The Head Covering – 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

June 13, 2023
Mike Attwood

I was not raised in a church that practiced head covering. I had been taught it was cultural but felt uncomfortable with this reasoning. Where do you stop with that kind of thinking? I personally decided to study the topic of Headship and became convinced of its validity, so much so, that I looked for a church that took this practice seriously. 

Over the years I had the privilege of teaching the topic and below are some of the questions that are often raised. On one occasion, a lady told me before I spoke, “I don’t care what you say, I will not wear one!” When I spoke that day, the opening text was John 7:17; “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  I am more and more convinced that the will is the key to the intellect! Are we willing to obey the Word of God? I suggest you have your Bible open to 1 Corinthians 11 as you look at these questions and the accompanying answers.

Q. Does it really matter?

A. Does truth matter? Do the commandments of the Lord matter? (1 Cor. 14:37)

 Is the glory of God important as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:7?

Q. Is it not a cultural issue?

A. There is no mention of culture found in the passage. It is reading into the passage what is not there (Eisegesis rather than Exegesis). For this cause [this is the reason] because of the angels. Angels are not cultural but transcend culture (1 Cor.11:10). It is counter cultural—the assembly at Corinth started in the synagogue with Crispus, the chief ruler, and others being saved Acts 18:8. Jewish men traditionally cover their heads when praying; Paul tells them to uncover their heads (1 Cor. 11:4). Paul argues from creation order not culture (1 Cor. 11:9).

Q. Why is the covering of interest to the angels?

A. They went to great lengths to cover their glory in the presence of His glory (Isa. 6:2; Ezek.1:11). However, “The anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezek.28:14) unveiled his (Lucifer) glory in the presence of His (God’s) glory! He was captivated by his own beauty more than the beauty of the Lord! Also, the angels witnessed the breakdown of headship order in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24). The woman led the man, and the man allowed himself to be led. The elect angels rejoice to see headship ordered restored in the new creation, the Church.

Q. Symbols are not important in themselves, or are they? 

A. The principles behind them are what matters. If symbols are not important, then why practice baptism by immersion? Why not just encourage people to live a baptized kind of life. Why use a loaf and cup at the Lord’s Supper? Surely, they are only symbols. This reasoning suggests, “As long as we remember the Lord, is not that the most important thing”? It is evident that symbolic practice of truth is an important issue!

Q. What is the covering?

A. It is used as a symbol of acceptance of divine authority and headship, and should cover all competing glories, so only God’s glory is seen. Beware of micro-coverings which seem to be a symbol of a symbol (1 Cor. 11:10).

Man representing the glory of God has his head uncovered as God’s glory is to be on display (1 Cor. 11:7). Woman representing the glory of the man (1 Cor. 11:7) has hair given to her for a covering. (1 Cor. 11:15). As well as being a covering, the woman’s hair is her own personal glory; she covers this with a veil, so only God’s glory is seen (1 Cor. 11:5; 10). It is not to be a substitute glory with ostentatious display.

Q. When should it be worn?

A. It is connected with church gatherings, although it will have a wider application including things under the derived authority of church oversight. This would include Family Camps, Conferences, etc. It should be worn when men and women are together, and prayer and prophesying are practiced (1 Cor. 11:4-5, 16). The apostle Paul is seeking to normalize church practice (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33-34). The Corinthians were out-of-step, as if the Word of God had come to them only (1 Cor. 14:36). 

Q. Is it not legalism?

A. Paul’s writings are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). They are to obey as an expression of love to the Savior (John 14:15). Not legalism but love!

Q. Why don’t other evangelical groups practice it?

A. A few do, but many have compromised because of failure to teach the true reason why it is worn. When fashions changed it got abandoned. According to some commentaries written prior to the 1960’s, and before the women’s liberation movement, it was almost universally taught that the head covering is to be practiced. In these days of gender confusion this teaching is vital to hold on to!

Q. Is this not an attack on the equality of the sexes?

A. God is the Head of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3). Yet God and Christ are equal in attributes and essence. In order to accomplish salvation, the Son of God, took a submissive role! Men and women are equal, yet have differing roles in the purposes of God which they are to embrace.

Q. It is only mentioned in one place in the Bible, why make such a big deal about it?

A. God only said once not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:3), but it turned out to be a big deal. Why would Paul, as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, spend fifteen verses developing something that has no significance?

Q. If Paul was seeking to normalize Church practice, is it not true that normal today is for women not to cover their heads in Church meetings?

A. Do we take our norm from the New Testament Church, or what is popular in modern day churches? Surely, we go by what had been revealed to Paul by the risen glorified Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.

A sister in the assembly cannot preach to men (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:33-35). But each time a sister puts the covering upon her head, she gives a powerful message to the angels. The angels are witnessing and being taught the manifold wisdom of God by the Church (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10).

May the Lord enable us to faithfully hold on to truth despite culture’s ever-changing standards.

by Mike Attwood