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Good and Bad Traditions
We'd do well to pay attention, because we are to emulate the Messiah and walk accordingly. For Paul, this was of paramount importance. He said,
Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Messiah. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you, 1 Corinthians 11:1–2 (NASB used throughout, unless otherwise noted).
The Apostle Paul starts out saying that he is an imitator of Messiah. Did the Messiah wear things like a talith (prayer shawl) and did Paul himself cover his head, in such a way, during worship? We see these images on the big screen and in other video productions and images, but are they correct?
What Does Scripture Say?
A good portion of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 takes up the subject of head coverings. That is, are head coverings both good and bad? We have to ask the question when Paul talks about holding firm to traditions which he delivers to the brethren, is he speaking of things that are right or wrong according to Scripture? Notice the instruction,
But we should always give thanks to Yahweh for you, brethren beloved by the Master, because Yahweh has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our evangel, that you may gain the glory of our Master Yahshua Messiah. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us, 2 Thessalonians 2:13–15.
It certainly appears clear that Paul is speaking about tradition that is right and true in the Spirit of Yahweh and also which is faithful to the truth of His Word.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Master Yahshua Messiah, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Master Yahshua Messiah to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good, 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13.
By following their example as they follow Messiah’s, one is living a peaceful life in Messiah, one is setting a good example, and one is doing the right things. We know that the Messiah didn’t sin, but He did more than not sin, He walked in a blameless spiritual way. We are to follow, walking on higher ground.
Now, if Yahshua magnified the law by emphasizing deeper spiritual aspects of them and living and teaching the correct way of Yahweh, do you think it would not also be done by those who have Yahshua within them? Of course.
What, though, was Paul going after in this chapter?
But I want you to understand that Messiah is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and Yahweh is the head of Messiah, 1 Corinthians 11:3.
It’s clear that there is a proper order and way that Yahweh has established which Paul sees. He sets the premise for what he is about to say,
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head, 1 Corinthians 11:4.
But, don’t we see this very thing practiced today? What did Paul mean by saying it disgraces a man’s head if he does wear something on his head while worshipping? He answers the question, saying,
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of Elohim, 1 Corinthians 11:7a.
Paul had his mind on Scripture. In the image of Elohim man was created. Having a hat or cap or any type of covering in worship, for man, is not acceptable. Paul is speaking plainly about, and is keeping in line with, the order of headship which is revealed.
He continues to elaborate, starting again at the beginning of verse 7,
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of Elohim; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake, 1 Corinthians 11:7–9.
Which man in Scripture was allowed to wear a head covering? The high priest. Aaron, chosen of the Levites, was to be in that position. And, of course, we see Yahshua in such a position today, but not under the Levitical Order. Rather, Yahshua is the High Priest of the Melchisidec Order.
Question: Since those in Messiah are referred to as a priesthood and a priestly nation, should we not wear head coverings like Aaron’s sons?
A Kingdom of Priests
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR YAHWEH’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.
Are we really priests right now? Are we firstfruits? Let’s back up to verse 4 and 5:
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of Yahweh, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Yahweh through Yahshua Messiah, 1 Peter 2:4–5.
It is our destiny, if we overcome to the end in Messiah, to rule with Him in a kingdom of priests invited to sit on His throne. The prophesies are in place and it will happen. There will be firstfruits, a kingdom of priests, ruling with Yahshua. This is what we’re to be striving for.
We know that Yahshua didn’t become a High Priest until He was raised as a First Fruit. The parallel is for us, if we overcome as He did. And, He says, "be of good cheer," because He did overcome the world. But, the fact remains, we haven’t yet.
Do we wear a yarmulke or beanie scull-cap today as some do?
It’s not proper to do so. Paul knew this and that’s why he said plainly that it is not proper for men in the faith to have their heads covered. Was Paul adamant about these traditions for those in Messiah?
But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the Assemblies of Yahweh, 1 Corinthians 11:16. If this is the case, where did this wrong tradition of men wearing head coverings come from?
"Any piece of felt; more especially, a skull-cap of felt, a hat... From the Greeks, who were acquainted with this article as early as the age of Homer, the use of felt passed together with its name to the Romans. Its principal use was to make coverings of the head for the male sex, and the most common one was a simple skull-cap.“ Source: William Smith, A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1873).
While the coin image appears to be a rope rather than a cap, the comparison and style of later head-wear in comparison can be clearly seen.
Early traditions from pagan societies took its toll on proper worship as we see from historical documents such as found in the book of Maccabees. Here is an account of Antiochus Epiphanies who had placed Jason in a position of high office to change the normal ways of worship:
"When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his compatriots over to the Greek way of life. He set aside the existing royal concessions to the Jews, secured through John the father of Eupolemus, who went on the mission to establish friendship and alliance with the Romans; and he destroyed the lawful ways of living and introduced new customs contrary to the law. He took delight in establishing a gymnasium right under the citadel, and he induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat. There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways because of the surpassing wickedness of Jason, who was [unrighteous] and no true high priest, that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hurried to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena after the signal for the discusthrowing," 2 Maccabees 4:10–15 (NRSV).
It’s a tradition that Jews hold onto today. You can’t even go to the Wailing Wall without someone handing you the traditional yarmulke to wear. Many synagogues today will also not allow you to come into worship with them unless you wear the skull-cap.
While we normally never quote the Talmud which is full of wrong traditions, we do see an historical picture and we can get a sense of what was happening going back to at least the 2nd century of the Common Era. And, having already seen what Paul wrote, some men may have already been worshipping while wearing Greek skull-caps.
Remember this was at Corinth, located about 48 miles from Athens. Paul went to the Gentiles and they were coming to learn, but some had traditions that were wrong and they needed to be taught. This is similar to the situation we find ourselves in today: a society filled with wrong traditions.
"Men sometimes cover their heads and sometimes not; but women's hair is always covered, and children are always bareheaded." [Talmud, c. 200-500 C.E., Nedarim, p. 30b].
This appears to show that head coverings for Jewish men was an optional thing to do at least in public, but women always had their hair or head covered. The Latin scholar Tertullian also noticed and seemed to have made a snide remark about it.
"Among the Jews, so usual is it for their women to have the head veiled, that they may thereby be recognized." [Tertullian, c. 160-225 C.E., De Corona, ch. 4]
Of course, the Pharisees went around making a show with their tassels, which were in the law, but as training wheels to get the people to stay on the right track and obey the commandments - something the Spirit does for us today, as prophesied (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:31).
The reason for the head coverings for women, however, was a modest tradition. But, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 11, it goes deeper than that. And he is so wanting to make the point that he basically says that a woman who doesn’t wear a head covering should shave her head. It’s that disgraceful of a thing he pointed out; that is, for a woman/sister, to not wear a head covering during services.
Notice the strong language he uses:
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head, 1 Corinthians 11:4–6.
Here, he’s speaking directly to the women and essentially telling them. "So, you think that shaving your head is disgraceful? Then, by all means put a head covering on, because if you don’t, it’s just as disgraceful as having shaved your head and coming here to worship!"
In Jerusalem today, we see many women, not just Jewish women, wearing head coverings. It’s really not that different today than it was from the time of the 1st century.
The image (shown next to article title) and quote are from the same source:
“Women commonly wore a veil in the entire Mediterranean during antiquity. Depending on the region and the dress, the veil, more or less, covered the hair. Paul ordered women to wear a veil during prayer.” –1000 Bible Images, by the German Bible Society.
The image at right is from a Roman catacomb (basically a burial area) of a woman in a worship position with her hair covered.
The Catholic women have this same custom today. It is evidence that head covering for women throughout the Mediterranean Middle Eastern area was commonly done.
It's important to note, very early on, the Catholics (stemming from the so-called early church fathers) clearly had an anti-semitic view-point and would go out of their way to make sure they didn’t do anything “Jewish.” But, we can certainly see, if modest women in other cultures were doing the same thing already, then there would be no trouble accepting what Paul said in a letter to those in Corinth which was in Roman territory.
Face or Hair Covering?
Jewish scholars do see a need for women to wear head coverings, not because of what Paul said, but because of the instructions found in Numbers 5:18. Priests were to follow certain instructions to find out whether or not a husband’s suspicions are correct about an unfaithful wife.
And the priest hath caused the woman to stand before [Yahweh], and hath uncovered the woman’s head, and hath given into her hands the present of the memorial, it is a present of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest are the bitter waters which cause the curse, Numbers 5:18 (Young's Literal Translation).
Some translations say that the hair is let down. I think it’s safe to say that Young’s Literal Translation
has it correctly stated that she had her hair covered. This is different than having a veil on the face.
Going back further in time we see a veil on the face was not usually done unless one wanted to be a little stealthy and unknown. Genesis 38:15, says,
When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, for she had covered her face.
This is an account of Judah and Tamar, and she was evidently trying to look the part of a discreet prostitute. Going back even further we see Isaac’s wife to be covering herself up so as to be more modestly presentable to her future husband - the man she knew she was going to marry.
She said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” Then she took her veil and covered herself, Genesis 24:65.
There are questions as to what this covering was, but if we think of it as being a modest gesture or even a betrothal tradition at that time, then we most likely have a good sense of why she covered herself in front of him. A similar tradition occurs at weddings today, as couples walk up the isle together, the wife’s head covered before the vows are even taken.
While our western society doesn’t normally wear head coverings, other than hats, it is clear the tradition for women does indeed continue in Jerusalem among Israelites who’ve been brought back into the land. As a side note, it may be an open door for them to see us, as believers in Messiah, living according to the tradition they also keep.
And, while we don’t do many traditions, Paul says this one has spiritual significance which involves the heavenly realm. In 1 Corinthians 11:10, he says,
Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
It could be this verse is not saying what we think it says. Just for argument's sake, let’s take a closer look.
Therefore, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels, 1 Corinthians 11:10.
The wording, “symbol of,” is added by the translator to try to give clarity. But the following commentary makes an interesting observation:
"Veil (Hebrew: radid) Subjection (Hebrew: radad)." Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, by Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown.
The conservative scholars of this commentary realized Paul was a Jew and this may have been written in Hebrew, originally. The Hebrew, they point to, is spelled resh dalet dalet and can be pronounced two different ways with two different meanings. It’s like the idea of a camel going through the eye of a needle:
Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Yahweh, Matthew 19:24.
The semitic language writes gmla (gimel-mem-lamad-aleph). That is, Gamala “heavy rope” or Gamla "camel." Either can be said, but it appears to make better sense translated heavy rope or just rope rather than a camel.
If we look at the sentence again and insert “veil,” as in head covering, then, this is the subject of headship. And if we also take out the helper words such “symbol of.” We find the passage reads :
Therefore, the woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels, 1 Corinthians 11:10.
A comment about this verse comes from the Ryries Study Bible which says, “The insubordination of an uncovered woman (signifying her refusal to recognize the authority of her husband) would offend the angels who observe the conduct of believers in their [assembly] gatherings.”
It is interesting that he should mention “authority of her husband,“ but the verse doesn’t say anything about husbands. And, as we’ve seen, the two words, “symbol of,” were added by translators. So it reads more literally in the Hebrew “the woman ought to have a veil on her head." It’s because of the headship, but it’s also because of angels.
Lets look at 1 Corinthians 11:13–15,
Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to Yahweh with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
This goes back to the idea Paul was relating about how shameful it would be for a woman to have her hair shaved, but here he says it’s a “covering” ...or does he?
Ryries points out the following: “This is not the same word used in verses 5-6. The point here is that as the hair represents the proper covering in the natural realm, so the veil is the proper covering in the religious.”
The word for covering in verse 15 has more of the meaning of a frame or mantle rather than a covering as the other wording has. Greek, unlike Hebrew or Aramaic, is more precise in word meanings. This may be one of the very reasons why Yahweh has allowed us to have the majority of the New Testament presented in the Greek language today.
But the fact remains that the false idea of Paul describing woman’s hair being her covering is not correct, because he says it’s a shame for a man’s head to be covered. If he had meant that a woman’s hair is her covering, then he’s instructing men to have their heads shaved of all their hair.
The arguments given by Paul for head coverings is the headship order, creation/nature, and angels. None of these reasons are for the social customs of the time.
In all of this, it needs to be made clear that when talking about head coverings, we are talking about just that. It can be a veil, but not for the face. It can be a hat, but it should be in good taste. Not the kind of immodest hats we saw at the last royal wedding in England a short time back.
And while appropriate for prayer, Bible study, or regular Sabbath services, Paul’s wording doesn’t tell the women to wear their head coverings all the time, but just for the times that are associated with worship or prayer, and certainly this would be a proper thing to do at a Bible study, also.
If men want to wear hats outside of worship, that’s fine. Paul points out though, it is not proper for the men to do so among the brethren while in worship. Men are not to wear the wrong tradition of the prayer shawl over their head in worship or in prayer and the same goes for any type of hat or cap that would cover their head. (Read our mini-study on Yarmulke: Men's Headcovering.)
In fact, there are a number of areas in Scripture that the men put head coverings on when they were in mourning. King David did so when his son Absalom came against him. Not only was the king in mourning, but also his men, and they covered their heads in shame and disgrace, just like the Apostle Paul said concerning men wearing head coverings. Coincidence? Not at all.
There are good and bad traditions today concerning head coverings. The ones that are outside of Yahweh’s will are the bad traditions, the ones inside are good.
-Elder David Brett
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