One of the reasons why I feel so comfortable about the use of head coverings in the Christadelphian community, is that this "tradition" is not a modern, "Christadelphian" invention, but has always been a part of true Christian worship. We find it not just in Scripture, but also in the writings of the earliest Christians.
Moving further through history, we discover that this same practice was kept by the Anabaptists, including the Polish Brethren, the Mennonites, Amish, and many others. In choosing to retain the practice of headcoverings, therefore, the Christadelphian community is remaining faithful to (a) the original teachings of Paul, (b) the original practice of the very first Christians, and © a pious tradition which pre-dated our sect by the best part of 2,000 years.
- The many paintings on the walls of the catacombs reveal that the uniform dress of women in worship was to cover the head and hair (not the face) with some type of cloth. This presents us with an irrefutable confirmation of the apostolic practice.
- Writing in the 2nd Century AD, Irenaeus translates I Corinthians 11:10 as follows:
A woman ought to have a veil [kalumma] upon her head, because of the angels.
Against Heresies, Book I, 8:2.
His precise choice of words leaves us in no doubt whatsoever that Irenaeus understood the "power" on a woman's head to be a veil or covering of some sort - and not merely a reference to the woman's hair itself. The word used for "power" in I Corinthians 11:10 is "exousia", meaning "authority", and so the New English Translation has:
For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
This also refers back to the Divine hierarchy in verse 1 of I Corinthians 11, which in turn establishes the entire context of Paul's argument concerning the covering of women.
- Tertullian (another 2nd Century Christian) also addressed this issue. He writes:
But that point which is promiscuously observed throughout the churches, whether virgins ought to be veiled or no, must be treated of. For they who allow to virgins immunity from headcovering, appear to rest on this; that the apostle has not defined 'virgins' by name, but 'women,' as 'to be veiled;' nor the sex generally, so as to say 'females,' but a class of the sex, by saying 'women:' for if he had named the sex by saying 'females,' he would have made his limit absolute for every woman; but while he names one class of the sex, he separates another class by being silent. For, they say, he might either have named 'virgins' specially; or generally, by a compendious term, 'females.'
Notice that his entire line of argument presupposes that it was the practice of women to be veiled - regardless of whether or not they were betrothed or married! This in turn confirms that the covering of the woman's head was the typical practice of his day. Tertullian here assures his contemporaries that there is no Biblical reason to require one class of females (betrothed or married) to be veiled while not requiring another class of females (virgins) to be veiled - and so he calls for the preservation of the apostolic practice.
In another work, he further emphasises this point by contrasting the two standards of dress in I Corinthians 11:4-5:
Behold two diverse names, Man and Woman 'every one' in each case: two laws, mutually distinctive; on the one hand of veiling, on the other of baring.
On The Veiling Of Virgins.
Thus we see that in Tertullian's day, the apostolic practice of women being covered and men being uncovered, was the normative standard of the ecclesia.
- Writing in the 4th Century, John Chrysostom confirms the Biblical basis of head coverings for women:
And if it [her hair] be given her for a covering,' say you, 'wherefore need she add another covering?' That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that thou oughtest to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, thine own part also, that thou mayest not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness, to buffet not only with us, but with nature also.
- Writing in the 4th & 5th Centuries, the great theologian Augustine also followed the apostolic practice. Beginning with a citation from I Corinthians 11:4-5, he appends his own exegesis:
'Every man praying or prophesying with veiled head shameth his head;' and, 'A man ought not to veil his head, forsomuch as he is the image and glory of God.' Now if it is true of a man that he is not to veil his head, then the opposite is true of a woman, that she is to veil her head.
Of the Work of Monks.
- The Geneva Bible of the 16th Century contained the following footnotes against I Corinthians 11:10...
The conclusion: women must be covered, to show by this external sign their subjection.
...confirming that - even at this late stage - the practice had not been abandoned. Indeed, it was a common sight in the 16th-18th Centuries.
- Writing in the 19th Century, Robert Lewis Dabney says:
Two principles, then, are laid down: first, verse 4, that the man should preach (or pray) with head uncovered, because he then stands forth a God's herald and representative; and to assume at that time the emblem of subordination, a covered head, is a dishonor to the office and God it represents; secondly, verses 5, 13, that, on the contrary, for a woman to appear or to perform any public religious function in the Christian assembly, unveiled, is a glaring impropriety. . . . The woman, then, has a right to the privileges of public worship and sacraments; she may join audibly in the praises and prayers of the public assembly, where the usages of the body encourage responsive prayer; but she must always do this veiled or covered.
Discussions: Evangelical and Theological.
- Martin R. Vincent (another 19th Century theologian) makes the following point in his celebrated Word Studies in the New Testament:
Power on her head (exousia)
Not in the primary sense of liberty or permission, but authority. Used here of the symbol of power, i.e., the covering upon the head as a sign of her husband's authority. So Rev., a sign of authority.
1 Corinthians 11:16 - Custom
Not the custom of contentiousness, but that of women speaking unveiled. The testimonies of Tertullian and Chrysostom show that these injunctions of Paul prevailed in the churches. In the sculptures of the catacombs the women have a close-fitting head-dress, while the men have the hair short.
- G. G. Findlay (another 19th Century author) agrees. In his Expositor's Greek New Testament, he writes:
For a woman to discard the veil means to cast off masculine authority, which is a fixed part of the Divine order, like man's subordination to Christ (3 f.).
With regard to I Corinthians 11:4-5, he comments:
The high doctrine just asserted applied to the matter of feminine attire. Since man has no head but Christ, before whom they worship in common, while woman has man to own for her head, he must not and she must be veiled. The regulation is not limited to those of either sex who 'pray or prophesy'; but such activity called attention to the apparel, and doubtless it was amongst the more demonstrative women that the impropriety occurred; in the excitement of public speaking the shawl might unconsciously be thrown back.
- John Murray (who wrote during the 20th Century) was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. The following citation is taken from a letter which he wrote to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Australia, on the issue of women being veiled during worship:
Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (Vss. 3b, vss 7ff), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising therefrom.
I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (Vss 4 & 7) and enjoined for the woman Vss 5,6,15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient.
In this connection it is not proper to interpret verse 15b as meaning that the hair was given the woman to take the place of the head covering in view of verses 5,6. The Greek of verse 15 is surely the Greek of equivalence as used quite often in the New Testament, and so the Greek can be rendered: 'the hair is given her for a covering.' This is within the scope of the particular argument of verses 14,15 and does not interfere with the demand for the addtional covering contemplated in verses 5,6,13.
Verses 14 and 15 adduce a consideration from the order of nature in support of that which is enjoined earlier in the passage but is not itself tantamount to it. In other words, the long hair is an indication from 'nature' of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required (Vss 5,6,13) is in line with what 'nature' teaches.
On these grounds my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle's words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church . . . .
Murray correctly observes that Paul's argument in verse 10 is a natural consequence of his points in verse 3. Paul has not based his argument on gentile practice, or cultural norms; he has deliberately taken for his foundational premise, the Divine order which had resulted from the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 (thereby demoting the woman from a position of equality with the man, to that of to "second place.") Since this principle is a Divine institution, predicated upon the consequences of man's own sin, it cannot be brushed off as a temporary state of affairs. It is an arrangement which cannot be changed until the Day of Judgement.
It is not unique to the Christadelphian community - and never has been.