Christian Head covering
1. Some History
To have a better understanding of what Scripture is talking about we need to define some terms. First, the teaching of head covering for Christian women is a lesson in the New Testament. It's exemplified in the Old Testament, but no specific lesson is given. Where is the passage found? In the New Testament. What is its location? The epistle to the Corinthians from Paul the apostle. What is the context? He is speaking to them about general lessons, and then introduces the topic to them specifically. Finally, and most importantly who is he speaking to? Christians! One of the interesting aspects of this doctrine is that, like a couple of others, is mentioned only once. (see foot washing) Many examples can be found but this is the "only" direct passage of it.
There are two things that we should take note of before studying this passage. One, there are literally, and I do mean literally, thousands upon thousands of pages written on this very passage! If one were to do a search on the Internet you would be amazed at how many web sites, articles, books, and links to pages concerning this subject there is
. Yet, it's rarely taught. Two, almost every article or book written on this subject states that "Paul says" we need to remember that Paul was used of Holy Spirit to convey God's mind on this matter, but it was not Paul himself that this teaching had its genesis. The main point I'm saying here is, it's a teaching that comes from God, and we should be very quick to obey Him.
Below are the basic words from the Hebrew and Greek with definitions.
"Some people today consider head-covering to be of purely local cultural significance at Corinth, or something which can be expressed differently according to the prevailing cultural background. This opinion cannot be correct because all New Testament churches, whether predominantly Jewish or predominately Gentile, had the same custom (1 Cor 11:16). This eliminates the possibility that the tradition was of purely temporary or cultural significance, as follows." (BIBLICAL AUTHORITY AND HEAD-COVERINGS by R H Johnston )
If we start from the beginning we find that the earliest reference to a headcovering is found in Genesis 24:65.
"For she [had] said unto the servant, What man [is] this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant [had] said, It [is] my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself."
In Genesis 6:1,2 we question what prompted the desire of the sons of God to go after the daughters of men? Perhaps they did not cover themselves?
"And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they [were] fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose."
The Hebrew word for saw in this passage carries the meaning to cause to look intently at, cause to gaze at, or give attention to. This also happens to be the same word to describe the perverted gaze of Ham, Noah's son, in Genesis 9:18. We also discover the passages in Genesis 38:14,19 concerning Tamar's duplicity.
"And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which [is] by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife…And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood."
In this period of history women might have gone out without a vail. However, in the passage in which Rebekah "puts on a vail" it's because she is showing modesty and submissiveness. Tamar is practicing the custom of Canaanite goddess worship attire (see 2 Kings 23:7). Men in the Old Testament wore a headcovering of some kind like a turban, which is still in practice today in many Middle Eastern countries. We read of a "mitre" being issued to the priests for the ministry of the tabernacle Exodus 28:4, Leviticus 8:9, and Zechariah 3:5. Reference is also made in Ruth 3:15, and Isaiah 3:20,23; Song of Solomon 5:7 to vails and coverings for women.
Jewish men wear a yarmulke Hebrew kipa skullcap. Some wear one at all times others only during prayer and at mealtime. The earliest Biblical reference to a headcovering is in Exodus 28:4 where it is called a mitznefet. It was part of the wardrobe of the High Priest. In other Biblical references the covering of the head and face is regarded as a sign of mourning (2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12).
The Talmud; however, associates the wearing of a head covering more with the concept of reverence to God and respect for men of stature. Yarmulke is a distorted form of the Hebrew words yaray may'Elokim meaning "in fear and awe of God." This idea is based, for the most part, on a statement made by a fifth-century Babylonian Talmudic scholar, Huna ben Joshua, who said, "I never walked four cubits with uncovered head because God dwells over my head" (from the Kiddushin 31a).
As we move through the Old Testament into the New Testament we come across examples of those that were harlots not being covered in public (Luke 7:38; John 4). The New Testament teaches that harlots went uncovered while sober women went covered (1 Corinthians 11:1-16).
"The Talmud states 'The sight of a woman’s hair constitutes an erotic stimulus (Berakhot 24A).' 'Jewish women, married or not, should not walk in the marketplace with their hair uncovered' (Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 21:2)."
In Biblical and Talmudic times women covered their heads with scarves or veils as a sign of chastity and modesty. To expose a woman's hair was considered a humiliation (Isaiah 2:17 and Berochot 24a). Some Talmudic scholars regarded the wearing of a head covering as an expression of guilt for their sin of Eve (Genesis 17:8).
As we proceed with our examination of head coverings I would like to show a time line of head coverings, or lack thereof, from early times to the present. As we have seen the idea of any modesty or conviction of the head covering began to cease in about the 1930's. It really began to take hold in the 1950's and from that point American women have grown more and more decadent and brazen in their appearance.
"In this country women don't cover their heads anymore for no other reason than "that's the way we do it now" or "just because we don't cover them anymore." That's about as logical as saying, "I kill because I do." I've heard reasons like "that was for back then, in their time and culture" etc. Such reasoning is illogical and dishonest at best. It completely ignores the fact that even in this country, women wore them universally just over a hundred years ago."
Below are various quotes, pro and con, as to the head covering. We simply quote them for comparison and in no way agree with all, parts, or positions of those quoted.
Hermas (AD 150)
"A virgin meets me, adorned as if she were proceeding from the bridal chamber...her head was covered by a hood."
Clement of Alexandria (153-217 a.d.)
Clement also understands the words in 1 Corinthians 11:5 to refer to a veil of fabric and not to a woman's hair.
"And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled" [1 Corinthians 11:5 GLP].
"It has also been commanded that the head should be veiled and the face covered. For it is a wicked thing for beauty to be a snare to men.
Tertullian (AD 198)
"…Why do you uncover before God what you cover before men? Will you be more modest in public than in Church? Be veiled virgin."
"How severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who during the psalms—and at every mention of God—remain uncovered."
Hippolytus (170-236 a.d.)
To Hippolytus, a church father from Rome, is wrongly ascribed the following canon for worship (though perhaps wrongly ascribed to Hippolytus, it appears to represent the practice of the church of that time in worship).
"Canon Seventeenth. Of virgins, that they should cover their faces and their heads."
John Chrysostom (340-407 a.d.)
Chrysostom was the preacher of Antioch. The following excerpts are taken from Homily XXVI (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). Chrysostom identifies the problem Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as
"Their women used to pray and prophesy unveiled and with their head bare." Especially to the point of a woman needing a separate head covering other than her long hair (cf. 1 Cor. 11:15) is the following remark: "' And if it be given her for a covering,' say you, 'wherefore need she add another covering?' That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that thou oughtest to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, thine own part also, that thou mayest not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness, to buffet not only with us, but with nature also."
"It follows that being covered is a mark of subjection and authority. For it induces her to look down and be ashamed and preserve entire her proper virtue. For the virtue and honor of the governed is to abide in his obedience." (Chrysostom.HOMILY XXVI. ON THE VEILING OF WOMEN.)
Apostolic Constitutions (AD 390)
"When you are in the streets, cover your head. For by such a covering, you will avoid being viewed by idle persons…."
Jerome (345-429 a.d.)
"Though Scripture does not endorse the practice of virgins shaving their heads (rather the Scripture condemns such a practice in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15), nevertheless Jerome is quoted here because he clearly understood Paul to be teaching that a woman ought to wear a fabric head covering upon her head (this is especially obvious in this case for the virgin's head was shaved of all hair).
"It is usual in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria for virgins and widows who have vowed themselves to God and have renounced the world and have trodden under foot its pleasures, to ask the mothers of their communities to cut their hair; not that afterwards they go about with heads uncovered in defiance of the apostles command" [1 Corinthians 11:5]."
Augustine (354-430 a.d.)
Augustine, post-apostolic theologian prior to the Reformation, quotes 1 Corinthians 11:4,7 with regard to men as follows:
"'Every man praying or prophesying with veiled head shameth his head;' and, 'A man ought not to veil his head, forsomuch as he is the image and glory of God.'"Now if it is true of a man that he is not to veil his head, then the opposite is true of a woman, that she is to veil her head. "We ought not therefore so to understand that made in the image of the Supreme Trinity, that is, in the image of God, as that same image should be understood to be in three human beings; especially when the apostle says that the man is the image of God, and on that account removes the covering from his head, which he warns the woman to use, speaking thus: '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.'" Augustine - (Cited in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Schaff, ed. vol. 3, 523):
"...especially when the Apostle says that the man is the image of God, and on that account, removes the covering from his head, which he warns the woman to use, speaking thus..." (quoting 1 Cor. 11:7.)
"It is likely that headgear for women was becoming more common by the seventh century. It seems that Christian morality (based on St Paul's edicts) was influential in this respect. By the eighth century it seems that headcoverings were worn by all women. It seems that a close fitting cap was worn by most women (perhaps similar to the slightly later caps from York and Dublin), which sometimes left the hair at the forehead and temples visible." (Angelcynn, Clothing and Appearance of the Early Christian Anglo-Saxons (c. 600-800 A.D.)
"In the 11th and 12th c. it is very unusual to see a man wearing a hat, though the women, unless they are very young or representing some virtue, inevitably have some sort of headdress on…while most women wore something that was more or less a derivative of a veil." (firstname.lastname@example.org SusanCarroll-Clark)
"Married women usually wore their hair gathered up into a knot at the back of the head, or coiled atop their head in some arrangement and often covered their hair with a cap, veil (hustrulinet) or headdress. Several sources indicate that it was mandatory that Norse women who were married wear a headcovering, however the actual archaeology doesn't seem to support this belief: "Many of the ninth and tenth century women's burials at Birka reveal no headcoverings at all, let alone graves in some other locations, although finds of headwear are more common in Christianized areas like Dublin and Jorvík" (Carolyn Priest-Dorman, Mistress Thora Sharptooth, OL, Viking Women's Garb in Art and Archaeology)
"…I have looked at dozens and hundreds of illuminations, pictures and medieval artifacts that portray people in the civilian dress of various periods and my observation is that you can't generalize. All through the Early Christian, Migration and Carolingian Eras you don't see many people with hats on, although you see an occasional crown, the women are inevitably veiled and many of the soldiers are wearing helmets."
John Knox (1505-1572)
"First, I say, the woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As saint Paule doth reason in these wordes: 'Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therfore oght the woman to have a power upon her head,' (that is, a coverture in signe of subjection)."
John Knox, First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous [i.e., against nature] Regiment [i.e., governing authority] of Women, in Works of John Knox, David Lang, ed. vol. 4, p 377: "...and therefore ought the woman to have a power on her head, that is, a coverture in signe of subjection."
And again (p. 392): "Even so, (saith he) oght man and woman to appeare before God, bearing the ensigns of the condition whiche they have received of him. Man... oght he to appear before his high Majestie bearing the signe of his honour, havinge no coverature upon his heade...Beware Chrysostom what thou saist! thou shalt be reputed a traytor if Englishe men heare thee... He procedeth in these wordes, "But woman oght to be covered, to witnesse that in the earth, she had a head, that is man. Trewe it is, Chrysostom, woman is covered in both realmes, but it is not with a signe of subjection, but it is with the signe of superioritie, to witte, with the royal crowne." (Lest it bears saying, his "warning" to Chrysostom was sarcastic. In context, Knox agrees with Chrysostom and is quoting him against the Royalists.)
John Calvin (1509-1564)
The theologian of the Reformation preached three sermons from 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 from which the following excerpts are taken.
John Calvin (cited in Men, Women, and Order in the Church: 3 Sermons by John Calvin, by Seth Skolnitzky. Presbyterian Heritage Pub.):
"So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature….So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, 'Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?' And then after that one will plead [for] something else: 'Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?' Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard."
"Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering. Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it. And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability — that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not…" (John Calvin's Commentary on Head Coverings)
George Gillespie (1613-1648)
Gillespie, the youngest commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, addresses the issue of women speaking as a voice of one in the public worship services of the church when he says:
"But where find we that women who were prophetesses, and immediately inspired, were allowed to deliver their prophecy in the church? I suppose he had a respect to 1 Cor. xi:5, 'But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoreth her head,' which is meant of the public assembly, for the Apostle is speaking of covering or uncovering the head in the church. . . . So that the Geneva annotation upon ver. 5, gives a good sense of that text, 'That women which show themselves in public and ecclesiastical assemblies, without the sign and token of their subjection, that is to say, uncovered, shame themselves.'"
A Group of Presbyterian Ministers from London during the time of the Westminster Assembly (1646)
"The wife must have power (exousia) on her head, i.e., a veil is token of her husband's power over her (1 Cor. 11:10) …."
"Yet a word to the Female Sex only, who come into the Assembly with their hair the most part uncovered, short to shorn, to the shame of their Natures as afore-shew'd: as they may read [Num.5.18.], that that Woman that had her hair uncovered before the Lord, in the Assembly or Worship of God, were only such Women that their Husbands accused them for being dishonest, so were tried by the Law for Jealousie. Mr. Ains. in his Annotations on the words, Uncover the Woman's head, note what the manner was, as the Hebrews write, that the Priest uncovered the Woman's hair, and untied the locks of her head to make her unseemly; hence saith the Apostle, Is it comely for a woman to pray unto God with her head, to wit, her hair, uncovered [I Cor.11.13.]? ...the name Vail, saith Mr. Ainsworth, on Song 5.7. hath its name in the original of spreading, as being spread over her head to cover her: such Vails were worn by Women, partly for ornament, as appeareth by Isai. 3.23. partly for modesty, and in sign of subjection to Men, especially their husbands, I Cor. 11.6,7,10." (Thomas Wall - To Defend the Head from the Superfluity of Naughtiness,1688)
Henry Alford (1810-1871)
"[1 Corinthians 11] 2-16. The law of subjection of the woman to the man (2-12), and natural decency itself (13-16), teach that women should be veiled in public religious assemblies."
Frederick Godet (1812-1900)
"The phrase [in 1 Corinthians 11:4], "'having down from the head,' that is to say, wearing a kerchief in the form of a veil coming down from the head over the shoulders. And since the woman does not naturally belong to public life, if it happen that in the spiritual domain she has to exercise a function which brings her into prominence, she ought to strive the more to put herself out of view by covering herself with the veil, which declares the dependence in which she remains relatively to her husband."
In the 1830s Women kept their heads modestly covered most of the time. They wore "day caps" of fine linen or cotton, with ruffles around the face, and chin ties. These were even worn under the cape hood, or under the summer straw bonnet or winter quilted bonnet. Ladies of fashion wore elaborately decorated bonnets when they left home: flowers, feathers, lace, ribbons, ruchings and ruffles abounded.
A. R. Fausset (1821-1910)
Fausset co-authored with David Brown and Robert Jamieson the work, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments.
"In putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man (which is her true 'honor'), and of her connection with Christ, man's Head. Moreover, the head covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (Gen. xxiv: 65), and chastity (Gen. xx: 16). By its unlawful excitement in assemblies is avoided, women not attracting attention. Scripture sanctions not the emancipation of woman from subjection: modesty is her true ornament."
"It hath a threefold use, For decoration, as in Isa. iii. 23. 2. For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the apostle, 1 Cor. xi. 6. 3. And mainly a sign of women's subjection to their own husbands..." (Banner of Truth reprint of 1840 edition; originally published posthumously in 1668. p 280. James Durham - Commentary on the Song of Solomon:Though Durham puts emphasis on it as a sign for wives, he notes the second use as a sign of modesty, which would be applicable to all Christian ladies.)
M. R. Vincent (His Word Studies in the New Testament was published in 1886)
"The head-dress of Greek women consisted of nets, hair-bags, or kerchiefs, sometimes covering the whole head. A shawl which enveloped the body was also often thrown over the head, especially at marriages or funerals. This costume the Corinthian women had disused in the Christian assemblies, perhaps as an assertion of the abolition of sexual distinctions, and the spiritual equality of the woman with the man in the presence of Christ. This custom was discountenanced by Paul as striking at the divinely ordained subjection of the woman to the man."
G. G. Findlay (no specific date cited for his work on 1 Corinthians in The Expositor's Greek New Testament, but it was written in the late 19th century)
"For a woman to discard the veil means to cast off masculine authority, which is a fixed part of the Divine order, like man's subordination to Christ (3 f.)."
A. T. Robertson (His Word Pictures in the New Testament was published in 1931)
In commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:4 ("having his head covered"), he points out:
"Literally, having a veil (kalumma understood) down from the head." Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 11:6, "Let her be veiled. . . . Let her cover up herself with the veil (down, kata, the Greek says, the veil hanging down from the head)."
William Barclay, 1954
"The problem was whether or not in the Christian Church a woman had the right to take part in the service unveiled. Paul's answer was bluntly this the veil is always a sign of subjection; it is worn by an inferior in the presence of a superior; now woman is inferior to man, in the sense that man is head of the household; therefore it is wrong for a man to appear at public worship veiled and it is equally wrong for a woman to appear unveiled."
John Murray (1898-1975) was Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary
These excerpts are taken from a letter to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Australia) concerning the matter of women being veiled in worship.
"Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (Vss. 3b, vss 7ff), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising therefrom."
"I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (Vss 4 & 7) and enjoined for the woman (Vss 5,6,15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient."
In 1970, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Roman Missal, ignoring mention of women’s veils. But at the time the missal was published, it didn’t seem necessary to keep mandatory such an obvious and universal practice, even if it no longer had a "normative" value (Inter insigniores, # 4). (THE VEIL Derived from a book in progress called: "The Unveiled Woman" by Jackie Freppon.)
J. Vernon McGee (1904-1990)
"Apparently some of the women in the church at Corinth were saying, 'All things are lawful for me, therefore, I won't cover my head.' Paul says this should not be done because the veil is a mark of subjection."
Charles Caldwell Ryrie (The Role of Women in the Church was published in 1958)
"If angels desire to look into things pertaining to salvation, then they should see as they look at veiled women in the assembly of Christians the voluntary submission of a woman to her head. Thus the early church (for this was the custom of the churches generally) while offering religious equality in spiritual privilege insisted on showing in public worship the principle of subordination of women by their being veiled."
Albrect Oepke (A contributor to the highly acclaimed Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which was published in 1965)
"The veiling of women is a custom in Israel. A disgraced woman comes veiled to judgment (katakekalummene, Sus.32). Yet one may suspect that a woman muffled up (katekalupsato to prosopon) and lurking by the wayside is a harlot (Gn. 38:15). This opens the way for an understanding of the relevant NT passage. The veiling of women in the NT and the contemporary world."
During the second Vatican Council, a mob of reporters waited for news after a council meeting. One of them asked Msgr. Annibale Bugnini, then secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, if women still had to wear a headcover in the churches. His response was that the Bishops were considering other issues, and that women’s veils were not on the agenda. The next day, the international press announced throughout the world that women did not have to wear the veil anymore. A few days later, Msgr. Bugnini told the press he was misquoted and women must still had to wear the veil. But the Press did not retract the error, and many women stopped wearing the veil as out of confusion and because of pressure from feminist groups.
Robert H. Gundry (A Survey of the New Testament was published in 1970)
"Paul's instructions concerning the veiling of women also demand knowledge of prevailing ancient customs. It was proper in the Roman Empire for a respectable woman to veil herself in public.
Bruce Waltke ("1 Corinthians 1:2-16:An Interpretation" was published in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1978)
"Although Paul does not use the word veil [kalumma GLP], it seems reasonable to suppose that he has this article of apparel in view. . . .To appear at the public assembly, then, with inappropriate headdress would disgrace one's head."
Before the revision in 1983, Canon law had stated that women must cover their heads "...especially when they approach the holy table" (can.1262.2). But in order to reduce such a growing collection of books, the new version of Canon law was subjected to concise changes. In the process, mention of head coverings was omitted.
Noel Weeks (The Sufficiency of Scripture was published in 1988)
"There is something ludicrous about being the head or authority while one at the same time hides one's physical head. It follows therefore that praying and prophesying are authoritative functions which call for an unveiled head, unshrouded head. Hence any woman engaging in those activities must also be bare-headed. Consequently Paul turns to what such unveiling must mean for the woman. In contrast to the man, when she prays or prophesies, the unveiling of her head must be dishonorable to her. What does it mean for a woman to be bare-headed? As Paul says, it is equivalent to being shaved or having her hair shorn off. That of course is dishonoring for a woman. Hence she should not uncover her head."
Robert D. Culver (Contributed "A Traditional View" to Women in Ministry Four Views which was published in 1989)
"God distinguishes sharply between the sexes as to appearance and activity in formal Christian assemblies. A man's hair is to be short and his head uncovered by hat or shawl, while a woman's hair is to be uncut and, in visible recognition of submission to God's order, she is to wear an additional head covering in order to veil, not her face, but head."
"Women are not required to wear a head covering, except when up on the bimah [the 'stage'' in front of the sanctuary]. However, women should feel free to cover their heads at other times. Any hat (including a kippah) will do just fine as a head covering; feel free to wear a fashionable hat." (Beth El Temple Center, AD 2000)
"Orthodox women, according to the words of the holy Apostle Paul, go to God's church with covered heads. For nearly two thousand years now, this custom has been kept by faithful women and has been handed down from generation to generation. It is a custom not only of the local churches, but also of the Universal Church, and, therefore whether we be in a Greek, in a Serbian or Russian church the women in the church have their heads covered." (The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, D.C.)