Concept of Covering

by Alison Rowan

Every lover of the Lord and of his Word and ways, follows doctrines that define how to live the Christian life as an individual and a community before God. The most important ones can be seen as foreshadows in the Old and completed in the New Testament’s teachings. They are witnessed by several authors and spread through many books, all confirming and reinforcing their validity to be embraced as the Lord’s revelation of the Gospel of Grace. But should the same gravitas be attached to an hermeneutically unsound doctrine that is based on one phrase in one verse that is not only unknown in the Old, but also contradicted by the New?

I am referring to the notion that a woman needs the authority of a man as her head to ‘cover’ her. Just for one moment imagine 1 Cor 11:10 (woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels) were not in the Bible. Would it be missed from the Gospel of Grace? Did it ever belong? Which other verses need its confirmation? Many would agree that all responses are negative.

What if it were proved to be a quote by Paul of one of the spurious arguments that were being disputed (verse 16) over the rights and wrongs of wearing veils? Was he using the same literary device, just as I and most people who know the all-inclusive heart of our Saviour, feel that Paul was doing exactly that with 1 Cor 14:34-5. IF ONLY, the translators had decided on inserting question marks in these two verses as well as in the next verse 36 “What? Did God's word originate with you? Are you the only ones it has reached?” This is so clearly Paul being incredulous over the the previous two verses where some contentious, judaizing Corinthians had elevated the talmudic synagogue ‘law’ against women’s participation to the status of God’s Word, which no other church had received! Elsewhere I have given sixteen reasons why this is not Paul telling women to keep silent. If the translators had added question marks it would have made it indisputable! It doesn't change the text, but it certainly changes the intent, meaning, conclusion, attitude, doctrines and consequent actions!

Now, how many of the contradictory statements in 1 Cor 11:2-15 are also quoting some of their arguments - because verse 16 clearly states there was a contention among the Corinthians about the custom? It is so unlike Paul’s logical, precept upon precept method of building a case to support a doctrine he was expounding. This passage seems to build a case for one view, then expresses a completely different view and throws in some obscure, seemingly superstitious reference to angels being a valid argument, when nowhere else in the entire Bible, is consideration made toward them in any matter regarding the behaviour of women - or men! It is bizarre. What if there were a few question marks at the ends of some verses, to indicate where Paul may have himself been questioning the Corinthians’ own arguments? Which were his own opinions? - remember, this does not seem to be Paul laying out doctrine, since he states that he, the apostles and all the other churches don’t have that custom of head covering, he is NOT teaching it! He even distances himself from the whole section, 3-15 by contrasting the praise he gives them in verse 2 for keeping the traditions that he DID deliver to them, and then, by beginning this next section with a ‘but’, I feel he is despairing over the subsequent nonsensical dispute about the many different cultural preferences represented in this cosmopolitan church situated on a major trading intersection. Jewish men, including Paul when with other Jews, wear tallits covering their heads when praying, so how could Paul be saying it is disgraceful for men to pray with their heads covered? I don’t believe this could possibly be Paul’s teaching, but a quotation of the gentile faction in the argument! How many more of the phrases in verses 3-15 are also quotations of their arguments?? I point out several more doctrinal and cultural inconsistencies in this review of a Complementarian controlled Bible Study.

Should there be this level of uncertainty over these verses, we should look elsewhere in the Bible for supporting evidence before building a major doctrine out of them.  So, where else does the idea of being 'head' in the Bible, with absolute certainty and leaving room for no other possible alternative understanding, mean 'have authority over'? Some suggest it has the meaning of 'source', as Adam was of Eve, but that rather fails, I feel in Eph 5:22-4. It must not be left unnoticed that it is the next breath after 'submitting to ONE ANOTHER in the fear of God, (v 21) - just as in 1 Pet 5:5. I feel, the better way to look at it is from the view not of who is 'over' whom, but who is 'caring for' whom and therefore it would do one well to voluntarily 'submit' to that source of care, for mutual benefit, not as in response to a superior rank. That sense, I know is carried in the literal Greek of Heb 13:17, literally ‘let yourselves be persuaded by the ones leading you’ - and not as grossly mistranslated with the hierarchical bias of the KJV, as 'obey those who have the rule over you'. How that has caused tragedy in the church through the centuries - and still does!!.

It is helpful to recognise the figurative use of ‘head’ in the Old Testament for confirmation and continuity of idea into the NT. In the blessing of Abraham in Gen 12:3, there is a further unfolding of its outworkings in Deut 28:1-14. In verses 11-13, the blessing is that the descendants of Abraham would be the head and not the tail, because God had so prospered them. It’s meaning is also confirmed in the opposite curse pronounced in verse 44 “They shall lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head and you will be the tail.” In the Old Testament ‘head’ is indeed best understood without the sense of rank, and this is confirmed in the New Testament where exegeting from the associated verbs, the meaning of ‘head’ has the sense of being the unifier and organizer which can also be the source of supply or care. I have done a full study in this article on biblical Headship, which presents my findings of the original meaning of head in both the Old and New Covenants through a thorough examination of all instances of its figurative use. If these non-hierarchical terms are the meaning of headship, then what is 'covering' for?

OT uses:

* the atoning 'covering' over sin is obvious, to protect the sinner from an otherwise fatal encounter with the holiness of God!

* The Glory of God was covered - many references and types here.

* God's protection (Ps 91:4) sakak means to hedge in, here

* concealment, kasah - most common meaning.

NT uses

* atonement epikalupto, to cover over

* concealment, kalupto has several references. To fully cover, katakalupto is ONLY used in 1 Cor 11 of male and female heads. The woman's hair is not given as a katakalupto, but a peribelaion for her as ‘something cast around’ her.

NOWHERE is there any sense, whatsoever of there being 'authority over' in any uses of ‘covering’! We must also always bear in mind Jesus’s STRICT command, repeated in three gospels, that no one in the church should EVER exercise authority over another adult, even husbands and wives. Surely, if the notion of a husband still being the ruler of his wife, (but in a servant-hearted, loving way as a Christian) then would we not see this in the instructions to husbands in the epistles? However, a study of all the places where the part of a man and husband are described, reveals zero references to him leading or ruling his wife. This has been a construction of fantasy from the assumed meaning of 1 Cor 11:10 alone and this interpretation is not substantiated anywhere else in the entire New Testament. There are also no references whatsoever to men in general needing to lead or cover or be in any way an authority rank above women after Calvary. Was the Blood of Christ insufficient for Eve’s transgression?

So where does that leave the notion that a woman must have a ‘covering’ of authority provided by a male who holds a higher rank - her ‘head’? Where does it leave the notion of ANY person needing to be ‘covered’. The tragic history of the demise of the Charismatic renewal into this doctrine, renamed as the ‘shepherding movement’, identifies it.

It is heresy. It is the facilitating excuse for all patriarchal spiritual abuse.