If Paul appeals to the Creation Order, why didn’t Eve wear a Head Covering?
In 1 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul grounds his argument for head covering in the pre-fall creation order. This is one of the strongest arguments for why veiling is not a cultural practice but rather is something that is to be upheld by all Christians. In making a distinction between the principle (biblical manhood and womanhood) and the symbol (head covering), some hold that only the principle needs modern affirmation. The symbol is seen as a cultural practice that pointed to proper gender roles in the first century, but that has no meaning today. Many complementarian theologians arrive at this conclusion because of a wrong expectation of continuity in practice. Meaning if the veil was truly grounded in the creation order, then not only would Eve have worn it before the fall, but also every godly woman throughout biblical history.
Head covering is not a practice that was required under the Old Covenant (though many women did cover throughout this time). It is only a requirement for those under the New Covenant (like us). So let’s first state up front that I agree that head covering was not supposed to be practiced in continuity from Eve onward. But that does not deal a death blow to the creation order argument. My position is that God has taken something common (a covering) and has infused it with creation order meaning. So he has set up a brand new symbol which he designed and gave meaning to, and then had His apostles deliver it to the churches for them to practice. This is not an anomaly as God has always been about creating symbols to visually teach different truths. Many of these symbols (like head covering) were only to be practiced under one covenant. For example, the sacrifices and the feasts (Col 2:16-17) were only to be practiced under the Old Covenant whereas Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are only for the new covenant.
Now complementarians take it seriously when the creation order is appealed to. They reject the idea that gender specific roles (like male only eldership) are cultural because Paul appeals to the creation order as his reason for the rule. To get around the inconsistent application of holding to male eldership only, while disregarding head covering, some theologians such as Dr. Benjamin Merkle have argued that they are not similar appeals. You can read my response to his specific arguments here but for now I just want you to see these passages side-by-side.
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. (1 Tim 2:13-14 NASB)
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head… (1 Cor 11:7-10a NASB)
I’d like to show you why I see these two passages as delivering a similar appeal and why we must be consistent in applying them (affirming both for today). So in 1 Timothy 2:13, Paul appeals to the creation order as an argument for why women cannot teach or exercise authority in the assembly. But notice how he’s not speaking of continuity here either. He’s speaking of an office (elder) and function (preaching the word) that did not exist in Genesis. Yet he still appeals to it. What he’s doing is saying that women preaching or teaching would be in violation of the principles laid out in the creation order. He’s not appealing to Genesis to show an unbroken chain of women not being elders (for the office was new) but rather, it’s the creation principles finding expression in this new office.
I think it’s the very same with head covering. Head covering is a brand new symbol, which was not commanded in Genesis. It teaches men and angels biblical manhood and womanhood and therefore if disregarded, would visually teach a distortion of the creation order. So it’s not that Paul is saying that there’s an unbroken chain of veiling from Genesis to today, rather it is that this symbol is the carrier of those beautiful truths taught to us in Genesis. The New Testament practice of head covering is based on Creation principles, not Creation practices just like Paul’s gender requirements for church leadership.
Though there certainly are cultural practices in the Bible, we cannot say something is cultural just because it’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Since the Apostle Paul himself explains his reasoning for this practice and his reasons are not based on culture, we must see it as a Christian symbol that should be embraced by believers today.
For more about how head covering relates to Creation, see Chapter 3 in Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times.