It is written:
“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” (1 Corinthians 11:5)
When Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, he addressed several cultural issues that they were facing. One of them involved the fact that some of the women in Corinth were casting aside their veils, which could prove to be very problematic for the church. Why?
“The veil was the most symbolic feature of the bride’s dress in Roman culture. Plutarch indicated that `veiling the bride’ (if v vt i4rw KazaxaX1 lpaVTEs) was, in effect, the marriage ceremony. Other writers in the early Empire confirm that the bride’s veil was an essential part of her apparel.'” (Winter Bruce, Roman Wives; Roman Widows-The Appearance Of New Women And The Pauline Communities, 942-946 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
However, Roman society of the first century was greatly upset by the rise of a feminist movement identified by Roman historians as “the New Women.” These women, in attempting to combine their pagan religious beliefs with their disdain for traditional Roman marriage, would set aside their veils in public and in the pagan temples of worship.
What were they trying to communicate by this symbolic act?
“What signals might be given by the actual removal of the veil? Sebesta argues, `As the veil symbolised the husband’s authority over his wife, the omission of the veil by a married woman was a sign of her “withdrawing” herself from the marriage….There is firm evidence that Corinthian women were connected to the cult of Demeter which we know operated in Roman Corinth in Paul’s day in the temple on the slopes of the Acrocorinth overlooking the city.59 Curse inscriptions written by women have been discovered there…It can be concluded, therefore, that those wives who undertook religious functions would have covered their heads with the marriage veil, given that all respectable married women would wear their veil outside the home, as Roman law and custom prescribed. scribed. This raises the possibility that those who sent messengers to spy out the activities of Christian gatherings could have reported to the men elected to officially supervise women’s dress codes in Corinth that some Christian married women were inappropriately attired while engaging in a religious activity…Their deliberate removing of their veils while praying and prophesying would have sent a signal that they were identifying themselves in this religious gathering with the new women who behaved loosely at banquets which were often held in private homes.” (Winter Bruce, Roman Wives; Roman Widows-The Appearance Of New Women And The Pauline Communities, 987-1098 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
By removing their veils, the Christian women in Corinth were giving the indication to outsiders that they were ritual prostitutes; therefore, Paul encourages the Christian to “pray” and to “prophesy” with their heads veiled.
However, what is interesting to notice for our purposes in this study is “where” the women were praying and prophesying. Paul tells us:
1 Corinthians 1:10-11-Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.
1 Corinthians 3:3-for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
1 Corinthians 11:18-19-For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
1 Corinthians 11:30-For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
1 Corinthians 14:25-And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.
1 Corinthians 15:12-Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Colossians 4:16-Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
Throughout these passages, Paul uses the Greek phrase en humin (“among you”), which had the general meaning of “in the church assembly.”
The Christian women at Corinth were praying and prophesying in the church assembly, when both the men and women were present (1 Corinthians 11:18-19).
Paul’s concern was not with their praying or prophesying publicly, but with the fact that they were doing so without wearing their veils.
Indeed, this speaks a great deal to us about the ministry and work of women in the Lord’s church.
Yet this raises many questions…which will be addressed in our next articles on this subject.