On Women and Head Coverings

I find it interesting that 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is pretty clear that women should wear head coverings when praying or prophesying, yet in Western culture, the overwhelming majority of women today do not obey this. Compared to African cultures, and the churches I’ve been to over there, the overwhelming majority of women do obey this. Now why would that be, especially if prior to the ’50s, women in the US did wear head coverings. Is it culture? Or is there something more seditious going on?

Counting Culture

I’m reminded of C S Lewis’ comments on the issue of morals across cultures. He talks about cultures where women walk around topless without shame. They’re simply raised that way and don’t think two seconds about it, yet if a white woman were to walk topless into their midst, I daresay they’d tell her to cover up. Now why would that be? Unless we want to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable for morals and sin to change definitions from culture to culture (something I firmly believe Christians are obligated to reject), we have only 2 options:

A) Like all other women, they should feel shame, but their conscience is seared from birth.

B) All other women should not feel shame. It’s perfectly ok for women to be topless. Some cultures just don’t like it, and enshrine it in a false sense of morals.

Because I don’t see room in the Bible for arbitrary & changing definitions of morality, I’m compelled to go with “A” and conclude that their conscience is seared so that they don’t even know that what they’re doing is wrong – they can’t hear nature trying to teach them that it’s a shame to be topless. Since the Bible endorses the concept of a seared conscience (1 Tim 4:1-4), my next question is this: in what way is my conscience seared? Because somewhere, somehow, I guarantee you it is! That’s where my Brothers and Sisters come into play, helping me see logs in my eyes and helping me in the process of sanctification (Matt 7:1-6).

And if I see my Brothers or Sisters with seared consciences, should I say something? Rest assured – I have better things to do than trot through my town as the Seared Conscience Sheriff. But if the topic comes up of its own accord … can the Godly remain silent? (Eze 33:1-9).


There are several reasons why I invoke the idea of ‘seared conscience’ on this particular topic. In an honest study of the passage, I’m hard pressed to see how anyone can conclude that it’s ok for women to discard head coverings. Here are the most common objections I’ve heard, and here’s why they don’t fly:

Objection 1: “Paul wanted them to cover up so they wouldn’t look like bald temple prostitutes.”
+ This is total eisegesis! Paul makes no mention whatsoever of Corinthian culture or bald prostitutes. Neither can we.
+ Paul closes the section by ending all further discussion on the issue: “If anyone wants to bicker about this subject, we have NO other teaching – nor do any of the churches of God!” (v16). This means that this headcovering principle was *not at all* limited to Corinth. All the churches of God in every 1st century culture (Rome, Jerusalem, Galatia, Antioch, etc) honored this teaching.

Objection 2: “We don’t do that. It’s different now.”
+ As followers of Christ, our job is to find out what the Bible says and obey it. To pick and choose what we will obey is diametrically opposed to the call of Christ.
+ What, pray tell, has changed? [I’ve never received an answer on this question] Morals don’t change. The Bible doesn’t change. Angels don’t change. Cultures change, but .. we’re not supposed to blindly follow culture.

Objection 3: “Hair is a covering. We don’t need to add an additional one if we don’t want to.”
+ So why did all women cover up with scarves and veils, even in the OT? Clearly they understood the topic quite differently.
+ If it’s a covering for women, then it’s a covering for men – and men are not to have their heads covered. By this line of thinking, men should shave their heads before praying and prophesying.
+ If hair was a sufficient covering, then Paul would have merely rebuked the women who wanted to be bald and told them to grow their hair out, and this is precisely what he didn’t do.
* Caveat: I don’t know why modern Jewish men cover their heads when praying. Did they cover up in the OT? NT? Dunno. They had hats/turbans as part of their priestly garb, and surely they prayed while officiating sacrifices. So I dunno!

Objection 4: “I’m submissive in my heart. That is enough, and God looks on the heart.”
+ Paul isn’t talking about hearts, he’s talking about heads. So when discussing this passage, we can’t talk about hearts – we have to talk about heads.
+ Is it possible to disobey an external command yet be compliant on the internal command?
+ Is there any other command in the Bible where we can obey in our hearts, but not with our hands, and think we’re satisfying the requirement at hand? Baptism? Communion? The Ten Commandments? Etc? The answer is obvious.
+ A quick word to the wise… when the Bible uses the phrase “..but God looks on the heart”, the meaning is that Man looks at the outside and is pleased, but God looks at the heart and is displeased (1 Sam 16:7, Isaiah 1:15-17, Matt 23:27-28, etc). In other words, this phrase is commonly used by Christians in the exact opposite way of how the Bible uses it. Just sayin’…

Objection 5: “It’s a cultural expression of submission. We observe the issue of submission, but we don’t demonstrate submission that way these days in our culture.”
+ Personally, I think this is the strongest reason to not wear head coverings. However, it makes two very powerful assumptions that should not be easily glossed over:
Assumption A: “Unlike the issue of topless women, showing submission w/o a head covering *is* a flexible thing from culture to culture. We do it at our discretion. It’s not a moral issue.”
Response A: I hope you’re right. There is no way to demonstrate that this is not a moral issue one way or the other .. and so far, such thinking runs against the grain of what we see spelled out in the Bible.
Assumption B: “The 1st Century Church covered up “because of the Angels”, but angels don’t care about head coverings any more.”
Response B: I hope you’re right. You’ll forgive me if I say that this strikes me as highly unlikely.

Objection 6: “It’d cause a disruption!”
+ Proceed with caution. After all, this reasoning cuts both ways. God may use your obedience to cause those around you to ask for a reason for your faith and be turned to obedience.

Objection 7: “My husband has considered the issue and doesn’t want me to.”
+ Tell him to talk to me.
Totally kidding, folks!!! Oddly enough, I think Numbers 30 would be a strong argument in favor of this. I don’t like it much, but I gotta do something with Num 30, so…

Again – we need to point out that none of the 4 reasons Paul lay out have any bearing whatsoever on culture.
So if we use culture as an out, something’s not right.

Cover Up

Now let’s look at a few reasons why women should wear head coverings:

– The Bible says to. All things being equal, if we approach the Bible looking for ways to love God through our obedience ( John 14:15; John 15:10, etc “If you love Me, you will obey Me”), shouldn’t this settle the question once and for all?

– If we think there’s an acceptable alternative, we might want to carefully consider Paul’s final word on the subject:  “If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.”  (1Cor 11:16). In other words, all churches everywhere in the 1st Century required head coverings on women (and there were lots of different cultures back then!)

– Did you notice how many women were wearing head coverings (hats) at Prince Williams’ wedding? Almost all of them. Fashion statements? Perhaps. Vestiges of an ancient, natural, God-honoring practice? Likely.

– It used to be the common practice of the majority of women everywhere, even in the US, up until the 50s and 60s. Watch movies made prior to the 50s and look at how their women dressed in churches. Better still, watch silent movies made prior to the 30s, filming candid pedestrians. The supermajority of women are wearing hats in public. What changed? (Feminism?? All the more reason we should reject the idea of not wearing headcoverings)

– Next time you’re at a ballgame and someone prays, if the men take off their hats, they do so out of obedience (influence?) to 1 Cor 11. So I suppose that instead of just taking off their hats, they should be handing their hats to their wives. Quid pro quo.

Or maybe I’m missing something.


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