My daughters and I wear headcoverings in corporate worship. We are usually alone in this but the Lord doesn’t call us to obedience if others are also obeying; He calls us to obedience even if we stand alone. Concerning Christian headcoverings, most women who wear them stand alone.
This wasn’t always the case. Once wearing headcoverings in worship was the common practice of Christian women. It was and is the testimony of church fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans, and of many godly men right up to our own time.
Feminism’s assault on Christian headcoverings
Scripture and church history testify that women wearing headcoverings in corporate worship is biblically mandated. Once I was convicted that headcoverings in worship weren’t cultural but are a practice for women in the church universal and for all time, I began to teach my daughters what I was learning. Further study taught me that women are to wear a headcovering when the church is gathered in corporate worship as well as times Christians are gathered (such as for a wedding, funeral, Sunday School, conferences, etc.)
My daughters and I read books on the practice of Christian headcovering. We studied the Scriptural references to headcovers. We studied the creation order and how that related to 1 Corinthians 11. We came to realize that every other command in Scripture tied to the creation order is considered to be in effect for today. But not headcoverings. Why was that, we wondered. We came to realize that feminism was the answer.
The women’s movement and headcoverings
As the so-called women’s movement gained steam, fewer and fewer women wore headcoverings. They were taught that to require women to wear a headcovering in church was old-fashioned, oppressive, and a sign of men ruling cruelly over them. They pushed against the church and, as in most things where women push, the men crumbled.
Too many church leaders had no real Scriptural understanding of headcoverings, it seemed or they lacked the spiritual fortitude to stand against the warring women. Soon, headcovering was considered a quaint nod to the past. Those few women who still practiced headcovering were either in one of “those” groups (Amish, Mennonite, ana-baptist, etc.) or a relic.
Headcovering for women in Christian worship is indeed a Scriptural command, is for today, and is part of rebuilding the church. As brother R.C. Sproul said, “The wearing of fabric headcoverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church of Jesus Christ which is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
An examination of headcoverings
What follows is an examination of headcoverings for women, especially in corporate worship, through the use of Scripture, quotes, and articles by godly men from ancient times to modern.
You will find audio and video sermons and clips examining 1 Corinthians and headcoverings. There are also recommended books examining headcoverings. At the bottom of the page, you can find links to shops where you can purchase headcoverings.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1 Corinthians 11: 1-16
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband,[b] and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife[c] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7 For 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 was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[d] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (ESV)
An examination of 1 Corinthians 11: 1-16
Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts
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Does God’s Word change?
There are a number of Reformed denominations in North America and the Netherlands who now endorse women in church offices. The disturbing fact is that it appears that in some cases the pathway toward this unscriptural position began with the rejection of the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 regarding the divinely mandated use of the woman’s head-covering in public worship. Once the symbol of the head-covering was rejected (along with all of its theological implications), a first step was taken that could ultimately lead toward teaching that women should also be permitted to hold positions of authority in the church as office-bearers.
“We shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God’s grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible.” (“The Preacher’s Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining it”, in An All-round Ministry, p. 318.).
We know how to distinguish contentious persons. A contentious person is one who does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs, raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful, and who do not yield to reasonings.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
The root trouble, even among good Evangelicals, is our failure to heed the plain teaching of Scripture. We accept what Scripture teaches as far as our doctrine is concerned; but when it comes to practice, we very often fail to take the Scriptures as our only guide. When we come to the practical side we employ human tests instead of scriptural ones. Instead of taking the plain teaching of the Bible, we argue with it.
What was the predominate view on women covering their heads in corporate worship throughout church history?
“They (the angels) reverence the greatness and majesty of Christ. Though they be high and glorious, yet they see so vast a distance between Christ and themselves, that they cover their faces, Isa. vi. And their bodies, here; they come not into his presence rudely, but with great respect and reverence. As God is to be had in reverence of all that are about him, Psalm 89:7, so Christ is reverenced of all the angels that are about him. Women are to be veiled in the assemblies, because of the angels, 1 Cor. 11:10, to show their reverence and subjection to them being present; and angels are covered, to show their reverence and subjection to Christ. It is an honour to the angels, that in reverence to them the women are to be veiled; and it is a great honour to Christ, that angels reverence and adore him.” Commentary on Ezekiel (Ch. 1:23), by William Greenhill, member of the Westminster Assembly.
“Paul’s admonition for women to wear a head covering ‘because of the angels’ removes any doubt that this teaching is universal and timeless.”
“It was the common usage of the churches for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was manifestly decent that they should do so. Those must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.” – Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1706
Therefore the Apostle requires the vailing of women in Religious worship, by the same notion and reason, as men veiled themselves, namely for reverence towards God. But certainly it may be required, whether he so much urgeth the vailing of women, as reproves the vailing of men. However, by this most fit argument, he well chastiseth the contrary custom, and foolishness of the men: as though he had said, do ye not consider, that the man is doxa theou the glory of God, but the woman is only doxa andros, the glory of the man; that the woman was made for man; that man is the head of the woman: and how ridiculous is it, that men should use a vail, when they pray, out of reverence and shame before God, and women not use it, whose glory is less?~ Commentary on First Corinthians (ch. 11:5), by John Lightfoot, member of the Westminster Assembly.
“Therefore if a woman is not covered — If she will throw off the badge of subjection, let her appear with her hair cut like a man’s. But if it be shameful far a woman to appear thus in public, especially in a religious assembly, let her, for the same reason, keep on her veil.” – John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible
“For a man indeed ought not to veil his head because he is the image and glory of God in the dominion he bears over the creation, representing the supreme dominion of God, which is his glory. But the woman is a matter of glory to the man, who has a becoming dominion over her. Therefore she ought not to appear except with her head veiled as a tacit acknowledgement of it.” – John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, 1 Corinthians 11:7
Paul reinforces this argument in verse 7 when he emphasizes that the man’s head may not be covered since he is ‘the image and glory of God’; that is, he is the divinely appointed representative and bearer of authority in the church. Since the woman is the glory of the man, that glory must be veiled, so that only God’s glory be visible in His house. Since that glory is symbolized by her long hair (v15), this glory must be veiled or covered in public worship. In public worship only God’s glory (reflected in the man) must be visible, and man’s glory (reflected in the woman) must be veiled. ~Bartel Elshout
The wearing of the female head-covering in public worship visibly reinforces God’s authority structure in the community of the church – a community that recognizes and submits to divine authority. Paul teaches us here that there is a divine hierarchy that must be observed. That hierarchy is as follows: God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. Or to put it this way, the divine order is God, Christ, the man, and then the woman. Paul tells us in verses 3 & 4 that if a man engages in public worship with his physical head covered (his hair is not the issue), he dishonours his spiritual head, Christ. In a sinful way he would be challenging God’s established hierarchy. ~Bartel Elshout
Paul is emphasizing that the woman’s position in God’s order of things, also in the church, is rooted in the order in which God created the man and the woman – and in His purpose in creating them in this order. God created the woman to be the man’s helpmeet (ie, a help suitable for him) and his ‘completer’. Therefore to allow women to have a position of equality in public worship is contrary to God’s creation ordinance. This challenge to God’s order cannot be permitted in the public activity of the church, for it defies God’s revealed will. Also in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 Paul uses the creation argument to establish this position when he writes, ‘Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression’. -Bartel Elshout
“It is not becoming even in married women to uncover their hair, since the apostle commands women to keep their heads covered.” ~Augustine, Letter CCXL
“In the assembly you meet with angels and devils; angels observe your garb and carriage and devils tempt you. Therefore, be covered because of the angels. The practice of women (who come hither with a shameless impudence into the presence of God, men and angels) neither suits with modesty nor conveniency…(Such boldness) feeds your own pride, and provokes …others of your rank to imitate your vanity. Now we should rather please God than men; better never please men than offend God” Sermons on Titus 2:11-14, Complete Works, vol. 16, p. 138 of Thomas Manton
“Eighth, the angels are present with us, beholding us in our church assemblies when we come to worship before God. When you are in the worship and service of God, the angels are with you, beholding you, though you see them not. This is hinted at in 1 Cor. 11:10 ‘For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels.” Some refer these words to ministers, who are elsewhere called angels, but we may understand it of the angels themselves because they delight in the things of the gospel. Here the apostle speaks of women not coming into church without covering. Why? Because of the angels, not the ministers. It is meant of the angels of heaven, and therein the women are to take heed how they come into the church, because the angels are spectators and behold how you behave yourselves, they being fellow-worshippers of God with you in church assemblies. And this should make you take heed of your carriage; for although they do not know your hearts, yet they behold your carriage as you come into the presence of God.” A Treatise of the Angels by Christopher Love.
“For this cause ought the woman to have power”, that is a covering, “on her head, because of the angels” 1 Corinthians 11:10…Methinks, holy and beloved sisters, you should be content to wear this power or badge…”~ John Bunyan (1628-1688)
“How is the public worship of God to be ordered and administered in the church? All the members of the church being met together as one man (i) in the sight of God (ii) are to join together in holy duties with one accord (iii) the men with their heads uncovered, the women covered.”~John Cotton (1585-1652)
I answer, that Paul taught by mouth such things as he wrote in his epistles. And his traditions were the gospel of Christ, and honest manners and living, and such a good order as becometh the doctrine of Christ: as that a woman obey her husband, have her head covered, keep silence, and go womanly and christianly apparelled; that children and servants be in subjection: and that the young obey their elders; that no man eat but he that laboureth and worketh; and that men make an earnest thing of God’s word and of his holy sacraments; and to watch, fast, and pray, and such like as the scripture commandeth: which things he that would break were no christian man. 4)
“The apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 11:10) that the woman was ‘to have power on her head, because of the angels’. Which place, especially the latter clause of it, is diversely interpreted. But I think all agree in this, that this power which they were to have on their heads was a vail or covering, which at other times, but most especially in the congregation, women ought to wear on their heads…But the men were uncovered in their assemblies, as the apostle tells us (v. 4) to signify that they had nothing over them, but were superior to all visible creatures, and subject only to God.”~ Ezekiel Hopkins (1633-1690)
“Though the many authors differ on various issues associated with headcoverings, one important issue upon which they are all agreed is that Paul was not commanding the women in Corinth either to let their hair grow long so as to use their long hair as a headcovering in worship, or to neatly place their hair upon their heads as a headcovering in worship, but rather to place upon their heads a fabric headcovering when they worship before the Lord. This conclusion is reached by scholars from various denominational backgrounds, from different geographical locations, and from many periods of church history. The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church of Jesus Christ which is “the pillar and ground of the truth.””~ R. C. Sproul
“It is one thing to seek a more lucid understanding of the biblical content by investigating the cultural situation of the first century; it is quite another to interpret the New Testament as if it were merely an echo of the first-century culture. To do so would be to fail to account for the serious conflict the church experienced as it confronted the first-century world. Christians were not thrown to the lions for their penchant for conformity. Some very subtle means of relativizing the text occur when we read into the text cultural considerations that ought not to be there. For example, with respect to the hair-covering issue in Corinth, numerous commentators on the Epistle point out that the local sign of the prostitute in Corinth was the uncovered head. Therefore, the argument runs, the reason why Paul wanted women to cover their heads was to avoid a scandalous appearance of Christian women in the external guise of prostitutes. What is wrong with this kind of speculation? The basic problem here is that our reconstructed knowledge of first-century Corinth has led us to supply Paul with a rationale that is foreign to the one he gives himself. In a word, we are not only putting words into the apostle’s mouth, but we are ignoring words that are there. If Paul merely told women in Corinth to cover their heads and gave no rationale for such instruction, we would be strongly inclined to supply it via our cultural knowledge. In this case, however, Paul provides a rationale which is based on an appeal to creation, not to the custom of Corinthian harlots. We must be careful not to let our zeal for knowledge of the culture obscure what is actually said. To subordinate Paul’s stated reason to our speculatively conceived reason is to slander the apostle and turn exegesis into eisogesis. The creation ordinances are indicators of the transcultural principle. If any biblical principles transcend local customary limits, they are the appeals drawn from creation… What if, after careful consideration of a biblical mandate, we remain uncertain as to its character as principle or custom? If we must decide to treat it one way or the other but have no conclusive means to make the decision, what can we do? Here the biblical principle of humility can be helpful. The issue is simple. Would it be better to treat a possible custom as a principle and be guilty of being overscrupulous in our design to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a possible principle as a custom and be guilty of being unscrupulous in demoting a transcendent requirement of God to the level of a mere human convention? I hope the answer is obvious.” R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 110
“I am convinced that when Paul says the women are to cover their heads, he is basing that action on how God created male and female. It would seem to me, using a principle of interpretation of what we call hermeneutics, that if there ever an indication of a perpetual ordinance in the church, it is that which is based on an appeal to Creation. I’m persuaded that the principle of covering the head is still in effect because it was built into creation. And even though it’s not culturally accepted anymore in our society, I still believe it’s principle. I don’t think it matters one bit whether it’s a babushka, a veil, or a hat, but I think that the symbol should remain intact as a sign of our obedience to God.” R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, 48
John Angel James
“If the veil were thrown aside, they might as well cut off their flowing hair, one of the woman’s distinctions from the man, the ornament, as well as the peculiarity of the sex. Constantly and completely Christianity is the parent of order, and the enemy of indecorum of every kind. Why were not the women to lay aside their veils? Because it would be forgetting their subordination and dependence, and assuming an equal rank with man. This is the gist of the apostle’s reason. It was not merely indecorous, and contrary to modesty, but it was ambitious, and violating the order of heaven.” ~John Angel James
“Do you think you and I have sufficiently considered that we are always looked upon by angels, and that they desire to learn by us the wisdom of God? The reason why our sisters appear in the House of God with their heads covered is ‘because of the angels’. The apostle says that a woman is to have a covering upon her head, because of the angels, since the angels are present in the assembly and they mark every act of indecorum, and therefore everything is to be conducted with decency and order in the presence of the angelic spirits.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
Robert L. Dabney
“Thus he who stands up in public as the herald and representative of heaven’s King must stand with uncovered head; the honour of the Sovereign for whom he speaks demands this. But no woman can present herself in public with uncovered head without sinning against nature and her sex. Hence no woman can be a public herald of Christ.” ~ Robert L. Dabney
“The thing signified is sometimes put for the sign materially… 1Cor.11:10, ‘A woman ought to have power on her head,’ that is a garment signifying that she was under the power of her husband.” Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)
Andrew R. Fausset
“1 Corinthians 11:10-power on her head–the kerchief: French couvre chef, head-covering, the emblem of “power on her head”; the sign of her being under man’s power, and exercising delegated authority under him. …As woman’s hair is given by nature as her covering (v.15), to cut it off like a man would be palpably indecorous, therefore, to put away the head-covering like a man would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering, to show that she does of her own will that which nature teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.” ~ Andrew R. Fausset (1821-1910), the English one of the three collaborators of the familiar Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset & Brown
Arthur W. Pink (A.W. Pink)
“Because the woman has not been given rule and headship her head must be covered, and covered with a double covering: first, the long hair that God has given her by nature, so that even when she is outside the church that covering shall indicate that she is not her own head, but that she is under the dominion of the head of her household: secondly, that when she comes into the house of God there must be the additional cover of the hat because she is also in subjection to her spiritual brethren to whom God has appointed rule.” ~Arthur W Pink (1886-1952)
What is so solemn in that sixth verse is the word “also.” I want you to notice that the Holy Spirit has there linked two things together. “If the woman be not covered let her also be shorn.”―In other words, God requires a double covering. He has given the woman the long hair to cover her head naturally, so that her head is covered when she is outside the church, to show that she is not her own ruler, her own head, but in subjection to the head of her household; but when she enters the house of God, another covering is required, to show that she is also in subjection to her spiritual head—those who have the rule in the house of God. ~ A. W. Pink
As far as my personal opinion is concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that in many things the woman is the superior of the man: in the finer sensibilities, in the nobler qualities that go to make up character, in patience and powers of endurance, in gentleness, in tenderness, in unselfishness, in ministering to the suffering, in love, the woman is the superior to man. But that is not what is under discussion here. What is under discussion here is the position that God has given unto each and how that position must be owned and acknowledged by the symbol that God has appointed—Because God has placed woman in the position of subordination her head must be covered. ~A.W. Pink
“Now God has appointed that because man is the head, because headship or dominion or rule has been delegated by God into the hands of man, God has ordained that that shall be symbolically shown forth when he enters the house of God. His head shall be uncovered; his head shall be revealed; his head shall be manifest because God has given to him the headship. But because God has not given headship to the woman, because he has placed her in subjection to man, therefore that must be symbolically shown forth by her having head covered, her head concealed, showing that she is not her own head, and her own ruler.” – A.W. Pink’s Studies in the Scriptures, 1926-27, volume 3, 257-263
“It (the veil) hath a threefold use, 1) For decoration, as in Isaiah 3:23. 2) For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the Apostle, 1Cor.11:6. 3) And mainly a sign of women’s subjection to their own husbands…” (Song of Solomon Commentary). ~James Durham (1622-1658)
“Women should be veiled or covered in the meeting of the church, and the men should not. Paul’s reasons were based on theology (headship v.3), the order of creation (v.7-9), and the presence of angels in the meeting (v.10). None of these reasons was based on contemporary social custom.” – Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (1976), p. 303
S. Lewis Johnson
“In the final analysis, the hat, or veil, is not the important thing, but the subordination for which it stands. The presence of both is the ideal.” ~S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1248
“This writer concludes, then, that a woman who prays or prophesies in an assembly of believers should cover her head as a symbol of her submission to the absolute will of God who has ordered His universe according to His own good pleasure… Thus the face with which God chose to reveal Himself to the world is one that the world desperately needs to see, namely, a man who displays the image and glory of God through Christ, and a woman who, despite her ontological equality with the man, submits to him. In the historical process of administering His church, however, God has been pleased with the completion of the canon of Scripture to withdraw the gift of prophecy. In the practice of the churches today the apostolic teaching has relevance directly only to prayer. In this writer’s judgment, however, it would be well for Christian women to wear head coverings at church meetings as a symbol of an abiding theological truth.” – Bruce Waltke, “1 Corinthians 1:2-16: An Interpretation”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 1978
The covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6; for the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. ~John Murray
“Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (vss. 3b, vss. 7ff.), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance.”~John Murray
“So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature. Further, we know that the world takes everything to its own advantage. So, if one has liberty in lesser things, why not do the same with this the same way as with that? And in making such comparisons they will make such a mess that there will be utter chaos. So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, `Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?’ And then after that one will plead for something else; `Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also bare this and bare that?’ Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard” (John Calvin – 1509-1564)
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
But thus, you see, we argue with Scripture. Instead of taking its plain teaching, we say that times have changed—when it suits our thesis we say it is no longer relevant…The apostle tells them that that’s quite wrong; it’s not only wrong because a woman should have her head covered to show that she is under the authority of the man, but in addition to that he says that she should be covered because of the presence of the angels. ~ Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Head coverings represent what God teaches about marriage. Therefore, we should not mock or hate this biblical practice, but embrace it wholeheartedly… Culture at the present time in America is becoming increasingly pagan, hedonistic and anti-Christian. Any biblical practice that sets God’s people apart from our culture and sets an example for it ought to be embraced by believers. We certainly do not act as a salt and light to our heathen culture when we reject biblical imperatives relating to covenant headship and instead imitate the world.”~Head Coverings in Public Worship by Brian Schwertley
“The headcovering requirement is based on the order of creation. It has been argued that this means that the principle of male headship is permanent, but the particular application of it (i.e. headcovering) was cultural. There is no evidence in the passage for this. Indeed, the evidence is in the opposite direction.”~David Silversides
Meaning of head-covering by Zac Poonen
There are at least three reasons given in the New Testament why a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies in the meetings of the church:
First: The Bible says, “A man should NOT cover his he…” – and the reason given is: … because he is the image and glory of God”. In contrast, we are told, “but the woman is the glory of man” (1 Cor.11:7). The glory of man must be covered in the church – and since woman is the glory of man, she testifies to this fact by covering her head. This is the plain and simple meaning of this verse.
Second: The Bible says, “A woman’s long hair is her glory” (1 Cor.11:15). The glory of the woman also must be covered in the church, just like the glory of man. And so she must cover her head which has the glory of her long hair. Almost all women are conscious that their long hair is a major part of what makes them look attractive – and that is why even among those women who do put a covering on their heads, most of them cover only a part of their hair!! If a woman does not want to cover her head, then the only alternative that the New Testament offers is to remove that glory, by shaving her head completely: “If a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head” (1 Cor.11:6).
Third: The Bible says: “Man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor.11:10). The head-covering symbolizes the fact that a woman accepts her God-appointed role as having been created “for man’s sake” as his helper and therefore her willingness to be submissive to male authority – whether as a wife to her husband, or as a daughter to her father, or as a sister in the church to the church-elders. It is significant that the disappearance of the head-covering from women in Western churches (on a large scale) coincided with the time that the movement for “Women’s Liberation” (a phrase used in a book in 1949) began to spread in Western countries – about 60 years ago. The “angels” mentioned in this verse could refer either to the fallen angels or to the angels in heaven. So it could either be a reminder to women to bear in mind that the fallen angels fell because they were not submissive to authority.
1 Corinthians 11:16 says that every church that is a church of God, will insist on this head covering for women when they pray or prophesy. The Holy Spirit recognized that 20 centuries later this would become a controversial issue; and so He made Paul to state (in this same verse) that if anyone was going to be argumentative about this matter, he would not argue with such a person. He would just allow that person to continue on in his/her disobedience and inconsistency.
H. A. Ironside on women’s subjection
Bear in mind that Paul is not speaking here, as he does elsewhere, of a woman’s place in the new creation. In the new creation there are no distinctions: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” Galatians 3:28. We are all one in Christ. We were all sinners alike, we have all been redeemed alike, we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit alike, we have all been baptized into one body alike, and so all these distinctions vanish and we think of one another as members of Christ. But this does not alter the fact that we still have our place in nature and must maintain that place.
You will see how important this is if I illustrate it in this way: According to the Word of God I am a heavenly citizen. Suppose I say, “Inasmuch as I am a heavenly citizen, I have no responsibilities to any country here on earth,” I will soon have to reckon with the income tax collector and other authorities―and I shall have to learn by experience that I have responsibilities, I have earthly relationships that must be maintained. Just so, although there is neither male nor female in the new creation, yet we have our places to fill in nature and in the church… “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” Genesis 3:16―and that relationship still exists. “The head of the woman is the man.”
Robert L. Dabney
Let us now look at these laws themselves; we shall find them peculiarly, even surprisingly, explicit. First, we have 1 Cor. 11:3–16, where the apostle discusses the relation and deportment of the sexes in the public Christian assemblages; and he assures the Corinthians, verses 2 and 16, that the rules he here announces were universally accepted by all the churches. The reader will not be wearied by details of exposition; a careful reading of the passage will give to him the best evidence for our interpretation, in its complete coherence and consistency. Two principles, then, are laid down: first, verse 4, that the man should preach (or pray) in public with head uncovered, because he then stands forth as God’s herald and representative; and to assume at that time the emblem of subordination, a covered head, is a dishonor to the office and the God it represents; secondly, verses 5, 13, that, on the contrary, for a woman to appear or to perform any public religious function in the Christian assembly, unveiled, is a glaring impropriety, because it is contrary to the subordination of the position assigned her by her Maker, and to the modesty and reserve suitable to her sex; and even nature settles the point by giving her her long hair as her natural veil. Even as good taste and a natural sense of propriety would protest against a woman’s going in public shorn of that beautiful badge and adornment of her sex, like a rough soldier or a laborer, even so clearly does nature herself sustain God’s law in requiring the woman to appear always modestly covered in the sanctuary. The holy angels who are present as invisible spectators, hovering over the Christian assemblies, would be shocked by seeing women professing godliness publicly throw off this appropriate badge of their position (verse 10). The woman, then, has a right to the privileges of public worship and the sacraments; she may join audibly in the praises and prayers of the public assembly, where the usages of the body encourage responsive prayer; but she must always do this veiled or covered. The apostle does not in this chapter pause to draw the deduction, that if every public herald of God must be unveiled, and the woman must never be unveiled in public, then she can never be a public herald. But let us wait. He has not done with these questions of order in public worship; he steadily continues the discussion of them through the fourteenth chapter, and he there at length reaches the conclusion he had been preparing, and in verses 34, 35, expressly prohibits women to preach publicly. “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak” (in that public place), “but to be in subordination, as also the law saith. And if they wish to learn something”—about some doctrine which they there hear discussed but do not comprehend—“let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for women to speak in church.” And in verse 37 he shuts up the whole discussion by declaring that if anybody pretends to have the Spirit, or the inspiration of prophecy, so as to be entitled to contest Paul’s rules, the rules are the commandments of the Lord (Christ), not Paul’s mere personal conclusions, so that to contest them on such pretensions of spiritual impulse is inevitably wrong and presumptuous. For the immutable Lord does not legislate in contradictory ways.
So, I’m thinking about it. What now?
There are many things you can use as a headcovering. You can wear a scarf or even a pretty bandana as a headcovering. I usually use a scarf, either large or small, and twist it, tie it, drape it, and so on. There are many ways of making these work. One daughter wears a hat. Another daughter usually wears one of the snood type of headcoverings she found inexpensively on Amazon.
The answer as to what a proper headcovering is, how to cover, and where to get coverings is there is no one answer. Whatever covers your head and is dressy enough for church will work. Perhaps, if you are gifted with a needle, you can make yourself one. There are tutorials online for tying scarves you might already have on hand. You can purchase a larger headband that spreads out to cover your head from WalMart, Target, or Amazon. Or you can buy a headcovering from one of the many stores online that specialize in them or offer them as a sideline.