COE VI: We Have No Such Custom, on Head Coverings

In March of 2016 I wrote a post about the “Head Coverings” passage from 1 Corinthians 11.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

A pretty good discussion followed in the comments. One of the parts which was not good was my reply to GK CHesterton wherein I wrote:

I think a fair reading of Paul’s teaching is that a woman’s long hair is an acceptable covering of itself, but perhaps I am just a big lib. But it must be long, and–as one under authority–the owner of the hair is not the one to decide how long is long enough to be a covering.

It’s one of those times where what I wrote was correct, but yet still not good. A woman’s long hair is an acceptable covering generally, but it is not an acceptable covering for prayer or prophecy, if I accept that 1 Corinthians 11 is truly God’s word. Verse 6 is the lynchpin.

For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

Paul said that a long-haired woman who won’t cover her hair should have her hair cut off. That is a simple statement which makes it clear that obedience on head coverings is not covered (rimshot) by long hair. Paul addressed my mistake directly because it is important that the conspicuous sign of submission by head coverings was not optional.

I had no excuse for my error except that:

  1. I lacked the imagination to think that there was a time when women really were disciplined (discipled) at church.
  2. I feared a battle with my female relations over something that no one else obeyed; which signaled that it was an unimportant custom. Did I really need to start a fight that would end with me being angry at them all, and them at me? I would have been angry if I did not get obedience, and they all would have bound together.

Well, after I wrote that post in March 2016 I was, in my spare time, hassled by 1 Cor. 11:6 until the following fall when I read the passage to my wife and daughters and asked them if they could see any way around it. They did: They said (like I had) that long hair was a covering. I brought it back to verse 6. They were unhappy, but they obeyed God and did not grumble at me too much…though they were sometimes “forgetful” until I was “remindful”.

“But! But! But! Times have changed…” Indeed they have. It is common in Christian circles, when it comes to time pray, for one man to remind another that he still has his hat on. When we do that we harken back to that custom that a man should not pray with his head covered. What time changed was whenever it was that a woman would be reminded to cover hers up.

Paul closes the section on head coverings with:

But if any man seem to be contentious [CC: about the custom of head coverings], we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

16 thoughts on “COE VI: We Have No Such Custom, on Head Coverings

  1. I have a problem building a doctrine on a single Scriptural passage. What other verses require headcoverings in church? Other specific things?

    I would think hats (common in what I have seen) just get in the way more that indicate submissiveness.

  2. A few weeks ago – probably over a month – I went to Church with my hat on.

    It was a simple mistake, just forgetfulness – I wore the hat because I’d rushed out of the house and forgot to brush my hair.

    A gentleman at the Church tapped me on the shoulder to point it out to me. I took it off immediately and thanked him. But…

    …I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing shorts and sandals!

    I think that’s a time where spirit of the law over letter of the law might have applied. But what do I know.

  3. I have only ever been to a single Church where women wore head coverings. It was at the shrine to our Lady of Fatima (I go often because it is 20 minutes from my house).

    Even there it was the exception, not the norm.

  4. Your post today has brought tears of happiness to my eyes. The head-covering is such a quick tell of rebellion and disobedience. Partly at fault is Herbert W Armstrong. I was told by various women that he taught that their long hair was their “covering”. But, considering the angels that left heaven because of the beauty of a woman’s long hair, it makes sense to cover it up when praying. So as not to tempt the angels.

  5. Thank you for this. Being in a Southern Baptist church, it is puzzling to hear careful exposition of the word week after week and see this passage covered so sloppily.

  6. A woman’s hair is not a spiritual covering. Her hair is a natural covering, and is the glory of man. If her hair was a covering, by Paul’s logic, men would have to be shaven to be obedient to scripture. People who oppose head coverings don’t bother to read the passage in English, let alone the Greek.

    The Greek uses two specific words for covering. This makes a distinguishing argument that’s not picked up by the KJV, NAS, or ESV. However, the logic of two types of coverings existing is still present.

    So why did it go out of style? Every denomination practiced it until the 1960’s. That is concerning.

    I have done a ton of research on this topic, and I hope to one day post/publish it.

  7. Should women never pray with their heads uncovered? For example, if she’s driving, and she sees an accident, should she stop to put on her prayer shawl before she prays for the people involved in the accident? Or, if she can’t stop, should she not pray at all? Or does the head covering only apply inside the church?

    Out of curiosity, Cane: are your wife and daughters the only women at your church who cover their heads?

  8. I have read and heard, but have not done the scholarly leg work myself, that Corinth was alone in this admonition because it was only in Corinth that going about uncovered, as a woman, meant something iffy about your business. The other recipients of Epistles were not in places where going about uncovered meant something iffy about your business. So it was kind of “don’t give people the wrong impression”.

  9. Pingback: CoE VIb: We Must Start at the Head and Work Down | Things that We have Heard and Known

  10. @singlextianman

    1 Cor. 11:16 militates against that interpretation. It’s the sort of thing a man would invent so that he didn’t have to confront himself or his flock.

  11. Malcom,

    The Scriptures don’t say anything about whether shorts and sandals are fine, even though a 3-piece suit is the requirement in the minds of some.

  12. @BillyS
    Instead of being outdated, if anything, head coverings are more relevant as signs of submissions. The only groups that as a whole practice headcoverings in the West are religious groups: Catholics, Orthodox, Mennonites, Orthodox Jewish, and Muslims. In each of those groups, it is immediately apparent to a secular person, even if they can’t articulate it, that the person is putting themselves under the authority of God and the male authorities in their lives. This is what makes it taboo to the liberal western eye.

  13. Oscar,

    “Should women never pray with their heads uncovered? For example, if she’s driving, and she sees an accident, should she stop to put on her prayer shawl before she prays for the people involved in the accident?”

    The woman in that situation should pray spontaneously without a head covering. This is similar to when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and when the disciples picked some grain on the Sabbath.

    When I am outside in very cold weather with a hat on my head, I still pray. But, I take off the hat when I come inside. Same reason that it was considered bad manners for men to wear hats indoors.

  14. Calvin has some interesting writings on this subject. He sees it having to do with natural order. He sees it as something originating in the world, but approriately continued by the Christians at the time.

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