HOW DID "POWER" BECOME "A VEIL?"
260. Now it is easy to assume that these ancient variations, due to gnostic corruptions as a matter of fact, lend authority to the view that "power" in this one and only place in the world means a veil. A similar assumption--the authority of mere antiquity--has caused the Revisers to give the gnostic perversions of John 1:3,4, in the margin of the R.V.(and Dean Burgon vigorously protests against such superficial work in textual criticism), but since any such assumption throws this entire passage in Corinthians into the category of rabbinical casuistry and makes it necessary to apologize for Paul, we refuse the teaching. That "power" means a veil, here, but has never meant that before or since in all human history, and a veil means subordination to the male sex, is pleasing to ego-centric males, but absurd to the mind of the ordinary man. The commonly accepted interpretation of this Corinthian passage bears on its face the evidence that at the beginning men started out to prove a foregone conclusion by it.
Next after Clement and Origen of Alexandria,
Tertullian of Cathage promulgated the teaching, and his
influence on Christian theology was so powerful that we need
not trace the teaching farther on towards our own time. In
fact, his exposition of St. Paul's meaning is,
in a general way, the one set forth to the present day by
262. Through doctrinal drill, we of the West have become accustomed to regard the veil, as recommended by Paul, as a sign of subordination to one's husband, but in daily life no one so regards it, and it is easy to show that the Scriptures do not so teach. The only instance in the O. T. that could be so construed is that of Rebekah (Genesis 24:65) when she meets Isaac; but that is interpretation in accordance with the misinterpretation of Paul (see par. 561).
263. Tamar did not veil in any such sense (Genesis 38:14). Hannah prayed unveiled at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 1:13; the virtue of Sarah and of Rebekah would not have been threatened by Pharaoh and Abimelech had they habitually veiled; and St. Paul and St. Peter would not have rebuked women who dressed their hair too elaborately, had they come to church veiled (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3). As Smith's Dictionary of the Bible says, "With regard to the use of the veil, it is important to observe that it was by no means so general in ancient as in modern times. Much of the scrupulousness in respect to the use of the veil dates from the promulgation of the Koran, [in the 7th century A.D.], which forbade women appearing unveiled except in the presence of their nearest relatives."
264. Tertullian was a courageous defender of the Christian faith, a man of learning and of powerful intellect. He was not altogether bad, though he said some very wrong things about women. Had he been altogether bad, he could not have influenced the ecclesiastical mind of later generations to the remarkable degree that he did. But he was not converted from paganism until thirty years of age, and before that time he had led a profligate life on the streets of Carthage, his native city. He was a jurist by profession, and never got past the lawyer’s habit of trying to carry his point in an argument by sophistry, if it could not be done by honest logic. Much that he said, particularly about women, we doubt if he himself really believed, but he wished to carry his point.
Tertullian's method of treating Scripture, Maurice,
in his Ecclesiastical History says, "Every page almost of
Tertullian would furnish terrible instances of the
irreverent torturing of Scripture to his own purposes--of
a resolute determination that it shall never contradict or
weaken any purpose of his--all the while that he professes
to take it as his judge and guide." Other writers testify to
the same effect.
266. Tertullian visited Corinth, and was delighted to find, as he represents it, that in the Christian church not only matrons but young girls were veiled. Probably he exaggerated the case, but if so, it seems far more likely that this was necessitated by the great wickedness of Corinth (and especially, in view of Paul's concessions as regarded veiling) rather than, as Tertullian represents, because of their exaggerated obedience to Paul's wishes, in extending the veiling even to young girls. If, as Dobschütz and the majority of expositors represent (see pars. 226-228), St. Paul could scarcely bring the Corinthian women to obedience and to the veil in his own day, what reason have we for believing that they would be universally yielded to his wishes in this matter a full century and more after Paul was in his grave?
267. Tertullian, returned to Carthage determined to see every Christian matron and maiden of N. Africa veiled. His ideas of purity were entirely mechanical,--so much of the sight of woman, so much uncleanness, both for the man and the woman,--particularly for the woman or girl who had shown her face. He gave an address about the Veiling of Virgins which must have at once brushed off the last traces of "the bloom of innocence" from the cheek of virgins who heard or read it.
268. Tertullian, living in Roman Carthage, must have been familiar with the Valentinian gnostic teachings about veiling, backed by the perversion of Paul's words. He was also familiar with the Apocryphal teaching that angels sinned with women. He seized upon the two, and launched that very exposition of Paul's passage, which is set forth by most expositors (with individual modifications) to the present day. He alone, perhaps, had weight and influence within the church sufficient to secure its perpetuation (see pars., 158,158n).
269. Here are a few quotations from his various writings:
“I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin, or daughter . . . veil your head! If a mother for your son's sake; if a sister, for your brother’s sake; if a daughter, for your father's sake. All ages are imperiled in your person . . . Wear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow in your eyes egress, or ingress to other people . . . If any are so deaf as not to be able to hear through a covering, I pity them.” . . "Arabia's female heathen shall be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely that they are content to leave one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face.” . . 'Because of the angels'--What angels? If he means the fallen angels of the Creator, there is great propriety in his meaning. It is right that the face which was a snare to them should wear some mark of humble guise and obscured beauty . . . But even though they were females already contaminated, whom these angels had desired, so much more 'because of the angels' would it have been the duty of virgins to be veiled, as it would have been more possible for virgins to have been the cause of angels sinning: . . . So perilous a face, then, ought to be shaded, which has cast stumbling-blocks so far as heaven."
270. This misinterpretation of St. Paul would not be recognized as even remotely Christian, if placed in pagan environments. Imagine yourself in a far country, unacquainted as yet with its religious customs. You go with your guide to a place of heathen worship, from which women are not (as is usual) excluded. You see the women all veiled, at least they draw their veils over the face and mumble behind them when they speak or pray. You ask, "Why do not these women lift their veils when speaking; then we could hear what they say?" Your guide replies, "Our great prophet says they must veil when praying or speaking in public." You ask, "But does he bid them veil at other times?" "No, only at worship, when if they will not veil, he orders them to be punished by having their heads shaved." "Why is this?" you ask, to receive the astonishing reply, "In some way, I cannot explain just how, they seem to tempt the good angels in heaven to fall into sin with them, and therefore must veil when in public worship,--some claim it is to show that women must not obey angels lest the angels command them to sin; others that angels must not see their faces lest they be seduced to sin." You take out your notebook, probably, and prepare the skeleton of a letter to your church paper at home: "These heathen . . . their inane and insane jealousy of their wives . . . leading them to view good angels with suspicion of the basest sort . . . stupid superstition as to the sin of angels and the danger of it . . . unclean imaginations . . . following their wives with jealous fears particularly in the matter of religious worship, when one would think a woman safe, if ever . . . strange to say they fear holy angels, as to the virtue of their wives, more than demons or men," etc.
The church follows no such instruction and practice as this, and is it not time to repudiate such teaching?