Today I’m diving into the topic of biblical head covering, something that God actually calls his daughters to do while praying. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t.
I also didn’t know that this was such a common practice up until the 1950’s.
Before we get into it & my personal insight on the matter, here is the scripture that touches base on head covering…and yup, it’s the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
In case your not familiar with 1 Corinthians, the summary is that Apostle Paul is writing letters to Christians in a Greek city called Corinth (he had spent quite some time evangelizing there in the past). They were starting to get caught up in the culture there (aka paganism). He talks a lot about how we belong to Christ, how we are servants of Christ, condemns sexual immorality within the church, preaching about circumcision not being needed anymore, teaching on spiritual gifts, and ends with “let all you do be done in love.”
I wanted to quick summarize the book because so often when we read scripture that goes against our current culture, we have a tendency to brush it aside (I’ll get to that later). Everything else in 1 Corinthians we reference and use often in our Christian lives. The only section that modern Christianity has ignored is the few verses Paul talks about head covering.
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
On Covering the Head in Worship
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man,[a] and the head of Christ is God.4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own[c] head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
In addition, I like to reference other biblical translations because I know that one of the key arguments against scripture that goes against our current culture is that specific verses/words are translated poorly:
Here are some key points in The Message: It pleases me that you continue to remember and honor me by keeping up the traditions of the faith I taught you. All actual authority stems from Christ…This is basically the origin of these customs we have of women wearing head coverings in worship, while men take their hats off. By these symbolic acts, men and women, who far too often butt heads with each other, submit their “heads” to the Head: God. Don’t, by the way, read too much into the differences here between men and women. Neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority. Man was created first, as a beautiful shining reflection of God—that is true. But the head on a woman’s body clearly outshines in beauty the head of her “head,” her husband. The first woman came from man, true—but ever since then, every man comes from a woman! And since virtually everything comes from God anyway, let’s quit going through these “who’s first” routines. Don’t you agree there is something naturally powerful in the symbolism—a woman, her beautiful hair reminiscent of angels, praying in adoration; a man, his head bared in reverence, praying in submission? I hope you’re not going to be argumentative about this. All God’s churches see it this way; I don’t want you standing out as an exception.”
NASB: Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ…Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head…Judge for 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 one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
NKJV: Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ…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…
After talking about head covering, Paul goes on to talk about honoring God with communion:
“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.” (NIV)
From my understanding, not many Christians are aware of this verse. I certainly wasn’t, at least to the point where I actually understood what it was saying. I’ve read 1 Corinthians in its entirety, so I assume I just skimmed over it, or had cultural blinders on my heart and eyes preventing me from soaking up God’s truth.
The few that do are divided on whether this scripture applies to women in 2020, or if it was only Paul talking to the Corinthians women during that time and it doesn’t apply now…but we can’t have it both ways because the rest of 1 Corinthians is filled with scripture that modern Christianity references daily.
A key point, which has swayed me, is that if we are to ignore what Paul has said about head covering, claiming it’s not applicable…then wouldn’t we brush off what he says about the Lord’s Supper, just a few verses later (it’s in the same chapter, remember).
It’s difficult for me to bypass those headcovering verses, but absorb everything else Paul said. The only reason I’d really ignore Chapter 11 would be because I preferred to conform to the culture of the modern world instead of conforming to the commands of God. I mean, realistically, if I started headcovering it would be so challenging & a little embarrassing since I’d have to at the very least, cover in church. I’d stick out like a sore thumb.
Dr. Danial Wallace, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, really convicts the heart when he said, “The real danger, as I see it, is that many Christians simply ignore what this text says because any form of obedience to it is inconvenient.”
I purchased a Kindle copy of Headcovering Throughout Christian History & here are some key notes I highlighted from the book that I thought were worth sharing:
Tertullian, a theologian from Carthage, “expresses how perplexed he is about ‘all the labour spent in arranging the hair’ by Christian women when it has no bearing on their salvation.”
John Edwards, a pastor and theological author from the late 1600’s said, “…that which the apostle delivers in this chapter concerning women’s behavior in the churches did not only oblige the women of that time, but is obligatory to this very day.”
1800’s English Bishop, Christopher Wordsworth, said, “Paul teaches that going without a head covering meant a loss of ‘dignity, power, and grace, which God had given to women, especially under the Gospel…”
Robert Dabney, “For a woman to appear or to perform any public religious function in the Christian assembly, with her head uncovered, is a glaring impropriety, because it is contrary to the subordination of the position assigned her by her Creator.”
William MacDonald, “Paul teaches the subordination of the woman to man by going back to creation. This should forever lay to rest any idea that his teaching about women’s covering was what was culturally suitable to his day, but not applicable to day.”
Is Headcovering Legalistic?
Once I read, research, and felt drawn to following this scripture, I started questioning the legalities of headcovering.
- It says I have to cover my head when praying, what do I cover with? Hijab? Scarf? Plastic headband? Hat?
- What if I forget to wear one when I pray?
- Will I cover in church?
- I pray often throughout the day, so should I just cover all the time?
Here’s what I’ve come to the conclusion of when debating these legalistic questions. The Pharisees persecuted Jesus because He was putting God, people, and love above the legalistic, strict laws that many were following. While clearly scripture tells us to cover, it’s my personal opinion and conviction that God would much rather me pray without a head covering versus choosing not to pray at all because I didn’t have a scarf nearby (and He certainly wouldn’t want me to harshly judge the women that chose to not cover!).
If I have the option and ability to cover and the act of covering doesn’t get in the way of my love for and seeking of the Lord, reaching for that pashmina scarf during prayer can only pull me closer to Him, obey His Word, humble myself, and bring more glory to His Kingdom. Like my good friend said when I brought this topic to her attention, she said, “If covering your head draws you into greater intimacy with God, then keep doing it.”
For the past week, I’ve experimented with covering my head after feeling drawn to it late one night during prayer. I’ve enjoyed all the various ways to cover and I do love it. It’s such a great reminder of being under the authority of God & I love the ability to set myself apart. It’s a very personal, wonderful way for me to worship our Creator. If I continue to cover, I’d want to make sure my heart is in the right place each time, since the meaning behind it is so important. I’d hate to find myself relating to the Pharisees.
If you’re interesting in diving into the topic yourself, feel free to visit The Head Covering Movement for more information.