If you haven’t yet, read the first post in the series:
Let’s wrestle with Question One: Is the head covering a physical thing or a metaphor?
An important question: Paul is either speaking of a physical item of clothing or he’s speaking symbolically or metaphorically.
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. – 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 NASB
Did you pay attention to something he said?
“Every man who has something on his head …”
Of course, we can’t focus on the English word here because the original text was written in Greek but the sentence does make it difficult to assume it’s a metaphor. The words used are specific.
“Every man who has — something — on his head — …”
I think of the many other ways this could have been written if the head covering weren’t physical. Here are some examples:
- Every man who takes cover
- Every man who is hidden
- Every man who is protected
- Every man who is concealed
- Every man who has something on him
Why the specificity of the “something” on the “head”? The way I see it, this “something” is very much a physical object that is only used on the head. It cannot be a metaphor for two reasons:
- Paul likens a woman who does not cover her head to one whose head is shaven. If the head covering were a metaphor, why is he so strict on it being applied exactly as he states it?Metaphors are comparisons we make between two objects or phrases that may share one or few characteristics but not all.If we run our test on general metaphors, their limitations become evident. The snow was a white blanket.
We read that and we can understand how the snow can be seen as a white blanket while not actually being one but we would never try to convince someone that we were so cold, we went and hid under some snow.b. His heart was a cold iron.
Heartlessness and harshness are often symbolised by the cold and steel but no doctor would be silly enough to think a man replaced his heart with a cold iron and lives on.If you apply the test to the head covering, no matter what you apply to it, its physicality remains viable.
- Paul uses the head covering to symbolise something else. Verse 10 says,
Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head… – 1 Corinthians 11:10a NASB
Therein lies our metaphor. The head covering, which is very much a physical object, acts as a symbol of authority, the metaphor.