“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16: 11)
The Basket Case Chronicles #124
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered” (1 Cor. 11:4-5).
This section of Corinthians has been the scene of much contention, and so we will try to work through it slowly and methodically. As for the contention—we have no other custom, and neither do the the churches of God.
We will make some particular observations, but will not put them together in a larger whole until later. First, we shouldn’t be precise on the head covering, but imprecise on the occasion of it. The occasion for covering or uncovering the head is during the course of prayer or prophecy on the part of that individual. While praying or prophesying, a man dishonors Christ if his head is covered. While praying or prophesying, a woman dishonors her head (her husband) if she does so while uncovered. These respective heads (Christ and husband, respectively) have just been defined in v. 3.
Secondly, this is clearly in the context of public worship. Paul is talking about the custom of the churches (v. 16). This makes it plain that the restriction the apostle places on women speaking in church later in this letter is not an absolute restriction (1 Cor. 14: 34-35). She clearly may pray or prophesy in church, provided she does so in the way that the apostle stipulates will publicly honors her husband. Since prophecies have ceased, women may no longer prophesy in church for the same reason that the men cannot. Running the sail up the mast doesn’t make the wind blow.
Third, a question that will arise later is one that asks whether this prohibited covering for men and mandatory covering for women is artificial (hats and veils) or natural (hair), or both. Whichever it is, we begin to see here that it has something to do with hair. The verb used here means to cut the hair close. It is was what Paul did with regard to his Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18), and a related form applies to the shearing of sheep (Acts 8:32). So Paul is saying that if a woman goes with an uncovered head, she might as well go the entire distance and shave her head. It is commonly said (but I have not yet been able to find an ancient source for it) that the temple prostitutes at Corinth used to shave their heads. But clearly, doing something like this meant higher levels of shame.
And last, the restrictions that are placed on the time of praying or prophesying clearly have some impact on our behavior at other times. The time of praying affects the whole worship service, which affects public demeanor outside the church. We may limit the initial point of this instruction without trying to limit what obedience to this requirement will entail. In other words, if a woman has to have long hair by the time she prays in church, she probably ought to have that long hair a bit earlier in the service too.