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Should Christian Women Wear A Head Covering In The Church?   Is That Covering Her Hair or Hat?

Should Christian Women Wear a Covering in the Church?  

Is it important whether or not a Christian woman wears a head covering in church services? If one were to judge by the common practice in the church world, the conclusion would be that it is not. But does common practice usually follow the mind and teaching of God? It is a strange anomaly that, in evangelical circles, while the Word of God is appealed to as the one authoritative source of instruction in doctrine, when it comes to matters concerning the local church and its order, there seems to be little recourse to the Scriptures for guidance. Too often it is a modern emulation of the days of the judges, when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). 

Does the Bible have anything to say about a woman's head covering? Is there any spiritual significance attached to this apparently trivial and personal matter? The writer believes that God has spoken clearly and unmistakably on this subject, and thus it has been lifted out of the realm of individual preference on to the plane of obedience to God and His revealed will. If so, but one question remains to be answered, and the problem is solved for all who are willing to obey, "What saith the Scriptures"? 

Divine Headships 

The 11th chapter of the 1st epistle to the Corinthians furnishes us with detailed instructions regarding the head covering of Christian women. The underlying truth is that of headship, as clearly expressed in verse 3, "But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God." 

Three headships are here enunciated. God-Christ-man. 

The thought in headship is authority, control and the related subject of subjection, subordination. The Christian man is under the headship of Christ; the woman is to he under the headship of the man; even as Christ, for the carrying out of the redemptive purposes of God, placed Himself, when here on earth, completely in subjection to the Father. The reference to Christ eliminates all thought of inferiority, for there could never be the introduction of any suggestion of superiority or inferiority in the Godhead. But, that the eternal counsels of grace and salvation might be fulfilled, the Son took the position of subordination during His earthly sojourn. What a perfect Example! What an incentive to emulate His obedience! 

The Uncovered Man - the Covered Woman. 

Having dealt with the basic truth of headship, the inspired apostle now relates this truth to the matter of the head covering for Christian women in the assembly. "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his Head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoreth her head, for that is all one as if she were shaven." (vs. 4-5). 

Thus far there has been no mention of the hair, nor is there any reference to it until we come to the end of verse 5, then in verse 6. To infer that the covering which is prohibited for men in verse 4 is the hair is, of course, ludicrous. The only way a man could obey this injunction would be to shave his head bare! It is a covering he can wear, or remove at will. It is literally, "anything on his head," in the sense of a hat. In direct antithesis to this uncovered head of the man stands the covered head of the woman. 

Here, also, it must be, not her hair, but a covering which can be worn or discarded. This is undoubtedly a hat, and this she is instructed to wear. Not to do so is to dishonor her head; just as the wearing of a hat in church service by a man is a dishonor to his Head. 

What does this mean? As we have seen, man is placed in subordination to Christ, Who is his Head. Having no visible head in the church, he is in the place of authority under Christ, and thus prays and prophesies uncovered. But the woman has been placed in subordination to the man, and thus is under his authority in the church. To indicate this position of subjection she wears a head covering. 

With due regard to those who may differ, the writer does not believe that there is a reference here to husband and wife relationship. This is not a personal and family matter, but relates to church gatherings, the coming together of the saints (vs. 17, 18, 20). It has to do with praying and prophesying. The woman may be unmarried, or, if married, her husband may not be in the church gathering, may not even be saved. But this does not alter the instructions. "Dishonoring her head" (v.5) refers, not to her husband, but to man in the position of authority in the church under the headship of Christ. Husband-wife relationships are fully dealt with in other passages of Scripture, cf. Eph. 5:22,25; Col. 3:18-19; I Pet. 3:1,7. 

Having established the fact of the head covering, the apostle further indicates that this is not her hair, for he says, in referring to the uncovered head, "for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 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" (vs. 4-5). 

The incompatibility of a man praying with covered head is emphasized in verse 7 by the statement, "forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God." This takes us back to the original creation recorded in Genesis 1:26-27, "And God said, let us make man in our image so God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him." 

As made in the image of God, man became His visible representative, not in a physical but in a moral sense, and as an intelligent creature was placed in headship over creation. He is the "glory of God" as displaying in his person the wisdom, power and skill of his Creator, and in his position the authority vested in him by God. The woman is not spoken of as "the image" of the man, for she is not his representative; but she is "his glory," displaying what is worthy in him. 

The relative positions of man and woman as indicated in their creation, and the placing of Adam in dominion as God's representative, is carried still further by a reminder that the man was created first, and from him God created the woman for the blessing of man (vs. 8-9). However, in natural generation there is a mutual interdependence which removes all thought of superiority or inferiority (vs. 11-12). 

"For this cause" (v. 10), because man was given headship, dominion and authority, the woman is to "have power (or authority) on her head." Her head covering becomes the visible token of subjection to her God-appointed head, and a restoration through grace of that order which was lost because of sin. 

"Because of the angels." 

These angelic beings were witnesses of the rebellion and consequent disorder which came into the first creation because of sin; now, in the new creation, it is possible that to them "might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3: 10). When God's order is carried out in the church gatherings of the saints, there is a precious setting forth of Christ and His Church. The man, uncovered, in the position of authority represents Christ; the woman, covered, in the place of accepted subjection, sets forth the church in subjection to her Risen Head and Lord. What a privilege for the Christian woman to thus manifest to angels this precious truth! How gladly it should accepted! 

A faulty understanding of the truth presented in Galatians 3:28 has caused some to imagine that the instructions of I Corinthians 11 are there nullified. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, There is neither male nor female, but ye are all one in Christ Jesus." 

While both passages are, of course, divine truth, yet the subjects dealt with are quite diverse. In Galatians the subject is Sonship, and the position of liberty and blessing grace brings us into. Distinctions of race, social status, and sex are completely lost sight of "In Christ Jesus"; all receive equal standing and blessing. But in I Cor. 11 it is Church Order, and it is 'In the Lord" (11:11). 

Praying and Preaching 

The references to praying and prophesying in I Cor. 11 naturally raise the question as to the propriety of women engaging in such. Should Christian women pray or preach? Only within the sphere set forth by the Word of God. For them to do so in a church gathering where men are present is direct disobedience {o the instructions in the Word. 

"Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." I Cor. 14:34-35. 

"Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." I Tim. 2:11-12. 

Both of these passages emphasize the truth set forth by the head covering on the women in the assembly gatherings. Note the words, "under obedience," "not to usurp authority over the man." There is certainly nothing in Scripture that would forbid the women praying or preaching when only women and children are present, but even then it would seem comely that her head be covered, indicating that she has not been given the authority of headship. God would carefully guard the position of authority delegated to man as the representative of Christ the Head. A Christian woman in the pulpit ministering the Word, or serving as an elder, or leading the saints in prayer or in their praise, would surely be a "usurping of authority over the man." To do so with uncovered head would be to take the place of leadership or headship; to do so with covered head would be to contradict the truth set forth by her covering. These instructions are in the churches," and (in the writer's opinion) have no connection with family prayers in the home. "In the church" does not, of course, refer primarily to the church building, such being quite unknown in the first century when Paul wrote his epistles. It is wherever the local church assembles as such. Thus, if in a private home, the lady of the house would not wear her hat when acting as hostess, but, when the church assembles as such she would cover her head in recognition of her place of subjection in the church. 

Hat or Hair? 

There are those who would agree, in the main, with the foregoing, but who would feel that the covering referred to is the long hair of the woman. Such base their contention on vs. 13-15. "Judge in yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering." 

It has already been pointed out that the covering of verse 4 is one that a man may use or discard, certainly not his hair. In verses 14-15 the apostle is appealing to nature's parable to en force what he is saying. Left to itself, nature will provide the woman with long hair, while the man's will be considerably shorter. It is not a question of the exact length of the hair on either, but the relative length; the woman being provided with a "veil" (literally) by her flowing tresses. To the man long hair is a shame, to the woman it is her glory. This is the covering provided by nature for the woman, given to saved and unsaved alike. But to the Christian woman is given the privilege and responsibility of wearing that additional covering which sets forth the truth of subjection on her part and headship for the man. The fact that nature thus covers the woman's head with her long hair, would itself provide her with a guide for the voluntary act whereby she wears her hat as a token of subjection to the man in the church. 


When one considers the size and comfort of modern hats in comparison with the heavy veils of the Corinthian days, does there not seem to be some underlying cause for women rebelling against such an easy requirement? 

One would not charge all sisters who do not wear hats in church services with wilful disobedience to the Word; for this truth, like much else, is not taught in many circles, and many are uninstructed. 

But the spirit of the day is that of rebellion against authority, refusal to be in subjection. The world scoffs at any such teaching as would place women in any position of subordination to men, and all too many Christians are influenced in their thinking and actions by the world's standards. 

But, "to obey is better than to sacrifice," and the matter resolves itself into this question, "Will Christian women emulate the example of the One who was the Lord of glory, and yet for the glory of God and the redemption of men humbled Himself and took the place of obedience?" 

Harold G. Mackay

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