There are two main views of what Paul had reference to in this text. While each view approaches the passage from a different perspective, they both reach the same conclusion in its bearing on Christians today.
Briefly, the first view follows the belief that Paul is pointing out that it was customary in eastern countries for women to wear veils. This was done to show the woman’s submission to the male or husband. Thus, not wearing the veil was a sign of rebellion. For a Christian woman this would be a sin, not being in subjection to her husband. Since the wearing of veils is not a part of our society today, this becomes a matter of expediency, in the same category as greeting with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:15).
Paul tells us about expediency in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where he states that he became all things to all men. In Acts 16:3, this was put into practice when he circumcised Timothy because of the Jewish disposition against the uncircumcised Gentiles. Yet Paul pointed out that circumcision has no value. “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision…” (Gal. 5:6a). Circumcision is a matter of indifference in the salvation of the soul. However, caution should be observed in the usage of expediency, for it must end where doctrine or personal example begin.
The second view has to do with the sinful conditions that existed at that time in Corinth. The apostle warned that these things should not creep into the church. Most particularly, he addressed the women cropping their hair, as did the priestesses (prostitutes) of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. To appear to be one of them would be conduct totally out of character for a Christian woman. It is interesting to note that katakaluptos, sometimes translated “veil,” simply means to be covered. It does not indicate what the covering is or what is to be covered. Only mentioned once in this text peribolion, which would indicate a “veil” and Paul says the woman’s hair is given her for a covering (v. 15).
Paul tells us that the covering God has given us is the hair. Thus, to cut the hair off and appear as these prostitutes would be sinful for a Christian woman. Not only must she live a pure life, but her example must be the same.
In both these positions the conclusion is the same. The wearing of an artificial covering on the head of a woman today neither makes her righteous or unrighteous.
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The late Guy N. Woods also cited the “holy kiss” as comparable to the woman’s covering. “The kiss was a common greeting in the ancient culture and such greetings were to be practiced in holiness. But such were not enjoined upon all congregations for all times…Though Paul enjoined both the covering and the kiss, I do not believe that he intended that either must be practiced in our land and in our day.” (Questions and Answers, Vol. 1, pp. 96f)