1 Cor 11.1-16 and Head Coverings

There seems to be a lot of confusion about this practice in a Torah-based faith in Yeshua, so we are going to give some concepts on this subject, not only concerning men’s head coverings but also women’s. We are going to go to 1 Cor 11.1-16 for instruction to get the whole context about this as far as a believer in Yeshua is concerned. Many have seen Jewish men wearing a “kippah” or “Yarmulke” and many teach that this is a biblical command, but in reality, there is no biblical command for men to wear a head covering. A kohen or priest was to cover his head while serving in the Temple but that was because he was anointed with the holy anointing oil, but that certainly did not apply to a non-priest. The practice for covering the head is one of those traditions that evolved over the centuries. In the movie called “Fiddler on the Roof” there are comments about wearing a head covering, and when Tevye is asked about its origin he says, “I don’t know.” We have all heard the song from the movie called “Tradition” because that’s what it was, a tradition. The Kippah shape is interesting. Some say it relates back to the practice of idolaters shaving their heads, or “tonsure”, in a circle because they were sun worshipers. Some Christian denominations have a history of sun worship and they wear head coverings in the shape of a “sun disk” and the modern kippah is patterned after that. But, like Tevye, they would have to say when asked about its origin, “I don’t know.” So, let’s look at what Paul says and let’s put it into a first-century, biblical, Jewish context because that is where he was coming from.

In 1 Cor 11, he begins to comment about the proper relationship between a husband and a wife in public worship in regard to authority and influence. Being a Greek city, these non-Jewish believers were heavily influenced by its surrounding culture and traditions. Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians about the Torah and how to walk in the Scriptures, which was totally different from the culture and thought processes they had come out of and were familiar with. That is why he starts out in Chapter 11 by exhorting them to follow him because he follows Yeshua. We know that Yeshua followed the Torah so that means Paul followed the Torah and he tells the Corinthians to follow the Torah. He praises them because they follow the traditional and biblical concepts he has taught them so far. He then gives the spiritual application of what he is about to teach them in v 3 and it is the verse that is the basis on how v 4-16 should be interpreted. He says Messiah is the head (of influence) over the man, and the man is the head (of influence) over his wife and God is the head (of influence) over the Messiah. What he is basically saying is that he, Paul, is not the “head (of influence).” He has already clarified that fact in 1 Cor 1.11-17. So he gives a basic spiritual hierarchy and then begins to deal with a problem in the congregations there. In v 4 he says that any man who has his “head (of influence)” covered (by any other man or institution) disgraces his head (of influence), who is Yeshua. We are not to follow after or submit to any man-made authority that violates what the Lord has already said (Acts 5.29).

In v 5 he goes on to say that any woman (wife) who has her head uncovered (by ignoring her husband’s head of influence as specified in v 3) disgraces her head (her husband) and she is like one who “shaves her head”, and he is referring to the practice of prostitutes who shaved their hair off. In other words, she is like a spiritual prostitute because she has “cut off” her spiritual covering. As you can see, Paul is teaching Torah concepts on how a husband and a wife relate to one another, especially in regard to public worship (praying, prophesying, teaching). He says that for a wife to shave her head literally would be disgraceful, so it is also disgraceful to “shave her head spiritually” by going against her husband’s authority and head of influence.

In v 7 he says that it is disgraceful for a man to have his head covered (by any authority or institution other than Messiah, his head of influence) since he is the image of God and the woman is the glory of her husband. This is because the woman came from man and was created for his sake. Therefore a wife should have her husband as her head of influence. He goes on to say that this is done “because of the angels” and he is referring to the fact that some of them weren’t satisfied with their place and tried to usurp the authority that was not given to them, and they fell. So it is a warning about going against God-given authority, especially in a family. In v 13 he says that we are to judge ourselves as to whether it is proper for a wife to pray to God by going against her husband (being uncovered). He says that even nature itself teaches us that if a man has long hair he dishonors himself because it was seen as effeminate in the first century, but if a woman does it is a glory to herself. In a spiritual sense, it is the same way. A husband who covers himself with any man-made institution or authority (long hair) dishonors Messiah, but a wife who covers herself with her God-given “covering” (her husband) is doing the right thing because her glory (husband) was given to her, just like her hair in a natural sense. Her hair is a built-in “badge” of her femininity. Paul concludes this teaching by saying that if anyone wants to argue about what he is saying “don’t bother” because there is no other practice in the congregations.

So, in short, Paul is not teaching about literal head coverings. There are no Torah teachings about that. But there are plenty of teachings in the Scriptures about how a husband and a wife are to relate to one another (Gen 2.16; Num 30.1-16 for instance), especially in a congregational setting, and that is what he is talking about in 1 Cor 11. Evidently, the Corinthians were having some issues in this area very similar to what we experience in this culture today, because our Western culture is based on Greek thought as opposed to Hebraic thought, and few husbands and wives today are taught God’s ways in the Torah. So, it was the same back then. These people were coming out of a Torah-less (lawless) society and Paul had to teach them the “traditions” (Greek “paradosis” or “tradition by instruction based on the Torah-“1 Cor 11.2).

These principles hold true today. A man is not to have any spiritual institution or authority as his head of influence over him other than Messiah and the Word of God, and his wife should place herself under his authority as her head of influence and not rebel against his leadership in a spiritual or congregational setting. Now if she believes he is wrong, she can submit him to his head of influence (Messiah) in prayer and let God deal with him. David did the same thing to Saul (David’s head of influence) when he said he would let God judge between them, but David was not going to lift his hand against Saul because he (Saul) was David’s head of influence as king and was placed there by God. This subject can bring up all kinds of scenarios, but that is the basic instruction Paul is giving to the Corinthians and it has nothing to do with literal head coverings. If one wants to pray with their head literally covered or uncovered, that is a personal preference and should not be imposed on others.

Posted in All Teachings, Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Prophecy/Eschatology, The Festivals of the Lord, The Tanak, Tying into the New Testament

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