Let’s just get this right out there. I absolutely believe the Bible teaches that women should cover their heads. And furthermore, I do cover my head.
So, why write an article about it?
In a nutshell: brevity of scriptural mention, difference of interpretation and practice, and relatively no teaching on the subject.
The Bible teaches head covering in just 15 verses. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) Comparatively there are over 2000 verses about money, 365 verses on “fear not”, and 692 mentions of heaven.
In addition to this brevity, the 1 Corinthians passage ends with this verse,
If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practices, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16 ESV)
What??? No wonder there’s confusion.
It’s not a black and white topic. There is much varying interpretation on the ifs, who’s and when’s of head covering. Even “experts” from Bill McDonald to Jamieson, Foster, Brown, to Matthew Henry to F.B. Meyer to Darby, have quite differing takes on the same passage.
Various views paired with little to no teaching.
Women covering their heads in public was an almost universal cultural norm up until the 1960s. This cultural norm subsequently spilled over to church. In almost any denomination, any culture, any religion, you’d find the women with some sort of covering on their heads, be it a hat, mantilla, scarf, bonnet, or ______.
As a matter of fact, it was such a “normal” practice, that the Catholic Church did not feel it necessary to include the mandate to cover until the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
Then came the 60s and 70s. Fancy hats were no longer the fashion standard for women. Women went bare headed everywhere, including church. The practice of head covering fell into disuse, and in the 1970s the Catholic Church addressed that.
“It must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period…such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Corinthians 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.” 
In the 1983 Code of Canon Law—the one in effect today—the canon about head coverings was not re-issued. In addition, Canon 6 of the current code states that all subsequent laws that are not reissued in the new code are abrogated, and it specifically mentions the Code of Cannon Law of 1917. 
The Catholic Church made a clear statement. And, ironically enough, their decision affected more than just Catholics.
Because head covering had always been a cultural practice, the spiritual practice was not taught. Thus, when culture changed, conservative denominations were left with generations of men and women who really didn’t understand or appreciate the Biblical basis, picture and conviction of the head covering.
The “truth” was not as “self-evident” as we’d like to have thought.
The practice of head covering has mostly faded away in American, European, and Asian churches. With the exception of a few denominations-including the Amish, Mennonite, Apostolic, church of Christ, Plymouth Brethren assemblies, and a handful of others.
Many times I’ve heard women say, “I cover my head to show I’m submissive to my husband.”
This idea comes from the use of the greek words, aner (man or husband) and gune (woman or wife). These words are translated contextually. The KJV translates them man and woman. The ESV translates them husband and wife. It is very confusing. (Do you cover your head if you are a single woman?)
Is head covering about submission? (if you aren’t submissive, slapping on a head covering doesn’t change that fact.)
To put it another way, headship is a noun, submission is a verb. While wearing a head covering can be an action of submission, it is a picture of a much bigger concept-headship. Headship and submission are complementary topics, but they are not the same thing.
Submission is the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person; while headship (kephale) has three meanings in Scripture:
- a physical head (1 Corinthians 11:7)
- source or origin (Colossians 1:18)
- a person with authority (Ephesians 1:22)
Glory and Covering
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 we have three words used repeatedly…head, cover, glory.
|There are three heads listed…
|With their corresponding subordinates (lower in rank or position)
||Christ (Christ is equal with God, but He submitted Himself to the will of God.)
The reason for this order is found in verses 8, 9
“For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”
Eve was created from Adam’s rib (from man). She was created as a helper for Adam (for man). (Genesis 2:18)
|And their corresponding glory (magnificence or great beauty)
Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. The “very” good. Man is the image and glory of God.
Proverbs 31 elaborates on the idea of women being the glory of men.
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land…Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
Do we dispute that a woman’s glory is her hair? There have been many cultural changes in hair styles since Paul’s time, but the constant has remained…women glory in their hair. Long or short, straight or curly, grey, blonde, brunette, black, red. It’s often a love/hate relationship with women spending (accumulated) years of their life caring for their coiff.
The truth of this really hit home to me when my 5 year old daughter lost her hair because of chemotherapy. I cried and cried over her hair loss. Hair is an integral part of any woman’s life. It’s important.
Whether or not we consider it magnificent or a great beauty, fundamentally a woman glories in her hair.
(Part 2 here)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Inter Insigniores