First Corinthians 11--Veils and coverings, part 2
Jun 03, 2017
There are many important topics that are not discussed fully in Scripture. This is especially true of the Old Testament. When the law was given, much explanation was needed later by the prophets. But the multiple writers could only set forth what they were inspired to write, for Scripture has been a progressive revelation, truth upon truth, line upon line. Often are we called to piece together laws, principles, and revelations from different portions of Scripture and put them together into a longer discussion.
Such is the case with the topic of veils and other head coverings. But because this study must necessarily draw upon so many principles from throughout Scripture, I will try not to make this study so complex as to confuse the readers.
First, Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that a woman’s veil signifies her subjection to her husband. Some of the women, however, had discarded their veils as a result of Paul’s earlier teaching. What exactly had Paul taught that made them do this? As I will show soon, I believe it was Paul’s teaching on the New Covenant—essentially, that which he referenced in his second letter to the Corinthians, where he identified veils with the Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:14).
Second, Paul says that for a man to have his head covered was disgraceful. Why would Paul’s belief be the precise opposite of the Jewish belief that a man’s uncovered head was disgraceful? Paul’s foundational disagreement with the Jews was over the two covenants, and I believe that his understanding of the New Covenant was the core reason for this disagreement.
Third, Paul shows that a woman’s hair was the original God-given covering in the Garden. There is no reason to believe that Eve was veiled by any artificial (man-made) covering. In fact, neither of them wore physical clothing at all. There was no reason for Eve to wear a veil, at least not until after their sin, when they made for themselves clothes from fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Later, God clothed them with “garments of skin” (Genesis 3:21). It is clear that such clothing was not part of the original order, but was an accommodation. Thereafter, clothing was commanded, but only until the original garments are returned to us (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
Fourth, after they sinned, God subjected the woman to her husband. This command must have altered the previously-existing order for it to have any meaning. It is clear that their marriage relationship changed. This is something that I discussed more fully in my book, Old and New Covenant Marriage.
There I showed that the original marriage relationship was based on the New Covenant, where the man and woman were two witnesses to know the will of God in all things. What came later was based on the inevitable disagreements that were to come through sin and diminished ability to discern the voice of God. Hence, the woman was subordinated to the man in authority, not because the man’s discernment was always correct, but simply because Eve sinned first.
Fifth, obedience and submission as such are not permanent conditions. We learn obedience until the law is fully written on our hearts, and we come fully into agreement. Obedience, then, must be replaced by agreement, making authority (as we know it) largely irrelevant. When we come into agreement with Christ, even as Christ was in agreement with His Father, then we may live according to the New Covenant, which was established from the beginning.
Sixth, all obedience is based upon the laws of slavery. Man’s slavery is not the same as God’s slavery, for man’s slavery is self-serving. The purpose of man’s slavery is purely to serve the interests of the master, and man’s laws give those masters the right to abuse his slaves, and even extends that right to take the life of the slave. The purpose of God’s slavery is to put sinners under the authority of the righteous, so that the righteous master may train the sinner in the ways of God. So in Galatians 4:1-3 Paul compares a child to a slave, even if he is the heir of an estate. As long as he is under “guardians and managers,” he is still in training until he comes to a place of maturity.
Paul relates the laws of slavery to the Old Covenant, where Israel vowed obedience (Exodus 19:8). He tells us in Galatians 4:22 that Hagar was a bondwoman, and in verse 25 that “she is in slavery with her children.” His point is to show that the earthly Jerusalem, with its adherence to the Old Covenant, was Hagar, the bondwoman, and her children are the Jews who, as individuals, live by the Old Covenant. As spiritual Ishmaelites, they are not heirs, but must be “cast out,” even as Hagar and Ishmael were cast out.
Seventh, Paul tells us that physical circumcision is a sign of the Old Covenant. Though it was commanded, not only under Moses, but as early as Abraham himself, it was not meant to be a permanent condition. God had in mind something greater—circumcision of the heart—which even Moses advocated (Deuteronomy 30:6). So Paul also equated veils with the Old Covenant and attributed its presence to Jewish blindness (2 Corinthians 3:15) and slavery (2 Corinthians 3:17). Removing this veil brings “liberty,” the opposite of slavery.
When we put all of these principles together and relate them to physical veils, it is clear (to me) that when a woman wears a veil, she is testifying of life under the Old Covenant. When she removes the veil, she is testifying of life under the New Covenant. Of course, removing a physical veil does not necessarily remove the veil from one’s heart (or spiritual eyes). There can be a discrepancy between the inner condition and the outward form. Nonetheless, this is the symbolism expressed in veils.
In the Corinthian church, Paul saw such a discrepancy. By discarding their veils, the women were manifesting a heart of rebellion, not life under the New Covenant. If we go back to the Garden story, we see that God Himself put the woman into subjection to her husband. Hence, if a wife takes it upon herself to remove her own veil in order to obtain liberty, it is actually an act of rebellion, a revolt designed to obtain liberty.
The fact is, it is the husband’s responsibility to set his wife free. It is not her responsibility to set herself free. If all things worked out as they should, the husband ought to use his authority to liberate his wife, for that is the purpose and goal of authority itself. A prime example of this is seen in the laws of restitution, slavery, and Jubilee. A sinner who cannot pay a debt that he owes on account of his sin must be enslaved (Exodus 22:3) until the debt is paid. The master is charged with the responsibility to love his slave and teach him by example the principles of life in Christ, so that when he is finally liberated, he may become a true son of God.
One might say that the purpose of slavery is not to perpetuate itself, but to lead us to the Jubilee, when all men are set free by grace alone.
So if we may use the Genesis model, Eve was the first to sin, and so God saw fit to put her into subjection to her husband. In other words, legally speaking, she became a servant or bond slave. This did not give Adam the right to abuse her, of course. Rather, it put the responsibility upon him to restore her, so that she could be set free. But Adam too was a sinner, and because he was sentenced to death (mortality), he failed in his responsibility. For this reason, we were given “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45) to succeed where the first Adam failed.
We know what the first Adam’s responsibility was, because it was the same responsibility that the last Adam took upon Himself.
In the long-term picture, Christ has had two wives. The first (Israel) He married at Mount Sinai under the Old Covenant; the second He will yet marry in the Kingdom under the New Covenant. These two wives are depicted in Abraham’s marriage to Hagar and Sarah, the bond woman and the free woman. Christ’s first marriage failed and ended in divorce (Jeremiah 3:8; Hosea 2:2), not only to show the insufficiency of the Old Covenant, but on the positive side, because God had something better in mind from the beginning.
Without the failure of the first marriage, He could not bring in the second (the remarriage). If the Old Covenant marriage had been successful, God would have had a bond woman as His wife forever. But God wanted more than a submissive wife. He desired a free woman who was in agreement with Him, one who could provide Him with a double witness to establish all things. For this reason, God (Christ) will never again resort to marrying Old Covenant people, regardless of their genes or their physical descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
When we understand this bigger picture and the overall plan of God, we can see the importance of Paul’s teaching about the veil of the Old Covenant in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18. The man-made veil (indicating submission to men) was not what God desired in the days of Moses. It was put upon the people (the original bride that was married to Christ at Sinai) on account of their fear-based Old Covenant mindset. That veil blinded the people to the truth of the New Covenant and prevented them from living by New Covenant principles, which God intended for us from the start.
In the Garden, the woman’s hair was her God-given covering, and it also was her glory (1 Corinthians 11:15). After the advent of sin, God instituted government, which established the overall principle of submission to men. First clothing, and later veils, were given as signs of this submission to men. It was the basis of slavery (or servanthood). This was not evil, for neither is the Old Covenant evil in itself. Yet it was a temporary accommodation that was given the force of law until the sons of God could be unveiled—and eventually, all of creation with them (Romans 8:21).
In conclusion, I can only say that in my own experience and revelation, my heart was set upon setting my wife free so that she could hear God’s voice for herself and enjoy a direct relationship with Christ. I did not want her to have to go through me to hear God speak, for I knew as early as 1980 that the purpose of marriage was to provide a double witness, not a rubber stamp. On June 5, 1982, I broke through the veil and knew that I was hearing God’s voice. Ten years later, on June 5, 1992 my wife broke through the same veil, and we both knew positively that she too was hearing God’s voice.
Our relationship immediately changed from an Old Covenant relationship to a New Covenant relationship, and this has proven itself every day since then.
The point is that she did not take it upon herself to liberate herself, but I saw this as my own responsibility under God. Hence, she needs no physical veil, for her hair is her glory and covering, as it was meant to be from the beginning. Her freedom to hear God’s voice is the source of strength for me personally and for this ministry in general.
Many others, however, have run into difficulties, because in order for a New Covenant marriage to work, both husband and wife must be able to hear God’s voice. Anything short of that will be a mixture at best.
Secondly, it is often the case that a woman hears God’s voice, but her husband does not. In such cases, the roles are reversed. Because there is neither male nor female in the spiritual realm, the woman must find a way to help her husband.
Thirdly, there are cases of outright mistreatment and abuse. Such cases cannot always be corrected or resolved, and in such cases the law of God provides for a less desirable form of liberation, which we call divorce. (See Deuteronomy 24:1-5 KJV.) She may also escape by running away, which may not include divorce, nor is it necessarily rebellion. In fact, when an abused slave ran away, the law of God forbade men to return the slave to his abusive master (Deuteronomy 23:15).
With this basic perspective, we can now have a better perspective on the subject of veils in Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians. What he says in his first letter was incomplete, and so he found it necessary to bring up the topic again in his second letter. It is only by combining the two passages, along with the fourth chapter of Galatians and other places, that we can hope to grasp the truth.
This is part 52 of a series titled "Studies in First Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.