Question:

I just read an article called Command or Custom by Hiram O Hutto. I have a question in regard to that article. I have a friend who says that the covering that Paul is referring to is not a physical one such as a veil or hat etc, but rather Paul is referring to the womanís husband. She says that the womanís husband is her head and therefore that is the covering that Paul is talking about. Is this true and if so what about single women who have no husband? Your help is greatly appreciated.

Answer:

The difficulty with this argument is that in the Greek the words for husband and wife are the same as man and woman. Generally the context tells you which is being discussed. In the first 16 verses, the words for "man" and "woman" are being used in a single context. There are some translations which try to replace some of the words with "husband" and "wife," but they do so at the translator's discretion. It quickly becomes apparent that it isn't the usage that is behind the difference in translation, but the translator's opinion.

Let's take a selection:

"For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man." (I Corinthians 11:7-9).

If it is the husband and wife relationship, then we should be able to replace all occurrences of "man" with "husband" and "woman" with "wife." But this results in nonsense.

"For a husband indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the wife is the glory of the husband. For husband is not from the wife, but the wife from the husband. Nor was the husband created for the wife, but wife for the husband." (I Corinthians 11:7-9).

The problem is that Paul proves his regulation by appealing to the general case, not specifically the husband and wife role.

Second, the general rule regarding symbolic or figurative language is that the reader assumes the statement is literal unless the reading says it is figurative or unless the literal reading results in a nonsensical meaning. There is nothing in I Corinthians 11:1-16 that indicates that the veil is a symbol of the husband (as I argue above, it is clear that Paul is talking about the man-woman relationship and not the specific husband-wife relationship). Nor does a literal reading result in a nonsensical idea. Actually, it is just the opposite. A literal reading is very clear. The only motivation for declaring it to be symbolic is that the person doesn't want to heed what is being clearly stated.

Third, Paul states that the use of a veil symbolizes being under authority. "For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (I Corinthians 11:10). If the veil itself was symbolic, then Paul would be saying a woman should have a symbol of a symbol on her head.

The argument would be much like saying, "Because the bread in the Lord's Supper symbolizes Christ's broken body, I don't have to partake of the Lord's Supper because it is just a symbol." The fact that something physical represents something spiritual doesn't mean it becomes insignificant.