Applying Paul’s Teaching on Head Covering For Women

Paul taught that Christian women should wear a covering on the head. This was based on his understanding of Genesis chapter 3. The headship of man over the woman is established in verse 16 of the chapter, which reads, “Unto the woman He said,’ I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be for thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”. The veiled head covering in the day of the Apostle Paul was not simply a demonstration of a woman’s modesty, as many suggest. It was an acknowledgement of a correct understanding of God’s creative order. This does not mean that a woman is of lesser importance than her husband. The Bible says in several places that in Christ all are equal. The statement that God is the head of Christ, in no way implies that Christ is less than God the Father. It cannot. Both are God. They are equal. In the same way, the headship of the man does not imply the inferiority of the woman. Man and woman are equal before God. However, they do have different roles. It is the matter of order that God has assigned the man to be the head of the woman. His role is to lead her and he is to protect her. 1 Corinthians 11 clearly demonstrates why women should wear a covering upon the head. It is because the man is the image and glory of God, while woman is the glory of man (verses 8, 9). Verse 10 tells us that this is something that concerns even the angels, though the text does not explain why. In the 2nd chapter of Timothy, we read the following words. (Verses 9-11) “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls, or costly clothing, but that which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” These verses, which address modesty, do not speak of the head covering. That is because head covering for women is not primarily about modesty, but is related to the acknowledgement of God’s authority and a woman’s place in creative and church order. This is the main reason why Satan came to Eve in the Garden, and not to Adam (Verses 12-14) “And I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And, Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Our enemy, the devil, knew exactly what he was setting in motion. He did not go to the man. He went to the woman. His goal was to deceive the one person whose influence over the man would cause him to choose disobedience to God. By doing this, Satan was sure to bring humankind out of God’s creative order. Again, one must look at the situation from the perspective of order. If he were to attack the man, it would mean retribution from God. However, in the chain of command which God has established, man is the head over the woman, as God’s Word states in 1st Corinthians 11. This was done, not because the woman had less understanding, but because of the impact that losing her would have on the man. In order for Satan to accomplish his goal of usurping God’s place in the life of the man, the man had to relinquish his obedience to God of his own will and choosing. (See Romans 6:16). The serpent came to Eve, and influenced her by deception (or deceived her by influence); causing her to doubt the words which God had said. She believed the words of the serpent, and disobeyed God, falling to transgression. Her husband now found himself with a terrible choice. He could choose to follow his wife in disobedience of his own free will. The other choice was to live without her. He could have eaten from the tree of life and lived forever; that life, however, would not include Eve. How terrible a position this must have been. There can be no doubt that Adam was distraught, as anyone who has lost a spouse would certainly be! His decision would have been colored by his grief, and would be made in only moments. Adam certainly knows that Eve will face death at God’s hand, now. Adam knows that Eve will be taken from him forever. God had made Eve for Adam out of his own flesh and bone. She was his own body. He was responsible to teach and protect her. Certainly he believed he had failed in this. He likely believed that his place was with her, even in death. Perhaps he simply loved her too much to leave her. Therefore, Adam chose to remain with the wife God gave him, even though it meant death. He gave up his life for her sake. And, that is something that Jesus, called the second Adam, did for us. The difference, of course, is that Jesus had power over death. Adam did not.

The Bible tells us that a man is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. Certainly Adam knew how to do this well, for he had been formed by and taught by the Creator Himself. Eve had been made for Adam; literally taken from his own body. No other relationship claims such a beginning. Remember that all of this took place in the time when Adam knew no sin. He did not have that nature of sin that we all taken for granted. That means the choice to follow his wife occurred before sin. In other words, Adam makes this choice deliberately. What would cause Adam to do such a thing? I believe that, as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for her, so Adam did the same for Eve. Of course, Adam lacked the power to save his bride; where Christ had the power to save us. However, what Adam did can be seen as the final act of faith in his sinless condition. Just a theory, but it makes sense.

Adam honored his wife, and her place in creative order, and we should honor our place as well. This can be seen by the wearing of a physical covering when a woman teaches or prays. 1 Corinthians 11 clearly shows us this distinct order of authority. Let us read verses 8&9 again. The man was created first, the Scriptures say, and he is the image and glory of God. The woman is the glory of man. So, it makes sense to cover the woman (man’s glory) while the man (God’s glory) remains uncovered.

Paul begins the teaching in verse three of 1st Corinthians 11. He writes that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and the head of Christ is God. Paul is speaking of creative order and headship. This distinction is important, because Paul is not discussing marital order here. Please take a moment and read verses 4 through 16.

Please note that Paul is not saying that a woman is to be covered because of a subordinate gender role. Some cultures teach this, but Paul is connecting head covering to prayer life. Read verses 4and 5 once again. It is clear in this passage that when a woman is praying or prophesying, her head is to be covered. Did you catch that? I hope you did. Not when she is at the church service, but when she has the active role! These are active tense verbs that Paul is using. Remember that this is a letter being written to the Church. This is an ordinance that Paul introduced to the Bride of Christ. Consider, too, that this topic of head covering was written immediately before Paul’s discussion on The Lord’s Table. This makes it a bigger deal than is Paul tacked this onto a discussion on modesty. Now, modesty is also very important, but I ask you to consider for the moment that head covering is a preparation for the Lord’s Table. Paul wrote about modesty when discussing the relationship between men and women. Paul writes about head covering here, because of its relationship to prayer and to the Lord’s Table.

The head covering is not the hair, (more on that later), nor is it an expression for the husband. There is no face veil, either. Paul is discussion our communion with God, our fellowship. It is about God’s glory.

Read verse 7. The reason for a woman to cover her head when in prayer is because she is the glory of man. Scripture teaches that man is the glory of God, while woman is the glory of man. Since man is said to be the glory of God, it makes sense that a man should not have his head covered when praying, because God’s glory should not be covered. Scripture teaches that woman is the glory of man. When a woman covers her head in prayer, she is covering the glory of man. This is a great honor! It sends a message to the angels. Read verse 10. Consider this: The angels also cover themselves in God’s presence.

Paul illustrates the point by reminding us that long hair is a glory to women. This is a natural covering that demonstrates the importance of head covering. But, Paul is not saying that long hair is the covering for prayer life. Hair covers the head always. Women of all religions grow their hair longer. When we see two people with long hair, we expect they are both women. It seems to be instinctive. Paul is not speaking of a covering that stays on the head, but one that can be placed on the head when praying. So, we are talking about cloth here.

Some suggest that head covering is for modesty, but Paul discusses it separately. Others have taught that head covering was to keep Christian women from dressing like pagan women. Not true. Not what is taught in God’s Word, so we won’t discuss that further. Some have suggested that it was to avoid disagreement in the Jewish community. To this I say that Paul was not one for suggesting that the early Church ( or contemporary) be like the culture in which the believers dwelled. He was fervent is encouraging believers to “come out from among them.”

It is clear that Paul was instituting the practice of Christian head covering to testify and illustrate the creative roles of men and women as regards the glory of God by having women cover the head when praying (or when taking the active role in ministry) but is it head covering, or may we apply the principle to another means of obedience? Can the practice be updated? This question has been asked over the years, and I would say that if Paul instituted head covering as a practice, we cannot apply it as a principle elsewhere, (as in the wearing of a long skirt).

What type of head covering?

Over the years we have had many types of head covering. There are many styles and materials used to create coverings for women to wear in the service. The modern Church does not dictate the style of dress for today’s Christian woman. I believe there is much freedom here. There are hats, scarves, snoods, and more to choose from. If you live in a culturally diverse neighborhood, you might like the head covering styles represented by your neighbors. Choose a style that reflects your sense of fashion, and that will be comfortable. If you like, add your chosen head cover to you every day style and model head covering to the next generation.


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