I Corinthians 11:3 reads, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
Paul is clear that he wants Christians to understand the premise of headship. The word “head” means “authority.” Paul wants us to understand that authority exists, not just in the family structure, but the Godhead as well. So he gives three examples of headship: Christ, the husband, and God the Father. The trinity (or Godhead) sets the example of headship and submission.
The premise of headship is critical to answering the question about head coverings. There is intended structure, headship and submission in the universe. The answer about head coverings is about reflecting what we already see around us in God Himself. It is about submitting to the consciences and preferences of others around us (I Cor 8-10).
Vs. 4-10 is the application of this headship premise.
In vs. 4-6, we read, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.”
Corinth had three primary influences in their city: Roman, Greek and Jewish. And each one of these three cultural influences had a different view when it came to covering your head.
- Greeks required head coverings of their women in religious practices and sacrifices.
- Romans never required head coverings of their women in religions practices and sacrifices.
- Jews did both depending on the situation.
Corinth had the cultural practices of each of these three influences and we can safely conclude the Corinthian church had the same variety or diversity of views.
Paul won’t address each cultural influence but give principles applying to everyone. In vs. 4-5, the targeted audience is women who ought to be covering their head but aren’t; in vs. 6, Paul refers to women who don’t need to cover their heads.
Culture is something that we need to be sensitive to. To the woman who ought to be wearing a head covering because of her culture, she shouldn’t parade around dishonoring herself like a pagan prophetess or prostitute. She ought to be prudent and simply cover her head. To the woman who doesn’t need to wear that head covering , she ought to stay consistent in that practice.
In fact, one of the points of these verses is this: just be consistent. Paul says here, “Be aware of the norm. Be aware of your responsibility to live within that culture and not offend another. If you are expected to cover your head, do so. If not, don’t worry about it. Consider the effects with the people around you with what you are wearing.”
The Creation Order
We read in vs. 7-10, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”
When woman was taken from man, she shares in his nature and reflects God’s “glory.” While man and women are different beings, they both reflect God’s image and “glory.” She manifests the “glory” and authority of man. Paul adds she was created out of necessity (Gen 1:18, 23). Eve was created from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:9-23). She was created because he needed her. Woman was created FOR man. She supports Him, backs him up, stands behind him, etc. She gives herself to him.
And, because of the created order, a “wife” should “have a symbol of authority” she wears. But notice, Paul doesn’t say, “Therefore, she should always wear a head covering.” She ought to have some outward acknowledgement of submission to her husband. Whatever the “symbol” she should do that.
Finally, to answer the question, “Does the Bible require that all women wear head coverings in the assembly or the church” – the answer is “yes, and no.
YES– If your husband asks you to, then wear it. Wives are responsible to submit to their husbands
NO– If the husband doesn’t have a preference or if a woman is unmarried or widowed, she isn’t required to wear a covering for the following four reasons.
- There is no direct command in Scripture for women to cover their heads. In this passage, there is no “thou shalt” statement. And you will not find any other passage in the O.T. or N.T. that even covers head coverings in this way.
- There are other symbols of submission (e.g., clothing, male elders, husbands, etc.). There are a variety of symbols for “authority.” It doesn’t have to be a head covering. Culture can produce a myriad of symbols.
- Head coverings are a cultural symbol. Today, hats or scarves are fashion accessories. They aren’t viewed as some in the Ancient Near East might view them. And even without the Corinthian culture, there was a wide variety of practice and acceptance on. Culture changes and adapts, and we should to.
- It would seem odd given Paul’s discussion of Christian liberties and “gray areas” (I Cor 8-10) that he would be so strict about head coverings now. Why would Paul give Corinthians freedom to eat “idol food” but then in the near context say, “Now the big issue in life this this: head coverings!” Paul wasn’t restricting Christians but making them more accessible.
We have the freedom, based on culture and lack of Biblical restriction, to allow women to have uncovered heads in church … unless her husband or even her church asks her to.
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