How do we apply Paul's words about head coverings?


(HarryAnuraag) #1

How to deal with issue of head covering in churches?Does this really matter ?Many churches have their own interpretations of this issue. I want to know what actually scripture says about this issue.Thank you.


(SeanO) #2

@Anuraag That is a very good question. Most modern Churches do not advocate that women cover their heads, but in some circles this is a very debated topic. I want to begin by saying that I do not think this is one of the easier Bible passages to interpret, but before we can understand it we first need to know the cultural context. As mentioned in the Sam Storm’s article I will link to below:

“What does it mean for a wife or woman to cover her head? What did that communicate in the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day? If you can’t answer those questions, then I don’t think you can accurately understand this passage.”

My summary on this issue would be: No, wives do not need to wear head coverings today. Paul urged wives to wear head coverings because in ancient Greco-Roman culture wives wore a head covering to honor their husbands / symbolize modesty. I would also point out the word translated woman here can be translated simply as wife or wives.

Hope those thoughts are helpful - please do read the article by Sam Storms as it goes into more detail. Feel free to ask more questions. The Lord grant you wisdom in this matter as you study.

I do want to say that this passage is notoriously difficult to interpret and has been used to support other theological agendas, so it is probably not wise to listen to anyone claiming to have the correct interpretation. This passage calls for humility on our part as we study the Scriptures.

Sam Storms Article

The gist here is that in Greco-Roman culture a wife covered her head to honor her husband. Women who did not cover their head in that culture - at least some of them - may have been openly declaring that they, like men in those days, could be promiscuous. Therefore Paul urged the women to cover their heads to honor their husbands within that culture and to avoid being suspected of promiscuity.

These quotes are from theologian Bruce Winter:

“A woman’s covering her head socially indicated that she was married. The thin head scarf or head covering symbolized a married woman’s modesty and chastity and submission to her husband. It was one way in which a wife honored her husband.”

“A new kind of wife was emerging at this time in the Roman world – one who rebelled against the cultural milieu that allowed husbands but not wives to be sexually promiscuous. One way in which such wives would flaunt that freedom was by removing their veils. So a Christian wife should not deliberately remove her veil while praying or prophesying during a time of corporate worship because that would contentiously identify her with these other promiscuous women.”

http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/should-women-wear-head-coverings-in-church-historical-cultural-context-and-the-challenge-of-1-corinthians-112-16

Another Summary

A quote, I am not sure from where, that I found in my notes.

“When God created man it was His greatest creation – so man reflects the glory of God. Similarly, a woman brings glory to her husband. So the argument from creation has more to do with this issue of shame and glory than anything else as far as I can tell. In that time, if a woman uncovered her head she shamed her husband (and maybe her family). In the same way, if a man covered his it is as if the mountain’s or stars hid their light to stop bringing praise to God. Because the woman brings the man glory in a unique way (especially as a spouse), she should respect him (in Roman times this cultural point of head coverings would have made much more sense – think if your wife came to church dressed in a revealing manner – not cool).”


What is a good understanding of Paul's teaching on head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16?
(HarryAnuraag) #3

Thank you sir! It is really helpful for me so that i can answer people and can guide them in correct way
thank you sir once again.


(SeanO) #4

@Anuraag Indeed! The Lord bless your continued studies.


(Jimmy Sellers) #5

Here are some additional thoughts 0n the subject. This is from A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (Vol. I & II, p. 761). I think this will give a little background on the practice. From what little I have read “head covering is/was not a Biblical mandate but an incorporation of the culture of the day.

Christian men in ancient days prayed with uncovered head, according to the apostolic injunction (1 Cor. 11:4, 5). Chrysostom’s comment on the passage shows clearly that this was the practice of his own time, as well as of the apostolic age. Tertullian ( Apol . c. 30)

For he himself is His to whom heaven and every creature appertains. He gets his sceptre where he first got his humanity; his power where he got the breath of life. Thither we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed; finally, without a monitor, because it is from the heart we supplicate. Tertullian. (1885). The Apology.

Christian men prayed with bare head, as having no need to conceal a blush, insinuating that the heathen might well blush for some of the prayers which they uttered; and Cyprian may perhaps be alluding to the same custom, when he says ( De Lapsis , c. 2) that the head of a Christian was uncontaminated by the head-covering of the heathen sacrificer.

Your head has remained free from the impious and wicked veil with which the captive heads of those who sacrificed were there veiled; your brow, pure with the sign of God, could not bear the crown of the devil, but reserved itself for the Lord’s crown. Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). On the Lapsed.

On the other hand, as both the apostolic precept and the custom of the East made it indecent for women to be seen with uncovered head, the women of the Oriental and African churches covered their heads not only in the congregation, but generally when they appeared in public.

Tertullian was hard on this issue he goes no define what is and is not proper head covering. It is interesting to see that he appeals to the Arab head covering as an acceptable model and he calls out skimpy head covering.

But we admonish you, too, women of the second (degree of) modesty, who have fallen into wedlock, not to outgrow so far the discipline of the veil, not even in a moment of an hour, as, because you cannot refuse it, to take some other means to nullify it, by going neither covered nor bare. For some, with their turbans and woollen bands, do not veil their head, but bind it up; protected, indeed, in front, but, where the head properly lies, bare. Others are to a certain extent covered over the region of the brain with linen coifs of small dimensions—I suppose for fear of pressing the head—and not reaching quite to the ears. If they are so weak in their hearing as not to be able to hear through a covering, I pity them. Let them know that the whole head constitutes “the woman.” Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound; in order that the necks too may be encircled. For it is they which must be subjected, for the sake of which “power” ought to be “had on the head:” the veil is their yoke. Arabia’s heathen females will be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely, that they are content, with one eye free, to enjoy rather half the light than to prostitute the entire face. Tertullian. (1885). On the Veiling of Virgins.

I also thought it interesting that the church generally ignored his admonitions in favor of the headdress of their country and station.

But Tertullian’s rigorous views were not those of the Church at large; as a general rule Christian women have worn the head-dresses of their country and station, and have covered their heads in the place of assembly.

And finally I looked at the Jewish practice for some clarity and found at least from this source that there was no biblical reference to this tradition.

As part of the ceremony to determine the suspected woman’s guilt or innocence, the Torah records that “after he has made the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall bare the woman’s head” (Num. 5:18). Although there are no explicit biblical references to the tradition of women wearing head coverings, by talmudic times it was accepted practice. A married woman who dared to walk bareheaded in the street could be summarily divorced by her husband without paying her ketubah (Ket. 7:6). Explaining why this violation was so serious, the Talmud compared a woman’s hair to her private parts (“the hair of a woman is nakedness”; Ber. 24a) The JPS guide to Jewish traditions (1st ed., p. 376).


(Jolene Laughlin) #6

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Tertullian’s work known to be extremely harsh toward women in general? I seem to recall hearing some quotes of his brought to light recently that were extremely un-Christlike.


(SeanO) #7

@Jolene_Laughlin I would say that the Talmud and Tertullian had legalistic tendencies and neither one took what would be called a balanced view of femininity. Both are suspicious of women in general as having a tainted nature as a result of the fall in a way that goes far beyond the Scriptures and lets men off the hook for lust. Tertullian wrote a treatise entitled “On the Apparel of Women” that suggested all women are tainted by Eve’s sin.

So yes, I would say Tertullian is not the one to follow on this subject - or the Talmud either. @Jimmy_Sellers mentioned that Tertullian’s view of women was not typical of the Church at wide - certainly not of the Church fathers. Tertullian joined a fringe sect called the Montanist in his later years that thought their founder was the paraclete promised by Jesus and that the end of the world was near - so he seems to have had a tendency to have unbalanced views.

Medieval History Geek

I have not fact checked this article and the guy who wrote it is not a historian or scholar, but it seemed informative. Other Church fathers did not go nearly so far as Tertullian.

“Theophilus of Antioch and Clement talk about Eve’s sin, however they do not make statements about how all women are contaminated by Eve. Justin and Clement are specific in stating that women are as capable of virtue as men while Irenaeus introduces the concept that Mary redeemed Eve’s sin.”

Encyclopedia Entry on Tertullian


(Jolene Laughlin) #8

Thanks for the information and the links @SeanO. I thought I had read something along those lines fairly recently. I have been involved in several discussions about patriarchal beliefs and practices in the church, and how that has contributed to the “church too” movement, and he said some pretty scathing things - or at least had them attributed to him.