What the Bible Says about Head Coverings?
Let us look at the Scripture that speaks about “head coverings” and see what God’s Word says about it. The eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians has caused many problems for the church around the world. The teaching many have taken that these verses mean that a woman must have her head covered with some sort of fabric, such as a scarf or hat while she is prophesying or ministering. In many of the Pacific Island nations, the churches still hold to this teaching. Many traditional churches have a vestige of this teaching that has remained in the popular custom of women wearing hats to church on Sunday.
The True God Inspired ‘Covering’
What is God’s real meaning of these verses and what is the true “covering?” One way we can discern between false and true teaching is to examine the fruit of it. Does it bring freedom, or legalism and bondage? As we look at this Scripture, we must remember to examine it in the light of God’s total Word and not just these isolated verses.
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. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her 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. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man hath 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. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:3-16
For the sake of clarity we will deal with this passage verse by verse.
First, we need to understand why this chapter was written. Paul had received a letter from the Corinthian church regarding many problems it was encountering. This epistle was written to help straighten out some confusing issues. One of these was the question of whether a woman should veil, or cover, her head in church since the custom was that most women kept their heads covered in and out of the church. The reason this was a much discussed issue was that one of the oral Jewish traditions dictated that when entering the temple for worship, the males, or “heads of the house,” were to wear the Jewish tallith, or veil. According to the Jewish tradition this was a sign of reverence toward God and a condemnation of sin. Paul was very strongly against all Jewish legalism (circumcision being one of these) being imposed on new believers in Messiah. He was also opposed to the veiling or covering of men because they were no longer under any condemnation or guilt since Jesus took that away through His sacrifice.
Now the question had come up over women veiling or covering in church. What would he say for them to do? Paul seized the opportunity to teach them by presenting a spiritual analogy that would enable them to arrive at their own conclusion. We find Paul’s conclusion to their question of women veiling in verse 16, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” He simply says this is a custom of the women, but it is not a scriptural ordinance or a biblical command. This explanation clarifies the matter for us today, but we will miss a beautiful spiritual application if we fail to look at these verses further as every portion of the Scriptures contains some deep and eternal principle applicable to every age. We can see that Paul is using an analogy here. He is not discussing a cloth covering, or veil, or even a hat when he speaks of a woman having her head covered, because in verse 15 he clearly says a woman’s hair is given to her for a covering. “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
The Spiritual Covering
What kind of covering does he mean? He is not speaking of a literal covering at all, but a spiritual covering. Let us see what this spiritual covering is. Isaiah 30:1 says, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin.” We can see here that the Spirit of God is our covering. He warned those that sought any “covering” other than His Spirit. This should speak plainly to us that our teachings is not to be found in man made doctrines.
Another verse that tells us about God’s covering is Psalm 104:1-2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.” We see that God is covered in honour, majesty and light. Where light is, there is no darkness and evil; where honour is, there is truth.
The covering God is talking about is the Spirit of Truth and Light. With an understanding of this covering, we can now look at verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 11 and see that it says, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.” Verse 3 tells us who his head is, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; …and the head of Christ is God.” If Christ is man’s head and God is Christ’s head, then if the man covers Jesus so that the light of God cannot be seen in Him, it is a dishonour for Christ. The Bible speaks that we are to let our light shine, not to cover it.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
If men are going to prophesy, pray and minister in the church, then they are not to dishonour their head, Jesus. They must let the light of God shine through them. Men are not to “cover” God’s glory and majesty, but let it come forth from them. This light will go forth with truth and honour.
In the Old Testament, it was a shame for men to cover their heads; that is why the Jewish tallith was worn (to represent the shame and guilt of their sins). Jeremiah speaks of men covering their heads because of their shame. “Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads” (Jeremiah 14:4). Whenever men do not allow Christ to flow out of them, but cover their head (Christ), it is a shame. Men do not have to defend their position as long as Christ is flowing from them, as Jesus will “cover” for them. They don’t have to “cover” for Him. The Lord will justify those that are shining for Him. The Lord’s mercy, love, kindness and goodness should be evident in those men who are in the ministry. They will be gentle to their wives, considerate and loving if they are truly letting God shine through them. Christ is the man’s head and should not be covered, or it will bring dishonour to the Lord.
Now what about women? 1 Corinthians 11:5 says, “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” Who is the married woman’s matrimonial head? Of course, her husband, the man. The same should be true in the marriage relationship. If a man is truly the “head” after the pattern of Christ, he will support and lift his wife up to his own level of authority. The true “headship” is won by self-sacrificing love which is how Christ won His Church, not by rule and domination. The woman’s head is to be “covered.” How does she cover her head, that is, her husband? One way she is to cover him is by the words of her mouth.
David realized that the words we speak produce a blessing or a curse. Psalm 140:7 and 9 says, “O God the Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle… As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.”
If a woman’s lips do not confess the Word of God and truth over her husband, she will be “uncovering” her head. If a woman tears her husband down with ugly and degrading words, and her lips speak negative things against him, she will find in her “day of battle” she will not be covered by the Lord. David was covered because he spoke those things pleasing to the Lord.
Women who pray or minister in public should not degrade their husbands in their private lives as this is a shame before the Lord. It brings shame to their matrimonial “heads.” Women should not uncover their “heads” as the Scripture says it would be the same if she were to go about with her head shaven. No woman would purposely shave her head, yet women are doing this spiritually when they expose their husband’s faults, malign them or degrade them in any way. We are to cover our husband’s weaknesses, not “uncover” them. There is a story in the Old Testament about Noah that shows us how displeased God is when His men are exposed and not covered.
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9:20-27
Noah’s son, Ham, discovered his father’s nakedness, but instead of covering him, he went and told his two brothers. Shem and Japheth not only refused to look on their father in his exposed state, but covered him as well.
Wives, should cover their husband’s faults and failures, not expose them to others. It’s a shame for wives to leave their “heads uncovered.” We know that because man and wife are one flesh, for either of them to hurt or expose the other, it is the same as if they were doing it to themselves. We can see that after Noah discovered what had happened, he pronounced a curse upon the son of Ham (Canaan) and a blessing upon Shem and Japheth. When wives uncover their husband’s nakedness, they actually bring a curse against their heads and their marriages. A woman cannot talk about her husband without it affecting her because she, in essence, is talking about herself. If women expect God to bless their marriages, then they must “cover” their heads. A woman who is guilty of exposing her husband becomes uncovered too. The Lord cannot bless her with His anointing when she walks out uncovered by God. Husbands and wives are to lay their lives down for each other.
God is our covering spiritually, for both the man and the woman. Both husbands and wives should cover one another in prayers and with their devotion and loving deeds. The Lord is always teaching us about heart attitudes in the New Testament of the Bible and many of the parables of Jesus and the illustrations of Paul were used to point out these very things. Paul’s conclusion to the question of women veiling in 1 Corinthians 11:16, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” He simply says this is a custom of the women, but it is not a church ordinance. Therefore, if in some cultures, the women are still covering their heads and it is their custom, it would not hurt us to honour that custom if we go there to preach by covering our head if we are a woman. (This could also pertain to our dress as western women when we are in a foreign land. We should restrain from wearing short dresses and shorts. Personally, I don’t think wearing skimpy clothes is a good witness, even in our own country, as it doesn’t represent Godly dress.) The people we are preaching to in foreign lands might be more open to receive our message if we are considerate of their customs. Paul made this statement:
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22