Now I praise you because you remember me in everything
and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
I Corinthians 11:2
Is a Woman’s Hair Her Only Covering?
Although this book is written to women who have already decided that they want to walk in godliness and to willingly accept the divine order of Yahweh’s government, I felt like something should be written about the objections that arise from many sources today. Godly women are regularly confronted with some objection or another to the path they have chosen. Some have supposed that they have come up with a “killer argument” that overturns all that we have spoken of thus far. This chapter, and the next, addresses the arguments that I have heard most often.
Not all who bring up these arguments are malicious or rebellious, some simply have not been taught the truth. These chapters are written to encourage the women who do practice headcovering and who seek to honor the government established by Yahweh. It is my hope that if any have been troubled by the arguments spoken of here that they might regain peace as the scriptures are examined in their proper context.
I have had some sisters ask me what constitutes covering the head. Some teach today that a woman’s hair is all the covering that she needs and that the hair was the covering that the apostle Paul was referring to in his epistle to the Corinthians. We can clearly see the error of this viewpoint as we examine Paul’s writings.
There are many evidences of the practice of Christian women of the early church wearing a covering over their head, including paintings found on the walls of the catacombs of Rome where the saints hid to escape persecution. However, in this chapter we will limit ourselves to scriptural evidence.
Those who raise the argument that a woman only needs her hair for a covering base this upon Paul’s words in I Corinthians 11:15b which states, “for her hair is given her for a covering.” This would seem to be implying that a woman’s hair is all the covering that is being spoken of by the apostle, and if a woman has hair, particularly long hair, then she is properly covered and is giving a testimony to the angels.
This view has a couple of problems, however. If this covering is a sign to the angels, as verse 10 of this same passage states, then would it not be true that all women with long hair, whether pagan or saint, are giving a testimony to the angels? But how can a pagan give a testimony to the angels when they do not even understand the witness they are giving? And knowing nothing about the government of the kingdom of God it is highly improbable that these women are practicing submission to that governmental order. This sign that Paul speaks of would seem to be more deliberate than merely wearing long hair. It is something done with conscious thought, and as an intentional declaration that the angels understand.
Let me share something with you that the Spirit revealed to me recently that I believe will be helpful in bringing clarity to this issue. Paul’s discourse on headship and headcovering conforms to a pattern that he uses in other places as he speaks of various topics. The pattern that Paul repeatedly demonstrates is to first declare the issue that he is discussing, and then to use examples from scripture and from nature to illustrate and add emphasis to his teachings.
Let us look at an example of this pattern from this same letter to the Corinthian church. In seeing the pattern in which Paul puts forth his instructions to the Corinthian church, we can come to precisely understand his intent regarding headcovering. In the following passage on the topic of ministerial compensation, note that Paul declares his topic at the very beginning and then he uses various examples to back up his declaration.
I Corinthians 9:3-14
My defense to those who examine me is this: do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
In verses 3 – 6 Paul declares his topic. He is speaking of the right of a minister to receive physical things from the church in return for spiritual labor so that the minister might be able to refrain from working. It is clear that this is his topic, and we see that he concludes this passage by restating his topic, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”
In the verses between his opening and close, Paul uses both scriptural arguments and natural ones to support what he has spoken. When he speaks of a soldier not serving at his own expense, or a farmer eating of the fruit he has planted, he is giving a natural illustration. When he speaks of not muzzling an oxen, and later when he speaks of Levites eating that which is brought to the temple, he is giving arguments found elsewhere in scripture. So we see that Paul follows this pattern: declare his topic; support it with scriptural and natural examples; declare his topic again.
Now let us compare this to the passage in I Corinthians 11 regarding headcovering.
I Corinthians 11:2-16
2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
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.
4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, dishonors his head.
5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, dishonors her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.
6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.
10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered?
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Again we see that Paul begins by declaring his topic. In verses 2 – 6 he states that he is speaking of holding firmly to the traditions he has delivered to them, and the particular tradition he addresses is regarding headship and the practice for women to have their heads covered while praying or prophesying and men to have their heads uncovered. Again, just as in the prior passage, he concludes by summarizing his topic, “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.” Paul begins and ends by saying that he is speaking of the traditions or practices of the churches of God.
In between the introduction and conclusion of this topic we can see that Paul has followed the same pattern as the previous passage. He gives weight to his exhortation by giving examples from scripture and from nature. Paul states that man should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God, but woman should cover her head because she is the glory of man. He further states that man does not originate from woman, but woman from man and that woman was created for man, not man for woman. These are scriptural arguments given to support the tradition he delivered to the Corinthians that women were to have their heads covered while men remained uncovered.
In verse 13 Paul switches to giving natural examples to support the practice he is proclaiming. He identifies the next examples with the phrase “does not even nature itself teach…” Compare this to the previous passage on ministerial support, “I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things?” It is Paul’s habit when leaving his main topic to give examples, to lead into the examples with an introductory phrase; “does not even nature itself teach”, “does not the Law also say these things.” It is plain that this is not Paul’s main point, but merely arguments and examples given to add credence to his instructions.
What is the natural example he gives regarding the practice of headcovering?” He gives the example of women having long hair and it being a glory to them, but men having long hair being a shame to them. As we look at this passage, it is clear that hair is not Paul’s topic. Hair is simply the natural example he employs that the Corinthian women might more readily understand and accept the tradition of the church that women should cover their head while praying or prophesying.
We are not to confuse Paul’s natural illustrations with the actual subject of his discourse. In the passage from I Corinthians 9 on ministerial support, we would be mistaken if we said Paul was really talking about oxen, farmers, or soldiers. In I Corinthians 11 we would be mistaken if we were to say Paul was talking about hair. Hair is merely mentioned as an example to support his teaching that women should have a sign of authority on their heads to testify that they are content with Yahweh’s governmental order.
Again, as we look at the pattern Paul uses, his main topic is proclaimed in the opening verses. In chapter 9 he discloses that he is talking about a minister’s right to obtain a living from the gospel. In chapter 11 he clearly is speaking of headship, government, and the practice of covering the head. Note that in verses 2 – 6 of I Corinthians 11 the word hair is never mentioned, for hair is not the topic. In every occurrence the word Paul uses for head is kephale which is properly interpreted as head. In fact this word is used all the way down to verse 14 where we finally have a mention of hair which is the Greek word komao, which is defined as tresses of hair.
If Paul had meant to declare that the tradition of the churches of God was that women wear long hair, he would have declared this in his topic statement. However, this word is nowhere used until he gets to the portion of his discourse where he is using natural examples to support his topic that women should have a covering on their heads. So we see that hair is not Paul’s subject at all, for it is nowhere present in the matter he lays out in his introduction. Wearing a covering on the head as a symbol of recognition and submission to Yahweh’s governmental order is his topic.
Furthermore, it is not hair that Paul is declaring to be a sign to the angels, it is the wearing of a covering on the head, a covering deliberately placed there to make a statement of agreement with Yahweh’s governmental order.
How easy it would have been for Paul to begin this discourse by saying “Every man who has long hair while praying or prophesying, dishonors his head. But every woman who has short hair while praying or prophesying, dishonors her head.” But he did not say this. He does not even mention hair until he gets to the end of his discussion and he chooses to give a natural illustration to support the practice of the church.
To discern Paul’s topic we must limit ourselves to that which he states when he introduces his topic: “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, dishonors his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, dishonors her head.”
So we are able to answer the question, “Is a woman’s hair the only covering she needs?” The answer is clearly “No.” By comparing passage to passage we see that it was Paul’s practice and manner to first declare his topic and then to later support it with natural examples. Hair is not the topic of Paul’s writing in I Corinthians chapter 11anymore than oxen were the topic in chapter 9. These are merely mentioned as a way of adding support to, and an understanding of, the instructions Paul is delivering. How evident this becomes when we compare passage to passage and discover Paul’s patterns in his writing.
We have used scripture comparisons to arrive at Paul’s meaning semantically, but we also need to get understanding. In the preceding chapter we read of headcovering being a sign to the angels, and an attesting witness that the godly woman is content with her role and calling in Yahweh’s creation. Yet headcovering has a further significant purpose that is marvelous to understand.
In this passage from the book of I Corinthians, we have read the statement that man “is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” Let us answer two questions and we will see another profound reason for women to have their heads covered. The questions are: “Should God’s glory be covered?”, and “ Should man’s glory be covered?”
The scriptures make it plain that it is Yahweh’s will for His glory to fill the whole earth, the heavens, and all creation.
As I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of Yahweh.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
We also know from the scriptures that it is shameful for man to expose his own glory.
I Corinthians 1:27-29
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, God has chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence.
As we consider this we can see that it would be dishonoring to God for a man to cover his head when he is praying or prophesying. Man is the glory of God and God’s glory should not be covered. This is also why it is a shame for man to have long hair. A man with long hair is glorying in his own flesh by taking to himself the glory that should adorn woman, and he is at the same time covering the glory of God. I Corinthians 11:15 says that long hair is the glory of woman. When a man takes this long hair to himself he is flaunting his own glory, for woman is the glory of man and her long hair is her glory.
In scripture we are given an account of a man who gloried in his long hair, and this glorying led to a shameful death. This young man was Absalom, the son of King David.
II Samuel 14:25-26
Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him. When he cut the hair of his head (and it was at the end of every year that he cut it, for it was heavy on him so he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head at 200 shekels by the king’s weight.
Absalom was so proud of his hair that he only cut it once a year, and he made a spectacle of this event. He would gather people together for his annual shearing and he would weigh the amount of hair that he cut off. Absalom had a glorious head of hair, but he foolishly flaunted his glory. It was this hair that he so gloried in that was the instrument of his death.
II Samuel 18:9, 14-15
Now Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. For Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. And his head caught fast in the oak, so he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him kept going… So [Joab] took three spears in his hand and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men who carried Joab’s armor gathered around and struck Absalom and killed him.
This story gives stark testimony to the evil of men seeking to expose their own glory while covering the glory of God. Perhaps Paul was thinking of Absalom when he said, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him.” A man should not have long hair, and he should not place a covering over his head when he prays or prophesies.
Similarly, since woman is the glory of man, it is shameful for a woman to be uncovered while praying or prophesying. As she stands before God she represents the glory of man, and the glory of man should not be flaunted, but covered. If a woman stands in the congregation with her head uncovered she is exposing the glory of her husband and her husband is brought to shame for failing to cover his glory in the presence of God. What a shame it is for a man to stand in God’s presence with his glory exposed. This is the meaning of these verses:
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, dishonors his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, dishonors her head… For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Just as Paul gave more than one scriptural reason supporting the ministers right to make a living from the gospel, we can now see that he has given more than one scriptural reason for women to have their heads covered. The godly woman should cover her head because of the angels, to demonstrate humble acceptance of her role in creation. She should also do so because of glory: God’s glory should be exposed, but man’s glory covered. This is the purpose and understanding of headcovering.
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