Wednesday Word: Head Coverings and me? (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

The bible always means what it always meant.

I am just finishing up my first bible interpretation class and my hope is that if the students have learned anything about interpreting Scripture they have learned the signifiance of authorial intent (I had them finish the above quote on almost every test!) What Paul meant when he wrote 1 Corinthians is what it still means today. We must always approach the text with this in mind. Every time we start asking the question: ‘What does this passage mean to me’, we start moving away from faithful interpretation.

So then, you might ask, what are we supposed to do with Paul’s instructions for the Corinthian women to wear head coverings in corporate worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16)? Have we missed this passage completely? If the text always means what it always meant, then shouldn’t women always wear head coverings to church?

In order to answer, we must remeber another important guideline for biblical interpretation: while meaning never changes, applications of the meaning will. For example, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. No matter where or when we live, we must love our neighbors. But love for neighbor in 2015 will look different than love for neigbor in the first century. Likewise, loving my neighbor in Sikeston will perhaps look different than someone loving their neighbor in Tokyo. The principle is true for all followers of Christ, but the application will vary (even from person to person at times). Of course, this does not mean that every application is valid. Just because I want to love my neighbor by running over their Alabama Crimson Tide mailbox (it is for their own good), does not make such an action a valid application of the text (no matter how much I wish it was).

So what about head coverings? Paul begins the passage with the headship principle (v. 3) and then applies that principle to head coverings in Corinth. He ties the principle to Creation, since woman was made from and for man (v. 7-9), but I think the application was for those who live in a culture that views head coverings as a sign of respect. Since we do not live in such a culture, that particular practical application does not apply today.

These are tricky issues and there are those whom I respect greatly who disagree with my conclusion. Yet, we do agree on the fact that while applications will change, the truth remains the same. Culture may impact how we apply the text, but it does not change the meaning.

Because the Bible always means what it always meant.



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