NCT and the 1 Cor 11 Head Covering

Q & A CornerCategory: Systematic TheologyNCT and the 1 Cor 11 Head Covering
Breton R Palmer asked 3 years ago

My brother is a reformed Presbyterian, so we’ve engaged in what would be “fringe” or little known discussions from an evangelical perspective. Being that the NT has interpretive priority in NCT, I am intrigued to see how NCT would interpret head covering since it is an “issue” actually addressed in the New Covenant and not the Old.  PS- Loving the blog, hoping to read the Journal soon!

1 Answers
Zachary Maxcey Staff answered 3 years ago

Thanks for the question! My apologies for the delay in responding to your question, as I have been filling in for a teacher who is ill at a local Christian school as of Monday. With regards to your question, I am not aware of any standard NCT interpretation of the ‘head covering’ issue mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11. Given the difference of opinion in Christian circles at large, I would imagine that a variety of interpretations do exist within NCT circles. That being said, I can offer my own personal interpretation of the passage, as one who holds to NCT. I would like to say up front that I do consider the ‘head-covering’ issue to be a disputable matter of the Christian faith, as I know godly men and women on both sides of the issue.   It appears to me that Paul’s allusions to the creation account in the Old Testament focus upon two principal facts: 1) God created Man in the image of God, and He created them male & female (Gen. 1:27); 2) God designed the husband to be the head of the wife in the marriage relationship (Eph. 5:22-33; cf. Gen. 2:20-23; 3:20) based off the order of Man’s creation (1 Cor. 11:8-10). From these two teachings, Paul appears to draw three abiding principle that still apply to believers under the New Covenant: (1) Men are to look like men, and women are to look like women in order to demonstrate love for God by honoring Him in His original design for them (1 Corinthians 11:13-15); (2) Wives are to honor the ‘headship’ structure (i.e. the God-given authority of their husbands) with which God originally imbued marriage when He designed it – as marriage is ultimately a picture of Christ’s relation to the Church (Eph. 5:22-33) – by doing this wives honor & love their husbands; and (3) Christians (in this case, men – verses 4, 7) are not to undermine the image with which God created them by resembling the pagan culture around them (or diminishing their God-given headship if they are husbands). I say ‘three abiding principles’ because I personally interpret the ‘head-covering’ issue to be an instance of applying biblical principles in the midst of a pagan culture. In the Corinthian culture (and Roman), pagan men used to cover their heads as an act of piety for pagan gods. In that particular culture, a man covering his head generally indicated that he was under the authority of pagan gods, traditions, etc. If a Christian man did this, he would be dishonoring his Head, who is Christ. As a result, in the Mediterranean culture at the time, Paul urges men not to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy. Now, for a woman, praying or prophesying without a head covering dishonored her own earthly head – even in that culture. Paul compares a woman doing this to a woman having her hair shorn off, which I have read in some places, was a practice that female temple prostitutes usually practiced. Not only does Paul not want a woman or wife to be associated with pagan practices, but he also wants them to honor their own earthly authority structure, which God has set up – whether it be husband, father, etc. Plus, it is possible to interpret 1 Corinthians 11:15 as saying that God has given a woman her long hair for a covering. Understood in this manner, if a woman’s hair is her covering, an extra covering would be unnecessary unless that extra covering is a cultural sign that she is under the authority of her husband. Now, the view I have presented is not free of issues, and I certainly recognize that. At the end of the day, believers should be able to agree to disagree regarding this issue, without imposing their own view upon the consciences of others.   In summary, I personally understand Paul to be generally teaching that whatever culture Christians find themselves in that (1) men are to look like men in that culture, and women are to look like women in that culture – in order to honor God who created them male & female; (2) women are to openly honor the headship of their husbands (possible examples: taking his name, wearing a wedding ring, etc.); and (3) Christians are to separate themselves from pagan practices (i.e. men covering the head in ancient Rome; or female shrine prostitutes shaving their heads, etc.). I say ‘generally teaching’ as it is possible that a particular cultural marker might directly contradict God’s Word, in which case Christians should not employ that cultural marker. Thank you for your time and your question. In Christ. Also, thanks for the encouragement!