Yes, the two are connected, as one quickly learns from Paul’s exhortation on the veiling of women in 1 Corinthians 11. The issue pops up via Britney Spear’s recent escapades regarding her own hair.
The Bayly Brothers Blog takes note of Britney Spears’ shaving her head, as reported at the BBC news site. In that story, the reporter asks “So why is hair – particularly long hair – viewed as such a defining part of a woman and inextricably linked to femininity?”
In this question, Pr. Bayly sees an opportunity for evangelism, and cites Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. And in the comments to their blog, a fellow named Kevin asks:
Can anyone explain to me what verse 10 means? I find this entire passage confusing (the wording is clear, the rationale not quite so clear), however, verse 10 seems to pop up out of no where.
So you don’t have to look it up, verse 10 is where Paul says a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head “because of the angels.” Kevin is asking what the angels have to do with anything in this passage. Here’s my answer:
The Larger Context of the Veil
Verse 10 doesn’t make much sense, nor any other isolated verse in this passage, unless it’s taken all together. The overall context for these verses is the same as for the entire section of the first Corinthian epistle beginning at chapter 11 and running through chapter 14 – viz. the parish assembled for worship.
Previously, it is been various problems/issues/questions dealing with life among the body generally. Chapter 11 begins a section of the epistle dealing with disorders during the assembly for worship. Chapter 11 itself treats two disorders of deportment: the veil and disorder at the Eucharist.
Glory and Shame, Worship and Culture
Within vv. 2-16, Paul treats “glory” and “shame” as they apply to the traditions Paul has delivered to the Corinthians concerning their worship, particularly the veil. It’s not just that the women were ignoring to veil during worship, their doing so was particularly shameful in that context.
Some think that the women were throwing off local Greco-Roman proprieties, but this is not true. A wealth of literary, statuary, numismatic, and visual representations (frescos and other paintings in homes, temples, and the public square) demonstrate that a covering on women was not an expectation of women generally in Greco-Roman culture.
On the other hand, it was an expectation of women in Oriental culture, including the Jews, whose women were recognizable in North Africa in the second century because of their veiling in public.
The point: When Paul delivered the custom to the Corinthians, and to the rest of the Churches (vs. 16), he was introducing a practice that was counter-cultural to Greco-Roman practices. The Corinthian women were not throwing off their own culture, they were following it in opposition to what Paul had taught them to do during worship.
Why did Paul prescribe the veil?
Reason No. One arises from the purpose of the assembly, namely to give glory to God. In that context, the humans are not only giving glory, they are someone else’s glory. Man is God’s glory, woman is man’s glory, and (this is key to avoid confusion), the woman’s long hair is her glory. In the assembly there are three glories present: God’s, man’s, and the woman’s.
But, if the purpose of the assembly is to give glory only to God, then God’s glory should be unveiled, and others’ glory should be veiled. The veil on the woman’s head covers two glories. She veils herself (because she is man’s glory), and simultaneously it veils her long hair (because it is her own glory). The man remains unveiled, because he alone is God’s glory, and so it is appropriate for him to remain unveiled.
But, humans are not the only ones present when assembly is gathered for worship, and that brings us to reason No. Two: also present are angels, probably great numbers of them if we are to take our cue from those places in Scripture which describe their multitude in these kinds of settings. And, while they are unseen by the human worshipers, they nevertheless are part of the assembly and they participate in its purpose.
“Because of the angels” points back, at a minimum, to what Isaiah saw in the Temple and described in Isaiah 6. Like Elisha’s servant on the mountain, Isaiah’s capacity for visual perception was so altered that he saw what was objectively there, but ordinarily obscured from human sight. Similarly, when we worship in our assemblies, angels assemble along with us.
At the end of the preface to the Prayer of Consecration in the Anglican Eucharist, the priest acknowledges the presence of the angels in the assembly. At this point in the liturgy, the priest sings “Thus with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name, evermore praising Thee and singing …” at which point the congregation joins him to sing the Sanctus et Benedictus:
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and earth are fully of Thy glory
Glory be to Thee O Lord Most High
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest!
And, so, to herald their Lord at the beginning of the Eucharist, the saints sing the song of the Seraphim, and the portion of Psalm 118 that greeted their Lord as He entered Jerusalem as the Son of David. They are songs that have been heard by the Lord for centuries, sung to him on earth and in heaven, and in heaven by angels long before they were sung by the sons of men in His earthly dwelling places.
And so, it is “meet and right,” as the old Anglicans would put it, for the women to have a mark of authority on her head, because of the angels, creatures whose worship we join, singing along with them in our worship, whose angelic sensibilities of propriety and rank are shocked in a worship service where any glory but God’s is improperly on display.
A couple of things in this passage are clearly matters about which Paul was not addressing himself directly. He did not write this passage to explain what bearing the angels have on the matter of veiling women in worship. For that matter, he did not write the passage in order to expound the meaning of “man, the glory of God,” or “woman, the glory of man.” Angels, man as God’s glory, woman as man’s glory, long hair as the woman’s glory – none of these are the subject of Paul’s exposition. Instead, he brings these concepts into the discussion, which is – to put it as simply as possible – to urge the Corinthian women to veil during worship.
Most teachers in the Church for the past 2000 years point back to Isaiah 6 primarily to validate the idea that the angels are present with men during God’s worship. Many commentators think that Paul also mentions the angels because they are marked by an almost militaristic ordering by rank and hierarchy. This was certainly a familiar idea in the popular angelology of that period of the Jews, and Paul himself seems to endorse this idea in principle by his mentioning of “principalities and powers” six different places in his epistles, including the mention of “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” in Col. 1:16. “Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers” are categories of angelic ranks and hierarchies.
The point: the honoring of rank is a Big Deal Indeed among angels. If, therefore, they are present in our worship, it scandalizes them when man’s glory is displayed unveiled in an assembly where it is the assembly’s purpose to give glory to God.