Last night, I watched Steven Anderson’s sermon “Head Coverings in Light of the Bible” for the first time. For several months I had been planning to view it, but hadn’t felt quite up to the agitation I suspected would result.
Sadly, it was all I expected, and more. Pastor Anderson does not believe in headcovering, but thinks that long hair is all a woman needs to “cover” her while praying or prophesying. He believes that, and adamantly so.
I did not appreciate his approach. He referred to the revered Christian veil in a mocking tone, calling it a “bonnet,” a “coffee filter,” and a “sombrero” which elicited laughs from his congregation; it seems to me he did this intentionally. He also stated that headcovering is a false doctrine, basically equating it with heresy. He finished by warning of the dangers of immodestly drawing attention to oneself by wearing a headcovering.
At least he acknowledged that headcovering is a spreading, popular movement! So much so, in fact, that he felt compelled to caution his congregation against it.
To be completely fair, there were several points that I did agree with, and on which I think he gave some thoughtful explanations:
- He emphasized the importance of using discernment in choosing good leaders. We are not man-followers, but God does call certain people to lead others in the church, and we should follow their examples, as long as they are being Scriptural.
- He defended the deity of Christ, and how He is at the same time distinct from the Father. The three–Father, Son, and Spirit–are One, and yet they are distinct from each other and have different roles. The Son is God, but He is not the Father. And the Son is subject to the Father, but is not inferior to Him.
- He defended biblical gender roles, the leadership of the husband and the submission of the wife.
- He explained the Bible’s teaching on appropriate hair lengths for men and women. I completely agree with his opinion on hair lengths (I just don’t agree with his opinion that the hair is the covering).
- He didn’t try to turn the covering issue into a cultural problem, as I’ve heard some do.
I’ve watched another video sermon by him on the topic of birth control, and on that I agreed with him completely. It was a great message, and I respected his boldness in addressing that controversial issue. However, I did not feel the same way after viewing his sermon on headcovering. One of the points (among many) which I found intriguing at the same time I found it disappointing was his insistence on disregarding the Greek and focusing mainly on the English.
Well, the New Testament was not originally written in English. It seems logical to me that if we want to acquire a deeper understanding of the meaning of a text, it would certainly be useful to consult a Greek word dictionary! Sometimes meaning can be lost across translation; this is something I can relate to as a bilingual English/Spanish speaker. I know that those who translated the Bible into English tried their best, but at the same time I am able to admit that English has limitations. I have heard that the Greek language actually has more words (thousands more?) than English, and because of that, it has greater flexibility for communicating complex ideas. But, we are restricted to our own, English word forms. (By the way, I am not KJV only, which he staunchly is.)
However, I think he is right in emphasizing the importance of doing our best to understand the basic English meaning before diving into the Greek, and of letting the Bible interpret itself.
Therefore, that is what I will now attempt to do, in my own simple way. Let’s look at the English, and do our best to make sense of it.
1 Corinthians 11
1Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
Up to here, I have no disagreement with Pastor Anderson in his interpretation.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
Basic English: if a man has his head covered–in other words, there is something on top of it–he dishonors Christ, his spiritual head. When I say that something is covered, I always mean that there is something concealing what is beneath. I cover my bed with a blanket. I cover my walls with paint. I cover my pasta with sauce. Covered = on top of.
Having his head covered means that there is something on top of, concealing, his head. What would that be? The obvious answer is: a piece of cloth, since that is what I think of first with my English-speaking brain.
However, even if by some great stretch it was not a cloth and was his hair instead, then it would have to mean that for him to have any hair at all would be dishonorable, since hair covers the head. The text doesn’t say ” having his neck covered,” or “having his back covered”; that is what it should say if long hair were the issue, since long hair doesn’t only cover the head, but the neck and maybe even the back, too. But, it says, “having his head covered,” so it is the head which is in question, and even very short hair still covers the head. So, if the covering is the hair, then men need to shave it all off, so their heads won’t be covered.
Another point worthy of consideration: why is it that “praying or prophesying” are specifically mentioned? Because if it is a shame for a man to have long hair (and it is, as pointed out later in the passage), then it would be a shame for him all the time! Why are we not told instead, “every man at church, at work, at home, or on the street, having long hair, dishonors his head”? It seems clear to me that the reason praying or prophesying are pinpointed is because we are meant to understand that the covering is something removable, something that is only intended for certain times and not for others. A man cannot shave his head for praying or prophesying and then grow it all back when he’s done. Either he’s shaved all the time, or he’s not. It’s an all-the-time deal.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
Now for the woman. If she prays or prophesies with her head uncovered she dishonors her head, the man. When I read the word uncovered, I immediately think of something not on top of. So, if my table is uncovered, it doesn’t have a tablecloth over it. If my shoulders are uncovered, it’s because I didn’t put on a shirt with sleeves.
A woman who does not cover her head shows what by her actions? She shows that she does not want to be under her God-given authority, the man (and by extension, Christ and God), but lifts herself up as leader, instead. A piece of cloth covering her head would show that she is UNDER the authority of the man. The cloth is supposed to cover her head, which would remain hidden underneath it.
The man’s own head is uncovered to show that he is (ultimately) under the authority of no one except Christ, Who is in heaven. That is another very good reason why the woman’s hair cannot be what is being spoken of, but is instead a cloth that she puts on top of her head, thereby concealing her own head and demonstrating that she is not the head. You lose the symbolism if her hair were her only covering.
No head showing = not the head (authority).
Head showing = the head (authority).
What does the text mean when it says that if she will not be covered, let her also be shorn? In basic English that is the same as saying, “if she won’t put something on top of her head, like a cloth, let her hair be cut off, too.” Having no covering is just as shameful as looking like a man with short hair; if she refuses to cover, she’s saying she wants to be like a man, so let her take things to their logical conclusion and just do away with her last vestiges of femininity, let her shame be complete. But, if hair were the covering, this verse wouldn’t make sense, since it would read, “if she won’t grow her hair long, then let her cut her hair short.” How can she cut her hair off if it’s already cut off?
If her head is uncovered, it is “even all one as if” she were shaven. In everyday English as if doesn’t mean “exactly the same as”; it means “like,” “similar to,” “kind of close.” If her head is uncovered, it’s similar to having her head shaved or her hair cut short. Similar to, but not the same as, because having short hair and being uncovered are not the same thing. It is shameful to have her hair cut short, to have it shaved, or to have it uncovered by not placing a cloth over it while praying or prophesying; those things may be equally shameful (or close to it), but they are not identical actions.
In the video, Pastor Anderson makes it a big point to “prove” that being shorn and being shaven are the same thing. I think his logic runs like this: If the hair is the covering, then not being covered means having short hair; so, when the text says to “let her also be shorn,” it cannot mean having her hair cut short since by his interpretation it is already cut short, so we should understand the word “shorn” to be synonymous with “shaven.” We should assume that the woman already has short hair, which she should shave off entirely to bring things to their logical conclusion. So, short hair is shaved off and becomes no hair.
He wants it to look like the only matter in view is whether she has long hair or short; he’s trying to take the cloth covering out of the equation. He is forced to interpret “shorn” as being the same as “shaven” since to interpret it as “cut short” would cause his reasoning to fall apart; his interpretation would no longer make sense.
He spends much time discussing the meaning of the word “shorn.” However, just as in English, in other languages too, one word can have different uses. So, to “trim the tree” can have at least two different meanings, depending on whether we are talking about a Christmas tree, or a tree out in the garden. I don’t think he proves without a doubt that to be shorn always means to be shaved, not even with the sheep example he utilizes: sheep have their hair shorn off, but honestly, it looks to me more of a cutting off than a shaving off. Nowadays they use electric razors, but back then they used shears (or sharp sickle-type knives, am I right?). Shears are scissors. As in, “the stylist used her shears instead of her electrical clipper to trim his hair.” So, being shorn and being shaven are not necessarily the same thing.
He reasons as he does, I think, to avoid the obvious conclusion that one would normally come to: God wants the woman–while praying or prophesying–to use a fabric headcovering. Long hair on its own isn’t enough. If she will not wear a headcovering, let her also be shorn. There’s nothing fancy about that, it just makes sense.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.
9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
Here we see two more reasons for covering. The first reason was given in verse three:
1)God’s design for an authority structure, a hierarchy of roles, a headship order.
Now, we are given two further reasons:
2)The need to keep God’s glory (the man) uncovered and to keep man’s glory (the woman, and the woman’s hair) covered, and
3)The creation order (the order and manner in which God created the male and the female).
Here’s my question: what covers up glory? How do you cover up brightness, splendor, radiance? By putting something over it, right? If a woman has long hair, that cannot be a sufficient covering since her hair is still showing, her glory is still shining. She must put something on over her hair (at least the hair closest to her head) in order to conceal her glory.
Additionally, the text says her hair is given her for a covering, not the covering. Pastor Anderson dismisses this point, but I think it’s important. In normal English, there can be a big difference between the word a and the word the. The phrases “I married a man,” and “I married the man,” have more than a little difference in meaning! A woman having long hair is what Nature teaches is appropriate, forming an example that sets a precedent for the cloth covering. However, Special Revelation reveals more detail that nature by itself does not.
4)Nature forms the supportive, fourth reason for covering.
5)The fifth reason for covering, the angels, is not addressed in the sermon, and neither will I address it here.
A quick note: I usually lump reason number one (hierarchy and headship order) with reason number three (creation order) since I see them as being the same. Perhaps I am wrong to lump them together; I will continue to consider this. Here’s my reasoning on this point, and I why I feel somewhat unsure about it:
As far as hierarchy goes, we do not function as in the Old Testament; we no longer need priests to minister as intermediaries between God and us. In Old Testament times even the priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, which was never adequate, not even for them. Christ formed the bridge for us to have direct access to God. So, one reason man is not supposed to cover his head is to demonstrate the direct relationship there now exists between (believing) mankind and God. Woman, in order to demonstrate the preservation of human roles, covers her head. Men and women’s roles have not changed, but mankind’s relationship to God has: in the Garden, man had direct access to God; at the Fall, that access was obstructed by sin; in the law and the priesthood a temporary but insufficient “relay system” from man to priest to God was set up; through the Cross, direct access to God was made a possibility again. Clearly, things have not remained consistently the same when it comes to our relationship to God.
Pastor Anderson tries to show that since God commanded the priests to cover up with turbans in the Old Testament, and since what is a dishonor to Christ now would have been a dishonor to Christ then, therefore headcovering is not the real issue here, but hair lengths. However, after pondering over his reasoning for some time, I think it makes more sense to think that the headcovering practice has indeed changed since Old Testament times because our relationship to God has changed.
Since hair lengths are related to nature, and nature does not change, therefore the practice of women keeping their hair long and men cutting theirs short should not change, and I agree with Pastor Anderson on this point. However, even though nature is used as an example to show how headcovering makes sense, headcovering is not based primarily on nature, but on God’s order for the church.
The Father’s relationship with the Son has remained constantly the same, and the man has always been in authority over the woman, but has the church always been subject to Christ? (Ephesians 5:22-24) There was a time when the church did not exist. So, though nature has not changed, the priesthood is a structure that has been replaced by a direct relationship between man and God through Christ. So, turbans are obsolete. The headcovering practice as prescribed in 1 Cor. 11:1-16 was not in effect during the Old Testament times, but applies only to those of us living during New Testament times.
16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
Pastor Anderson does not address this verse. He asserts that women wore hats or bonnets only because of the weather and because it was the fashion. But what custom did the churches of God have? History reveals that the churches did not teach the long hair is the covering view, but they did expect women to place a veil over the top of their heads before coming together for the public assembly of believers. Their writings confirm this, and multiple paintings attest to it. We can see with our own eyes what their custom was. Any man who contradicts that custom is a contentious man.
It pains me to say this, but many leaders I respect greatly “seem to be contentious” in the area of headcovering. I wish that were not so. Please join me in praying that God would bring the truth to light for them, so they could see this issue clearly and bring their preaching in line with the Bible’s plain teaching.
If you end up watching the video, could you please share your thoughts? What did you think of Pastor Anderson’s objections to headcovering? Did they seem valid to you? Did they not? Why or why not? Thank you for sharing!