What’s The Deal With Women’s Head Coverings?

bitterreaper asked a question”

Could you explain what you think the deal is with head coverings in the bible? I know that it says that men should have shaved heads because they’re from god and women should have head coverings because they’re from men. And the angels want women to wear head coverings in church. But is it wrong to not? It doesn’t feel wrong. Most sin feels sinful.

Hey my friend, I would like to point you to perhaps the longest post I’ve ever written. It was written two years ago but I think I still agree with 98% of it.  Feel free to skip around or just read the parts you need. As always, please feel free to disagree as well.

– Mega-Post: Female Pastors, Neo-Feminism, and The Scary Words Submission, Quiet, and Penis

In short, I believe head covers was a cultural staple of that time due to a particular transition in the Corinthian church.  The letter to the Corinthians had two purposes: unity and order.  Paul was trying to create a safe gracious church in which disorder was kept to a minimum, especially for new Christians, which is why he comments on speaking in tongues.  He also forbids getting drunk off the communion wine and sleeping with your stepmom. Seriously, the Corinthians were grimy.

During this period, prostitutes had shaved heads and were newly joining the church, and the sight of these shaved heads was causing a bit of commotion to visitors and new Christians (this will make sense out of 1 Corinthians 11:5-6).  It appears Paul is speaking to this one specific church as a temporary consideration for others, not to control what they were wearing, but to make a larger point that we are mindful of “weaker” or new believers, as outlined in Romans 14.

Also, this specific church had a tradition about head covers, and Paul uses these cultural symbols as a way of teaching about husbands being the “responsible head” and wives being “modest,” and how both husband and wife belong to each other (1 Corinthians 7:4).  The context here is that the men were being lazy and argumentative, and women were getting up during worship service to yell about doctrine.  So Paul had to say something and he basically says, “So you know how you guys have this thing with head coverings? Let me make this a teaching example for you guys.”  You know, like a pastor’s illustration in a sermon.

Many churches have carried on this tradition of head coverings, particularly churches that are predominantly minorities, either as a fashion statement or because they interpret Paul’s words as a command for today.  Personally, I think wearing hats in church is fine, as long as it’s not made mandatory for a gender, and as long Christians can understand the historical grounding of these Bible passages.

I know that some scholars or pastors might disagree with this interpretation, and that’s fine.  This is not a primary doctrine worth fighting over, and not a place I’m willing to raise my flag either way.  To me, it’s about what honors Jesus and each other the best.

— J.S.

7 thoughts on “What’s The Deal With Women’s Head Coverings?

  1. I was hoping you’d talk about this one eventually. I am all for the optional choice, but it seems everywhere I look people have this attitude of: “It’s in the Bible, it’s God’s word. He said do it. I believe it. That settles it.”

    I’ve been talking with the guy that started this: http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/ – the head covering movement and he says: “All women of all ages must wear head coverings, but only certain women must submit to certain men (wives to their their husbands, unmarried daughters to their father, widows cover their heads out of respect to church elders.)” I think that’s a really dangerous interpretation to try to put out there in the mainstream.


    1. You’re definitely right, it’s a very ungracious attitude. These passages require a deeper wrestling than the more obvious ones. I don’t want to say I have the all-encompassing answer on it, but I do believe that a proper understanding of the historical context is key to unlocking these verses. So many times we try to fit an agenda (whether consciously or not) by squeezing verses into a dogma, and this is exactly how parts of the church have endorsed terrible movements. We forget there are many words before and after the verses that we selectively read into.


    2. Growing up in a totally secular environment, I never heard about head-coverings until after I was married. After we met the Lord we belonged to several churches that had no such practice, but I became aware that the grandmothers of these church sisters would have worn some type of head-covering.

      It wasn’t until I was twenty-one that I went through my own struggle with this, as we came in contact with church folks who believe this is still applicable. I asked a question about it in our bible study one evening, and our then-pastor preached a sermon on it Sunday morning (blush!) explaining that the question had come up and that this practice was no longer necessary.

      I won’t write about my own struggle & conclusions, but I want to comment on the thought above: “certain women submitting to certain men.” A head-covering is a symbol of submission to God’s order, rather than married women to their husbands, etc. The French Bible states this clearly (the translation of I Cor 11:10 being): “for this reason a woman should wear on her head a symbol of the authority on which she depends.” This authority being God rather than certain men.

      Thus it sounds to me like the one you’ve been talking to — “the guy who started this” — hasn’t quite got the picture. I know godly women who wear a head covering and godly women who don’t. I believe each woman needs to search this out together with God and the Scriptures.

      I’m stubborn, I guess. I’m not one to take other peoples’ practices as my own until I see the spiritual reasons for them. Various people gave me various answers pro and con, but I wasn’t at peace, and the Lord wasn’t satisfied with me, until I myself had searched for His answer.


      1. That’s where they make things interesting – they connect these verses to 1 Timothy 2 and say that because Adam and Eve are referred to in both sections, it can be interpreted through Genesis as a marriage order at the time of creation and therefore transcends all cultures. They also say that since she is forbidden from having authority, she submits to the authority of her husband over her. That is, if I’m understanding them correctly. I’m not from the reformed crowd and don’t always get their logic. It just seems to be to be ‘the topic’ of the last two or three years. As a kid growing up in church, they never ever preached out of this chapter.


        1. I find it intriguing that this has become a “current hot topic.” The Bible tells us not to be carried this way and that by every new wind of doctrine. This is a valid concern; we’ve been in religious circles long enough to watch a number of “all the rage” teachings come and go. I remember when the books Total Woman and Fascinating Womanhood made the rounds and the theories and teachings that grew out of these, some of which were seriously “off” and encouraged manipulative behavior.

          I don’t want to discount any truths or valid teachings, but if something comes to our attention, let’s be like the Bereans and search it out. There’s a lot of confusion out there. Anchored in the Word and Spirit-led, we find stability so we aren’t tossed around by the doctrinal winds that blow. There were times when women were given some authority by the early Church to act as a representative in some matter. (Romans 16:1-2)


          1. Yes, like the Bereans. I think the conflict happens when certain church-circles come to different conclusions about these matters. Some are hurtful, some are fruitful. In the end though, we major in the majors, not the minors. This is one of those secondary doctrines where we can all disagree and still be fellow brothers and sisters. But if it does become hurtful, it needs a gracious re-direction.


  2. I think what’s being left out is 1 Cor 11:15 that says that “a woman’s hair is given (being the keyword here) to her for a covering.” That essentially God has provided the covering just as he provided the sacrifice for our redemption through Christ.


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