Author: Ron Graham
Head Covering in Worship
—1 Corinthians 11, headship and equality
This lesson examines the question of a man not wearing a head covering during worship, and a woman wearing one. The passage for study is 1st Corinthians 11:1-16.
1 Outline of 1Corinthians 11:1-16
- Exhortation: Hold firmly to the traditions exactly as Paul had delivered them (v 1-2)
- 1st Analogy: Three basic relationships involving headship. In each of these there are two who are equals. One, however, recognizes and submits to the other as head (v 3)
- Main topic: When praying or prophesying it is a disgrace for a man to cover his head and for a woman to have her head uncovered (v 4-5)
- 2nd Analogy: The shame of a woman having her hair shaved off (v 6)
- 3rd Analogy: The order at Creation: Man as the image and glory of God, woman as the glory of man. Woman originated from man and was created for man, not vice versa (v 7-9)
- Conclusion: Necessary for woman to wear a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels and because of the analogies given (v 10)
- Clarification: Woman is not inferior to man, even though man is the head (v 11-12)
- A personal judgment is called for: Judge for yourself the impropriety of a woman praying with her head uncovered (v 13)
- Nature's lesson: Long hair a dishonour to a man but a glory to a woman —addendum to second analogy (v 14-15)
- Exhortation reiterated: Should be no contention about this custom in the churches (v 16)
2 The Headship Question
The question of a head covering while worshipping is largely decided by the issue that underlies it, namely headship. Paul treats this issue concisely in 1Corinthians 11.
The passages below will provide some background reading about the nature and origins of the relationship between husband and wife (1Timothy 2:8-15, Ephesians 5:21-261, Pe 3:1-9).
|God is the head of Christ||Christ is equal to God|
|Christ is the head of man||Man is equal to Christ|
|Man is the head of woman||Woman is equal to man|
In our study passage (1Corinthians 11:1-16) Paul links the relationship of man and wife with two other relationships that are similar in some ways. Looking at the three relationships we see that what is common to each is Headship with Equality.
Paul is not indicating an imposed vertical hierarchy where God, Christ, man, and woman, occupy the rungs of a ladder one below (and inferior to) another. Rather these are three separate voluntary horizontal relationships. They are analogous because in each there is a human being in willing subjection to a peer: a man to Christ, a wife to her husband, and Christ to God.
We cannot deny the equality of Christ and God, nor the equality of man and Christ, otherwise we deny the very divine nature and human nature of Christ, and enter into heresy.
In Paul’s mind there is also equality of man and woman, otherwise his triad would not make sense. Paul himself argues for the equality of woman and man (1Corinthians 11:11-12).
Although Christ is equal to God, he recognizes God as head and submits to him. Although a man is equal in manhood to Christ, he recognizes Christ as his head and submits to him. Although woman is equal as a human being to man, she recognizes her husband as her head and submits to him.
Submission is the underlying issue with regard to wearing a headcovering in worship. The head covering is a token of a woman's accepting submission to her husband. The man's lack of head covering shows his acceptance of headship over his woman in the same spirit of self sacrifice that his head Jesus Christ showed to him.
"Because of the angels"
Paul has not placed the good angels in his analogy triad, however he later mentions them because they worship Christ and God and submit to them.
When men and women worship God it is fitting that they should be in harmony with the angels, and signify respect for headship, including the headship of the husband over his wife, Christ over the husband, and God over Christ.
Of course the question arises as to the position of men without wives and women without husbands. They need to know that being unmarried does not remove them from the obligation to show respect for the principle of headship and for those relationships in which there is headship.
So the unmarried women, and for the same reasons the unmarried men, act in the same way with regard to the head covering in worship as do those who are married.
3 The Head Covering Question
Having looked at the deeper issue, we now consider the issue of the head covering itself. There are a number of distracting and even divisive questions raised on this passage that I am not willing to go into, because those questions are unfruitful, and they appear to make the matter much more complicated than it is.
The main issue is whether a woman today needs to have something on her head when she comes before the throne of grace into the presence of almighty God, and whether a man should not wear that sign when he likewise is worshipping God.
There are some who wish to put away this practice. But I submit that there are other things we should be putting away.
Putting away all doubt
If a woman wears a hat or scarf on her head in worship, and a man removes his hat, absolutely no scripture that I know of is violated, nor is there anything objectionable about most hats or scarves that anyone should find them an object of offense. The advantage it has for the woman or the man who observes the custom, is that it ensures their compliance with our study passage beyond any doubt.
I have heard very complicated interpretations of the passage attempting to explain away the head covering in it. All of these are unconvincing to at least some people. Those who observe the head covering (whether men removing it or women wearing it) take the simple view that they will do what is necessary to satisfy themselves that they are not violating the requirements of this passage of scripture.
There is great wisdom and maturity in doing what is safe, especially when it is so harmless a thing. Even if you consider such scruples to be misguided, you are bound to apply the principles of Romans 14 to the matter.
Putting away all contention
At the beginning and end of the passage (1Corinthians 11:1,16), Paul cautions us against being contentious about this matter. He is addressing especially those who are against the custom of head covering. He exhorts us to respect the customs of the churches and not be argumentative about them.
The practice of women wearing (and men not wearing) head covering in church is an ancient practice. In past generations it was accepted practice as people responded to the passage we have been studying.
Some people today want to throw away old fashioned ways, and be modern with the world. But the world has no respect for God, Christ, the angels, or the relationship between man and woman established by the Creator.
For those who stir up arguments over this old custom, and want some new custom, Paul says, "If one is inclined to be argumentative, we have no such practice, nor have the churches of God" (1Corinthians 11:16)
Putting away all inconsistency
Why is it that most men remove their hats in the worship assembly, whilst the custom of women wearing hats is being discontinued and even opposed? Isn't that an inconsistency?
Some argue that the covering referred to is one's natural hair and not a cloth covering. Yet when we sit in church we often see husbands and wives with no distinction of hair length.
Suppose a woman says that the only head covering discussed in the passage is hair, yet she wears hair as short as her husband s. Isn't that an inconsistency?
I often hear the last half of 1st Corinthians 11 (about the Lord's Supper) being read in church as though it is relevant for us today, but the first half (about head covering) seems to be regarded as just a local and cultural issue for the Corinthians alone.
When the underlying questions discussed in the first part of the chapter go back to creation and to the cross of Christ, I wonder why people think that way. When you are in church obeying the second half of the chapter (about the Lord's Supper) do you lay aside the first half of the chapter (about the head covering)? Isn't that an inconsistency?
Putting away all disrespect
The main point of the passage (1Corinthians 11:1-16), and the discussion of it in this lesson, has been the old fashioned idea of showing respect. That's the main thing to take away with you from this lesson...
- Respect for Christ the head of every man,
- Respect for the husband the head of his wife,
- Respect for God the head of Christ,
- Respect for the angels and their example
- Respect for your brethren, their unity, their beliefs,
- Respect for longstanding customs,
- Respect for respect itself.