Head coverings. While Paul spends a good bit of time discussing them, whenever I read the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, I usually walk away terribly confused. However, this past weekend I believe that the Lord has opened my eyes to something in this passage that I have never seen before, and I am just bursting to share it with you! (Hint: It doesn’t have much to do with headship, and everything to do with God’s glory).
My “view” of head coverings has changed over my life. When I was a teenager, I was taught that the entire passage was cultural, and had absolutely no place in our life today. I was told that in Corinth, only harlots wore their hair uncovered, so it was unbecoming for Christian women to do so during that time. At the same time, men in our culture regularly remove hats during worship and prayer. I was confused by the double standard. As a young adult, I believed that a covering was called for, but that this covering was long hair in women.
Let me step back for a moment, and share the passage in question with you.
Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. ~1 Corinthians 11:1-16
You see, I took the words, “But if a women has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering,” as meaning “long hair fills all of the confusing requirements above”. Also, verse 16 wiped away the requirement in it’s entirety if there was “contention” (or so I thought).
A few years back, I ordered some homeschool material from Christian Light Education. With my order, they happened to enclose a tract about head coverings and my interest was peaked. Then almost one year ago I somehow stumbled upon a website called Garlands of Grace, that had the most beautiful head coverings that I had ever laid my eyes on. I did some research about head coverings, and realized that up until the sexual revolution all women regularly wore hats to church. If you have ever read my blog before, you probably know that I think that the feminist movement is detrimental to our families, and I aim to basically be the opposite of a “feminist”. I learned that Jacinda from Growing Home and Olivia from Fresh Modesty cover during worship, and my curiosity grew all the more.
Although this passage of scripture was still a puzzle to me, through study I figured out a few of the pieces.
- Paul did not say that the reason to cover is to distinguish the ladies of the Corinthian church from the harlots in town. I believe that if this was the reason, he would have said it. Instead, he appeals to the creation order and angels as the reasoning behind head coverings. I would say that these are reasons that are still in place today.
- While studying, verse 6 really sounded like hair was not the intended head covering. “For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.” It wouldn’t make sense if the “covered” in this verse meant “hair”. For example, “For if a women does not have long hair, let her also be shorn”. If she didn’t have long hair, she would already be shorn. This just didn’t make sense to me.
- While the KJV and NKJV, says that “if anyone is contentious, we have no such custom,” a few other versions such as the NASB say, “if anyone is contentious, we have no other custom“. The use of “other” made so much more sense to me. Before I would wonder, “Why would Paul spend so much time on the topic, just to say, “never mind if you don’t want to”. Besides that, we should never be contentious about a teaching of scripture.
Given these discoveries, several months ago I decided to make a couple of wide headbands and purchase a few hats to begin wearing to worship. (These verses are in a section where Paul is discussing public worship). I was still puzzled, still confused, but I thought if this is something the Lord might possibly want me to do, then I should do it. It is a little thing, but I want to be obedient in the little and big things!
Up until this point, the only arguments that I heard concerning the covering was as a sign of headship. While it is true that covering is a sign of headship, it is also so.much.more!
Are you still with me? I hope that I haven’t lost you, I am getting to what in my opinion is the really important part.
Months ago I began subscribing to a site called The Head Covering Movement. (Yes, my husband has teased me for this, ha!) Anyhow, while reading their articles and blog posts I began to piece a few clues together that has made this passage become clear to me.
- Clue #1 Paul used two completely separate Greek words for “covering” in the passage.
“The ‘covering’ mentioned in verses 4 and 5 is katakalupto which means to veil, cover up one’s self. The ‘covering’ in verse 15 is peribolaion which means to wrap around (as in peri-meter).
Why would Paul have used two different words if the Holy Spirit had wanted him to mean the same covering?”
Now the scriptures began to become clearer to me. Sometimes the English language doesn’t translate exactly right, and we must go back to the Greek. Paul most definitely wasn’t talking about hair in the beginning of the passage. He was specifically instructing women to cover their hair with a veil. But why?
- Clue #2 It is all about God’s glory!!
Okay y’all, this is the most important part! I do not know how I have missed this as many times as I have read this passage!
When we are praying and prophesying in public worship, who should get the glory? Where should all of the glory fall? To God.
If we look back to 1 Corinthians, we see that in verse 7 “women are the glory of man“. Not God. Now let’s look at verse 15 again, which is the verse where many of us become confused and declare that our hair is enough.
But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.
1 Corinthians 11:15
So…while long hair is a “covering” given by nature, it is a glory to…us. I believe that Paul is instructing us to cover our peribolaion (hair covering) with a katakalupto (physical covering, like a veil or hat) so that all glory will go to God during worship. I also now better understand why some women chose to cover full-time, and I totally respect that.
I’m a big advocate for modest dress. I’ve been known to say that men cannot pay full attention to the worship service if women around them are wearing short skirts and low-cut tops. Why is this? Because women are the glory of man. In the same way, I believe that Paul is telling us that our hair is our very own glory, and that this should be covered during worship as well. Because when it comes to glory, God deserves it all!
Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs us that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Corinthians 1:27) Our physical bodies and hair are parts of our flesh.
From an article that I found online:
“Notice the references in verses 7 & 15 to glory. When the church comes together as a congregation to worship God, whose glory do we want to see? Man’s glory? Or God’s glory? The Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 1:27 “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” Think about the implications of this.
When we gather as a congregation to worship God, His glory is paramount, and our glory needs to disappear, get hidden, be out of sight. We don’t need to see any sort of human glory in God’s presence, the only glory seen in the church meeting ought to be the glory of Christ. Whether a person covers or uncovers their head depends on whose glory they want to be displayed.”
Since a woman’s hair is her glory, it cannot be the covering of her glory.
Also, I have always wondered why a covering would not be necessary if a woman’s hair was cut short. If it was a simply symbol of headship, why should it matter if a woman had hair or not? A woman is still a woman regardless of her hair length… For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered (1 Corinthians 11:6). I believe that Paul wrote this since if a woman’s hair (glory) is cut short or shaved, there is no longer any need to cover it in the presence of God, since it has lost it’s glory.
I think that I better understand verse 10 as well now, which has always been a complete mystery to me!
For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:10
Why in the world should women wear a head covering because of the angels? Because angels are in the business of glorifying God! Angels are present during our worship, and wouldn’t they want to see all glory going to God, and not the least bit going to ourselves?
I am beyond thrilled that a “mystery passage” of scripture has been made plain to me. If you have ever been confused about this passage, or have contemplated head coverings, I hope that this has helped.
Another resource that you might find helpful is To Cover or Not To Cover by R.C. Sproul at Ligonier Ministries.
Soli Deo Gloria!
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