Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Head Coverings

I've been wanting to post about this for awhile. I know it's a bit controversial, but I'm interested to know what people think about head coverings and why.

What's your biblical interpretation? What sources helped you come to this decision? Any other comments?


  1. Interesting you should ask this, Shannon. Living here in Turkey, I've seen a culture similar to biblical culture, where modest women wear headcoverings.

    I honestly don't know WHAT I think. It's easy to chalk it up to culture. But when I read about the head coverings, it's a symbol of authority... and about being protected. It's not a humiliating thing- it's an honorable symbol.

    That said, I don't know. I know women who wear them for biblical reasons. I wore one the other day when we toured the Blue Mosque here... I normally don't, because it's about 50/50 here in Istanbul.

    Anyhow. All that to say, I've been considering the various sides of this same issue, and haven't come to any conclusions. Anything you're learning that you want to share? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

  2. Jess,

    For the past 2 1/2 years I have occasionally covered my head during my private prayer time and Bible study. It has been during times when I have wanted to show reverence toward God and time when I have wanted to remind myself that He is King, worthy of my respect. It has not been a legalistic thing (though I think some can take it to this extreme). I have also occasionally covered my head with my hands during public prayer times, for the same reasons.

    I'm really not sure that we can just "chalk it up to culture", though, like you said, that is the easy thing to do.

    I'm glad you shared your thoughts! I'm looking forward to what others say.

  3. Shannon,

    This is a very interesting issue. I'm glad you brought it up.

    Alice and I have wondered about this for some time. For a while in seminary we came very close to having Alice and the girls all wear head coverings (scarf or cloth), at least during worship services/prayer.

    During that time, I asked two different Greek professors about the I Corinthians 11 passage that deals with head coverings. These are both conservative men who I respect. They both emphasized that long hair for a female could be considered a head covering. The reason (and you may now this already) is that at that time in Corinth the female prostitutes would cut their hair very short. In order to show respect for their husbands, fathers, and for God, the ladies in the church at Corinth were to at least have long hair.

    As for today, I think we do need to keep the culture in mind. In much of the eastern world, I would encourage women to cover their heads with some sort of cloth while during worship services/prayer. A woman certainly cannot go wrong by covering her head in this way. This also keeps the woman from being a stumbling block to other eastern Christians.

    In the west, where so many women have masculine hair styles, I think just having long hair is probably fine. However, if a woman in our church here in GA wanted to wear a scarf or hat, I would by all means give my blessing to that.

    That said, I think this comes down to a matter of conscience. Women should have their hair/head fixed in some way that shows that they are are under the headship of their husband or father. I think this can be long hair or a cloth covering/hat.

    God looks at the heart, and I think He will give approval of what you are trying to do. The actual type of covering means less than the desire of your heart to please the Lord.

    I hope that helps. We still aren't 100% positive, but this is where we are right now.

    In Him, Eric

  4. I think what Eric wrote is rediculous! What about women that have lost their hair to chemo? Are they sinners?

    This anti-feminism stuff has gotten out of control. You guys are pharisees. You are making extra-biblical rules (that's what the Pharisees did). There are a TON of things in the Bible that are cultural (and it's not just a cop-out to call something cultural). The letters Paul wrote were to specific CULTURES, so of course there will be some culture mixed it. It is really bad hermenutics to think that everything in the NT was written to our culture.

  5. That's really interesting to read what Eric said, I never knew that about the prostitutes having short hair. Makes sense!

    I don't think it's necessary to cover a head, but I do think you have to consider what culture you are living in and not be a stumbling block, a la Romans 14. But I haven't studied this issue, so I wouldn't claim to know what I'm talking about!! :)

  6. i think a headcover might be a hindrance to the gospel in a place like washington dc. most women here are working professionals, and to require them to cover their heads (or have long hair) would seem oppressive and awkward--especially since it is not considered immodest in the west.

    the more i appropriately contextualize myself to the dress of dc women, the easier it is to connect with them. i'm not a biblical scholar, but this appears to be the principle Paul is speaking of, as well as the principle i learned before i moved to south asia. the goal was not to dress like biblical women or middle eastern women--it was to be respectful to the culture.

    i support a woman's decision to cover her head in worship in the same way i support someone's decision to get on their knees. however, i think it is a little offensive and silly to say women should have long hair--or that the length or style of a person's hair has anything to do with their respect for God or authority. the way i fix my hair is directly related to the level of humidity.

  7. I'm still studying some and pondering this, Shannon. :)

    I just mapped out 1 Corinthians today to see what other things we try to explain away because of culture within the book. Interestingly, there's really not much else we explain away... (except that some people explain away some of the worship rules regarding women in Chap. 14). Interesting.

    Everything else, we honor--
    Chap 1- unity
    Chap 2- seek spiritual, not human, wisdom
    Chaps 3 * 4- quit following humans! Follow Christ!
    Chap 5- Sexual immorality must be purged!
    Chap 6- Let disagreements be handled within the church. And, your body is a temple.
    Chap 7- Marriage, intimacy, singleness. And, you don't have to change your status (married/unmarried, slave/free, circumcised/not) to follow Christ.
    Chap 8- Freedom to eat/not eat according to conviction
    Chap 9- Surrendering rights to further the Gospel
    Chap 10- fleeing temptation & idolatry, and doing all for God's glory
    Chap 11- HEADCOVERINGS, The Lord's Supper
    Chap 12- Spiritual Gifts & acting as the Body
    Chap 13- Love
    Chap 14- Worship guidelines (in here is some stuff that we B's insist on-- that tongues must always be interpreted... but also some things we completely write off-- the women not speaking thing.)
    Chap 15- Resurrection of Christ, Dead, Body... and mystery
    Chap 16- Collecting for Saints and closing words

    It just strikes me as interesting that the only things we try to explain away in this modern time are the things relating to women. (And tongues, if you're a cessationist.) :)

    Why do we do this? I was raised this way... explaining all of this away. It just makes me wonder... if Paul says women should pray and prophesy covered... and then says they should be silent in church... is this in their private prayer time and interactions with teaching other women that they should be covered?

    Are they allowed to pray and prophesy in the presence of men? But not in formal worship gatherings of the church (chap 14)?

    I don't know, but it's interesting to me that we explain these passages away (for cultural reasons) rather than submitting to them in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 9.

    And, as a side note, have you ever seen Yentl? I've always thought it was such a beautiful scene in the beginning, before things go haywire, when she pulls her prayer covering over her head and bares her soul to God.

    If you want to take this discussion to e-mail or FB private messages or something, I'm good with that too- I just want to talk through this with someone else who's thinking on these things with an open heart and mind.


    p.s. you've been to sem longer than I, and had more exposure to learning about bib interp, hermeneutics, etc... what say you, in response to the anonymous commenter who said this all needs to be filtered through the cultural context?

  8. Hey-- in talking with some Christian women who do cover, I've been pointed to a few more thoughts and websites about this, Shannon...

    One in particular had some interesting "food for thought":
    That this passage is speaking about the material veil and it’s symbolism was the understanding of all denominations through 1800 years of Christianity (and is still the understanding of many today in this apostate age.) During the reformation the Catholics, Protestants, and Ana-baptists all understood this to be the meaning. Luther and Calvin’s wives were covered. The Ana-baptists were covered. The Moravians were covered. The Episcopalians were covered. The Pilgrims and Puritans were covered, etc. The feminist revolution is what changed things in America.
    Here's the link for that one:

    (I'm still working my way through it... it's long).

    A few others:


    I still want to talk with you about this, whenever things slow down for you. We can Facebook chat about it or whatever... I just figured I'd bring these links here to have them in one "place". :)

    Hope you all are doing well!

    p.s. I think, too, I might go ahead and copy & paste the more pithy/insightful comments they've made (it's on a private forum) into a Facebook chat with you so you could read them... it's been an interesting discussion.

  9. I believe it to be primarily a cultural statement. It has already been stated that it was a call for a symbol of holiness because of the meaning the culture held behind short hair. However, if you are living in a culture where this is not the sublying meaning, then I don't believe it to be an issue. I believe that the concern of the passage is primariliy a pursuit of holiness, but not legalistic law.


Join the conversation, glorify the Lord, proclaim his goodness. I'd love it if you did.


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