Head Coverings

head covering 2

Q. 1 Co 11: 1-11 talk about covering and uncovering the head. Is this where churches get the policy of no hats during service? If it is and this is still being observed now, then why isn’t the principles drawn from the same passage observed for women?

A. This is an interesting and much debated passage. Superficially, it talks about the use of head coverings, and the instructions are different for men versus women:

For men:
1 Co 11:4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.
• 1 Co 11:7 A man ought not to cover his head.

For women:
1 Co 11:5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.
• 1 Co 11:6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.
• 1 Co 11:10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

Some churches inferred that men should not wear hats, but women should, during a worship service. That was the style 40-60 years ago, but with the passage of time women wearing hats went out of fashion and is seldom practiced today, except for some older ladies. If that’s what you get out of this passage it would be to miss Paul’s teaching altogether, and to confuse what the text said with how to apply it.

The core issue is in v 3 “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” The hierarchical order is God the Father, then God the Son (Christ), then man (husband), and woman (wife). Each is under authority and submits to his/her head. This is what v 3 clearly stated, and the application in those days was worked out in v 4-10, through men uncovering their heads and women covering their heads as a sign. But that was then and this is now. How would the principle of submission be expressed today?

Before I offer a suggestion, I need to point out two things. First, the hierarchy does not mean superiority or inferiority. Just as God the Son is equal to but submits to the Father, the wife is equal to but submits to the husband. The man is not better than the woman. It’s just that God created man first, and he has priority in the creation order. Second, what God commands, the principle, is absolute and unchanging over time. How the principle is applied, though, is dependent on culture and changes over time. For example, the Bible says “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16, 1 Co 16:20, 2 Co 13:12) or “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” (1 Thes 5:26). Few Christians practice that today. The principle, that Christians should greet each other, is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. How they greet one another, however, changes with the culture – some say hello, some nod, some shake hands, some hug – it all depends on the culture.

With this background, let me suggest that the principle here is that the women should respect their husbands, which holds true across time and culture. How she does that would vary. In some Eastern cultures it could still be wearing a shawl or a veil, or adopting her husband’s last name, or wearing the wedding ring, or deferring major decisions to her husband etc. But the real issue is the attitude of the heart, she may do all these external things, but does she really submit to her husband’s leadership, or does he really submit to the Lord’s authority in all areas of his life, other than not covering his head? That’s the heart of the matter. Don’t get too hung up on wearing hats in church.

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