Many get round the teaching of 1 Cor. 11: 2–16 on head–coverings for women by alleging that it refers solely to the Corinthian situation, and has no modern application. How
do you respond?
This is a well–known argument, and will appeal to those who find the doctrine of head–coverings for sisters while praying or prophesying unpalatable. However, that is the fundamental problem with the argument - it is based on prejudice, not fact. Indeed, this prejudice often goes so deep that some will not listen to reasoned discussion on the issue. Sadly, we live in days when many “will not bear sound teaching .” (2 Tim. 4: 3).
Much of today’s so–called theology is based upon isolated and random texts - few bother to study the books of the Bible in their entirety. However, even the most superficial reader of First Corinthians could not surely overlook the fact that it is written, not only to Corinth, but to “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1: 2). This fact alone ought to disprove the idea that the teaching of 1 Cor. 11: 2–16 was of application only to the Corinthian situation. However, you will find that where self–will is at work, it matters very little how many “proofs” you bring forward - for the problem is not one of evidence, but of will.
Again, in chapter 11 itself we read “But if anyone think to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the assemblies of God” (1 Cor. 11: 16). Now Paul does not mean by this that he has no custom of being contentious! Rather the sense is that though his opposers might be inclined to contend for a different way of acting as regards head–coverings, to do so would put them at variance with the practice of the apostle: “we have no such custom”. Furthermore, allied with the “we” (Paul and Sosthenes), are “the assemblies of God”. The plain fact here is that Paul taught that women praying and prophesying should have their heads covered, and this was the practice in all the assemblies. Only those contending with him had other customs.
In verse 10, speaking of the head–covering, the apostle says “Therefore ought the woman to have authority on her head, on account of the angels”. By “on account of the angels” he is referring to the fact that these beings observe how we behave, and the woman, in having her head covered when praying or prophesying, is indicating to them her recognition of the headship of the man. She may speak to God in prayer, or from God in prophecy, but in neither is she to set aside the fact that she is under the authority of the man. Now are we to imagine that the angels were to have this fact conveyed to them by the wearing of head–coverings by the sisters in Corinth, but not elsewhere? If it was right for the women in one location to have authority on their heads, but also right for others elsewhere not to, how could anything sensible be conveyed to the angels?
Again, if 1 Cor. 11: 2–16 is to be applied only to Corinth, then why not other parts of the epistle? Some tell us that since the Corinthians spoke in tongues, citing chapter 14, then so should Christians today. However, when the same people are faced with chapter 11 and the issue of head–covering, it suddenly becomes “not applicable now”. Where is the consistency in this? If some passage is to labelled as “not applicable now” then surely we are warranted in demanding some hard evidence, rather than being fobbed off by some arbitrary declaration. Since the purpose of the head–covering is the recognition of the headship of the man over the woman (1 Cor. 11: 3), and since in God’s eyes that relationship has not changed, having existed since creation, then it is quite obvious that Christians are to continue with the practice of head–coverings for women.
It is very dangerous to teach, as some do, that this chapter ought to be understood from what history has taught us about Corinth. Certainly history has merit, but to say that the inspired teachings of an apostle of Jesus Christ must be interpreted according to what is only the supposed prevailing cultural atmosphere at the time of writing is an amazing thing to come from a Christian. Thus it is said that in wearing head–coverings, the Corinthians were only continuing a local Greek custom, whilst Christians elsewhere had no such customs. Paul, however, does not establish his ‘custom’ on native traditions, but on God’s order from the beginning. Thus he says “I wish you to know that the Christ is the head of every man, but woman’s head [is] the man ....”(v3), the latter part being clearly an allusion to Genesis 3: 16. On that fact he builds his doctrine: “Every man praying or prophesying, having [anything] on his head, puts his head to shame. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered puts her own head to shame;” (v 4, 5). To limit these Scriptures to the Corinth of the first century is to pervert the plain sense of Holy Scripture.