We recently heard from a female skeptic who said that no woman could accept the biblical teaching that women had to wear a head covering or a veil that hid their face. She was referring to 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 where Paul writes, “Every woman that prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame on her head, for that is to make herself like one of the shameless women who shave their heads. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair, but since to cut her hair short, or shave it off, marks her as one of the shameless women let her be covered.”
This is an excellent example of what any reader of ancient documents needs to understand. You must look at who wrote the document, to whom they wrote it, why they wrote it, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it. For example, the Greek culture of that day demanded that women had to wear a head covering when out of their home. Otherwise, she was advertising that she was a prostitute.
Paul wrote the Corinthian letters to a particular group in a specific culture. Even today, when we visit a culture that attaches a particular understanding to what a person wears, Christians need to be sensitive to what their clothing conveys. In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul also cautions Christian women to avoid “pearls or costly dresses.” He says he would not eat food that would offend someone if doing so would cause a person to be misled by his example (1 Corinthians 8:8-13).
In those same verses, he points out that Christians have the freedom to eat anything. However, being concerned about how our dress and actions affect others must have a higher priority than expressing our freedom. That is a lesson the American culture needs to learn today.
— John N. Clayton © 2021