“Ahhhhhh!!” you say.
Wait, let’s think about this.
I know we say that the principle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is timeless and the symbol was a cultural thing that no longer applies to us (well, some of us believe Paul was wrong about the principle too, but that’s a different matter).
But Paul says because of the timelessness of the principle (and because of some other things)… use the symbol.
We say, “Well, he said that because of the cultural thing going on at that time.”
But then we don’t even want to read the passage.
Famous pastors I respect do odd things when it comes to this passage.
John Piper has preached through much of 1 Corinthians, but not this passage (five sermons on the second half of the chapter though).
Mark Dever and John MacArthur have preached this passage (both concluding that while the principle is timeless the symbol was a cultural thing) — but what effort, what labor! What uncharacteristic dancing around…
Maybe it means long hair
It’s easy to spend the whole passage thinking Paul’s talking about a separate covering and then get to verse 15 and it looks like maybe he means that the woman’s long hair is her covering. “Ah!” you say. “See, it could be that Paul simply means the woman’s hair is her covering.”
I don’t think you’re right on that point (it seems to me that Paul is arguing from the propriety of the natural covering to the propriety of a separate covering). But say you’re right: ok, women should simply have long hair for a covering.
Then why don’t we obey in this way either?
“Well, how long is long?” you say.
We can’t obey because we don’t know how long Paul meant. Hmm.
“And besides,” you say, “length of hair can’t matter. That would be legalism!”
“Or maybe today it would just mean that a woman should make sure to wear her wedding ring,” you add. “Or that she should dress modestly…”
“And besides,” you say. “Stop talking about this passage.”
Listen to the sermons
Do we want to understand this passage? Or do we hate it and wish we could cut it out of our Bibles? “Oh we don’t hate it and wish we could cut it out of our Bibles,” we say. “It’s just one of those difficult passages.”
The command is not difficult to understand — it’s Paul’s reasoning that may seem obscure. But Paul doesn’t make nonsense arguments — this passage has a structure, and Paul develops several different arguments compactly in the space of these verses.
There are helps. If we want to understand… listen to the sermons you can find online that cover this passage, unpacking the arguments that Paul makes in the passage. Compare the approach to Scripture of the ones that argue that the symbol no longer applies with that of the ones who argue the symbol’s current applicability. Consider their points. Consider their arguments. Where does the light of the gospel shine brightly?
It pictures the reality
Perhaps I am arguing about a another tiny little thing. (I’m the speed limit guy after all.) If the heart is right, how much does the physical symbol matter?
I think you’re on dangerous ground arguing this way, but let’s pursue this line of thinking for a moment.
Can it be possible that our women are living the principle set forth in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, but just aren’t implementing the symbol Paul speaks of?
I’m sure there is some of this — instances where if this passage were taught there would be ready obedience from hearts that love God’s ways.
But in general I think it much more likely that the lack of the symbol speaks of the lack of the inward reality that we agree (except for some of us, I know) is timeless.
In this way, the lack of coverings in our churches is fitting, though troubling.
I would not want to see the symbol without the spirit it is supposed to be a token of. No, dear sisters, learn to be daughters of Sarah first — then the symbol will follow, with joy.
Yes, with joy!
Because God’s ways are good. His paths are the pleasant paths!
Oh sisters, repent of your rebellion. And brothers, repent with me of being ashamed of God’s commands and refusing to teach our sisters.
To God be the glory!