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The Gospel Messenger — Offering #100 (Special)


Before us we have not only one, but a number of queries in regard to the subject, showing that all that has been written, has not given the information wanted. There are two ways of answering queries of this kind. The one is to harmonize the views of the querist with prevailing usages. The other is to go into a critical investigation of the subject, bringing to bear upon it all the light that can be possibly obtained, and then draw conclusions, independent of any usages formerly established. We shall try, in what we may have to say, to pursue this latter course.

There is no other subject connected with accepted practices that we have given as much careful thought and research as this one. Not that we attach a corresponding importance to it, but because it is being continually agitated and explained, and yet remains, seemingly, unexplained. We shall not be presumptuous enough to set forth ourself to be able to explain or solve all the mysteries connected with it. Some of the sayings of Paul, to us, continue to be a mystery, and so they have to all Bible students, in all ages. Therefore, what we may say we give as our own conclusions, arrived at from the light we could gather relative to the subject under consideration. We shall treat the subject in the order that will best answer the queries before us.

i. the covering—its origin.

The custom of women, under certain conditions, being covered, or veiled, seems to be a very old one, and to have originated in their accepted inferiority in the order of their creation.  Their veiling was the sign used to express this inferiority and their consequent subjection to man as her superior, and man acknowledging Christ as his head or superior.  "I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man."—Paul.  On account of the custom being so old, and because of the significance named, Paul so strongly urged it upon Christian women, when in the act of praying or prophesying.  Paul urges it not as a new thing, but as an old and well-established custom, that all good women were expected— more— compelled to accept, or suffer the consequences, which was the garb of a prostitute.  Women of this kind were stripped of the veil; their hair cut off, and were turned out in the streets.  To avoid so disgraceful a thing among Christian women as appearing in public or religious meetings, in the garb or semblance of prostitutes, he urges that they be veiled.

ii. the veil or covering.

That a veil or covering was used, is agreed upon by all commentators and Bible students of acknowledged ability, as far as we have been able to learn, but just what this veil or covering was is not so generally understood.

John Kitto, author of "Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature," says, of the ancient eastern veil, there were two kinds, the in-door and the out-door veil.  The in-door veil was of a finer and lighter texture than the out-door.  It was also smaller, and so attached to the ladies' head dress that it could be thrown forward over the face, and thus form a covering.  The out-door veil was quite large, and was used as a protection against the weather, as well as for a covering.  The veil that Ruth carried home her corn in was of this kind.  The veil that Paul recommends was, no doubt, the smaller, or in-door veil.  In the 11th chapter of first Corinthians, the Greek word, kataklupto, "to cover up, to veil one's self," is used.  The substantive is katakalumma, a covering, a hiding, a veil.

As will be seen, by giving the subject a careful examination, there were different kinds of veils, and were used for different purposes on different occasions, in harmony with the different customs in vogue in the different ages.  The original and distinctive use of them, however, seems to have been that for which Paul recommends them—as a matter of Christian decency and propriety.

Dr. Clark says: Propriety and decency of conduct are the points which the apostle seems to have more especially in view.  In commenting on the 6th verse, he says: "If she will not wear a veil in the public assemblies, let her be shorn; let her carry a badge of public infamy; but if it be a shame; if, to be shorn or shaven would appear, as it must, a badge of infamy, then let her be covered; let her, by all means, wear her veil."  Lightfoot, Doddridge, Scott and all commentators held about the same views as above expressed.

As Scott expresses his views a little more full on the above verse, we will also give them: "On the other hand, it would be inconsistent with modesty and her state of subjection, for a woman to lay aside her veil on such occasions—praying or prophesying—for thus she would seem to forget her place, and to affect authority; which would dishonor the man whom God had appointed to be as `a head' over her.  Nay, this would be so great an impropriety, that it would be of a similar meaning with the shaving of her head; which was a disgraceful punishment, that was sometimes inflicted on women of had character."

We might give the version of a number of others, but in substance they are all about the same.  They all agree that the covering referred to was a veil, and should be worn by Christian women on the occasions named, but do not describe distinctively their form or texture.  There can, however, be no doubt but what the veil that Paul recommends was the one then in use by the women whom he addressed, and if the distinctive purpose for its use was that of showing order, subjection and propriety, any other covering having this distinguishing feature would answer the purpose.  On this supposition the church has accepted the cap our sisters now wear, as a substitute for the veil, or in lieu of it.

iii. the design.

There are few things that have given Bible critics more trouble than to state definitely the full design of the covering as named by Paul.  In connection with it we have the two very peculiar and hard-to-be-understood expressions, "power on her head" and "because of the angels." Clark says: "There are few portions of the sacred writings that have given rise to such a variety of conjectures and explanations, and are less understood than this verse (I Cor. 11: 10.)  Our translators were puzzled with it; and have here inserted one of the largest marginal readings found any where in their work."

The following is a marginal reference: "That is, a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband.  Accepting order and subjection to be the distinctive design, and the veil as the sign of power, then we somewhat change the suppositional effects of the veil.  Instead of the use of it detracting from the honor of the woman and her position in religious meetings, it adds to and elevates her to the same rank and position of the man.  An uncovered man, while praying or preaching, stands in the position of Christ, and is acknowledged as his brother.  The veil, the sign of power, added to the woman, makes her equal to the man, so that in this sense, the veil to the woman becomes an honor in which she should glory, rather than to feel, by accepting it, she is debased, or that it is a reproach to her.  To this idea we are somewhat inclined. Indeed, we prefer it to many others given.

Bishop Pearce says that the original should read: "Wherefore the woman ought to have a power on her head, that is, the power of the husband over the wife.  The word power standing for the sign or token of that power which was a covering or veil."  This is the common view of the older commentators, and they fall into the idea the more readily on account of the relative position in which men and women stood to each other at that time and in the earlier ages of the world.  We have before us quite a number of renderings on this verse, but we shall not occupy the space to give them, as in substance they are similar.  The three leading ideas held by Bible critics, in regard to the design of the use of the covering or veil for female Christians, seem to be:

  1. That women are to use it as a sign showing their willingness to be in subjection to man, especially while acting in a church capacity.
  2. That she use it as a mark or token of respect or reverence to man, recognizing him as her superior in the order of creation, he being made first, and she being made for his pleasure and advantage.
  3. That she use it as a power which elevates her to an equality with man in the exercising of religious duties and privileges.

The kingdom of God, as ushered in by Christ, was a new leveling and equalizing system that was intended to do away with blood, kindred and sex as far as its members were concerned.  But Paul met the world as he found it, and to accomplish the greatest good he could not be indifferent to the customs as he found them.  He meets and deals with them as a Christian, and advises those things that were most in harmony with the best thinking and most reasonable people.  Hence, for us now to put the most radical construction upon his language, would detract nothing from his character as a Christian minister and reformer.

"Because of angels."  To answer this in the shortest way would be to say, We do not understand it.  The somewhat generally accepted view is that all Christians have their ministering angels, and that these angels are always present.  For women to exercise in a public way without the veil, the sign of power, would be indecorous and highly improper.  Bishop Pearce's rendering of this passage is as follows: "And because of this superiority in the man, I conclude, that a woman should have on her head a veil, the mark of her husband's power over her; especially in the religious assemblies, where the angels are supposed to be invisibly present."  Clark, Scott, Doddridge and others entertained similar views on the passage named.

We have now given such light as we could get on this, to us, very difficult subject, and we leave you, as readers, to be your own judges, and draw your own conclusions.  Considering the mysteries that seem to be connected with it, there need be no wonder that we, as a church, fail to come to a satisfactory understanding.  But whether or not we can understand the whole of it to our satisfaction, there is one thing that we can all be united upon, and that is that women, when praying and prophesying, should be veiled or covered.

The last question before us at this time is, "Should this covering be worn all the time?"  The manner in which Paul gives the advice very plainly answers the question.  The time for a woman to be covered or veiled, according to Paul's advice, is while praying and prophesying.  In this there need be no doubt or misunderstanding, as the time is plainly and clearly specified. As the instructions are given to both sexes, what applies to a man being uncovered, applies to the woman being covered. Any covering or uncovering done outside of the time named must be attributed to custom, as Paul gives no instructions beyond this.

In conclusion, we ask the kind reader to give the evidences here set forth a careful consideration, and then draw his own conclusions.  We may discard the views given by commentators in a general way, but it must be remembered that there are subjects that cannot be intelligently disposed of without a knowledge of the customs and times in which they were written, and this is one of them.  Hoping that what we have given may throw some light to our querists, we submit it to their pleasure and for their disposal.


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