I asked Christy for her opinion and she said she wasn't sure. We decided we would have to look into it and we both decided that whatever the Bible convinced us that it was saying was what we would do. With a smile, Christy said, "Cool, I may get to go buy some cute hats!" So, as I lay out what I've found, please have that same attitude. Be willing to follow whatever the Bible says, rather than making up your mind first and trying to excuse away what the Bible is saying.
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 is her husband, 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 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. 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.
Whats the Big Idea Behind It All?
The big idea is the idea of being submitted to authority. Paul begins by saying that the Father is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the husband, and the husband is the head of the wife. The word "head" is used here in a way that the ancient reader would have understood but we can easily get confused about. Its the same sort of meaning when we walk into a store and ask to talk to the head honcho. To be the head means that you are the one in authority. This whole passage is based on the idea that we all need to submit to the authority that God has placed in our lives.
Notice that the concern of this passage is not for anyone who shows up to church. It is specifically talking about those who pray and prophesy. Essentially, we are talking about the people who stand up in church to take part in the service. Paul gives these rules to guide how they dress.
With that as the big idea, let's look at the different ways people understand the rest of the passage.
View 1: It is a cultural issue that doesn't matter today
Some claim that the whole issue of women wearing head coverings in church to pray and prophesy was important to the Corinthian church at the time it was written by Paul but was not intended for everyone throughout the ages. Because we live in a different culture, we do not need to follow this church rule.
There are reasons to agree with this from the historical context and from the passage itself. In those days, Corinth was a messed up and confused church. Corinth was a pagan Greek city that was filled with sexual immorality. Prostitution was rampant and prostitutes would let down their long hair in public to show they were available for sex. Homosexuality was common. Men dressed like women and solicited other men as prostitutes. Women would shave their heads and keep their hair short to show that they were lesbians. Many of the temples included sex as part of their worship services and employed temple prostitutes, some of whom would shave their heads bald to show that they were sex objects belonging to the temple.
That's the city where Paul plants a church! People get saved and it takes more than one sermon to fix all of the perversion and immorality that they grew up in. Those who hold this position would argue that Paul is writing solely to address these issues. In that culture, when a woman with a shaved head stood up in church to pray, everyone in the room would immediately assume she was either a temple prostitute or a lesbian. A woman who wore her hair down and uncovered would be thought of as a prostitute. Likewise, a man who stood up in church to lead while wearing a head covering would be thought of as a homosexual or a feminine cross-dresser. That's what those styles of dress would have conveyed to the ancient audience.
Clearly, Paul does not want the leaders of the church to look like homosexuals or prostitutes who are rebelling against God. So, he commands that they dress appropriately to show that they are in submission to God's authority.
Those who hold this position would argue that because our culture does not make the same connections or assumptions, we do not have to follow this rule. The purpose was to prevent this kind of confusion and that just doesn't exist in our day.
Verses 2 and 3 do show that the big idea here is not the dress but the submission to authority. Verse 13 also seems to indicate this is somewhat cultural because Paul tells the people to judge for themselves.
View 2: Head coverings are needed today
Some claim that this passage is still to be followed today regardless of culture. The command of the Apostle Paul in God's Word is for women to wear head coverings and men not to when they pray and prophesy. If that is the command, we ought to obey rather than question or try to twist and change it.
This view also has merit. It is a slippery slope when we begin picking and choosing which parts of the Bible we will obey and which ones are simply cultural. This passage bases the command on the order of creation which is something that has not changed and never will. As such, why should we think the command has changed? In fact, Paul ends this section of Scripture with a statement directly for anyone who would want to argue this point. In verse 16, he tells us that there is no church of God that allows women to pray without a head covering nor men to pray with one.
View 3: Corresponding cultural sensitivity is needed today
Some claim that the specific command is cultural while the purpose behind it crosses all cultures. They claim that, in our American culture, the specific head covering command does not apply, but we ought to do something to show that the men and women in our church are in submission to God.
This is the position that I am leaning toward myself. The big idea still stands. We all need to willingly submit to the authority over us. Those in the church who act as leaders (those who stand up to pray or prophesy or any other act of ministry) should not be doing something that causes the rest of the people at church to think they are living in rebellious lifestyles.
In Paul's day, a woman letting her hair down in church made everyone think she was a prostitute. So certainly, it was inappropriate for her to pray in church without a head covering. It would look like the church and the pastors and elders were all okay with her lifestyle of prostitution. That's the wrong message to send! But today, when a woman has long hair and no hat, nobody thinks to themselves, "She's probably willing to perform sexually for money." Our culture is completely different!
As such, we do not have to follow this rule given for a different culture. Paul even says in verse 10 that the covering is a symbol of authority. The symbol is not the important thing, but what it represents. When a woman prays in church without a head covering, I honestly don't think God Himself is up in heaven, wishing He had a decorative cap to look at instead of her scalp when He listens to her prayer. This command was for the benefit of the people in the church not for God to have a nice view. Because the whole head covering issue has zero benefit in our culture, we can leave it behind.
However, we do need to be sensitive of different social cues that cause people to make assumptions. What assumptions might you make if a ...
- Woman wearing clear high heels got up to lead the church in prayer?
- Woman with a butch hair cut got up to lead worship?
- Woman wearing a tube top and miniskirt was passing out the offering plate?
- Woman with a short shirt that showed her belly button piercing passed out the communion bread?
- Man wearing a pink bow in his hair played guitar and sang on the worship team?
- Man wearing a skirt (not a kilt) was the greeter at the door handing out the bulletins?
- Man with a visible tattoo of a scantily clad woman led a prayer in church (I've seen this!)?
- Man with really long hair and make up stood up to preach a sermon?
First, don't just dismiss this passage because you don't like what it might be saying (especially the women reading this). Instead, read it, study it, and pray about it to decide which of the above views you think is biblical. Then obey it!
Second, regardless of the position you land on, I think we can all agree from this that our dress and style are actually important. The way we dress and do our hair is actually sending out messages and causing people to make assumptions about us. As Christians, we are called to represent Christ to the lost world.
As a pastor I struggle with this. I hate spending time getting ready in the morning and I don't naturally care what I look like or what people think of me. But if I come to church dressed like a scumbag, with wild hair, and a weird half beard, then what happens when someone shows up looking for a new church and sees me? What assumptions might they make about this church, Christ, our ministries, and the pastoral leadership based on how I look?
We all need to take a look at ourselves and ask, "What kind of messages is my appearance and dress sending and what might people be assuming? Are those messages and assumptions a worthy representation of Christ?" If the answer to that second question is no, then please change in order to better honor Christ.
As always, send in your comments and questions and vote for next week's topic at the top right of the site!