SYMBOLISM

SYMBOLISM:

A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else.  There are many symbols in the Bible.

For example:

". . . Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic.
For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar --- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children --- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all."                  (Galatians 4:22-26)

The scripture says that      "Hagar"       "is"       "Mount Sinai"

We know that Hagar is not literally Mount Sinai  --- a woman is a flesh-and-blood organism and a mountain is a huge pile of dirt and rock --- they are totally different things.
But this is the way the scripture expresses the symbolism of Hagar representing or standing for Mt. Sinai.
And of course Mt. Sinai itself stands for the Law of Moses, because it was on Mt. Sinai that Moses received the Law from God.

               "A                  is                B"

Another example of the scripture expressing symbolism as "A is B" is the parable of the tares in Matthew 13:36-43.

When Jesus explained this parable to His disciples, He told them what the things in the parable stood for or symbolized:

                     A                          is                           B
He who sows good seed           is              the Son of Man
            the field                         is              the world
            the good seeds              are            the sons of the kingdom
            the tares                        are            the sons of the wicked one
            the enemy                     is              the devil
            the harvest                    is              the end of the age
            the reapers                    are            the angels

You can't understand this parable unless you realize that the ordinary, everyday things in the story represent or symbolize spiritual things.

Another example of symbolism expressed as "A is B" is the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26):

                   A                        is                       B
         this (the bread)             is                My body
         this cup                         is                My  blood

And of course "the cup" is a figure of speech where the container stands for or represents what it contains. ("the container for the thing contained")

So when the scripture says something is something else, it can be saying that that something symbolizes or represents something else.

THE SYMBOLISM OF THE HEAD:

The head covering is also an example of symbolism, and Paul explains what the symbol of the head stands for or represents in the same "A is B" way of speaking:

                  A                          is                       B
         the head of man            is                   Christ
         the head of woman       is                      man

The head stands for or represents authority.  Since the physical head controls, or rules, the body, it is a fitting symbol for authority.  Whoever has authority has control or rule.

Christ has authority over man; therefore a man's physical head symbolizes Christ.

Man has authority over woman; therefore a woman's physical head symbolizes Man.

THE SYMBOLISM OF COVERING:

So if a man covers his head, he is symbolically covering up Christ and His authority; and when a woman covers her head, she is symbolically covering up Man and his authority.

What is the significance of covering something up?  What does it mean?

Well, obviously, when something is covered up you can't see it anymore.  It is hidden from view.

Something that is hidden from view is no longer an attraction for our attention; it is "out of sight, out of mind".

When people are proud of something they show it off, expose it to view; when they are ashamed of something or don't want to call attention to something for whatever reason, they hide it, they cover it up.

For example, what do people do when they want to be admired and praised by others?  They call attention to themselves by trying to get others to LOOK at them.  They want to be SEEN so they can be admired and praised:


"Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward." (Matthew 6:2)

"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."  (Matt. 6:5)

Why did the hypocrites sound a trumpet?  They wanted other people to hear the trumpet and turn and LOOK, to SEE them.

And they wanted to be SEEN so they would be admired and praised by other people  --- in short, they wanted GLORY FROM MEN.

The symbolism of the covering, therefore, is basically modesty; not physical modesty, as when a woman makes sure her clothing covers her up properly, but spiritual modesty (aka: humility), and the symbols for the Man and the Woman together comprise a complete symbolic statement that GOD IS TO BE PRAISED & GLORIFIED AND NOT MAN.

 When a woman covers her head, she is covering up the symbol for Man.  ". . . the head of woman is man . . . "  It is a symbolic statement that Man should not receive attention or glory.

When a man un-covers his head, he is exposing the symbol for Christ, so Christ can be seen (symbolically).  "The head of every man is Christ . . . "  It is a symbolic statement that Christ is to receive attention, praise, and glory.

Man was created to give glory to God; that is our purpose in life, our reason for existence.  So I believe that this symbol of a man un-covering his head and a woman covering her head is very important.  Giving glory to God and not to Man is the keystone of our relationship to our Creator, and the head covering is the symbol of this.

THE SYMBOL SUITS ITS MEANING:

The everyday, ordinary things which God has chosen as symbols are appropriate and fitting to the spiritual things which they represent.  The physical symbol helps us to understand the spiritual meaning.

Baptism, for example, is symbolic.  When people die physically, the physical corpse is buried in a grave.  Similarly, when the old man of sin is put to death (which is what happens when we repent of our sins), he is buried as well, in the symbolic waters of baptism.

To be completely immersed in water is to be buried in water, just as the ancient wicked world was completely buried in the waters of the flood.

Physical water can not only bury things, but it has a cleansing action as well.  This is a very common, everyday, ordinary thing which we can all understand.  The world which came forth when the waters of the Flood receded was a fresh, new world which had been cleansed of its wicked inhabitants.  Similarly, when the repentant sinner is raised from the waters of baptism, that is a symbol of the resurrection.  He is a fresh, new creature.  He has been cleansed from his old sins of disobedience for the purpose of living a new life of obedience to God.

Baptism therefore is a picture, a symbolic reenactment of the gospel story: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; and when we submit ourselves  to the symbol of baptism, we partake of this.

The Lord's Supper is another example of everyday, ordinary physical things carrying great symbolic meaning.  Physical food and drink give us physical life.  Without them, we would die physically.  This is something we all understand.

The bread is a symbol of Christ's body which was broken for us; the grape juice is a symbol of His blood.  When we eat the bread and drink the cup, it symbolizes that we are given life because of the sacrifice He made for us.  ". . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you," Jesus told His disciples.  (John 6:53)  He offered His life in place of ours; He took the punishment for our sins which was due to us; and because of this, our sins can be forgiven and we can live to God.

The simple emblems of the Lord's Supper thus carry deep meaning, and it was these simple things which Jesus gave to His disciples to be His memorial, to bring His sacrifice back to our minds every Lord's Day.  When we partake of the symbols of the Lord's Supper, we are partaking of the sacrifice of Christ.

Likewise, the head covering uses simple, ordinary, everyday things to express a profound truth.

Covering something hides it; un-covering something reveals it --- even babies playing peek-a-boo understand this.  We hide things when we don't want attention called to them; we reveal things when we do want attention called to them.

God's authority is far above man's authority, and God's glory far surpasses the glory of man --- and this is symbolized by a woman simply covering her head (hiding man's authority & glory) and a man un-covering his head (revealing God's authority & glory).

THE SYMBOL WITHOUT ITS MEANING IS USELESS / VAIN / EMPTY:

When we are baptized in response to God's command, we are acting out the symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but if we don't understand the meaning of the symbol then the symbol is vain.  Two teenagers might be playing in a swimming pool and one of them might dunk the other and then lift him back out of the water, but that is not baptism because they are doing it without the meaning.  It's a symbol only when it has meaning.

Likewise, people may cover their heads for a variety of physical reasons: to keep warm, to avoid sunstroke, for protection from injury, to keep hair from becoming wind-blown, etc.  When we cover our heads for any of these reasons, that is no longer the symbol of the head covering because it lacks the meaning of giving glory to God.

And when religious people practice the head covering as part of their worship, but they do it without the proper meaning of giving glory to God, it is useless.  A woman covering her head to show she is under the authority of her husband is missing the true meaning of the symbol.  A man who takes off his hat in the church building because "that's what everybody does" is not symbolically giving glory to God, even though his head is bare, because he is doing it without its meaning.  Ditto for those who practice the head covering by thoughtless rote:  they may be doing it because "my church teaches it", but without its true meaning the practice is empty and vain.

You can take the Lord's Supper and not even be thinking about Christ's sacrifice at all ---- in which case, of course, the symbol becomes meaningless and you have thwarted God's purpose for giving the symbol.  The symbol is to help us.  It's to help us to remember.  Eating the bread and drinking the cup acts out the purpose of Christ's death, which is to give us life.

Similarly, when we practice the head covering and give glory to God, it helps us to remember who we are.  We are the creature ---- God is the Creator.  His authority is higher than human authority; His glory is greater than human glory.  We need to be humble when we come into His presence.  Of course just taking off a head covering (man) or putting one on (woman) does not make us humble, but if we keep this symbol with the proper understanding of its meaning it reminds us and helps us to remember our place:  who we are in relation to our Creator.

"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." --- I need to remember that!

GOD-GIVEN SYMBOLS VS. MAN-GIVEN SYMBOLS:

Many believe that the meaning of a symbol is more important than the actual symbol itself; and David Phillips in his article, What's More Important Than Head Covering? (www.HeadCoveringMovement.com), gives as an example to support this idea that a wedding ring is a symbol that one is married, yet if the ring should be lost, one would still be married.  Along this line he also gives baptism as an example, arguing that baptism, as a symbol of gospel salvation, is not as important as salvation itself ---- that one is saved without baptism.

Phillips' article states that "by definition, any symbol is less important than what it symbolizes" ---- but is it?  This may be true about symbols which man has invented, but is it true about symbols given to us by God?  
Think about it.  Without a meaning there IS no symbol.  A symbol without meaning is not a symbol at all.  The meaning is essential; they cannot be separated.

For instance, I know for a fact that baptism does save.  I know this because the Bible tells me so.  (see the section on Baptism on this website which shows all 49 passages in the New Testament where the word baptism (& its related forms) occurs).  When I read just what the Bible says about baptism, and draw my conclusions directly from the scripture itself, I see that baptism saves.

Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the head covering are GOD-GIVEN symbols, whereas a wedding ring is a MAN-GIVEN symbol.  God ordained marriage, but He did not give wedding rings as a symbol of marriage --- Man did that.  This is an important distinction, I believe.  You really cannot compare symbols invented by man to symbols which God has ordained, for a very simple reason:  Man's word has NO power, while God's word has ALL power.

It was through God's word that all things were created.  God spoke --- and everything came into existence.  Christ Himself is the Living Word and His words will judge us on the last day.  If God's Word says something ---- it is so.  It is impossible for God to lie; it is not possible for Him to speak and His words not to have reality.  If God's Word says it  ---- IT IS SO!

So I don't want to rely on human understanding and reasoning; I need to simply find out what God's Word says.

Regarding baptism, God's Word says:
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . . "  (Mark 16:16)
"Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . . " (Acts 2:38)
"Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins . . ." (Acts 22:16)
"There is also an antitype which now saves us ---- baptism . . . "   (1 Peter 3:21)
among many other scriptures which teach me that, yes, I NEED to be baptized.  It is not just something that is a good thing to do, it is something which I MUST do.  I don't want to be like the Pharisees and lawyers who "rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him." (Luke 7:30)  (And this is just speaking of John's baptism!  If it was rejecting God's will for oneself to not be baptized by John, how much more so to not be baptized in the name of Jesus!)

 Regarding the Lord's Supper, God's Word says:
"Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."  (1 Corinthians 11:27)
I believe this symbol of the Lord's Supper should be taken VERY seriously!

I believe the head covering symbol should be taken seriously, too.  Giving glory to God through symbolism is still giving glory to God.  So what if it is a symbol?   According to God's Word, it was given to us by God and it gives Him glory.

IS FOOT-WASHING A SYMBOL?

Many believers hold foot-washing to be a religious practice instituted by Christ, and observe it as such today.

Other people see foot-washing as being simply a matter of ancient human custom ---- and some believe that the head covering falls into the same category.

We can find a number of places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, that talk about the washing of feet.  The foot-washing mentioned in these scriptures seems to be simply an ordinary, practical physical cleansing & refreshment, necessitated by the ordinary conditions of life in ancient times (lots of walking in open sandals on dusty roads).
(See Gen. 18:4;  Gen. 19:2;  Gen. 24:32;  Gen. 43:24;  1 Sam. 25:41;  2 Sam. 11:8;  Luke 7:36-50;  John 11:2;  John 12:3;  1 Tim. 5:10 as examples.)

But the account where Jesus washed the feet of His disciples is found only in John 13:3-17:


". . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded Himself.
After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Then He came to Simon Peter.  And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?"
Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this."
Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!"
Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me."
Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!"
Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."
 Something more is going on here than just the ordinary, everyday washing of tired, dusty feet.  Jesus is the Teacher and He is teaching His disciples something by doing this.

He is NOT teaching His disciples to practice hospitality, as some claim.  Yes, Christians should be hospitable, but that is not the lesson here.  If it were, Jesus would simply have provided them with water and let them wash their own feet (as Abraham did for the angels in Genesis 18, or as Laban did for Abraham's servant in Genesis 24), or He would have had a servant provide that service.

Jesus was either 1) instituting a religious practice, or 2) teaching them a lesson on humility by giving them an example of humbling oneself in lowly service to others.

I do not believe Jesus was instituting a religious practice because there is no "A is B" symbolism in this passage.  Jesus does not tell His disciples that their feet, or the dirt on their feet, or the towel, or the basin, or the water, or anything involved in this process has any symbolic meaning.  When He instituted the Lord's Supper,  He told them what the bread and the cup represented, and what the purpose of that practice is.  Here there is nothing like that.

No, Jesus is giving them (and us) a lesson on humility.  He is the One with the higher status, yet He lowered Himself to perform a menial service for others.  Washing their feet just happened to be the example in this particular case.  He even tells them "I have given you an example".  The purpose of giving an example is to illustrate a principle, to help students understand a principle so that they can apply it in other situations.

Disciples today usually do not have a need for their feet to be washed, but the principle which the foot-washing illustrates still applies.
Some other examples of the principle of lowly service might be:
     cleaning a bathroom (including the toilet) for a sick brother or sister,
     babysitting someone's children (including changing dirty diapers),
     picking up groceries, mowing a lawn, etc., etc.
In this passage, Jesus is showing us by a concrete example how to be "gentle and lowly in heart" like He is.
So the head covering is not in the same category with foot-washing.  Yes, they are both simple, ordinary, everyday things ---- but the head covering has deep symbolic meaning and foot washing has no symbolic meaning, but is just an example which illustrates a lesson on humility.


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