An explanation of the ordinance of the
covering according to
I Corinthians 11:1-16
P.O. Box 90 Anderson, MO 64831
Bill Burkett © 1988
In 1 Corinthians, chapter 11 the Bible speaks of the two worship ordinances of the church. The word ordinance comes from the Greek word paradosis meaning a precept or an order given and passed down from one generation to another. The purpose and result of a moral decree is to establish order. It is from this meaning the translators of the authorized version of the English Bible chose the word ordinance. But the word tradition or precept can also be used to convey the same meaning as the Russian text translates it. The idea is that any commandment or moral teaching is to produce order. It is a behest intended to bring harmony and peace to those who regard and obey it.
Both of the ordinances given to the church in this chapter are in regard to our worship of God. The first ordinance has to do with praying and the prayer covering while the second ordinance mentioned has to do with the Lord’s table and our approaching it properly to be accepted.
In this discussion we are addressing the matter of the two coverings as they are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:1-15; the spiritual prayer covering and (11:14-15) the natural hair covering. There are two reasons for treating this subject; First, there has been a renewed interest in knowing the truth about the coverings as Paul mentions them in this text, and Secondly, there has been some very erroneous teachings about the prayer covering. Some brethren have shown a hateful attitude toward sisters who before God have decided to wear the covering, offering no Scriptural explanations to support their resentments in a spirit of meekness. Those brethren who look upon the prayer covering with contempt instead of respect for a sister with such spiritual convictions will surely be chastised of the lord. If you don’t have the conviction to teach it, don’t knock it— you just might be poking your finger in God’s eye. Any believer who denounces the covering and condemns a sister for her obedience to this ordinance violates the clear instruction of Paul when he said, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:16)
We share this exposition and explanation of the prayer covering to show that there are some very good Biblical reasons why some do believe in the covering.
PART I — THE COVERING
THE ORDINANCE OF THE SPIRITUAL COVERING
If the prayer covering is an ordinance of the church, which Paul the apostle states as being the case (1 Corinthians 11:2), then it makes the matter of very great importance. In this same chapter we have an explanation of the Lord’s supper which we place extreme importance upon. No less important is this first of the two ordinances Paul mentions in verses 4 through 16.
It is very easy to see in this text on the covering that Paul is not speaking of hair in verses 4 through 13 but rather, the covering. Some who resent the prayer covering teaching insist that the hair is the only prayer covering Paul is speaking of in this text. That is simply NOT the truth!
The covering is his subject and not hair. The hair is mentioned in verses 4 and 5, and then in verses 15 and 16 to illustrate the spiritual covering. When you read this text with an open mind you will note that Paul is saying that the covering is proper for ladies when praying or prophesying and that brethren should not be covered when they pray.
The facts are easily discerned by simply reading verses 4 and 6 by themselves. Or, just read verse 5 and it easy to see Paul is not speaking of the hair. In these three verses the meaning is established.
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dlshonoureth his head.” (5) “But every woman that prayeth or prophesteth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head:
for that Is even all one as If she were shaven.” 1 Corinthians 4-5.
Paul explains that to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered is the same as having her hair cut (sheared). If the covering is the hair then this statement makes no sense. If Paul was speaking of hair in this verse it would read, But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth without hair, for that is even all one as If she were without hair.
Neither does verse 4 make any sense if the word covering means hair. Try it.
A brief meaning of the words covering and hair in the text under consideration:
Kata, (covered, vs. 4) a general term including covered.
Katakalupto; (covered, vs. 6) To cover, hide.
Peribolalon, (covering, vs. 15) mantle or veil.
Akatakaluptos, (uncovered, vs. 13) unveiled, uncovered.
Komao; (hair, vs. 15) Long tresses, long hair.
The word hair is not used in the text as a covering until verses 14 and 15
where it is mentioned 3 times to Illustrate the prayer covering. It is so very clear that Paul’s subject is the prayer covering (katakaluptos) not hair (komao). It is impossible for any person with an honest heart before God to deny the covering as something put off and on the head (verses 4 and 6). Anyone knows that you cannot put your hair on and off only when praying or prophesying.
Paul’s instruction here is regarding an ordinance. It is a serious distortion of God’s Word to teach that he is only speaking of a mere “social custom” or a “cosmetic practice” that was peculiar to his culture. At best these are ignorant conclusions as proven by the following facts revealed in the text concerning the covering.
IT IS AN ORDINANCE
1 Corinthians 11:2
“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me In all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
Any ordinance of the church such as water baptism, the prayer covering or the Lord’s supper arc to be kept in the church as meaningful traditions that keep the church reminded of certain features of the gospel that Jesus does not want us to become lax in. An ordinance has one peculiar quality; it is a reminder to the church of a purpose (water baptism reminds of the death of self) or a promise (the Lord’s supper reminds us of the return of Christ and the “last supper” to be held at the end of the church age). The prayer covering also reminds us of many spiritual truths and principles.
The ordinance of the covering has been trifled with by men who should know better. I advise brethren strongly not to touch the ordinances with scorn or offend any of “these little ones” who want to please the Lord with their childlike obedience. Those who keep this ordinance cause no problems—let them be sensitive and obedient to the Lord—it’s not hurting anyone. To some this ordinance is a serious matter, and that should be respected.
The covering is an ordinance (Paradises; precept, traditionary law). It is not a “custom of that day” as some unlearned men say—it is an ordinance.
THE PERPETUAL NATURE OF THE COVERING
If the prayer covering was just a “custom” or a “cosmetic” piece of apparel
worn on the head then everything Paul said about the prayer covering is wrong;
1. THE IMAGE AND GLORY OF GOD:
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the Image and glory of God: but the woman Is the glory of the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:7
Paul tells us that the prayer covering relates to the image (a likeness or resemblance to God) and glory (dignity, honor and praise) of God. The ordinance of the covering for both godly men and godly women reflects a holy dignity, an honoring of God to indicate our allegiance and submission to Him. It is a sign of our subjection to God and His governing authority over our lives. (11:3)
The ordinance of the covering pertaining to both men and women is related to “the image and glory of God”…and not a “custom of that day” as some men say.
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dlshonoureth his head.” (5) “But every woman that prayeth or prophesleth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that Is even all one as tf she were shaven.” 1 Corinthians 11:4-5
The ordinance of the covering is to be observed when the man or the woman prays. That is, when they are coming into the presence of God to address Him and commune with His majesty. The covering is to be observed when a woman “prayeth”…it is not just a “custom of that day” as some men falsely teach.
“But every woman that…prophesleth with her head uncovered dlshonoureth her head: “ 1 Corinthians 11:5
The word prophecy means to speak under inspiration or to be used in the gifts of utterance in the church. So we understand from this Word that a woman is authorized to speak in the church under prophetic anointing. Secondly, she is to be covered when she does so. Here we see that the covering is to be honored when a woman “prophesieth” …it is not just a “custom of that day” as men say. How could the covering be hair only if she is to be covered when she prays or prophesies only?
“Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:9
Paul links the matter of the covering to the order of creation, to the very Genesis of the human race! The order of the special relationship between the man and the woman was established by God in the beginning as the woman being the servant of her husband. This does not mean that a woman is inferior to her husband; it means that she is subservient (even though she may be superior to the husband in many ways). The order of the creation is established and we are reminded of this order to continue in that original order by the ordinance of the covering. The covering reminds us of the order of authority which God ordained in the very beginning…it is not a mere “custom of that day” as some men say.
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesleth with her head uncovered dlshonoureth her head:” 1 Corinthians 11:5.
To best understand what is meant by “dlshonoureth her head,” let us go to what the Greek lexicon says about this word head (kephale); “Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment. Metaph, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife; of Christ the lord of the husband and the Church; of things, the corner stone.” A woman dishonors her husband when she prays or prophesies without a covering. Of course, she is also acting in disobedience to God if it is an ordinance to her to honor her husband by observing the covering. The covering is a recognition of authority and a sign of honoring the husband …and not just a “custom of that day” as some men say.
“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head.” 1 Corinthians ll:10a
The word“power” (Gk. exousia), 1 Corinthians 11:10 means literally “the right to act.” The covered head is the woman’s authority to pray since it shows [to God] her belonging to and obedience to her husband. (Schlatter s. also M.D. Hooker, Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Corinthians 11:10, NTS, 10 [April, 1964], 410-416).” (Brackets ours) From Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, page 423-424. According to the Greek lexicon the word exousia here speaks of the authority or right given to the person only when they are using the covering. Angels minister to us and are a part of our power and authority as we minister in the Name of Jesus. There are apparently certain rights and privileges that we are able to use only when
the covering is used. Without that covering certain rights are lost. “For this cause” means that the channel being used must honor this covering to have the right to the things prayed for. So we see again that the covering is not a mere “custom” as some men say, but is required if we are to have certain rights and authority when we pray.
“For this cause ought the woman to have pouter on her head because of the angels.” 1 Corinthians 11:10
1 Corinthians ll:10b
Because of the angels. Angels are the ministering spirits sent as mediums between God’s throne of authority and man. They are under the command of the Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of God. Angels bear a very holy and uncompromising nature. They are completely under the command of God and take nothing into consideration but the orders they have from God. They dwell within the strict boundaries of kingdom law and ordinance. In no way should we offend these holy messengers! The covering is related closely to the ministry of the eternal angels of the Kingdom of God—How could it be possible that the covering is just a temporary “custom of Paul’s day” as some men say?
These 7 Biblical facts make the matter of the prayer covering indeed a matter of serious reflection for every child of God.
These 7 facts do not allow for any attempt to reduce this holy commandment to being a mere human “custom,” a “cosmetic decor” or “cultural tradition” of Paul’s day. Some cultures have customs that resemble this commandment, but apart from tradition and culture it is a commandment of perpetual cause and therefore of very serious consequences if disobeyed.
ALL DISOBEDIENCE TO THE WORD
OF GOD IS REBELLION IN THE
SIGHT OF THE ANGELS
ANGELS SEE ANY DISOBEDIENCE TO THE COMMANDMENTS AND ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH AS REBELLION.
They know if I have the intelligence and rational power to understand what is written in the Word of God and precisely what the reason is I do not comply with the ordinances of God. If it is pride, they know it. If it is because I am afraid of what others think if I obey, they know it. If it’s because I’m unreasonable and hateful, they know it. If it’s because I am being stubborn, they know it. If it’s because I’m pleasing someone else, they know it. Nothing is hidden from the angels.
Angels remember well the war that came to heaven when Lucifer rebelled against the Divine Government of God. The memory of an angel covers the entire history of sin from eternity to the present; the sounds and scenes of the heavenly war still flash across their keen minds in vivid agonizing detail.
They recall the cataclysmic clash between armies of angels. How heaven’s eternal bliss was shattered! Angel’s sword against angel’s sword! How well they remember the thundering power of God’s anger in judgment, banishing the rebels forever, casting them into the hopeless oblivion of a black eternity!
Singing angels of light turned into screaming spirits of darkness and torment! They remember well how rebellion in the creature shattered the order of the golden streets and turned the sea of glass into a battlefield…How it wrenched paradise from man and finally drew their Prince from the City of Light to the tortures and darkness of Golgotha. There they hovered in the sky, helpless, watching Him die the most horrible of all deaths…for human “rebels.” 1 John 3:4
WHEN ANGELS SEE REBELLION IN
MAN TOWARD THE WORD OF THE
CREATOR. IT BRINGS BACK BAD
If the human race, including Israel and the church, are depicted in scripture as having a dominant moral weakness, it would be “rebellion!” The angels are still at war with rebellion wherever they find it. But—they set up camp in the presence of those who have put their faith in Christ, and who “fear God.” Psalm 37:4. Read Hebrews 1:14-2:3.
There are 106 different qualities and activities of angels recorded in scripture. They are the monitors of the church. They not only watch over us to deliver us; they are witnesses of our performance in the faith. 1 Peter 1:12 We may convince ourselves and deceive others, but just how well we respond to His Word is well known of the angels!
It is a shame for a man to pray with his head covered. That is, with a turban, a hat, or any other common head covering used by men. It is unthinkable for a man to come into a church with his hat on, and if he should attempt to go to the altar of prayer with his hat on, he would be thought of as strange or surely be asked to remove it.
At the turn of this last century it was unthinkable for a woman to pray with her head uncovered in the church. Yet today in the contemporary Western church, women come into the house of God, not only with no covering, but with their hair cut short. Until the turn of this last century, women of the fundamental churches wore both coverings. But, like many other things, the church became careless and fell under the delusion that “As long as I’m not convicted and God doesn’t strike me dead with lightning, then He must approve.” But God’s silence is not God’s approval. “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” Psalm 50:21 with Luke 6:46.
While it is a shame for a man to pray or prophesy with his head covered, it is as much a shame for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, without something on or over the head. The Greek word in the text translated covered or uncovered is akatakaluptos (not covered) and katakalupto (covered). It is not a reference to the hair.
The Natural Covering and the Spiritual Covering
The text (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) is divided between two coverings. In verses 3-13 Paul treats the spiritual principles regarding the coverings and the veil covering. In verses 14-15 he treats the natural covering separately, i.e., the hair.
Man has one covering commandment and one spiritual head (God), the woman has two heads; God is her spiritual head (authority) and man is her natural head (authority).
1. Man is the woman’s natural head and her hair is her natural covering to show to God her submission to her natural head as God ordained order in Genesis chapter 3.
2. God (Christ) is her spiritual head and her veil (covering) is her spiritual covering to show submission to her spiritual head. For this reason, Paul required that a woman wear the veil (hat, or other appropriate covering) “on the head” (verse 10) over her natural covering (hair) when she prays or prophesies.
A SURPRISING DISCOVERY
When I set out to write on this subject, I consulted the standard reference works and found to my amazement that every authority I consulted acknowledged the two coverings as accepted fact. (See Eerdman’s Concise Bible Handbook, page 87; Barnes Commentary on the Old Testament, page 312 (contains a direct reference to 1 Corinthians 11:3-15); The Pulpit Commentary, Deuteronomy, page 355.)
“NATURE TEACH US” (verse 14)
There are many natural reasons why a man would have short hair. In the beginning God ordained man to a physical way of life. He was to “work by the sweat of his brow” which would make short hair more fitting to his role.
However, we live in a scientifically enlightened day when Paul’s words are wonderfully vindicated by modern scientific knowledge. In the genetic formulation of the female fetus there are two genes for hair, while the male fetus has only one gene for hair. For this reason baldness is common among men, and all but unheard of among women.
God, in the creation gave to woman two genes of hair to:
1. Insure her the practical warmth and comfort of hair (40% of body heat is lost through the top of the head, the hair acting as insulation to retain body heat).
2. That her hair, which is given her for a natural covering, would remain.
3. For her “glory” (natural beauty).
What if God had given only one gene to the ladies and two genes to the men?!? How true Paul’s words are, even into the 20th century, “doth not even nature Itself teach you,”
THE THEOLOGY OF VERSE 15
“…her hair is given her ‘for a’ covering.” (KJV) But, some translators translate this statement of Paul as, “Her hair is given her ‘Instead of a’ covering.” (Emphasis ours)
THE “54” WERE RIGHT!
The reason the 54 translators of the Authorized version of the King James Bible translated the Greek word anti, “for a covering” and not, “instead of a covering” is simply because the grammar of the text demands it.
Modern translators prefer “instead of” as the translation of this Greek and English preposition. But why then, did the brilliant and dedicated 54 scholars who translated the Authorized Version of the Bible use, “for a covering” rather than one of the many other variations of this preposition? Because:
1. Hermeneutical law would not permit it; “a whole of scripture is never interpreted by a part of scripture, but the part of scripture is interpreted by the whole.” In this case the 12 verses preceding interpret the preposition and not the preposition the 12 verses.
2. “Instead of simply means, either/or, and admits to there being two coverings. If we choose hair instead of a head covering, then we do not have to wear “the other covering.” But if this erroneous translation were true, it would imply the opposite; that you may cut your hair if you wear a covering. The “instead of interpretation gets you into big trouble and conflicts with the whole tenor of truth in this passage.
Ask yourself an honest question in a quiet time, “Why would Paul mention two coverings if only one is required?” Why would he speak of two coverings if he was going to eliminate one or both of them? The fact is, he mentioned two coverings and did not eliminate either of them.
Sincere Christian ladies should begin to use the covering in their secret prayer time and see if the Lord does not give you a new sense of His presence. The next time you steal away to prayer, put something over the head and then come into His presence and you will discover the blessing of obedience.
PART II — THE HAIR
THE ORDINANCE OF THE NATURAL COVERING — The Hair
Hair is mentioned eighty-three times in the Bible.
In this text, Paul refers to the hair directly three times in verses 14 and 15 saying that it is indeed a shame (a disgrace and a reproach) for a man to have long hair but a glory for the woman to have long hair.
1. The chief moral reason expressed by the Church Fathers and recent Bible scholars regarding hair is to establish distinction between the sexes. (Some of those sources listed above)
2. It distinguishes Christians from the rest of the world who by this ordinance establish Christ as a member of the Godhead and makes Him the authority directly over man. (11:3) So this teaching by Paul is peculiar to the New Testament. It does not come to us from the Old Testament. This is an ordinance to the New Testament church placing Christ as intermediary and authority over man, between God and man. See 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 14:37.
WHAT IS SHORT HAIR?
I would make these observations that would surely be acceptable to any reasonable person as to what would be considered short hair (Verses 6,14).
1. Hair that does not exceed or go beyond the natural hairline.
2. Hair that does not hang.
3. Hair that is cropped or cut and can be distinguished as short because it does not exceed the natural hairlines because it has been cut. A man may cut his hair as short as he wishes or worn full and still have short hair and not violate the definition of short hair.
WHAT IS LONG HAIR?
1. It is hair that exceeds the natural hairline.
2. It is long hair if it hangs.
3. It would be long if it was not cut (“shorn or shaven”).
Any hair style of the world that originates in the world of fashion should be avoided by those who believe that Christians should not conform to the world. (Romans 12:1-2) Not only should hair not be long on a man but it should not be greased and styled after the rock punks who sing about fornication and do drugs. Bible colleges that have a hair code for their students should be as concerned about the kinky styles on the girls and greasy heads. I have always assumed we came to Bible school to “perfect holiness” and not to vaunt ourselves vainly. Style is just as spiritually corruptive to the Christian heart as the disobedience toward hair length requirements. Young people who lack depth and dedication will not know that style is as evil as disregarding hair lengths. To be holy is to be pure, and to be pure is to be natural. When we depart from what is natural, it is to that degree we are conforming to the world, which we are commanded NOT to do!
The world teaches sensual grooming but the church has failed in teaching Biblical grooming. The result: Our young imitate the ungodly grooming of the punk and the harlot which is contrary to the grooming of holiness. Carnal lusts always destroy spiritual desires.
CORINTH: MAGNIFICENTLY WORLDLY
Converts were pouring into the Corinthian church bringing the ways of the fleshy Corinthian culture with them. It was then what it is today when the influx of converts becomes greater than our ability to teach the ways of holiness to the new Christians. To add to the problem, was the strong corrupting influence of the priestess-prostitutes of the temple of Diana upon the women of this prosperous major seaport city. The priestesses shaved their heads while the women of that day wove (broidered, 1 Timothy 2:9) brightly colored materials into the hair in a showy pompous fashion.
When any society or religion becomes morally corrupted and materialistic, one of the first signs of their obsession with self is the glamorizing of the hair style in both men and women.
Paul’s instructions here and in other of his writings (1 Timothy 2:9) indicate the apostle’s concern about this trend of glamorizing the hair with no regard for the spiritual principles he had taught them as he mentions in verse 2. “And keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”
“IF ANY MAN SEEM TO BE CONTENTIOUS” (verse 16)
The Right Interpretation: Dr. Jesse Moon says, “There is a popular misinterpretation of this verse which goes as follows: That Paul was saying, ‘I would rather that you women wear long hair and veils and you men wear short hair. However, It Is not Important enough to argue about.‘ This interpretation pictures those who favor long hair on women and short hair on men as being the ‘contentious’ ones”…Liberals and apostates all share this twisted view. But this view cannot be scripturally or intelligently proven. The original Greek text, as well as any noteworthy commentary written on this verse, makes it very clear that the grammar itself does not support the above spurious interpretation which Dr. Moon correctly cites. See Pulpit Commentary (Vol. 44, page 363); Clarke (Vol. 6, page 253,254);
What the apostle actually said about being contentious, P.C. Nelson makes it very clear; “But If anybody wants to take Issue with me, my answer Is, his view Is contrary to the custom of the Assemblies of God.” Letters of Paul by P. C. Nelson, pages 79,80.1 Thessalonians 2:15, Dr. Jesse Moon, We Have No Such Custom, Neither the Assemblies of God.
When the Lord returns to the twentieth century church, may He find some still faithful to the apostles’ original teaching and the ordinances given to the Church of Acts.