Ask OldTimer

Should a Woman wear a Head Covering in Church? 

The Question:

There are some denominations that hold that a woman must cover her head in Church meetings with a veil or hat, including the Catholics, some Brethren and Mennonite groups, the Amish, and so on. What does the Bible say about this?

The Answer:

The belief that women must cover their heads comes from this portion of scripture:

I Corinthians 11: 3-16 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head--it is just as though her head were shaved.

If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.

If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice--nor do the churches of God.

Alternate reading in NIV of I Corinthians 11:4-7 is: Or [4] Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. [5] And every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering [of hair] on her head dishonors her head--she is just like one of the "shorn women." [6] If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair, but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. [7] A man ought not to have long hair since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

I believe that a woman's head covering is her hair (I Corinthians 11:15 "For long hair is given to her as a covering" - long of course is a relative term!) ... and I don't worry about it ... but a woman has the right to cover her hair with a veil or hat if she desires to do so.

"Having long hair" in Greek is one word komao {kom-ah'-o} meaning to let the hair grow, have long hair. Covering in Greek is peribolaion {per-ib-ol'-ah-yon} meaning a covering thrown around, a wrapper, a mantle, a veil.

Also about men NOT having long hair ... what was "short" in Biblical times? A lot longer than our culture says is short today ... The Romans usually wore very short hair - look at the statues of the Caesar's ... but the male Jew wore his hair much longer, below the shoulders, but it was still shorter than women's.

"Shaved" in v. 5 in Greek is xurao {xoo-rah'-o} (from a word meaning a razor) meaning 1) to shear, shave 2) to get one's self shaved. [Hair] "cut off" in Greek is keiro {ki'-ro} meaning 1) to sheer: a sheep 2) to get or let be shorn 3) of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head.

So the whole idea of being shaved or shorn (having a very short haircut) has the idea of robbing a woman of her glory. In Biblical days, a woman's head was shaved because she had committed a shameful act or perhaps she did it herself because she was showing rebellion.

The deal about head coverings, veils, shaved heads, etc. also had to do with female priestesses and prophetesses in pagan religions. A prophetess would typically either prophesy with unbound, uncombed hair, or with her head shaved. There was a pagan "oracle" at Delphi that practiced this in those days. The angels referred to here may have something to do with fallen angels The only reason I can see why an angel would be attracted to a woman with a shaved head was because it WAS a sign of a priestess and maybe an open invitation to a delphic spirit.

Or perhaps a shaven or shorn head was a sign that a woman was not submitting to her husband's protective covering, and was an open invitation for harassment by demonic forces. For the husband would come under the headship and protective covering of Christ, and the wife under the headship and protective covering of her husband.

In verse 10, Paul says that "the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head". It is interesting that one meaning of "authority", exousia in Greek is "the sign of regal authority, a crown". In the Bible we are told that a woman's hair is her "glory", and that she is her husband's crown.

Proverbs 12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

Another thought on I Corinthians 11 - is this a passage that is applicable to all places at all times... or was it a cultural problem that specifically spoke to first century customs ... and although the principles remain, the customs do not? You notice in this passage that Paul does not present it as "thus sayeth the Lord", but as a custom or usual practice (v. 16). Notice in verse 23, the part about the Lord's Supper, Paul claims that his directives concerning that were "received from the Lord". Isn't this part of "rightly dividing" the Word of God?

If we are to apply I Corinthians 11:3-16 LITERALLY, then we should all be wearing full Bible costumes on a daily basis. Surely that's not what God desires or Paul meant here? Being saved by grace are we to go back to works? I do believe in marital (not gender) submission of the wife to the husband, and the principle of not dishonoring her husband (her head).

In Biblical days, women were unveiled until marriage, and covering their hair with a veil was a sign 1) that she was married and no longer available and 2) that she was in submission to her husband. Having her hair unbound and unveiled in those days was a sign of having loose morals, viz. the woman who unbound her hair and washed Jesus feet with her tears was called a sinful woman. Did Jesus rebuke her for not covering her head? No! In another instance Mary of Bethany unbound her hair and did the same thing. When rebuked by Judas, Jesus said, leave her alone! (John 12:1-8, Luke 7:36-50)

Anyhow, today we do not veil women and hairdos have nothing to do with marital status. So how does a woman honor her marital head in worship? To me, it means to respect his authority, to follow his lead, and not to worship in such a way to embarrass him. I've seem women who were braying nags, who dragged their husbands around and treated them like inferior beasts because they weren't as "spiritual" as the women thought they were. You know what I'm talking about.

Also I see a real danger when a woman feels this way of her getting into some kind of independent ministry ... coming out from under the covering of her spiritual head (her husband) ... and opening her home to attack from satan. So in the first century, unveiling her head was a sign that a woman was NOT under her hubby's authority ... I'm not sure what the 20th century equivalent would be.... whatever would denote rebellion.

We are running into a lot of judgementalism these days ... A new believer comes to Christ and all of a sudden, he/she has got to measure up to someone's ideal OUTSIDE instead of us loving them unconditionally and letting the Holy Spirit change them on the INSIDE. We should be letting Jesus tell them what to do on the outside ... and accepting them even if outside they don't seem to be like our preconceived ideas of what a Christian should LOOK like. And we must be careful of not confusing our Christian identity with cultural biases and custom. In Romans 14 Paul tells us that in "disputable matters" such as head coverings, we are at liberty to chose for ourselves ... just don't judge someone else who makes a different choice.

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cover A very good book on this subject is "What Paul REALLY said about Women: An Apostle's Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love, with study questions" by John Temple Bristow, Harper San Francisco, 1988. 

All files 1999-2001 Karleen E. Page, All Rights Reserved. ONE copy may be printed or copied to your PC for personal use only. Please email for any other permissions. Thank You. Posted at Ask OldTimer.

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