Understanding the Headship Veiling

(I went back and forth today about what I wanted to write, but this topic was pretty important to me several years ago, and it was interesting to research it.)

Maybe you’re thinking, What on earth is “Headship Veiling”?

See, in school, I used a lot of Mennonite curricula. (Loved their math, English, and Bible teaching programs.) And one doctrine the Mennonites focus on is the Headship Veiling, which is their interpretation of the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 where Paul says a woman is not to pray with her head uncovered.

Well, the teaching is in there. You can’t make it go away by ignoring it. And I didn’t want to be one of those people who says, “Oh, that was for their time. It isn’t relevant to us.” The minute you start saying that about different Bible passages, you are one step away from tossing out the whole Bible.

Now there are two main interpretations of this passage (besides the idea that it isn’t relevant to us). One is that a woman should wear a literal cloth covering on her head. The other is that she must wear her hair long for her covering.

Now the Mennonites teach that a born-again woman wears a literal covering. So I read the passage and I could see where they get it from. Paul spends nearly half the chapter explaining this. I read along through the first thirteen verses, thinking that while I didn’t (and still don’t) fully comprehend his reasons, he definitely says it’s important that a woman cover her head.

Then you get to verse 14, and all of a sudden he’s writing about hair length. What does that have to do with wearing a covering?

Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Does not even nature itself teach 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; for her hair is given to her for a covering.

-1 Corinthians 11:13-15

Ah, that’s where the hair comes in. Her hair is her covering.

But the Mennonites still maintain that a physical covering–a veil–is required in addition to the hair.

Who’s right?

I turned to koine Greek to see if the original language of the New Testament shed any light.

First I looked up “covering.” The word means “something thrown around one, i.e., a mantle or cloak.” I thought, Well, that sounds more like long, flowing hair than a little cap or bonnet.

Then I looked up “long hair.” In koine Greek, this word means “locks, as ornamental.”

I did this part of my study with a good old Strong’s concordance, the kind that weighs about 50 pounds and you have to use the King James Version to find your verse. I was fairly well convinced that the hair was the covering. Then I got a chance to peek at my cousin’s  Greek interlinear New Testament, and guess what clinched the findings for me.

A preposition.

Yes, that little word “for.” The verse says, “her hair is given her for a covering.”

The Greek preposition is pronounced “ahn-TEE.” Spelled in English characters, it looks like this: anti. Seem familiar?

It means “instead of.” So the verse could read, “her ornamental hair is given to her instead of a covering.”

And I was so glad to see that. Maybe I take things a little too seriously, but I was so glad to know for certain what I believed on this topic.

The locks of hair are the covering. So how long is long enough? Longer than a “typical” man’s style, or never-touch-it-with-the-scissors?  I’ve come to believe that the style should look feminine; decorative; distinctly ornamental. As opposed to a man’s style, which is more for practicality.

But…

We had it all wrapped up neatly. We know what’s right, and all those other people are wrong, right?

Look at verse 16 of our chapter. After Paul spends all this time explaining the practice of Headship Veiling, as the Mennonites call it, he writes:

But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

-1 Corinthians 11:16

What? You’re saying it doesn’t matter, after all that fuss?

Not, perhaps, that it doesn’t matter, but that it’s not as important as we might make it. It’s not worth becoming contentious, breaking relationships, and splitting the church fellowship.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

-Romans 14:5

To me, this Headship Veiling is one of the minor issues. “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” And live by it.

I haven’t found anything in the Greek to indicate that ornamental (long) hair on a man is, in fact, acceptable. That’s pretty straightforward–even nature teaches that it’s a shame. But, back to Romans 14:5. “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” It’s not worth breaking fellowship. If you listen to the Lord long enough, He’ll let you know what He wants you to do.

And by now, if you’ve read this far, you probably know way more than you ever cared to know on the subject of 1 Corinthians 11. But I always think it’s fun to dive into God’s Word. And, of course, I love the Greek.

-Miss Darcy

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2 thoughts on “Understanding the Headship Veiling

  1. It was so interesting to read your thoughts on this issue. The most important part is what you wrote at the end: that while it’s not a big enough issue to break fellowship over, we need to respect each others’ different conclusions on the matter. 🙂

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    1. I’m so glad you found it interesting, Emily. 🙂 You’re right–the most important part is that our hearts are in the right place: convinced in our own minds, and respectful of others’ conclusions. 🙂

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