My Brief Look Into Head Coverings.

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Ah, this could be a toughie. But hang in there with me :).

If you are like me, you don’t wear head coverings – either at church or at home. In fact, no-one wears head coverings at your church, or any other church that you know of. There are a few smaller churches that do, and occasionally you come across a woman who is wearing one, as well as a long skirt, and you generally know the denomination she probably goes to.

You’d love to talk to her, get to know her, ask her questions about her choices and beliefs, because – as a Christian yourself – you want to know. You know the verses she is living by, you’ve read them many times over, and you’ve tried and tried to understand them… But you are not a single bit closer to comprehending their meaning in today’s cultural context.

This nags at you. You love God’s word and you try, with your fallible strength, to obey his desires. You search his Scriptures, you look into original Greek and Hebrew, into reading the whole Bible as one big picture of Jesus. In terms of relationships, you believe in order and the beautiful image of gender equality and distinction. You believe in the term ‘biblical womanhood’. And yet…

You don’t cover your head. Yes, you’ve tried some on and tried to figure them out with how you look in the mirror. But actually believing and committing to wearing them because of a deep conviction that these verses God’s will for you, today?

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Friends, it’s been on my heart recently to really look into this passage. I am passionate about being all the God has called me to as a woman, I want to be his woman, and as complicated as these verses are, I have wanted to come to grips with them as best as I can. I am not perfect and I am not saying that I have “arrived” with a full and complete answer. My heart is genuine and if God leads me to different thoughts in the future, I am ready to receive them.

My hope is to share my journey to encourage and also, hopefully, to encourage women who do cover that I am humbled by you, and that, through this look into these verses, I have come to understand your heart more than I ever have before. I hope you will comment below.

NB. Most of my research has been done through personal conversations with my husband {my head} and my father-in-law {an evangelical minister of twenty-five years}, and through the book by Claire Smith God’s Good Design:What The Bible Really Says About Men and Women {endorsed by the likes of: DA Carson, Peter Jensen, Kathleen B Nielson, and Jonathan Fletcher}.

“4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.”

The biggest argument that I have heard about not wearing head coverings today is that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians were purely cultural. Men were covering their heads and women were uncovering their heads in church services, and in that cultural context, those actions were rebellious and arrogant. However, men today wear baseball caps and women have short hair and wear jeans but with dedicated hearts to the Lord, unlike those who were going against the “traditions” that Paul had taught them and which were practiced in other churches {vs.2}.

So yes, in some ways these verses are cultural. But it would be arrogant of us to just leave it at that. If we choose not to cover our heads, there must be a deeper theological reason to it. And we mustn’t come to Scripture with the slant of not obeying something simply because it was cultural. All Scripture is for us {1 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21} and so we have a responsibility to take all Scripture, whether we understand it or not, seriously.

So what are the nitty gritty details for us to understand?

  • In the context of the chapters leading up to this one, Paul has been looking at matters of sex, marriage, food being given to idols and church behaviour. So, as Claire Smith says, “The potential for what we have been given in Christ – freedom, gifts etc – to be used to the detriment of another person. [And] how the differences we find in the Christian community affect the unity of Christ’s body, for good and for ill” {pg.58}.
  • In verses 5-13, when using the Greek word gune, it is a wife that is referred to. Thus, if we are to relate this to us today, it is wives Paul is speaking to. Infact, a woman wearing a veil was a sign in the first-century of being married.
  • Paul bases his commands on this cultural tradition as well as on the order of creation – that God made man, that out of man and for man, he made woman. He clearly makes the point that a husband and wife are dependent on one another and that one is not more important than the other, rather, this is just the way things are.
  • Because this is the way things are, a man looking like a man {head uncovered, hair shaven} and a woman looking like a woman {head covered, long hair} brings glory to God and is rightful behaviour in the church context.

So, we know that wives, in first-century Corinth, wore veils to:

  1. show that they were married, and;

  2. show their acceptance of their place in the order of creation.

Understanding these two points have clarified my confusion on these verses. Paul is tackling the tendency for people to go too far with their freedoms in Christ to the point where they are not glorifying God and hurting other fellow believers.

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So, the question begs, does this directly apply to us today?

Simply, yes and no. But in more depth?

If you read these verses and, as a wife, you feel led, compelled and convicted to wear head coverings and, after discussion with your husband, you both decide it is appropriate then, I believe, obey God. As Claire Smith says,

“…If your understanding of 1 Corinthians 11 and your conscience lead you to that conclusion, then you should cover your head. You are certainly not disobeying the word of God if you do, and you will not be sinning against your conscience just for the sake of fitting in (which you may be doing if you don’t cover your head).” pg.77

But, if on the other hand, your husband desires you not to, then don’t cover your head. The whole point of this passage is Paul promoting the roles in marriage and, if you disobeyed your husband’s desires because of your own conviction, then you are doing what the women who were uncovering their heads in the services – that is, flouting the symbol of your role in marriage. If your belief to cover is strong, then pray and trust God. He can change your husband’s heart and, if he doesn’t, it is more pleasing to him that you respect your husband. {I have talked more about headship and submission in this post.}

What if this passage does not create a conviction to cover? Are we disobeying a direct command from God?

It is my current opinion that, if we don’t cover our heads, we are not disobeying God. I have come to this thought mostly due to the fact that veils, unlike in the first-century, are not symbols of a married woman anymore. Our culture is both eclectic and casual and, due to feminism, has removed many images of submission and marriage.

However, there are two other ways we have today that do show that women are married and that, whether they realise it or not, symbolise some form of the order of creation. They are:

  1. the wedding ring

  2. removing the maiden name and taking the husband’s name

Because of the state of our culture, I believe that it is the latter that really shows the heart of what Paul is encouraging the Corinthian women to do and which directly applies to us. When a woman takes her husband’s name, it shows to everyone that she is leaving her family, becoming one with him, and creating a family with him. It also shows, to me, that she accepts coming under his protection and authority. So when a woman doesn’t take her husband’s name it can mean {though not always}

“…there is a tacit rejection of at least some aspects of a husband’s leadership…Certainly, those feminists who refuse to take their husband’s name show that this is exactly what it means.” pg.78-79

Though taking her husband’s last name is not a visual representation of what Paul is commanding, it is a legitimate way of culturally showing that we believe in what God teaches us in the Bible about the husband and wife relationship. 

To visually show Paul’s commands today in our culture, I believe, is up to the individual couple. Both husband and wife are to be in agreement and, if not, both are to be in prayer to wisdom and guidance. And I think it is important to uphold Paul’s desire that men and women look like men and women. This was a central principle to his command. What is masculine and what is feminine is different today than Paul’s day, but it is easy to do so. Again, this is up to the individual couple.

Finally, I will finish with another quote from Claire Smith who, I believe, summarises her chapter on this passage rightly:

“Paul’s solution is not to remove all distinctions between men and women but to reiterate those God-given distinctions that are to continue within the body of Christ. These distinctions are good. In this case, the distinction concerns the authority and equality that shape Christian marriage and are to be expressed when we meet together as God’s family. This order has its origin in God’s design for human relationships, and reflects the equal yet asymmetrical relations in the Godhead.” pg.80

This is a big topic and I’ve tried hard to explain where I believe the Lord has led Tim and I on this subject.

Have you studied this passage? Did you come to similar conclusions or different? Do you cover? Do you promote your God-given femininity within your marriage differently? Please share kindly below.

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5 Comments

  1. I love this post! What a clear understanding of the topic! You cut through the cultural in a sensitive way and struck to the heart of the principle Paul was teaching! Great Job!

    1. Thank you Helene! It’s such a big topic and I really wanted to know for myself before God. It’s helpful to share where we are at, and, even if it changes, it shows that none of our theology is perfect and it’s by God’s grace we are where we are. Thank you for encouraging me! 🙂

  2. Hi Sarah, I’m Jeremy from the Head Covering Movement. I stumbled upon your blog post while searching Google. I must start by saying that I appreciate your tone, and attitude on this topic. It’s refreshing.

    There are two different ways to state my disagreement on the symbol itself being cultural. The first is to point out that there’s no biblical justification for seeing the symbol as cultural. A strong case can be made from 1 Cor 11:16 against that viewpoint because Paul said that that they had no practice (of women praying uncovered) in any of the churches. All these churches had a mixture of Jews and Gentiles fellowshipping in them and are from different cultures. They are spread out geographically over thousands of miles over such places as modern day Israel, Turkey & Greece. Yet, they all hold to the same Christian doctrine regarding head coverings. How can such unity be accounted for except the church understanding head coverings as a command for all Christians? I also think 1 Cor 11:10 strongly argues against this point as the cultural viewpoint centers around what PEOPLE see, but Paul says it’s what ANGELS see. Angels aren’t products of changing culture.

    The other angle is to point to the overwhelming archaeological evidence that argues against a headcovering being a symbol of modesty, or marriage. As Dr. David W.J. Gill summarizes: “Public marble portraits of women at Corinth, presumably members of wealthy and prestigious families are most frequently shown bare-headed.” Respectable, married, uncovered women are what are most frequently found in 1st century Corinth.

    Thanks for the open invitation to comment and for taking the time to hear me out.

    1. Hi Jeremy! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post and comment so thoughtfully and graciously. That’s the true spirit of conversation 😉

      Like I’ve already stated, I’m no expert on this topic and I certainly don’t think I have arrived at a certain viewpoint, never to change my mind. And I still have questions about these verses that I haven’t had answers that fully satisfy me. I actually agree with your point about Paul’s comment on the angels. I cannot reconcile current viewpoints that the head covering is a cultural thing and therefore we don’t need to wear them because of this aspect. You’re right, angels are not part of changing culture and to me, that shows there is something deeper than just a cultural way of life…That it is part of the order or creation and a sign of submission to that.

      That being said, I cannot reconcile myself to wearing a head covering. Firstly, I’m still not fully convinced it is necessary today. Though I am not saying it ISN’T necessary, I cannot see that it is beneficial for the Church {as it was then}. Because there is no clear command for women to do so, like there are on other marital/familial practices/attitudes {ie. submission etc}, then I do take the view that wearing or not wearing a head covering is part of our Christian freedom. I may be wrong on this, and if God decides to pull me up on it, I am happy to change.

      The most important reason why I don’t cover is because my husband doesn’t want me to. I have prayed that if God desires me to obey Him in this way, my husband needs to believe in it first. Before the Lord, my conscience tells me that it is more God-glorifying to obey my husband than it is to cover. It builds our marriage up, it encourages my respect for my husband, and helps me trust the Lord.

      Because of these reasons, I am at peace where I am currently. But, like I said, I deeply appreciate the reasons and convictions that lead to women and families of women to cover. I see their heart more clearly than I ever have, because of the brief study I did. I really esteem their actions because it is a brave obedience to the Lord.

      Jeremy, thank you for coming by and sharing your convictions. I really appreciate it and would welcome your thoughts on my reply if you have any.

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