Difficult Doctrines:
Head Coverings, 1 Corinthians 11:1-15

Difficult Doctrines: Predestination

As gender significance comes under attack from some of the most powerful voices within our culture, it is vitally important that Christians ignore the carnal clamor and focus on the voice of God! This subject will be blatantly obvious in its political incorrectness. However, it will be equally obvious in its reliance upon the uncompromised Word of God. 

One Presidential candidate has boldly proclaimed that, if she is elected, Christians will need to adjust their values. Perhaps it is time for Christians to re-examine our commitment to those ancient values.

The fundamental values expressed within this article are essential to our survival. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. But who rules the hand?

Head Coverings

Q: Are Christian women commanded to have head coverings today?

A: Yes. However, the application of this answer is a little more complex than a one-word response.

For many, the question of head coverings is dismissed outright as an ancient cultural tradition that no longer has application. This is a great mistake. When a principle is rooted in the creation story, its authority often supersedes all cultural norms and is intended for the entire human timeline. (Example: Marriage between a man and a woman) 

Notice the primary text around which the head covering debate often centers.

1 Corinthians 11:1-15 (NIV)

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But 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. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head (NIV Footnote: Or have a sign of authority on her), because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God.

To address the modern-day application of this passage, we will progress through three areas of clarification.

  1. The Principle of Authority
  2. The Principle of Authority Applied
  3. The Principle of Authority Applied Within the Collective Worship Service 

The Principle of Authority

As we work through the inspired instructions of 1 Corinthians 11, it is important that we first take note of the root from which the head covering principle originates its authority. Consider three phrases that directly connect this principle to the creation story.

  1. "woman is the glory of man" - 1 Corinthians 11:7 (NIV). See the same principle in the creation story, Genesis 3:23.

  2. "For man did not come from woman, but woman from man" - 1 Corinthians 11:8 (NIV). See the same principle in the creation story, Genesis 3:21-22.

  3. "neither was man created for woman, but woman for man" - 1 Corinthians 11:9 (NIV). See the same principle in the creation story, Genesis 3:18.

Now notice the phrase that immediately follows this list of creation principles, "It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head..." (NIV, Underlining emphasis mine)

Application: Whatever we conclude about head coverings, one thing is contextually obvious, head coverings are rooted in creation, not culture.

Then there is that odd little phrase, "because of the angels." (1 Corinthians 11:10, NIV) 

Q: Why should a woman "have authority over her own head, because of the angels"? What does that mean? 

Let's allow the context to answer. We have already established that the theme of this section is authority rooted in the creation story. Authority and order go hand in hand. Notice how Paul opens the chapter. He points to the authority of Christ, then he admonishes his readers to follow his example because his authority is rooted in the authority of Christ, which gives us order (Jesus, Paul, the reader). Just one verse later, he further illustrates the importance of order by citing God's authority chart, "the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1 Corinthians 11:3, NIV) Perhaps the reason angels are mentioned here is that, when order prevails among God's created beings, God receives honor. When disorder prevails among us, angels are tempted with dishonor.

Notice a similar conclusion in another text. "...urge the younger women to love their husbands ... and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." (Titus 2:4-5, NIV, Underlining emphasis mine) The reason women are commanded to be "subject to their husbands" is because their failure to do so "will malign the word of God."

God's honor, and perhaps even the submission He receives from angels, is impacted by our submission to His order of authority.

Conclusion 1: Head coverings are rooted in creation, not culture. Our submission to the principle of authority even impacts the heavenly realm.

The Principle of Authority Applied

Given the unholy trend of blurring the lines between genders, the application of obvious authority markers takes on an even greater importance for the Christians of today. 

As Paul concludes this section, he points to one example of head coverings that is timeless and also rooted in the creation story.

In 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, the Holy Spirit inspired these words, "Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering." (NIV) 

I believe it is those last few words which may provide the additional specifics for which we are looking, "...if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering." (1 Corinthians 11:15, NIV)

Q: If long hair is "given to her," who is the one that gives the long hair? Some might say it is the husband. But if we remain true to the contextual indicators of the creation story (vs7,8,9), it seems that God is the more likely answer. God, the Creator, gave woman long hair for a covering. It was by His assignment, not culture, that she should have long hair. It was by His intent that long hair should be her head covering. 

If that is true, long hair takes on a much deeper significance and gives an even greater meaning to the phrase, "it is her glory." (1 Corinthians 11:15, NIV) If God is the giver, then her glory (long hair) is both a gift from God and a Divinely sanctioned head covering.  

Conclusion 2: A woman's long hair reflects the glory she has been "given" by God and indicates to everyone, including angels, that she has chosen to live within the Divine order by submitting to her husband.

Personal Note: While many will want to challenge this conclusion, and certainly that is appropriate, it is important that everyone asks one very important question, "Why am I unwilling to accept this conclusion?" If I truly believe that the Scripture teaches something else, that is one thing. If, on the other hand, I simply do not like the implications of this conclusion and am unwilling to make the changes it might bring to my life, that is quite another. 

Someone might ask, "But how long is long?" My response: It depends upon how obvious a woman wants to be with the "glory" that was "given to her" by God. No doubt, the principles of Romans 14 must also be applied here.

The Principle of Authority Applied Within the Collective Worship Service

As we examine Paul's applications of head coverings, two contextual parameters must be acknowledged. 

  1. He is addressing regulations to be observed within the collective gatherings of the church. This is significant, because an ongoing theme of the Corinthian letters is the disorderly conduct of church members during worship. Unlike women within the heavily Jewish culture, Corinthian women were known for their more "progressive" ways which often led to conflict, both in the home and during worship. With this inspired text, Paul is attempting to bring greater order and dignity to the collective gathering. After all, what better place to see the working illustration of God's authority chart (God, Jesus, Man, Woman - 1 Corinthians 11:3) than within the worship service that is designed to honor Him? (See also 1 Corinthians 14:32-33.)

  2. He is specifically regulating the times when a woman would be expressing herself openly during moments of prayer and prophecy within the collective gathering (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). This is significant for two reasons.

    First, it shows that there actually were times in the First Century worship that women did speak aloud and openly. This fact must be understood in order to properly apply 1 Corinthians 14:34, "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission..."

    Which leads me to the second reason...

    Q: Why would it be appropriate for a woman to speak in one context (1 Corinthians 11:4-5) and not in another (1 Corinthians 14:34)? I think the answer lies within the very next verse. "If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home..." (I Corinthians 14:35, NIV) Women who are praying or prophesying through the Divine intervention of God (1 Corinthians 11:4-5) do not need to ask for input, God is speaking to and through them. They are free to speak; because it is actually God Who is speaking. On the other hand, women who are simply voicing their own opinion or inquiry (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) should exercise restraint.

Conclusion 3: In the context of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5, I believe Paul is addressing inspired women who speak on behalf of God. In that setting, an additional head covering other than long hair is necessary. Paul says a woman's long hair, which is her glory and the obvious acknowledgement of her husband's authority, should also be covered with an additional covering in order to show her obvious acknowledgement of God's glory and His authority over both.


We live in a "progressive" culture, one that often dismisses the ancient paths as outdated principles. 

On the other hand, we also live in a "suppressive" culture, one that fights against the order and freedom established by the ancient paths.

Head coverings are just one example of the way human culture continuously challenges the Divine order and opens the door for even greater offenses. While the discussion of veils and hair length is likely to go on until the Lord's return, one thing is abundantly clear, the overall reason that this and all other passages were written was to inspire order stemming from God's ultimate authority. To be right with God, women should go out of their way to communicate to the world their obvious respect and honor for their head. In so doing, she will not only disarm those who malign God's Word (Titus 2:4-5), but she will also communicate to the angels, "God's way works!"

Missed the beginning lessons of Difficult Doctrines? Go to:
Difficult Doctrines: "Introduction, 2 Timothy 2:15"
                              "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, Mark 3:20-30"

To continue this study, go to: 
Difficult Doctrines: "Should Christian Women Teach Baptized Boys? Luke 2:49-52"
                              "Original Sin, Psalm 51:5"

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