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Monday, 2 April 2007

Head Covering and Symbolism

Blogger's note: I recognize here, as elsewhere in this blog, that the English language has changed in my lifetime, and the word 'gender' is now used to refer to what the word 'X35' (read upside down & backwards) used to. This is also for the benefit of screening programs which might otherwise make this blog inaccessible.

It's time to consider some problems with the Figurative approach to interpreting and applying 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the Headship Symbolism Passage.

First of all, it is apparent on its face that in this passage, the Apostle is giving instructions on how to symbolize the headship relationship between:

- God and Christ
- Christ and the man/husband
- The man/husband and the woman/wife

This is foundational, as Paul mentions it before getting into any actual instruction.

Is there any symbol common to these three relationships? If not, why would Paul put them all together in the introductory verse?

To begin with, let's look at some of the symbols depicted in Scripture and see if any of these apply.

1. Clothing. This is one of the first symbols encountered in Scripture. Clothing, we are told in Isaiah 61:10 and Revelation 19:8, can symbolize righteousness and/or salvation. God provided clothing to Adam and Eve, inter alia, for the reason of demonstrating their own lack of righteousness and external need for salvation.

What sort of clothing did Jesus wear? Well, to begin with, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes. The reasons for this are not given in Scripture, but it's apparent that this was the customary attire for a newborn in that culture, and God's approval was on Jesus' initial conformity to the clothing norms of his culture. Does this specifically symbolize in any way the Headship principle? Not apparently. Nor at any time, in mentioning Jesus' clothing, do the Scriptures hint that what he wore was at all extraordinary or meant to symbolize in any way his unique relationship with God; contrast this with the specific mention of his cousin John's unusual clothing and dietary habits.

So there's nothing inherent anywhere in the Scriptures to support the idea of a symbol that is part of one's clothing being used to depict the Headship principle. This is significant, given that clothing is a large part of the Tabernacle cultus described in such minute detail in Exodus and Leviticus.

2. Painful Childbirth and Arduous Agriculture are given in the same chapter of Genesis as symbols of a sort; symbols, like clothing, of mankind's new sinful state. Unlike clothing, which does not appear as gender-specific in its first mention, these symbolic curses were directed at the woman and the man respectively. But could these represent in any way the Headship principle? No, because, being intricately related to the curse of sin as they are, they can't represent the sinless unity between God and His Son.

3. Marriage, which has its origins in the first chapter of Genesis, is later depicted as a symbol of the relationship between Christ and his Body, the Church. Now we're getting close, because in Ephesians chapter five, Paul directly compares the unconditional subjection of a wife to her husband to the unconditional subjection of the Church to Christ. But note that this symbolism does not directly parallel that of 1 Corinthians chapter eleven; the church is not at all in view in that passage. In fact, the usage of 'man' and 'woman' in verses 11-12 clearly shows that more than just the marriage relationship is in view here; men and women as entire gender classes are the subject. Correlating with Paul's prohibition just three chapters later against women teaching men*, woman in general are depicted here as being in subjection to men in general, not just each woman to her own husband. So marriage, which is not the universal experience of either gender class, can't be the symbolism being portrayed here. Neither, then, could it be any symbolism particular to marriage, such as a bridal ring or dress.

4. Hair is an interesting symbol in the Bible, as it too is not gender-specific in its first mention–which doesn't come until the third book of the Bible, where in Leviticus 13:29-33, shaving off the hair is prescribed for any person, male or female, diagnosed with a leprous spot on the head or chin. In the next chapter it even specifies shaving off the eyebrows! Contemporaneous with the Torah narrative, Job is said to have shaved the hair off his head in mourning for his great loss (Job 1:20). Women are categorically commanded to shave their heads in the case of a slave concubine, in Deuteronomy 21:12.

At this point we must digress, as the question arises as to whether hair length is even hinted at as a gender-distinguishing trait anywhere else in Scripture. The first mention of long hair is in Numbers chapter six, in the instructions for a Nazarite–remember, these are specified in verse two as applying to men and women indifferently. The Nazarite is to let his or her hair grow long during the duration of his or her vow, and shave it off for a burnt offering at the completion of the vow. If there is no difference here between man and woman, how could hair length symbolize a difference between the genders?

We now come back to First Corinthians Eleven. Paul clearly feels here that there is should be a gender-based difference in the hair length of men and women respectively, and he considers the reasons behind it to be patently obvious.

Whence obtained Paul such an opinion? Certainly, as it has been shown, not from Scripture.

What, then, could Paul point to as a symbolism of the relationships between God and Christ, Christ and man, and man and woman? He uses a head covering: the visible presence of it for the ultimate relationship, and the visible absence of it for the penultimate relationship--both pointing, in a symbol, to the invisible submission of the Son to the Father within the Godhead.

*8/09/2110 I erred in writing this. Like many patristic authors, I quoted from memory. Lest any read into this a new interpolation in 1 Corinthians 14, I should have specified the location of this prohibition as 1 Timothy 2:12.

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