The Truth about the "Veil"


      The fact you are reading this material on the veil probably indicates you already have some degree of familiarity with the controversial nature of this subject and text. Some have concluded that all female Christians must be "veiled" when they are engaging in worship. Some limit the necessity of the covering to the assembly, some advocate its presence during the offering of thanks over a meal or when the mother is teaching the children at home. There are also many divergent beliefs as to what constitutes the covering of I Corinthians 11, a hat, doily, or a covering, which hangs down the head.

     An introduction to the text. The actual text which contains the teaching under examination is found in I Corinthians 11: 3-16. The subject being treated and applied is headship. Paul succinctly states, "The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (vs. 3). There was a visual as well as an applied violation of headship in the church at Corinth. The visual violation is observed in verses four and five. The male Christians who prayed or prophesied with a covered head, dishonored their head, Christ. To the converse, the female Christians who prayed or prophesied with an uncovered head, dishonored their head, man.

     In order to challenge and correct this irregularity at Corinth, Paul appeals to several sources of persuasion. The first and primary is the Word of God (vss. 7-9, 11, 12, see Gen. 1). He then mentions "nature" and the relevant, prevailing practices which were also factors in the determination of the appropriateness or inappropriateness of what was happening at Corinth (vss. 14, 4, 5, 6, 13, more later).

     An exposition of the text. I submit that the core of Paul's teaching is set forth in verse three, headship. Verses four through sixteen contain an application of headship to the particular circumstances at Corinth.

     An examination of verse three. The Bible is explicit in its teaching concerning headship (Gen. 3: 16, Eph. 5: 22 ff.). Wives are to be respectful of this headship and obey their husbands (I Pet. 3: 1-6, Tit. 2: 5). The truth enunciated in verse three, however, appears to go beyond the other mentioned verses, in that it states the universal nature of headship. In other words, Paul is not simply discussing headship from the standpoint of husband/wife but "the head of the woman is the man." I see not a particle of contextual evidence to lead one to contend that the men and women in violation of headship principles were actually husband and wife. Paul's subsequent arguments pertain to the man/woman not just the husband/wife. The woman, then, should have a general deportment in the presence of man, which reflects this acquiescence to headship. However, certain women at Corinth were dishonoring their head, man (vs. 4).

     An examination of verses four through sixteen. What was the covering? There are two coverings under discussion, the natural (the hair, vs. 15) and the artificial (vs. 6). The artificial covering was obviously the veil (see American Standard Version also the addendum, No. 1). Katakalupto ("covered," vs. 6) means, "to cover up (kata, intensive)" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). The katakalupto, the kalumma understood, of the text covered the head and face (2 Cor. 3: 13, Ex. 34: 33, 35; Gen. 38: 14-19, the graphic at the top may not entirely duplicate the Bible veil). The men under consideration were doing what the women should have been doing, and the women were doing what the men were supposed to be doing, regarding the covering (vss. 4, 5). Man seems to possess a talent for reversing God's applied order!

     A question which must be answered is, who were the men and women of verses four and five and exactly what were they doing? Beloved, these men and women were "praying or prophesying." The prophet (one who prophesied) possessed a miraculous gift, "…a proclaimer of a divine message…" (Vine). Prophesy was one of the nine gifts of the Spirit (12: 8-10). The "praying" used in connection with "prophesying" was obviously miraculous prayer (Eph. 6: 18, I Cor. 14: 14, see addendum, No. 2). Let us appreciate the fact that the women under consideration were doing exactly the same thing as their male counterpart, the prophets. Hence, these women were female prophets or prophetesses (Miriam was the first to be called a prophetess, Ex. 15: 20).

     Why were not other women and prophetesses required to be veiled? The point I am attempting to make is the binding of the covering of I Corinthians 11 only applied to the prophetesses at Corinth, not to women who did not prophecy or pray. No where in the Bible are women in general required to be veiled, not even in a text which is addressing the peculiar roles of men and women in general in the assembly (I Tim. 2: 8-15). Even prophetesses before Corinth were not required to be veiled (I Sam. 1: 10-15, ch. 2). In fact, women did not generally go veiled elsewhere in the Bible (Gen. 24: 61-65). In addition, the veil even appears, on occasion, to have had an evil connotation (Genesis 38: 14-19). Before I Corinthians 11, there is no similar teaching regarding the veil, not even regarding prophetesses, and such teaching after I Corinthians 11 is absent (see The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 5, pg. 3047). Therefore, I submit the veil at Corinth was relatively unique and only then applied to this certain class of women in a particular circumstance.

     Paul adduces several arguments to establish the appropriateness of the veil in the circumstances of I Corinthians 11. In view of the meaning of the veil at Corinth, Paul appeals to the basic design of man and woman (vss. 7, 9). These women must be veiled because of the subjugation even angels (greater than man) practice, human judgment, and facts regarding nature itself (Vss.10 ,13; 15).

     Concerned reader, Corinth is a good example of how prevailing practices and peculiar cultural meanings can influence and regulate certain applications of Bible truths. In view of the meaning of the veil in the culture at Corinth, these women should have been veiled and the men unveiled.

     In conclusion, since the wearing of a veil was not commonly practiced before the period of I Corinthians 11 and in view of the absence of such specific teaching in texts regulating the conduct of women generally and in worship, the conclusion is Paul is addressing a problem peculiar to such churches as Corinth (as far as the application of headship principles). The veil does not have any meaning to people of the West and never has. To presently bind the specific teaching of the veil in the case of prophetesses is an anachronistic argument (a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs). Moreover, we do not even have prophets and prophetesses today to whom the teaching could apply! (I Cor. 13: 8-10.).

     To bind the veil today involves a misunderstanding of the subjects of I Corinthians 11, praying or prophesying, the circumstances, the covering itself (not a hat), the endemic symbolic meaning of the veil, and a misunderstanding of God's general law for the subjection of women. Women today demonstrate subjugation to headship by a "meek and quiet spirit" (I Pet. 3: 4, I Tim. 2: 11).

     Addendum (No. 1): Some object to katakalupto being translated veil in I Corinthians 11: 4-13. They contend that since katakalupto is a verb, it cannot be translated veil (noun). However, scholarship generally takes the position that katakalupto (head covered and hanging down) implies the kalumma (noun, veil, 2 Cor. 3: 13). Keep in mind that the Greeks had a word for hat (pilos), however, katakalupto (covered and hanging down) is used by Paul.

     Regarding what the covering that covered the head and hanged down was, A. T. Robertson remarks: "Literally, having a veil (kalumma understood) down from the head…" (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 4, pg. 159). Nicoll's celebrated Greek work says, "'Wearing down from the head (a veil,' kalumma understood") (Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. 2, pg. 872).

     One author, with whom I agree, wrote, "The truth is that the veil is the covering demanded in I Cor. 11: 4-7. This veil fully covered the head and hanged down from the head….It can be large enough to carry and hold six measures of barley, four and one-half gallons, Ruth 3: 15-17, and of such texture and material so that the face cannot be seen. Exo. 34: 33-35; 2 Cor. 3: 13…" (The Woman and Her Covering, pg. 30, by Bill Cavender).

     Addendum (No. 2): As observed, the specified men and women of I Corinthians 11 were the same in that they were praying or prophesying. They were doing exactly the same thing and in the same circumstances. Some, however, want to argue that while the "prophesying" was miraculous, the "praying" was uninspired. Hence, women today in general must have "something on their heads."

     Please consider the following quotation: "Since the 'praying' of I Cor. 11: 4, 5 is joined to the 'prophesying' and prophesying is ALWAYS inspired teaching, and since both the praying and prophesying are adjectives (participles) modifying the same man and the same woman, there is here strong presumptive evidence that the praying is inspired praying and not ordinary prayers of uninspired people" (The Woman and Her Covering, pg. 17, by Bill Cavender).