Head Coverings For Women

(1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

There was a practice in the church for many years where women were expected to wear some kind of head covering when they attended church. This practice has weakened and pretty much disappeared today, but even so there are some churches that still hold to this tradition quite strongly.

To veil or not to veil
To veil or not to veil

Much of the argument for this tradition comes out of this section of scripture. But is it what the scripture is truly saying? Does a woman have to wear a veil or a hat or some other kind of head covering today?

The question is probably even more compelling given the rise of Islam and the requirement of that religion for women to not just wear hats or veils, but to fully cover their faces with the burka. Now I do not intend to get into the discussion over whether the burka is right or wrong as my focus is not about what is done in Islam, but rather what is practiced in the name of Jesus Christ and the Christian churches. So let us look at this scripture to try to understand what Paul was driving at.

Wearing of Veils

In this section of scripture it talks about the need for a wife to wear a veil as a sign of authority and that no woman should pray or prophesy without having her head covered.

The scripture specifically talks about women as “wives.” It is the woman who is a wife that needs to wear a veil that Paul is speaking about here.

In the culture of that time it was tradition and practice for a married woman to wear a head covering or a veil as a sign that she was married. They did not give wedding rings as we do today, so the veil was an indication to the world that the woman was married.

Indeed, remnants of this practice still carry down to this day as when a man and a woman are joined together in matrimony, the woman typically wears a veil which is not lifted until the person officiating the ceremony declares them to be husband and wife. But once the ceremony is over, it is the wearing of rings that indicate a woman's marital status.

So the veil in Paul's day was a sign of marriage and that the woman was under the authority of her husband.

But how does this practice work in the church situation when a man or a woman stands before God? We know that on Judgment Day every person will stand alone before the throne of God to be judged. There will be no authority and no advocate to stand between them and God, the exception being those who are the Lord's people where Jesus Christ is our advocate with the Father.

In The Church

Paul gives us the real answer and what the true situation is for men and women and especially as to the wearing of a veil or some other head covering by a woman in the church as we read on.

He describes the fact that it is a shameful thing for a man to wear his hair long like a woman. It is a degrading thing for a man to do anything that would make him seem effeminate in any way and to wear long hair like a woman would be such a thing. Thus a man should keep his hair cut short.

Likewise though, it is degrading for a woman to dress or appear as a man. So no woman should cut her hair short like a man. She should keep it at a length that is appropriate for a woman.

Remember that these were cultural norms in Paul's day. We know that fashion today swings back and forward where men have at times had long hair and women have had short hair. And at the times these fashions appeared there was often shock and outrage.

But as to the wearing of hats or veils by women in church, what is Paul's response?

He says that if a wife will not wear a veil to show her marital status and the authority of her husband, she should cut her hair off. But because it is degrading for a woman to wear short hair, then she ought to wear the veil or other head covering to show the authority of her husband.

Again, these were cultural norms in that day. But Paul extends this further giving insight into the way of Christ.

Christian Position

In the last sections of these verses Paul shows us how we ought to behave and think as Christians regarding this matter. It is especially important for us today to understand this because he moves away from cultural practices of his day to the ways of the Lord, which are not determined by cultural practice or how things are done during certain eras and times, but how we should consider our position in Jesus Christ. And the ways of God and Jesus Christ do not change.

Paul commences his commentary on how we should think and behave by saying in verse 11, “Nevertheless, in the Lord…”

These are important words for they point to how we must think and behave in the will and the sight of God. He is about to explain what the true position is that we should all adopt as we walk with Christ, so it is important to note the words that follow on.

11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. – (1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

What is he saying here? He is saying that in the Lord, we are all equal. Woman was originally formed from the rib of a man in the garden of Eden, but now man is born from a woman. We are all equal in the sight of God. There is no distinction between men and women in the eyes of God. Paul also made this same point in another of his letters where he wrote,

27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – (Galatians 3:27-28)

We are all equal in the sight of God. So would God expect a woman to wear a veil as a sign of authority or to have her head covered and not a man? If God sees all men and women as equal, especially those who are in Jesus Christ, would he make such a distinction?

No. He would not. And Paul goes on to show this is the case saying,

13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. – (1 Corinthians 11:13-15)

Look at what Paul is teaching the Corinthian church. He is saying that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace, but if a woman has long hair it is her glory. Women were given long hair as a glorious and beautiful thing and it is her hair that is her covering.

A woman does not need to cover her head in Christ because God has already given her the perfect covering: her hair. And a woman's hair is the perfect covering because it is given to her by God. To cover up this gift of God with a hat or a veil would be a bit of a shame, but more importantly, to do so as a directive by the church is wrong.

Jesus Christ set us free from law and so to make a law that binds a woman or causes her to feel guilt or condemnation if she fails to follow a man's law is wrong.

The clincher in this argument and debate is seen in the last words of Paul on this subject.

If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. – (1 Corinthians 11:16)

When it comes to whether a woman should wear a veil or not in church, Paul says that the churches of God do NOT have such a practice. He saying don't be contentious over this matter. Don't argue about it, the truth of the matter is that this is not a practice or a tradition that the churches need to follow or hold.

So ladies, if you want to wear a nice hat to church or not, feel free to do so. But don't feel compelled to because someone said it is a requirement of the churches of God. Paul shows us quite clearly it is not and that God gave you your hear as the best and finest head covering of all.

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