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Covering the Head

Covering the Head

An Article in Response to Frequent Questions Regarding 1 Co 11:1-16.

 

Paul wrote a fascinating passage to the Corinthians that laid down principles regarding coverings of the head. There he gave counsel for women, for men, for persons in worship and in prayer, and for persons inclined to argue about such things.

 

From the counsel given Christians have historically come to one of the following conclusions:

 

1.            The counsel was historically and culturally sensitive, adapted to the social norms of the first century church in Corinth. Its counsels teach us some important principles but are not applicable in a literal way to our situation.

2.            The counsel is authoritative for Christians in all places and at all times. Women should have their hair covered with a bonnet or some other similar device.

3.            The counsel is authoritative for Christians in all places and at all times. Women should cultivate a feminine appearance by growing out their hair. Men should cultivate a masculine appearance by keeping their hair short.

 

I would like to begin the study with a point that might fit nicely into any one of the three views. Namely:

 

1Co 11:16  But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

 

Whatever position I come to I should abide by it in life. But the femininity or masculinity of hair or coverings was not customarily made an issue of debate in Corinth or in the other first century churches. It just is not that kind of issue where a variety of opinions must be harmonized for the church to function effectively.

 

Next I would like to eliminate the first of the three traditional views as scripturally erroneous.

 

There are ways to hint at cultural norms and local situations. Paul indicated that his counsel regarding celibacy was given, “not by commandment” but “by permission.” It was not to test all persons in all ages for it was written in view of the “present distress”, the persecution lethally dividing many young Christian homes. 1 Co 7:6, 26.

 

But 1 Co 11:1-16 is couched in no such culturally-sensitive language. Rather, it is worded in universal language that can be recognized by anyone who takes the scripture as it own interpreter.

 

Verse three speaks of “every man” being headed by Christ. Verse four speaks of “every man praying.” Verse five speaks of “every woman that prayeth.” Verse seven speaks of man being made in the “image” of God as a reason for the counsel. Verse eight refers to the creation order of Adam and Eve at the founding of the human race.

 

Verse nine speaks of God’s purpose in making the feminine gender.  Verse twelve brings these things up again and beckons men to consider that they all have female mothers. Verses thirteen to fourteen invite the reader to make a judgment call, not based on cultural norms, but rather on what “nature itself” teaches.

 

It would be difficult to make a more emphatic point that what you are writing is for the race and not merely for first century Corinthians.

 

A third point to make would be that Paul was not innovating. He introduces the issue of coverings by bidding the Corinthians to follow him as he has followed Jesus.

 

The Simple Answer

 

Many Jewish writings are easier for western minds to decipher if they are read in reverse, reading the final thoughts first and working backwards. Bible writers often wrote effect-cause-cause where western minds are accustomed to reading cause-cause-effect.

 

This passage is no exception. We have already begun with verse sixteen (above). The next verse in reverse is:

 

15  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

 

This is not difficult of understanding. Long hair for a woman is “a glory to her.” It is feminine and comely. Her hair is gift from God to her, given her for “a covering.” A covering of what? Very apparently, “of her head.”

 

The verse before this is equally easy of understanding.

 

14  Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

 

Where the natural instincts of the race have not been corrupted (as they are in homosexuality, for example), comparatively short hair is considered a masculine trait. Long hair, according to nature (even if not according to society) ought to embarrass a male as being feminine. By way of contrast, his hair was not given him for a covering of the head.

 

If we understand these three verses, 1 Co 11:14-16, the rest of the passage comes together nicely.

 

13  Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

 

Paul was appealing to the natural feelings of uncorrupted persons. Do persons, naturally, still associate long hair with females? It was a counter-culture movement that brought in long hair for the men. And what exactly does Paul bid us judge? Namely whether an uncovered person is “comely” in prayer.

 

8  For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

9  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

10  For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

11  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

12  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

 

Whether the symbol of submission to authority that the woman “ought” to have is a covering of hair or otherwise, these verses mean the same thing. They teach that women were created to help men and, at the same time, that both genders were to be mutually dependant in God’s plan.

 

God’s original plan helps us  understand the verse before these ones.

 

7  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

 

So man was made in God’s image. Apparently he was made well for communion with God. That is what he was made for. And the woman was made, by the analogy of the verse, for communion with the man. When he speaks to his Creator his masculinity ought not be obscured by long hair. And when she was made, she was also made well. She was made femine. When she talks to her husband, he appreciates this feature of her existence. And her Creator does also.

 

4  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

5  But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth 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.

 

These verses can be read simply as they stand when the verses following them are taken at face value. A praying man with long hair dishonors his Creator who made him masculine. And a praying woman with short hair belittles her femininity and thus her role as a helper to her husband. Thus her husband is dishonored.

 

And if she have short hair it is not that much different, in terms of femininity, than if she were shaved. Bald is masculine, short hair is masculine.

 

And Paul tries to use the repugnance of the thought of a bald woman to move ladies to treasure their covering of long hair.

 

And the issue of authority is the root issue in the relation of the genders. That is how Paul introduced the whole topic.

 

3  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

 

That is all there is to the passage regarding hair and coverings. It is neither complex nor obscure. If we accept that “hair was given her for a covering” and that women should be feminine, all is clear.

 

Yet there is one other point. Conscience rules the Christian. If a woman reading this is not persuaded that she could please her Savior while removing her bonnet, let the bonnet remain. A conscience void of offence against God is an inestimable treasure. It is worth the loss of friends and warmth to keep it, though it must always be kept with friendliness and warmth.

 

This is the point of:

 

Ro 14:22  Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23  And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

 

Amen.

 

 

For the Word Doc: Covering_the_Head

(20) Comments

  1. Thank you for your very informative exposition. I would like to find out how does Paul’s commands correlate with people taking the nazirite vow.

    • The phrase “seem to be contentious” shows that these are not vital issues. For men to make sacred vows to not cut their hair for a time is no violation of any moral law and cannot be condemned, even if it results in a temporarily long-haired man.

  2. And for women in some parts of the world who seem genetically (or nutritionally?) not to be able to grow long hair? (I’m thinking specifically of some areas of Africa.) How would these principles laid down by Paul be carried out in their case?

    • This question, B’Jay, is akin to another I am asking myself regarding intersex persons (those with xxy, xxxy, xxyy sets of chromosomes, and those with xx chromosomes but lacking androgen receptors). Here is what I come to:

      It isn’t a sin for a lady to have short hair or for a man to have long hair or for a man to have some female genitalia or for a female to develop in a masculine fashion as a result of her defective receptors. The Ten Commandments do not enforce being feminine to a certain degree or being masculine to a certain degree. What they require is sexual purity. And sexual purity does not require sexual activity. It does require, however, gender consciousness. It forbids homosexuality, cross-dressing, bisexuality and transgender medical practices.

      When a lady can’t grow long hair, she is not afoul of the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11 unless her heart is unwilling to deny herself and to demonstrate her submissive femininity some other way (by an actual covering, for example, or by doing her hair in a way recognized as purely feminine where she lives.)

      The genetic weaknesses that have accumulated on the planet do not provide an excuse for genetically standard persons to ignore counsel that was meant for them. (As an obvious example of what I am saying, the fact that someone is a vegetable mentally and unable to choose his own nutritional sources is no excuse for me to be careless regarding what I eat.)

      Even if no one else finds this helpful, at least you can see how I am trying to work through these questions.

  3. What about wearing hair extensions and wigs as a way to have longer hair. A lot of women particular of African decent wear hair extensions and wigs as it saves a lot more time when getting ready than doing their hair on a daily basis. arranging the hair daily causes breakage for very curly hair which in turn means the hair does not grow long. So would extension and wigs be viewed as ok or are they to be grouped with jewellery. Some reason that artificial hair is unnecessary adornment.

    • Dear Noma,

      I am just too ignorant to be of any help with this question. I know persons with extensions and others with wigs (related to cancer) and have never thought of these as being for the purpose of showing class or wealth or for showing off one’s person. But I cannot read minds. So I remain silent on this.

      Eugene

    • Norma, I have an opinion on the topic. God does not judge us based on our actions as much as based on our motives. What is the motive in wearing hair extensions or a wig? If a woman chooses this as a way of simplifying the work needed to care for her hair (of course, we’re assuming African American males wouldn’t use them because they can just cut their hair short and be done with it), or if she chooses to get a million (exaggeration) braids, or to have nice, slender dreadlocks (I’ve seen them pencil thin and they looked tasteful–fat ones look sloppy to me, though I have to be careful not to judge the motive!), and her motive is to save time, then surely there could be no sin in that. If, on the other hand, she is doing it for some selfish, prideful motive, God would know. We would not.

      Before I knew any African Americans personally, I used to think that getting all those braids was a waste of time. But now I have a daughter who is 1/4 African descent (Caribbean African). Her hair is curly, lovely curls almost like Shirley Temple, but maybe half the amount of hair. She envies how I can run a brush through my almost straight hair, put on a headband, and be done in about 60 seconds. It takes her 5-10 minutes every morning to brush, moisten, grease or gel, and arrange her hair, sometimes more. (She is 7, by the way, and she mostly does her own hair, and does a pretty decent job most of the time.) I once braided her hair in tiny braids during a camp meeting, and it made caring for it for the rest of the week a breeze. She doesn’t need to wash her hair more than once a week. I need to wash mine every other day, unless I’m willing to live with grease in it. African Americans generally don’t wash their hair more than once a week, because it is so fine and washing dries it out, and the grease that they add to their hair tends to absorb and make the hair healthier. Actually, when I let my hair get a little greasy between washings, it looks healthier after the wash. But that’s another topic!

      When I was growing up, my mom used to say that anyone who spent more than 10 minutes on their hair was vain. I think she was being judgmental, but there is something to what she said. And anything that helps a person spend less time focusing on their appearance could tend to help them be less vain, and therefore would be a positive thing.

      That is my opinion based on experience.

  4. Women Wear a Covering in the Church?

    Is it important whether or not a Christian woman wears a head covering in church services? If one were to judge by the common practice in the church world, the conclusion would be that it is not. But does common practice usually follow the mind and teaching of God? …

    [I have erased about 90% of Harold’s comment. It was not an interaction with my article, but simply his article on the same topic…differing from mine. And I care not to make my site a place for him to publish it. But the beginning and end are here with his name so you can contact him for the rest if you would like to read it. –Eugene]

    But, “to obey is better than to sacrifice,” and the matter resolves itself into this question, “Will Christian women emulate the example of the One who was the Lord of glory, and yet for the glory of God and the redemption of men humbled Himself and took the place of obedience?”

    Harold G Mckay

  5. Quick question. When you talked about “effect-cause-cause” and vice versa, were you referring to how someone will give reasons and then write the conclusion, vs. someone who gives the conclusion and then expounds upon the reasons for it? If so, that would imply that Paul was using the issue of head coverings to illustrate the issue of authority or chain of command (headship?) in verse 3.

    Another, not-so-quick (perhaps) question: What “ordinance” was Paul talking about in verse 2? I have heard (from a non-Adventist in a book on being a godly wife) that the issue of headship was the ordinance, and the context (at least of chapter 11–I haven’t looked at the previous chapter lately) seems to agree with her. Any insights into that? If she is right, then it could have definite implications in the whole “headship theology” issue that seems to becoming out of TOSC (aka, Chudleigh’s book, which I have read, btw, and had issues with).

  6. Thanks so much for sharing the effect cause cause principle, it has really helped me. Would you be able to share any resources on studying Hebrew text in the Bible? Also does that principle work when reading Peter’s epistles, John’s epistles, James’ epistle, and also the gospels?

    Thanks heaps

    • Morgan, this “principle” was gleaned from observation, not from scholarly reading. And I find it helpful in any place where you find a very long English sentence structured with what initially looks like a major premise followed by “for… for…. for…..”

  7. I agree with you that position #1 is untenable.

    However, I also cannot see any way that #3 can be considered tenable in the light of verse 6:

    “For 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.”

    It the uncovered women should also have head hair cut, than clearly the hair is not in and of itself an adequate covering. I quoted from the NASB (my personal favorite version), but ESV, NET, NLT, HCSB, ISV, ASV, ERV, and WNT all also make clear that long hair should not be present on a praying woman unless it is covered–which is a long ways from saying that cultivating long hair makes a covering unnecessary! While I don’t claim to be an expert in Greek, κειράσθω in the original seems to give plenty of validation to these translations. While the verse says “put something over your hair or cut the hair off,” position #3 takes the exact opposite stance: “You should neither cut your hair nor cover it.”

    • Kade, the way I understand that verse is like this, “If you can’t see that it is more lady-like to have long hair, try making yourself bald (don’t do this! I am making a point). Visualizing that in your mind would help make my point.”

  8. Eugene: to read the verse that way is to say that it means the exact opposite of what it says on the surface. That may be true, but we must be careful when we take the Bible to mean the opposite of what it says. What other than progressivism would lead one to believe that this particular verse means the opposite of what it says? Historically, the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anabaptist, and Reformed traditions all held that it meant what it said. If the verse meant the opposite of what it says, how come no one realized it until the religion of progressivism and feminism invaded the church?

  9. Eugene,
    I appreciate your article, and thought on this passage, and I do agree with Kade Wilkinsons view on vs 6, however I would respectfully like to share another point that I was convicted of, was V10 “10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” The angels who are without sin, veil their faces–their glory–before the Lord. How much more should we veil our glory before the Lord as we are with sin.
    From my own walk and experience, it began first with modest dress, and how humbling that was to do after being used to showing my figure, and being ‘fashionable’. I then found it even more humbling to cover my head, to cover my glory, that I used to glory in and knew it attracted attention. Just as SOP talks about how ‘fashion, more than any other power is eating out the spirituality of Gods people”, women glorying in self at this time of the world is also doing that. The Bible is consistant all the way through. If you take a look at Numbers 5:18 ” And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:”. If her hair were a covering, then this verse wouldn’t make sense.
    A profound verses to consider on this subject is: Isaiah 47:1-3, which talks about the path to nakedness, which is synonomous with sin in the Bible. “2 Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. 3 Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen:”
    If you look at the history of womans covering, and the history of womans dress and place them side by side, its a shocking fulfillment of Isa 47. The less the covering, and the more the fashionable hair, the less the dress, the more the nakedness showing, the more rebellious and independent the attitude. Keep in mind what SOP says about Modern Eve’s at this time in the world–PP page 59 “…but, like restless modern Eves, she was flattered with the hope of entering a higher sphere than that which God has assigned her.”
    I can sum up my experience in this statement, that I share whenever i am asked why I dress modestly and cover my head. “The Lord knows that it is good for my proud heart”
    God bless and Happy Sabbath,
    Larissa

    • Dear Larissa,

      I appreciate and respect your independent research into this topic. I am leaving your comment unedited and am content that people reading it and my article will have plenty to think about.

      Be faithful,

      Eugene

  10. Hi Eugene,
    Trusting that our good God has kept you well and safe, I also would like to submit my appreciation for the exposition on 1 Corinthians 11 that has often been controversial, especially here in Africa.
    I must admit though, that verse 6 wasn’t that clear as there seems to be some variations in the explanation, but I thank God that Larissa’s input has served to eliminate those variations. God bless you both.

    To Noma, who asked about hair extensions and wigs, I found this particular quotation interesting from SOP:

    “Fashion loads the heads of women with artificial
    braids and pads, which do not add to their
    beauty, but give an unnatural shape to the head.
    The hair is strained and forced into unnatural
    positions, and it is not possible for the heads of
    these fashionable ladies to be comfortable. The
    artificial hair and pads covering the base of the
    brain, heat and excite the spinal nerves
    centering in the brain. The head should ever be
    kept cool. The heat caused by these artificials
    induces the blood to the brain……… The unnatural
    heat caused by these artificial deformities about
    the head, induces the blood to the brain,
    producing congestion, and causing the natural
    hair to fall off, producing baldness. Thus the
    natural is sacrificed to the artificial.” The Health Reformer Oct 1, 1871

    Hope this was helpful, even as I urge you to read the entire article for it has a lot more.

    May the grace of the Lord be with you all.
    David Juma

  11. Your hair according to some Bible experts is given in lieu of a veil. Is given for a distinct action between gender. It is given as a divider between male and female. So there is no more need for men and women to worship in. Separate rooms.
    A woman’s physical head Paul states should have some type of a covering on it. When she prays or prophesy.
    Praying and prophesying in church seems to be the concern of Paul.
    When we like angels minister before God angels veil their faces. We as women is admonished to put a covering on our head. Or shave off our long hair.
    But since it’s shameful for us to shave our long hair, then let’s cover it with something . Especially when we pray or prophesy.

    • Hi Tricia, I know some see it this way. My article shows that I do not. But neither do I fault you. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. I receive you. Be faithful.

  12. Adebusoye Damilola - Reply

    i am so delighted on how you have highlighted this subject. i have believed that God is one regardless culture. in fact religion is a culture of its own. it affects what we eat, drink, wear, our choices of music, social activities and so on. i studied this subject as it is a major issue in the part of Africa were i stay. hair covering here is a normal part of worship for women however this practice has been tagged a cultural “unnecessary” tradition as we compared ourselves with christians and Adventists worshiping in foreign countries particularly the western world.
    however i have held the opinion that the text is pretty simple and if it applies to Africans, it could as well apply to all. most expositions i have heard have been by Africans. i am delighted to have this exposition from a foreign preacher(my assumptions)

    my question is since the head should be covered when praying and prophesying, does this connote church corporate worship and personal devotions alone or our everyday life as we can have to pray at all times?

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