Head Coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:1ff.
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, October 2, 2009 at 2:29pm
AN INQUIRER ASKS for a word or two about women wearing head coverings, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.
FIRST OF ALL, I refer everyone to my book, “Headship, Submission and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home” (College Press, 2008). See especially ch. 20. The main point of this section of Paul’s letter is male headship, with the principle stated in v. 3: “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” The verses that follow show the OT support for this principle, as grounded in creation.
In reference to head coverings, there is a distinction between the unchanging fact of male headship, and the changing or relative cultural expressions of it. I.e., in different cultures male headship is symbolized by different practices. To engage in these practices shows acceptance of the principle; to violate these practices shows a rebellion against the principle. In Paul’s day the practice that showed acceptance of male headship was that women covered their heads in worship, and men did not.
This is seen in verses 7-10, which say: on the one hand, a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but on the other hand, because the woman is the glory of man, she ought to wear a symbol of male authority on her head.
Most agree that the head covering was what symbolized male headship in that culture. In other cultures, other practices may symbolize the unchanging principle and should be followed. In the U.S. today head coverings mean nothing one way or the other. The one practice that has over the years symbolized male headship seems to be the woman’s taking on her husband’s last name after marriage. The fact that many married women today are keeping their own last name or are forming hyphenated last names may be indicative of a growing rejection of this Biblical principle.
Again I refer my readers to the web site of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, i.e., www.cbmw.org : click on Resources, and type “head coverings” into the search block near the top right corner of that screen. Quite a few references will appear.