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WOMEN AND THE ISSUE OF HEAD COVERING IN 1 CORINTHIANS 11:2 – 16: IMPLICATIONS FOR CHURCHES IN AROCHUKWU
1.1 Background to the Study
Head covering is assumed to be the literal covering of head with a scarf. This is a practice that is observed in various Christian groups during Christian worship in Nigeria. Whether this is a compulsory practice and traceable to the New Testament is still under contention among some Christians. Some base their arguments for women covering of the head during worship on Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians while others anchor their arguments on the authority of the man over the woman. Some Christian churches hold that the practice of head covering is acceptable but not compulsory for the woman. Some insist that the practice is compulsory for the woman. For example, Pastor Daniel Olukoya of Mountain of Fire Ministries seriously forbids his female members from attending church service with their heads uncovered. According to the report, “Olukoya warned that the church will no longer tolerate any lady that does not cover her hair….”1 There are some Christians, like Goodwin, who insist that head covering should not be part of Christian practice. In his own words, “…I do not agree that the head covering is a rule from God that applies to every generation….”2 Those who oppose the practice of head covering may be doing so either on the grounds of its associated patriarchal subjugation of women or its non-significance to the salvation theology of the Christian church. Whatever be the case, the ball has been rolled. And inasmuch as almost all the writers and debaters base their arguments on 1 Corinthians 11, the passage (1 Corinthians 11:2_16) has been carefully selected as necessary in determining the Pauline position on the Christian concept of head covering.
As a matter of fact, the epistle of first Corinthians “…is one, and that not the first, of a series of letters written by St. Paul to the Corinthian church.”3 The church was located in the city of Corinth. Corinth was in many respects the most important city in Greece under the Roman Empire. Whereas Athens was the educational centre, “…the seat of the greatest university worldwide at that time, and the city to which the memories of Greek freedom and older history most continually clung, Corinth was the capital city of the Roman province…”4 and could be seen as the centre of government and commerce, of real life and development in the country.
The city of Corinth was located on the narrow isthmus which connected Macedonia and Achaia. Dummelow said it had “…two great harbours, lechaeum looking towards the Adriatic Sea and Italy, and Cenchreae (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:1) looking towards the Egean and Asia.”5 Even though Corinth lay a little inland, yet it “…was a wealthy seaport city”.6 And Corinth, “…occupying as it did a central position on the lines of communication between Rome and the East, It was a great commercial clearing-house.”7 Consequently, this would make it possible for traders and government officials to constantly come to and go from Corinth. Dummelow wrote that the population of Corinth “…composed of Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Orientals. Merchants and sailors were its most frequent visitors, … bringing to it the civilization and the customs of many lands.”8 “Besides its commercial importance Corinth was renowned as the scene of the great Isthmian games, which every second year attracted a multitude of people to the city,”9 he added. The city was noted as the centre of the “… worship of the goddess Aphrodite, in whose worship virgins sacrificed their chastity”.10 Dummelow observed that “the Corinthians were notorious even in the world of that time for their drunkenness … sensuality… faction and strife, being always anxious to discuss philosophical and moral problems….”11
During his second missionary journey, Apostle Paul planted the church at Corinth after he had left Athens (Acts. 18:1-8) as Dummelow observed that “In Corinth his preaching was very successful.”12 The assembly was made up of Jews and chiefly of Gentiles. Located in the heart of the city, Kerr noted that the church was subjected to the negative influences of the city. According to him, “The problems which vexed the church in Corinth were, perhaps, indigenous to the city itself.”13 These influences on the members of the Corinthian church drove some to immorality, to the extent that one man had to sleep with his father’s wife; to idolatry, to the extent that some were eating food offered to idols, and to other unchristian behaviours which threw the assembly into confusion and utter disorder.
Because of the confusion and disorder in the church, Schwertley says: “It is likely that he was informed of the abuse by a letter.”14 That is, the church writes a letter to Paul asking him to clarify the issues. In his response to their letter, Paul addresses all the issues that bring disorder in the church. And in the eleventh chapter, he handles the issue of women and head covering in the church. For even in the time of Paul and other apostles, this issue of head covering was a controversial one in the church of Corinth, which made the people to write for clarification. And Paul did reply, making his position on the issue plain and stating his reasons for taking that position. It would be reasonable to believe that the epistle was able to resolve the issue in the Corinthian church, but surprisingly it has raised its head again in some parts of the globe since the mid-twentieth century as notes by Marlowe who writes: “Since about 1960, …it has become ‘politically incorrect’ to even suggest that women ought to submit to male authority.”15
And just as the Corinthian church was thrown into disorder and controversy because of the issue of head covering among others, the Christian churches in Arochukwu and some other places are in similar challenge and controversy as confirmed by Schwertley thus: “…head covering is so strongly hated and opposed by feminists of all types.”16 Presently, some Christian writers like Chris condemn the act of using a fabric cloth to cover the head, insisting that a woman’s heir is the head covering. Chris says, “The hair is intended to be the covering….”17 While others like Marlowe and Schwertley uphold the practice of head covering. Marlowe maintains that “The head covering will always signify what Paul has said it signifies.”18 And Schwertley insists that a woman is “…to wear a head-dress when she is praying to God in the company of men….”19 And one cannot hastily jump into conclusion, nor can someone take side with either of the two opposing groups without painstakingly looking into the issue as Paul did, and correctly interpreting and applying it to this present time in Arochukwu precisely, as well as other places.
Although Paul in his argument on head covering made mention of veil, it is understandable that this was because the women in the West and many other countries of the world have heirs that grow in the pattern of a veil. So the shape of their natural heirs favoured veils or scarves more than any other materials in a religious circle. But in Nigeria and some parts of Africa where women naturally have short heirs, apart from Catholic sisters, women in Aladura churches, and some Muslim women; veils are not often used in both sacred and secular settings. Instead the women often use head-tie and hat for head covering. This is because the Nigerian women naturally have short heirs and can only grow long heirs by artificial means. This nature of Nigerian women’s heirs affects their choice of head covering materials. Consequently, many things are used to cover the head in Nigeria such as scarf, head-tie, hat, cap, veil, beret, wig, etc. In view of the centrality of I Corinthians 11:2_16 in this issue, the purpose of this research is to restore order and harmony in the church, and to proffer solution to the arguments among Christians in the current debate.
Arochukwu has been taken as a case study for this work. Arochukwu is a community as well as a Local Government Area in Abia State, Nigeria. As a Local Government Area, it is made up of four communities namely, Arochukwu, Ututu, Ihiechiowa, and Abam. And as a community, Arochukwu has nineteen villages. A predominantly Igbo community, Arochukwu borders with Akwaibom and Cross River States in the South and ututu, Ihiechiowa and Abam communities in the north. It is a community rich in African culture. Christianity has made a lot of impacts in the community which show themselves in the number of churches and denominations that have gained ground in the place, and in the abrogation of barbaric cultures, resulting in mass embrace of Christian faith.
1.2 Statement of Problem
The issue of women and head covering in the church has come to be a controversial issue among Christians in Arochukwu. According to Longhenry, “The controversy over the ‘head covering’ has divided many churches over the years.”20 Notably, it is an issue that is presently creating tension and confusion in the church owing to the fact that for many centuries Christian women in Arochukwu have been taught and made to worship (and have been known for worshiping) with their heads covered like their counterparts in some other places as rightly observed thus: “For the first 1800 years of Christianity the material veil was a part of the woman’s modest clothes.”21 And this was based on the understanding and interpretation of first Corinthians chapter eleven from verse two to sixteen. But the coming in of some denominations such as Living Faith Church and Christ’s Embassy in Arochukwu has proven that women can worship with their heads uncovered. Strongly supporting these churches and others, Nnebe said that head covering is the South-Eastern churches’ “…act of oppression of their female members in the name of God.”22 A similar decline in the use of head covering among Anglican, Baptist. Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches in North America was also observed by Wikipedia. According to the article, “…eventually, in the North America, this practice started to decline….”23 Nevertheless, in Nigeria and Arochukwu precisely, “Headcovering, at least during worship services, is still promoted or required in a few denominations and among the more traditional Catholics… the Apostolic Christian Church; some Pentecostal churches…, Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches.”24 Some of them like Mountain of Fire Ministries are so serious about this to the extent that Olukoya of Mountain of Fire Ministries “…warned that the church will no longer tolerate any lady that does not cover her hair….”25 While some in “Anglican Communion practice the wearing of veils when attending Eucharist and other worship services”,26 Christian Fellowship Church maintained that though they can allow a sister to attend church service with head uncovered, “if she does not cover her head, we will not permit her to publicly pray or prophesy in our churches.”27 Some of these denominations seem to be standing in between two opinions as they do not know the answer to give to some of their members who uphold the practice of women’s head covering and those who condemn it.
In addition, the seeming contradictory statement of Paul in verse fifteen of the same chapter that “… if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” seems to have increased the problem as some interpreters draw strength from the verse to support their view that women should not cover their heads during worship. Wallace observes that some interpreters hold the view that “The head covering is the hair.”28 Horst, condemning this view, writes: “Hair is the head covering…. This is an example of twisting Scripture….”29 And holding to the view, Chris writes: “I believe the verse means this: If a woman refuses to wear her hair long… let her go ahead and shave it all off.”30
The confusion being created by these conflicting responses to this scriptural passage shows that the Arochukwu Church is presently facing a theological disagreement which, if left unaddressed, may lead to increase in disunity among Christians based on differences in understanding and interpretation of women and head covering in the church. Consequently, this research work makes effort to restore order in the church and harmonize the interpretation of the text by discovering what head covering is all about; the extent to which the instruction can go, the reason why Apostle Paul gave the instruction, and its implications and applicability to the present day church.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
A Scriptural passage of this kind which according to Carter “…have become very controversial in our times”31, and which “…has divided many churches over the years…”32 calls for urgent attention especially in Arochukwu where the controversy of head covering has become glaring. This is necessary if one keeps in mind the prayer of Jesus in the gospel of John 17 for the unity of the believers. And this unity among other things should embrace teachings from the Bible.
Therefore, inasmuch as various interpretations have emerged in the controversy which make some interpreters to argue that the head covering is a woman’s hair as Horst rightly observed: “Heir is the head covering”33 while others like Longhenry say, “…the ‘covering’ Paul speaks of… cannot be ‘long hair’”,34 this study aims at discovering what head covering is all about.
And as a result of variant versions of interpretation of this passage which has made “…the use of head covering in public worship… controversial…”,35 the study aims at bringing harmony in the interpretation of the passage.
The disorder which this issue of head covering has caused in the church as the passage “…seems so misunderstood by so many”36 cannot be left unaddressed. The study, therefore, aims at bringing and encouraging order in the church.
Knowing what head covering is all about is not enough for resolving the problem. Proper application must be made to the present situation. Therefore, the study aims at finding the most appropriate way to apply this to the present day church.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The church of Corinth was thrown into an atmosphere of disorder “Because a number of knotty problems had developed in that church”37 one of which was the issue of women’s head covering. “…these problems greatly disturbed the church and they wrote to Paul to seek counsel in solving them”.38 “Needless to say, these few verses in his letter have become very controversial in our times.”39 This has therefore made the same atmosphere of controversy to repeat itself in the modern day church, precisely churches in Arochukwu due to different interpretations of this passage of first Corinthians in which some say that it is a material veil; some that it is a woman’s hair; some that it is a Jewish culture that is not applicable in other cultures, and others that it is a Hellenistic custom which should not be applied in every place. Apostle Paul did not stand aloof to the situation in the Corinthian church, but rather responded in writing which was meant to arrest the situation and restore order in the church.
Significantly, this research work will go a long way in helping to restore order in and among churches in Arochukwu as well as the churches world wide. And this order when restored will improve the spiritual condition of Christians.
Secondly, this work will help to avert the possible disintegration of and disunity among Christians in Arochukwu as a result of persistent controversy over the issue of head covering in the church in which Longhenry observed that “The controversy over the ‘head covering’ has divided many churches over the years”.40
Thirdly, it will as well restore people’s obedience to the word of God as they will come to understand the validity of the scriptural injunction on the issue.
Lastly, it will serve as a good reference material to researchers who may embark on a similar study in the future.
1.5 Scope of the Study
The book of first Corinthians deals to a great extent with the issue of church order. Obviously, a lot of issues contributed to the disorder in the Corinthian church, such as: “the veiling of women (11:2_16); improper conduct at the Lord’s Supper (11:17_34); and, the abuse of spiritual gifts (12:1_14; 40).”41 So, there was the issue of factions in the church; the issue of believers’ participation in food offered to idols; the issue of disorder at the Lord’s super; the issue of disorder in using the spiritual gifts, the issue of women wearing veil during worship, and the issue of women keeping silence in the church among other issues.
It would be too large a farm land to plough if attempt is made to address all these issues in this work. Therefore, as the title indicates, this work limits its scope to the issue of women and head covering. And as a result, it does not extend to that of men and head covering, or to the issue of women and keeping silence in the church. This is so because the researcher wishes to make a thorough and deep search into the meaning of head covering and the reason why the instruction was given by Paul. Further, he also wishes to make a modern application of the lesson to the present day churches in Arochukwu.
1.6 Research Methodology
The methodology adopted by the researcher is textual critical method of New Testament research which, according to Ituma, is “…the effort of scholars to restore the right reading in the midst of variant rendering.”42The instruments of data collections are secondary sources. “These are published materials. Newspapers, journals, magazines, books and all other works formally in circulation for public consumption….”43 As a result, the researcher made good use of the departmental library, other libraries, and his personal library where he was able to lay hand on scholarly books relevant to the study, and exegetical tools like Bible dictionaries, Bible commentaries, etc.
Bearing in mind that Biblical scholarship requires the use of original languages of the Bible, the researcher made use of “The Greek New Testament” and the “Textual Apparatus” as a powerful tool in ascertaining the original text. Considering the modern age, internet sources were extensively used by the researcher so as to keep abreast of latest developments and information with regards to the scope of the study. And qualitative method of data analysis which does not involve any mathematical calculations and use of statistical table was……