What is all the to-do about covering or not? Who is or was it ever for? What does
Scripture teach? And what does history tell us? What is appropriate for me today?
I can still remember attending church with my paternal grandparents in a
conservative little congregation in Moon, Wisconsin as a young child. Most of the ladies
wore hats. All of the men who wore hats removed them when entering the building. They were so consistent in their practice that even today as I think back, I can picture theirheadgear as well as I can remember their smiles.
This was tradition. It died with that generation. I remember stepping into the
entryway of another church with my hands full on a bitterly cold winter day and being
reminded impatiently to remove my hat. I was not told why, and I couldn’t have given any scripture to support it, but I believed it was proper to remove my hat. I was also offended that the attacker didn’t offer to hold something so that I could get my hands free to remove it.
When we went to Benin, West Africa as church-planting missionaries, ladies
frequently approached my wife on sabbath and asked why she didn’t wear a scarf, bonnet, or anything to cover her head during worship services. She read 1 Corinthians 11, concluded that her hair was a sufficient covering, and told them that while she wasn’t
there to change their culture, she was also under no obligation to emulate it.
So our awareness of some of the issues of head coverings has been with us since
before we got into “walking in Torah”. Yet we are much better informed and committed to the principles of Scripture now that we have shed the vague leftover stories and studied out the topic for ourselves.
A cursory consultation of history will verify that for centuries, presumably since the
apostles walked the earth, and going all the way back to the patriarchs of Is’rael and theirwives, perhaps clear back to the beginning, women wore head coverings, and men did not cover their heads, at least while praying. Old paintings, statues, and other artifacts show this. It even seems to have been a part of the larger world culture, showing up in thepractices of various nations outside of Is’rael. Several religions, including some Mennonite and Amish groups, still require women to wear something, at least ceremonial, on their heads as a matter of course.
But there are a lot of things that people used to do. And often the reasons have
been forgotten or ceased to exist. We want to know what the real message of Scripture is,
and how it applies or does not apply to us today. What are the reasons or principles
involved? Or are there not any?
A woman’s covering is not her hair. While the King James Version translates two
different words as “covering” in First Corinthians 11, we must recognize that they are
different words, chosen by Paul as distinct from one another. His arguments preclude
equating these words.
In verse 15, the apostle Paul says that it is acceptable for a woman to have long
hair, because it is given to her for a covering (parabolayon G4018). This is just a few
verses after he says that a woman praying with her head uncovered (akatakalupto G2619) dishonors her “head”.
In verse 6, Paul clearly states that if a woman is uncovered, she might as well be
“shorn”. If her hair was her covering and she was uncovered, she would already be shorn or bald, and this would make no sense. While there is no description of the item or
material that a woman is or was supposed to use, it was clearly something that could be
put on and off, and was separate from her hair.
Another common misconception is that covering is only for married women. While
the expectation is that women will marry, not all do or even can. And some end up as
widows or divorcees. But all female believers are expected to pray, and Paul argues that
all women have a “head”. Therefore if a covering is appropriate for married women, it is
also appropriate for all females of any age or status.
Since a believer is apt to pray at any time, and we are even commanded to “pray
without ceasing”, it follows that anyone who is supposed to cover or uncover should do so pretty much all the time, not just while attending services in a worship building.
But opinions, preferences, logical arguments, and even convictions must be
subjected to Scripture. What is the teaching found there? And to whom and when does it
The major passage is found in the first letter Paul and Sosthenes sent to the
Corinthian converts (11:3-16). He argues that honoring the head over each one of us is
needful. And that part of honoring our “head” involves covering or not covering our head.
Men are to be uncovered, women are to be covered.
In 2 Samuel 15:30, we see king David and his friends when mourning and fleeing
his son Absalom, going barefoot and with his head covered. This is remarked as an
unusual behavior for a specific reason. Haman the agagite also mourned with his head
covered in Esther 6:12. The reference to covering in Psalm 140:7 speaks to protection
rather than an actual physical mantle or covering. So the default for men seems to be to
have no covering on their heads. Apparently this excludes battle helmets and other such
Priests also were to wear a “mitre” (crown), but this was more like a visor than a
hat, and probably didn’t involve covering the top of the head. There may be other
elements of the honoring heads issue at play here as well. See Leviticus 21:10. While the
prophet Yakezek’el (Ezekiel) was told not to leave off his “head dress” (tire of thine head
H6287) or mourn or weep (24:17), he also says that in vision a hand from above lifted
him by the hair (8:3).
Women (females) were to generally keep a covering on their head. Numbers 5:18
assumes that any woman (married in this case) brought to the priest by her husband to
be examined for adultery would have her head uncovered by the priest as part of the rite.
While these passages of Scripture are a combination of precept (Paul) and narrative
(Old Testament references), they together constitute a platform for the wearing of some
fabric on the head by women, and for men to be normally bare-headed. Many who have
adopted this practice have testified that they are treated more respectfully by those they
encounter in daily life. Persecution and difficulty is just as likely, but those who are
committed to honoring their “head” will see that the benefits of doing so outweigh any
transitory cost here on earth.
This scriptural injunction to wear a head covering for all females and to abstain for
all males carries with it a profound and radical transformation of life—perspective,
interaction, and purpose. Making this a part of daily practice and procedure will have a
significant impact on the thoughts and intentions, and provide ongoing opportunity to
testify before all.
Most striking in his argument to persuade the believers in Corinth (11:14) to be
consistently cooperative with this practice is Paul’s appeal to an argument he used
elsewhere with the faithful in Rome (1:26). In both conversations, he appeals to nature.
He calls to his readers to consider what is natural and to bring their lives into confomity
with that which is natural. There are other passages where Paul appeals to nature to
support his point, but here let us note that in both of these passages the same elements
are under consideration: gender, nature, status. While the Roman letter deals with the
debasement of homosexuality, the Corinthian letter addresses honoring with how one
dresses. The core of both discussions is “will you accept how you were made, or rebel
against it?” “Will you accept your gender, your role in life, your duty that stems
We all have personalities, preferences, perspectives, and conditioning which either
correspond or conflict with how we see our conduct before Messiah. For some of us, it is
easy to embrace the lot we were born into. For others of us, it feels all wrong. Either way,
we must choose to walk in the authority or submission, gender, duties, and position given to us at birth. Whether we naturally feel drawn to cooperate with nature or not, we are who we are. Part of accepting our lot in life is to embrace our given gender. Part of it is to wield appropriate authority, and to recognize the authority above us. Whether or not it fits our personality and preferences, we will be more content and at peace in the long run to accept our role in life.
I see the issue of head covering as a part of this life role. A part of the identity of
each believer. We must each study and decide in communion with our “heads”. This is nota decision we can make for our own sake. We must first ask ourselves “what will honor my “head”? What will honor my Redeemer? What will please him?”
By: Linden (Guest Blogger)