Why Head Coverings? Reason #2: Angels
Many people automatically assume that the practice of head covering was intended for only the Corinthian’s local culture and time period. But when Paul says that a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head “because of the angels,” he adds yet another solid indication that the practice is intended for the Church as a whole, irrespective of local culture or time period.
When it comes to verses that Christians admit they don’t understand, 1 Corinthians 11:10 tops most of our lists.
Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Cor 11:10 NASB)
The Apostle Paul just told us that we’re to practice head coverings because of the angels. So no matter what this verse means in its fullness, what we know we have is one of Paul’s reasons. This point can’t be stressed highly enough. We don’t seek to understand what this verse means and if we do “get it,” it will become a reason. Rather, because it is a reason we therefore seek to understand it. The difficulty to us is that Paul says this in passing without explaining what he meant. A likely reason for this is that the church in Corinth understood what Paul meant, therefore an explanation would be unnecessary. In his letter to the Thessalonians, he said that he had explained details about Christ’s Second Coming to them when he was with them (2 Thess 2:5). This, too, may be one of those doctrines that was articulated while in their presence.
Since this is a very short and vague verse, there’s no way we can know with absolute certainty what it means. However, there are many Scriptures about angels that I believe shed light on this passage. Through examining them we’re going to end up with two possible conclusions to explain this verse. Both conclusions could be right as they don’t contradict each other, but it may be only one that Paul had meant.
For Their Benefit
The purpose for head coverings is to provide a visual symbol to the gathered church. If angels are a reason why we obey this command, it presupposes that they must be watching us worship. Nothing else would make sense. So, one understanding of why we practice head coverings is so that we may rightly symbolize the created order to all present; both visible and invisible.
so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:10 ESV)
These rulers and authorities are the angels of God (Col 1:16, 1 Pet 3:22). We see from this passage that what our Lord is doing through the church, shows to them how incredibly wise He is. Peter describes the angels as “longing to look” into what God is doing (1 Pet 1:12). They’re captivated by what God is doing and want to see more of it. I believe this is a desire that God would take pleasure in fulfilling. Allowing them to watch us worship could be one way of fulfilling that desire.
I love thinking about what the angels must be thinking, since they have such a unique perspective. The angels were the very first of God’s creation. We know they’ve seen all of history unfold as God told Job that the angels rejoiced watching Him make the world (Job 38:4-7).
They’ve spent their entire lives in the presence of a Holy and perfect God. They watched Him create a perfect world where there was no sin, death or suffering. Those concepts were unknown to them. Then one of their own, Satan, sins. God puts him and the angels who follow him out of His presence forever (Jude 6). No opportunities for repentance and no one to intercede of their behalf. The angels know that sin has a high cost.
Then as a repeat, the first couple God created also sins. However, there’s a twist in this storyline. God kills an animal in their place and promises them a redeemer. He then sets apart a group of these sinful humans to display His love and affection on. It culminates in God Himself entering the world in human flesh. He lives a perfect life and then lays it down as an unblemished sacrifice. The Father slaughters Him, the Lamb of God, so that ill-deserving children of the devil can be totally forgiven and adopted into His family. What a story! No wonder the angels long to look into this.
So now put yourself in their shoes as they watch the gathered people of God worship.
They see enemies of God now worshiping because they’re forgiven and redeemed. They see Jews and Gentiles worshiping together as members of one another in unity. They see males and females worshiping together as equals. On top of all that through head coverings our women show all present that their position as a woman is also redeemed. No longer are they at war usurping and longing for the man’s position of authority (Gen 3:16). Instead they’re content in the role God ordained for them in Genesis 2.
The men likewise through their bare heads communicate that they will exercise authority in their respective roles. However, no longer will it be through domineering (Gen 3:16) or being passive like the first Adam. Their position as a man is also redeemed.
The angels with their jaws dropped must cry out as they watch this, “behold the manifold wisdom of God!”
Let’s not forget that as sinless beings they would be much more sensitive to sin. If we’re dishonorable & disgraceful from a human perspective (1 Cor 11:4-6), how must we look to angels if we disobey this command? If we don’t pray and prophesy as God said to, the only thing we may be symbolizing to them is the role distortion of Genesis 3!
For Our Benefit
Until now we’ve only looked at head coverings being a symbol for the angels’ benefit. That is to show them a picture of the created order from Genesis. However, it’s just as probable that this reason is for our benefit. The Scriptures not only portray angels as directly involved with our prayers (Rev 8:3-4). They also state that angels tell God whether or not we’re obeying. This understanding doesn’t have to contradict the first conclusion as there can be multiple reasons for why we practice this for the angels.
Let me show you something. On judgment day we have to give an account for everything that we’ve said (Matt 12:36) or done (1 Cor 3:13). So there must be a record being kept. Also there are verses that speak of ways our prayers are hindered such as neglecting the poor (Prov 21:13) and being a bad husband (1 Pet 3:7). Those are sins that must be observed, recorded and reported. Although it’s possible that God knows these events solely through his omniscience, I think Jesus teaches something else.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matt 18:10)
When a child is sinned against, God doesn’t just say “I know about it.” He says their angel comes before Him. The implication is that the angel would be reporting to God what had happened.
Let’s look at another verse.
I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism. (1 Tim 5:21 ESV)
As Paul left Timothy with commands, he reminded him that what was ordered was done “in the presence of the elect angels.” It’s as if he was saying “the angels are witnesses of what I’ve commanded you and they’ll be watching.” Having this type of awareness that we’re being watched and held accountable is a great motive for our maximum effort and obedience. That is what I mean when I say this second reason is for our benefit. This understanding was also held by the “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon who said:
“The reason why our sisters appear in the House of God with their heads covered is ‘because of the angels.’ The apostle says that a woman is to have a covering upon her head because of the angels, since the angels are present in the assembly and they mark every act of indecorum, and therefore everything is to be conducted with decency and order in the presence of the angelic spirits.” 1) Charles Spurgeon – Spurgeon’s Sermons on Angels, (Kregel Academic, 1996), page 98.
So in summary, if God is primarily concerned with the angels’ benefit, then this reason means one or two things. It would be an appeal to not offend the angels by our disobedience or a command to accurately show them a picture of the created order. If on the other hand God is primarily concerned with our benefit, then this is a warning as a means of accountability. God would be graciously reminding us that the angels are watching us worship and bringing our prayers before Him (Rev 8:3-4). They will let Him know if we’re obeying this command or not.
Even if Paul had in mind a different way in which the angels relate to the practice of head covering, the command to cover (including this reason for covering) still remains. As a daughter may not fully understand why her father has certain rules, she is still obligated to follow those rules (Eph. 6:1). Christian women can likewise trust and obey their Father in Heaven, Lord of both angels and humans, as He provides good instruction — even if His complete rationale is not fully understood.
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