Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mandatory Head Coverings?

I have taken quite a long break from blogging. One reason is astounding busyness. The other reason has more to do with feeling reflective as of late: mulling, examining and processing instead of proclaiming and soap-boxing. :) Anyway, I'm back and returning to the subject of head coverings for women and hair length for men.

My last post on head coverings highlighted the varying customs among religions and cultures in the ancient world on the subject. Read here for a refresher.

Now that we know each culture (and subculture for that matter) had varying policies and motives when it came to head coverings, we can see how all these ideas collided in the church, once all kinds of people began converting to Christianity. Paul's letter to the Corinthians reveals quite a number of divisive disputes infecting the church there.

We must remember, as nearly all historical records confirm, that the early church was largely made up of women and slaves. Since most women married in all three cultures, we know that many Christian women were in "mixed" marriages with unbelievers. Since women could be divorced, beaten into submission, or ostracized from their families without legal recourse (especially in a Greek city, like Corinth), it was imperative to protect these women. This is what I believe is driving Paul's passage on head coverings. We find the same sort of concern from Peter who encourages wives to win over their husbands through a loving example, "without a word." To our modern ears, it sounds as if Peter thinks women should be seen and not heard, that they are not to usurp a man's place by vocalizing the gospel to men, even their own husbands. But the reality is that these women's lives were at stake. If they vocalized their faith to their unbelieving husbands, they would likely face abandonment, abuse, public humiliation, destitution, the taking away of their children and even death. Peter and Paul knew full well what the consequences of women preaching the gospel to their unbelieving husbands could bring. Veiling/unveiling could bring equally dire consequences to women, especially if they were married to unbelievers.

The fact of the precarious fate of women in the ancient world alone should signal to modern readers to proceed with caution before handing out head coverings for women and measuring the length of hair on men.

But as I pointed out before, Paul's arguments go BEYOND cultural factors, but that doesn't mean culture had nothing to do with it. So do not think I am dismissing this passage based on culture alone. I am just asking that readers admit that women of faith found themselves in a dangerous and complicated time that we spoiled American Christians can barely comprehend.

The next post will focus on the abundance of textual problems in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16: mainly translation options and and the inconsistent interpretations of this passage that are out of line with other scriptures.