What do I do with Paul's head coverings from 1st Corinthians 11?

(scott beau jordan) #1

I have been asked by the girlfriend of a young man whose church admonishes women for speaking in church and states all women should have their heads covered. I have never really thought about this. The words paul writes are pretty clear, but commentaries suggest cultural context plays a role. How can I know what to tell this young woman and be true to Jesus. I don’t know what to do with this.

Kerchief on women
(SeanO) #2

@scottbeau 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.

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.”


(Japeth Barbecho) #3

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”

I’m not being relativistic but I believe we can follow most practices in the Bible even though we are not Jews or Romans or Greeks according to what our conscience dictates us but be careful enough that our freedom must not violate the freedom of others.

If a couple believe that covering a wife’s head is lawful to honor the husband (and the wife agrees to this too), then let that couple do that which they believe is lawful. But if one of them disagrees for whatever reason, they can talk about it and decide which will benefit the both of them without compromising their worship of God.

Apply this to a local church. If the church as a whole agrees to the practice of covering wives’ heads, then let them do it to glorify God. Or not do it but still glorifying God.

Sometimes, we tend to get too lawful we forget that we are being too harsh on others. Or we get too lose and be neglectful of our worship. If we let the laws be religious, we lose sense of the purpose of the laws, which is to guide us towards God. The laws, like covering heads, should be glasses that correct our visions, not blinders that limits our sights.

(scott beau jordan) #4

Sean that helps a lot, could you also give me some background on 1st Corinthians 14 where paul declares women must be silent in the church?

Chapter 11 says they can pray and prophecy with head coverings but how can they do that and not talk at all?

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(SeanO) #5

@scottbeau The context of 1 Corinthians 14, beginning three chapters earlier in 11, is about Church order. The Corinthians were behaving in a disorderly manner. It is rational to assume that the rebuke given to women in I Cor 14, rather than being a universal command, was also a corrective for some type of disorderly behavior. The article below lays out some of the main points nicely.

We believe that the “noisy meeting” theory makes sense of the biblical data: Women were disturbing the meeting in some way.

The first thing we notice is that women are not the only people Paul tells to be “silent.” He uses the same word in verses 28 and 30 to tell tongue-speakers and prophets to be silent when others speak. In both of those verses, he is calling for a temporary silence, not a complete and permanent prohibition.


(Laurie King) #6

Hi Scott,

I was recently asked that question too, by a young lady who is exploring Christianity, but considers herself quite a champion for women’s rights and doesn’t think she can do both. I came across a wonderful book, which addresses both issues you’ve brought up and is very biblically sound, in my opinion. It is called Playing Second Fiddle: God’s Heart for Harmony Regarding Women and the Church. I devoured it and have recommended it to several others. Maybe it would answer some of your friends questions as well.

(Jennifer Girard) #7

I appreciate Japheth’s comment because it makes glorifying God the centre of the issue and mutual submission & healthy conversation the means by which we can agree on this. It allows for cultural appropriateness in each of our contexts whilst being guided by the Spirit & the Word.

(scott beau jordan) #8

I ordered the book thanks for thr reccomendatuon :slight_smile:

(Kevin Hurst) #9

Hi @scottbeau there is a group of Christians in the area that I live called the Mennonite/Amish. The women in their group would wear the head covering. There are different applications of it but most would wear it all the time. There is an interesting book written from their perspective that you may find of interest as well. It is titled The Ornament of a Spirit by Cory A. Anderson. You can find it on Amazon.
The beginning chapters would discuss why they believe they should wear it. The end chapters would talk about the different kinds of head coverings. Just another option for you to look at.

(scott beau jordan) #10

I appreciate the book thoughts thanks

(Steven Wakefield) #11

Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 11 V 5, 10 & 15

It states every woman, not just wives, so that when they pray or prophesies, too not cover their head, dishonours their head.
A woman’s long hair is given to her as a covering, crown of glory .
So that when they pray & prophesies, they need to cover their head, as a sign of authority on her head. There by not dishonouring their head.

(Tara Pauls) #12

I really appreciate this discussion. A number of years ago I moved into a unique situation where I sublet part of a farmhouse from my neighbors. My neighbor originally hails from a horse and buggy Mennonite community and wears a prayer covering.

God has blessed me richly through this relationship with my neighbors who are indeed more like family, even though we differ on our interpretations of some of these scriptures. Romans 14:13-23 comes to mind. It would be senseless and, indeed, counterproductive for us to argue about who is right. My neighbor would feel wrong if she neglected to wear her prayer covering because for her it is a symbol of her decision to join the church. In her home community women begin to wear the covering upon baprism. On the other hand, I would feel insincere if I were to don such a covering because I hold a looser interpretation of the scripture in 1Corinthians 11:5-6.

There is so much richness to be enjoyed in friendships with Christians of different “non-essential” beliefs from one’s own. I am so thankful not only for this friendship, but also for the lessons of humility and unity.

Thanks to all who participated in this discussion. It has blessed me.:blush:

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #13

Hello there, I just wanted to highlight one of the main issues that subconsciously undergird the different places that people come out in interpreting this passage. Both those who wear headcoverings/veils and those who don’t both make a cultural argument. Historically, at least up into the 20th century the vast majority of Christians practiced some form of this. It ranged from the headgear of nuns, to ladies hats in England. You still see many variations of coverings and veils globally, and a few interesting cultural vestiges of this practice in America; guys removing hats for graduation invocations etc. The vast majority of modern Christians point to the sexually promiscuous Greek culture of Corinth as the context, but forget that Corinth hadn’t been Greek for over 200 years by the time that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Establishing what the proper Roman attire for women was isn’t that straightforward. Most of the sculptures of prominent Roman women from that era don’t fit our assumptions. There is a lot more speculation about this from preachers than there are footnotes to historical sources. Even some commentaries assume that this had to do with sexual promiscuity, but don’t give the reason for that belief. Now clear sources may be out there, but wherever you land on this, make sure that it matches history and isn’t just an idea perpetuated within the echo chamber of the modern American Christian world (Like there were three magi, Mary rode a donkey, Saul changed his name to Paul, etc). The Amish/Mennonite/Brethren crew looks at a passage like this and says, “Well, this is a letter that God preserved for us and this passage says that this is the common practice of all the churches (11:16), so this is prescribing Christian culture and we don’t totally understand all of it, but it seems like what God wanted to communicate, so we’ll go with it.” This may sound like a really naïve reading, but it is a prescriptive reading of scripture that places the modern/current reader as the context to which Paul is writing. If you see some red flags here, you probably read it as descriptive of a certain time and thus doesn’t apply to you, or you see it as descriptive and you try to discern what principles apply to you. I’m not helping answer this question at all, but rather showing that a bigger question that we need to answer is, “Are we the culture to which the NT is written? How do we decide if we are? How do we sort out how much of what applies to us today?” I’m just tossing in a little extra food for thought here as you think about how to interpret and apply scripture. Happy thinking!

(Japeth Barbecho) #14

Thanks for this. Your insight gave me new lens to view this topic.

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(Sanjib ghosh) #15

It’s very challenging and debatable topic.
Thanks for all of your contributions.
It’s hard to take a single decision but I follows some explanation of John Piper, McArthur and some other articles , mostly they are referring it’s not cultural but it’s for honoring God’s authority.
Now some questions came ( may be silly) —-
1- when Eve was with Father in heaven , did she use covering or shaved!
2- Mary Magdalene - Wiped Jesus feet with hair

Major three world’s religions- Hindus, Muslims and Christians-
All are in same customes that all are mostly using head covering.
How we explain them from scripture and confirm ourselves accorodibg to our scripture !!
Appreciate all of your input referring bible .

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #16


This interpretation question is a big question, and one that you will likely spend a lifetime sorting out. Let me say that this whole veil/covering bit is becoming a frequently discussed issue and comes up in Q&A. I think that makes sense, there is a renewed interest in properly interpreting scripture and a rightful interest in making sure that women are properly valued in our culture. This is good. Let me continue by making the question more difficult. There certainly are historical and context specific passages in scripture that applied to specific people in specific places in specific times- Go find a donkey, cast your net on the other side, descriptions of the travels of Paul, specifically named greetings, etc.- we could come up with a long list. Some topics, the ones that we tend to see as universal, are based off of the character and nature of God and are therefore prescriptive for all of humanity. Others are based off of original intent. For example, Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce points back to creation to illustrate the original intent of God’s created order. For me, this is the part that makes this 1 Cor 11 passage so challenging. Paul isn’t making an argument based off of culture, he is intentionally making an argument based off of creation order. That seems to be pretty universal and he makes it seem like something that he passed on, not something that he came up with. To quote my grandfather on this passage, “Paul has some explaining to do.” J In the Q&A section of eternity there will likely be a long line here. I think it is best read in context of all of Ch.10 and 11 looking at proper worship. The way that I see this is right now is that within mankind, God has created certain orders, structures, and patterns (perhaps the angel reference comes in here?) and has granted a certain mystique and beauty which is ‘woman.’ For whatever reason, hair is associated with this beauty. (Actually, I guess it still is). In worship, Paul is asking the people of church to set aside/cover one of the elements of the beauty of humanity as a physical statement of focusing on the glory of God, not humanity, in worship. I’m still thinking through this. I’ll check with my wife to get the right answer. I do know that this isn’t about demeaning or subjecting women and that it is about the glory of God. I know a lot of people who faithfully love Jesus who come out at different places on the application of this passage. There are some who do wear veils as markers of being part of a community. In recent times I think there has been a perception that anyone who wears a veil during worship is perpetuating an uneducated and legalistic form of Christianity. I’m sure there are those folks out there. I also know women with graduate degrees from Ivy League schools who cover their hair in worship because they believe, it isn’t demeaning to women and is the correct exegetical analysis. I also know people like my grandmother who when I asked her about it said, “I don’t know what it means, but it is clear to me that God asks it of me, so I do it.” (At that point a veil is also a statement of biblical authority and what is known as a hermeneutic of obedience). Is there a place for obedience to counter-cultural expressions of faith just because we think God asks it of us? Is that valid obedience? I’ve wondered about that for a long time. I like for things to make sense. I like to connect the dots, but I can’t connect the dots here. My allegiance to the validity of the scriptures keep me from just quickly tossing this out as I skim by in a rush to get to the “Lord’s supper” part of 1 Cor. 11. I think that we can both agree that we want to see women correctly valued, not just in culture, but in creation, and not just for social reasons, but because they are made in the image of God and our collective worship in crippled if we intentionally or systematically mar any part of His creation. A few thoughts from the airport ~ Nathan

(Tara Pauls) #17

Thanks so much, Nathan, for weighing in on this topic and for providing food for thought. I really appreciate what you have to say on Thinking Out Loud. Do you think you might ever engage in a discussion on this together with Cameron McAllister?

(Japeth Barbecho) #18

For me, the topic boils down to these questions:

How do we interpret and apply the Scriptures, with the ultimate goal of glorifying God, uncompromisingly and yet mindful of others?

How do we maintain the grandeur of unity (in worshipping God) while preserving the beauty of diversity (personal preference, cultural inclination, etc.)?

I do not want to throw pebbles, but some issues arise on Biblical interpretations due to misinterpretations of our predecessors, whether deliberately or not. I truly believe that wrong interpretation equates to wrong application. This is a matter we need, as Christians, to stand for and yet not being extremist in one way or another. Discussions like these really helps me be established thoroughly in the faith. Again, thank you for the insight!

(Gary Rodgers) #19

Here are my thoughts.
When Christians gather to worship as a body/group, as a corporate body, Christ is to have the pre-eminence and center. I believe there are two things that are addressed in the symbolic head covering/veil. Remember that symbolism is what is in view, not a ‘putting down’ or minimizing of a person or sex.
1st, the women’s hair is described as her glory.
2nd, the women is described as the glory of the man. I would take that man meaning extend to ‘mankind’. I don’t think that many would dispute that mankind (the term meaning the human race, male and female) is somewhat unique in creation in that the women is the one of beauty of the two sexes. Not as in the animal kingdom where it is normal for the male to have the brighter colors, markings, plumage, etc.
So, when Christians are gathered for purposes of worship, figuratively speaking, the women’s head covering is veiling (symbolically) not only her personal glory, but the glory of mankind. That means that she is veiling any personal glory of man, as in ‘mankind’ (male) as well. In the gathering for purpose of worship, then the role of the women is to put a covering/veil over any ‘glory’ of mankind. In the same gathering, the man is to take the role of Christ symbolically and lead. And the woman, representing mankind, takes the lower place. Not just for herself, but for me (male) as well.

(Lindsay Brandt) #20

Thank you for your insight into this and for the “food for thought”! In reference to Corinth not having been Greek for 200 years, I would argue that anything that I have ever read regarding the culture in the Roman world in that time period, if I am remembering correctly, insists that the Greek influence was still pervasive in the period of Roman reign, so to use that as an argument that we perhaps don’t have any historical grounding for the “belief” about women’s coverings being rooted in Greek cultural practice sounds, to me, a bit shaky. In other words, I am thinking that arguing the the fact that Corinth had not been Greek for 200 years does not uproot the known fact (if I am remembering my studies well enough) that Greek cultural influence was still very much lingering in the cultures of the biblical world. People don’t change cultural practices like they change clothes when a new empire comes to town, and the Romans were very syncretistic. Unless a particular practice or religious belief challenged Cesar’s claim on being king or the peaceful state of things, they were not big on snuffing out ingrained cultural ways that were still there from previous eras. I could be wrong, but these are just my thoughts. Coming in very late to this thread, and people may not be still watching this one, but this is just a thought that I had.