Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sermons and articles 3: John MacArthur on 1 Cor 11:2-16

This is part of a transcript of a sermon John MacArthur gave titled God's High Calling for Women, Part 3. Links don't seem to stay put but it should still be available at his website, Grace to You, under "Resources." I believe you can also order an audio of the message at the site. And here is a link where the message seems to still be available. (apparently it's no longer available either).

Basically he says much the same thing that both Thomas Schreiner and Alistair Begg say so I'm going to try to keep this to a bare minimum.
Now remember, this is Corinth. In the middle of Corinth was a temple to Aphrodite, a thousand priestess prostitutes with heads open and exposed and hair cut short flaunting their sexuality trying to lure men into sexual acts in the temple, put up on the acro of Corinth, the hilltop outside Corinth, this big temple. And these women again flaunting their liberation, flaunting their sexuality. There was a whole attitude there very much like Ephesus
Here he is repeating this idea about prostitution which has been shown by others to be false. There were indeed a thousand temple prostitutes but they didn't cut their hair or even have it uncovered. You can find pictures of temple prostitutes with a head covering. In fact it is in worship of their pagan deities that the head is most often covered by the Greeks and Romans, both men and women. Apparently there was a very low class of prostitutes who did shave their heads, though the temple prostitutes didn't.
So he says I know you obey me, I know you remember what I said, but I want to tell you this, folks, you've got to realize the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man. And the head of Christ is God. You have to get one thing straight, women are put in a place of submission to men.... It is to understand as an attitudinal objective that the man is the head of the woman.
Here he puts it in terms of attitude as do the others I've covered so far, but again I have to answer that attitude does not seem to be a concern of Paul's teaching in this passage, as it is in other parts of his writings. As I kept noting in Dr. Schreiner's essay it tends to confuse the intent of this passage to interpret it as an inner state at all, as something subjective rather than objective. It's simply about putting something on the female head because that reflects God's creation order and establishes the woman in her proper place under authority. It's an external thing.

Maybe I make too much of this but it seems to me we mustn't make an outer symbol stand for an inner state. You simply can't guarantee inner states and the last thing we want is people fussing about whether or not the head covering really does reflect a truly submissive heart. That way lies madness and hypocrisy. No, it is meant to symbolize the OBJECTIVE POSITION of the woman under male authority. Leave the heart alone -- that's for the woman herself to deal with privately before the Lord.
So, let me give you a little cultural thing. In Corinth, women as a custom covered their heads.
Here's that idea that it's about culture getting started again. It is simply not true, as I've said probably too many times by now, that women in Corinth as a rule covered their heads. In Corinth there were at least three cultures mixing together all with different customs about covering the head. Only the Jewish women were known to have their heads covered at all times.
That was how a woman identified her humility, that's how she hid herself as if to say I am not available, I belong to one man. And that was her modesty, that was her femininity. This is how she carried herself and how she clothed herself to demonstrate her womanliness, her femininity. In the Corinthian society, men were uncovered. Their heads were bare, their faces were open and that was the mark of maleness.
This is quite simply an elaborate fiction. Somehow somebody got this idea about "Corinthian culture" going and it's now just been repeated and elaborated so many times you'd think it was actual fact, but the sad thing is it's purely fiction.

This whole elaboration about how it reflected modesty or femininity is right in line with what Thomas Schreiner wrote and MacArthur probably got it from him or they both got it from some other source, but it's nothing but a tall tale. Jewish women appear to have covered their heads in all circumstances [I quote Tertullian on this in a few places.], and for them it did -- and still does -- have a connotation of modesty. But the Greek women and Roman women didn't have such a custom, and in any case Paul is not talking about modesty or femininity as such! He's talking strictly about the meaning of the head and its being covered or uncovered.

As for the male head, there is some disagreement about when Jewish men began the practice of covering their heads but some put it before this time, and we know the priests covered theirs, as described in the Old Testament. Roman men apparently did cover their heads in worship of the pagan gods. So it's not true about men either that they were always bare-headed.
Somehow in the Corinthian church these things were getting inverted. And women were praying and speaking the Word of God with their heads uncovered, actually sort of identifying with the prostitutes and the woman's liberation movement.
I guess there's no point in continuing to comment on this. It's simply false that an uncovered head had the connotation of prostitution. And it's VERY hard to imagine that a Christian woman would do anything to make herself look like a prostitute anyway!
And men, maybe from some Jewish background or something, were covering their heads and praying and people were looking at them and saying, "They're feministic."
It's a reasonable guess if you already believe there was a custom about male versus female head covering that was being violated, but there's no reason to think there was.
So he says in verse 4, look, every man who prays or prophesies having his head covered dishonors his head. What are you doing? Don't do that. Why? You say,"You mean it's a sin to put something on your head when you pray?" No...not
unless your culture perceives that as something that's feminine. And the point
there was for a man to cover himself was to be acting like a woman. Men didn't
do that. Verse 5, "And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head and she might as well be like one who is totally shaved, she might as well destroy all of her femininity, look like a prostitute or some liberated person." Verse 7, "A man not to have his head covered..." See, in their society that said something
So the fiction simply continues.
So what Paul is saying is this, now listen carefully. Look at your society and mark out the symbols. What are the symbols of femininity in our society? What are the symbols of masculinity? And identify with those. If they don't violate Scripture, if they don't violate God's design for morality, then adhere to those symbols because that says something to your society. Listen, even this society today still knows when a woman looks like a woman. There are symbols in our society for femininity. And you know as well as I do that you can look at a woman who obviously has adapted the symbols of femininity and looks like a woman, and you can look at another woman who looks like she is rebelling against everything that womanhood absolutely means. Can't you tell that difference? Of course you can because even our society has symbols. Every society does.

Our society has symbols of maleness. You can look at a man and by the way he appears and carries himself and dresses, you can say now that guy's a man. And you can look at another guy and you get the impression that this guy is really very feminine. Because he's denying the symbols of maleness and he's communicating an inverted perverted message. So that's all he's saying to the Corinthians. Look, when you behave yourself as Christians, do so in a way that adheres to the perception of your culture so they'll understand. And further on down in verse 14, even nature has provided an analogy for the symbol of headcoverings by giving faster growing hair to women as a special covering from God. So women then are to take a role of submission as the one who is under the headship of man.
And he goes on pretty much in this vein about the importance of clear sex-role distinctions, as do the others I've commented on so far. It's a valid subject in its own right, of course, and all of them have useful things to say about it, but it's just not what Paul is focusing on in this passage so I'm not going to quote more of it.
So, in verse 13 he says, "Decide for yourselves." Just decide for yourselves. Take a look at the symbol and make a decision. Is it right that a woman pray to God uncovered? And you know in your society you're going to say no. So follow the custom.
I guess this is one major place we can go wrong, if we are thinking it's all about custom. If we are going to try to answer this question ourselves today it is true that we aren't going to answer it the same way Paul clearly expected the Corinthians would, but I think we can probably safely infer that most other cultures even now across the world, and in the West up until oh maybe 150 years ago, would have answered as the Corinthians would have, so that it is just that our own culture has completely lost its bearings with respect to God's order. However, Paul isn't thinking of it as custom, or perhaps more accurately, he's thinking of the consistent and uniform customs he could see in all the cultures of his day as expressive of an intuitive sense of God's order. He goes right on to direct their attention to how hair is worn, which throughout most of history and across most cultures has been as he describes it -- long hair on women, shorter on men -- and argues that since "nature" has covered a woman's head with long hair they ought to be able to understand that this is a principle God wants to see practiced with the addition of another covering.
The sum of what he says is this, if a woman is veiled when she prays or speaks the Word of God, she attests to her womanhood, she affirms her role, she reflects her husband's protective covering over her, she protects the relationship she has with her husband, she doesn't rebel. She knows heaven is pleased. Verse 10 says even the angels are watching. She is acknowledging what verses 7 and following say that this is so important. Man is the image and glory of God and the woman is the glory of man. Boy, that is a verse that just sends the women's liberation people right up in space.
It's a very strange idea to us, especially us modern independent women, who are now not only in the West but more and more all over the world. But our sights must be on God and eternity and we must believe what He reveals in Genesis. Fussing about anything about our lives in THIS world is only going to keep us fleshly-minded. It's always best to say I'm wrong, He's right, whether we understand it or not; just keep me on track to the Kingdom of God. Put me in a dungeon if you like, make me the slave of an unspiritual husband if that's what You think I need, just don't let me get off track. I suppose we could even think of it as a special blessing in a way, since it's an opportunity for humbling that men don't have. We all need that, some of us more than others, me especially (He's working on me).

As I've said before I think it's wrong to load the symbol of the head covering with all this meaning about a woman's inner state, I think it's meant to be treated as an external sign of personal authority (symbolized by the head) subordinated to another's authority (symbolized by covering the head), in obedience to God's creation order without all the mind reading. But covering the head is what Paul is requiring and whatever you want to pack into the symbol, that IS the symbol, not the nebulous "feminine adornment" these preachers have reduced it to.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sermons and articles 2: Alistair Begg's Sermons on the Headcovering, Part 3

Now, the major point is clear, namely, that women are to adorn themselves in a certain way.... He wants to make sure that women are adorning themselves in a way that a man is not adorning himself. That is clear.
But it's really not clear. We've now gone from the very specific head covering, for which he gave some good solid evidence, to this very vague statement that actually obscures the main point.
As to the precise nature of what the covering is, we've got to be honest enough to say that is not equally clear.
Once you've changed the very precise "covering versus uncovering the head" into the very imprecise "adorning or not adorning themselves" it is less clear that placing a piece of cloth on the head of enough length to hang down a ways would meet Paul's requirement. His own examples make it clear enough what would suffice for covering the head: Haman's pulling his garment over his head, the covering of the face and body by the wings of the Cherubim, Philo's kerchief, Plutarch's part of the toga. Anything in other words that does the actual work of covering will do, including his own suggestion of a shawl. A dish towel would do. So would a hood or some kinds of hats. There is really no lack of clarity of any importance.
So here we are at one of our fundamental principles of hermeneutics, which is what? "The main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things." Now what is plain is that he wants women to be distinguishable from men and it's got something to do with what they put on their heads. So we know that.

Unfortunately what's being called plain here really isn't the plain thing but obscures the plainness already established.

And we can debate all night whether it's a shawl or whether it's their hair or whatever else it is.

But his own argument has already quite effectively shown it is not hair, and there's also no need to debate whether it's a shawl because a shawl would clearly fit the requirement well enough as would many other cloth items.
But it doesn't affect the main issue.
But what he's calling the main issue now is not at all the main issue. He's reduced the specific requirement that the head be covered to the vague idea of an adornment that distinguishes the feminine from the masculine. The main issue has in fact been lost completely by now.

Far more important is the question to which we now come.
Which of course further removes us from the real issue of the head covering.
Why does Paul want women to adorn themselves in a certain way? Why is he so concerned about this covering?
This has in fact already been answered in the discussion about Verse 3 earlier, but now he's going on with the vague idea of feminine "adornment" and has left the head covering behind.
And, anticipating our next question, is there really any use spending time thinking about it when it is so far away from Cleveland and so long ago in history. Well, I think you'll agree before we conclude, the answer is yes.
There was no need to raise this question at all. Scripture is ALL very old and far away from us and we know it's always worth our time because it's God's word.
Now, the key to answering the question as to why he's so concerned about the covering is found in Verse 3.

Which was already clear from the earlier part of the talk but now he goes on to elaborate it and reiterate that women should not see it as their worth being diminished by the headship hierarchy. He also emphatically states that the issue was very important to Paul so we need to take it seriously and it's good to get that said.
Now, so strongly does Paul feel about this it's not some average issue for him ...
It's important to say this although he gives a different reason for it than I would, in emphasizing that cutting off the hair is disgraceful for women. He also repeats the false information that shaving the head is the sign of a prostitute, "or extreme feminism" he says, which is probably a projection from our own culture.

Actually, the fact that Paul wrote fifteen verses including at least three arguments in favor of the head covering should be enough to demonstrate how seriously he takes it.

Then he discusses who is being dishonored, the self or the head over oneself, and then what Paul meant about women praying and prophesying.
...So let's understand why the head covering business is so crucial. The man does honor to his head, by declaring his independence under Christ, and the woman does honor by showing that she's under subjection. That's why the issue is important. It's not so much what goes on her head as what's going on inside her head. It's not so much the physical dimension of it as it is expressive of a whole response to a God-ordained pattern of authority.
Really there is nothing in the passage to support this conclusion. Paul is taking pains about the objective particulars involving external coverings over the head. He hasn't once used the word "submission" or any similar word for an attitude or an inner state in this context. The honor and dishonor in this context are ALL about whether one covers or does not cover the head. It's an external thing, a public thing, not an inner thing. If a man should blunder into the service with a hat on he would be told to remove it. The mere fact of having it on is what is dishonoring to Christ. What he has in his head is not the point. If ever there was a writing of Paul's that DOESN'T speak to the inner man -- or woman in this case -- this is it. ALL his references are EXTERNAL: the hierarchy of headship as established at creation, to cover or not to cover, praying and prophesying in a public context of some sort, having one's hair long or short or shaved off, the offense to watching angels and so on and so forth.

We don't even really know how many were refusing to cover their heads or why. All that is speculative. It could be fundamentally as simple as that some did cover their heads because it was their custom to do so while others didn't see why they had to learn an alien custom.
It hits at the very root of what a woman is and what a man has been programmed to be. And when a woman reacts unfavorably as they were doing in Corinth to the responsibilities expressed in her dayof making it clear before the church and before the watching world that she understood God's pattern -- God is over Christ, Christ is over man, and man is over woman, and whether she wore something on her head or not was expressive of whether she believed that and was prepared to live it out. THAT's why it's so important, and that's why he drives it home.
Again I have to point out that there was not one uniform culture in the Corinthian church with a uniform custom about covering the head, so it ISN'T about "the responsibilities expressed in her day" at all. God's pattern was not exemplified in any one culture; Paul had to teach it to them. It was something that had to be learned, not something from their own upbringing they had suddenly decided to throw aside.

Also, I really don't think this is particularly about the WOMAN's understanding God's pattern necessarily. Paul seems to be teaching the whole church and making it the church's responsibility far more than any individual's responsibility. Does he think that a man's being UNcovered ought to reflect such a serious inner sense of his responsibilities if he thinks that's what it's about for a woman? (It also needs to be pointed out somewhere, and Pastor Begg does note this at the very beginning of his sermons, that covering the woman's head is a UNIVERSAL requirement for the human race, established at Creation, not something peculiar to the church. In fact across the world and down the ages you see it still practiced among various peoples who still retain that sense of the Creator's requirement although with many distorted understandings of it.)

It's really quite astonishing how someone will make this point so strongly about how important it was to Paul and yet turn around and pull the rug right out from under what Paul wants us to do.

Then he goes on to emphasize how some have misused verses 3 to 10 to justify male domination and how that is to be avoided, and how it should also be avoided to misuse verses 11 and 12 to set aside the previous verses.
How then does this apply to our situation today?

I think what he's referring to here is what he refers to in the opening chapter of Romans in verse 26. Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts and even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. The very nature of humanity says that it is unnatural by God's created order for women to be involved as husband and wife within a same-sex relationship.
Somehow the verses about the hair mean to him the whole passage is about masculinity and femininity. He's using all the same concepts that are in Schreiner and in MacArthur.

Now he says that thinking it's about an actual head covering is ridiculous because think of the tribes in Africa where they wear hardly anything. Well, does that situation stay the same when the gospel is taken to such people? I don't think so. As a people begins to absorb the gospel and the biblical requirements, they also start to wear more clothes, and then it is not so absurd to add a head covering to the clothing. The same kind of situation would be met among the American Indians too, where the men wear their hair very long. Again, you don't start with that sort of thing, but there's no reason not to expect that over time it would become part of the life in Christ. It's only "ridiculous" if you are thinking of laying it on them before they've even learned the gospel.

So he continues the theme, which is not at all derivable from this passage that I can see, that a woman is charged with all the responsibility for behaving in a way that demonstrates her acceptance of her feminine role.
So the principle is timeless and the instinctive element within us is timeless and the cultural accretion or application will vary.
And he goes on to elaborate his idea that it's all about "upholding distinctive elements of the difference between masculinity and femininity."

Now the reason that Paul was concerned about all of this, and the reason we should be concerned tonight, is because head coverings or the absence of head coverings sent a message.
Well, there it is again, that "message," that "signal" that was supposedly "sent" in Paul's day, that John MacArthur also treats as factual, and so did Thomas Schreiner. Funny that Pastor Begg himself noted that Jewish men covered their heads, a fact all by itself that would garble any signal that would identify men as properly and by custom supposed to uncover their heads. In some Messianic congregations today the leaders still cover their heads with a prayer shawl and the men wear yarmulkes. Perhaps he didn't get far enough to note that Roman men also at least sometimes covered their heads in worship of their gods, and he already claimed that Jewish women didn't cover or "veil" their heads in that time though in fact they did, so that they were recognizable by that practice, while Greek and Roman women were not so consistent about it and it apparently didn't have any particular meaning to them as it did in the Jewish community. There is not a lot of conclusive evidence about any of this to be found in a perusal of the internet but the fact that there was no consistent pattern IS factual, so that this idea that there was some clearcut message sent by wearing or not wearing a headcovering in Paul's day is easily disproved by a few pictures you can find on the web.

But this false idea persists and is stated over and over with a tone of authority as if it were established fact.

Who originated this false idea? Was it Thomas Schreiner in that book put out by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? Since John Piper and Wayne Grudem were the editors of that book presumably they share this notion as well. Both Alistair Begg and John MacArthur probably picked up this false idea from that book, or they all picked it up from some previous so-far-unidentified source?
So you come to the congregation and here's Fred and he's got a shawl on his head. You'd say to yourself, What in the world happened to him? ...
This whole point of view is often marked by such "humorous" absurdities, which merely serve to ridicule and trivialize the idea of a head covering and obscure the fact that the argument itself is simply wrong. Actually, come to think of it, it COULD be used to demonstrate that it's wrong, because you simply are not going to find Fred with a shawl on his head. There really is NOT a problem of confusion of the sexes in churches, even now in our unisex age, and even less so in Paul's. If someone from the androgynous culture gets saved you will find that person gradually drifting into a more sex-appropriate style over time. The culture is getting more askew, yes, but I haven't seen it in the churches so much.

But what would really make the RIGHT point is thinking about how you'd react if Fred were wearing a baseball cap on his head. THAT would lead you in the right direction.
Or you come into the context and here's a lady with her hair swingin' in the breeze instead of up in the bun. Or, it's shorn to the Sinead O Connor style and she's got nothing over her head. ...

You see, the head coverings SAID something in that culture.
I wish he wouldn't mix the hair up with the head covering now but just to respond to the hair comments, they were NOT going to find a bald woman in a congregation in those days and most likely not a woman with long loose hair either. What WAS true of that culture was that women wore their hair very long and dressed up on the head in some way, sometimes with elaborate braids with jewels woven into them (which prompted that other scripture message about not overdoing the adornments).

There is no reason to think that Paul was implying that women were cutting off their hair or letting it hang loose, none whatever. His whole point about the hair was that it demonstrated a NATURAL condition that he expected them to recognize, not defy. It's because it was so consistent that he could appeal to them to recognize that it would be a disgrace to have it otherwise.
Today, what you've got on your head says precious little of anything. I mean, we wouldn't be able to deduce anything, I don't think tonight, out of what's on your head or not.
Corinth was a cosmopolitan city, a crossroads of many cultures, and the Corinthian church was made up of all those cultures, and NONE of them had the same exact practices Paul was advocating. Paul is NOT advocating any merely cultural practice at all; he is teaching a brand-new practice and going to great lengths to explain it with a number of arguments because it was NOT something familiar to ANY of them. ALL his arguments are from God's creation or God-given Nature, not ONE from any human culture. If there's one thing that ought to be recognized as out of character for Paul or the word of God in general it's any idea that we can look to fallen human culture for our standards for just about anything. For anything you find in culture that mercifully preserves the image of God and His law, you can find something else that reflects merely the defiance and disorder of the Fall.

Since this whole false idea that Paul was only concerned about the sexes preserving their distinctiveness in dress and behavior is based on the false idea that Paul is advocating a merely cultural standard in the head covering, surely that can be dropped now so that some OTHER meaning to the head covering can be sought.

Such as that Paul wanted women to COVER THEIR HEADS -- to reflect, not femininity as such, but God's ordained order of headship. And that not in some isolated pocket of time frozen back in the first century but in ALL TIMES.

It's all about the HEAD, all of it. It's not about anything else. The HEAD is the natural symbol or seat of personal authority, and covering it up is the natural symbol for subordination to another's authority. THIS is in fact the "timeless" principle in the passage, not the broad distinction between masculine and faminine preferred by Schreiner, Begg and MacArthur. The meaning of the head as Paul was at pains to get it across doesn't change with cultural fads, though the style of how you cover it may change.
...So for me to say to you is you go out and buy a bunch of shawls and pull them over your head -- what in the world would be the point of that?
Obedience perhaps? Of course "a bunch of shawls" is just a way of ridiculing and trivializing the whole idea. It's true that what sort of head covering would do the job in our time and place does need discussion, but for starters a modest cloth hat that covers the head and hair should do fine and not look outrageously out of place either. A scarf should also do fine. We don't have to get into shawls. They'd do the job too of course and maybe they would become popular, who knows.
It would miss the point that the principle is timeless, the instinctive psychological element is timeless of masculinity and femininity...
Since he keeps repeating this notion of the timeless principle I've got to say again it's the meaning of the head that's actually timeless in that passage, and there's really nothing necessarily culture-bound about putting something on or over the head. It depends on how it's done. People still wear head coverings in our day, hats and scarves and hoods and so on. Covering the head is as "timeless" as the principle of dressing in a feminine or masculine way.
Let me say this in conclusion. I believe this is remarkably appropriate for our generation. First of all in relation to the whole question of role relationships between men and women. Let the whole culture say what it likes, this is what God says. ... dress children to uphold distinction link between feminininty and submission of women Masculine women do not submit readily to men.
This may be true (but I'm sure we've all known some iron-willed very feminine women), but "masculinity" in a woman is a personality trait bred in the relationships with the parents and it isn't going to matter how you dress her, that isn't going to keep any masculine characteristics from developing if the psychological conditions are there for that to happen.
Feminine men rarely if ever express adequate headship over women.
Well, we're all fallen when we come to Christ, and have to learn many things.

But all this is only his pursuit of his completely wrong understanding of what Paul is getting at in this passage, however useful his exhortations about male and female roles vis a vis the culture may be apart from that.
The women in Corinth who prophesied without coverings...
...were probably Greek or Roman. Er, no?
...were sending a signal and they knew it. "We no longer submit to male authority." That's what they were saying and that's why it was so important.

The issue was not what was on their head.
Oh yes it was.
The issue was what they were saying by leaving it off their head.
OK, I'll repeat that there would have been many women in that church who did not come from a culture that normally wore a head covering. I would doubt that any of the Jewish women in the congregation left theirs off, as it would have been too much of an ingrained habit for them to abandon it, and they would have had family at home who would not approve.

That would not have been the case with the Greek and Roman women, however. If by leaving it off they were sending a signal of defiance to authority it would only have been because Paul had already taught them they must cover their heads. Either the teaching didn't make a lot of sense to them or they thought it was "Jewish" or they believed it conflicted with the spirit of Christ, but the point is that they didn't have a custom of their own of covering the head that would make leaving it off mean something otherwise. It MIGHT have meant "we will not submit to men," maybe because they misunderstood the idea of equality in Christ, but it might simply have meant we won't submit to a teaching that doesn't make sense to us. But we do know that by Tertullian's time some hundred-plus years later the Corinthian church was a model of good practice concerning the head coverings according to him, so they did learn from Paul's concerted effort to make it clear in 1 Cor 11 why it was necessary. Their supposed rebellion did give way, so it wasn't terribly deep.
And so we speak to a culture today where the advance of women to unbiblical positions of leadership and the absence of men from true leadership simply paves the way to chaos. I don't think it's any accident that Paul addresses the issues of feminine adornment and submission to male leadership in the same passage.
So he's continuing about the sex role confusion in our culture these days, making some good points of course but all in the service of this wrong view of what Paul is asking -- which is not "feminine adornment."
The principle is timeless, the natural instinct is timeless and the cultural expression is variable.

Therefore what should we do? We should seek to insure that in our homes and in our offices and in our church the principle that is taught from all of creation should be affirmed for the glory of God, for the glory of man and for the glory of woman. There can be no glory attached to any part of that trinity except by ruthless careful obedience to the principles of this book.
This just stuns me. He's given very good proof that a literal head covering is what Paul is calling for, he's affirmed the importance of Paul's concern and the source of it all in God and not in culture, and yet at the end it all goes down the drain as the head covering itself is denied in favor of the multitudinous ways the differences between the sexes may be expressed.

This is so sad. He ends with a prayer for obedience to the word of God, for separation from the culture, and the hope that the church may yet affect the culture toward God's standards.

But oh dear, what we really are to obey has in fact been completely overturned in this talk rather than affirmed. He's piously affirming the problem itself instead of the solution, carefully avoiding the head covering itself which the passage so clearly points to, as even he says it does.

I have no doubt that the giving up of the head covering in the churches, starting over a century ago and reaching its culmination in the 60s, is one of the reasons for the church's lack of power to affect this world exactly as he is praying we might be able to do.

What is the source of the adamant hardness of this prejudice against the simple meaning of this text, that women should cover their heads? What leads these otherwise fine men of God to embrace phony "facts" and spurious reasoning in the service of avoiding the clear solid teaching of Paul in favor of a nebulous behavioral standard? There is definitely such a prejudice against the very idea of covering the head even while he affirms this is what Paul is advocating and even as he affirms and exhorts us to all the virtues of which it was meant to be the symbol, now as well as then. The prejudice is so adamant and taken for granted it isn't even considered for a moment. Why is that? What set the minds of these leaders so against this simple concept that was accepted for nearly two millennia after Paul's exhortation up until very recently?

Rejection of the head covering has been a terrible and effective snare to the church.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sermons and articles 2: Alistair Begg's sermons on the head covering Part 2

Thirdly, in Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures long hair that was flying loose, or disheveled hair or hair that had been severely cut off and shorn was a sign that its wearer had been set off from the community. The same thing that you had in the movie "Ryan's Daughter" if you recall it, where the woman was severely shorn of her hair because of her adultery. In Greek, Roman and Jewish culture that would have been normally the case.
Yes, that's true about the shorn hair from what I've read, certainly in Jewish culture, and pictures of Greek women at that time usually show their hair arranged up on their heads with a band holding it in place, so it seems likely that long loose hair was not acceptable for those two cultures at least and probably the Roman as well. Not sure there's any evidence that having long loose hair was a sign of being cut off from any culture, however, although shorn hair could mean that if it was because of adultery. In Greek culture it could also simply mean the woman was in mourning.
And fourthly, the word which is used here for "covering" throughout, apokalupto, is related to another word that is a much more unpronounceable word, a word which is found in Numbers chapter five and verse eighteen ... talking about a woman who is being challenged in terms of her faithfulness to her husband.
16 The priest shall bring her and make her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water... He shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the remainder of the offering.
And this word for the loosening of her hair, of allowing her hair to hang down and to fall is the word which Paul uses here throughout this section.
I'm confused. I thought he earlier said that peribolaion was used "throughout." Actually, apokalupto means to UNcover (as in "reveal" or "revelation"), not cover or covering, and the word Paul uses throughout 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (except in Verse 15) is not APOkalupto but KATAkalupto, which refers to a down-hanging covering. It COULD refer to down-hanging hair but in 1 Corinthians 11:15 Paul does not use a variation of kalupto to describe the hair at all, he uses peribolaion which can ALSO be translated "covering" but implies a wrap-around sort of covering. Again, EITHER of these words COULD be translated "veil" as well as "covering" depending on what you mean by "veil." Paul seems to have chosen to use a different word for the hair to distinguish his meaning from the covering he is advocating the woman herself put upon her head. **
Now it is for those four primary reasons that some commentators would argue that what is being referred to here is hair and nothing other than hair. That's View Number One.
OK, it doesn't hang together logically that I can see, and perhaps because it isn't his own view he isn't doing the best job of representing it, but in any case he's now going on to his own view:
View Number Two, to which I personally subscribe, is that Paul is in actual fact speaking of some kind of covering other than hair. Apart from anything else, and I have four reasons under this, but apart from anything else you've got this idea of a man being uncovered or praying uncovered. If it is hair then it's kind of like he's talking about baldy men, you know -- that if the covering that is supposed to be on a woman is her hair and that's the covering that isn't supposed to be on a man is his hair, then he's essentially supposed to be kind of bald when he prays and prophesies. It just doesn't ring for me.

Now, in favor of the view that there is some kind of covering involved here, and it's not a veil, not in terms of the Islamic faith or anything like that, but some kind of covering, we might produce this as grounds for that conclusion.

1. The verb that is translated ... "covering," which comes three times in Verses 6 and 7 and elsewhere -- that verb in comparative usage most commonly refers to an actual covering of some kind. In other words, when the word for "cover" is used other places, like in Isaiah Chapter 6 where it says of the cherubim and the seraphim that they covered their faces it is referring to an actual covering, to put something over their faces. It's not referring to letting their hair hang down over their faces, because we have no indication that cherubim actually had hair in the first place. So that's the first thing. The comparative usage of the word "covering" refers to an actual covering.

[Secondly] Philo, which is contemporary with Paul, 30 BC to AD 45, uses the same terminology to refer to the removing of a kerchief by the priest. He removes the covering. And in the literature he is referring to taking something literally off the head of the individual, a kerchief that had been draped over their head.

Thirdly, in Esther Chapter 6...verse 12, we find the same expression used as in Verse 4 [in 1 Cor 11} in relationship to this covering, and in Esther Chapter 6 you will find the account of Haman whom we are told hurried home mourning and covering his head in shame. And it is not a reference to anything that was happening with his hair. He was covering his head in shame. It was an actual literal covering, in the way that a man who is ashamed may pull his jacket over his head; in the same way that when we see people being arrested and tried in the high court often when the car pulls up they will cover themselves in shame. That is the phrase that is used in Esther 6 of the same phrase that is used here in Verse 4 and following.

And fourthly, again in contemporary literature, Plutarch, using the same exact terminology as Paul, speaks of the head being covered with part of the toga.


So, on balance, in relationship to my study at least, I've concluded that what is referred to here by Paul is a head covering of some kind. Some kind of shawl or whatever it might be. There is no indication that we should think of it in terms of a veil in the way that we have become accustomed to in terms of the Middle East.
Now maybe it's clearer what he meant earlier by "veil," apparently something that covers the face. That wouldn't have occurred to me because the word is used also for something that merely covers the head, as in the quote from Tertullian in the previous post. But that doesn't make sense of the idea that supposedly peribolaion which is used to describe the hair in Verse 10 means "veil" Well, perhaps too much has been said about this already. It doesn't make much sense no matter how you look at it but it's also not his own point of view so I'll drop it here.

As for his arguments in favor of an actual covering over the head, his observation that if hair is the covering the command for men to be uncovered then means they must get rid of their hair is a very good argument against hair as the correct interpretation. Then his four arguments from Isaiah 6 and Esther 6 and Philo and Plutarch all appear to be very solid evidence indeed for that use of the word "katakalupto" to refer to an actual covering one puts over the head, which he says is his understanding of it.
Now, the major point is clear. Namely, that women are to adorn themselves in a certain way. Right? That's his major point.

Oh I wouldn't say so. I have to say that this is LESS clear than what he's just been saying. I'd say he's done a very good job of mustering the evidence here and that it's very very clear now that Paul's major point is that women are to cover their heads. Period. The four reasons just given are the evidence he's given for that, and quite good evidence. But now instead of the clear summing up we should be getting we go from clear sharp statements about an actual headcovering to the vague and fuzzy "adorn themselves in a certain way," even using "adorn," that false word of Dr. Schreiner's that implies something for the purpose of beautification, which is not at all a part of the meaning of katakalupto.



** On reading this it occurred to me for the first time that since it most likely was the case that women in Paul's day all wore their long hair up on their heads in one form or another and never let it hang down what Paul meant by "peribolaion" might refer to that. I automatically picture long loose hair to explain the idea of a covering, no doubt because that's such a common way it is worn today, while Paul was probably picturing hair put up on the head. That doesn't suggest to me that the problem he was dealing with was women's not putting their hair up, as the theory being considered here argues, since it seems highly unlikely that Christian women would ignore such an ingrained custom if to do so would tarnish their reputation. But it does suggest that when Paul used the term peribolaion to describe the way the hair is a covering he might have been picturing the hair as put up on the head or "wrapped around" the head, as very long hair would certainly do, perhaps in long braids. That could explain why he used that particular word for "covering" here, as the other word for the added covering he used, katakalupto, suggests a down-falling covering, such as a shawl or a cloth large enough to drape over the head and hang down a ways.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sermons and articles 2: Alistair Begg's sermons on the head covering Part 1

As I did with Thomas Schreiner's chapter on the head covering, I want to continue going through some of the anti-head covering commentators in some detail. Many of these are highly reputable evangelical and Reformed leaders whose teachings I normally appreciate greatly, but this topic seems to throw them. The next I've chosen is Alistair Begg, whose two-part sermon on the subject is available at his website, Truth for Life as downloadable audio messages under the title "Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective."

His first sermon is mostly a very good argument for taking Paul seriously and taking his meaning to be that women should cover their heads in church. About 15:00 on the audio he begins to discuss Verse 3 as most important for grasping the whole passage.

3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
Around 36:00 he concludes that discussion:

It is impossible, loved ones, if we want to be biblical, to negate the submission of woman to man without by the same logical deductive process negating the submission of man to Christ and Christ to the Father. . . . and the reason we belabor this point is because until men and women are prepared to come to grips with Verse 3 all of this stuff about what's going on the head will be seen to be absolutely subservient to what's going on in the head. The first issue is what's going on inside your heads rather than what's going on the top of your heads and a lot of people got all messed up with what they're putting on their heads when there's a lot of air within their heads....

37:13: Well, the question is, how are we going to apply the principle. Should women, then, just grow their hair long, or is there any reason for a woman to have short hair? Should women wear veils and if so what kind of veils? I mean is it sufficient just to put one of these hankies on your head or what do you have to do? The answer to this question is largely dependent on whether Paul saw long hair as a matter of divine principle as he did the headship issue -- the headship issue, the principle itself is divine in its implications -- but did he see the long hair or the veils as a matter of divine principle, or did he see that as a cultural expression of a principle which is timeless. And it is that question with which I'll be wrestling this week and which of course you will be keenly anticipating the answer to. Next Sunday. There is no reason to rush out to buy stock in any millinery companies.
Although the logic or at least the continuity of parts of this statement isn't all that clear I think we can see some of Dr. Schreiner's argument here, so I suspect he drew from that essay. He arrives at the same conclusion Dr. Schreiner came to, in his posing of the question whether Paul is arguing for covering the head as a divine principle in itself or "as a cultural expression of a principle which is timeless." When he ends with the quip about not needing to buy stock in millinery companies there is no doubt what his answer is going to be.

In his second sermon on this topic he first makes some comments about the phrase in Verse 10, "because of the angels" and the question of whose authority it is a woman is to have on her head, the man's or her own or some combination of the two, and concludes it's probably a combination. Then he goes on to the main questions.

9:00 "What then is the covering to which Paul is referring in these verses? This has perplexed thoughtful Christians in every era."
It has? I don't think this is the case at all and I'm not sure where he got this idea. The fact appears to be that after Paul cleared up the confusion in the Corinthian church there really seems to have been no doubt in the churches, all the way down to the mid-20th century, or at least the late 19th century, as to what he required.

And, as with the case of the angel question, two views have predominated.... The first view is that the covering to which Paul refers is actually a woman's hair. ... that it has nothing to do with anything other than her hair, it is only her hair.
Tertullian, writing over 100 years after Paul's letter to the Corinthians, objects to the way the women in some of the churches of his day rely on what he considers to be far too skimpy cloth coverings, which shows at least that there was no doubt at that time that some kind of cloth covering was understood to be Paul's requirement. Much later we find Calvin stating that Paul certainly did not mean that a woman's hair was sufficient covering, so apparently that idea had come up by then, but his conclusion along with all the others was that a cloth covering was what Paul had in mind. There is really no perplexity about it to speak of until our own time.

And the concern that he is expressing here is about the way in which some women within the context of the Corinthian assembly were shaking loose their hair and allowing it to hang down their backs.
Dr. Schreiner also suggests this as one reasonable interpretation of the passage but I don't see how it's possible to get this out of the passage itself at all. In any case, if that were the meaning of the passage it's got to be pointed out that most women in today's churches who do believe that long hair is the covering are in error, because most of them wear their hair long and hanging down. One lady I talked to online about this bragged about never having cut her hair at all in fulfillment of this command so that it was long enough for her to sit on, with no hint whatever that she felt any need to wear it up for church or any reason at all.

The covering was their hair and what they were doing with their hair was expressive of a disregard for God's created order. OK? And in this view, what Paul is wanting women to do here is to operate in a seemly way by piling their hair up on top of their heads. So that their hair, which is their natural glory, having been given them for a covering, is not to be swung free ..."
Again, there is just no way I can see to get this idea out of the passage itself and unfortunately Pastor Begg doesn't offer any reasoning to support the idea. In verse 15 where Paul says that the hair is a natural covering it seems to be implied that it is a covering precisely because it IS long and free which would have it actually doing the work of covering -- of head and neck as well as the top of the head. * The Greek word "peribolaion" used here to describe the long hair means something that "wraps around." The Greek word used in all the other contexts of this passage, to refer to the covering Paul is advocating be worn over the head, is some variation of "katakalupto" which has the meaning of a "down-falling (kata) thing that covers or conceals" (kalupto), ["kata" as in "cataract" or a waterfall, "kalupto" as in "apocalypse" or uncovering or Revelation, in which "apo" is the "un" in "uncovering."]

...[not to be swung free] for that is indicative of all kinds of things in that framework that he doesn't think should be happening in the church. And therefore they should wear their hair like a bun on the top of their heads. Now for those of us who have experienced environments in which those buns are largely in view, never knowing where in the world they came from, this is where they came from. And I could take you to fellowships in Scotland, certainly, where the women would not only have hats on their head but when they take their hats off their head their hair is piled up on top of their head in a bun. ... and the reason that they do so is out of obedience to their understanding of what Paul is saying here in First Corinthians Eleven.
Is this true? He offers no evidence. It is not necessary to believe that Paul himself actually advocated wearing the hair up in that passage to conclude that it should be worn up. If women understand that Paul meant that covering the head includes concealing the glory of their long hair, the only way long hair could be completely covered would be by putting the hair up in some way under the hat or other added covering. A "bun" is a way of doing that. This seems the most likely reasoning behind the practice but since Pastor Begg gives no support for his comment there's no way to know why these Scottish women do it.

Now, in favor of the bun view, 11:30 if we might refer to it in that way, we might cite the following: 1) Paul nowhere mentions veils except in Verse 15. No matter if your translation has got 'veil' written into it, it isn't in there. The only time he uses the word for 'veil' --peribolaio is in Verse 15. 'But that if a woman has long hair it is for her glory for long hair is given to her as a veil.'
I just can't follow the logic here. The fact that the word "veil" is not used except in Verse 15 is supposed to be evidence in favor of the idea that Paul was talking about wearing the hair up in a bun? In Verse 15 in the KJV at least the hair is described as a natural or God-given "covering" --"veil" is a possible translation of "peribolaion" but not the only possibility and it isn't in the King James. Also, as he himself says later, the Greek word most often translated "veil" (kalumna) is not in this passage at all.

In any case how does calling the hair a veil here mean the hair must be worn up?

That is the only time the word 'veil' is used in the whole passage. It is translated "covering" throughout, expressive of the dilemma that has been in the minds of people throughout the generations as to what Paul is actually referring to. So, number one in favor of the bun view: Paul doesn't mention veils anywhere. So for those of us who have concluded that it is about veils it's funny that he never mentioned them.
But there is a BIG problem here. The Greek word peribolaion is only used ONCE in the passage, in Verse 15, NOT "throughout" the passage. It is ONLY used to describe the kind of covering the hair is naturally, not the covering Paul wants women to PUT on the head. And "veil" is not the one and only way to translate it into English: "Mantle" and "vestment" are used in some contexts for instance [see my research post on this part of the passage]. And in the rest of the passage Paul uses a different Greek word for the covering he has been advocating throughout, not "peribolaion" but some variation of "katakalupto" or "down-falling concealer" as I point out above. There are times when this word might also be best rendered "veil" so to insist that "veil" is simply not used in this passage except in Verse 15 and go on and claim that Paul isn't talking about a veil at all is unwarranted. "Veil" is possibly not the best translation of "katakalupto" but it wouldn't be a wrong translation. The simple "covering" probably gets the meaning across best.

"2) Veiling was not practiced as a requirement in Old Testament Israel and it is doubtful if it was required by Jews at the time of Jesus, except perhaps by the wealthy in large cities.
"Doubtful?" Tertullian, writing about the year 211, says "Among the Jews, so usual is it for their women to have the head veiled, that they may thereby be recognized." -- A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David Bercot, page 668. Is it likely that the Jewish practice had changed appreciably in the less than 200 years since the time of Jesus?

This also interestingly implies that it was NOT usual for Greek or Roman women to have the head veiled/covered or the Jewish women would not have been recognizable for that practice.

I have to conclude that Dr. Begg has been misled by some source he consulted for this sermon as there is no factual basis for what he is saying here either about how Paul isn't talking about a veil, or about how Jewish women didn't practice veiling.

Since "veil" is the English word used to translate Tertullian's writing, and he wrote in both Latin and Greek, it would be helpful to know what the original word was that he used. As noted above, "veil" may be an apt enough translation but it is probably not the only English equivalent that might be chosen, and "veil" may have problems of connotation in our day that another word might avoid. For instance, Paul doesn't seem to be saying that women need to cover their faces, only the head, and the images in the catacombs don't show the faces covered, but a "veil" often suggests that to us these days.

[About the meaning of a veil as covering the face: Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Christian fathers, DID advocate women's covering the face, arguing that beauty of face can be a snare to others [they had no ugly women in those days?], and Tertullian says something similar: In regard to Paul's "because of the angels" he says,

"What angels? In other words, whose angels? If he means the fallen angels of the Creator, there is great propriety in his meaning. It is right that the face which was a snare to them should wear some mark of a humble guise and veiled beauty."
[As a side point, this is an interesting reference to Genesis 6:1-2, implying that the fall at least of some of the angels was due to their attraction to "the daughters of men"? In that case, however, shouldn't it be the still-obedient angels that watch in our churches who should be protected from such a temptation? But again, if that's the case then ALL women should ALWAYS cover their heads, not merely Christian women and not merely in worship. Perhaps the total coverage of some Muslim women protects them in ways we will only find out on Judgment Day? But this does get rather far afield from the context of 1 Corinthians 11. Though I would add that after Paul wrote on the subject Christian women also covered their heads at all times, to judge from European paintings.]

In fact the early fathers in general seem to regard modesty of women as a reason for the covering, though Paul nowhere hints at that meaning that I can see. Tertullian also says:
"Arabia's pagan females will be your judges. For they cover not only the head, but the face also" [p. 668] ]

* Near the end of this discussion of Alistair Begg's sermons on this topic I began to see this in a different light. Whereas I'd been thinking of the hair as long and loose as the reason to call it a covering, I now recognize that of course women in those days didn't normally wear their hair loose at all but arranged on top of the head, often in long braids wound around the head, and this was also the norm throughout the centuries in the West down to our own modern time, when not only do we no longer cover our heads but we leave our hair loose. Realizing that women generally wore their hair up and in some sense wrapped around the head gave Paul's choice of the Greek word peribolaion in this one verse more meaning than it had had for me before, as it implies a wrapper of some sort. The other term for a covering he uses in the rest of the passage, katakalupto, implies a covering that hangs down and refers to the additional covering he is advocating, for which the natural way of wearing the hair long is meant to be an argument.