The photo above features a veil like the one that I bought for my daughter a while back from the site VeilsByLily.com. So the question is why did I purchase this veil for my daughter? Was it simply a fashion accessory? Or something more?
For all of Christian history up until the 1960s with the advent of second wave feminism women wore some type of head covering whenever they went to church for worship. The practice of women wearing head coverings is not simply a Christian tradition, but it is actually commanded in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5(KJV):
“4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 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.”
Many Christians today argue that Christian women do not have to wear head coverings any more. And believe it or not, there were Christians even back during the Apostle’s time that were arguing against the requirement of women wearing head coverings as is seen in I Corinthians 11:16 (KJV):
“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
And the great irony is that many Christians today have taken Paul’s rebuke of those who were arguing against women being required to wear head coverings and they attempt to use his rebuke to say women don’t have to wear head coverings! It really is enough to make your head explode if you let it.
In I Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul answers three very important questions about head coverings for women. He answers WHY women must wear head coverings, WHAT head coverings are, and WHEN head coverings should be worn.
WHY God Wants Women to Wear Head Coverings
Paul gives the reason why woman must wear head coverings as an introduction to the conversation on head coverings in I Corinthians 11:3 (KJV):
“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.”
So, the reason women must wear head coverings is because “the head of the woman is the man”. Head here refers to man’s authority over woman.
Egalitarian Christians claim that “head” in verse 3 refers to man as the “source” of woman. The problem with that interpretation is it would then make God the father the source of Christ and that is heresy according to John 1:1-3 (KJV) which tells us the following:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
The context of I Corinthians 11:3 is not the source of man or woman, but rather the authority structure God has created.
But after showing the Egalitarian argument to be faulty, we must now address the Complementarian argument. Complementarians believe in male headship but they limit it to the home and the church. They do not believe male headship over women extends to all areas of society.
The problem for Complementarians is that nothing in the language of verse 3, or the entire discussion of male headship in I Corinthians limits the man’s headship to just the home and the church. It is a broad and sweeping statement of man’s headship over woman.
Is God the Father the head of Christ in all things? Is Christ the head of man in all things? How then can Complementarians claim that men are only the head of women in the home and in the church but not outside those two areas?
And then we must consider the practical implications of the Complementarian attempt to limit man’s headship over woman to just the home and the church. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 5:24 (KJV) “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing”. So, this presents a problem for Complementarians who believe women may take authority over men as long as it outside the home or church.
Let’s take a man and his wife. His wife runs for mayor of their town and she wins. So that means if he were to go to a town hall meeting where his wife is presiding, she now becomes his authority in that sphere. But yet God calls her to submit to her husband in everything. That means in every part of her life. The only exception to her submission to him is the rule the Apostle Peter gave us in Acts 5:29 (KJV) that “We ought to obey God rather than men” if our earthly authority is violating God’s law in what they are asking us to do. The same would go for if his wife was his boss at work.
This is the conundrum the Complementarians run into when they attempt to limit the headship of man over woman to just the home and the church.
For a larger discussion of why women should not be in politics see my article “Does the Bible allow for a woman to be President of the United States?”
But I Corinthians 11:3 is only one part of the Apostle Paul’s answer as to why women should wear head coverings. Later in this passage Paul actually dives into a deeper “WHY” question.
WHY is Man the Head of Woman
God does not always tell us why everything is the way it is. But sometimes he does tell us why some things are the way they are. And in this case of head coverings God caused Paul to fully explain why man is the head of woman in all areas of this life.
Paul writes the following statements just a few verses down in I Corinthians 11:7-10 (KJV) after telling us man is the head of woman and he now explains why man is the head of woman:
“7 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. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have been in Complementarian churches’ where they basically take the attitude of “Well God had to put someone in charge, so he picked the man and we just have to accept that”. God did not flip a cosmic coin to decide if man was the head of woman or woman was the head of man. Man being the head of woman was God’s design before he ever created man or woman!
This passage I have just shown from I Corinthians 11:7-10 tells us why man is the head of woman.
Man is the head of woman because man is “the image and glory of God” and “neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man”. This is a simple and yet profound truth that will change the direction of every man and woman that reads it if they will only accept it and apply it to their lives.
Man was created to image God by living out his attributes and thereby bring him glory. Woman was created by God for man to serve man and bring man glory and in doing so she serves God and brings him glory as well.
And it is “For this cause”, because man is God’s image and glory and because of that woman’s head, that woman ought “to have power on her head because of the angels”. The “power on her head” is the head covering Paul is talking about in this entire first half of I Corinthians 11.
When a woman wears a head covering, she is proclaiming to the world that she fully accepts God’s authority over her life and the fact that God has placed her under man’s headship in all areas of life whether that be in the home, the church or elsewhere. Such a woman who fully accepts what her head covering means would never seek to be in any position that would place in her in authority over a man.
Now that we have fully covered the Apostle Paul’s explanation of why women should wear head coverings, we will now dive into what the head covering is that he is referring to.
WHAT is the Head Covering for Women?
Paul gives his answer to what the head covering is in I Corinthians 11:5-6 (KJV)
“5 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. 6 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.”
The English word “uncovered” in verse 5 and the phrase “not covered” find their root in the negative form of the Greek word “Kalupto” which means “to hide or to veil”. So, Paul is saying when woman does not veil her head, she dishonors her head.
Paul goes on to use a cultural norm that the Corinthians would understand. For a woman to have her hair cut short (shorn) or have her head shaved would be for her to dishonor herself. Paul then goes on to explain where this cultural norm originated in I Corinthians 11:13-15 (KJV):
“13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
Man did not invent this cultural norm, but rather it came from the human nature God designed in man and woman. God put this knowledge into our original nature as human beings to know that long hair on a man is a disgrace, but long hair on a woman is her glory.
Paul talks about this original human nature, our original programming, which tells us right from wrong in Romans 2:14 (KJV):
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves”
In the garden of Eden God created Adam with a perfect male human nature and he created Eve with a perfect female human nature. These nature’s had God’s law directly written into them. Their original human natures told them things like assault, murder and theft were wrong. Adam’s original masculine human nature instinctually told him he needed to lead, protect and provide for his wife. Eve’s original feminine human nature told her she needed to submit to and serve Adam as his subordinate helper.
But both Adam and Eve did not listen to the perfect natures God gave them which told them what to do – instead they went against the perfect human natures they were given and they sinned against God.
From that point forward both human natures, the masculine and feminine, became corrupted by sin. Yet even in its corruption, our human nature can still tell us when something is right or wrong according to God’s law.
Now before anyone misunderstands me – I am NOT saying our human natures (either masculine or feminine) are always right and that we can always trust them.
To know where our natures are right and where they are corrupt, we must look to our owner’s manual which is the Word of God. It tells us where our nature is wrong and has been corrupted by sin and where our nature is functioning as God designed it to.
The same thing goes for our culture. If what our culture condemns matches up with what God condemns and if what our culture promotes matches up with what God promotes then we can follow those things in our culture. But if what our culture condemns God approves and what our culture approves God condemns then we must disregard what our culture teaches in that area.
A Woman’s Long Hair is NOT the Covering
The woman’s long hair is “a covering” but it is not THE covering God requires when women pray or prophesy. Let’s apply the “long hair” argument to the passage we have already looked at below:
“5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth without long hair dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman has not long hair, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her have long hair.”
Now let’s apply some basic logic.
A woman without long hair = a woman shorn (with short hair) or a woman with a shaved head.
Now let’s apply this to the passage again:
“5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head shaven dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be shorn, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her have long hair.”
You can’t make a comparison by comparing something to itself. It is like saying “Eating ghost peppers is like eating ghost peppers”. But rather if you wanted to tell someone what eating ghost peppers is like, you might say “Eating ghost peppers is like putting gasoline in your mouth and lighting it on fire”. The comparison of lighting gasoline in your mouth might be a little exaggerated – but it communicates the point of what it is like when you eat ghost peppers.
This is why we can confidently conclude that the veil that Paul exhorts women to wear while praying and prophesying is NOT a woman’s long hair. Paul is speaking of two coverings. One is the natural covering (veil) God wants women to wear which is their long hair and the second is the additional physical covering (veil) God wants women to wear over their natural covering when they are praying or prophesying.
Now that we have discussed why God wants women to wear a head covering and we have shown it to be a separate veil in additional to their natural veil we will now show according the Bible when women are to wear this second veil as a spiritual symbol.
WHEN Does God Want Women to Wear a Head Covering?
Before we give the answer as to when women should wear head coverings we need to have a discussion about prophesy since this along with prayer is a central theme of this passage on head coverings.
The English word prophesieth is a translation of the Greek word “Propheteuo”.
Propheteuo is one of those words that you really have to pay attention to the context it is used in. In certain contexts, it refers to someone supernaturally foretelling the future like Christ did in the Gospels or the Apostle John did in the book of Revelation and like the Apostle John these prophets were also ordained by God to speak and write his Word.
But in other contexts, propheteuo simply refers to someone teaching, reproving or admonishing others based on the truths of God’s Word.
The Apostle Peter spoke of the prophecy of Joel being fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first poured out on Christians in Acts 1:16-18 (KJV):
“16 But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: 18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy”
Peter is addressing both types of prophesy in this one statement. He talks about the young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams. That is exactly what happened to the Apostles and they wrote about the visions they had in the New Testament. But he also talks about “daughters” and “handmaidens” prophesying. So, what does he mean by this?
In I Corinthians 14:3 (KJV) we read the following statement about prophesy:
“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.”
Before I explain this passage, I want to make two points. The first thing I want to say is that I love the KJV because even though it has a very old form of English, it is often the most literal rendering of the original text. But like any other translation of the original texts, it sometimes is either confusing because of the old English or it is not as precise as it should be. The second thing I want to say is that I can’t stand all these gender-neutral translations of the Bible. The fact is that the Bible is written in a very masculine tone because God’s nature is represented by the masculine human nature and translations should be faithful to that tone.
But sometimes in the Bible the language used is gender neutral and I Corinthians 14:3 is actually one those passages.
First, where the King James version says “he” as in “he that prophesieth” the Greek Word which is “ho” is actually gender neutral and it would be more accurately translated as “the one”.
Secondly when the KJV refers to hearers of the prophesy it calls them “men” but that is not as precise as it should be when used together with the gender neutral “ho”. The Greek word that is translated as “men” is “Anthropos”. This word can be translated as “man”, “men”, “mankind” or as “people” or a “person” depending on the context it is used in. It is a less precise word than the Greek word “Aner” which is specifically used to refer to male human beings in the Bible or to “gune” which specifically refers to female human beings in the Bible.
With all that being said I believe in this rare case the NIV actually is actually closest to the original meaning with one minor correction:
“But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.”
Where I think the NIV is wrong is in their use of the word “strengthening” where the KJV and other translations like the NASB translate the word as “edification” which is a better translation of the Greek word “Oikodome”. Even Thayer’s Bible dictionary states that Oikodome which literally means “the act of building up” also is used metaphorically to mean edifying or edification. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of edify means to “to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge”.
So, what is I Corinthians 14:3 saying? It is saying that “the one” (man or woman) that prophesies speaks to people (men or women) using the Word of God to instruct them, exhort them and comfort them.
The next verse, I Corinthians 14:4 (KJV) actually mentions the church:
“He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.”
Again we have the gender neutral “Ho” for which is translated as “He” and the gender neutral “Heautou” which can be translated as “himself, herself, itself or themselves” depending on the context it is used. And since it is used with the gender neutral “Ho” once again the NIV is the most accurate translation of this verse where it says:
“Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.”
And on this subject of prophecy I want to mention one more verse which is found in Acts 21:8-9 (KJV):
“8 And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”
So here is the point I have been building to with all these passages on prophesy. We who believe in the doctrines of Biblical gender roles cannot deny that God gifts some women with the gift of prophecy. And I do not mean the “foretelling of the future and writing God’s Word” kind of prophecy. I mean the kind of prophecy that edifies, exhorts and comforts people and edifies the church as the Scriptures say.
Acts 21:8-9 shows this to be true and the central passage we are talking about here – I Corinthians 11:5 which exhorts women when they prophesy to wear a head covering proves this to be true.
I know that many Christian wives have been led astray by false female prophets of God only to see their marriages destroyed. I have had many men write me emails testifying to this fact. Far too many. And it would be easy to say women can never prophesy in any form or venue because we are afraid of false teachings. But gentlemen let me remind you all that women don’t have a monopoly on being false prophets. There are many male false prophets out there today as there have always been.
The Scriptures tell us that God gifts some women with the gift of prophecy so the question then becomes where can they use this gift to edify, exhort and comfort?
Some would wrongly say because I Corinthians 14:4 (NIV) says “the one who prophesies edifies the church” that women can instruct and exhort men in the Church. But such an interpretation ignores clear prohibitions against women teaching men in the Church such this one found in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (KJV):
“11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
And in the same chapter of I Corinthians that we have just mentioned with gender neutral language about people prophesying to the church we find this restriction on women once again in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (KJV):
“34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
So how do we explain this? We are told in the Scriptures that prophesy edifies, exhorts and comforts all people and it also edifies the church and we are told that God gives this gift to both men and women. He even tells women when the prophesy to wear a head covering. Yet he tells women to remain silent in the church and learn from their husbands at home.
The answer my friends is found in Titus 2:3-5 (KJV):
“3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
When we combine the fact that Bible says some women have the gift of prophecy which includes edification, exhortation and comfort along with this passage we have a clear picture of God’s vision for women.
God gifts some women with the ability to be able to edify and exhort other WOMEN “to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands” and to comfort them when they are in difficult situations.
Before I show you the final answer as to when a woman must wear a head covering according to the Scriptures, we need to understand one more point. When the Scriptures say “the one who prophesies edifies the church” this is not limited to a local church assembly of men and women together in a worship service.
The church, the body of Christ, is both universal and local. When you go down the street and see a physical church building and see Christians meeting there on Sunday mornings for worship that is a local manifestation of the body of Christ coming together for worship and instruction in the Word.
But then we have the universal body of Christ which includes all saints. There are many ministries which minister to the church on a universal level. A Christian radio show is an example of a ministry which ministers to the universal church. This blog ministry, BiblicalGenderRoles.com, is another example of a ministry which ministers to the universal church. And in this same way Christian women can have blogs which minister to the universal church and are specifically tailored toward women. Even on a local church level woman can have ladies Bible studies or ladies Sunday school classes where women with the gift of prophecy can exercise their gift within the bounds of God’s law.
But as I have said before on this blog – all ministries which are conducted by women, even by those women who have the gift of prophesy, must be done under the headship of man. If it is a single woman with no family that might mean she operates under the authority of the Pastor of her local church. If it is a woman with a Christian father and no husband then she operates under the spiritual authority of her father. And certainly, if a woman has a Christian husband then she operates her ministry to women under the spiritual authority of her husband.
And now we can finally answer the question of WHEN women are scripturally required to wear head coverings.
A woman should wear a head covering, a veil of some sort, during worship services because she certainly should be silently praying together with her local church during worship. Secondly, if a woman is prophesy to other women such as through a podcast or in person in a Sunday school class or a ladies Bible study, she also should wear a head covering.
What about prayer? Well if Paul were talking about prayer and did not mention prophecy then I would lean toward women must cover their head for prayer at any time. But since Paul is linking prayer and prophecy together as the occasion, and we know prophecy can only occur in a church ministry setting (either to the local or universal body) then I believe his command was for women to veil is when they are ministering to the local or universal church. A woman who teaches Sunday school should veil before she opens the class in prayer. A woman who does podcasts to other women and prays and teaches other women should veil as she prays during their podcasts. But if a woman is silently praying at home on her couch, or doing bed time prayers with her children, I do not believe she is required to veil in those instances. Those times are not ministering to church, but rather those times are her ministering to her children.
The “All Times” Argument
Before I conclude I wanted to address the “All Times” argument as to when Christian women should wear head coverings. There are some Christians like the Amish, Mennonites and Anabaptists and others outside those denominations that believe women are to wear head coverings at all times.
Their argument is that the prayer Paul is referring to is not limited to that which occurs in the context of church ministries like worship services or other women’s ministries outside the worship service setting. And they point to 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV) which exhorts all Christians to “Pray without ceasing” to say that since Christian women should be in a constant state of pray that they should always have their head coverings.
The Biblical command to “Pray without ceasing” is like the Biblical command for us as Christians to be “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” in Hebrews 10:25 (KJV). In the same way the call to not forsake assembling within our local church bodies does not mean we must be at church 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so too the call to pray without ceasing does not mean we must pray 24 hours a day 7 days a week at all minutes of the day.
Taken together these commands are telling us not to stop the regular practice of meeting together in our local churches or of praying. We as Christians should have regular habits of praying and going to church. This the command of the Scriptures.
Otherwise if we took “pray without ceasing” the way some of these groups have tried to portray it – we could never talk to anyone else because we would be constantly talking to God and if we applied that to forsaking not the assembling of ourselves in the church we would never leave the church building or stop praying. That is not God’s will for our Christian lives. God simply wants prayer and church attendance to be a regular habit for all Christians.
I hope this study has been a blessing to you, I know it was for me as I studied this out again. I have believed in women wearing head coverings within the context of church ministry for many years but God really fined tuned this for me as I studied his Word on this subject once again.
So, we answered here from the Scriptures the three important questions when it comes to Christian women wearing head coverings. We answered the why, the what and the when.
The reason why God wants a woman to wear a head covering is because it is a public acknowledgement by that woman that man is the image bearer of God and man has been designated by God as the head of woman in all areas of this life. It is a testimony to all the people who see her as well as the angels who are watching that she acknowledges the male headship that God has placed her under and she would never seek to take authority over a man.
What is the head covering which God requires when women pray or prophesy? It is the second veil which God requires women to cover their heads with when praying or prophesying. The first veil God requires women to have is the one he naturally gives them the ability to have – and that is their long hair.
When should women wear their head covering or a second veil? Any time a woman prays or prophesies in the context of a local church setting, a ladies Bible study group in her home or even if she did an internet podcast.
As I conclude I just want to give one more “why” answer.
Why did the church abandon the teaching that women should wear head coverings? Why have so many pastors and other Christian teachers and writers gone to great lengths to say it was a “temporary cultural requirement” Even if they agree it is still required, they make the argument I have shown to be logically false that the woman’s long hair is the only covering Paul was talking about.
The answer is that Christian men over the last century or so gradually abandoned their God given headship over the women in their lives. And this leadership vacuum allowed for a poisonous ideology called Feminism to form. And Feminism since its inception has decimated God’s institution of gender roles and marriage and it brought the divorce rate from 3 percent to 45 percent causing more than 60 million divorces. Feminist ideology has also led to the deaths of over 60 million babies in abortion.
Whether it is their wives, their daughters or the women under their ministries in their churches most Christian men have neglected their duty in this regard. They now seek to appease women in their churches or marriages. They are more concerned with making the women in their lives happy than pleasing God.
If you are a God fearing, Bible believing Christian man or woman I ask you to pray for the men around you that God will give them the strength and courage to lead the women in their lives even it that may cause some momentary or even long-term unhappiness for them. I also ask you to pray for the women in your lives that they will have the courage to take a stand and if they do not have the two head coverings God requires for women (long hair and a veil for church ministry) that they will make this right before God and start doing what is right.