When In Rome… (ATP)
What does this mean by “head covered”?
1 Corinthians 11:4-5: Any man who prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, and comforts) with his head covered dishonors his Head (Christ). And any woman who [publicly] prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, or comforts) when she is bareheaded dishonors her head (her husband); it is the same as [if her head were] shaved.
Traditionally, in the ancient world, women wearing head coverings was a common practice. Today we still see this with Muslims. For women, it was symbolic of their submission to their husbands. A woman whose head was shaved was done so as punishment for being a prostitute. In the day, you could see how this look was considered shameful.
When we read scripture we have to remember to look at it thoughtfully and with understanding. Scripture has many different angles. While some biblical writings are specific directions, some are more principle. How would one know the difference? Training, teaching, and study. You cannot look at the whole of scripture from the surface and understand it, you never will!
As I said, what we have here is ancient custom. 2 Corinthians 13:1 says, “…By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” We know that things God desired to establish in us as specific direction He repeats over and over. Knowing that, let’s start to look at these verses. First, most of the direction for the church and our daily lives will be found in what is called the epistles. Essentially, these are the book of Acts through the book of Jude. People often make the mistake of thinking that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) should be included but we have to understand these are still technically Old Testament, because Jesus had not died yet. Really they are the transition into what was coming. The reason I say this is because sometimes there can seem to be different direction between Jesus and Paul. In one instance, on the subject of divorce, they seem to disagree by what they say. The truth is, all of scripture is God. Therefore there is no disagreement, only understanding of application. We would therefore find the direction that goes with us and stick to that.
These scriptures are found in the epistles however what we don’t see is this command repeated in other places. What conclusion can be drawn from this then? That it wasn’t a big issue with God. We also have to remember that the epistles were letters written to churches dealing with certain issues. In such cases we can find the principle and use that as direction. So what is the principle here? I’d like to bring this up: it said “anyone who prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, and comforts).” In context, this is referring to some sort of ministry. This is not referring to going to the store or sitting on the beach. Time and place can be very important contexts.
It’s interesting, in the same writing but in a few chapters back we can get our answer. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 tells us, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” In this time period, only prostitutes went around with their head uncovered. Though Christ wouldn’t have cared about such things, a woman doing this then would be considered shameful and would never be accepted. She would never be able to minister to people because most would never get past this.
I do want to add another piece to this. The Bible says that this woman dishonors her husband. One of the things I love about my wife is her modesty. We teach our daughter the same principles. “That is too short, or you need to cover up more.” An issue we have today is this desire for women to dress in revealing clothes. I am not saying that women have to wear sacks, but women should consider what they are wearing. Ladies should not be advertising their goods because this is not honorable. It’s not honorable to their husbands if they are married (I don’t want other men seeing what only I should see), and if they are not married it is dishonoring to God. We have to remember, men and women alike, we are never our own so our expression should reflect this. I am God’s first and my wife’s second. After that I am a father and then a pastor. Since we are to submit to others, we should also honor others in our actions. Some people will not like this but that is God’s idea not mine. When I was living like the devil, one thing that kept me from going too far was my fear of my grandparents reading my name in the paper. My name is their name and I knew it would dishonor them to see that. That was actually God working in me even when I was living wrong!
So by principle, what we see here is that we should consider the customs and traditions of where we are. Also we should consider how others will view us. The only way to win the lost is to appeal to them. This does not mean that you sin to do so, but if even though you are free you may have to give it up in order to reach someone. Paul said, “I become all things to all people that I might win some.” He was Kingdom minded not Paul minded. We should all have the same mind!