Monday, June 24, 2024

A Sign of Authority (1 Corinthians 11:10-12)

"For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head …" (1 Cor. 11:10).

Concerning verse 10, “There is scarcely a passage in the New Testament which has so much taxed the learning and ingenuity of commentators than this,” Hodge wrote. “The meaning which it naturally suggests to the most superficial reader, is regarded by the most laborious critics as the only true one. By power, the apostle means the sign or symbol or authority.… The apostle had asserted and proved that the woman is subordinate to the man, and he had assumed as granted that the veil was the conventional symbol of the man’s authority. The inference is that the woman ought to wear the ordinary symbol of the power of her husband. As it was proper in itself, and demanded by the common sense of propriety, that the woman should be veiled, it was specially proper in the worshiping assemblies, for there they were in the presence not merely of men but of angels. It was, therefore, not only out of deference to public sentiment, but from reverence to those higher intelligences that the woman should conform to all the rules of decorum.”

While Hodge says that women should conform to the “rules of decorum,” it must be maintained that these rules, regarding the worship of God, are established by God Himself not by the whims of culture. It is proper for a woman to have a symbol of authority upon her head; what that symbol consists of does not matter, but the necessity of the symbol remains fixed even as the authority of man remains fixed. The woman’s covering is called “power,” but it is a symbol of another’s authority, not her own, just as the references to glory in verses 7 and 15 speak of the subjection to another’s authority.

The word for “covering,” which is used here, appears eight times in the Old Testament, and most of these refer to clothing (Ex. 22:27; Job 24:7; 26:6; 31:19; and Isa. 50:3). The root word that means to hide or conceal is often used in reference to clothing (Gen. 9:23; 24:65; 38:14–15; Ex. 26:13; Deut. 22:12; Eze. 16:8). The word is also used of the angels covering themselves in the presence of God (Isa. 6:2 and Eze. 1:11, 23). As in all things regarding worship, we must strive to be conformed to God’s regulations in all things, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

The most common interpretation of this passage is that head coverings were a cultural phenomenon and no longer binding on us today. How is this interpretation not supported by Paul’s own arguments concerning the woman’s duty to have a sign and symbol of authority upon her head when she comes to public worship?