No, this episode is not about women secret agents. It is about a subject that is gaining more and more attention in Christian circles and that’s should Christian women be required to wear head coverings in church, and maybe even all the time. Some proponents say, using 1 Corinthians 11 that Paul says women should wear head coverings as a sign of submission.
There’s a lot of debate about it – does 1 Corinthians 11 prescribe this as a practice for Christian women today at all, or was this a cultural thing for the Corinthian church of that day? If it is applicable for Christian women today, is it only during worship services? Or all the time (i.e. the Amish and Mennonite communities)? Join us as we delve into this!
Episode 90 - Women Under Cover
So, we dealt last week with Biblical Feminism (which we coined “the real radical feminism” because it is such a radical idea in today’s society. And we mentioned one thing that we wouldn’t have had to time to deal with in that episode but is seeming to gain more and more attention in Christian circles and that’s women wearing head coverings as a sign of submission.
There’s a lot of debate about it – does 1 Corinthians 11 prescribe this as a practice for Christian women today at all, or was this a cultural thing for the Corinthian church of that day? If it is applicable for Christian women today, is it only during worship services? Or all the time (i.e. the Amish and Mennonite communities). Let’s start by reading the text.
“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”
Let’s start by saying this: This passage is in the midst of a chiastic structure. If you’ve listened to many of our podcasts or been in any of our Bible studies you’ll know that a chiasm is a literary structure used to focus your attention on the most important point. They are found all over the Bible, and can be in the middle of a chapter, can be a whole chapter, a whole book, etc… In this case, Chapters 11-14 of 1 Corinthians are a chiasm having to do with corporate worship (the worship service). AND at the center of that big chiasm is chapter 13 – the love chapter – and within that chapter is another chiasm focusing on spiritual maturity in the context using our spiritual gifts in corporate worship.
And, Chris, you’re telling us that because as we or anyone else dives into this controversial issue, we need to remember when it comes to using our spiritual gifts (or talking about how we should or shouldn’t use them), spiritual maturity grounded and rooted in love, has to be kept at the forefront.
Amen. Believers should love each other, and any discussion or debate about these should reflect that. So let’s dive in. This is a hotly debated text partly because it’s confusing. Is the Apostle Paul talking about a veil or some other sort of “headpiece” that a woman would wear; or does her hair count as a natural head covering, and then, does it only count if it is long hair, but not short? Those are questions that some people debate, but what is plain from the text is that something is to be distinguishing the way a man looks from the way a woman looks.
Exactly. And that’s not a popular idea in some circles today, but that idea is tied back to creation in this passage. 1 Corinthians 11 has to do with authority. It deals with gender roles and the God-given authority of husbands over wives, and male leadership in church. Paul is concerned with there not being any look of impropriety or sinful behavior during the worship service for both sexes.
The issue of authority is seen right away in verse 3, which I’ll read again. “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Some say that the word “head” really means “source.” But that rendering (while that could be correct in some places) doesn’t totally fit this passage. And, in over 50 examples of this expression “person A is the head of person(s) B” found in ancient Greek literature, Person A has authority over person(s) B in every case.
Let’s start with the last part “the head of Christ is God.” We need to digress for a moment and make it clear that we do not believe in ESS (the Eternal Subordination of the Son). We believe that all three Persons of the Trinity are equal in their divine nature and attributes, from eternity. The Trinity is not composed of greater and lesser gods; there is one God existing eternally in three co-equal Persons.
Absolutely. Philippians 2:5-8 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
As we said last week, when Jesus was on earth He willingly submitted to the Father’s will. We know that from Matthew 26:39, while Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as Iwill, but as You will.” Also, John 6:38 says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me." Jesus is the model for men and women in this authoritative scenario. You want to explain that?
Yes. Genesis 1:27 affirms that men and women were both created in the image of God. It says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Both are equally important. Neither is less significant than the other. They have different roles, but the same worth and value.
Like the three Persons of the Trinity have different roles: God the Father chooses; God the Son secured salvation for the elect; and the Holy Spirit applies that salvation to God’s chosen people.
Moving on in the 1 Corinthians text. First, let’s look at this text in the cultural context. At that time, in some pagan cults, men wore head coverings. Paul says it’s dishonorable for men to prophesy and pray in the Corinthian church with their head covered. God wants His people to be distinct from the world. That may be part of the reason why Paul says no head coverings for men in worship services. But he says the opposite for women praying and prophesying in worship.
He does. And if it was dishonorable for women not to have a head covering when praying and prophesying, what constituted a head covering? Was it her hair? Was it only long hair, Or could it be short? Or was the head covering something else? Let’s read those verses having to do with it again.
“every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.” Then later, in verses 14-15, it says Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Let’s deal with the cultural things first. Prostitutes in that period had a problem with lice; thus they kept their hair short or sometimes shaved. Therefore, some scholars argue that short or shaved hair said “temple prostitute.” Also, many commentators say having a physical head covering was a sign of marriage, so going without would be like controversial – like taking your wedding ring off today to go barhopping.
So, culturally, having the women cover their heads would take away any kind of distraction that may arise from a cultural standpoint. Nobody would be wondering if this prophesying woman was a prostitute because they wouldn’t see her hair. You couldn’t see her hair if it was covered. But, could a woman’s covering be long hair, as some argue Paul says in verse 15 that “if a woman has long hair, it is for her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”
It’s clear this is some type of covering. From historical evidence of clothing of the time that it’s not likely a veil or a head covering like a Muslim would wear. What was the covering? Not sure. But the long hair Paul says is a woman’s covering has more to do with the verse before it (and the actual heart of the passage) than the actual covering. Let’s read verses 14 and 15 again. They say, “does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”
The thrust of the passage as a whole makes it clear that there’s a natural distinction between a man and a woman – THEY ARE DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER, and although equal in worth and value, there is male authority God has put in place.
And that’s why Paul takes the argument back to nature. He’s basically referring back to men and women being created different from one another. To try to blur the lines of the gender differences of men and women is confusing and it’s not following God’s design.
It’s not the only place he uses this argument from nature.
No, it’s not. Paul does it in Romans with verses 1:18-20 which say, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” And then he launches into the verses about exchanging natural relations between a man and woman for unnatural ones.
So in the Corinthian church, he’s calling for a distinction. To send confusing messages as about your marital status, your gender, or your promiscuity while doing some type of leading during the worship services would be bad. And it was about women doing some type of leading. Paul’s addressing women who were prophesying and praying, most likely during the worship service. You have to deal with the fact that these women were, in fact, doing that; whatever “prophesying and praying” meant when Paul wrote it.
As we said in the last episode, women preaching on Sunday morning is prohibited in the Pastoral Epistles, where that is left to the elders, who are men. Scripture never contradicts itself. It’s the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it can’t contradict itself. So why is Paul seemingly okaying this, if the women cover their heads?
Some say Paul deals with the authority issue here, and with the women teaching or exhorting during corporate worship three chapters later.
And some say the women in this passage weren’t in corporate worship; they were prophesying and praying elsewhere. Regardless, for today’s discussion the question is: “Is the main thrust of this passage about women wearing an outward covering on their head?”
I’m going to say again the main thrust is not about what about what a woman is wearing on her head – that could be totally subjective depending on your culture.
Exactly. The issue is, are we demonstrating that we’re willing to come under the Lordship of Christ and obey, even if it goes against the cultural norm? Be modest when the culture worships immodesty? Do the men and women understand the order of submission? And, are they showing a watching world that they understand there are two genders and they have different roles? It’s not about a veil or a white lace cap on your head.
In some cultures to say that a woman has to wear a head covering would make no sense. And in some cultures, men always wear earrings.
People who are “for” actual head coverings for women today base it on these things: 1) that Paul argues from creation, 2) that Paul uses the word “churches” in verse 16, thus extending it beyond the Corinthian church; 3) that he says the churches have “no other practice (or custom)” and that 4) it’s not hair because you can “put it on” or “take it off”. However, as Dr. Steven J. Lawson, President and founder of OnePassion Ministries points out, “This practice of wearing a head covering isn’t taught anywhere else in the Bible. There’s no biblical support for it.”
There isn’t. And ideally for scriptural support of something like wearing head coverings, you want it to 1) have been taught by Jesus; 2) practiced in Acts by the early Church; and 3) be clarified in the epistles.
For example, foot washing was taught by Jesus, but not seen being done by the early Church anywhere in Acts and not clarified in the Epistles. It’s not wrong to do it, but it’s also not wrong to not practice it. It isn’t something that’s taught by the whole counsel of God.
So, each person’s conscience should guide them. Chris, there’s a few parts of this passage we haven’t dealt with yet. Verses 8-12 says, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” There’s some really bad patriarchal stuff happening because of verses 7-9.
There is. Some try to take these verses and twist them to make it say that a woman’s job is to please her man, and make him happy, and that’s basically all she’s useful for. That understanding makes a perfect setting for abuse in man and woman relationships. There are some websites and blogs by women who take this to dangerous places and get very unbiblical in their posts and tweets on social media.
There was one that said, (I’m quoting here) “The Apostle Paul commands those that burn to marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. He also commands us to not deprive our husbands for lack of self-control. Most godly men marry because they burn. They want sex. They want a wife who is available to them to meet this need. If you are married, you are to fulfill that need for your husband. If you don’t, you have some part in his seeking out porn or an affair if he does.”
There are women and men who take that kind of teaching to heart, and the relationship can get abusive. 1 Corinthians 7:3-4, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Pretty clear that a wife is just as much in authority over her husband’s body as he is over hers. Paul is rarely one-sided on these issues when you read on in whatever passage.
That’s right! An example of that is Ephesians 5:1-2 which says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The passage goes on to say Christians should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,”
It says that right before it fleshes out what that should look in the context of different types of relationships.
Exactly. I’m going to quote Barnes’ commentary on Ephesians 5: “Submitting yourselves one to another - Maintaining due subordination in the various relations of life. .... At the same time that he enforces this duty of submission, however, he enjoins on others to use their authority in a proper manner, and gives solemn injunctions that there should be no abuse of power.”
The headship of man over woman (from creation) doesn’t diminish her worth any more than Christ could ever be inferior to the Father. Men and women are equals in the eyes of God. Equality does not negate the issue of headship. And headship does not give license to any man or to any husband to treat his wife, or any woman, as inferior.
I’ve seen some disturbing things on the internet when researching this head covering bit. In Reformed circles I’ve seen men who seem to be trying to put pressure on women (and other men) to gain support for the issue of women wearing a covering on their heads.
I think if a tertiary issue means that much to you, then you’d better examine yourself to see if you have a heart issue. Maybe you like the idea of someone showing their submission to you outwardly and maybe that is an idol. Just saying, don’t take verse 7-9 out of context.
That’s right, because, as you said, Paul doesn’t end it there. Paul giving women any kind of equal status with men in that day was revolutionary. Women today don’t read it that way, but it was paganism that held women down. Christianity raised them up.
Absolutely. The text in 1 Corinthians 11 goes on to say “That is why a wife out to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”
Men and women need each other. In fact, at creation it was not good for man to be alone. So God created his perfect complementary partner. Adam needed Eve. And men still need women. And women need men. It’s God’s design. And men should remember, Christ, although equal with the Father, “thought equality as something not to be grasped, but instead, took the form of a servant.” Husbands and church leaders, pastors and elders …. Christ is your example. He was a servant leader. If you’re being a tyrant leader towards women, you are sinning.
Let’s talk about the angels. Why did Paul say the Corinthian women should wear head covering “because of the angels”?
I’m going to explain it from Alistair Begg’s sermon on the subject. He says there’s two views: First view: the authority mentioned is solely the authority of the man and it’s referred to as wearing a sign of man’s authority on her head; and, therefore, do not offend the angels because they’re the guardians of the Divine order. They were present at Creation and saw what God planned from creation as far as roles of man and woman would be offended of any transgression of that order. The sign of authority is man’s authority over woman. View 2: It’s both a sign of man’s authority over the woman AND also a sign of her authority with respect to the rest of creation, and particularly in relationship to angels. Because the place granted to women in Christianity, unlike other religions, is that she was placed above all creation, including the angels. And barring her father prior to marriage and her husband in marriage, she possessed and possesses great authority. Therefore, it may not be just a symbol of submission to authority to the man, consequently, her hair (her covering) is a symbol of that authority over the created order, including the angels.
Angels were present at Creation. Rebellion started with the fallen angels (demons) in heaven. Satan and his demons brought that rebellion to earth. Ultimately, they got Adam and Eve to switch their gender roles. So seeing this text in light of subverting those roles makes perfect sense. And we see it again at the end of the section where Paul takes the argument back to what nature teaches. It’s crazy how much this teaching is lining up with what is happening today in society.
It is! So, should women have to wear head coverings today? No. This is about the headship of God over Christ, Christ over man and man/husband over woman in the context of the worship service. From this passage, we should teach Christians that in culture (whatever culture that is) neither the man nor the woman should do anything that would appear immoral, or anything that would reject or have the appearance of rejecting their gender or showing a misunderstanding of authority structure that God ordained for worship. Those aren’t going to be a popular ideas today. We live in a culture that is striving hard to blur the lines. Now, we don’t have to go backwards in time and have women wear dresses only and never wear pants. And we don’t have to dress Amish or Mennonite if we aren’t. But the absence of or wearing of head coverings in Corinth sent a message. The principal is timeless. The application will vary, but it’s still relevant. What’s our message going to be?
And when we talk about this with other Christians, we need to remember what we said at the beginning of this episode: this teaching is in the midst of a chiasm about worship structure; one where love amongst believers is the central point. So discuss it lovingly.
Absolutely. That’s all we have time for today. Don’t forget to check out our website, proverbs910ministries.com. Have a blessed day!
 Crossway Bibles. (2016). In ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version (pp. 2206–2206). essay.
 rcmichels1. “STEVE LAWSON on Head Coverings.” YouTube. YouTube, February 16, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz0Hl-vqcPQ.