Should a woman cover her head in church?

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By BibleAsk Team


The question of whether a woman should cover her head in church, as mentioned by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, is a topic that has sparked theological debate and interpretation within Christian traditions. To explore this issue thoroughly, we must examine the historical and cultural context of Paul’s instructions, analyze the relevant biblical passages, and consider various perspectives offered by scholars and theologians.

Cultural Context:

In the first-century Greco-Roman world, cultural norms regarding attire and social customs varied widely across regions and social classes. In Corinth, the city to which Paul addressed his first letter to the Corinthians, there were likely specific cultural practices related to attire and gender roles that influenced Paul’s instructions regarding head coverings.

This verse brings out the contrast that should be maintained between the sexes as they take part in church activities and according to the current customs of every country. It seems that the Corinthian women may have requested to appear uncovered as did the men (1 Corinthians 11:4). Some may have sought to set aside the marks of distinction between the sexes. So, Paul gave his council in this matter.

At Paul’s time, women did not go abroad with uncovered heads. It was regarded as a disgrace to a woman and to her husband if she should appear publicly without a veil, especially in the church and during worship. For a woman at Corinth to take public part in the services of the church with her head uncovered would give the impression that she is immodest.

Therefore, at that time by discarding the veil which is a sign of sex and position, the woman showed a lack of respect for her husband and then to Christ. Paul added that If a woman wanted to act like a man, she ought, in order to be consistent, to cut her hair like men. But since this action is disgraceful to her, she therefore, should be properly veiled (1 Corinthians 11:5,6). Paul in his teachings stressed the importance of being modest, “in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation” (1 Timothy 2:9).

Biblical Passages:

Paul’s teaching on head coverings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where he addresses issues related to worship and order within the church community. Let’s examine key verses from this passage:

  • 1 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV): “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 (NKJV): “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NKJV): “Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.”

Interpretations:

Interpreting Paul’s instructions on head coverings requires careful consideration of the historical context and cultural practices of the time, as well as the theological principles underlying his teaching. Here are some key interpretations:

  1. Cultural Context: Some scholars argue that Paul’s instructions regarding head coverings were influenced by specific cultural practices in Corinth, where uncovered heads may have been associated with immodesty or a lack of respect for authority. In this view, Paul’s concern was primarily with maintaining social decorum and avoiding unnecessary offense in the local context.
  2. Symbolism: Others interpret Paul’s teaching on head coverings as symbolic of broader theological principles, such as the order of creation and the relationship between Christ and the church. According to this view, the head covering symbolizes submission to authority and the acknowledgment of God’s ordained order in creation.
  3. Universal Principle: Some theologians argue that while the specific cultural practices regarding head coverings may vary, the underlying principle of modesty and respect for authority remains relevant for contemporary Christian worship. They emphasize the importance of interpreting Paul’s instructions in light of broader biblical principles rather than rigidly adhering to cultural customs.

Contemporary Practice:

In modern Christian communities, practices regarding head coverings vary widely among different denominations and cultural contexts. Some traditions maintain the practice of women covering their heads during worship services, citing theological or symbolic reasons, while others interpret Paul’s instructions as culturally conditioned and no longer binding in contemporary settings.

Therefore, women should act in accordance to the proper customs of their country so that they will not shame themselves or their churches. “Therefore… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,  just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).

Conclusion:

The question of whether a woman should cover her head in church, as addressed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, requires careful consideration of the historical context, cultural practices, and theological principles involved. While there is diversity of opinion among scholars and theologians regarding the interpretation of Paul’s instructions, it is important for Christians to approach this issue with humility, sensitivity to cultural differences, and a commitment to biblical principles of love, respect, and submission within the body of Christ. Ultimately, the decision regarding head coverings in worship should be guided by prayerful discernment and a desire to honor God and edify the church community.

Check out our Bible Answers page for more information on a variety of topics.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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