Covering Headship

Earlier this month, Mortification of Spin featured a guest post asking: “Is it Okay to teach a Complementarianism Based on Eternal Subordination?” It didn’t take long for the conversation to be picked up and for responses to be written by far more capable people than I. But in all of this, the headcovering verses that support the argument are usually assumed to be a principle of authority and submission that applies generally and not a specific commandment to wear head coverings as they were cultural and do not apply even today. What if we looked at the Headcovering verses as if they were more central to the argument?

“Is the Trinity no more than a social program for the world and the church? Is the eternal life of the Trinity hierarchical or egalitarian? Are there three minds, three wills, and three powers within the Godhead? Are the current Trinitarian views of some evangelical people in danger of leading them out of orthodox Christianity into eccentricity (at best) or idolatry (at worst)?
All of the questions above are under debate in the evangelical church today. Some, whose instinct is to defend the differences between men and women, are following the egalitarians in redefining the Triune nature of God to defend their position. Egalitarians typically describe the Trinitarian as a divine dance. They use this as an argument for an undifferentiated humanity made in this God’s image. Now, some who pose as complementarian are proposing the idea of hierarchy or primacy within God as a being, God as He is in Himself. They teach that there has always been authority and subordination within the Trinity. This view poses a clear and present danger to our understanding of who the Christian God is.”

In the Head Covering verses – 1 Corinthians 11:3 is arguably the most famous verse – it’s often cited even outside of the context of wearing head coverings because it refers to the relationship between not only men and women, but God and Christ. It says: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” But it can also be translated to: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Whichever way you slice it, it’s not uncommon to see them represented like this:

God

Christ

Man / Husband

Woman / Wife

Even in how we refer to the members of the trinity, God the Father, Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit/Ghost; the first and foremost person has the most authority. Since the relationship of men and women, or more specifically husbands and wives are analogous to that of the Father and the Son, men are also referred to first as having the most authority. The question is – are we reading the explicit relationship of first century marriages on the persons of the trinity, or is the relationship of the trinity one of authority and submission as a stamp on the institution of marriage for all time?

There is a striking similarity in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 5:23, which in part says: “For the husband is the head of the wife …” But it differs in the latter part of the verse, “… as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” I find this significant as the teaching goes: “The parallel with the Trinity: The equality, differences, and the unity between men and women reflect the equality, differences, and unity in the Trinity.” Yet in Ephesians the relationship between men and women is not an analogy with the trinity, but with that of Christ and the church. Much as many might wish to bolster the former with the latter, in context it doesn’t complete or share the same metaphor.

The bulk of the argument goes that because the word ‘kephale’ means ‘authority over’ that God the Father, Christ the Son, and Man are authority over Christ the Son, Men/Husbands, and Women/Wives who are to be in submission under their respective authorities. Sometimes referred to as the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission – it teaches that the person of the Son has always submitted to the person of the Father and is at no time the head over the Father. Therefore:

Father      Husband
↓     =     ↓
Son         Wife

Notice that the third person of the Trinity disappears from the conversation at this point – in an attempt to prove Authority and Submission in the trinity, the Holy Spirit is erased from the trinity itself. After all, there’s no way to equate two people to three.

But there is increasing research that shows that it is doubtful that ‘kephale’ means ‘authority over’ in which case, the relationship of authority and submission might be based more on the Husband/Wife relationship of first century marriages being transposed upon the persons of the trinity rather than an explicit statement saying as much. Should ‘kephale’ actually mean ‘prominent’ or ‘source’ or ‘top of’ – then head covering would have to be re-examined.
Gotquestions.org puts it this way:

Question: “Should Christian women wear head coverings?”
Answer: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 addresses the issue of women and head coverings. The context of the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is submission to the God-given order and “chain of command.” A “covering” on a woman’s head is used as an illustration of the order, headship, and the authority of God. The key verse of this passage is 1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” The implications of this verse are found in the rest of the passage. The order is: God the Father, God the Son, the man or husband, and the woman or wife. The veil or covering on the head of a believing Corinthian wife showed that she was under the authority of her husband, and therefore under submission to God.
Without authority and submission – would headcovering have any symbolic meaning at all?

I think the evidence shows that the relationship of the trinity is only so important because the focus is the relationship of man and woman and how man’s authority isn’t just an invention of first century patriarchal cultures, but some divine principle whereby somebody must always be an authority in leadership and somebody else must always be in submission under that authority. A world without God the father’s authority and Christ the son’s submission is a world whereby men might not have authority and women might not have to submit. What then would be the reason for women to wear head coverings? Would it be a rule that all males ought not wear head covering and all females ought to wear head coverings in the name of gender differentiation; that the angels cannot tell the difference between men and women otherwise?

The verse that most directly speaks to that reason is 1 Corinthians 11:10 – “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.” Knowing that in this context, the authority can only belong to the woman and cannot mean that she is under the authority of another person, how is it that a person who is supposed to be on the “submission” side of the ideal biblical relationship is directed to have authority? A better question might be: “How did people come to understand this verse can only mean that a woman must wear a head covering or veil as a sign of her husband’s authority over her?”
It would be odd for us to understand this verse tied into the relationship to mean that any person under authority must wear a sign or symbol of the authority of the person in charge of them. “As woman must cover their heads a sign of submission to man, so must Christ cover his head as a sign of submission to God.” Would be seen as a laughable interpretation of this verse, and yet, minus the head covering and we see that “As women are in submission to men, so is Christ is submission to God.” as a valid interpretation particularly when put in the “chain of command” order: God, Christ, Man, and Woman. If the rule was that the one in submission must wear head coverings, then women would be wearing them in submission to men, men would be wearing them in submission to Christ, and Christ would wear one in submission to God. So we know that can’t be it.

It makes me wonder if verse 10 was supposed to read into verse 3, or if it was meant to speak to something else that went unsaid; possibly something cultural that they understood perfectly well but was not something that was shared with other cultures. Perhaps though, it’s all proof of how badly we’ve mangled the purpose and meaning of whatever headcovering originally meant as well as what the point about the trinity was. You see, trinitarian theology took a few centuries to be well defined. Between roughly 55 a.d. and 325 a.d. believers weren’t quite on the same page about what the meaning of Father, Son and Holy Spirit were and they somehow managed to still believe even if it wasn’t perfectly or completely what would be orthodox. They still worshiped together. So can we – but we have to be humble enough to admit that we can’t possibly know everything there is to know about God, the trinity, the relationships of the persons – we can’t even be sure on the eternal relationship of authority and submission, nor can we be sure that men and women were meant to copy the trinity in that regard or that head coverings have anything to do with it at all.

What do you think that Christian Head Covering will mean if Christians agree that there is not an eternal relationship of authority and submission in the persons of the trinity?

 

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6 thoughts on “Covering Headship

  1. I guess I always thought it was just cultural at the time. God certainly set up the marriage hierarchy putting man in charge. It is hard for women to learn in our genderless society. It brings peace to the household if done right, and bitterness if done wrong. I don’t believe God intends covering of head disagreements to pull us away from the trinity. I see it as a symbol of submission and households in proper order.

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    1. I think that just as wearing head coverings was cultural, so was the hierarchy in the home as the Bible was written in a patriarchal society. We’re an egalitarian society, so there isn’t a need for a hierarchy. I’ve read far too many stories about people abusing their power and shouting about how their wives weren’t submissive enough. I have a group of friends, the Head Covering Movement who feel that wearing headcovering applies today, and I was wondering what the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission / Eternal Subordination of the Son would do to Head Covering if we decided the former didn’t apply.

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      1. I didn’t know of a head covering movement. It does sound legalistic. My husband and I were going to try out a new church after we had moved once, and driving into the parking lot, I saw a woman in a head covering walking her baby. We didn’t go in because I didn’t want my children exposed to crazy rules.

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      2. I’ve even heard about some churches that have spare head coverings for any women who show up and don’t know about their rule. I read that decades ago, a clean Kleenex tissue could be used to make a make-shift head covering should any lady forget hers. I just find it odd to require them and to sing “just as you are” or to say that God looks to your heart when such crazy rules exist about what’s on your head.

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  2. I came out out of a upci church that taught this passage that a woman must not cut her hair that that her hair is her connection through prayer . But most churches that teach modesty in this way holds to the fact that the way you are dressed is a salvation issue. If it is a salvation issue then they have added to the plan of salvation. And besides it is manmade and puts you under bondage

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    1. That explains why some have taken the extreme approach of disciplining women by cutting off their hair – it was seen in France after the Nazis were defeated. It was done to shame them, and perhaps, to cut them off from God. Fortunately, it’s not something that has happened recently.

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