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The First Epistle to the Corinthians.
pp. 6 - 10
In our exposition we have reached one of the problem verses of the N.T.:
"For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of
the angels" (I Cor. 11: 10 R.V.).
We must remember that social customs are bound to play a part and affect Christian
witness, and unless they are definitely contrary to Biblical doctrine, they cannot be
ignored by the believer in his daily life. The social customs at Corinth during N.T. times
are, of course, different from ours, but the factors involved, specially in public worship,
are the same, namely modesty, propriety and orderliness. Among the Greeks, only
prostitutes, so numerous in Corinth, went about unveiled in public. If Christian women
discarded the veil in the assembly, they automatically placed themselves on this level,
thus losing their reputation, and bringing the whole assembly into disgrace.
The Greeks wore no head covering in private prayer, whereas the Jewish men wore
the tallith, "a four-cornered shawl having fringes consisting of eight threads, each knotted
five times" (Vincent) to show reverence to God and their unworthiness to look on Him.
However, Maimonides (Mishna) excepts cases where (as in Greece) the custom of the
place was different. But the Apostle has more than custom to consider in his regulation
of conduct in the Corinthian assembly. His first regard was for truth and the right
relationship between God, man, and then woman. Hence the argument of verses 3-16.
As we have seen, the relationship between Christian men and women is not one of
superiority or otherwise, but of God-given position, and this, the Apostle argues, should
be evident in dress and deportment. A man ought not to have his head veiled inasmuch
as he is a representation of the image and glory of God. If the tallith was customary at
this particular time for Jewish men in worship (we are not absolutely sure about this)
then this was revolutionary teaching so far as they were concerned. But not so with the
woman, as we have seen. It would have been revolutionary for her not to wear a veil in
public, and as man was constituted by God to be her "head" (verse 3), the wearing of a
veil, showing this symbolically, made it even more right and proper.
This is what Paul means when he says she should have "a sign of authority on her
head", where "authority" is put by metonymy for "the veil" or head-covering. The
Apostle does not stop here, but adds "because of the angels" (verse 10). The
explanations of this clause have been legion. Here are some of them:
The angels are "presidents" or leaders of the assembly, just as some interpret the
"angels of the seven churches" in Rev. 1: 20.
They are good angels who are present at worship and would be offended by indecorous
conduct of women.