Should Women Wear Head Coverings?

For our church’s question-and-answer time, I was asked about the head coverings the apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. I answered the question in church, but I feel like the Lord wants me to also devote a blog post to the subject. I’ll use ten statements to say what I need to say.

Statement #1: The main teaching of the passage has to do with the headship of the husband in the marriage, not what the women of Corinth were wearing on their heads. Yes, the Bible really does teach that the husband has the God-given role of headship in a marriage. Some people don’t like passages such as Genesis 3:16, Ephesians 5:22-24, and Colossians 3:18, but the passages themselves really aren’t all that hard to understand. And Paul doesn’t get too far into his teaching concerning head coverings before he says in verse 3, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

Statement #2: In explaining that the man has the God-given role of headship, Paul uses Adam and Eve as an illustration. He says in verses 8 and 9, “For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

Statement #3: In the culture of Corinth as well as the other cities of the New Testament era, the women wore head coverings as symbols of their submission under the husbands’ headship. This explains why Paul says, “For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shaved (and it was), let her be covered.” It should be noted that these coverings were not veils that hid the womens’ faces. They were, instead, shawls that left the faces exposed.

Statement #4: In encouraging the Christian women of Corinth (and by implication the Christian women of the other New Testament cities) to wear their head coverings, Paul explained that God has even built the basic idea into his physical design for men and women. In verses 14 and 15, he says, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” While there are exceptions to any rule, we have to admit that women can typically grow their hair longer than men. But please understand that Paul wasn’t saying that the Christian women of Corinth or the other cities could forego their head coverings as long as they wore their hair long. He still wanted them to wear the coverings. On another subject, I am of the opinion that these verses teach us that Jesus wore His hair much shorter than the look Hollywood usually presents Him.

Statement #5: Some of the Christian women of Corinth were breaking from the established standard of the day by refusing to wear their head coverings. Perhaps these women had heard some teaching in the same vein as Galatians 3:28, where Paul himself writes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Of course, while this teaching is true, it certainly doesn’t obliterate the basic God-appointed roles for men and women. For example, Christian men can’t have babies!

Statement #6: The situation in Corinth was made even worse by the fact that in that city the prostitutes did not wear head coverings. In keeping with their whole mindset of rebellion against God’s way, the prostitutes also wore their hair short.

Statement #7: The praying and prophesying that Paul speaks of in verse 4 must have been taking place outside the worship services of the local churches of Corinth. I say this because for Paul to have advocated such things for those worship services would have completely contradicted what he taught in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 about women remaining silent in the church services.

Statement #8: It could have been that some of the men of Corinth had taken to actually wearing head coverings when they did their praying and prophesying. Perhaps this is why Paul says in verse 4, “Every man praying and prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head (Christ).” By the way, just think of all the professing Christian men as well as other “religious” men who still do their praying while wearing a hat, a shawl, or some other type of head covering!

Statement #9: Even though God doesn’t expect modern-day Christians to be bound by the societal standards of ancient Corinth and the other New Testament cities, we are unwise to completely ignore His basic principles concerning length of hair. Notice that Paul (who wrote under the inspiration of God) appeals to nature, not to Corinth or to New-Testament-era culture, when he says, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her…” The pages of the Bible are consistently clear in both the Old Testament and the New Testament that God wants men to look like men and women to look like women, and He doesn’t approve of the blurring of the lines.

Statement #10: While we should not become fanatical legalists on the issue of hairstyles, the plain fact is that many men and women (even many Christian men and women) do not take God into account when it comes to how they wear their hair. The same Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 also wrote 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17, two passages in which he teaches that the Christian should do EVERYTHING to the glory of God. And that certainly includes what hairstyle he or she showcases.

This entry was posted in Christian Liberty, Dress and Appearance, Headship, Husbands, Marriage, Personal Holiness, Rebellion, Submission, Wives and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Should Women Wear Head Coverings?

  1. MInTheGap says:

    As someone that’s recently covered this issue on another blog, and has been praying working through this issue with his wife, I appreciate this conversation. We should be spending time learning more about God and what He wants from us!

    I’m with you up until Statement #5. From my reading, the end of this passage talks about having “no other practices among the church of Christ” which I take to mean that all the churches of the day were practicing this– not just the church at Corinth. Therefore, I don’t think it was just a Corinthian thing.

    I also differ with #7 based on location/context as well as that there are times when women pray during a worship service (not audibly), and that I’m not sure that the spirit did not come upon women as well as men.

    Again, thanks for treating this passage with the diligence that it deserves!

    • russellmckinney says:

      First of all, let me say that I genuinely appreciate the civil tone in your reply. Sadly, that’s something of a lost art these days. Christians ought to be able to dialogue on debatable matters without playing verbal war.

      My piece does give the impression that I think only the Corinthian women wore head coverings, and that’s something that I’ll go back and fix. I should have clarified my thoughts there because I do believe it was more than a “Corinthian thing.” Furthermore, I agree with your interpretation of verse 16 about “no other practices” meaning that Paul was describing a practice that was typical for the churches of that day. No argument there. As for #7, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one because I understand the praying and prophesying those women were doing to have been done outside the church setting.

      With all this said, I’d like to point out that even if the practice of wearing head-coverings was completely standard for the churches of that day, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it was to stand for all churches of all time in all parts of the world. The New Testament congregations were “house churches” that met in homes (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon v.1-2; 2 John v.10). Does this mean then that God wants every church to meet in a home? The only two church “titles” (offices) were that of pastor (elder, bishop, overseer) and deacon (Philippians 1:2). So does that mean that each assistant pastor, youth minister, and worship leader is out of the will of God? Those New Testament churches didn’t know anything about Wednesday night prayer meetings, revival services, or Bible schools. Does this make these type of services wrong in the eyes of God? Those churches incorporated a “love feast” into their observances of the Lord’s Supper (Jude v.12; 1 Corinthians 11:21,29-30). Is this a requirement then for us today? They didn’t have a completed Bible either, which accounts for a lot of the need for prophesying. But surely God doesn’t frown upon us all carrying our Bibles to church each service.

      Do you see my point? I’m not trying to muddy the waters of how church should specifically be done. I’m merely pointing out that the waters were already fairly muddied when we got here. In so many ways comparing today’s churches to the churches described in the New Testament is like comparing apples to oranges. The trick is to spiritually discern the mind of God on how to apply the New Testament way of doing church to today’s churches. I’ll freely confess that I haven’t fully mastered that task yet, but I do keep working at it. 🙂

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