Head Coverings and Women in Pauline Communities

Head CoveringsBefore we even get started, please know that this is not about whether or not women should wear a head covering. In that regard, we are neutral. Whether or not a woman chooses to cover her head is completely up to her (and her husband). We can say that women covering their heads is not a commandment given by YHWH in the Torah. The only time this issue is addressed in scripture is in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul cannot add commandments, so there has to be another reason for his comments in regards to women and head coverings. That is our purpose for this resource, to bring to light the social norms of women in the Pauline communities. To do that we will explore aspects of the Ancient Near East (ANE), Roman culture, as well as Roman law. By the end of this article, we hope that you will have a deeper understanding of the culture and social norms that were affecting the addressees of Paul’s letters.

 

The bulk of the research for this article was done by reading Bruce W. Winter’s book “Roman Wives, Roman Widows – The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities.”1http://amzn.com/0802849717  We highly recommend purchasing this book if you want a deeper understanding of the cultural context surrounding Paul’s letters, specifically in regards to women.

 

The first thing we have to do is bring to light the social and cultural norms surrounding Roman women during this time in history. Since the Bible was written for us, but not to us, these critical details are left out of Paul’s letters, leaving us to question why he said some of the things he did. It made perfect sense to the people Paul was writing to because they would have understood the social and cultural issues that Paul was addressing, so there was no need to go into detail about them in his letters. The problem is that 2000 years later, most of us don’t consider this fact and don’t bother to look any farther than the Bible itself to understand ANE culture. Also, we also often apply our own modern day social and cultural norms to the Bible’s ancient writings which cause significant doctrinal errors. To understand what these ancient writings meant to the people they were written to, we have to look beyond the pages of our Bibles and study history. That means we have to read and study books besides just the Bible. Yes, we are killing a sacred cow for some people, but the truth is, many of us don’t even understand the culture of the previous generation, but we think we can just read the Bible and know what was going on 2000 to 4000+ years ago. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

 

Ancient historians agree that sometime around 44 B.C. a ‘new’ type of woman emerged in Rome.2Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.21.  These ‘new’ wives acted in stark contrast to the traditional behavior of married women. Women had more financial independence and social freedom and, as a result, some of them took this freedom even further to include being sexually promiscuous. It was always acceptable for men to be adulterers according to Roman culture and law, but women often remained faithful in their marriages. However, these ‘new’ wives did not.

 

The promiscuity of these ‘new’ wives was promoted by many poets of the time including Catullus, Ovid, and Propertius. Playwrights also played a major role in furthering the lifestyles of these ‘new’ women, evident by the fact that wealthy older women with sexual prowess became an established character in Roman Comedy. Theatre-going was common among all classes in Rome, and New Comedy had a significant influence on what would come to be socially acceptable behavior.3Crisafulli, “Representations of the Feminine: The Prostitutes in Roman Comedy,” p. 223.  In a way, the Theatre was to Roman Culture what Hollywood is to Western Culture, they heavily influenced the morals, modes of behavior, and the understanding of relationships in Roman Culture.4Crisafulli, “Representations of the Feminine: The Prostitutes in Roman Comedy,” p. 222-23. According to Winter, it’s clear that by 44 B.C. there was a major concern, not only in Rome but also in its colonies, about appropriate conduct and possible misconduct concerning Roman wives.

 

Things got so bad throughout the Roman Empire that Emperor Augustus enacted “lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus” and the “lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis” sometime between 18 and 16 B.C. The “lex Julia de maritandis ordinibus” dealt with the regulation of marriage, incentives for having children and penalties for refusing to have children while the “lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis” made the promiscuity of women a public crime. There are a lot of interesting things surrounding these two pieces of legislation that we won’t get into, but one of interest is this. If a man caught his wife in adultery, he was required to bring charges against her within 60 days. Otherwise, he risked being accused of pimping. Another interesting aspect is that under Augustus’ legislation, women convicted of adultery were compelled to wear a toga as a symbol of their shame; and they were no longer eligible to wear the marriage veil.5McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law, p. 154.

 

So we can see that Augustus’ legislation set a precedent to distinguish the modest wife from the adulteress and the prostitute. Augustus was in effect legislating ‘Shame’ into the Roman Empire. That brings us to a woman’s head covering, the marriage veil. It was not a law that the stola and other ‘matronal’ articles of clothing be worn, but it was certainly a well-established custom that the veil was worn to signify a woman was married.6Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.43.  These ‘new’ wives were bucking the custom of wives covering their heads in public. In Roman culture, it was understood that the omission of the veil by a married woman was a sign of her “withdrawing” herself from the marriage.7Sebesta, “Symbolism in the Costume of the Roman Woman,” p. 48.  Considering the above information, it makes more sense why Paul would include the instructions about head covering in his letter to the Corinthians. Wives praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered in their religious gatherings were mimicking the actions and attitudes of the ‘new’ wives.

 

In their culture, a veiled head was the symbol of the modesty and chastity expected of a married woman.8Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.80.  In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul relates removing the marriage veil with a woman having her head shaved. This has nothing to do with Torah but has everything to do with the Roman law which stated that ‘a woman guilty of adultery shall have her hair cut off according to the law and play the prostitute.9Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.82-3.  A woman having her hair cut short or shaven was considered shameful so she would not go around bald-headed, forcing her to veil her head out of shame.

 

Why was it so important that these women kept their heads covered in their gatherings with fellow believers? We know from 1 Corinthians 14:23 that there were outsiders and unbelievers at their meetings in private homes, and it is implied that this was not uncommon. We also know that there were ‘controllers of women’ in Roman times that would police dress codes, specifically during religious occasions.10Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.85.  That brings us to 1 Corinthians 11:10. Winter argues that the Greek word here translated as angels is more accurately translated as messengers. He also points out that the title of messenger is not only for those who brought information but also of those who came to carry information away to others.11Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.89.  In other words, a scout or a spy. If this translation is used, Winter suggests that Paul’s concern is with these ‘spies’ as his reason for women to wearing the marriage veil while praying and prophesying.

 

Why did this matter, though? Because Roman law and custom required respectable women to cover their heads during pagan religious activities. And even though wives didn’t have to cover their heads at home, having public gatherings in one’s home was considered an extension of a public setting, so wives would have been required to wear their marriage veil during such events.  This gives credence to the idea that ‘messengers’ were sent out to spy on the activities of these new believers at their gatherings and they could have reported back to the men elected to supervise women’s dress codes in Corinth that married women were inappropriately attired while engaging in religious activity. In any case, their deliberate removal of their veils would have sent a signal that they were identifying themselves as ‘new’ wives who had a reputation for behaving loosely at other gatherings that were often held in private homes.12Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.91

 

To summarize, we now know that these ‘new’ wives were much more active in social settings than modest wives of the time.  They also ignored social and cultural norms of what the modest wife should look like and instead dressed and acted more like prostitutes.  They were neglecting their responsibilities as wives to their homes and families.  Some of them even went to extreme measures to ensure they would not have children including severe forms of birth control and even abortions.13Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.109  Paul’s concern about women keeping their heads covered had little to do with religion and everything to do with acceptable Roman customs of the modest wife.  Today for many of us, head coverings are not an aspect of our culture.  However, wedding rings are very much a part of Western culture.  Instead of a marriage veil being the symbol of married women, today it is the wedding ring.  We’re not saying anyone is wrong for not wearing a wedding ring, but in our society, it is a sure sign of a woman (or man) being married.  What these ‘new’ wives were doing would be the same as a wife today removing her wedding ring, wearing slutty clothes in public, and even making sexual advances on her husband’s friends.  Such behavior is not acceptable today just like what these ‘new’ wives were doing in Roman cities was not acceptable then.  Paul was not enforcing a commandment that all women (past, present, or future) must wear a head covering when they pray or prophesy but upholding Roman laws and customs that are not customs or laws in most Western cultures today.

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References   [ + ]

1. http://amzn.com/0802849717
2. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.21.
3. Crisafulli, “Representations of the Feminine: The Prostitutes in Roman Comedy,” p. 223.
4. Crisafulli, “Representations of the Feminine: The Prostitutes in Roman Comedy,” p. 222-23.
5. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law, p. 154.
6. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.43.
7. Sebesta, “Symbolism in the Costume of the Roman Woman,” p. 48.
8. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.80.
9. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.82-3.
10. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.85.
11. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.89.
12. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.91
13. Bruce W. Winter, Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities, p.109

Posted on August 2, 2015 in Ancient Near East, Answering Tough Questions, But Paul Said, The Torah Today

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About the Author

Chris lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with his wife and daughter. He has a heart for reaching people with the truth about Torah and is dedicated to seeking, teaching and living out the truth of the Word, from Genisis to Revelation. Chris grew up in Church and ran the gambit from Baptist to Non-denominational, but he admittedly was just a "pew warmer." His walk didn't truly start until a close friend asked him a simple, yet profound question. "What is Gods name?"

Responses (15)

  1. Steve Guerra
    August 22, 2015 at 11:57 pm · Reply

    Both men and women cover their heads. All men are priests (Ex 19:6), all men wear migbah on the gabah of our heads (Ex 28:40). Women wear a veil covering the entire top of their heads. Men do not wear veils, women do not wear a migbah (Deut 22:5).
    Both men and women have long hair. Nature, that is, birth (whether male or female), determines how the hair is displayed. Men bind their long hair in a forelock (Num 6:5) Women wear their hair out in long tresses (Song 7:5). For a man to wear his hair out in long tresses, or for a woman to bind her hair in a forelock are sin ( Rom 1:24-27)

    • TorahBabies
      August 24, 2015 at 9:32 am · Reply

      Hi Steve,

      The Torah defines what sin is. Unless you can quote a verse from Torah that states “For a man to wear his hair out in long tresses, or for a woman to bind her hair in a forelock are sin” then we can’t call them a sin. The LETTER that Paul wrote to the believers in Rome is just that, a LETTER. Paul does not have the authority to declare anything a sin. Num 6:5 is speaking about the Nazarite Vow and has little to do with daily life. You also can’t use one verse (Song 7:5) and assume every woman was the same.

      • Steve Guerra
        August 25, 2015 at 6:34 pm · Reply

        Sorry, I made the mistake to assume that a man who adopts a female persona not only dresses in woman’s clothing but also lets his hair down like a woman.
        I know not everyone would take a Nazarite Vow, Num 6 is the only place it describes how men let the upper part of the hair of his head grow out. We know from history that the Indians, Chinese and even the Irish wore their hair like this. A man would bind his hair in a ball on the front of his head so as to look taller and more imposing in the battlefield.

        Please, don’t rely on any image painted by a goy. The goy are ignorant of Torah and Jewish customs. Medieval and renaissance painters never painted Jews with kippahs, tzitzit, tefillin or any other appurtenance a Jew might wear.

  2. Cursing | Torah Babies
    September 29, 2015 at 7:05 pm · Reply

    […] may be asking what this has to do with vulgar language.  In our teaching “Head Coverings and Women in Pauline Communities” I talked about how women covering their heads while praying is not something found in Torah […]

  3. RICO
    November 4, 2015 at 11:34 am · Reply

    Shalom Brother
    Thanks for the article and I am glad that you enjoyed the books on this subject and great job on this article it was very informative. I am also very proud of the work you are doing and it is a pleasure to work together with you brother for the kingdom of Yah. let me know what other topics that interest you.
    Shalom my brother

  4. shannon nase
    November 4, 2015 at 7:05 pm · Reply

    The 1Corinthians 11 quote is a bit deeper!The head of man is Christ.The head of woman is man.The woman must cover her head(her husband,man)meaning do not expose his wrong doing making him naked!The man is not to cover his head(Christ)Because Christ is the guilt offering!BY the husband blaming his wife as ADAM did when he blamed EVE he has covered his head (Christ,the guilt offering and scapegoat!!!)So while man wants to focus on the womans misbehavior the BIBLE is referring to MANS(ADAMS)MISBEHAVIOR!Christ said to eat his flesh not the wife and not husband consume and devour Christ as the guilty ONE everyone else should be covered and found not guilty in order to also be found not guilty!

  5. shannon nase
    November 4, 2015 at 7:10 pm · Reply

    Eve covered her head in the Garden(Adam)by girding her waist with truth and blaming the principality and power the Word says is the enemy!But since the Word says we are not fighting flesh and blood Adam becomes a lier by blaming Eve,his flesh and blood!HE COVERED HIS HEAD!!!

  6. tinahb01
    November 5, 2015 at 8:51 am · Reply

    Thank you so much for the information on this much debated issue in our community. I wanted to respond to your article from the vantage point of a woman who does wear her head covered. Now, I do not do it all the time, but often. I wear one when I minister, teach, or when I am doing any form of service for YHVH. It is something that the Father asked me to do. Knowing that there is not one single commandment in Torah that says I have to do this, I still do it because it became Torah for me when the Father asked me to. I believe it is a personal thing between a woman and her God and her husband. Both of which, in my case, have asked me to do so. For me not to do it would be disobedience to both of them.
    I can say that when I am ministering in a public setting it is far easier to manage with wearing it than not wearing it. I would rather not offend those who strongly believe that a woman must be covered. Those that do not have a preference do not tend to be bothered one way or another if I am or am not covered. So, in order to protect the ministry Yah has given me I prefer to walk in love and respect with those whose beliefs need protected, if that makes sense. What is being brought forth is far more valuable than my appearance or the need to be free from something that could appear legalistic.
    As a woman who is called upon to minister in an arena that includes men it makes me have to walk the line that much more diligently since some men are totally opposed to a woman teaching, preaching, ministering and heaven forbid prophesying. The covering shows I am under the authority of my husband and God. To the one who struggles with me being up there before men it shows I am submitted to a higher authority. To those who don’t care it is not an issue or they just believe me to be adhering to the customs of my Jewish culture. There are some that take it as me being bound to the law or ultra legalistic, but that is their issue not mine.
    Paul’s teaching are almost always targeted to a specific group of people dealing with very specific issues. Unfortunately too many have taken them as overarching and all encompassing and they make new laws from it. So it is great to see some teachings that pinpoint the issues at hand that Paul was dealing with. Thanks again, I will be keeping this article to share with others.

    • shannon nase
      January 9, 2016 at 6:40 pm · Reply

      Just wanted to comment on the true meaning of women covering their head!I believe in 1st Cor. 11 The head of man is Christ and the head of woman is man!A woman is to COVER(LOVE)her head(MAN) by laying her life down for Man(human /serpent)!The man is NOT to COVER his head,(Christ) by blaming his wife like Adam did,he is COVERING, his head,(Christ) but Christ was the guilt offering so CHRIST is to be found guilty,not woman,EVE! THIS IS SPIRITUAL COVERING OF HEAD!THIS WAS INTERPRETED IN A PHYSICAL MANNER AND INCORRECT!

      • Tinah Brown
        January 12, 2016 at 8:01 am · Reply

        Shannon, I can appreciate that you feel some sort of a need to correct what you perceive as an incorrect application of doctrine in my life, but I am going to continue to walk in the instruction given to me by God. I hope you realize that I am not now nor have I every suggested that any other woman HAS to wear a headcovering. I am saying, as I said above, that I wear one because God told me to. I am going to obey Him regardless of how anyone else feels about it. Furthermore, the New Testament has absolutely zero authority to establish new laws or do away with any of the existing laws. Paul was never granted authority to undo Torah. Yeshua himself did not come to undo Torah. Thus, if a headcovering was a law given to us as women in Torah, which we know it was not, then the New Testament would never be able to undo that. If headcoverings were a law given in Torah then Yeshua would not have come to undo that either since he said, “I did not come to do away with Torah, but to fulfill it.” Just to clear that up, “fulfill” cannot mean “do away with”. So, there we have it, absolutely zero commandments were done away with by the coming of Yeshua. Therefore, they all stand as originally given. God did say they were ALL FOREVER and forever does mean……forever. If God’s forever changed then the salvation everyone is counting on through Yeshua that he says is forever, well that forever could change too. I believe that what God says He means. So, as I said above, when God gives me an instruction I do everything I can to obey it. So, I do not believe my obedience to a God given instruction can ever be incorrect.

        • shannon nase
          January 15, 2016 at 11:25 pm · Reply

          Apparently not one person understands what fulfill means!It means complete,meaning nothing left to do!Yeshua is Torah and his command was to LOVE!Over and over he clarifies his command,the fathers command is to LOVE! If you believe God said cover your head,thats your business!However there is major confusion because the SERPENT (MAN) GAVE HIS TESTIMONY FIRST and all people stuck in the first 5 books dont get the Word was distorted and misinterpreted by MAN!BUT ALL shall be revealed in time but sadly only the FLOCK will hear is voice!This is the problem!!The flock are not the only ones listening and Testifying to Gods WORD,the natural or fleshly are also quoting and Testifying to Gods WORD and saying he spoke to them only the Voice they heard was HASATAN because only the FLOCK can hear the true GODS VOICE!!!!!!!YESHUA came to set the record straight! He clearly put many in their places for finding faults and accusing OTHERS but this is common practice with those who claim to keep TORAH!YOU REFUSE TO CLOTHE THE NAKED AND YOU EAT(CONSUME AND DEVOUR)MEAT(HUMANS)OFERRED TO IDOLS(THOSE WHO OPERATE IN HATE BY NOT COVERING)!YESHUA ASKS US TO SACRIFICE OURSELVES AND COVER OTHERS AND THATS WHAT HE DID AND THAT IS LOVE!THE WORLD REFUSES AND SO DO THOSE WHO INSIST ON WRITTEN TORAH INSTEAD OF LIVING TORAH!

  7. ALDA
    March 28, 2016 at 5:13 pm · Reply

    Thank you for this information, it has been very useful, the Everlasting Father bless you. What about 1 Peter 2:5–9 that states that we have become cohanim? I have been told since we are now cohens we have to cover our heads (men and women), that plus the verse in 1 Corinthians 11. Thank you very much.

  8. Teresa
    April 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm · Reply

    I believe that I may have discovered the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:10. (Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.) This book is a letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to answer questions that they had asked him. Obviously, one of those questions was about women praying and prophesying. Please look up sheliach tzibbur. If these people were meeting in a synagogue in Corinth, there would have been a person at the synagogue called the sheliach tzibbur. (lit. “emmisary of the congregation”); one who leads the congregation in prayer. There were Roman and Jewish laws governing married women and headcoverings. An “emmisary of the congregation” could also be called a “messenger” and possibly an “angel”. So, could this scripture be referring to the sheliach tzibbur?

  9. Sandy Lacey
    July 4, 2016 at 6:19 am · Reply

    I find Torah actually sets us free……thank you Deb for your post. Blessings.

  10. Henaynei
    February 4, 2017 at 10:24 am · Reply

    Numbers 5
    18 And the priest shall set the woman before the L-rd, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:

    I agree, the covering of a married woman’s is not specifically set out as a Command. However the above instruction from G-d in Torah DOES specifically show that the hair of a married woman was expected to be covered.

    For me that is enough to convince me and I cover my head completely when going to be in the presence of anyone other than my husband.

    I never have and likely never will insist that another follow the Instructions of HaShem in the way I understand is correct. But neither do I ascribe to the view that Truth is relative to the individual.

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