Should Christian women wear a headcovering at church? By Anne Nissim.

Michael and Annie in a London park.

Reasons to wear the headcovering, by Mrs. Anne Nissim, M.A. (CANTAB) 

What are the reasons for headcovering given by Paul in 1 Cor 11? 1) Verse three gives the first reason why the headcovering should be worn. This is the issue of headship. Paul states that God is the Head of Christ, Christ is the Head of man and man is the head of woman. For this reason, it is proper for the women to cover their heads and for the men to have uncovered heads. 2) Verse seven gives the second reason for headcovering of women.

Paul states that man (males) represent the image and glory of God, while women represent the glory of man. Therefore, in a church meeting, the women's heads should be covered and the men's heads should be uncovered.

In the church gatherings, it is not seemly for man's glory to be openly displayed, nor is it seemly for the glory of God to be hidden or covered. Because the Lord Himself is present in the meetings, there ought to be no proud display of man's glory, symbolised by the uncovered head of the woman. 3) Verse eight gives the third reason for the headcovering of women.

As a part of Paul's apologetic for the propriety of women covering their heads in worship, he brings the point that man was created first and woman was created after man. 4) Verse nine presents a fourth reason in Paul's apologetic for the headcovering of women. In this verse, Paul points to the roles of male and female that were established from the beginning of creation.

The woman was created for the man, the man was not created for the woman. 5) Verse ten gives a fifth reason for headcovering of women. Women should cover their heads "because of the angels", presumably because angels observed the order of creation and are onlookers when the believers meet together for public worship. Please note that not one of the reasons given by Paul for the headcovering of women are in any way related to the culture of Corinth in his day. Rather, the reasons are scriptural, based on unchanging theological truths that are as applicable to us today as they were then.

The teaching of heaadcovering was applicable for all "the churches of God" in verse 16: the practice was not only relevant in the culture of Corinth but was universally applicable to all of the churches of God, with their many and varied cultural backgrounds. Who is to wear the headcovering? It is obvious from the passage that the headcovering is intended to be worn by the females and not by the males. But are only married women obliged to wear the headcovering, or should all women wear the headcovering?

At least three of the five reasons Paul gives in apologetic defence of the headcovering of women, apply to women in general and not specifically to married women. These are the first three reasons given in the list above (under 'Reasons to wear the headcovering'). Let's look at each in turn: 1) Verse three gives the reason of God's order of headship. Christ is Head of man (males).

Christ cannot be said to be the Head only of married men, but rather He is the Head of all men. Likewise, the head of woman is man. Man is not only the head of married women, but of women in general. 2) Verse seven presents the truth that males represent the glory of God, while females represent the glory of man.

It is not true that only married men represent God's glory, but rather all men are symbolically representative of the glory of God. Similarly, it is not only married women that represent the glory of man, but rather all women are symbolically representative of man's glory. 3) Verse eight presents the order of creation. It is not only married women that were created in order after man and it is not married men alone who were first in created order.

Man was created first, then the woman. 4) Apart from the fact that the reasons Paul gives for the headcovering are not exclusively applicable to married women but rather apply to all women, verse five of the passage states that "every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonours her head".

Is the headcovering distinct from the hair? Verses five and six make it clear that the covering is distinct from the hair. Paul states in verse six that if the woman is without the headcovering during prayer or prophecy, she should also be shorn. The force of the text states that if she is without a covering over her hair, she is dishonouring her head just as much as she would be dishonoured if she were shaven-headed. The shame is no less. If we were to assume that the headcovering of the woman is her hair, verse six would have to read "For if a woman has no hair, let her also be shorn", which is ridiculous.

Verse five would also make no sense and would have to be read, "Every woman praying or prophesying with a shaven head dishonours her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven." Why would Paul say that a shaven-headed woman praying or prophesying brings dishonour to her head just as much as if she were shaven? Of course this would make no sense. It is true that the long hair of the woman is a natural covering for her head (verse 15). Paul draws on the fact that a woman feels instinctively shamed without having a natural covering for her head (the hair).

Pointing to their natural sense of shame if they were shaven-headed in day-to-day life, Paul presses the point that it is just as much of a shame for her to be without a physical headcovering when praying or prophesying. When should the headcovering be worn? Verses two and sixteen, which begin and end Paul's instructions about headcovering, both imply that the headcovering was one of the traditions or customs that Paul handed over to the believers, to be kept by all the churches. For this reason, I see the context as being the church meetings of the believers. The traditions, including headcovering, were handed down to the church.

The verses falling in between verses two and sixteen all form a part of Paul's apologetic discourse on why it is appropriate for women to cover their heads. Verse five falls within this discourse, bringing the argument that "every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonours her head". From verse five, we learn that even outside of the church meetings, if a woman prays or prophesies, she must cover her head, otherwise she shames her head. Therefore, the headcovering should be worn during the meetings of the church, because the teaching of headcovering is a part of church tradition handed down by the apostle Paul, but should also be worn outside of the church meeting whenever the woman prays or prophesies.

We know from 1 Cor 14:34 that during the church meetings, the women are to keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak. Therefore we conclude that the praying and prophesying spoken of in the passage on headcovering (verse five) is done outside of the church meetings: apart from her wearing of the headcovering to the general meetings of the church, the woman will also wear the headcovering whenever she prays or prophesies outside of a church context.

Similarly, men will remove their hats not only during the church meetings but also when they pray, either audibly or when led in prayer by another, outside of a church setting. Isn't it too religious?

Surely God only looks at the heart? Actually, in this passage, Paul doesn't give a single word of exhortation to the women to have a submissive heart attitude towards the men. He does, however, command that the women cover their heads. The fact that women are to have a submissive attitude is taught in other passages of Scripture but is not touched on here, therefore we conclude that it is not the point that Paul is trying to get across to the Corinthians.

The point is, rather, that the women should wear a physical headcovering. Elsewhere, Paul commands that the women dress modestly (1 Tim 2:9). Following the logic 'God only looks at the heart', a woman would be required to have a modest and humble attitude but would be able, if she wishes, to dress in a way that exposes her body to the sight of men.

Of course this is ridiculous because the heart attitude of the woman is reflected by her outward obedience to the external requirements of modest dress. A correct heart attitude will lead to correct external practice in obedience to the command of Scripture. The same is true in the case of the headcovering. It would seem strange that Paul goes to these lengths to command the women to wear the headcovering if the external practice is of no importance whatsoever.

Baptism is also an external practice, a physical act done in obedience to the command of Scripture. Likewise the breaking of bread: 'This do in remembrance of Me'. But if we honour the Lord and remember Him in our hearts, surely that is all that matters and the external, 'religious' act of breaking bread is unimportant, if God only looks at the heart.

The truth is that the obedience of the heart will lead to obedience in practice in our lives. This should be true of every aspect of our walk of faith. If we have faith without works, our faith is dead. The believer should be characterised by inward faith, purity, holiness and by outward good works, pure speech and obedience to the physical commands of the Lord. So it is in the matter of the headcovering also. The correct heart attitude will necessarily lead us to honour the Lord by obedience in practice to a practical command given to New Testament believers.

Alan Franklin adds: To view Michael and Annie Nissim's website, which has more articles, superb items for sale made by believers in Israel, and a fine range of good books. The link is:


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