Someone once mentioned to me that a man was doing wrong because he said a prayer while wearing a hat. I did some research, and my very rudimentary notes are below. Please note: the article’s picture is nonsense.
The thought mentioned above comes from 1 Corinthians 11:4, which says,
“Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.”
OUCH! Hats are right out! But…is there more to the story? Yes, and it’ll take a little bit to work through. “Having his head covered/has something on his head” is, however, a commentary, and not a translation. Translated accurately the phrase is rendered, “having something down from his head.” What the “something” is is neither stated nor implied in in this exact verse.
So Is It Actually About Hats?
What does this mean? The answer is revealed later in the text, in 1 Cor 11:14-15, which says,
“Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?”
Long hair hangs down from the head. God said that a MAN should not pray with this “covering,” but did not exclude women from wearing it while praying. Why? Because long hair was considered appropriate for women, in my understanding, at least. (And I believe that there ARE cultural considerations in the texts, so as not to cause people to stumble.)
Speaking of which, God was focusing on men having hair that was shorter, and women hair that was longer:
“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.” (1 Cor 11:5)
The word here translated as “unveiled” is “akatakaluptos.” It carries no meaning of “garment” or “hat” in any sense, and instead means “not completely covered.” Without the first “a” in the Greek, it would mean “covered completely.” Why would Paul discuss this with those at Corinth specifically? The reason, if one studies the history of the situation, seems to be because the female prostitutes at the Acrocorinth’s temple to Aphrodite wore their hair cropped. God desired the people of Corinth to be free of such associations.
So…Not a Garment? AKA: The Ancients Say WHAT?
It seems that Paul was not speaking of any kind of garment, because he said in 1 Cor 11:15, “For her hair is given her instead of a covering.”
This is, in fact, the only time in the section that Paul mentions a garment of any sort, using the word “peribolaion.” Furthermore, even here he states that the woman’s hair takes the place of it.
1 Cor 11:6 says, “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.”
The wording of this section says that the “covering” will be “cut off,” or “shorn.” How often do we “cut” hats off of our heads? Hopefully never, unless we’re being unwise with super glue. The ancients accepted Paul’s dictum on this and went so far as to define the length of hair that was considered an infraction of Paul’s words:
“The hair of the head may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes … cropping is to be adopted … let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets.” (Anti-Nicene Fathers, “The Instructor,” Clement of Alexandria)
Significantly, the words “hang far down” strongly resemble Paul’s words “having something down from his head.” The above is from Clement of Alexandria and was written in the second century.
So Why This Detail?
So what is the point of all of this? Is there any lesson for Christians today in this? I think so. Any time that Christian men or women adopt styles of clothing or hair that are associated with immoral behavior, we need to revise what we’re doing. God is not strangely concerned with hats, but rather our behavior. Don’t dress like a prostitute (if there is such an outfit), don’t go out to bars and adopt associated behaviors…these would all be modern corollaries to the situation in Corinth.
A Note on the Order of Creation and the Impact of Culture
Now Paul does day, “for this reason,” and mentions the creation argument (man created first, women deceived, etc.), which I feel that we can latch onto sans much context. Maybe culture has nothing to do with anything, and all women need to have very long hair; even if they’re older or going through cancer treatments.
Personally, I think this process of thought makes some basic mistakes with reasoning and logic. If you’re unfamiliar with how these terms are related, keep read, otherwise skip to the next paragraph. Reason and logic are two concepts which are intrinsically tied together. Reason is a way that we work through a problem, through a set of deductions, to get from point A to point B. We reason our way through things. Logic is the rules we apply to reasoning. It’s the fundamental parameters that we apply to working through a problem. But if our logic is flawed, our reasoning will never bring us to the correct answer, no matter how good the reasoning seems. Simply put, reasoning is a system, and logic is the rules applied to that system.
It seems seems that some people miss the point of the cultural argument just a bit when they rely entirely upon what I’m calling the “order of creation argument.” First of all, just because an author cites a moral principle to defend a specific practice doesn’t mean that a practice necessarily becomes moral. For example, if I were asked by someone whether or not a Christian wife should take her husbands last name, or to keep her own last name, in order to show her independence from her husband, I would defend her taking her husbands last name. I would also probably do so using arguments similar to those Paul uses in 1 Cor. 11, like the creation order and the roles of men and women. If, however, I was in a culture where the wife did not take a husbands last name, I would not demand that a wife do so, because the cultural action doesn’t carry the same moral significance.
Think of this another way using the example of foot washing.
1. Christ commands the Apostles to wash each other’s feet.
2. Every principle from which Christ derives this practice is a permanent and universal principle, i.e. the necessity of Christ cleansing us, the Lordship of Christ over his disciples, the command to follow Christ’s example, and the necessity of serving one another.
3. If the constituent premises from which a practice are derived are perpetual and universal, then the practice itself is perpetual and universal.
Conclusion: The command to wash one another’s feet is perpetual and universal.
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it assumes that if a premise of an argument carries a specific attribute, then the conclusion must carry the attribute as well. This seems to be similar to the fallacy of composition.The fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole (or even of every proper part). So, if one says, “all of these bricks are rectangular, therefore the wall they build with these bricks will be rectangular,” one would be in violation of this rule of logic. Simply because one constituent part carries a particular attribute, it does not follow that the whole carries this particular attribute. Simply because all constituent parts carry a particular attribute, it does not follow that the whole carries a particular attribute. Sodium, if ingested on its own will kill you. Chlorine, if ingested on its own will kill you. Sodium Chloride (table salt) if ingested as a compound is necessary to human life. An attribute of the constituent parts cannot be carried over to the composite whole. Your argument essentially runs like this. Every premise that the Apostle builds his case off of is a permanent and universal truth, therefore, when combined together, whatever is deduced from these truths must be permanent and universal as well. This does not logically follow.
Think back to the foot washing example. There are some Christians today that would make this exact line of argumentation. What would your arguments be against this line of thinking? What lines of reasoning could you use to refute this position that I could not in turn use to argue against head coverings?
Another way of thinking about this is by thinking of all the various bodily gestures that are used by various cultures to express insult or contempt. Brushing your hand from your chin, making an “o.k.” sign or extending your middle finger might be completely meaningless in one culture, but highly offensive in another. If we, as Christians, are in those cultures where such signs are offensive, the universal obligations on Christians, such as loving all men, living in peace as far as we are able, and avoiding offense, bind us to not use those gestures. If we were in a culture where those signs carry an opposite meaning of approval, we are free to use them accordingly. It would seem to me that to use this line of argumentation, and demand that whatever is derived from a universal and moral principle is therefore universal and moral, would undermine the use of Christian wisdom and discernment. After all isn’t part of the point of the book of Proverbs that the same universal and moral principles need to be applied differently depending on the context and circumstance?
Also, it needs to be noted that as a supporter of a cultural interpretation, I am not arguing that Paul is asking Christians to take their dress from pagan Greek “worship services.” In Deuteronomy 12: 29-32, God explicitly commands the Israelites not to look around them at the “worship practices” of the pagan nations and borrow from them. I don’t think Paul would ask Christians to do that either in their assemblies, but I also believe that we fundamentally undermine the point of our assemblies when we see them as vertically-oriented “worship services,” and leave off the horizontal orientation, person-to-person, unto edification, as God has specified. Anyway, Paul is asking them to use the common dress practices from their everyday lives inside assembly as well as outside of assembly. It is of worthwhile historical note that the Westminster Confession, the London Baptist confession, and the Savoy Declaration all defend the phrase,
“There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence,”
by citing 1 Cor. 11: 13 & 14. Although I think that this misses the point of assembly, it helps understand how culture plays an influence on our perceptual filters.
All three of these Reformed confessions see head coverings as an action, “Common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence.” It should also be noted that out of all three of these documents (and also the Westminster Catechisms, and Directory for Public Worship), this is the only circumstance where the subject of head coverings even comes up.
Anyway, that’s a lot of writing for a small topic that seems to raise people’s hair.
With love, always,