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What's Up with Paul's Commands for Female Head Coverings?

What's Up with Paul's Commands for Female Head Coverings?

Dear Roger,
Hi, Roger I would like to know if it is a sin if a woman doesn't cover her head when praying and worshiping the lord. Or even to step inside God's church with her head uncovered?

Hi Roger, Please explain “head covering” as in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Should women be covering their heads with scarves or doilies or is it referring to hair? Thank you.

Dear Naki and Susan,

The problem with women's hair mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11 is that some women were praying and preaching in church with their heads uncovered. They refused to wear a veil or to wear their hair long. Some of the men were praying and preaching with their heads covered. They were wearing caps or long hair.

At first glance the hair issue in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is totally irrelevant to us today. The problem with dismissing it out of hand is that Paul turns this into a theological issue. The reason women are to have their heads covered and men are to be uncovered is "because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:10).

If wearing the right or wrong hat might adversely affect angels then we had better get our head covering correct.

Only in recent times have women abandoned the practice of wearing hats and long hair in church.

Are Head Coverings Relevant Today?

Women of past generations all wore hats, shawls and coverings in church. I remember my mom and her friends would never go to church without a hat. Things have certainly changed. This verse has fallen out of favor and the teaching is generally ignored today.

In addition to Angels Paul brings up another theological issue when he wrote: "Does not the very nature of things tell us that it is a dishonor to a man if he lets his hair grow long? But if a woman lets her hair grow long it is her glory because her hair was given to her as a covering."

This observation seems to transcend time and eternity.

Of course, Samson in the Old Testament took a Nazarite vow, part of which was for his hair never to be cut. Was his long hair wrong since the Nazarite vow was both a religious and spiritual vow of devotion to God? Apparently not.

Much of Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is seen in the backdrop of the culture of Paul's time. This letter is to the church in Corinth which was known as the most liscensous in the Mediterranean world. Women (and men) were breaking all bounds of decency. Too often the church becomes a reflection of society. That was the case in the First Baptist Church in Corinth.

Let's try to get a relevant teaching for today from Paul's instructions to both men and women.

To this day Middle Eastern women wear the "yashmak" which is a long veil leaving the forehead and eyes open but reaching down almost to the feet.

Veils had (and still have) four main purposes: respect, protection, modesty and submission. No respectable woman would think of going outside without it. (Of course, we are seeing more and more "veils" as Middle Eastern immigrants move into our country.)

Let's talk about the first three: respect, protection, and modesty. The following story illustrates all three.

Respect, Protection, and Modesty

Julie and I got lost in the giant bazaar (shopping mall) in Istanbul, Turkey. I'm not surprised. It is twenty acres of covered shops and eating places with streets traversing, twisting, and twirling pathways of lostness.

We exited onto a back alley. Men were sitting around smoking and joking as Julie and I uncomfortably walked by. As we passed they began to make the most vulgar, inappropriate and crude sexual offers of what they wanted to do with Julie. I remember thinking, "Don't they understand that she is with me. I am here to protect her. They ignored me and continued their sexual assaults on Julie.

 We were running a gauntlet. When we exited Julie went immediately to a street vendor and bought a scarf. All comments and innuendoes ceased as we continued shopping with her head covered.

Sir William Ramsey explains it like this: "In Oriental lands the veil is the power and honor and dignity of the woman. With a veil on her head she can go anywhere in security and profound respect." On the other hand, without the veil a woman's authority and dignity vanish.

Just like men, women need respect, protection and modesty. Wearing the veil in public provides all three.

Head Coverings and the Symbolism of Submission 

Finally, the veil is a symbol of submission.

In the opening verses of this passage Paul wrote about the aspect of submission. In the opening verses he referred to the fact that man was created before woman and is thus "over" the woman: "But I want you to know that Christ is the Head of every man, and that the man is the head of every woman and that God is the Head of Christ."

The significance of submission goes right to the heart of marriage. Please take time to read Ephesians 5:21-33 where Paul discussed this subject. He taught that the husband is the "head" of his wife and thus is to love his wife as Jesus loved His church and sacrificed His life for it. The wife is then to respect her husband. When "headship" is properly conveyed in marriage the woman is protected and secure. Respecting a husband is easy when the husband expresses his headship by loving his wife with Christ as his model. This means that the wife comes first. It is the responsibility of the "head" to take care of those "under" them. It is easy for a wife to respect a husband whose top priority in marriage is to love his wife like Christ loved the church.

No matter what time or culture we live, in it is always time for our lives to be respectable, on the look out to protect those in need of protection, modest and full of sacrificial love no matter how short or long we wear our hairstyles or hats--or caps.

I recently attended a worship service where mom and daughter played a classical piano duet as part of the service. Daughter was a piano prodigy. Her playing was incredible. So were her legs. Whether or not she should have covered her head I do not know; but she at least could have covered her legs as she "tickled the keys." Little worship occurred as everyone around me was whispering about her tiny skirt. What a contrast to the sixteen-year-old cellist twenty feet away who knew how to bring glory to Jesus by not focusing on herself.

Now about those angels. We move here carefully because we are talking about angels! No one knows for certain what Paul meant about these angels, but I imagine that Paul is referring to the strange story in Genesis 6:1-2 which described how angels fell prey to the charms of mortal women and so fell. It may be the idea that an unveiled woman is a temptation even to the angels! An old rabbinic teaching said that it was the beauty of women's long hair which tempted the angels!

In a practical sense, in today's unchurched--non-Christian culture making hats and hairstyles an issue will be of little help in reaching a lost generation for Christ. If the spiritually mature want to follow this teaching theologically, then by all means let them do so.

I hope this helps.

Love, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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