This is an honest rendition of my personal struggle from hours of study trying to genuinely understand Paul’s instruction on head covering. It is dire that every Christian diligently devote attention and study to these passages to do their best in obeying God.
To be a Corinthian,
To know the initial question,
To understand the answer,
Of the head covering.
I did it for a bit,
Just in case,
But too many unknowns,
Rattled my faith.
Command or custom?
Full veil, small cloth, or hair?
In worship or continually?
Gift of prophecy or any prayer?
Another contradicts another,
Angles that seem plausible,
No definite conclusion.
Listen to your conscience,
God knows your heart.
What if it’s wrong?
Not pleasing to Him?
I want to be fully pleasing,
In this I can’t discern how.
This study I momentarily hault,
To preserve my faith.
I change my focus,
To things I know for sure.
The world needs the gospel,
More than head coverings.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
My desire is to keep Your commands to the best of my ability, merciful Lord. Some things I see so clearly and others are difficult for me to understand. I will do my best to discern what is most pleasing to You from Your word. Please forgive me where I am lacking in anything and open my understanding to see my faults. I sincerely want to grow in my faith and focus on the endeavors that are most important in drawing others to the gospel. Jesus is my focal point in this. I look to His example of submission and service to guide my steps. In Him, amen.
Truth in love,
6 thoughts on “Poem: The Head Covering Question”
Great poem, Heather! I’m sure many can relate to your struggle, wishing to be obedient while wrestling with certain scriptures that can seem open to interpretation.
Your approach is very humble.
Blessings, Steven 🙏🏻
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Thanks Steven! Out of everything I have dligently studied in God’s word, this has been the most challenging to make definite conclusions on especially as a woman who is trying to best decide what to do to be obedient to God.
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I commend you Heather for the hours of study you have dedicated to this passage and your recognition and suggestion that every Christian should diligently devote attention and study to this passage. I too have spent countless hours on this passage and have been studying these passages a great deal for the last 6 years. Early in my studies, I too struggled to seek the truth and the meaning of this passage. I have been a Christian for 30+ years and can honestly and sadly say that during this time and prior to my studies, I had never once heard a lesson on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 or sat in a class that devoted any time to this topic.
I started to ask questions about these verses from our brethren as to why we do not see the need to head cover today. These are some of the reasons that were offered to me: This instruction that Paul delivered was only for the Corinthians and it was for cultural reasons. Others told me that it was only for those who had spiritual gifts, while others said that the hair was the cover. Like you, I was completely confused. Which reason was it? The turning point for me was when I read an article from a brotherhood website that said that the reason for the cover was due to a “cultural phenomenon.” So naturally I wanted to know all about this “cultural phenomenon” and “to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11b). I searched and studied everything I could get my hands on and spoke to countless preachers, teachers, and scholars. Here is what I found.
Paul, an apostle of Christ, taught the same thing in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17) and exhorted brethren to “all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). Paul would never teach one doctrine in Corinth and another in Ephesus (or any other congregation), because God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Paul starts out this passage by praising them for keeping the doctrines that he delivered to them. The Greek word for traditions in this passage is paradosis, which in this context, means doctrines or sacred ordinances. When traditions or divine ordinances are praised, they are to be observed (2 Thes. 2:15, 2 Thes. 3:6). We know that all the churches followed the same doctrines and were taught and commended to be of the same mind (1 Peter 3:8, Romans 12:16, 2 Cor. 13:11, Eph 4:4-6). 1 Cor. 11:16 warns that if anyone was “inclined to be contentious, we (Paul and the apostles) have no other practice (of doing what he just instructed), nor have the churches of God.” Because of these passages, we know that all the churches received the same head covering instruction, not just Corinth.
I learned that the church at Corinth had Jews, Greeks, and Romans present, and each of these cultures used the head cover differently. Roman and Jewish men covered their head in their pagan or religious worship which was opposite of Paul’s instruction. Greek women did not cover and Roman women covered occasionally. So, if these cultures were present, and they all covered differently, and this was supposedly an instruction based on cultural reasons, then to which culture was Paul speaking? The answer is, he was not referencing any specific culture and did not ground any reasons for this instruction to a social custom or practice. Rather, he was he was opposing all cultural customs in lieu of one Christian practice that is based on Divine reasons that are age-lasting, that transcend all cultures, and that are still in existence today.
1. Headship (vs. 3)
2. Made in the image and glory of God (vs. 7)
3. Creation Order (vs. 8)
4. Angels (vs. 10)
When we are no longer under the same headship, no longer made in His image and glory, when creation order somehow changes, or when angels cease to exist, then I can dismiss this passage. But until then, I see this as a clear, plain and simple Christian requirement.
Interestingly, some have said that this instruction was only for those that had a spiritual gift. The problem with that view is that those who had a spiritual gift were not the only individuals subject to the headship. All Christians are. Those who had spiritual gifts were not the only ones made in the image and glory of God. All Christian are. And creation order and angels are not only stated for those who had a spiritual gift. Aside from this, Paul begins addressing the topic of spiritual gifts in the next chapter, “Now concerning spiritual gifts…”
A major problem with dismissing this passage is found in 1 Timothy 2:9-13. Further, the most troubling part, is that no brother I have ever read or spoken to can explain this following inconsistency. This passage deals with women remaining silent and the reason for this is, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (vs. 13). This is the very same reason stated in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9. Both passages contain the exact reasons for their instruction, but we obey one (1 Tim. 2:9-13) and dismiss the other (1 Cor. 11:2-16). Why? This inconsistent exegesis has led many astray. This alone should raise a red flag for anyone who is seeking the truth. We must be consistent when discerning God’s word. These two passages either stand or fall together.
I understand the text to be referring to an artificial covering and not my hair. In verses 3-13, Paul uses the word katakalupto, which is a verb. It is something we do and provide for ourselves. In verse 15 when the word hair is used, Paul uses the word paribolaion, which is a noun. Two covers are under consideration in this passage; an artificial cover and the hair. “It is not possible for the Greek verbs of 1 Cor. 11:5, 6, 13 to be correctly used with the Greek noun paribolaion.” Also, if Paul were talking about hair in verses 3-13, then no man with hair could worship God acceptably. Paul’s statement in verse 14 and 15 about a man who has long hair being a dishonor and a women’s long hair being her glory is simply a supportive argument that buttresses the instructions he has just laid out in verses 2-12. These verses are meant to show that even in the natural world there are distinctions between men and women and short and long hair shows that distinction. Similarly, the cover spoken of in verses 3-13, symbolizes the distinctions men and women have within their God-given roles and the submission women are to have within that divine headship.
Prayer or prophesy are the two actions mentioned when women are to be covered and men are to be uncovered. Whether one believes these two words are literal or general, the instruction to cover is still necessary. There is a great case to be made that the word “prays/praying” references the whole of worship. In verse 13, the word prophesy/prophesying is dropped entirely and only the word “prayer” is used. Because of this, it appears that Paul is using this as a word that represents more than just prayer. It represents the totality of worship and Paul connects this with verse 16 when he states that all the “churches of God” were in unison. Jesus himself said something similar when he said, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer.” We know that they did not only pray in the temple, but yet He called it a “house of prayer.” Just as expected and taught today, women did not lead or pray publically during these 1st century assemblies. When the men led prayers, read, or taught from God’s inspired word, women listened and prayed tacitly, without leading, yet were participating. The symbol on our head is a sign of our submission to this divine headship.
We can have more certainty about this instruction than we have with other passages that we obey. We’ve been given fewer verses as to how we are to give on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2) but we none-the-less follow this instruction on giving without hesitation. We have been given 16 verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that contain solid facts that are undeniably divine, are age-lasting, transcend culture and are still in existence today. Just as we are given liberties in areas not specifically stated, like how many songs to sing or what quantity of bread and juice to eat during the Lord’s Supper, we too are given liberties with what kind of cover we choose to place on our head. Just as there are no requirements as to what kind of water in which we should be baptized, there are no requirements or specifics given about size, fabric, or color of our head covers, only that we have something on our heads.
And we can know for certain that Paul did not base this instruction on a “cultural phenomenon.” If doctrine was built on every new cultural change, then the Bible would be in constant flux to keep the church in line with each new cultural phenomenon. We are in a current cultural phenomenon today with women’s roles being compromised in the church and homosexuality being normalized in society. Do we now change our interpretation of these passages to fit an ever-changing culture? Or should we say what Paul said, “that we have no such custom or practice (of the world) nor does the church of God (vs. 16). This passage is much simpler than most have made it out to be. We do not need to know what the culture of the day was in order to interpret God’s word. Man’s interpretations are fallible and God’s word is infallible. We can simply read and rely on what we see in the text.
There is much more I could write on this topic but I’m trying to keep it as concise as possible. However, you know that I am always here for you if you would like to study this further. This passage is no less important than any other instruction we find in the Bible. One day we will all give an account for what we obeyed or did not obey, which instructions we kept or which ones we dismissed. My only advice to you is that you search only the text to find out what it actually says, without relying in man’s account of history. I encourage you to eliminate any biases or preconceived ideas you may have regarding this text. As members of the church of Christ, we proudly declare that we are New Testament Christians and that we pattern ourselves after the first century church. We speak where the Bible speaks and we are silent where the Bible is silent. Can we truly say that of ourselves if we are adding to or taking away from God’s word by considering culture or spiritual gifts as a reason for this instruction? Everyone needs to take an honest and objective look at 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. This examination should be completely divorced from our present culture since culture is not (and cannot be proven) as a variable within this text. May we only pursue sound biblical evidence for what we practice as Christians, studying and investigating the truth of our worship, looking only to the word (2 Tim. 3:16).
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Excellent Mandi! Thank you so much for sharing your studies on this and your encouragement. I am so glad I have you to help me on this journey as we both do our best in obedience to God.