For years the question has circulated through various denominations: should women cover their heads? If so, when? How? With what?
The best way to answer any question about the Bible is to look at the Bible itself. Usually, the Bible uses very plain language when giving a command. The difficulty comes when we try to wriggle through loopholes and find that we need to enlarge them a bit, or when someone else comes along and pulls the perceived loophole tight just as we are slipping through. So let’s look at the passage where God commands that women wear a head covering:
Here we see the "warm-up" verse: praise for remembering "me" in all things, and "keeping the ordinances". Let me bring up an important part here: who is the "me" in this verse? "It’s Paul" is the immediate response that most would give. However, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." God inspired this entire passage, and that makes it very important!
This verse gives us a delineation of God’s order of authority: God first, then Christ, then man, then woman. This provides the basis for all that follows, because it explains who’s the authoritative head of each one.
We see that for a woman to leave her head uncovered while praying or prophesying is a dishonor to her spiritual head (her husband, according to verse 3). Why? She dishonors her husband to God, because that which is a glory to man needs to be covered in God’s presence so that God receives all the glory.
Verse 6 explains that if a woman takes off one covering (the cloth one), her natural covering of hair should also be taken away. However, says God, if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair shorn (this is talking about cutting the hair very close, in the same way that a sheep is shorn), then she should cover her head. So this leaves us with two options: either a woman cover her head, or have nothing but very short stubble on her head.
These verses explain that a woman covering her head does not make her inferior to men. Men and women are equal in value. Without men, no girls would be born. Without women, no boys would be born. Both men and women are needed to keep the earth populated. However, men have authority over women, and women are not to exercise authority over men. A married woman is supposed to submit to her husband (Ephesians 5). But God uses six verses to ensure that we know all are equal in God’s kingdom.
We also see from verse 10 that the covering is a sign to the angels, both good and bad. "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." This verse has caused a lot of weird reasoning – that it really is talking about men (instead of angels), or that the angels would be shocked to see an uncovered woman, or some other explanation of like caliber. However, I believe it is very simple. The headcovering is a sign to both angels and demons that this woman is submitted to her husband and God, and is a Christian. Angels are not all-knowing. A headcovering shows them that this woman is to be protected. It also shows the demons that they’d better get lost. Furthermore, it offers protection for the woman’s family.
My father tells of how he was having trouble with ungodly dreams. He recalled a story of another man who had had the same problem, until his wife covered her head during the night. Then the man’s ungodly dreams went away. My mother began covering her head during the night, and Dad’s ungodly dreams went away!
Verse 13 has been used to say that the decision of whether or not to wear the covering is entirely up to the reader. However, God gave the headcovering as a command, not a suggestion. I believe this verse is merely saying, "Think about it a moment. Is it proper for a woman to pray uncovered?" It is a rhetorical question saying that it is not proper for a woman to pray uncovered.
This passage also tells us that a woman is to have long hair in addition to a covering. The wording of the passage could lead one to believe that hair, or long hair, is the covering. However, I believe that God is saying: "Since being uncovered is akin to having short hair, and since it is a shame for a woman to have short hair, she should be covered. In addition, she should have long hair." It provides another confirmation that a woman should cover her head.
This verse goes back to verse 13 to answer the question in verses 13-15. If any man seems to be contentious (literally "loves quarreling") and says that he sees nothing wrong with a woman praying uncovered, let him know that none of the churches have any custom of praying uncovered. It could also be interpreted that "We have no custom of being contentious about what God says. We just do it."
Frankly, this seems very simple. When praying, a man should have his head uncovered, with short hair. A woman should have long hair and a covered head. However, when the headcovering is brought up, many arguments also come up. I would like to answer them and also a few questions asked about wearing the headcovering.
This statement is usually not so bluntly put. It is usually lengthened into a long explanation of what probably was happening at Corinth, and how the custom was for all women except the Corinthian prostitutes to have their heads covered. The reasoning then goes that this passage was only for Paul to tell the Corinthians to keep the existing custom. However, this has several problems, even without discussing the historical problems:
When you consider the above points, it becomes clear that the head covering is for all women who are praying or prophesying – not just those that lived 2000 years ago in Corinth.
This comes from two things: a misinterpretation of verses 13-15, and an erroneous footnote in the New International Version.
We see from the above that long hair is not the covering. The Bible is talking about a physical cloth covering that goes OVER long hair. And the NIV footnote (actually, the whole NIV) is a twisted translation that changes the very words of the passage to make them say something else.
Some would like to say that this is talking about the wife’s submission to her husband and the spiritual "covering" that he provides when she is submitting to him. "Uncovering" her head is talking about when she is not submitting to him, they say. OK, let’s look at verses 5-6:
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
The first thing that strikes me is "why would submission be an issue only when the woman was praying or prophesying?" After all, according to Ephesians 5:22, wives are to submit to their husbands. No mention is made there about prayer or prophecy.
Second, why didn’t God talk directly about submission? Why would he talk about "covering" when He really meant "submission"?
Third, according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, "uncovered" comes from the Greek word akatakalupto (177), which means "not covered, unveiled." Would you call a husband a "veil"?
Fourth, you have to "spiritualize" the entire passage in order to use this interpretation. That is not the best way to look at the Bible. After all, how do you decide which passages to "spiritualize" and which ones to take literally? It is a good way to start on a path of heresy.
Fifth, verse 10 says, "For this cause should the woman have power on her head, because of the angels." This implies having something directly on the head, as a sign to the angels.
Sixth, the context seems to indicate something sitting directly on the head. If the woman is not "covered", then she is as good as shaven. If she refuses to be covered, she should be shorn – both of which have to do with the head itself.
Verses 7-12 are affirming that covering the head does not make women inferior to men. They are not explaining why a woman should submit to her husband. I believe that there is not enough evidence in this passage to say that it is merely talking about submission.
May I ask where the Bible says you don’t have to obey God until He convicts you about something? Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15) Jesus wants us to obey His commands whether or not He gives us a special conviction about them.
The Bible also tells us that "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (Jam 4:17) In other words, if we know that God has commanded something and we don’t do it, it is sin! Keep that in mind as you are evaluating this doctrine. Don’t pitch 1 Corinthians 11 out the window because God hasn’t convicted you about it. God wants us to obey Him, whether he’s convicted us about it or not. To not do something we know we should do is sin, and we don’t want to live in sin. Please don’t wait for God to burden you with conviction about the headcovering!
This is a tough one. However, let me mention that the Bible says, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). You must obey God, even if your husband disapproves. This is an important point. Nowhere does God allow your husband to decide which of God’s commands you may or may not keep.
Note: the headcovering is not all about submission to a woman’s husband. The headcovering is also a sign to the angels that the woman is a Christian woman who needs their protection. In this century, unlike a hundred and fifty years ago, it is also a sign to the world that the woman is a Christian. If you start wearing the headcovering, somebody will ask you about it, sooner or later.
So, first of all, explain to your husband the benefits of wearing the covering:
Explain that this is not just some passing interest or fad that you’ll be throwing in the trash next week. Explain that God commanded you to wear it, and that you want to follow Him.
Find out why your husband is opposed to the covering. Is he afraid that it will make you look strange? God didn’t specify what exact form the covering is to take. He merely said the head is to be covered. Choose a covering that covers the head well, but doesn’t look weird. Perhaps you could show your husband pictures (from the sources at the end) of the sort of covering you want to wear. Ask God for help in your situation. He will guide you in what to say to your husband.
Also, try to keep the rest of your life in line with God’s word. For example, don’t pin on a headcovering and then rebel against your husband’s authority. Submit to whatever does not go against God’s word. Otherwise, the headcovering becomes a legalistic outward sign that is not backed up by inward conformity to God’s commands. And your husband will notice if the outward does not match the inward.
Beware, oh beware, when you have "peace" about disobeying God’s commands. Remember Balaam? He was asked to curse the Israelites. God told him, "Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed." (Numbers 22:12) So Balaam, to his credit, told the men who had asked him to come to Moab and curse the Israelites to go home.
But the king of Moab sent his messengers back with promises of huge rewards. Balaam told them to wait overnight while he found out what God wanted him to do. God told him, "If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do."
So the next morning, Balaam rode off with the men from Moab. Notice what happened next. Numbers 22:22 tells us, "God's anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him."
God had given Balaam "peace" about going to Moab. However, it was only because Balaam was set on going to Moab. God had already told him not to go to Moab. But Balaam went back and said, "Pleeeease?" So God gave him "peace" about going. However, God sent an angel into Balaam’s path. This was an angel "with a sword drawn in his hand" (Numb. 22:31), not an angel to protect him on the way to Moab.
We know how Balaam’s donkey spoke to him, and how Balaam blessed, instead of cursed, the Israelites. However, Balaam wanted those rewards that the king of Moab was offering him. So, according to Numbers 31:16 and Numbers 25, he counseled the king of Moab to send Moabite prostitutes into the Israelite camp. The result: the Israelites turned to idols, and God sent a plague that killed 24,000 people. Furthermore, Israel later killed Balaam (Numb. 31:8).
The lesson is that God may give us "peace" if we are stubbornly resisting His commands. But watch out. He might send an "angel with a drawn sword" to meet you.
If you think that the headcovering is a small command, then a small command ought to be a small thing to do, right? Why make a big deal over something small? Just do it! Just because God doesn’t beat the headcovering drum in every book of the Bible doesn’t mean that the headcovering is unimportant.
Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:19) Do you want to be called least in the kingdom of heaven?
Since God compares the headcovering to the hair, let’s do the same. When do you wear your hair? Only when you’re praying, right? Of course not. In the same way, I believe that a woman should wear the headcovering whenever possible. God said the woman should have power on her head because of the angels. That sounds like something you wear other than just when you want to pray.
Furthermore, God commanded, "Pray without ceasing." (1 Thess. 5:17) A Christian woman should always be ready to pray. Prayer is something that we should do throughout the whole day, not just at devotions time. Do you always want to be running for your covering? What about when your husband wants to talk about the things of God, and you’re busy doing something at the moment? What about when your son comes to you and says, "Mom, would you pray that I could find my..."? What about when you want to pray about something at midnight? Or when you’re busy driving? Or someone asks you about Christianity when you’re away from home?
Obviously, the covering is not restricted to church services, as some believe. It is for whenever you are praying or prophesying, whether it’s Sunday, Saturday, or Tuesday.
For the same reasons, men should have their heads uncovered whenever possible. Men, just like women, should always be ready to pray. Of course, that is not to say that you should never cover your head. If you ride a motorcycle, for example, you are required to wear a helmet. Some jobs require a hard hat. And it’s a good idea to cover your head when you’re outside and it’s cold. However, a hat should not be a part of your regular, daily outfit.
The symbol in this passage is the covered head, not the covering itself. God commands that a woman must have her head covered (vv. 5-6). Therefore, what is important is that a woman has something on her head when she prays or prophesies. It does not have to be a particular style of covering.
We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of making the covering the most important part. It is a subtle twist. The difference is in whether or not the style of covering matters. For example, some churches that practice the headcovering require that the covering have strings (the original purpose of which was to hold the coverings on). Since they now pin the coverings on, it is usually a long, useless loop of ribbon that dangles down the lady’s back. But they make it part of the symbol.
However, God is not concerned with the minute details of how the covering looks. Verses 5 and 6 merely command, "Let her be covered." You can cover your head with a paper towel, for all God cares. Just cover that head!
Is the headcovering for today? The answer is "YES!" It is an important teaching that has been thrown aside during the last hundred years or so.
If you want more information on the headcovering, or need buy a covering, check out The Headcovering Directory.
There is also a Yahoo! Group on headcovering with a number of women who subscribe to it. Be forewarned, however — this list gets a LOT of messages! http://www.groups.yahoo.com/group/headcovering
If you have other questions that we have not answered on this website, please contact us about them. We welcome your response.
My prayer is that God will use this article to further His Kingdom. To Him be the glory!
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