Veiling Our Virgins

“So now I see that the head covering does apply to us today. But shouldn’t a woman wear the head covering once she is married, and then only during times of prayer and prophecy, as Paul mentions?”

The words “man” and “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11 have been translated “husband” and “wife” in many modern translations. The reliable King James Version takes no such liberties to change the words to what they want them to say. And one quick look at context will show which words are the ones intended. That means that if limiting the words to husband and wife is a legitimate understanding of the passage, plugging those terms in would make sense. Let’s try that in verse 12:

“For as the [wife] is of the [husband], even so is the [husband] also by the [wife]; but all things of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:12)

“By” here is refering to being “born of.” That doesn’t make sense at all – the husband was not born of his wife, or she would be his mother! Clearly Paul is not talking in terms of marriage here. He is talking about general headship of men over women.

From what history can tell us, the Corinthians understood Paul to be referring to unmarried women as well as married. This would make sense because the virgin Daughter of Babylon mentioned in Isaiah 47 was unmarried, yet she wore a head covering. It would be more consistent with the rest of Scripture for them to do so.

So to did the Corinthians understand him [Paul] that unmarried girls as well as married women should be veiled. In fact, at this day [the time of this writing] the Corinthians do veil their virgins…I will show in Latin also that it behoves our virgins to be veiled from the time that they have passed the turning point of their age…”[1]

The only manuscript we have of the early Church that really takes the time to talk much on the head covering is the work of Tertullian, which I quoted earlier, called “On the Veiling of Virgins.” In it, Tertullian makes the case for veiling unmarried women as well as married. There was a debate surrounding this question in his time, and he strongly argued for the head covering of the unmarried women as well as the married women.

“I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin-daughter — let me address you according to the names proper to your years — veil your head: if a mother, for your sons’ sakes; if a sister, for your brethren’s sakes; if a daughter for your fathers’ sakes. All ages are perilled in your person. Put on the panoply of modesty; surround yourself with the stockade of bashfulness; rear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow your own eyes egress nor ingress to other people’s. Wear the full garb of woman, to preserve the standing of virgin…Walk in accordance with the will of your Espoused. Christ is He who bids the espoused and wives of others veil themselves; (and,) of course, much more His own.”[2]

“So unmarried women should cover too. But should younger girls cover their heads even if they have not passed the turning point of their age, as Tertullian says?”

   There are two main reasons why I believe that younger girls should wear the head covering as well as older girls. The first is that we learned how the head covering is a matter of authority. Now, are daughters only under the authority of their fathers once they are mature in their womanhood? I don’t think so. From the minute a girl is born into her family, she is now subject to the decisions, influence and instructions of her father. He is the one who is in authority over her, and she is under that authority even as a small child. She is obligated to obedience and submission as his daughter under his head, regardless of her age until she is married and the headship has been transferred.

The second reason is chiefly for proper training. Implementing practices of proper dress while children are still young makes later transitions unnecessary. As parents, want to do that with other matters that we want to ingrain as important into the lives of our children. That is why we do not dress our younger daughters in miniskirts and shirts with plunging necklines (at least, I hope we don’t!). Though their bodies are not developed, it still sends out the wrong message. We do not want them to get comfortable in such clothing and then have to explain to them why it is wrong later on. We, as women, should prepare to start having our girls practice principles of modesty in their dress as soon as we can in congruence with principles of authority, in my opinion.

[1] Quintus Tertullian, “Truth Rather to be Appealed to Rather Than Custom, and Truth Progressive in Its Developments” in On the Veiling of Virgins, trans. Rev. S. Thelwall

[2] Ibid.

Continue on to When do We Cover?…

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