While I agree that veiling is a cultural, not biblical issue, I don't think veiling was the concern of 1 Corinthians 11. Regarding 1 Corinthians 11, it seems that if you let the Bible define its own terms, the subject is prayer, and the veil is illustrating the point. Notice verses 3-5 in particular -- Men do not "cover" (i.e., bypass) their head, Christ, when they pray; they must pray to God through him. Women, however, must "cover" (bypass) their head (husband) when they pray. In other words, women do not need their husbands to intercede for them to God; they can pray directly to God through Jesus. Men, however, need Jesus to intercede in prayer. I think Paul was using the custom of veiling and head shaving to illustrate his point about prayer. (By the way, I can't take credit for this interpretation; I heard Albert Lemmons teach this about 30 years ago.) Apparently, some women believed they needed to somehow go through their husbands when they prayed to God. What do you think? -- Joe Thomas (New York)
I too have heard this view -- from Albert Lemmons! -- and it seems to make sense. On the other hand, I have heard many views, some of which commend themselves enough to me that I am hesitant to commit myself to any one interpretation. I agree with you totally that veiling is a cultural issue. If this is so, we have the answer to the most common question. Yet without dissecting the passage, as you and Albert wish to do, we may well be missing deeper theological truths which the Spirit wants us to understand.
It seems that we need to understand the culture of the Corinthian society and certain (false) notions of freedom some Corinthians were entertaining, if we are going to get behind Paul's words to his meaning. (And what if we can't get down to the very bottom of his meaning? Two millennia removed from the culture of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, might it be overconfident of us to presume that we will always be able to get into the heads of the ancient writers?)
Perhaps a more culturally relevant illustration will help. Think of a modern Christian walking down the street in a bikini. This would bring more than a whiff of scandal. In our generation, in no place on earth can I imagine any exception (I'm being as firm about this as Paul). On the other hand, in many countries of the world, a woman going into the public sphere unveiled is scandalous!
I would like to say that the issue of veiling is not a central doctrine; it isn't a matter of salvation! And while I respect those who feel more comfortable with some sort of head covering, I do not believe they are right. I see veiling as a cultural issue.
For more on this subject, see Q&As 0002, 0115, and 0595.
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