Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why the Christian Head Covering Movement is Wrong

I’ve been coming more and more across videos like this.


They advocate restoring the New Testament cultural practice of head covering. The fact that this whole discussion is even necessary is probably evidence that most theologians and pastors don’t really take their lip service to interpret the Bible in its context seriously or have even been trained by their seminary to know what that would look like. I don’t care what Wayne Grudem’s Systematic says or what interpretation some sage pastor thinks God laid on his heart. You actually need to consult linguistic databases and first century literature to know what's going on here.

Frankly, we know why women were expected to cover their hair in the first century. Hair was scientifically considered an erotic organ. We have medical texts which explicitly explain the mechanics of this. The language of these texts highly corresponds with Paul’s language. The throwaway, “because of the angels” line fits like a glove with Second Temple literature on this interpretation (the New Testament authors took supernatural traditions like Enoch a lot more seriously than we do), and it perfectly explains why Paul thought nature dictated women ought to have long hair and men short hair. Troy Martin’s article in the Journal of Biblical Literature is a good place to get acquainted with the context I’m talking about. “Paul’s Argument from the veil in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15: A Testicle Instead of a Head Covering.” JBL 123/1, (2004), 75-84. (Thanks to Michael Heiser for making it available online.)

But why would God allow Paul to defend bad science?

Imagine you are an ancient Corinthian. You and all your pagan neighbors in the Las Vegas of the ancient world think that female hair is literally an extension of genitalia (thanks Aristotle)—that there is a one-to-one correspondence with hair length and feminine fecundity in your culture’s science.   Because of this belief, your educated culture has wisely instituted head coverings for women as an expression of sexual modesty.

Imagine then, some guy Paul comes to your hyper-sexualized culture and some new God you’ve never heard of called the Holy Spirit gives him a divine science lesson. Paul then runs around telling his church not to care about covering the genitalia on their head because it’s bad science. Now you have a church exposing what all their neighbors think are genitalia in the name of the Holy Spirit.

I’m sorry if those “serious exegetical studies” people read by 18th century pastors haven't equipped them to incorporate scientific condescension in their understanding of inspiration, but God didn’t care to give David a divine physiology lecture in Psalm 16:7 when he praised God for instructing his kidneys (If that reference is confusing, here's another journal article), and he doesn’t seem to care to do so here. If your cool theology, Reformed or whatever, forces you to take these things as mere metaphor then your theology prevents you from interpreting the Bible correctly in its context. Your theology disables you from understanding the Bible and that's a problem.

What’s the take-away?

In the English world, giving someone a thumbs-up is a good thing.  In some Arabic countries it is a vulgar symbol—the equivalent of giving someone the middle finger.  It would be morally ok for me to go around flaunting the symbol in one culture and not ok in the other.  Our culture attaches nothing like sexual promiscuity to displaying hair because we don’t have the complex 1st century scientific apparatus that supplied that connotation in the ancient world.  This verse can be taken then as a warning against appearing or being sexually immodest.  All this applies to hair length on the interpretation I’ve offered too.  The form may not translate to our culture but the meaning does.