I never paid that much attention to 1 Corinthians 11 before. Like many people, I more or less skimmed through it, deeming the passage as cultural to the times and irrelevant to me. After all, I’ve never seen anyone in any church I’ve been to cover their head.
Lately, however, the topic has come up several times in Christian Mommy Facebook groups that I’m in and I felt convicted to study deeper into it. Here is what I discovered. I’m not posting this to try to push my convictions on to anyone else or to make anyone feel judged if they don’t agree with me. Head covering seems to be an iffy topic to discuss and I thought that maybe other women might be struggling with the decision, too. I’m going to go through this more or less in the same way I argued my way through it with myself and Scripture. I say argued because I’m really shy and I don’t like to do anything “different” or to draw attention to myself. This will be a stretch for me.
I’ll start off by sharing the passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, NKJV
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 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. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man.9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
Wasn’t this command cultural? Only applicable to the church in Corinth because only prostitutes went around with their heads uncovered?
This is probably the 2nd most common belief on the matter. But it doesn’t really make sense. Paul gives a bunch of reasons for women to cover their head (it’s honouring to God, it’s a symbol of authority, it’s done because of the angels.) If Paul was saying this because Christian women were walking around looking like prostitutes, I think he would have just said so. Moreover, he would have said women should cover their head in all public gatherings, not just when in prayer and prophesying.
Verse 5 also specifies “every woman”, which indicates that this did not just apply to the one church.
Isn’t our hair the only covering we need? (see v. 15)
This is the most common belief on the matter, I think. It’s the easy out. And yet, as much as I was hoping it would be enough, it doesn’t make sense.
If our hair was the only covering we need, there would have been no need to talk about it at all because all of the women had hair.
If we try replacing “hair” with “covering” in the verses above, the verses end up being redundant. Basically, it would be saying, “if a women prays without hair, let her be shaved.” If she had no hair, she would already be shaved.
Also, there are 2 different “heads” in these verses. The physical head on our body, and the one who is our “head”…God is Jesus’ head, Jesus is man’s head, and the husband is the wife’s head. This is saying that to pray and prophesy without a covering dishonour’s the husband.
Then why is verse 15 there?
Verse 14 talks about nature. The Creator of nature is, of course, God. And God has given women a natural covering for her glory. My MacArthur Study Bible mentions how testosterone causes baldness in many males as they age, but women usually don’t have that problem. Most women have hair for their entire lives. This is the natural covering God gave to us. But the other verses make it clear that an additional covering should be worn during prayer and prophesying.
This doesn’t apply to now though, right? No one wears a head covering now. Every church can’t have it wrong, can they?
I think it does still apply. One of the reasons Paul gives is “because of the angels.” (verse 10.) He doesn’t tell us what the angels have to do with it, but he’s clear that the angels have something to do with the matter. Angels are timeless, so if they are part of the reason women are to cover our heads, I would think the command still applies to the times now.
Isn’t this legalistic?
Whether or not head coverings become legalistic depends more on the heart I think. If you do something just because you’re told to and you don’t understand why, if you do it resentfully or with bitterness, or if you do it for pride (the “I’m a better Christian because I do this” mindset) then yes, it can be legalistic.
Let’s look back to verse 10.
For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
God gives us the different levels of authority in verse 3 – God, Christ, man, woman. Paul specifies that this doesn’t mean that women are worth less than men (see v. 11 and 12.)
With the women’s liberation movement, the God-ordained order between men and women has been skewed. Not surprisingly, from many of the articles I’ve read, it seems to be that it was around that time that women stopped wearing a head covering in church.
Women don’t want to think that they are to be “under” a man and I think that’s partly because people equate “under” with “worth less.” Which isn’t true, of course, as stated above.
Wearing a covering is a show of acceptance of God’s levels of authority.
One study Bible’s notes that I read (I can’t remember which one, now) said that wearing a covering while praying and prophesying was to show that the woman had the authority to do so. I don’t believe this to be true. Every woman can pray. That idea seems to be making something prideful out of a practice of humility.
If we choose to wear a head covering to show that we’re accepting of our place in God’s order, to humble ourselves and to honour our God, then no, I don’t believe it to be a legalistic practice.
What about verse 16? Does that mean that if my wearing a covering will cause problems I don’t have to do it?
I thought so at first, but that would have made the whole passage pointless as well. I think that Paul is saying that the practice of being contentious has no place in the church.
Does this mean we need to cover our heads all of the time? Or just in church?
This is still where i’m unsure of the matter. Given the context of Paul writing to the whole church, it would make sense that he is talking about corporate prayer and prophesy; that is, it applies to church gatherings.
However, the verse 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray without ceasing. So if we are to believe that we are to cover our heads whenever we pray, it makes sense why some choose to always wear a covering. I think that that would be up for each individual to pray about and do as they are convicted to do. Again, this shouldn’t become legalistic. God hears our prayers always and we don’t need to put a cloth on our head in the shower if we decide to pray in the shower.
What kind of head covering is Paul talking about?
He doesn’t specify so I think this is up to the individual. Some people wear a small headband or pin a piece of cloth or lace on their heads. Others will wear a full head covering, such as a veil or tichel.
I don’t like to draw attention to myself so I’ve been drawn toward wide headband that can be scrunched up narrow or pulled out to cover more of the head, such as the Cicily headbands found on Garlands of Grace. I found a really good pattern to make my own on etsy from the shop Happy Homestead that I’ve been using.
I hope that I haven’t made anyone feel judged at all, but I do hope that I have encouraged you to study this matter for yourselves and to pray about what it means for you.
What are your thoughts and experiences on the topic of head coverings?