We have no such custom

Why did Paul say, “we have no such custom?”

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul reminded the Corinthians to “keep the traditions” that he delivered to them.

Every Church has its traditions. Many relate to the time of worship services, and the order of worship services.

But are there traditions that we must insist on? Apart from the commandments and example of Christ, and the commandments of God, there really are no traditions that should divide Church members.

That is why Paul concluded his explanation in 1 Corinthians 11:16, to say “if anyone wants to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God.” In 1 Corinthians 14:37-38, Paul said, “if anyone thinks he is a prophet or is spiritual, let him recognize the things which I write are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, then he is not recognized.” 

Paul did not create regulations for the Church, rather he appealed to the recognition of spiritual truth. Even going so far as to say that we should recognize the things he writes are “the Lord’s commandment.”  But Paul avoided the idea that members should be expelled if they do not agree with his opinion. This is the line that we cannot cross. 

Was Paul talking about hats, veils, or hair in 1 Corinthians 11?

Some have suggested that Paul was saying that women should wear hats, and others say veils, but the most literal reading of this passage says neither.

It is quite fitting, and perhaps it was God’s design, that until this day, Churches cannot even agree on the custom that Paul was putting forward in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

The literal meaning of κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων is “holding head down”

The literal reading of 1 Corinthians 11:4 is that men should not pray or prophesy “holding head down,” κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων. This Greek phrase does not suppose there is a missing word, like “hat” or “covering.”

The adverb of κατὰ κεφαλῆς is κατακέφαλα, head downwards, which you can see on the Lidell, Scott, Jones Ancient Greek Lexicon, by clicking the link.

The text of 1 Corinthians 11:4-6, literally reads,

4 Every man holding head down while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 Every woman who has her head uncovered (by her hair, vs 15) while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

Holding the head down while praying is a very normal act of many Christians.

While both men and women bowed the knee, when praying or prophesying, it appears that women also bowed their heads. Their hair, as indicated in verse 15, became a natural “covering.” Men on the other hand were not to bow down their heads, because they are “the image and glory of God,” (vs 7).

When a woman has long hair, and holds her head down, her head is covered.

The bowing down of a woman’s head while praying was a sign of submission to her husband. Paul said that if a man bows down his head, he disgraces the head of him (Christ), but if a woman does not bow down her head, she disgraces her head (her husband).

Paul did not permit a woman to speak or exercise authority over a man in the Church, as he said in 1 Corinthians 14:34. As he began in 1 Corinthians 11:3, he wanted to respect the natural order of the family, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man.”

The hair of a woman is a “power” on her head, that is necessary “because of the Angels,” as Paul said in verse 10. Here, some translations have added the word “symbol,” describing her covering as a symbol of the authority of her husband. The Greek word ἐξουσίαν in Paul’s letters always refers to the power that a believer has, and not an authority that restricts them. 

Does it matter what the meaning of κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων is?

The literal reading of κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων in 1 Corinthians 11:4 may not be accepted by some.

But that may be the point that God wishes to make.

Even churches of our modern day have divided themselves on the importance this custom, without any certainty of Paul’s meaning. It is simply their tradition. In fact, there are very few churches today, where the members kneel down to pray, and take turns to pray out loud, or prophecy, during the prayer.

Everyone should be convinced in his own mind about what is right, and not contentious in doubtful things (Romans 14:1), “if anyone wants to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16).

Acts 15, No burden other than these things

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “In vain, they worship Me, teaching as doctrines, the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Jesus prayed that we would be united by the truth.

In their meeting of Acts 15, the Church ruled that the Gentiles did not have to keep the law of Moses, but that they should only abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled and from blood. (Acts 15:20).

Asides from these things, the only requirements for the Gentiles were obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the commandments of Christ, and the commandments of God.  

Human insistence resulted in the desolation of the Church

In 193 A.D., the Bishop of Rome wrote letters of excommunication to the Churches of Asia, because of his insistence on observing Easter Sunday. Just as Daniel prophesied, he exalted himself as high as Christ, and “the place of his Sanctuary was cast down” (Daniel 8:11). The spirit of truth was taken from the Church, and the Church was no longer sanctified by the spirit of God.

Paul was flexible for the sake of the Gospel

1 Corinthians 1:13, Paul began with the question, “is Christ divided?”

Then in Chapter 2, verse, 2, he upheld the cause of the Gospel saying, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

In Chapter 10, Paul told us that there are no real idols in the world, but if anyone says, “this was offered to idols, do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you…give no offense…just as I please men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved. Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:28- 11:1).

With this background, Paul concluded saying…” if anyone wants to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the Churches of God.” Paul did not make his opinion a line in the sand that could not be crossed by the members.