Headcoverings

 

In many of the assemblies today, women can be seen with their heads covered with a variety ofcoverings.  Why?  What is the purpose?  Is it necessary?  There are many articles around the country today purporting that, according to scripture, women in the assembly must wear a headcovering, at least during sabbath services.  My purpose is not to explain why that is so, but to look at it from the other side.  I am aware that there are sources and books that will disagree with the references I have quoted.  But that is the case with most issues.

 

There are very few scriptures that even make reference to coverings and/or veils.  To take them each separately, we will start with Genesis 24:65.  It states that Rebekah saw Isaac coming and covered herself.  Why?

In Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, we find:  “The veil is an essential part of a female dress.  In country places it is often thrown aside; but on the appearance of a stranger it is drawn over the face, so as to conceal all but the eyes.  But the text” has the Hebrew word for “the bridal veil -- in Syria and Persia of red silk -- which envelopes the entire person, and arrayed in which a bride is commonly led into the presence of her husband.  It was in this attire, becoming her bridal character, that Rebekah was adorned when about to be introduced for the first time to Isaac.  In a bride it was a token of her reverence and subjection to her husband.”

If this be so, where is any previous scriptural basis for such a bridal veil?  In fact, where is the basis for the marriage ceremony, as we know and celebrate it?

In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (hereafter to be referred to as ISBE), under “Dress”, it says:  “The ‘veil’ with which Rebekah and Tamar ‘covered themselves’ was most likely a large ‘mantle’ in which the whole body could be wrapped.”

For information on Tamar, check out Genesis 38.  Here verse 15 tells us that Judah believed her to be a harlot because she WAS wearing a veil/covering.

Numbers 5:18 is the next verse people sometimes use.  They say that if the priest were to bare her head, then it was necessary that it be covered.  “Bare” is Strongs #6544 - pawrah - meaning “to loosen; by implication, to expose.”  It doesn’t specify whether he is to loosen a covering or her hair.  In the past, women have worn their hair up, in a bun, coiled or braided around their heads.  As late as the first part of this century, this was a custom among the married women, especially the older ones.  Many of those women felt naked with their hair loose and appeared that way only in the privacy of their homes at bedtime. In Strongs, the next word #6545 is from the root word mentioned above.  The second word means “the hair -- as disheveled”. 

In the Illustrated Dictionary of Bible Life and Times, from Readers Digest, under the subject “Hair”, there is this short paragraph:  “Hair was considered an important component of feminine beauty, and by the first century AD rabbis decreed that a woman must shield her hair from public view as a sign of modesty.  Unkempt hair was generally considered a mark of mourning or shame; a woman accused of adultery would have her hair disheveled by a priest (Num 5:18).”

Did you notice that?  “Rabbis decreed”, not Yahweh.

This covers the scriptures in the Torah that discuss headcoverings/veils.  There is no directive from Yahweh or any command that the women are to keep their heads covered.  Keep that in mind.

The next scripture I was given is Isaiah 30:1.  In the King James, it says, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith Yahweh, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin.”  Does that really refer to a woman wearing a headcovering?

To make this verse easier to follow, I will type the words found in the verse in the Interlinear in bold print.  It says, “Woe to rebellious sons, states Yahweh, to make counsel, but not from Me, and to weave (#5258 - nawsak - “to pour out, especially a libation, or to cast [metal]; by analogy, to anoint a king -- cover, melt, [cause to] pour [out]),  a web(#4541 - massaykaw - a pouring over, i.e., a fusion of metal [esp a cast image], by implication a libation; a league; a coverlet [as if poured out] -- covering, molten image, vail), but not by my spirit in order(#4616 - mahan - heed, purpose on account of [as a motive or an aim], in order that)  to add sin(#2399 - khate - a crime or its penalty -- fault, offense)  on sin(#2403 - khatawaw - an offense [sometimes habitual sinfulness] and its penalty, occasion, sacrifice of expiation).”

Once again the words of the same verse, in bold, as Matthew Henry’s Commentary, explains it:  “They felt no need to consult -- felt they were so right.  ‘They take counsel among themselves, and from one another; but they do not ask counsel, much less will they take counsel of me.  They cover with a covering (they think to secure themselves with one shelter or other, which may serve to cover them from the violence of the storm), but not of my spirit (not such as Elohim by his spirit, in the mouth of his prophets, directed them to), and therefore it will prove too short a covering, and a refuge of lies’.”

In Jamieson, Fausset and Brown  it comments that they “wrap themselves in reliances disloyal to Yahweh.  ‘Cover’ thus answersto ‘seek deep to hide their counsel from their Master’, the covering is narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.”

The only other scripture used as a basis that coverings are necessary are the words of Paul in I Corinthians 11.  I cannot explain every part of what he said.  Even Peter said that Paul was often hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16).   Keep in mind who is speaking here.  Is it Yahweh?  No, it is PaulHe does not say “Yahweh says......”  To whom is he speaking?  Gentile converts.  Did you ever look into their lives or their customs?  The society around a group of people can have a strong influence on what is said to them because of what may have been going on in that area, at that time.

It was proper in the Roman empire for a respectable woman to veil herself in public.  Does any article of clothing make the same statement today?  Why wear just the covering?  If we pick out that one item, shouldn’t we go all the way and dress the way they did, so that the scriptures will apply to both male and female alike?

The Corinthian church was made up principally of non-Jews.  Corinth was a bustling port city noted for debauchery.  All over the Greek-Roman world, “to behave as a Corinthian” was a proverbial synonym for leading a low, shameless and immoral life.  How did that past life affect the assembly in Corinth?

The next five paragraphs are quotes from the book Women in the New Testament by Bonnie Thurston.

The quotes are in reference to 1 Corinthians 11.

 “The passage is notoriously difficult both to translate and to interpret.  Its logic is unclear and its reasoning torturous.  The usual reading of the passage is that the author understands head covering as a sign of subordination of women to men, which is appropriate since all women shared Eve’s guilt.  Furthermore, for a woman to show her head uncovered in public was compared to shaving it (v 5) and thus disrespecting her own nature.  But there are significant difficulties with such a reading.  First, why appeal to the sin of Eve in a largely Gentile congregation on whom the logic might be lost?  Second, there is no basis for assuming that a hellenized Jew would assume that , kephale (‘head’) means ‘having authority’.  Rather as a number of recent studies have conclusively proved, it meant something more like ‘origin of’ or ‘source’.  It is inappropriate to read twenthieth-century connotations back into a first-century term.”

 “Third, the word ‘veil’ does not occur in the passage, nor does any Greek word for headdress.  And in any case, the common assumption that men did not wear veils in antiquity is mistaken.  Head covering was part of the Roman way of worship and is even attested by a statue from the Augustan period in Corinth of a veiled man.  In statuary veils are found on rulers and other men during worship (usually, it is thought, as a symbol of piety and conservative religion), and on religious functionaries, both male and female.  In mourning, Roman men covered their heads.”

 “In v 5, 6 and 7 the word often translated into English by ‘veil’ is some form of kalypto, meaning ‘to cover’.  “Veil’ is assumed by many translators, but the word is not there.  Verse 10 is very interesting.  It literally says that a woman ought to have exousia (‘authority’) over her head.  Again, this is usually translated ‘veil’ in English, but the Greek word clearly means ‘authority’.  On the basis of this fact Morna Hooker” (author of Authority on the Head) has argued that, rather than a sign of subordination, the ‘head covering’ of the Corinthian women, whatever it was, is the symbol of their authority to do what they were doing.  On their heads is the symbol of their authority to pray and prophesy in the community.”

 “A somewhat similar argument is set forward by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, author of Sex and Logic in 1 Cor 11:2-16 He points out that, as was the case in chapter 7, the writer here (whom he assumes to be Paul) addresses both men and women equally; in v 5 women perform the same functions as men in worship and are criticized in the same way.  Since a veil is not mentioned and the passage moves toward direct instructions with regard to hair length (v 14-15), he thinks the issue must be hairstyle or disordered hair, perhaps refusal to do the hair in a way proper to women at the time.  Paul’s argument proceeds along lines of argument from the order of creation (v3, 7-12), the teaching of nature (v 13-15), and the custom of the churches (v 16).  Paul thought women had the authority to act as they were acting in the community’s worship, but by means of their properly coiffed hair needed to convey their new status to the angels who watched for breaches of law.  Woman’s new power and equality are related to her being fully woman, and her properly done hair is a symbol of both.  Moreover, properly arranged hair would make such a woman acceptable in Jewish circles, where loose hair was a symbol of uncleanness (see Num 5:18; Lev 13:45) and would set her apart from ecstatic worshippers in Greco-Roman religions like, for example, those who let their hair down as part of their worship of Isis.”

 “The author of the passages assumes, first, that both men and women pray and prophesy in the congregation (v 4-5) and that, second, the women who do so would consider themselves honorable.  For the activity to be seemly, proper covering or uncovering of the head (with hair?  with veils?) is important as a mark of social order within the community.  It is unclear whether subordination of woman to man is the issue so much as order in the church assembly.  The author makes a clear statement of the interdependence of Christian men and women; ‘in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman’ (v 11).  The conclusion of the passage is noteworthy for its inconclusiveness; ‘if anyone is disposed to be contentious -- we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God’ (v 16).  If the passage is an appeal for equivalence in sexual roles, it concedes little, although it does make clear that the crucial functions of prayer and prophecy were carried out in the Christian community of Corinth by men and women without any distinctive sign of the subordinate status of women.”

From the book To Be A Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin comes the following:

 “Though never legislated by the Sages, the custom of not going about bareheaded at any time -- at home, in the synagogue and outdoors -- extends back several thousand years in time.  In many ways, it has today become a mark of Jewish piety.”

 “To wear a headcovering was the ancient Roman stigma for a servant.  Free men went bareheaded.  The Jews adopted this practice in a House of God and in prayer or whenever God’s name was mentioned in blessings to emphasize that they were the servants of the Lord.  Gradually, the practice was extended to wearing a headcovering also under the open skies.  It became the Jewish way of showing reverence for God.”

From the ISBE, it says in the article “veil”: 

 “The use of a face veil as a regular article of dress was unknown to the Hebrew women.  In New Testament times, among both Greeks and Romans, reputable women wore a veil in publicand to appear without it was an act of bravado (or worse);  Tarsus, Paul’s home city, was especially noted for strictness in this regard.  Hence his indignant directions in I Corinthians 11:2-16 which have their basis in the social proprieties of the time.”

Under the article “dress” in the ISBE it states: 

 “When the Hebrews first emerged into view, they seem to have had no covering for the head except on special demand, as in the case of war, when a leather helmet was worn.  Ezekiel’s description of a lady’s headdress ‘attire of fine linen’ (chapter 16:10), points to a turban.  In New Testament times, as we learn from the Mishnah, the ‘suddar’ (a cloth for wiping off perspiration), which is probably the ‘napkin’ of John 11:44; 20:7, although there it appears as a kerchief, or covering, for the head.”

In the article “head” in the ISBE, it tells us

 “Paul’s injunction as to the veiling of women in the public gatherings of the Christians (I Cor 11:5), while men were instructed to appear bareheaded, is diametrically opposed to the Jewish custom, according to which men wore the head covered by the tallith or prayer shawl, while women were considered sufficiently covered by their long hair (I Cor 11:15).  The apostle here simply commends a Greek custom for the congregation residing among Greek populations; in other words, he recommends obedience to local standards of decency and good order.:

The article ‘hair’ in the ISBE has some interesting comments as well: 

 “The Hebrew people, like their Babylonian neighbors, affected long and well-cared-for, bush curls of hair as emblems of manly beauty.  Proofs thereof are not infrequent in the Scriptures and elsewhere.  Samson’s (Jud. 16:13-19) and Absalom’s (2 Sam 14:26) long luxuriant hair is specially mentioned, and the Shulammite sings of the locks of her beloved which are ‘bushy , and black as a raven’ (RV)  Josephus reports that Solomon’s body-guard was distinguished by youthful beauty and ‘luxuriant heads of hair’.  In the history of Samson we read of ‘the seven locks of his head’ (Jud 16:19).  It is likely that the expression signifies the plaits of hair which are even now often worn by the young Bedouin warrior of the desert.”

It is well known that among the surrounding heathen nations the hair of childhood or youth was often shaved and consecrated at idolatrous shrines.  Frequently this custom marked an initiatory rite into the service of a divinity.  It was therefore an abomination of the Gentiles in the eyes of the Jew, which is referred to in Lev 19:27; Jer. 9:26; 25:23; 49:32.  The Syrian version of the latter passage renders, ‘Ye shall not let your hair grow long’ (i.e. in order to cut it as a religious rite in honor of an idol).  It is, however, probable that among the Jews, as now among many classes of Mohammedans, the periodical cropping of the hair, when it had become too cumbersome, was connected with some small festivity, when the weight of the hair was ascertained and its weight in silver was given in charity to the poor.  At least, the weighing of Absalom’s hair (2 Sam 14:26) may be referred to some such custom, which is not unparalleled in other countries.”

 “We may also compare the shaving of the head of the Nazirite to those heathen practices, though the resemblance is merely superficial.  The man who made a vow to God was responsible to Him with his whole body and being.  Not even a hair was to be injured wilfully during the whole period of the vow, for all belonged to God.  The conclusion of the Nazirite vow was marked by sacrifices and the shaving of the head at the door of the sanctuary (Num 6:1-21), indicative of a new beginning of life.  The long untouched hair was therefore considered as the emblem of personal devotion (or devotedness) to the God of all strength.”

 “In New Testament times, especially in the Diaspora, the Jews frequently adopted the fashion of the Romans in cropping the hair closely (1 Cor 11:14); still the fear of being tainted by the idolatrous practice of the heathen, which is specially forbidden in Lev 21:5, was so great that the side locks remained untouched and were permitted to grow ad libitum.  This is still the custom among the Jews of Eastern Europe and the Orient.”

 “If Hebrew men paid much attention to their hair, it was even more so among Hebrew women.  Long black tresses were the pride of the Jewish maiden and matron (Cant 7:5; John 11:2; 1 Cor 11:5, 6, 15), but many of the expressions used in connection with the ‘coiffures’ of women do not convey to us more than a vague idea.”

 “The braiding or dressing of woman’s hair is expressed in 2 Ki 9:30.  In New Testament times Christian women are warned against following the fashionable world in elaborate hairdressing (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pet 3:3).”

 “For the Jews the anointing of the head was synonymous with joy and prosperity (Psa 23:5; 92:10; Heb 1:9; compare also ‘oil of joy’, Isa 61:3, and ‘oil of gladness”, Psa 45:7).  It was also, like the washing of feet, a token of hospitality (Psa 23:5; Luke 7:46).”

 “On the contrary, it was the custom in times of personal or national affliction and mourning to wear the hair unanointed and disheveled, or to cover the head with dust and ashes (2 Sam 14:2; Josh 7:6; Job 2:12), or to tear the hair or to cut it off (Ezra 9:3; Neh 13:25; Jer 7:29).”

In Matthew 5:17, Yahshua says that He did not come to destroy the law.  The word “law” is Strongs #3551 --nomos -- law (through the idea of prescriptive usage), gen. (regulation), specifically of Moses (including the volume); also of the gospel) or figuratively (a principle):  --- law.  

But the word in I Corinthians 11:2 is not the same.  In the King James it is “ordinances”.  In the Interlinear, it is “traditions”.  The word is Strongs #3862 -- paradosis -- meaning transmission, i.e. a precept; specifically the Jewish traditionary law. 

From the ISBE under the article “tradition”, it says: 

 “The Greek word is paradosis, a ‘giving over’, either by word of mouth or in writing; then that which is given over, i.e. tradition, the teaching that is handed down from one to another.”

“The term in the New Testament has apparently three meanings.  It means, in Jewish theology, the oral teachings of the elders (distinguished ancestors from Moses on) which were reverenced by the late Jews equally with the written teachings of the Old Testament, and were regarded by them as equally authoritative on matters of belief and conduct.  There seem to be three classes of these oral teachings:  (a) some oral laws of Moses (as they supposed) given by the great lawgiver in addition to the written laws; (b) decisions of various judges which became precedents in judicial matters; (c) interpretations of great teachers (rabbis) which came to be prized with the same reverence as were the Old Testament Scriptures.”

 “It was against the tradition of the elders in this first sense that Jesus spoke so pointedly to the scribes and Pharisees (Matt 15:2f; Mark 7:3f).  The Pharisees charged Him with transgressing ‘the tradition of the elders’. 

“The word is used by Paul when referring to his personal Christian teachings to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica (I Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6).  In this sense the word in the singular is better translated ‘instruction’, signifying the body of teaching delivered by the apostle to the church at Thessalonica (2 Thess 3:6).  But Paul in the other two passages uses in the plural, meaning the separate instructions which he delivered to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica.”

Did you notice the words “personal Christian teachings”?

From The Oxford Companion to the Bible comes the following quotes, first under the article “torah”:

 “The rabbis extended Torah:  the written Torah and the oral Torah, the latter consisting of traditions that were transmitted orally until they were given written expression in the Mishnah, the basis of the Talmud.”

The article “History of interpretation” gives us this: 

 “To solve the problem of authority and to pre-empt readings of scriptures with which they could not agree, the rabbis were forced to elevate their interpretations to the same status as scripture itself:  their interpretations became Oral Torah, and were traced back in principle to Moses.”

Under the article “Talmud”, we find: 

“The Talmuds fill vast gaps in the Mishnah’s discourse.  They account for the authority of the Mishnah by systematically linking its rules and laws to scriptures.  The need to explain the standing and the origin of the Mishnah led sages to posit, first, that God’s revelation of the Torah at Sinai encompassed the Mishnah as much as scripture, and second, that the Mishnah was handed on through oral formulation and oral transmission from Sinai to the frames of the document as we have it.  Consequently, the two Talmuds, along with a variety of other books of exegesis of the Mishnah and of scripture, came to be called the oral Torah.”

Jamieson, Fausset and Brown gives us the following comments on scriptures:

Matthew 15:3 -- “The traditions they transgress is but man’s and is itself the occasion of heavy transgression, undermining the authority of God’s law.”

Matthew 15:9 -- “By putting the commandments of men on a level with the divine requirements, their whole worship was rendered vain -- a principle of deep moment in the service of God.”

I Corinthians 11:2 -- “Ordinances -traditions, i.e. apostolic directions by word as in writing.  The difficulty is to know what is a genuine apostolic tradition intended for all ages.  Any that can be proved to be such ought to be observed; any that cannot, ought to be rejected.”

From Matthew Henry’s Commentary, regarding Matthew 15:

 “The scribes and Pharisees were the great men of the Jewish church, men whose gain was godliness, great enemies to the gospel of Christ, but colouring their opposition with a pretence of zeal for the law of Moses, when really nothing was intended but the support of their own tyranny over the consciences of men.”

 “They called it the traditions of the elders, laying stress upon the antiquity of the usage, and the authority of them that imposed it, as the church of Rome does upon fathers and councils, but Christ calls it their traditions.”

 “’Making the commandments of God of no effect’ -- whatever leads to, or countenances, disobedience, does, in effect, make void the commandments; and they that take upon them to dispense with God’s law, do, in Christ’s account, repeal and disannul it”

 “’They teach for doctrine the commandments of men’ -- The Jews, then, as the papists since, paid the same respect to oral tradition that they did to the word of God.  When men’s inventions are tacked to God’s institutions, and imposed accordingly, this is hypocrisy, a mere human religion.”

It would be well for us to keep in mind the words of Paul at the end of this commentary, in 1 Cor 11:16.  He said, in the King James, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”  Note he said “we”, meaning himself as well?  He said there was no such custom in the church -- there was in the area these people were living in, at that time.

As I look at all of this, I am left with three questions ----

  1. If headcoverings are as important in Yahweh’s eyes as some teachers say, why did Yahweh not so instruct us as He gave the laws of His torah?
  2. If the headcovering is to symbolize simply a wife’s submission to her husband, what is the scriptural basis for the coverings being placed on young children, teenagers or unmarried women?
  3. Why are these instructions not given to any other local assembly or by any other writer or teacher?

Please, as you look at this, do no accept my ideas or the ideas of anyone trying to teach you about this subject.  Or any other subject, for that matter.  Please look at all the sources at your disposal, pray about your study and then make your own decision -- between you and Yahweh.  Prove it for yourself, one way or the other.

 

 

 

 

 

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