’s solution isn’t veils. It is simpler: less ostentatious hairstyles.

The norm was that Roman women, whether rich or poor, had long hair. It was socially accepted that women in mourning might let their hair down. It was less socially accepted that women in certain pagan cults let their hair down in frenzied worship. So, even though women generally had long hair, it was almost always tied up in some way with bands or braids or knots. There is a current trend in Sydney for young women to tie up their hair in a topknot or bun, but this is all about fashion and says nothing at all about a woman’s status or respectability.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, there seems to be a concern that men look like men and women look like women while they are praying and prophesying.[5] The reason for this concern would have been understood by the Corinthians, but we can only guess at what the reason was. In our society, however, gender distinctions remain even if men have “man buns” or women have short haircuts. Kristen Stewart looks undeniably female with her short hairstyle. There is no ambiguity about her gender. Queen Elizabeth II, as one other example, has a short hairstyle, and no one would suggest she is being rebellious or blurring gender distinctions.

In our mostly egalitarian society of Sydney, hairstyles, whether short or long, whether tied up or loose, do not denote status or sexual availability. Men’s or women’s hairstyles tell us nothing about their wealth, morality, marital status, or Christian faith.[6]

Bald Prostitutes or Shorn Adulteresses?

So, what do we make of the statement in 1 Corinthians 11:6b, “If it is disgraceful for a woman to have short hair or to be shaved, then she should keep her head covered”?

I’ve heard people say that prostitutes were bald in Corinth and this is what Paul alludes to in verse 6. But there is simply no evidence for bald prostitutes in Corinth or elsewhere in the Roman world. Frescoes and artwork on pottery show that prostitutes, both male and female, typically had a full head of hair.[7]

It wasn’t prostitutes who were bald. Rather, 1 Corinthians 11:6 probably refers to a punishment that could be applied to women of the upper classes who were caught committing adultery or prostituting themselves. By law, an adulteress could have her hair cut very short and she was no longer permitted to wear any garment indicative of a matron. Instead, she was compelled to wear a plain toga.[8] These were signs of her disgrace. In Australia, we have no such laws. In our society, we have no hairstyles that signify a disgraced woman (or a disgraced man).

Corinth in Context

The problem with fully understanding and applying any of the letters in the New Testament is that we only have one side of the conversation. However, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he does allow us to hear snippets from the other side: Paul occasionally quotes from either a letter or a report he received from the Corinthians.[9] I suspect that 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 contains ideas that were being pushed by a faction within the Corinthian church.[10] Paul’s words, beginning with “except that” in verse 11, critique or address the previous verses point by point.[11] In verses 11-16, Paul brings correction or more complete thoughts, and he briefly explains the mutuality and interdependence of men and women who are “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11-12; cf. 11:8-9).

It seems Paul was not interested in whether women were veiled in church meetings, especially as churches met in homes, in domestic settings, and women did not usually wear veils in homes. (Matrons only covered their heads in public settings.)[12] Moreover, Paul states that a woman’s hair is given in place of a covering or garment; that is, a woman’s head is adequately covered by her own (long) hair (1 Cor. 11:15).

If Paul was not concerned about the veiling of women in ancient Corinth, where there were laws and customs that gave veils significance, how much less concerned would he be with the hairstyles of Sydney women where we have no such laws and customs? If Paul wrote to us today, he might repeat his words, “But if someone wants to argue about this, we don’t have such a custom, nor do God’s churches” (1 Cor. 11:16).


Footnotes

[1] Source: http://www.fixinghereyes.org/single-post/2017/06/04/Jesus-and-the-womens-fringe (Love this article!)

[2] “Covered hair in public represented modesty, honor, status and protection for a woman . . .” Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016), 31.

[3] A slave master or husband, however, could seek redress from a person who had behaved inappropriately with their slave or wife.

[4] Only wealthy women could afford the special slaves whose role was to create these hairstyles which often included fancy hairpieces. Wealthy women also wore wigs, often dyed and elaborately styled.

[5] Both men and women could pray aloud to God and prophecy aloud on behalf of God in Corinthian assemblies. There is no hint in First Corinthians that women were excluded from any ministries (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:4-31). 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is about the silencing of unruly and unedifying ministry,

[6] There are a few exceptions. For instance, a person wearing a barrister’s wig gives a clear indication of their profession and their status within their profession.

[7] Sandra Glahn writes more about the lack of evidence of bald prostitutes here.
In his commentary of 1 Corinthians, Gordon D. Fee writes, “It was commonly suggested that short hair or a shaved head was the mark of the Corinthian prostitutes (cf. e.g., Grosheide, 254). But there is no contemporary evidence to support this view. (It seems to be the case of one scholar’s guess becoming a second scholar’s footnote and a third scholar’s assumption.)”
The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (New International Commentary on the New Testament) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 511 fn80.

[8] Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Women: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 30.

[9] Some of these quotes include, “It is not good for a man to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1); “We all possess knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:1); “There is no resurrection” and “Christ has not been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12, 14); and perhaps 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

[10] First Corinthians was written in response to a verbal report from Chloe’s people (1 Cor. 1:11), and in response to a letter Paul had received from the Corinthians asking his advice. Though, Chloe may have written the letter.

[11] See my article, The Chiasm in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16https://margmowczko.com/the-chiasm-in-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

[12] I recommend Bruce Winter’s book which looks at some of the laws that governed a woman’s appearance in ancient Roman society. On one of his points I disagree, however. He writes, “It was not that Christian women had entered a home and were simply removing their veil because they were no longer in public.” Winter, Roman Wives, 96. I believe this was indeed what was happening in Corinthian church meetings.

Image

Excerpt of a fresco from Stabiae showing a first-century Roman woman. (Wikimedia)


Quick thoughts on Helping and “Headship”

I’ve wanted to write an article about hair and 1 Corinthians 11 for a while, and the comments about short hair made at the Equip conference gave me the motivation to do so. However, much more worrying comments were made. One friend, who enjoyed the conference, told me that the women were encouraged to help men and be supportive of men in the church. My concern with this idea is that helping someone shouldn’t be based on gender. Surely we are all to help one another according to our abilities and situation, and not according to gender. (Note that Paul asks Christians, both men and women, to help women ministers in Romans 16:1-2 and in Philippians 4:2-3.)
More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/women-helpers-of-men/

A more disturbing statement made at the conference was, “[Male] headship is actually a gift to protect us [women] from abuse.” (This comment also appears on Equip’s Facebook page.) Abuse from who exactly?
I do not believe that Paul’s use of the Greek word for “head” in Ephesians 5:21-33 means that a husband has more authority than his wife. Furthermore, the faulty idea that men have an authority, which women supposedly lack, contributes to the abuse of women.
More on Paul’s use of “head” here: https://margmowczko.com/kephale-and-male-headship-in-pauls-letters/

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Related Articles

The Chiasm In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
1 Corinthians 11:9, in a Nutshell
Head Coverings and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
4 facts that show “head” does not mean “leader” in 1 Corinthians 11:3
All articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.
Kephalē and “Male Headship” in Paul’s Letters
Do women have a special obligation to be helpers?
Ezer Kenegdo does not mean “subordinate helper”

Journalist Julia Baird has written an article in response to the conference, posted on the ABC News website, here.

31 thoughts on “Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney

  1. Thank you for more information on this. My hair simply hates to be long. It is easier and less time consuming to let it be short as it wishes. It is very fine and I look like an egg with it wet. I have also been faithful to my beloved husband of 40 yrs. But, WOW, do I get nasty remarks from traditionalists and complementarians who tell me that my shorn head testify to my rebellious nature and worse.

    I often laugh at how many women in some very restrictive Christian circles wear their hair in braids despite Paul’s saying not to.

    I have often told people of Roman hairstyles, and then look at what we think of them today. For example, in most of Americans, braids are usually thought of as OK for children, old women and women of color. For the most part they are not considered stylist or a sign of class. I think Paul was telling us to basically fit in with what styles are most appropriate for women in our own culture. We don’t want our hair to be a work of wonder, or drab to the point that we stand out. In my words, not too much Beverly Hillbillies or too much Beverly Hills. And mostly, I don’t think God is really concerned about our hair styles.

    1. hahaha. Not exactly sure what “Beverly Hillbillies” might look like, but you are spot on with “Beverly Hills”. It was the rough equivalent of “Beverly Hills” that Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

      1. The Beverly Hillbillies was an American TV show years back about a poor family of hill people, poor farmers who were part of the culture of the Ozarks. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but a common phrase for it would be “redneck” now. These were a very plain family, wore old fashioned worn out clothes, ate squirrel and rabbit. In other words, about as opposite of Beverly Hills as you can get.

        I think Paul’s idea was that Christians dress, wear their hair, etc., like the respected “normal” people of the time. He didn’t want them to be dowdy, but certainly not showy, either. We do not want to bring shame to Jesus and the church by looking like temple prostitutes or looking like we spend all out time and money on our appearance. He didn’t want to have outsiders being distracted by our clothing to either extreme. I think that the plain dressing of some sects is a distracting as the Beverly Hill look. I believe that Paul was concerned about all these things.

  2. So many christians seem to believe that God is enormously concerned with our appearance and all the outward aspects about us. I have to admit that this upsets me quite a bit. It’s not just one wrong thing, it’s a whole wrong perspective. But it’s very human, I guess. «The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.» (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV translation)

    God, I think, is not at all interested in regulating our lives, as so many seem to think. He is interested in us being inwardly transformed (Romans 12:2).

    As Cassandra says, God is not concerned about our hair styles. Nor do I think God is concerned about blurring or not blurring gender distinctions.

    And I don’t think Paul here means to give any prescriptions about hairstyle at all. He gives only one prescription in this section, in verse 10. The talk about hair is meant IMO to show that «nature» is on Paul’s side in the matter. «Nature» is «voting» with Paul here.

    1. Thanks for highlighting the most important principle in this discussion. God is indeed much more concerned, or interested, with our heart–our disposition, attitudes, and motivations–than with what we look like.

      I guess what we look like may affect, both positively or negatively our brothers and sisters, so I don’t think we can always wear whatever we like, as in 1 Timothy 2:9-10.

  3. My friend Dr. Troy Martin has tackled the inherent difficulty of I Cor. 11:2-16 where Paul appears to argue that on the one hand women should veil their heads while praying or prophesying but on the other hand their hair provides the necessary “covering,” by saying that the Greek word usually translated here as “covering” really should be translated “testicle.” Dr. Martin has specialized in understanding ancient Roman understandings of medical science, which is quite different than ours. See his article here: Martin, “Paul’s Argument from Nature for the Veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13–15: A Testicle instead of a Head Covering,”JBL123(2004): 75–84. And a Duke professor takes him to task here: markgoodacre.org/peribolaionJBL.pdf.

    Just wondering if you’d come across this unusual (a bit wild but intriguing) interpretation of this passage.

    1. Hello Craighton,

      I’ve read Troy Martin’s paper previously with interest and discussed it with a number of people. I’m not sold on his ideas, but they are unforgettable, so I do keep them in mind.

      On page 30 (fn 91) of her recent book Paul and Gender, Westfall briefly comments on Martin’s paper and writes, “The nature of the sexual attraction of women’s hair and the fact that an uncovered hair was indecent are overplayed by Martin (“Paul’s Argument), who argues that peribolaion is a testicle. For a response, see Mark Goodacre, “Does peribolaion Mean ‘Testicle’ in 1 Corinthians 11:15?,” JBL 130 (2011): 391-96.”
      http://www.markgoodacre.org/peribolaionJBL.pdf

      1. Dr. Martin almost always responds to his critics, so I emailed him and asked for his response to Mark Goodacre’s criticism, and of course he had published such a response: “Περιβόλαιον as ‘Testicle’ in 1 Cor 11:15: A Response to Mark Goodacre.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 132 (2013): 453-465.

        1. Thanks for this. I’ll go and read it when I’m free.

  4. Good article. it is amazing how much a misunderstanding of scripture can affect an entire culture.
    I am thinking of the Amish and Mennonites of the USA who have interpreted these verses from 1 Corinthians to create an entire culture where the head covering of women is of paramount importance. So much so, that those who are not of the same belief are considered to be “of the world”.

    1. I know next to nothing about the Amish and Mennonites, but I am aware of some evangelical women in western countries who are adopting head coverings because of a mistaken belief that it is a vital expression of faith. 🙁

      1. Something fun about those young bonneted Amish women, esp the younger ones. Unless the bishop of their area tells them that they all have to wear their hair the same way, you will see all sorts of different styles of braids. Braids, mind you, that Paul mentions specifically. There winds up being a lot of competition among the young women as to who can make the smallest/largest amount, or the highest number, etc. But as long as they have those prayer bonnets on, it is fine. Once the women get married, they no longer have the need to compete with the other girls. With such restrictions on their clothing, the women will find creative ways to express their individuality.

        The Amish faith concerns more about obeying the rules of the church, and not as much about salvation by faith. Trying to earn salvation by obeying the law does not work out well, especially when obeying the letter of the law and missing the spirit of it completely.

    2. I am from an Amish/Mennonite background in the US Midwest, and I can tell you that a head covering is a big deal! Jan is correct! And, at least in my experience, the teaching was that the head covering indicated submission because of the order of Creation. Female church members, married or single, even 14-yr-olds (for example)had a certain prescribed head covering during the church service. Then, in time, there came to be a smaller head covering for activities other than the formal church time. This could be no more than a small piece of cloth, maybe a 1″ wide ribbon, maybe 4″ long, on the top of the head. It didn’t cover much at all! ha Merely symbolic. Nevertheless, this denomination still adheres to this even now. I, however, am “of the world”, as Jan says, and not everyone would consider me even a believer. I am certainly not considered the same as the church members are. My official designation is someone who is a “friend of the truth”.

  5. This scholarship based approach makes sense and provides the context which is crucial to sound interpretation. The value of this is inestimable, as is the measured use of of the background. Women need our voice to be amplified, so that the church to which Paul wrote, and worried about, can be unleashed today.

    1. Interesting how Paul was giving these women ways to represent Christ in the world and church. His words allowed women to step out of the bonds of paganism and the often sheltered life of the “decent” women of the time. Now the church too often uses the same words to keep women in bondage to the law, and push women back into a sheltered life. I expect Paul rolls over in his grave about this.

  6. Wonderful as always, Marg!

    You know, I’ve lived most of my life outside of the West now, and when I encounter pretty much any prescriptive theological perspective, I always ask, “Would this work for a poor single mom in Africa?” If it doesn’t, I won’t give it the time of day.

    The “long-hair” rant is very racist because it excludes my African sisters whose hair cannot grow long from being able to be obedient to God. It doesn’t hold up. God’s directives aren’t for a small subset of the population.

    1. And it wouldn’t have worked in many places where men had long hair, such as China until the 19th century, many native American nations, ancient Israel, etc.

      Jesus is typically depicted as having long hair. If he really did have long hair, he certainly wasn’t being rebellious.

      1. Marg, do you actually believe Jesus had long hair because a painter 1500 years removed from the time period depicted Him that way? Do you also believe He was an emaciated, effeminate, white man, rather than a relatively fit jewish (olive skin) carpenter? Historical study gives us the context of Paul’s statement since “Similar moral judgments against (men) wearing long hair can be found in Epictetus, Philo, Euphrates, and Plutarch. For the male it was not an acceptable mode of grooming” (Thomas Mathews, The Clash of Gods, 1993, p. 126) A religious Jew in the first century, as Jesus was, would have certainly had short hair as also evidenced by the Talmud.

        Does long hair for women and short hair for men work in Africa? Yes. Their hair may not grow as long as other races but they can still show a distinction between the sexes.

        Marg, stating that men in China, ancient Israel, wherever, past or present, had long hair negates the fact that a God fearing man should have short hair is like saying that because men across the world, past and present, have sex with prostitutes negates Gods moral laws.

        Dalaina May is partially right to say that “God’s directives aren’t for a small subset of the population.” They are for Christians. Unbelievers are under no obligation to Church order, they have to get “saved”, “redemption”, “salvation”, become a “Christian”, before they have to worry about anything else.

        1. Kevin, I have no idea what Jesus looked like, except that he would have looked middle-eastern. Unlike the ancient Romans and Greeks, religious Jews did not make artifacts with representations of humans which show us their manner of clothing or hairstyles (cf. Exod. 20:4). I chose my words carefully, I used the words “depicted” and “if”.

    2. A most excellent point!

  7. A careful exegesis and hermeneutic of the Bible shows that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed.
    I try to use inclusive language so shall I say that God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Comforter, expressed as the Trinity, oppose hierarchies and wanted to bring in a new but not yet kingdom.
    Many Aussies don’t want us to be under a monarchy so maybe a more helpful term would be to say the clearly revealed desire is for a community of equals.
    The word “headship” appears NOWHERE in the Bible.
    A basic rule in studying the Bible is that the obscure gives way to the clear. The head covering thing is obscure.
    Galations 3:28 is, however, pretty clear. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    1. A round of applause goes out to you! I often use the verse about baptizing the dead as an example of trying to make a rule out of a verse we don’t understand. As far as I know, there is only one church that baptizes for the dead, and that church is heretical. We don’t understand what Paul meant, or who he was writing about, there is nothing else in the Bible that supports the idea. We find the thought of making doctrine from something so esoteric to be totally unacceptable. Yet, too many Christians feel perfectly justified in using that same technique in those few verses about women. If we call them on us, they call us rebellious, etc. If it weren’t so maddening, it would truly be funny.

    2. Dear Patricia,

      You are correct, the word “headship” appears nowhere in the Bible, neither does the word “Trinity”, yet the truth of both are in the Bible.

      You have mistaken headship for lordship. Headship has nothing to do with hierarchy, rather it is to do with responsibility. For instance, think of your natural head. Your head is part of the rest of your body and together they make up an entire body. Your head and body are equal in substance but have different roles. Your head gives the orders yes, but it is responsible for the orders it gives and is responsible for looking out for the body. Your body is responsible to subordinate itself to the head. When the body doesn’t respond to the head (naturally speaking) it is a very sad condition, likewise when the body moves independently of the head we instantly recognize there is a problem.

      Christ is the head of man. Inequality. Difference in substance. He is the eternal God, man is a created being.
      Man is the head of woman. No inequality. Both of equal substance, gift, ability, etc. but different roles. Man has a role to play just as much as women when it comes to headship.
      God the Father is the head of Christ. No inequality. Both of equal substance but different roles. Christ subordinated Himself to the Father to do is will to the point of death.

      You have also mistaken the universal church and the local church. There are huge differences between the two and I would encourage you to look into the differences. One takes in all believers (regardless of denominational affiliation) from pentecost to the rapture, the other is a particular group at a specific time at a given locality. Galations 3:28 is dealing with the universal church where, as you pointed out, there is neither Jew or Gentile, servants or free people, male or female, but in a local church there is.

      God is a God of order and headship part of that order. God has given us these roles for our benefit and the symbols (short hair, no hat/veil for men and long hair, hat/veil for women) to speak a message to the world. We not only tell God He doesn’t know what He’s doing when we fail to exercise the roles He has given us but we do it to our hurt.

      1. Kevin, God didn’t give those symbols, they were the ones current in Corinth at that time. In different cultures and at different times we have different symbols for man and woman.

        I can tell that a man is man even when he is wearing a hat. I can tell that a woman is a woman even if she has short hair. People who choose to wear gender obscuring hairstyles and clothing in my culture today, don’t simply wear hats or cut their hair.

  8. Another great piece. I too always thought that in that culture women who had their heads shaved were prostitutes and Paul was referring to the custom of women covering their heads in public and if they didn’t they might as well cut their hair which would have been disgraceful since that is what the prostitutes did. Plus only pagan women went out in public without a head covering. You gave a really new insightful info on this subject matter. Thanks again. God Bless

  9. Hi Marg,

    I have to disagree with you. You stated, “It seems that Paul was not interested in whether women were veiled in church meetings.” What was this whole section about then? You’ve missed the entire point of the passage.

    What is the context of 1 Corinthians 11? Paul is dealing with a local church meeting.
    What is the issue? It is clearly Headship, and in particular, head coverings and hair.

    There are 2 coverings in this passage; hair, displaying the creatorial order and a hat or veil, displaying local church order. If you read the passage substituting “long hair” for covering it becomes clear that hair is not the only covering Paul is referring to. For example, read vs. 6 like this, “if a woman will not have long hair (cover her head), then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her have long hair (cover her head).”

    Was this teaching for the Corinthian church only? No, this was the same teaching he gave in all the churches (vs. 16) and is relevant for us today.

    So what’s Paul talking about? In chapter 11 he is going to deal with 6 symbols. The uncovered heads of men, covered heads of women, short hair of men, long hair of women, bread, and a cup. (the 7th and final symbol associated with a new testament church, not dealt with in this passage, is baptism). What is a symbol? It’s something that represents something else.

    The meaning behind the symbol; church order (vs 3)
    1. Christ is the head of men (note this is men and women, not husbands and wives as some have suggested).
    2. Men are the head of women.
    3. God the Father is the head of Christ.

    Is there a sense of hierarchy? Not one bit.
    God the Father and Christ are equal in substance but different in their roles. Christ has taken a submissive role to the Father.
    Men and women are equal in every possible way but they have different roles. Women have been given the submissive role. Again, I must emphasize that this does not mean an inferior role and Paul emphasizes that by ending vs 3 by saying that God is the head of Christ.

    The symbol of the uncovered head of the men in a church gathering is saying that Christ is on display, He is the focus.
    The covered head (not hair) of the women in a church gathering is saying that the glory of humanity is not on display and has no place in the church.
    The uncovered heads of men and the covered heads of women are making a statement together, ant that only makes sense if both accept their role. If men wear a hat, they destroy the message and bring shame upon themselves (vs 4-5), likewise if women refrain from wearing a hat/veil.

    People get confused in this section because Paul takes them back to the creative order. Men and women were made in the image of God; Equal in substance, ability, gift, etc. Man however, being made first, is the glory of God (vs 7) and women, made second, is the glory of man (vs 7); difference in role. Man was made head of creation, woman was his helper, they were a team, but she was his subordinate (this isn’t the military, it doesn’t have anything to do with rank, it is order). When they sinned, Adam, not Eve, was held responsible for the fall of the human race (Rom 5:12). The short hair of men was a symbol that he was God’s representative on Earth. The long hair of women was a symbol that humanity was subject to God.

    For man to have long hair is to deny God. For women to have short hair is to say we are our own gods.

    Both the short hair (creative order) and the uncovered head (church order) of men and the long hair (creative order) and the covered head (church order) of women are important. For a man to uncover his heard (not wear a hat) in church while having long hair is hypocritical. He’s saying I acknowledge Christ is on display in the church but I deny God. For a woman to wear a hat/veil and have short hair is to say that humanity is not on display in the church but we are our own gods, a flat out contradiction.

    This is the crux of Pauls whole argument. He says, (note he begins with the men. He’s not being sexist) “Men, you should always have short hair but when you have a church meeting, take your hat off. It’s not out of respect, it’s because you are making a statement. But if you won’t acknowledge church order, they why bother acknowledging the creative order, you may as well grow your hair long. Women, you should always have long hair but when you have a church meeting, put a hat/veil on. You are making a statement about church order. But if you won’t acknowledge church order, they why acknowledge the creative order, you may as well cut your hair short.”

    1. “It is clearly Headship.” Kevin, nothing is clear about this passage.

      Anyway, I find most of your comments and critiques both baseless and profitless. And you were condescending to one of my regular readers in another comment. I won’t be approving that particular comment, or further comments.

      I get it that you have a different interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. And I see no point in discussing whether “head” refers to “responsibility” or the many other things you’ve said which there is no basis for.

  10. May I join this discussion with a couple of cultural thoughts.

    One is about using shaming as a means of enforcing social conformity. Of course here in France the most obvious example is the head shaving of women believed to have slept with Nazis.

    But many people in European history have had other causes of hair loss, usually due to poor diet, premature ageing, parasites and so on. To the degree that it was normal for most people to have had their head covered most of the time, indoors and out.

    Heating or cooking using open fires makes soot. Lack of heating or draughty houses makes one cold. Working in the fields or walking every where in dusty and sunbaked conditions damages hair.

    Posessing hair (or pretending to by wearing a wig) is a sign of youth or wealth, of having a balanced diet, covered travel and work conditions and adequate hair care facilities. I read Paul as saying flaunting it, what ever the asset, is not the Christian way to be.

    Although in this day and age I agree overall that hair has little social significance I think there are still societies that have something to teach us about how we judge each others’ exteriors and the messages we want to communicate. One is in the US where firms can still stipulate that people with wooly hair have styles that disguise or minimise it. Like some businesses even in Britain have dress codes that insist that women must wear high heels. Here in France they are looking at having CVs with no photo due to race predjudice, a different subject but on the same continuum.

    The principle behind the head covering issue for me is reiterated many times in the injunction to not be judgemental of each other within the church (whilst still exercising wise judgement) and not giving unnecessary cause for those on the outside to misjudge us.

  11. This is such valuable information! Most of the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox women of my culture wear head-coverings at church, my Mom included. Our salvation is questioned if we don’t. I stopped wearing them at age 16 and men would often come up to me and ask if I was even a believer. I don’t think our culture thinks it means submission to men, but they think it’s extra pious. I have heard where they have said it’s done so that the male angels are not tempted to lust! If a woman ties her head -covering in the front and looks like a grandmother, then she is deemed even more pious and holy. Tying it in the back is seen as trying to be trendy and worldly, it’s all so ridiculous.

  12. I think you attributed to Paul a quote from 1 Peter. It had to be Peter writing about braided hair.

    1. Hi Katherine,

      I cite 1 Peter 3:3 in the article as a comparison (cf. means “compare”), but I’ll make the citation clearer to show that I am primarily speaking about Paul’s words in 1 Timothy. (It could have been clearer, so I appreciate your comment.)

      I write about 1 Timothy 2:9 and braided hair here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-instructions-for-modest-dress/

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