Head Coverings

The Use of Head Coverings in the Local Church

– By Nate

 

Head Coverings

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The debate over women wearing a head covering is not often debated among today’s circles. There are a small group of individuals that still believe wearing a head covering is a biblical requirement, and rightfully so, because I Corinthians chapter eleven seams to make a clear case that women are to wear head coverings, leaving little room for debate. Though the majority of those within Christianity do not hold that it is still a biblical requirement today. Thus there are many varying views as to why this biblical teaching is not relevant in today’s culture. Of these various views, the two most prominent positions are as follows. First that the meaning of a head covering was actually referring to the women’s long hair on her head, and not an external cover of some sort. Second is the idea that a head covering was literally something that the women was to place over her head, but was a product of the Corinthians culture and therefore not necessarily carried through to today’s culture.

 

Breaking Down The Theories

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The idea that the covering is referring to the women’s actual hair comes from the Greek words κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων which literally translated has been argued to mean ‘having down from (his) head’[1] The idea here is that within the Corinthian culture, it was disgraceful for women to have short hair or shaved heads. It was seen as a symbol of immorality and prostitution.[2] Likewise in this culture for a man to have long hair pointed to homosexuality[3], which is where Paul’s illustration of hair in nature comes in to relevance. Therefore considering the cultural context, this position argues that women who were involved within the church were to have their heads covered or as it could be said ‘have long hair’ as to not associate with the appearance of evil (as found in their immediate culture).

The second idea, that a head covering was intended to be a physical item that women were to wear on their heads but through changes in culture is no longer necessary today. The reasoning behind this position is that when the women covered her head, it was a symbol of submission to her husband. David Prior states that,

“The women’s ‘head-covering’ (here called kalumma, or ‘veil’). This, incidentally, was not the equivalent of the Arab veil, but a covering of her hair alone. The normal everyday dress of all Greek women included this kalumma. The only women who did not wear them were the hetairai, who were the ‘high-class’ mistresses of influential Corinthians.”[4]

Prior went on to further say that women with shaved heads were either slaves or women who were convicted of adultery. In addition, it is assumed that the prostitutes of the day also refused to wear a head covering or veil[5]. While in today’s culture the action of a wife covering her head with some external object does not in anyway convey an act of submission to her husband. Today there are other ways that wives, namely Christian wives show submission to their God given head.

 

Headship and Submission

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The crucial theme underlying this issue of head coverings is that of headship, and the God given order of authority. It is clear through I Corinthians chapter eleven that there is a clear headship. First is God the father, who is the head of Jesus Christ, who is then the head of man, which is finally the head of women, namely his wife. Paul uses the illustration of man covering his head to show that it would be a dishonor to his head, which is Jesus Christ. In the same way, women in the church with their head uncovered would bring dishonor to her head the husband. So then the real issue here is not if the women has her head covered or uncovered, rather is she honoring her head (the husband) through expressing submission to his authority. It is equally as important that the husband honors his head (Christ) through an outward expression of an inward condition (submission).

How then does this idea of submission effect the interpretation of head coverings? The principle of headship is the underlying theme of this chapter. It is the attention to headship that should be focused on. Therefore if the act of wearing a physical covering on her head shows to God, her husband, and society that she is placing herself in submission to her husbands authority then wearing a head covering is what she should do. However, the act of wearing a covering on the head means little to nothing in this 21st century American culture. Therefore it is the duty of the wife to show to her husband, society and God that she is actively submitting to her husband. There is no clear Biblical distinction as to what this woman should do, though the biblical principles are more than enough to clearly direct her actions.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

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There are those within Christianity today who still believe that head coverings are a needed element of proper worship within the New Testament church. These people are generally located in smaller groups within specific denominations. The vast majority of believers have come to the understanding that no matter if it was a literal covering such as a veil or shawl, or simply the women’s hair, that it was a cultural element that has little to no affect on today’s society. Craig Blomberg best describes the situation within the Corinthian context in this manner,

“For a Christian man to appear gay or pagan dishonors God; for a women to appear lesbian or unfaithful dishonors her husband. Obviously husbands also dishonor their wives and dishonor God when they act in these inappropriate ways… One should be particularly concerned not to dishonor one’s immediate spiritual head.”[6]

What Blomberg is getting at here is that the issue is not as much with outward act of covering or not covering ones head, rather the most important issue is honoring their respective heads through submission.

Bibliography


[1] Leon Morris, I Corinthains: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1985), 151.

[2] David Prior, The Message of I Corinthians, (Downers Grove: Intervarcity Press, 1985), 181.

[3] Jerome Murphy-O’Conner, “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,” CBQ 42 (1980): 482-500.

[4] David Prior, The Message of I Corinthians, (Downers Grove: Intervarcity Press, 1985), 180.

[5] ibid, 181.

[6] Craig L. Blomberg, I Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 211.

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