Our Stance on Head Covering

by Jason Ashe

When God commanded Noah to build the ark, he told him to first spread tar on the inside before he attempted to do the same on the outside (Genesis 6:14). Perhaps Noah initially thought that the order didn’t matter seeing as the entire ark would eventually get covered anyway, but had he done things any differently, he would have been rebelling against the instructions of the Lord. This is a good example for us today.

 

As disciples of Christ, we are commanded to prioritize our inner life over all things external and seek to please Him on earth as we would in heaven (Matthew 23:26, 2 Corinthians 5:9). So although as a church we desire to obey God exactly even in non-essential biblical traditions, this is secondary to our desire to have the spiritual reality of these traditions alive in our heart and the truths which they proclaim made evident by our lives. 

One such tradition we seek to follow is that of head covering. We believe that the practice as taught in 1 Corinthians 11 applies to Christians today. This means that women should cover their heads while praying or prophesying and that men should not (1 Corinthians 11:4).

God's Glory on Display

The first reason men do not cover their heads while praying or prophesying is because Christ is our figurative head. 1 Corinthians 11:3-4 says, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. A man who covers his physical head while praying or prophesying in church is symbolically covering Jesus and bringing him disgrace.  Men also do not cover their heads because man is the glory of God in the creation order. 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 says, “For a man ought not to have his head covered since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.” Man is the image and glory of God. So not only is he symbolically covering Jesus and disgracing Him when he chooses to cover his head while praying or prophesying, but he's also symbolically hiding the glory of God.

 

Woman on the other hand is the glory of man. This certainly doesn’t mean that women are not made in the image of God, that's silly talk (Genesis 1:27). All human beings were created in the image of God. By pointing to men here and saying that man not only bears the image of God but also displays His glory, it should cause us to take a closer look at the creation account. 

 

In the context of these verses, the word “for” in 1 Corinthians 11:9 is a synonym for “because.” We are then given two reasons as to why the woman is the glory of man. It is because: 

 

She was created from man: “… for man does not originate from woman, but woman from man.”

She was created for man: “… for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”

 

Both of these truths are clearly seen in Genesis 2 in the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:18, 2:21-22). God created Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into his nostrils. God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and commanded him to use his hands to take care of it (Genesis 2:15-20). In the early days, plants had not sprouted up because there was no rain and no one to cultivate the ground (Genesis 2:5). Although Adam was given authority over the whole earth, God also instructed him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and presented him with the responsibility of giving all the animals a name (Genesis 2:15-20). All of this occurred before Eve was created. The animals were initially created as a helper for Adam, but none of them was a suitable helper. So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, and she became an equal partaker with him in the earthly dominion and a fellow heir (Genesis 1:27-28, 1 Peter 3:7). 

 

Similar to how woman was created from man—his rib, and created for man—as a helper and fellow heir, man was also created from God—formed from the earth, and created for God—to care for the garden and be an earthly representative of his universal dominion. This is why sin came into the world only when Adam disobeyed God (Romans 5:12). He was given the responsibility to uphold God's order. Now, this is not to say that man’s primary purpose was to cultivate the Garden or that women aren't also called to glorify God, but it does indicate that man had a specific course assigned to Him by God in order that by His design, he may further glorify his creator through proper management of His creation. 

One of the most beautiful things about the creation account is that despite being created first, being commissioned with the awesome task of cultivating the garden, naming the animals and even naming the female, Adam chose to call her woman meaning “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”—an equal. Different, but in no way inferior. In fact, after stating that man does not originate from women, that woman was created for man and should have a symbol of authority on her head when she prays and prophesies, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 says,  “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12).

 

The first woman was created from the rib of the man in the Garden of Eden, but ever since then, man has always come from the woman. We all know this. Without the man, there is no woman. And without the woman, there is no man. The Holy Spirit makes it a point to emphasize the equality of both men and women in the eyes of God. He does not want there to be any room for using this teaching to suggest the inferiority of women based on some silly idea that insinuates the sole importance of men. The Bible actually makes it abundantly clear that men and women are both called to minister in some capacity in the local church. 

Whenever a woman reads this passage and learns that man is her head, she immediately reads that Christ also has someone as His figurative head. Here she can see that this is a matter of divine order and arrangement, not leadership ability or equality. In the book of John, it says that “before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is God Himself. He created everything there is—nothing exists that he didn’t make” (John 1:1-4, The Living Bible)God is the head of Christ, but the Bible is clear that Jesus and the Father are equally one. All members of the Trinity are equal in essence, but they do not have the same roles. No one would claim that there is an ontological submission of one member of the Trinity to another (where the Son is lesser than the Father or the Spirit is lesser than the son) but a quick read through the Bible shows that there is still a functional submission in which the Son submits to the Father and the Spirit submits to the Son. 

 

Jesus was equal to God long before the creation of the world. His name was not Jesus or Christ at that time. He was the Son, the second person of the Trinity. The word “Christ” means: the Messiah—the anointed one, the savior. The Bible says that the Son was made Christ by God when He submitted to Him and was sent to the earth to die on our behalf (Acts 2:36). Simply put, God the Holy Spirit, conceived a body for God the Son, God the Son was born in that body and grew up before the eyes of God the Father (Isaiah 53:2). Although Jesus is God, the creator of the universe, He willingly chose to come to earth as a man (Philippians 2:6-7). That was a huge step and display of humility. Jesus laid aside His rights, His power and His glory as God. Even though He did this, He never stopped being God. God can never cease being Himself.

 

The sisters in the church are blessed to identify with Jesus by following His example of humility and submission despite their equality with man. Since woman is the glory of man because she was created from man and created for man, she must wear a covering. The glory of man has no place in the church. 

 

Likewise, the Bible teaches us that the glory of woman should also be covered in the meetings. The glory of women is long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14). The fact that women naturally glory in their hair in virtually every culture is not debatable. Have you ever thought about why Lazarus’ sister Mary used her long hair to wipe Jesus’ feet after pouring out her expensive perfume? You don’t have to be a genius to know that hair isn’t the best drying agent, even her clothes would have worked better. The thing that made what she did even more amazing than using that expensive perfume to wash dirty feet, was that this woman—even unknowingly—was also using that which naturally brought her glory to honor the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a great lesson in that story that we often overlook.

 

It’s easy for a short-haired woman to read verse 15 and refuse to cover her head because according to it, she doesn’t have any natural glory. However, even without long hair, she is still the glory of man according to the order of creation because she is a woman. As such, during the meeting, she should have a covering on her head—the epicenter of the body—to symbolically prevent the glory of man from being displayed. The only alternative given is that “if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head” (1 Corinthians 11:6). The first “if proves that this covering is one that the woman must decide upon whenever she is preparing to pray or prophesy. This isn't referring to the natural covering of hair referred to in verse 15.

 

For example, consider verse 6, “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off” (1 Corinthians 11:6). If the woman’s hair was the required covering, the words “does not cover her head,” could be substituted for “does not have hair” and the verse should technically still make sense. The verse would then read, “For if a woman does not have hair let her also have her hair cut off.” It would be impossible for someone who doesn’t have hair, to cut off what they do not have. 

 

We could also look at verse 4 for further clarity. It says that “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head” (1 Corinthians 11:4). If we use the same logic of hair being a covering, the verse would translate as, “Every man who has hair while praying or prophesying disgraces his head” (1 Corinthians 11:4). That would mean that every man must be completely bald when praying or prophesying because being covered or to “have hair” while doing so, would be a dishonor to Jesus. We know this isn’t the case because Paul himself had a head full of hair during his first two missionary journeys until he mistakenly shaved his head as a vow (Acts 18:18). We can conclude that the covering being mentioned in this passage is more than just the natural covering of hair. It is something else that the woman must willingly choose to apply, and the man must decide not to.

 

The point of all of this is that no one within the body of Christ deserves glory but God. Only His glory is to be exalted and on display (Isaiah 42:8). Not man’s glory which is woman, or the woman’s glory which is her long hair. In the church, the glory of the woman must be covered just like the glory of man. Therefore, the woman’s long hair—that which gives her glory—must be covered when praying or prophesying. 

 

A Symbol to Angels

The woman’s head covering also serves as a testimony to the angels. 1 Corinthians 11:10 says, “Therefore, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:10). I’ve heard it said that whenever we read the Bible and notice the word, “therefore”, we should always go back and see exactly what it’s “there for.” As I've already mentioned, verses 7-9 summarizes part of the creation account—woman was created from man and woman was created for man. This is why the word “therefore” is used at the beginning of the verse. Together, the verses reads as follows, “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” The context reveals that this creation order is one of the primary reasons for this symbol of authority that angels can see. Two of the epistles that speak the most about church life, both make mention of the fact that the church is on display to heavenly beings (1 Corinthians 4:9, Ephesians 1:10).

 

Although we cannot say exactly what "because of the angels" means, we know that this verse speaks about the incredible privilege given to a human woman, created a little lower than the angels, to be an example to them in heaven. If no other reason then “because of the angels” was given, even without thorough understanding, it would still be more than enough to prove that we as the church need to be obedient to this teaching today. When we do, the angels can point to Christian women and marvel at them, saying, “Look at that! We are always obedient to God, but we’re angels, in heaven, before the actual throne of God. Those women are living on the earth and are still obeying God. Wow!” If the sisters today choose to die to themselves, cast away their cultural influence and set aside their human reasoning, the church can be an even greater testimony to angelic beings that we cannot even see. 

 

Many of those who reject the practice of head covering will say, “It’s only a symbol, why does it matter?” I would then ask them the same question, “It’s only a symbol, why does it matter?” This isn’t even dealing with the far more important and costly issue of being a Christ like leader or being submissive from the heart. It's simply suggesting an outward representation of these hidden things. Nearly every Christian denomination teaches that we should keep the tradition of baptism, which I believe they should, but baptism is also a traditional symbol, though a very important one I might add. It’s not something essential to being born again for that would nullify the truth that we are saved by grace through faith and no works of our own (Ephesians 2:9). There are also symbols which play a big roll in our culture outside of the church. Countless Christian men and women will likely become anxious if they lose their wedding ring. The loss of the ring doesn’t mean that the marriage is over, nor is it an indication that any love has been lost. Still, it’s an important symbol none the less. In various countries, it’s illegal to revile or damage the national flag in public. Such crimes are punishable by law with a fine or imprisonment, but once again, a flag is just a symbol. When we consider things like this, we obviously cannot deny the fact that symbols and signs are important things.

Not A Cultural Commandment

Others will say, “But that was specifically for Corinth because of the time and culture they were in. The prostitutes went about with their heads uncovered so they could easily be recognized. That’s why Paul was saying this. He didn’t want the Christian women to be mistaken for ladies of the night. Today that sort of thing really wouldn’t hold the same significance.” Whether the claim about the women in Corinth is true or not, it would in no way nullify the principles of this teaching. We need to be straightforward and just look at the verses. None of the arguments presented by Paul suggest that the presence of this commandment was the result of Corinthian culture. Hypothetically, if this was the case, immediately we would also have to acknowledge that men are also given a clear commandment not to cover their heads. This would then pose the question, what was the cultural significance for that? How would this be handled by newly converted Jewish men in the first century who traditionally covered their heads? 

 

Although there are a few cultural commandments in the New Testament, when commandments, promises, or traditions are emphatically connected to numerous eternal realities which transcend time, culture, and geography, it should be a clear indication that such things cannot be limited to their original audience. For example, the tradition of the Lord’s Supper (known as Communion today) was originally established in a Jewish society with only Jewish people present as they obeyed the Jewish law to eat the Passover meal, and yet, it is not regarded as irrelevant on the grounds that many of us aren’t Jewish or that we happen to live in a different culture. 

 

Why is that? 

 

It’s because the practice finds its theological footing on the blood of the New Covenant, the broken body of Christ, and the unity of the church. These are three Christian fundamentals that stretch beyond societal boundaries. Head covering is no different. For this reason, the tradition of head covering was embraced by nearly all believers for over 1900 years. Anyone who studies church history from the first century onward will discover this.

 
One of the most eye-opening things about this whole ordeal is that when the church initially began to turn away from this biblical tradition, even the unbelieving world took notice of our compromise. In 1935, a pastor in England made headlines simply because he began to teach that women shouldn’t be asked to cover their heads in church. Not only was the article written in a secular newspaper, it was also featured on the front page on the Montreal Gazette. An article in the Brooklyn Times references the same incident saying, "The only English church, so far as known, in which women may go hatless is in Kingston, Surrey." Evidently, this incident was considered newsworthy in 1935, and I believe that the primary reason for this was because it ran contrary to the beliefs and practices of most churches at the time.  
This also isn’t the only instance in which the matter of head covering has made headlines. An article titled “Rector Bars Hatless Women” was seen in the New York Times on August 28, 1900. A similar piece “Hatless Women Barred”, was first published in the Indianapolis Journal on September 16, 1902. “Hatless Women in Church”, appeared in the Chicago Tribune on August 14, 1902, and, “Hatless to Church? No”, was issued by the same paper on September 25, 1905. Another article titled “Hatless Women in Church”, was written in The Chester Courant and released on September 6, 1905. It was circulated in the Chester area, Shropshire, Lancashire, Staffordshire, and North Wales. And there are thousands of similar articles (See gallery below).
 

The Indianapolis Journal, Tuesday, September 16, 1902

Chicago Tribune, Sunday, October 20, 1935

Now, some people may say that these articles simply reflect the culture of that time. A time when even many non-church going women regularly wore headgear. We could agree with that claim if it wasn’t for the fact that nearly every church that was in defence of the practice of head covering—legalistic as some of them may have been—cited 1 Corinthians 11 as the basis for their argument. For most of them, the secular culture had absolutely nothing to do with their obedience. In the same way, it’s imperative that Christians today also stand apart from both the secular and religious world and preserve the standard outlined in the Word of God in this age of widespread compromise. People can say whatever they want about us because of this, but let God be proven true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).

Various news paper articles from 1900-1967

from newspapers.com

 

We need to understand that any boundary that God has set for us is for our good. Many people have died in car accidents that have occurred in residential areas just because they decided to exceed the speed limit or drink alcohol prior to driving. Some have even claimed the lives of others in the process. Had they simply obeyed the law of the land, they would still be alive today. Likewise, God has set specific guidelines for us as believers which if we fail to adhere to, will ultimately lead to us becoming a danger both to ourselves and to others. Not that I know much about building the church, but I'm certain that the true church can only be built when men and women, full of the Holy Spirit, learn to function together the way that God had originally intended. There is absolutely no other way. 

Disagree in Love

Regardless of what we believe about this teaching, it should never be the source of contention, the Bible is clear about that. Discuss it? Of course, but we should never hold bitterness or anger toward those who hold a different opinion on this matter. If zealous folks wish to argue for or against such things, we do not have to join in with them. This teaching should also never become grounds for judgment or excluding ourselves from mingling with other believers, or other believers from mingling with us. We may not be permitted to partner in ministry with certain congregations based upon our convictions on other doctrinal matters, but we can still come together for times of mutual encouragement.

 

To those who are still vehemently opposed to this teaching of head covering, I would ask them to sit down and just think about what is being commanded of both sexes. Men should not cover their head during prayer and prophesying in the meetings, and women should cover their heads. How long does the average church meeting last? 2 hours, maybe? What’s so difficult about obeying this teaching for 2 hours? The mere fact that this issue of head covering is so controversial and that those who do it are often met with angry looks and accusations of being in a cult, is valid proof that there is much more to it than just deciding to cover or not to cover one’s head. It’s a call to the body of Christ to deny ourselves, bear the reproach of Christ and symbolically give glory to God alone. 

 

This teaching is far from being the most important in the Bible, that’s a given. There are certainly weightier matters that we could consider, such as being filled with the Holy Spirit, loving Jesus more than anything, and being free from besetting sins. Nonetheless, if we are people who claim that all Scripture is God-breathed, then we must pay special attention to everything written in it, especially that which pertains to life in the New Covenant. 

The key is that it’s not only a matter of what is being said whenever we read the Bible but also who is saying it. In that case, even minor commands from a great God should be taken seriously. Although this is not a doctrine essential to salvation, we should still seek for revelation and clarity on the matter. I believe that since Jesus said that our love for Him is proved by our obedience to Him, the litmus test of just how much we love Him is our initial attitude toward the smaller and more neglected commandments. This topic of head covering is no exception. 

To simplify things even further, this tradition of head covering is meant to symbolize three things ensuring that only the glory of God is displayed:

  1. That the glory of man—which is woman— is to be covered in the church (1 Corinthians 11:7)

  2. That the glory of woman—which is long hair—should also be covered in the church (1 Corinthians 11:15)

  3. That women are an example to the angels by being under the authority of the man—her husband, father, elders (1 Corinthians 11:10)

The crux of the matter is that through head covering, we as unified members of the body of Christ in our locality, are making a huge and powerful statement, and we pray that our lives do the same.

HEAD COVERING

(Inspired by my wife’s sweet spirit)

 

“Must I wear it?” some ask with dread,

“This covering of cloth upon my head?”

As if the command were stern to obey-

But I ask the question a different way:

If by this simple act I honor the Lord,

And model obedience to His precious Word;

If the Church may thus learn,

as the Scripture hath said,

Her own sweet submission to her glorious Head;

If thus may the brothers be challenged to lead;

If in this small sign the daughters may read;

A woman’s true beauty; if angles discern,

And pause from their praises to wonder and learn;

Then I ask not “Must I?” but “May I?”

-M.A. Frees 

Sources

  1.  Montreal Gazette, “Hatless Women in Church Approved”, Montreal, Canada, October 26, 1935

  2.  The New York Times, New York, New York, August 28, 1900, 3.

  3.  Indianapolis Journal, Marion County, Indianapolis, September 1902, 7.

  4.  The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, August 14, 1902, 6.

  5.  The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, September 25, 1905, 1

  6.  The Chester Courant, Chester, Wales, September 6, 1905, 5.

  7.  Star-Phoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatechewan, Saturday, Nov 7, 1942, 

  8. The Morning Call, Paterson New Jersey, Wednesday, August 05, 1931, 22

  9. Omaha Daily Dee, Omaha, Nebraska, Monday, August 31, 1903,  7

  10. The Decatur Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, Friday, September 01, 1933,  34

  11. The Windsor Star, Saturday, October 28, 1967

  12. Calgary Herald, Calgary, Alberta, August 7, 1965, 25

  13. The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, August 23, 1921, 6

  14. Evangelical Visitor, Abilene, Kansas, March 1901, 11

  15. The Presbyterian of the South, Atlanta, Georgia, June 12 1912, 18

  16. Shiner Gazette, Shiner, Texas, January 5, 1933, 7

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