Coverings of Worship

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Introduction: Head Coverings

Recently, I was asked once again, about the practice of women wearing head coverings in worship. As a pastor this is not the first time this issue has arisen in conversation, or even heated debate. I came to my understanding of the issue through my introduction into the reformed Baptist faith. And to my knowledge this has been a point of contention for some time amongst those whom I call brothers. And not just in the reformed Baptist camp, but throughout the whole of Protestantism. I do not wish to make this a polemic towards those who hold a different position than I do. Nor to cause division in my own congregation or brothers of like-minded faith and practice. This article is simply my understanding of what I have come to believe about the practice of head coverings through the apostle Paul’s teaching in his letter to the church in Corinth. 

My intention is to stay within the text and Scripture, not to quote church fathers or men of God who hold my position. And, as always, to be open for biblical conversation and discussion between brothers who genuinely want to glorify God and not win an argument or make this a debate to divide or end fellowship over.  

Context Concerning Coverings

To those who have read and studied the letters to the Corinthians, you know this was a church with some internal issues that would cause most pastors to run for the hills. The apostle Paul writes to them in hopes of encouraging, rebuking, and correcting the church out of love and much patience. It is in 1 Corinthians chapter eleven we are introduced to the discussion of head coverings. Paul is addressing some serious issues relating to the way women worship in the church. 

(v.5) “ But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.”

The women of Corinth were worshipping God in a way that was wrong, without their heads being covered.  And here is the crucible of the issue of head coverings. What does the apostle Paul mean by a woman should be covered? My position is one of submission to Christ and His created order. Now, I know that no matter what position one holds, they would agree with this statement I just made. So, I will endeavor to unpack what I mean and give you my understanding of this text and by defining my position through engaging and exegeting the passage. 

The Rebuke of a Church

The subject of head coverings is introduced by Paul first rebuking the church. Paul brings up the issue of authority not only in the church, but the home as well. This is seen by him writing,

(v.4) “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

The issue of authority and submission to Christ and His created order is what Paul is confronting, and is what I hold to the passage revealing. Paul makes a point about dishonoring Christ and His creative command concerning the church and home. By pointing to the creative command of Gen. 2:18-25 in verse four, Paul is rebuking the church for their refusal in acknowledging this imperative from Christ. In the next three verses Paul exposes the church’s lack of obedience to the created order of God’s creation, man and woman, and their roles within the church and home. 

(vv.5-7) But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” 

By addressing the women being uncovered and men being covered Paul is showing the sinfulness of the congregation by exposing the shameful behavior of both man and woman. Paul is addressing the women specifically in this text, but like the garden (Gen. 3:12 & Rom. 5:12) Paul shows the main fault is that of the man. Paul reveals a role reversal in the church and the creative order. This is the meaning behind Paul’s words, 

(v.7) “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” 

Paul shows this is shameful and points the church back to the creative mandate given by Christ Himself in verse four. Paul addresses the woman in the church worshipping and prophesying with a complete disregard for the commandment of Christ on how they should worship. The apostle will address this same issue later in this same letter and elsewhere in scripture, particularly in the letter to Timothy.

(1 Cor. 14:34) “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

(1 Tim. 2:11-15) “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.”

The women in the church were not submitting to their husbands or their Savior. And Paul was addressing this sin in the context of worship that was a reflection of how they acted towards their husband’s headship of the home. His rebuke is pointed at the heart of the issue. A woman whose head is uncovered assumes the role of the man, and by man allowing this, he assumes the role of the help-mate. This is made evident by the apostles’ words in verse six: 

For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.”

Paul, making a play on words, was rebuking the church who has forgotten the creation mandate of the roles of men and women (Gen. 2:12-25). The man was not the head of his house and the woman had become the fulfillment of the curse found in Genesis. 

(Gen.3:16b) “Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

The women were denying the headship of man and bringing this sin into the worship of the church. And the men were allowing this to happen. As stated, this is the thrust of Paul’s rebuke of the church at Corinth.

The Correcting of A Church:

The apostle has rebuked the church and now begins to correct the issue and teach them the proper understanding of the creative order. We see this in (vs. 7-10),

 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”

The apostle is drawing a conclusion to his argument from verses three through six. A man should not have his head covered for he is the image of the glory of God, but the women is the glory of man. Now, Paul is not saying women do not bare the imago Dei, due to what he wrote in verses 11 and 12. What the apostle is teaching the church is that the women should bring glory to man and in so doing will bring glory to Christ by submitting to His creative order. Paul unpacks this in verses eight and nine teaching man is not from woman, but woman is from man. In the created order women were created out of man to be the help mate (Gen. 2:18). Paul is saying the woman is to bring glory to man for she is the glory of man by creation. In other words, she completes man. Paul is making the point that a woman in submitting to the creative order shown in verse three is being obedient to God. Giving glory to Christ by reflecting the glory of man who is the spiritual head. When a wife is obedient to Christ, she brings honor to her husband by submitting to God’s creative mandate. Paul establishes this truth in verse ten:

“For this reason, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”

The phrase, “Ought to have authority over her head” solidifies what Paul is teaching. The word “authority” in the text means, “The right to do something” or “To have control.” The woman is to exercise control over her head or to have control over her head. Meaning not to expose it to indignity, lack of obedience to Christ. This is where Paul gives an application to the women on being obedient by having a symbol of authority on her head. Symbol is implied because of the refence to head coverings in verses four through seven. The symbol points to the thing signified and that which is signified is from a heart of obedience to Christ. 

Paul gives them a spiritual insight on why the woman should have control by teaching, “Because of the angels.” 

Paul makes the point that angels are present during worship as observers and their presence points to a solemn need for proper worship. They give witness to God’s created mandate and to witness the grace of God towards man. 

” And raised us up together and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph.2:6-7). 

In verses 13-16, Paul rounds out his argument of the created order by making a statement “You judge among yourselves.”  Paul has by asking this question made his point and the answer is self-evident. Paul brings forth another argument this time appealing to nature.

(v.11) “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” 

Paul is speaking here of what society would think is natural. And from his argument he is speaking of course of hair that would conform to society understanding concerning male or female hair styles. This points back to Paul’s play on words about men having long hair. “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head” (v.4). Paul of course is not saying men cannot where a physical covering for he himself, a Jew, would cover his head in the synagogue as well as did Christ. As stated, this is an issue of men acting effeminate and women acting as the head. Paul’s argument is one about submission and about men being the head as God has commanded. There should be no confusion in a church about headship in the home and at worship. Paul’s argument is that men and women in the church should follow the creative order that God has established. And in verse 16 he shows that this is the pattern for all churches. 

Conclusion: Coverings a Symbol

The head covering in Corinth was a cultural symbol that pointed to an inward reality of a heart that loved Christ. Head covering, we know as cultural for the culture throughout the New Testament and back through the Old, was a sign of a woman’s submission. The key thing is a sign that pointed to the true covering of a woman. Her devotion and love for Jesus. The true sign is one of obedience and faith in Christ. In this day and age there are many signs that point to a woman being submissive. From wedding rings, changing her last name, to wearing veils, and yes head coverings. However as stated Paul’s point is for women to be obedient to the word of God and His creative order. And not to desire her husband’s authority, but to bring glory to him by honoring Christ. Heading coverings are not the main point of Paul’s rebuke or correction but of a repentant heart towards Christ. Interestingly in other chapters when dealing with headship such as 2 Tim. 2 and Eph. 5, Paul never mentions head covering, but he does refence the creative order. 

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