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Paul speaks of the practice of covering one’s head in 1 Corinthians 11:4-6,
4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered [akatakaluptos, “unveiled”] while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover [katakalupto, “covered”] 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.
In this context, “woman” means wife, and “man” means husband, according to Hebrew terminology.
Paul begins by telling us that men ought not to cover their heads in a church meeting, for this “disgraces his head.” Paul uses the term “head” to set forth a double meaning, for it refers to one’s literal head as well as to one who is in authority. Hence, “Christ is the Head of every man” (1 Cor. 11:3). Why, then, should a man’s head be uncovered? Should not his head be covered, either by a yarmulke or a prayer shawl, as a sign of submission to Christ?
The Jewish Talmud says, “Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you” (Shabbat 156b). Covering a man’s head was considered to be an act of Kiddush Hashem, “sanctification of the Name,” (i.e., God). Maimonides, the great lawgiver of the Middle Ages, required men to cover their heads during prayer. Others extended the requirement to daily life as well. However, other teachers debated about whether this was truly a law or merely a custom.
The custom (or law) in Jewish Orthodoxy is for men to cover their heads at all times, and even American presidents have been photographed wearing the yarmulke (skull cap) when they visit Jewish synagogues or other religious sites. Religious practices today are not necessarily what they were in the first century, yet Paul’s statement of repudiation of Jewish tradition in verse 4 is highly significant. How could he come to the opposite conclusion of rabbinical teaching?
Unfortunately, prior to writing this letter, it is apparent that Paul had already taught this in greater detail to the Corinthian believers, so he did not think it necessary to repeat it for the wider audience that has now inherited his letter. Paul explains his position only in 1 Cor. 11:7,
7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Jewish custom requires men to cover their heads in order to show submission to heaven and to honor the name of God. But Paul forbids men to cover their heads, essentially for the same reason! But more specifically, the difference between men and women is that Adam originated from God Himself, while Eve was taken out of Adam. In both cases, God was Creator, but Eve was created through a secondary step of creation.
But what does this have to do with head coverings? What exactly is the message conveyed in a head covering, if not submission to authority?
There is no evidence that Jesus wore a head covering, although some say otherwise. As for prayer shawls, it appears that they were developed in the Middle Ages. Here is what one site has to say:
Did Jesus wear a tallit? According to John Hagee, Benny Hinn, and many of the Hebrew roots/Messianic teachers, they have stated publicly that He did, without supplying any Biblical proof for their assertions. The modern day conception of what is known today as a tallit or "prayer shawl," came about from a rabbinic interpretation of a passage from the book of Numbers, of a statute given to the children of Israel by God to put fringes on the borders of their garments….
The fringes were to be attached to the corners of their garments. This was a garment already being worn, and was clothes that they were already in possession of. The passage does not state that it was to be a separate special piece of Holy clothing….
The Jewish prayer shawl used today, came about by a rabbinical decision at some point in the latter Middle Ages. The construction of this garment was related to a misinterpretation of the Biblical command found in the book of Numbers, and even more likely from the man made teachings/traditions found in the Talmud (Mishnah 3rd Century).
It appears that the Jewish practice of wearing a tallit, or prayer shawl, was based upon an unwarranted interpretation of Num. 15:38, which commanded men to wear tassels on the border (hem) of their garment. This, of course, has nothing to do with covering one’s head with a prayer shawl. Hence, the tallit ought to be classed as a custom or tradition, not as a law.
Of course, Jesus wore a blue fringe on the hem of His garment. This was what the woman touched when she came to Him for healing (Matt. 9:20, 21). Apparently, she interpreted Mal. 4:2 to mean that the Messiah would come with healing in the wings, or fringes of His garment. At any rate, she received her healing, as well as the confirming sign of the Messiah.
Yet there is no evidence that Jesus wore either a prayer shawl or a yarmulke. Paul certainly did not believe that He wore a head covering, for he is adamant that doing so would have disgraced His head.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:6, 7,
6 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. 7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Man, being created directly by God—and in His image—is “the glory of God.” This, of course, speaks of the original creation prior to being tainted by sin. One cannot separate the glory of God from immortality and incorruption. So when man became mortal and corruptible, he lost the original glory of God. Christ came to restore that glory, and so Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:18,
18 But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Paul’s discussion in his second letter enlarges upon the question of head coverings and veils. Only when the veil of the Old Covenant is removed will the glory of God be visible in us, so that we could theoretically look in a mirror and see the glory of God. As long as the veil of the Old Covenant remains over one’s face, the glory of God is hidden. This is why Paul said that a head covering for a man was a disgrace. We will say more about this shortly.
Hair is something given to women (by nature), whereas baldness so often occurs in men. This was a natural phenomenon observed in Scripture, and Paul referred to it in 1 Cor. 11:14, 15,
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Paul was not speaking of hair on the back of one’s head, for men can grow long hair there as well as any woman. Nature, however, does have something to say about baldness. Even so, we should be careful not to treat Paul’s statements as scientific treatises, nor even as dress codes, but to limit the teaching to spiritual principles. He says that long hair dishonors (or disgraces) a man, whereas long hair is a glory for a woman.
The point is that hair is her glory, and that glory was to be veiled. So also when the glory of God came down upon Mount Sinai, His glory was veiled by “a thick cloud” (Exodus 19:16). Again we read in Exodus 24:15, 16,
15 Then Moses went up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.
Notice that the cloud covered the glory of God for six days, and then it seems that a change occurred on the seventh day, for then the Israelites were able to see the glory of God appearing as “a consuming fire.” All of Moses’ trips up and down the mount prophesied of Christ’s own ascension and return, providing Paul with his terminology about the second coming of Christ. The fact that the glory of God was veiled for six days speaks also of six thousand years, followed by the great unveiling or manifestation of God’s glory to be seen in His sons.
When His glory descended from the Mount to enter the tabernacle, it was again covered by curtains on all sides (Exodus 26:1) and a veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:31, 32, 33).
All of this shows the purpose of veils. It is not that God wants to hide His glory from us, but that most men are not spiritually ready to behold His glory without fear. Moses could approach the glory of God without fear, but most of the people were terrified by it (Exodus 20:18, 19). Hence, veils are temporary conveniences, designed to protect people during their time of spiritual immaturity, shame, dishonor, and disgrace caused by Adam's sin.
Veils were never meant to be an eternal fixture. And the New Covenant itself was linked directly to the removal of these veils, as we see in 2 Cor. 3:16,
16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.