Because of the Angels

Universality and ethnicity in Paul’s churches - Dr, Koontz (

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Koontz' PhD thesis which I am really interested in digesting when it becomes available. I'm sure we've seen many glimpses of it in the Against the Stream: Paul's Missionary Gospel in Hard Times lecture series. But I want to focus in today on head coverings and cultural relevance. Quoting the good Doctor:

There is a uniformity on which Paul insists in certain distinct cases, especially among the Corinthians whom he finds to be so often arrogantly distinctive in their practices. After explaining the rationale for how and why women should cover their heads (1 Cor. 11:2-15), Paul explains that should anyone object to this practice and find it unacceptable, there are two other factors that should be considered. First, “we have no such practice,” that is the apostolic group for which Paul is speaking does not inculcate a practice of women being bareheaded. Not coincidentally, this section follows directly after the second Pauline admonition to imitation (1 Cor. 11:1) and the reiteration that the Corinthians are commended for remembering Paul “in everything” and maintaining the traditions he has delivered to them (1 Cor. 11:2). The Corinthian church is marked by a firm adherence to Pauline practice, so that if anyone should want to depart from that practice, he should remember that female headcoverings are Pauline and universal in the churches.
Second, Pauline practice aligns with the practice of all the “churches of God.” Those churches may not be exclusively Pauline as in the case of Judea or of Rome, but they align practically with the Pauline churches. There is therefore no distinction between Pauline and non-Pauline for Paul but between “of God” or of some other source. One might conceive of a church where women do not wear headcoverings, but that church would not be “of God” according to Paul’s lights. Uniformity in this practice is evidence of something larger even than the imitation of Paul although here imitation of Paul and maintenance of Pauline tradition are the conduits through which the Corinthians have access to what is universally practical in the churches of God. Likewise the worship practices of the Corinthians are to be brought into harmony with universal church practice (1 Cor. 14:26-36). Women were speaking “in the churches,” but Paul commands silence for women in the churches so that they are not participating in the public proclamation and overriding the necessity for submission (1 Cor. 14:34). The command to silence harmonizes with the command to wear a head covering in that Paul seeks to inculcate a universal practice of female submission to men “in all the churches.” The distinctive for our purposes is the Pauline reminder that “in all the churches” or “in all the churches of the saints” something is the case.

The WELS FAQ takes the opposite stand. First they state that this was likely the cultural practice of the local pagans, and that the Christians should aspire then to fit in, in order to be a winsome witness:

"By mirroring [pagan] cultural practices that were occasioned by the natural knowledge of God and conscience, the Christian women of Corinth could reinforce that knowledge and display their faith so others could be positively influenced "

Second, the WELS FAQ take the opposite meaning of 'no such practice' - that is, there is no practice in the Christian church of women covering their heads, but you should do it because 'when in Corinth, do as the Corinthians do':

"The apostle explains that the hair/head covering situation in Corinth was a local practice and not compulsory for all Christian women of all time. That explanation also includes men and what was said about their long hair."


But I think the WELS FAQ forgot about those angels. Angels, you see, are not culturally conditioned (nor are they particularly winsome, but we'll leave that for another time). Here's what Lenski has to say in his commentary on First Corinthians 11:10

"Paul adds the final phrase, “on account of the angels,” as a matter that needs no elucidation whatever and as one that will be at once understood by the Corinthians... “On account of the angels” implies that God’s good angels are present when God’s people come together to pray and to prophesy. Paul’s view of God’s creation in general and of God’s people in particular always includes God’s good angels. So the phrase simply means that, when we worship, we must not offend them by an impropriety. Such an offense would occur if women prayed and prophesied with uncovered heads and thereby displayed the fact that they had disregarded the station that has been assigned them by their creation. In regard to the nearness of the angels and their interest in us compare 4:9 where Paul speaks about the suffering apostles as being a spectacle also for the angels."

Scripture interprets scripture. There is no section of scripture that sits alone on an island, as the WELS FAQ might seem to impute. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. We'll explore the profitability of this section of Scripture next week.