Cultural Context: Head Covering, etc…

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Cultural Context: Head Covering, etc…

Post by jmg »

Recent post from my bride:

WARNING: Graphic Bible Context Content

“Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.”
1 Corinthians 11:13-16

I don’t really know why I’m writing about this. I never teach it or talk about it. I once had a student ask me about this particular scripture and I sent him a link to a podcast and told him to listen to it and never speak to me about it again. 🤣But for some reason it keeps randomly popping up around me, and I had a really good conversation with my girls about it last week. They said that it was helpful to them, so maybe it will be helpful to you as well. I’m not going to go into detail about this because it’s just too awkward, but I will link a podcast transcript that WILL go into detail about it, so go read that first if you want all the salacious details, then come back here and let’s have a conversation. ... ians11.pdf

If you don’t want to read all that I will give a very brief PG version below. 👇

The cultural context of this verse requires us to learn a little bit about the scientific beliefs of our Ancient Near Eastern neighbors. I often talk about language, relationships, political landscape, religious beliefs, etc. but rarely ever does the subject of scientific belief and how it influences the thoughts and words used in the Biblical text come up outside of the creation narratives.

We always have to remember that God used PEOPLE to write the Bible. Certainly they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, but they weren’t empty vessels with robotic arms dictating words they didn’t understand. It was a Divine/Human partnership because that was the purpose of humanity’s creation from the very beginning. God partnered with a human for every major act or revelation of Himself in history. Could he have parted the Red Sea on His own without Moses? Absolutely! But, His desire is for human relationship and partnership. That is unchanging, and bringing His word, His story into the world is no different. He partners with humans to write the Bible, so there is humanity all over it.

We have to remember that humans always have a perception of how the world works based on the information available to them at their point of time and history. That is the very real case with these verses.

If you read the article, you learned that the extra Biblical sources (notably, Hippocrates from whom we get the Hippocratic oath that doctors still take today...I think) help us understand what people in the first century and most likely much earlier, thought the purpose of hair was. To put it delicately, hair was believed to be part of the reproductive system. More specifically, hair was believed to be hollow and held reproductive fluid. Therefore, women needed long hair because retaining that fluid allowed for conception. Men needed short hair, because they don’t need to retain the fluid, but send it on its way, and that is all I will say about that. 🫣 Back to women- this belief about hair also makes sense as to why Paul tells women not to cut their hair. Childbearing is a unique blessing given to women and it should be honored. Many sources also say that Paul says this because prostitutes kept their hair short, which again, makes sense with this belief. A prostitute cutting her hair would have been a form of birth control. I know this is awkward, but IT IS IMPORTANT for us to understand this belief they had about biology even if it was incorrect.

This is where people get even more uncomfortable than talking about reproductive fluid. You see when we have been raised with the words “literal” and "inerrant” we can honestly have a really hard time reading spiritual and moral directives in the Bible knowing they are based on outdated scientific information. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY. Paul arguing that women keeping their heads covered in church should be a no brainer because “DUH, it’s a private part!” (my paraphrase) actually translates perfectly well into every society that exists and has ever existed in human history ever, Amen. It doesn’t matter that they were wrong about hair and its basic function. The MEANING of the verse is the same. If there is a general consensus in culture about parts of the body that make people think of sexual processes, then those parts should be covered. To put it simply, "dress modestly in church." This is hard for us because it in modern culture we hold very little sacred when it comes to the body. Living in Papua New Guinea gave me a great example though. There, it was perfectly acceptable for a women to be uncovered in church ON TOP if she was a mother. It was most acceptable if she had a nursing child, but that wasn’t always necessary. However, women were expected to wear long loose skirts (in our tribe) or large loose basketball shorts in more modern tribes because showing even the hint of the shape of one’s backside was indecent. So we take Paul’s “DUH” moment and translate it into our own contexts. In Corinth a woman had to cover her hair to be modest, but not in America or PNG. In America, a woman has to cover her chest to be modest, but not in PNG. In PNG, a woman has to cover her rear and thighs, but not America (thank you Lululemon 🙄). Do we see the point here? To take Paul’s actual words literally would be an empty religious practice for us. To take the MEANING behind those words and apply them to our context holds great value and edification in the life of the believer and the community of faith as a whole. Paul (and everyone else’s) incorrect scientific understanding does not invalidate the Bible. WE invalidate it when we try to force its meaning into boxes that make it easier for us make sense of.

Now let’s talk about something way more comfortable: Creation. (Phew, I can stop sweating now. 😥)

This argument applies to the recent resurgence of the flat earth belief as well. There are many, God-fearing, Bible believing people going back to this belief because “the Bible says so.” And the truth is, the Biblical authors DID believe the earth was flat and described it as so. What we have to understand is that when God commanded His story to be written, He KNEW that the people He assigned to the task thought the earth was flat, and that was ok with Him. You see, the creation story was never supposed to describe the scientific FORM of the earth. Everyone on the earth at that time believed it was flat, but that didn’t matter to God. Humanity’s limited knowledge of the universe was a result of being expelled from the Garden and from walking and learning from God daily. God’s goal in commissioning Moses to write the Genesis creation account was to correct the misbelief among the other nations about WHO created the world and WHY. Apart from Israel, the rest of the world believed in some version of the children of a most high god, fighting each other to create the world and keep it in order. Those "gods" usually embodied parts of the cosmos like the sun, moon, stars, land, and sea. Moses isn’t supposed to tell his peers that the earth is actually a globe orbiting the sun. Moses’s job is to tell them that it is Yahweh, who created the skies and the land- that Yahweh created lights (literally “lamps” in Hebrew) to rule the day and night. “You guys know those lights that you are worshipping as gods? Yeah, those are just lamps, not divine beings.” They are simply created objects in the sky given to us by a good God who loves human life and wants to see it flourish in the world He designed specifically as a home for us. He created it by His Spirit with just the word of His mouth. He didn’t fight other gods or monsters. He didn’t struggle. He called chaos into order because of His creative love and desire to share His creativity, His rule, and His very own self with partners that he called human. It is a beautiful and meaningful story to all people of the world, no matter what shape you think that world takes.

And if this is a problem for you, let me ask you this- at what point in human history should God have given people the job to write His story in order for it to be scientifically accurate? The 1700s? The 1900s? 2024? As soon as we learn something new about the order of the world we almost immediately learn that many of our “theories” believed for decades or centuries even have been completely wrong. 100 years from now, our descendants will laugh at what we called “science.” The Bible, the story of God’s relationship with Humanity is still inerrant. The meaning and message holds true for all eternity no matter how many human ideas about the order of the universe come and go.

So breathe deep my friends and trust in our God and the beauty of His word that was crafted to be meaningful throughout all time and in any culture. If something seems weird or doesn’t make sense, search for answers as to why it is there. If you have the Holy Spirit, He will teach you. He knows what He is doing, and man is it so so good!
"When you're dumb, you've got to be tough." -My dad

"No reserves. No retreats. No regrets." -William Borden
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Cultural Context: Head Covering, etc…

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Cultural Context: Head Covering, etc…

Post by Hugo Drax »

With deepest respect, sir, as I know you are a Christian of deep faith and I count you as my personal friend and brother in Christ, but what does Sola Scriptura actually mean if you reason your way away from a clear command?

I'll venture to say female pastors.

Please take this as disagreement and not condemnation. The Lord knows my sins and I don't wish to judge but to discern. Help me in my potential error.
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