Hair, Veils, and Authority

Veiling and headship.

This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.

The ancient meaning of the word kephalē, literally ‘head’ in our English Bibles, connoted preeminence, priority, exaltedness, elevation, firstness, until the 4th century when the word began to connote leadership. The connotation of ‘head’ referred to one’s status, not one’s authority. As we will see below, this is shown when it refers to higher status individuals who are not rulers.

With this in mind, I was interested to read “Hair and Veils” by Catacomb Resident on 1 Corinthians 11. Catacomb Resident is part of Radix Fidem, a movement that I both like—for its ability to get back to the original cultural context of the Bible—and dislike—ironically, for its tendency to import heretical foreign traditions. Catacomb begins by describing this cultural context:

“[I]t was established custom across the Levant that women who were married wore some kind of covering on their heads in public. The only females who went uncovered were not yet married. The scarf/veil/whatever was simply a marker that she was taken. Grab her and you could die. Grab an unmarried girl and you would be forced to marry her, and her family would watch closely to make sure you treated her well. Every Semitic nation (there were many) understood that from ancient times.”

This was the purpose of veiling in that culture, and it was widely practiced. This is also why, in “Christian Discernment“, I pointed out that the cultural practice of veiling for modesty is foreign to modern society. But there is more to veiling in Christianity than a simple marker of being claimed by a man. CR continues:

“In our fallen state, we cannot appear before God without a covering for the sake of our sinful nature. The imagery is broadly understood across the Ancient Near East, though there were specific variations. The basic principle is that only highest ranking servants could turn their face toward the ruler; everyone else must be modest. There were various means of showing this; most common was turning the face and eyes downward, putting hands or veil across the face, etc. This was the default until the ruler declared one elevated enough to see God.”

Notice the language he is using to describe this. Only those with highest ranking—referring to exaltedness and elevation—could address the ruler, while modesty was required for everyone else. This precisely carries the sense of what biblical headship means. The servants themselves are not rulers, but they are of higher status in the eyes of the ruler. CR continues:

“Moses was warned he could not see God or his fleshly nature would die. Divine glory is beyond what fallen flesh can bear. Feudal status is everything in this imagery.”

Status. Status is everything when it comes to headship.

“The angels are described as covering themselves in the Presence of God because they are under an intervening authority, same as women.”

In modern parlance, there is a chain-of-command that must be respected. The English usage implies a leadership hierarchy, but notice that, in the examples CR uses, authority appears to confer status, but status does not by itself imply authority, as in the case of the servant or angels. The head is the preeminent, exalted one. Under him are people of various priorities or ranks and within those ranks people can be elevated or demoted as the head sees fit, because that ruler is first and there is none higher than him.

So when we read…

“For a man indeed has an obligation not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man.”

…we rightfully view this as showing the difference between high and low ranking servants. The wife is not the head—highest rank; preeminent—over her husband, and so she would turn her head aside in the presence of the Fuedal Lord. Her husband, presuming his rank or preeminence was high enough, would not. Were she free and unmarried, she could potentially approach the Lord uncovered, again presuming her rank or preeminence was high enough.


  1. Liz

    I’m finding this discussion between you and Sharkly very interesting and informative (I’m not knowledgable enough to weigh in, but the analysis of text, language, and context is fascinating).
    Thank you both.

      1. Derek L. Ramsey


        Catacomb Resident is clearly in the “headship=authority” camp, but when describing the Ancient Near East, he uses the language of status. CR knows that under the motif of the Feudal Lord, authority is based on status, not the other way around. Yet when it comes to the Bible, he interprets it from the 4th century framework:

        ” It’s a mysterious thing to explain, but not to obey, rather like the prohibition against consuming blood. God places men directly under Christ, but He made women to be under male authority. No further explanation is coming. “

        It’s very hard to break historical anachronisms once they become established.

        When Paul (of Ephesians 5) and Peter (of 1 Peter) wrote about women, the church had wealthy Roman women and poor men worshiping in the same house churches, sometimes owned by those aforementioned women. Status in the Ancient Near East and in the Roman era was far more complicated than strict sex differences. It included marital status, social status, wealth, birth order, which generation you were in, etc. After all, Christian Roman women owned male slaves.

        Sharkly states that the government (and women) have taken away his authority, but if headship=authority, then who gives or takes authority tells you who his Feudal Lord is. If headship=status, then ones authority can be taken away, but it has no bearing on who his Feudal lord is.


  2. I haven’t read too much of the stuff at “Radix Fidem”, but I was left unimpressed by how they seemingly arrive at their teachings. They seem a bit like Mystics yet seem to claim “special knowledge” like Gnostics. And their special knowledge about Ancient Near Eastern stuff and Jewish traditions allows them to make up Just-so-stories about how things used to be in ancient times that are then given precedence over the literal meaning of inspired Bible texts. (private interpretations)

    My oldest sister was once in a cult led by Rabbi Michael Washer who also claimed that his Jewish knowledge gave him greater insight into the Bible that then allowed him to tell you what it really meant.

    I’m not saying that a blind squirrel never finds a nut, but basically, you’re delegating your spiritual discernment to some dude just because he claims to be in tune with the ancient Levant, as if he had lived there back then.

    It reminds me of the bogus stories pastors often share regarding sheep to draw their points out of the biblical shepherding analogies. If you’ve ever worked with sheep, you know some of their stories are pure fabrications. Or the stupid story about boiling a frog, that pastors share. You can’t really boil a live frog without the frog trying to escape.

    Kind of like the stories people tell about how in the controversial parts of Paul’s letters to the churches there was always some unwritten backstory (which they happen to know) that was being addressed which make Paul’s inspired words not apply to us the same today. ‘Cuz muh backstory! Some people seem to view God, who inspired the Bible texts, as not living outside of right when and where each was written.

    1. Ram-Man

      The opposite is true and much more prevalent and pernicious: taking your own cultural biases and reading it back into the text. This is very difficult to detect, because there isn’t a formula—like in story telling—that can clue you off. In fact, you often need the very things that you discuss—historical cultural information—to detect your errors.

      Take Peter’s confession where Jesus says “…the gates of hell will not stand against you…” and he’s literally standing at the foot of Mount Hermon where there was a temple to Pan near the caves at its base, allegedly called the gates of hades. You can go visit them.

      Or take Jesus talking about Gehenna, called Hell in English. You can go visit Gehenna too.

      Or how about the “eye of the camel”, which turns out was not a narrow gate in the city.

      You win some, you lose some.

      1. Growing up I recall hearing both of the last two bits of “historical cultural information” that you just mentioned at mainstream protestant churches. I didn’t have to join a special group to hear such things. And I don’t think that the bit about “allegedly called the gates of hades” has too much impact on me since most Protestants don’t use Mathew 16:18 to the extent that Catholics use it.

        They’d need to come up with far more stuff than that to merit forming their own group.

        1. Derek L. Ramsey


          If Satan is hyperfocused on corrupting a particular verse—like Matthew 16:18—then I like to see what is so dangerous about it.

          Immediately after that statement with Peter, Jesus predicts his death, announces that some of his disciples will be alive when he returns in 70AD, and six days later is transfigured on the mount above the Gates of Hell.

          Given the spiritual significance of the Gates of Hell as a place, the Gates of Hell as a spiritual concept, and the body of Christ as the rock or foundation of his church, minimizing the “Gates of Hell” pun only serves to confuse the work of Christ.

          And it also twists away from Christians being told to bind the wounds and loose the captives.

          And it also twists away from the fact that Peter was the last disciple (other than Judas, of course) to confess Christ, and that upon his confession, only then was Jesus ready for his transfiguration and then to go to the cross in short order. Peter’s confession was essentially the graduation ceremony for the eleven disciples. It marked the beginning of the end of Christ’s earthly ministry.


  3. Pingback: Sharkly on Women, Part 3

  4. “… Jesus predicts his death, announces that some of his disciples will be alive when he returns in 70AD, and six days later is transfigured on the mount above the Gates of Hell.

    I’m not sure if I’ve heard that timeline spelled out, quite like that. Do you care to explain that in more detail, or link to somewhere that does?

    1. Derek L. Ramsey

      I have a multi-part draft in progress on the Olivet Discourse and I would like to have it published by this week or next week, but it requires a lot of preparation, drafting, and writing, so it might be delayed for much longer. The only thing I have public is this comment thread, which will probably clarify a few things. So I’ll try to explain this as succinctly as I can.

      (1) Matthew 16:13: Jesus went to the town of Caesarea Philipi, at the foot of Mount Hermon.

      (2) Matthew 16:14-20: Peter confesses Jesus at the foot of Mount Hermon in front of the literal Gates of Hell. Peter’s Profession of faith, along with the feeding of the 5,000, is only one of two events in the main ministry of Jesus that all four gospels attest to. Notably the two events bookend the important narrative that led to (and explains) the confession, as Peter was the last of the disciples to confess.

      (3) Matthew 16:18-19: The “Rock” Jesus speaks of is a robust multi-layered pun, involving Peters’s name, the Gates of Hell (both the literal cave of Pan at the base of Mount Hermon and the figurative power of death), the Word of God as the rock foundation of the church, and Christ himself as the cornerstone of the church. I could write a separate article (or series) on each one of these. This may be the most theologically dense verse in the entire Bible, which is why the Roman corruption is so significant. Even the binding and loosing is a play-on-words, alluding to both the Old Testament and the rabbinic practice.

      (4) Matthew 16:21-23: Jesus fortells his death and resurrection for the first time.

      (5) Matthew 16:28: Jesus says that some will not see death until Jesus comes into his kingdom.

      (6) Matthew 17:1-8: Six days later, they go into the unnamed mountain, presumably Hermon, where the Transfiguration takes place and Jesus is fully revealed for who he is.

      (7) Matthew 17:22-23 Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a second time.

      (8) Matthew 17:22: The disciples go to Galilee

      (9) Matthew 17:24: The disciples go to Capernaum (in Galiliee).

      (10) Matthew 19:1: They depart Galiliee and go to Judea beyond the Jordan

      (11) Matthew 20:17-19: Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a third time as they are going uphill towards Jerusalem.

      (12) Matthew 21: The triumphal entry begins the passion narrative

      (13) Matthew 23:37-34:51: Jesus gives the Olivet Discourse where he promises that the temple would be destroyed and he would return to setup his kingdom, all within the one generation of the hearers.

      (14) Last Supper, Arrest, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension. Jesus goes to Sheol upon his death and to heaven upon his Ascension. He had to leave before he could return to come into his kingdom, but he had to first go away—ascend—to prepare that place for those who he left behind (see: John 14:3).

      (15) Pentecost. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to the church and the apostolic era begins. Christianity spreads.

      (16) 34AD-70AD: The events of the Olivet Discourse take place culminating in the destruction of the temple in 70AD, finally striking down the Old Covenant and replacing it with the New. On that date or some time shortly thereafter, Jesus returns to collect the dead saints and now establishing his kingdom in heaven (the chronologically first of the multiple kingdoms spoken of in the book of Daniel, the second being the earthly kingdom of Roman Catholicism, and the third of Christ’s reign on earth).

      (17) 70AD: Revelation—arguably the final canonical book of scripture—must have been written between 54AD and 68AD to coincide with Nero’s reign. The disciple who Jesus loved (traditionally John, but possibly Lazarus) was still alive at this point. Some believe he was taken by Christ at this point. This may also signal the end of the apostolic era.

      From the Feeding of the 5,000 just prior to Passover until Jesus’ final Passover, a full year elapsed. Towards the end of this, after Peter’s confession, Jesus’ ministry switched into a different focus and rapidly culminated in Jesus going to Jerusalem for that final Passover.

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