Veil of Glory

Nathaniel J. Wilson

By Nathaniel J. Wilson

In I Corinthians 11:1-16, we find another area where men and women have two differing ways of physically exemplifying the glory of God. We have already observed that God made mankind in His image – as male and female, so they could more completely reveal God in their respective, distinctive characteristics. In this case, the characteristic of the man is to be that the hair of his head is shorn. In contrast, the distinctiveness of the woman is her long, unshorn hair.

“…if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (I Cor. 11:15).

Not only does Paul teach that “her hair is given her for a covering”, but he states of the man, “…a man indeed ought not to cover his head”.

“…if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him” ( 11: 14). The task of determining “what is long hair” in this passage is a simple one. Length of hair is described in only three ways – “long” (vs. 14,15), “shorn” (v. 6), and “shaven” (v. 6). “Shorn” means “to shear, or cut”, regardless of length. “Shaven” of course means to cut off completely – as when a man shaves his face with a razor. Obviously, it is not the same as “shorn”, or there would be no need for Paul to use two words instead of one. “Long”, the definition of which is done for us by scripture – in that it uses it in conjunction with “shaven” and “shorn”, which eliminates any definition other than uncut.

Interestingly, a man’s cut hair and a woman’s long (uncut) hair are both linked (by scripture) with the “glory” of God. Once again, we see the believer’s body as the temple of God, which is to be aligned with God’s wishes – so as to manifest the shekinah-glory of God.

Paul states that the christian woman’s hair is her “covering”. Prior to Paul’s writings, a woman’s covering was a cloth veil. All women wore veils, and to go unveiled was a sure sign of a bold woman of loose morals. The idea of the veil was that a woman “hid” her beauty from the eyes of others, and reserved it for her husband at home (this idea was also revealed in the clothing – in Bible times, women wore dark, plain colors in public, and reserved their bright attraction-getting clothes for the privacy of their homes for the benefit and pleasure of their husbands). Thus, Paul teaches that the woman is to be covered, because she is (i.e., her glory is) the glory of the man (v.7). The man, on the other hand, is the image and glory of God (who is everywhere in the open). Therefore man’s shorn hair is the equivalent of giving his glory to God openly.

Because Paul’s instruction regarding the woman having long hair becomes a daily physical reality (thus creating a distinctive), there are those who, for whatever reason, declare that this teaching is not relevant to us today and is therefore non-binding. This is done on the basis of a number of purported reasons – not the least of which is the proposal that this was only a cultural teaching of Paul, and therefore was never intended to have ongoing authority. Some also teach that this was a particular proposal for only Corinth, due to particular problems associated with Corinth exclusively.

Once again we want to remind our readers that, while institutional christianity (as well as many other groups) has attempted coercion throughout history, Christ did not. He leads – He never drives. Pure elemental christianity is only for those who accept an invitation, not a demand. However, one should always keep in mind, when scripture speaks to us on any subject, disobedience to that instruction always brings in its wake a whole package of undesirable side effects – many of which are not apparent until it is too late. Scripture gives us many, many examples of things in the visible being vitally connected with breath-taking things in the universal invisible. For example, Job evidently had no idea that the whole universe was watching his little drama unfold. Every detail of his life became scrutinized, and little did he realize that he was on the largest stage ever known to man. Maybe Paul was in this frame of mind when he declares that the christian woman, in reference to her long hair, should have “power on her head because of the angels” (I Cor. 11:10). I believe this scripture (and all scripture) is applicable to us today.

To start down the road of picking and choosing what applies to us, and what does not, is certainly a mine field of dangerous possibilities. People have historically done this with scores of different Bible teachings – casting aside what doesn’t fit their plan and idea, and taking license to live in disregard to scriptural teaching on the matter. Of course, this never leads to greater blessing, but rather to a growing disregard for clear statements of scripture.

Let’s look at the dilemmas that are created by citing actual examples of the practice of deciding some scriptures do not apply to us.

First of all, Acts 2:38 was spoken to Jews. Therefore, it is taught by some that the promise of the Holy Ghost is not for us – for this only applied to that particular group for that particular time. Of course, for those of us who have received the Holy Ghost, we know this is not true – for we have received it! An argument is seldom, if ever, as powerful as an encounter! Nevertheless, this does not prevent some from making the above assertion. Further there are non-spirit-filled Bible scholars who do not believe one should derive doctrine from any of the book of Acts because it is historical and not “didactic”. Therefore, according to them, we now need to re-examine whether Acts, and its examples, even apply to us today in a doctrinal way. This teaching has become particularly “in vogue” recently.

It is a flimsy excuse to try to avoid teachings on the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and is completely driven back into silence (where it belongs) by author Roger Stronstad in a book every Pentecostal preacher should have – The Charismatic Theology Of St. Luke”. Furthermore, Paul declares: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine… for instruction…” (II Tim. 3:16). “All” includes the book of Acts.

Others believe Matthew is written for the Jews only – with others believing it was written only to the Gentiles. Still others teach that the whole idea of Spirit-infilling (with speaking in tongues) was for a specific place and time, to accomplish certain things which were intertwined with the Jewish people’s spiritual and cultural milieu, and that none of it is for us (of course, anyone who has lived in the Master’s house and nation, knows He has given His own speech to communicate with Him! – I Cor. 14:2).

We can go on and on. For example, Moses didn’t write the first five books of the Bible, some say. Isaiah didn’t write all of Isaiah, others say. Eventually, by listening to a hundred different voices instead of the “written voice of God”, there’s little or nothing left, because we decided that what’s there doesn’t apply to us, that it’s spurious, or it doesn’t mean what it says.

So what happens? We become like Thomas Jefferson who liked and believed certain parts of the New Testament, but didn’t believe other parts, so he compiled his own version of the Bible – inserting what he wanted and deleting what didn’t suit his fancy.

All of this basically ties in with the fact that, the combative servant always demanding legal language will seek out what he/she perceives to be “the minimums” that can be “gotten away” with. The love-slave, on the other hand, would be horrified at the thought of bringing shame to her Master, or Head (I Cor. 11:5,7). Whether or not she could “get away with it” is not even a consideration. She never considers the question, “will disobedience ban me eternally from the Master’s house?”. Why is this so? Because love seeks to please its object – not itself. It “seeketh not its own”. The Master’s pleasure is her pleasure. True love doesn’t entangle itself with legal questions regarding minimums. In contrast, true love always seeks to maximize the degree of its commitment.

So what happens when we begin to decide that some clear New Testament teachings are for us, while others are cultural? Could we find ourselves unwittingly sitting in the seat of God, and in effect rewriting portions of the Bible? If parts of the New Testament were meant for then and not now, who is to determine this, and by what authority? If one has the power to delete I Cor. 11:1-16, does another have authority to delete the book of Acts (including all of its spiritual experiences)?

Earlier, I mentioned claims made against the book of Isaiah, the Pentateuch, the book of Matthew, the book of Acts, etc. All of these claims are real claims. I did not make them up. They can be easily documented – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of such claims, coming from all directions. I would think we would all want to avoid being included in such company – for it is a crowd with “many kinds of voices”, and trumpets with “uncertain sounds”.

So what should we believe? We should believe the Bible. It is God’s Word. The New Testament is the new covenant. It is a unilateral contractual agreement, based on love, between God and His people. As we have seen, a covenant of this nature, once entered into with God, was forever.

Such covenants had their clear instructions, and had their visible symbols which signified their submission to the stipulations of the agreement. These symbols were so closely intertwined with the covenant itself that to destroy the symbol was, in many cases, to destroy the covenant. Thus, when Samson’s symbol was cut off, his power was cut off also.

From Samson, we see that, when one has real inward power (the glory) which has been connected by God to outward symbols of this covenant relationship, to destroy the outward is to begin the process of dismantling the inward. In the case of the christian woman who loves the Master’s house, her symbol of submission to covenant with her head (i.e., her husband, Christ, and God – I Cor. 11:3) was her long hair, which we have already seen is defined by its usage as uncut hair. Her power, like Samson’s in his nazarite vow, is linked with its symbol.

“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head…” (I Cor. 11:10).

There will always be those who “pick and choose” what parts of the covenant they will accept. For example, in I Corinthians 12, Paul gives explicit teaching about the gifts of the Spirit. However, there are those who say that the gifts of the Spirit are not for us. They say, “that is not for us – that was just for those days”.

In chapter 14, Paul gives instruction on how to have order in a church service and still have the working of the Spirit. Of this, others say, “That was just for that day. That is not applicable to us today”.

In chapter 9, Paul teaches, “they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel”, and to “muzzle not the ox that treadeth out the corn”. Again, there are those today who say, “we have a better system. That was fine for Paul’s day, but not us. We have more sophisticated systems”. However, that does not change the Word of God.

In chapter 11, Paul states, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him. But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her for her hair is given her for a covering” (vs. 14,15). He also teaches that for her to be shorn is to be unveiled (or uncovered) – and that this is shameful (v. 6). Paul saw this outward distinction between men and women as being rooted deep in the very ground of creation and natural order (vs. 7-9,14).

Once again, we remind the reader that we are simply reiterating Paul’s teaching. There are numerous Bible scholars who quite openly disagree with him. You, the reader, may do so also. However, for me, that is not a reasonable option. For, I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I believe that Paul, as well as the rest of the writers of the Bible, wrote as they were led and moved on by the Holy Spirit. I also believe that their writings have authority that neither mine, nor anyone else’s, has. I believe we can write things that are just as Spirit-anointed as their’s was. However, if we write (or espouse anything) that disagrees with the “forever settled” writings of scripture, there can be no question of which is right – the Bible is. Even if we fast 40 days, and an angel (or new “prophet”) gives us “new light” which purportedly offsets scripture, or supersedes scripture, the old scripture is still right.

The prophet thundered: “remove not the ancient landmarks”. If lightning accompanies the “new word”, and if the most “enlightened” of men declare it to be true, it’s still false – for God doesn’t establish His guidelines according to the latest popularity poll, nor does He seem to be concerned when the heathen rage. If one wants to go somewhere besides heaven (which is the Master’s ultimate “house”, Jn. 14:1-3), or wants to be with someone besides the holy Jesus (who is both first and last, and who created all things, and by Him all things consist – Col. 1:15-18), then I would suggest to do whatever you “feel” is right. Follow your logic. Use your rational mind. Make your own decisions. However, if your first and foremost concern is the Master, then follow His Word and rejoice in your salvation!

So we ask ourselves, did Paul himself see his teachings in I Corinthians as being for everyone, or just for Corinth? Did he expect others than the Corinthian church to pick through his teachings and eliminate those things they didn’t care for? Or, did he expect his teachings to be universal and applicable to every church everywhere?

One certainly doesn’t have to be a Bible scholar to see that Paul taught the same things everywhere he went. He had standardized guidelines and instruction, and he did intend for it to be for every believer everywhere. Ironically, it is in the book of I Corinthians that he emphasizes this the most.

“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s” (I Cor. 1:2).

It also becomes obvious that Paul was consistent in his teachings to all the churches. For example, when dealing with marriage questions (Chapter 7), Paul gives instruction, then as a validation for the authority of his teaching, he declares: “…so ordain I in all churches” (7:17).

Again, in chapter 4, when Paul’s authority is questioned, he informs them that he is sending Timothy to them.

“… who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (4:17).

Again, in chapter 11, Paul is dealing with those outward forms of submission (i.e., of the man being “unveiled” by having cut hair, and the woman being “veiled” by her long – uncut hair). In his teaching on this, Paul takes into account that there may be some who would disagree with him, or who may accuse him of attempting to make Corinth do something that was not a standard of the other churches. To counteract this potential charge, Paul plainly explains to them: “Now if anyone is disposed to be argumentative and contentious about this, we hold to and recognize no other custom {in worship} than this, nor do the churches of God generally” (I Cor. 11:16, Amplified version). Here again, we see yet another, clear example that Paul’s teachings on all these subjects were not exclusively to Corinth (nor only to his time), but that he was consistent in teaching the same in all churches, and his teaching had final authority.

For us to decide whether Paul’s teachings are for us today, we must determine whether or not he had both the authority and the intent for them to be universally applicable. That he had the intent for them to be universally applicable is obvious from the numerous examples already cited.

In regards to the question of Paul’s authority, as the apostle to the Gentiles and writer of much of the New Testament, he assumes an enormous amount of authority, and doesn’t hesitate to use any source at his disposal to reinforce his teaching on a given subject. For example, in I Cor. 4:17, he teaches them on no stronger basis than “…my ways which be in Christ”, and reinforced it with a warning based on nothing more than his personal power with (and anointing from) God. Again, in his instruction on marriage in chapter 7, he puts the final stamp of authority on it by simply saying, “And so ordain I in all churches”.

In chapter 9, he reinforces his insistence on the material support of the ministry by pulling an obscure passage about oxen out of the Old Testament, and uses it as a reinforcement for his teaching (9:6). In the entire Bible, no one ever gave such an audacious interpretation to such an innocuous scripture! Yet, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, takes this little “farm animal” passage, and pumps it full of important truth for the church (this shows us also that Old Testament scriptures can apply to the New Testament in several different ways). One is by direct and straightforward application of what is actually said (Deut. 22:5).

Another is by extrapolating, out of a domestic scripture, a typological meaning which is not directly stated in the scripture, but is drawn out of it by the use of parallels. A perfect example of this is seen in Paul’s use of the ox treading out the corn. In Deut. 25:4, we have an example of an extrapolation of a meaning out of a scripture that is not actually stated, but is there typologically, waiting to be lifted out by the all-knowing knowledge of the Holy Spirit.

When we see how the Holy Spirit does this occasionally in the New Testament, it makes us very cautious about discounting any Old Testament scripture as not containing potential content which is applicable to us today. It is my opinion that, in eternity, we will be absolutely flabbergasted at how many things were hidden in scripture which none of us ever discovered.

In chapter 11, in his discussion of submission to authority, Paul does no differently here than in the other chapters. He is consistent throughout the book in his approach to establishing foundational, ethical, moral guidelines, and the outworking of these in everyday life. As he does in the other chapters, he uses every available resource to drive home his God-given directives for the church.

In chapter 11 he is dealing with the man’s hair being shorn and the woman’s being the opposite (long/unshorn and unshaven), as a natural sign of submission to their respective authority. To make the strongest case possible, Paul follows his usual pattern of appealing to every possible area to strengthen his doctrinal position. In this case, he appeals to at least five things to establish his premise that men’s submission to their head is symbolized by shorn hair, and the women’s by long/unshorn hair.

– He appeals to divine order of authority (v. 3).

– He appeals to creation (vs. 7-9).

– He appeals to natural order (vs. 14,15).

– He appeals to their custom (v. 6).

– He appeals to the example of the other churches (v. 16).

Carefully and methodically, Paul brings each of these witnesses to the stand to testify that his teaching, regarding submission and its outward symbols, is correct.

Paul’s first concern seemed to be that they would understand that the already established practice of women being veiled and men unveiled was correct. Its significance was validated by the fact that it was anchored in the very nature of creation, and should thus be continued. However, as was his way, Paul takes this to new ground with a bold assertion that they were to understand that a woman’s hair was given for her covering (v. 15). Before that, a cloth veil covered her, but Paul now asserts that her long, unshorn hair of her head outwardly signifies her submission to her head (i.e., her husband and Christ). That Paul should here take it upon himself to take old truths to new (and heretofore uncharted) levels should not surprise us.

When we look at the way he unpacks new truths on other New Testament subjects, he is quite consistent in his approach. His boldness in deriving new foundational precepts from old accepted truths reveals in him a confidence that he is ordained of God to lay this new foundation. That he did indeed have this authority is readily evident by (a) his position of prominence in scripture as the apostle to the Gentiles; (b) the fact that he alone was the first to see the church in its true perspective (Eph. 1:9,10); and (c) the fact of his authorship of the majority of the New Testament. Understanding this helps us to see why Paul could speak of “…my ways” (4:17) as being authoritative, or freely state “so ordain I in all churches” (7:17). It also shows more clearly why he declares his Corinthian teachings to also be applicable to “…all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1:2).

Another interesting Pauline trait is his habit of tying a seemingly insignificant thing (like shorn hair) to much larger, universal truths, which are themselves pregnant with far greater importance and significance. Another way of saying this is that whatever Paul recognized as important, he formed a theology for it and anchored it therein. He seldom, if ever, leaves any of his teachings on specific codes of conduct to stand alone. He invariably sets them in a theological framework of greater, broader truths. By doing so, he greatly increases the significance of that which may seem unimportant at first glance.

From this, we see once more that trivializing anything in God’s Word is something which the wise steward avoids.

I Corinthians 11:1-16 is a good example of how Paul “theologizes” various features of a given subject, and thereby imbues its various disparate parts with previously unmerited importance. What was heretofore only a custom is poured full of new meaning, and (in its new form) established as a New Testament standard. He takes the issue of veiling to new heights unheard of. He attaches ethical significance to this now-elevated custom. He marshals twice the amount of witnesses he needs to corroborate his position. As we have seen, in the space of 16 verses, he appeals to divine order (v. 3), creation (vs. 7-9), nature (vs. 14,15), custom (v. 6,16), and the example of the other churches (v. 16). In addition, he appeals to their own good judgment (v. 13) and to his own judgment (vs. 4,5). He even throws in a few “cosmic reasons” for maintaining this standard, by expressing that even the angels are affected by this (v. 10). Thus, we have seven witnesses called by Paul to support his position that the christian male’s shorn hair and the christian woman’s unshorn hair are important symbols linked forever as outward manifestations of inward submission to being vessels which exude God’s glory.

Paul’s habit of seeing what appears to be “small things” in a larger context is important. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find examples of Paul discussing seemingly small things apart from their connections to larger truths. For him, it is not a question of “can we lop this off and still survive”, or “can we do without that”. He does not attempt to dissect and leave small pieces of disparate theological parts lying everywhere. Rather, he envisions a building “fitly framed” and sees all aspects of this teaching as necessary to the development of an integrated, healthy christianity. He, in effect, teaches us that even if we do not see in every case, the integrated significance of every part, its significance is there, and his teaching should therefore be heeded.

The interesting thing about this particular passage we have been discussing (I Cor. 11:1-16) is that upon close inspection, it becomes obvious that these Corinthian christian women were taking their new-found freedom in christianity too far. They saw open to them new opportunities which they had never before been allowed. They were praying in public worship and prophesying. They were evidently doing significant ministry which Paul acknowledges. With this, it appears that under the intoxication of their new-found joy and freedom in Christ, they were in danger of going too far. In their recognition that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, their logic was that “if we now have these other freedoms (i.e., praying and prophesying), then let’s also remove other eradicable distinctions between male and female – such as elimination of the veil”.

Paul’s answer to this is basically one of agreement that, yes, in the spirit, any distinctions of spiritual power have indeed been erased. However, he goes on to show that even though the above is true in the spirit, we nevertheless remain in our created state as man and woman, and there still remains valid and unchanged natural distinctions. Furthermore, he evidently is willing to concede to the removal of the man-made veil, but only because nature has its own veil (i.e., hair – v.15).

Paul here teaches that the nature of man and woman and their respective roles makes some things inviolate, even in the face of the Corinthian christians’ real, new spiritual freedom. Secondly, he also teaches that spiritual freedom does not change creation’s distinctions between the man and the woman. Spiritual revival restores a man to full “manness” and woman to full “womanness”, but does not “de-gender” them.

As we have already seen, there is a reason that mankind is created as man and woman rather than simply as one or the other. The idea is that mankind is created in the image of God. By looking at mankind, a reflection (however dim) of what God is can be seen. This view is incomplete unless seen from both sides of mankind. To fulfill there respective roles with all their potential is also the way to personal fulfillment by either male or female. When the distinction is removed, or ignored, the purpose of mankind’s existence (that is to find complete wholeness and fulness as a human, and to thereby reveal God) is eroded, and the purposes of God thus thwarted. The above is a primary element in the Bible’s consistent and unbending insistence on emphasizing the distinctions of male and female.

Everywhere we look, we see this truth driven home. In dress (Deut. 22:5), Spirit (I Pet 3:5), hair (I Cor 11:15), roles (Eph. 5:23-28), and authority (I. Cor. 11:7-9), the Bible relentlessly presses home the critical nature of these distinctions. With this in mind, it doesn’t seem strange that a hedonistic and humanistic society should always be moving toward a unisex, anti-God, mind-set. It does seem strangely convoluted reasoning when christian leaders spend time and expense to encourage a destruction of such distinctions among christian believers. While acknowledging every man’s God-given responsibility to work out his own salvation, we nevertheless believe it appropriate at this time to issue a sober word of caution to believers tempted to follow the opinions of men who would presume to “interpret away” the clear teachings of the most foremost apostles and writers of the New Testament ¬namely, Paul and Peter.

When one considers that the New Testament is no bigger than it is, but that God nevertheless considers such things important enough to deal with in considerable detail, extreme care should be taken before deciding to simply disregard such teaching. As limited in size as it (the New Testament) is, it really seems strange to further reduce it by arbitrarily deciding that sizable chunks of it do not apply to us today and can be simply disregarded. That kind of foundation seems “very sandy”. Matthew 7:26 gives a very harsh definition of the kind of people who build on sand.

The above article “Veil of Glory” is written by Nathaniel J. Wilson. This article was excerpted from the 9th chapter in Wilson’s book In Bonds of Love.

The material is copyrighted and should not be repainted under any other name or author. However, this material may freely be used for personal study or purposes.