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Thursday, 29 March 2007

Head Covering and inconsistency


1 Corinthians 11:2-16 could be called the Headship Symbolism Passage. Herein (and nowhere else) the Apostle Paul informs the Corinthians (and, by extension, every Christian) of the need to symbolize, in an outwardly visible way, the Headship Principle. There are many different interpretations of the specifics in this passage, but they broadly fall into three basic approaches, here listed with the usual application of each interpretation immediately following:

1) Cultural: Paul expected the Corinthian women to wear something on their heads for cultural reasons specific to that time and place. Therefore women should enhance their femininity by adorning themselves in ways appropriate to the culture in which they live.

2) Figurative: Paul explained that to properly depict the created headship order, women should have long hair, and men should have short hair. Therefore men should keep the hair on their heads cut short, and women should keep the hair on their heads at its full natural length.

3) Literal: Paul is teaching here a basic New Testament principle that women should have a covering on their heads, and that men should not, whenever prophesying or praying. Therefore Christian women should customarily wear their hair under a distinctive covering of a sort which Christian men never wear.

Now, all three approaches have their problems, but the main problem in approaches #1 and #3 is internal inconsistency. Let's look at these two individually.

Approach #1, to begin with, focuses on the women, even though men and women are equally the topic of discussion. What is a man to not wear in order to comply with his culture and proclaim his masculinity? Well, a hat, if he is preaching, praying, or pledging in virtually any culture that isn't Jewish or Muslim. But where does that leave the woman--must she put on a hat, just to be fair? Then we're right back to Approach #3. It's very difficult to remain Cultural and still apply the interpretation equally to both sexes.

Approach #3 suffers from the same inconsistency, in that the standard is applied unequally to women. Men can fit right in with their culture, as above, by removing their hats to preach, pray, or pledge. Women, on the other hand, have to wear their coverings all the time. In fact, the men even have a hard time complying with the requirement to always pray bareheaded; it just isn't practical sometimes. Nor, for that matter, is it practical for the women to always get the official covering on their heads before launching into prayer at any time of the day or night. These are not rare problems, but common ones.

Now looking again at both approaches, we see that they are not internally consistent. Approach #1 works great for women, but it has to appropriate some of the literalness of Approach #3 in order to apply at all to men. In the same way, Approach #3 has to appropriate from Approach #1 the requirement to comply with the expectations of the culture. An internally consistent application of Approach #3 would require of the men only that they never wear their wives' prayer coverings, which is really no requirement at all.

Approach #2 may have other problems, but internal inconsistency is not one of them. Every man is able to have short hair all the time, and every woman is able to have uncut hair all the time (with some obvious rare exceptions that Paul scarcely need mention in depicting the general principle). This does take work, with both sexes under the equal responsibility to maintain their respective coiffures.

And indeed it is men who by nature tend to loose the hair on their heads, not women; thus the requirement is even by nature equally enforceable to both sexes. Just consider the typical reactions of a man and woman, respectively, who loses all his or her hair. The man more often than not just takes it in stride as a natural by-product of his masculinity; the woman, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to hide her shame. It's natural, folks. God made it that way.

This view, far more than the other two, is rooted in a created difference between the sexes. Do not all drawings of Adam & Eve correctly depict them with short and long hair respectively? And from the earliest age of cognition, boys and girls can proclaim the created order with their respective hair lengths whether awake or asleep, dressed or undressed; and they need not await attaining the age of accountability, much less adulthood.

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