While wandering the internet I stumbled across a blog advocating that women cover their heads. Naturally, 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 was the author’s text—
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved. So if a woman’s head is not covered, her hair should be cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should be covered.
I read the post and some comments. Discussion topics included the usual suspects. The pro-head covering camp argued for a literal reading of scripture. They were also concerned about obeying God’s word rather than bowing to modern social conventions. The argument I hadn’t heard before was that women wore head-coverings as a matter of course in the early church. The author cited the writings of Tertullian to support this.
On the other side, people said we aren’t bound to the directive about head-coverings; it had to do with the culture in Paul’s day and no longer applies.
I’m not going to wade into the weeds of all this. For me, there’s a more basic question, one rarely brought to bear in such debates: Does God intend for the New Testament to be another law or an addition to the law?
As Paul points out, the law of Moses says, “the one who does these things will live by them” (Gal. 3:12; Lev. 18:5). Is the new covenant a “live by doing” covenant like the old?
A covenant defines the nature of our relationship with God. If the new covenant is a “live by doing” covenant then it is the same covenant as the old. Granted, Jesus replaces Moses as the figurehead, and we restyle rituals and traditions around Him. But the covenant itself—the nature of our relationship with God—is unchanged. We have merely redressed Judaism in Christian garb.
This begs the question: Why make any distinction between the old and new covenants if they are the same?
Changing figureheads isn’t enough. Figureheads changed a number of times under the old covenant: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. Practices, too, changed between Genesis and Malachi. None of these changes in figureheads or practices amounted to a change in covenant.
If we accept that the covenant under Jesus is new in reality (not just in name) we must abandon the “live by doing” relationship. This means looking at the New Testament (and the Old) with different eyes.
Years ago, the Lord said something that continues to shape my understanding of covenants and scripture: “In the scriptures, you either see things Jesus fulfilled or things you have to fulfill.” This statement speaks to how scripture must be read. It also illustrates the difference between the old and new covenants. The new covenant is based on what Jesus fulfills; the old is based on what you and I fulfill. This is less a matter of Old or New Testament than about which covenant informs our reading of either testament. We can read Old and New Testaments with an old or new covenant mindset (Luke 24:27).
Back to head-coverings. Do we put this instruction on par with “Do not have other gods before Me” or “Do not murder”? (Ex. 20:3, 13). Do we add head-coverings to the 600-some commands of Moses? The Pharisees added a bunch of commands to Moses, and we see where that got them. Will adding commands about head-coverings, tithing, or baptismal formulas help us know Jesus better than they did?
Jesus is our covenant or He isn’t. People who mixed the old and new covenants made Paul super grumpy. He sarcastically wished they would take circumcision further and emasculate themselves! (Gal. 5:12). (Being emasculated, I suppose, they could then wear head-coverings…or not…probably not).
Christ is all and in all. In Him, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). That is covering enough for all of us.
For more about the law, see my booklet Wonderful Things in Your Law.