A woman writes to a columnist at a Christian magazine, which hosts an advice column called Wisdom from the Word.
Dear Wisdom from the Word
I read in the Bible that women should cover their heads. I also read that the husband is the head of the wife. How should I live out this passage?
From Christian Wife
The columnist at Wisdom from the Word answers her:
Dear Christian wife
Do as this passage say – throw a blanket over your husband!
Okay, that was a little joke. But “Christian Wife” is not the only person who is baffled by this passage.
This passage seemingly contradicts:
- … itself, (Is long hair a covering for women as in verse 15-16, or does she need more of a covering than that, according to verse 5-6? Or can she decide for herself? – verse 13)
- … the rest of the Bible, (Gen. 1:26-27 says that women are made in the image of God and Ps. 8:5 and 2 Cor. 3:18 says that all believers have God’s glory, but 1 Cor 11:7 says that the woman is the glory of man)
- … and common sense. (1. In a sentence like “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” the word “head” seems to have 2 meanings in one sentence – or does it really? These two meanings appear in quick succession, and you almost get the joke1: “Man is the head of the woman.” “Women should cover their heads.” “…but don’t cover up the men.”) (2. Why should a man not cover up because he is someone’s glory, and a woman cover up because she is someone’s glory?) (3. Nature does not teach us that long hair on a man is bad, and many Bible men had long hair – verse 14) (4. If we should do things because a certain way because women come from man – verse 8, should it not happen in the opposite way because men come from mothers? Is verse 8 negated by neither being independent and both needing God and man coming from women in verse 11-12?) (5. Does glory have the same, significant theological meaning in “the man is the glory of God” and “long hair is the glory of the woman?”)
We should be careful about what we take from this passage. Obviously, not all of its apparently “plain” messages are true. Because of the contradictory nature of this passage, and because I do not want to teach falsehood, this blog has – so far – said glaringly little about the passage.
I distrust those who quote that women should cover their head without also quoting that long hair is already a covering. Who would ignore the obvious reference to women praying and prophesying publicly2, but insist you should understand “man is the head” the same way they do or you allegedly do not take scripture seriously.
What should we conclude from “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God”?
There are several resources on this website on the meaning of “head” to the culture this was written in. As such, this does not need to be covered here. Suffice to say if this was a hierarchy, the order of mention would have been different. (God → Christ → man → woman; instead of man ← Christ, woman ← man, Christ ← God.)
And “the head of every man is Christ” would not be true if head means leader: Men include atheists and Muslims and Hindus and pagans and Jews – none of them treats Jesus as their leader. Also note that women and men could also refer to husbands and wives, which would influence the meaning of the passage.
1 Had Paul said this as a joke to his hearers, I expect that we would not get the joke. Jokes are actually one of the hardest things to translate so people from another culture understand it.
“Wherever you go, you meet people who think that foreigners have either no sense of humour or at best a crude one. They are wrong. Humour is universal. But language is not, and neither are frames of reference. Puns that play on Chinese pictograms … are hard to render in English. Punchlines that assume an intimate knowledge of Italian politics earn few guffaws outside Rome.” – From “You think that is funny”, The Economist.
2 Publicly – there is no chance that God would prescribe clothing for private prayer – any moment is suitable for prayer, even while bathing.