I came to know the Lord when I was twenty-four years old in a "Brethern" church. So much of Christianity was new and very exciting for me. Naturally, I had a deep respect and love for the many godly brothers and sisters in Christ in that assembly, but so much so that I sometimes accepted what was taught as the truth without really searching it out first. Thus began the evolution of my understanding of the head covering.
That assembly had the best key to understanding the passage that I’ve ever come across. “Head” can mean literal (physical) head, or figurative (spiritual) head. This is crucial.
“But I would have you know, that the (figurative) head of every man is Christ; and the (figurative) head of the woman is the man; and the (figurative) head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his (literal) head covered, dishonoureth his (figurative) head (Christ). But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her (literal) head uncovered dishonoureth her (figurative) head (man)…” v. 3-5
When a woman covers her physical head, she also covers her figurative head, the man. When a man uncovers his physical head he also uncovers his figurative head, Christ. When this is followed, man (mankind) is covered and Christ is uncovered. Man is hidden; Christ is seen. Do you see the glory in this?
When a woman uncovers her physical head she also uncovers her figurative head, the man. Man or mankind is seen. When a man covers his physical head, he also covers his figurative head, Christ. Christ is hidden. Do you see the shame in this?
“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” v. 11 Concerning the gospel it is said in 1 Peter “… which things the angels desire to look into.” When the head covering is observed what do the angels see? They see Christ in all his holy perfection. What do the angels not see? Man in all his sinfulness.
The elders at the Gospel Hall believed that the Scriptures taught two head coverings for women: long hair and an extra covering to be worn at the regular church gatherings. Men were to have short hair and not wear anything on their head during church meetings. Of course they pointed to the New Testament passage in 1 Corinthians as the proof text, and this was all the convincing that I needed.
The “trouble” began when my husband tried to explain this passage to another believer from a different church. As Jeff read the passage he could only see and give evidence for one covering, long hair. Thus began much thought, discussion, study, and prayer on the subject that has spanned many years.
Naturally, we went to the leadership in our church for help in understanding the extra head covering. We were told one basic argument. You can’t see it in the English translation. You can only see it in the original Greek. There are two different words used for cover and covering in the Greek and that is where the difference lies.
This sounded very reasonable, and like I said we had a great respect for these dear Christians, but there soon arose a huge problem. Jeff decided to look these words up in the Concordance. There is indeed a difference. One is a verb, meaning: to cover, and the other is a noun, meaning: a covering.
When we brought this evidence to the elders they replied that they had been saved a very long time, and we were very young. The true understanding can be found in the Greek, and this was the way they’ve always done it.
This was a concern for the two of us. We had both been saved out of the Roman Catholic Church. For years we were taught that you cannot understand Scripture with Scripture alone. You need the priest or church tradition to interpret for you. As much as we loved and admired our Christian leadership we just couldn’t swallow this line. It could lead to a slippery slope that the Roman church has not been able to ascend. I would like to stress here that we continued to obey their interpretation of the head covering while we were at the Gospel Hall. There is no sin in a woman wearing an extra covering or a man not wearing an extra covering. They were the elders and we submitted to them.
I would also like to insert here that I have a deep respect for women who hold to an extra head covering. Even though I believe they are wrong in their understanding of the head covering, it is obvious that they are seeking to obey the Lord. It is not always easy to follow a tradition that the world and the church (for the most part) labels as old fashioned and unnecessary. So, even though I believe they are mistaken, their zeal is admirable.
And, I know many godly sisters in Christ who do not hold the same position as I do on this passage. I do not doubt their salvation or their devotion to the Saviour.
As I continued to think on these things, I questioned … Why are there two different root words used for cover and covering? Why not use the same Greek root word? Maybe there is a difference that I’m not seeing. I began to wonder if I could find another example of two words in the English Bible with the same root word in English, but two different parts of speech that basically held the same meaning, but that translated from two completely different words in the Greek. In the space of 20 minutes I found three. One is 1 Cor. 15:47. “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.” In this verse earth (a noun) and earthy (an adjective) come from two different words in the Greek, yet in the English they have the same root word.
This discovery did nothing to defend an extra covering. Nor were these discussions popular with our elders. One man tried to further defend his position by stating that you cannot replace the words cover and covering with hair and have the passage make sense, because it would follow that men would have to be bald. This is true in his understanding, but we were seeing that the passage taught that the covering was long hair (v. 15), and if you replace the words cover and covering with long hair (or long-haired for the verb) it makes perfect sense.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head long-haired, dishonoureth his head.
5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head un long-haired dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
6 For if the woman be not long-haired, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be long-haired.
7 For a man indeed ought not to long hair his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
Another argument for an extra covering was a woman’s long hair is her glory or her beauty, therefore distracting and sensual, and that is why the Scripture commands it to be covered. Some even go so far as to call the covering “a hair covering” even though the Scripture does not use this term.
This argument disturbed me. I thought all honor and glory belonged to God. Why would He create woman with something that would bring glory to herself and not to Him? This was very puzzling, and just didn’t seem right. Sometime it occurred to me that if the head covering is indeed long hair, when a woman submitted to it, she brought honor to Christ, and this is why it is a glory to her, because it glorifies Christ, not because it adds physical beauty or glory to herself.
Another argument presented to me was based on v. 6. “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.” The explanation being that the covering cannot be long hair, because if her hair was cut off or short she would already be shorn. Well, when I was a young teenager I had a popular, very short, hair style called a “Dorothy Hamill.” Thus, I did not have a covering (long hair), and yet I was not shorn or shaven, and believe me, I would have been humiliated if I was shorn or shaven.
Over the years many have come to the conclusion that the head covering is culturally irrelevant. I have also spent some time pondering this. I believe the New Testament practice of foot washing is not a part of our present culture, but the relevance of serving one another even in humbling circumstances is the message. (But even in this passage you can see from the context that the disciples did not understand that it was a principle that was being taught.) So, I had to ask myself, is the head covering a cultural practice teaching a principle, or is it a culturally transcending ordinance?
I tried to think of another example of a covering in Scripture, and Isaiah 6:2 came to mind. “Above it (the throne of God) stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.” Okay, they use two wings to fly. Two wings to cover their faces … God is holy, holy, holy, and they must cover their faces. Why two wings to cover their feet? In R.C. Sproul’s “The Holiness of God” tape series he gives one possible explanation. The angels’ feet represent their creature-ly-ness. When I heard this, it clicked. Of course, angels would not cover their physical head, because just like man, Christ is their figurative head. Angels do not reproduce like mankind. They do not have a female counterpart made in their image, that if they were to cover, would cover all angel-kind. By covering their feet, their creature-ly-ness or angel-ness is covered, and only Christ is seen. Angels are hid, Christ is seen. Wow! Is this a parallel passage?
Let’s go back to the creation of man, because the passage in 1 Corinthians does bring up the created order of man (v. 8 & 9). Was the head covering established at creation? The passage does appeal to the created order. It makes perfect sense that at creation God’s glory would be manifested, mankind hid (even before they sinned) and Christ revealed. Our conscience also bears witness to this. Every artist’s portrayal of Eve depicts her with long hair. Even a very young child will naturally draw a picture of Adam with short hair and Eve with long hair. Think of our biology. Men go bald. Women do not. So, the big question is, what could a culture of sin (post The Fall) possibly do to change this ordinance? Would a modern culture make the covering of mankind and the uncovering of Christ void? I can’t think of any reason why it should. On the contrary, if anything, it would seem even more necessary, which is possibly how the tradition of an extra covering came into being. It makes sense for 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 to be saying that the head covering is important, why it is important, when it was established, and conclude by explaining what exactly is the head covering.
Stated: It is not our current culture for women to have long hair. It is also not our current culture for wives to submit to their husbands.
Question: If the head covering is a physical representation of the headship of Christ, and the marriage relationship is a physical representation of the headship of Christ, why would the first be culturally irrelevant today, but the latter relevant?
Consider our present culture. What is the stereotype of a woman who only wears very masculine dress and very short hair? And, it is a coincidence that she chooses these two ways to represent who she is and what she stands for?
Back to the covering itself. One Sunday, Brother Holmes Moore asked a question in his sermon (not on this topic): Does God give imperfect gifts? The unspoken answer was, “No.” “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights …” (James 1:17) We know that man and woman were created and lived in the garden naked until they sinned. They were both naked. Naked: no extra head covering. The seraphims have wings, not socks or shoes or a cloth veil for their feet. After the fall God made the man and the woman coats of animal skins for coverings. No extra head covering is written, and none mentioned in the very extensive law.
On another Sunday, Brother Tom Henry was preaching, and he said something that made me think of this passage on the head covering, even though he was not preaching on this topic. He mentioned that sometimes the word “for” means “in place of” or “instead of” as in John , “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” I immediately thought of 1 Corinthians , “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” Sure enough, these are translated from the same word in the Greek. Please notice that looking these words up in the Greek does not change the meaning of the word, it only expands or heightens the meaning or understanding of the word that is already found in the context. Also, when it says “her hair is given her for a covering” hair is in the context of long hair.
Long hair for the head covering fits the passage and is the one solution that answers all the questions. Women don’t pray out loud or prophesy in the church gathering. They are not even permitted to ask a question, but are exhorted to ask their husbands at home. Why would they be exhorted to cover their heads while praying or prophesying in the church when they are commanded to keep silence in the church? The answer is the covering is not specific to the church gathering. Women do have a sphere of influence where they do pray and prophesy. I know the argument goes that Paul was addressing one point at a time, and he later addresses the point of women keeping silent in the church. Well, can you give me one example of another passage where Paul does this? Where he plainly includes a falsehood, but goes on to emphasize truth? Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t been able to find one.
Often comes the question, “How long is long?” I think the answer is a matter of the heart. If a woman sees the head covering to be long hair, and that her long hair will glorify Christ, her heart’s desire will be to have long hair. If a man comes to the conclusion that short hair honors Christ, he will have short hair.
The world has no trouble in defining long hair. Walk into any hair salon, and you’ll find books for women divided into three sections, long, medium, and short.
Perhaps it’s best to define long by it’s opposite. Long is the opposite of short.
Recently a young woman argued the point that long only means long in relation to a man’s short hair. As long as her hair was longer than a man’s, even if her hair was considered short, she was not disobeying scripture. Interesting. So, following her reasoning, when we are commanded to be kind, we only need to be kind in relation to someone who is nasty. When we are commanded to be holy, that doesn’t really mean holy, just holy in relation to someone who is very wicked. I don’t think any of these arguments make sense.
Please understand, I am not saying Scripture puts a certain length on long or short hair, and neither do I. Two of my daughters can grow their hair very long, to their waists, but my other daughter can only grow her hair shoulder length. Personally, at age 50, my hair does not grow as long as it did at age 25, and what about the woman who just had chemotherapy? What about the Christian man held as a P.O.W. for years who is not allowed to cut his hair? Are they disenfranchised? Do they dishonor Christ? I think not. It’s a matter of the heart. I believe that 2 Corinthians would apply here. “For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”
Some conclude that verse 16 (“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”) means that it doesn’t matter and we should not argue the topic. So, basically they are saying that the Apostle Paul spent 15 verses teaching the head covering only to conclude that it really doesn’t matter. I don’t think so. This verse can easily be understood to mean that if anyone disagrees with Paul’s teaching on the head covering, their disagreement is not Paul’s practice, and their disagreement is not the churches’ practice.
One last objection to my conclusion is the vow of the Nazarite, and I must confess this has puzzled me. The best answer I have is that the Nazarite’s long hair was a reproach unto him. The vow of the Nazarite, concerning his hair, is an exception to the natural rule. When we look to establish the rule we look to the ideal, not the single exception. We do not encourage sinners to put off their salvation until they are on their death beds, because Christ showed mercy to the thief on the cross. No, we exhort them to remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Again, look to follow the ideal, not the exception.
Could my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 be wrong? Yes. Have I found a feasible defense for any other interpretation? No.
After examining the evidence it is my conclusion that the head covering is a culturally transcending principle and that the head covering is long hair.