1 Corinthians 11:1–16, On head coverings for men and women. In Hebraic biblical culture, it was common for a married (or betrothed) woman to wear a veil or head covering to indicate that she was taken sexually or belonged to a man, even as a wedding ring now publicly telegraphs this idea.
At the same time, the Bible nowhere forbids men from wearing hats. It was common in biblical times for men and women to wear head coverings to protect themselves from the weather, since many of their activities occurred outdoors. In fact, the Torah commands the Levites to wear head coverings (like turbans) while ministering in the tabernacle. The Levitical priesthood no longer exists, and the Melchizedek priesthood is now in operational and includes both male and female saints, so the Levitical dress requirements are no longer applicable. Whether a man wears a head covering now while ministering is a matter of personal choice, for the Bible neither commands or prohibits it. So why does Paul instruct women to wear a head covering while ministering?
Similarly, the Bible nowhere prohibits men from having long hair. If this were true, then the Nazirites with the Torah-prescribed long hair would have been in violation of Elohim’s laws.
To properly understand Paul’s comments in this passage, we must understand some cultural and historical context. First, Corinth was an extremely libertine and licentious city sexually, since it housed a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility whose worship involved ritual or cultic prostitution and various sex acts. This was socially acceptable and even a social requirement, and a source of revenue for the temple. Second, the Torah and Hebraic biblical culture were very strict about maintaining the distinction between the genders. Any blurring of the lines was forbidden. This is why the Torah forbids crossdressing or one gender wearing the clothes pertaining to the other gender. These two contextual points must be considered when reading Paul’s instructions in this chapter. In other words, men were not to wear veils that covered their faces, while women were to either have long hair or to have head coverings as expressions of their feminity. A study of the Greek words in this chapter bear out this explanation.
With the cultural context in view, Paul was likely prescribing dictums for the Corinthians saints that would help to clearly maintain the distinctions between male and female in accordance with the Torah light and in light of the sexual immorality occurring in the city. For example, temple prostitutes would cross dress to snare people unwittingly into same sex liaisons.
There may be some other spiritual issues that Paul was addressing as well as Dr. Michael Heiser points out in his book, Reversing Hermon. There is historical evidence that the ancient Greek medical experts associated a woman’s hair with her genitalia and her ability to conceive children, and that her hair was viewed as the counterpart to a man’s testicles. At the same time, the Bible is very clear that genitalia is to be covered while one is ministering to Elohim (Exod 20:26; 28:42–43 cp. Isa 6:2), and bodily discharges that proceeded from that area of the human anatomy was considered unclean thus making one unacceptable to YHVH (Lev 15:2, 19; Ibid. page 133). Modesty and cleanliness were the operative issues here when coming into the presence of Elohim. As such, a woman wearing a head covering while engaged in ministry (praying and prophesying or preaching) in the congregation was an issue of modesty and propriety (Ibid. p 135). Heiser goes on to address the meaning of Paul’s curious statement in 1 Cor 11:10, that a woman’s head needs to be covered “because of the angels.” What on earth is Paul talking about here? What piece of information are we missing to help us to understand this enigmatic statement? Heiser explains,
Paul wanted women to have their heads covered as a sign that they were sexually taken, that they belonged to a man, their husbands. Why? Because of the angels. Apparently, Paul was concerned that if women didn’t show this sign of sexual fidelity and “ownership,” a woman could be at risk of sexual violation by angels. After all, it happened before (Gen 6:1–4). Paul didn’t want to see such a violation of cosmic order happen again (Ibid. page 135).
Biblical author, Gary Wayne, in his book The Genesis 6 Conspiracy, approaches the issue of woman and head coverings from a slightly different angle, while at the same time keeping Heiser’s view in mind. He suggests that since in the context of women’s head coverings, Paul makes the point that the woman came from man and not man from woman (1 Cor 11:8–9), for this reason and because of the angels women need to have a sign of authority on her head (v. 10). “The New Testament is recognizing that without a seal of authority, women are fair game for angels, at least for the misguided fallen angels [or demons].” This was the opinion of the early church father Tertullianus (A.D. 160–230) who instructed women to wear veils not to entice the dark angels who loved women because of their beautiful hair (Ibid. p. 18). If this is correct, then a woman who wears a head covering will be less likely to suffer from spiritual demonic attacks that one who doesn’t.