What is head covering for?

All over the world, for centuries, some Christian women have covered their head, or rather, their hair, but few Christians really understand the purpose of the head covering.

Head covering determines the quality of our communication with God.

Satan doesn’t want us to effectively communicate to God and he also doesn’t want God to effectively communicate to us. That way, he can deceive us and we won’t even know it, and won’t know what to do about it. He would rather that we receive ‘truth’ from some man (whom he can appoint and manipulate) than from God, over whom he has no control.

As a result, for centuries, we have women with short hair, and men with long hair, cut off from communication with God, not knowing what He is saying to them, and not getting Him to hear what they have to say to Him.

Now let’s look at the portion of 1 Cor 11 that deals with head coverings, verse by verse.

2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

Paul remembers how the Corinthians have done what he asked them in previous times and so he praises them for it and expresses his confidence to say more to them.

3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

The concept of a ‘head’ refers to one person directing the actions of the other – just like how our head tells our body what to do. The order is God – Christ – man – woman. Specifically, in the proper scheme of things, God directed Christ in what He should do, and Christ tells every man what to do, and every woman is to be under the authority of some man. If a woman is married then her husband is her head. If she is not married then if her father is alive then he is her head, otherwise I’m thinking that her pastor would be her head.

Notice that for ‘every’ man, the relationship is not Christ-pastor-man but Christ-man. That is, no man should get in between another man and Christ. The church leaders must be obeyed in matters of church administration (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:5) but a man should get his doctrine and spiritual direction from Christ.

Note that Paul mentions the head relationship here, right in the beginning, and says, "I want you to realize this." His point is that the whole reason for covering or not covering the head is related to headship, not ‘hairship’. That is why it is the head that needs to be covered and not the hair.

This head relationship is applicable in all aspects of life, and not just in the context of the place where a church meets. That is, Christ is the head of man wherever the man is, and not just when the man is in a church building. Similarly, a woman is under the authority of a man wherever she is and not only when she is in a church building.

4 Every man who has {something} on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

Prayer is man communicating to God. Prophesy is God communicating to man. So praying and prophesying concern communication between God and man.

Whenever such communication occurs between a person and his or her head, head covering is relevant. Whether you are in a church setting or not, if you are communicating with God you must abide by the rules for head covering laid down here. This is because the head relationship between Christ, man and woman stands whether you are in a church setting or not. I say this because some people say that covering is only relevant when praying or prophesying in a church setting.

A man’s head – Christ – must not be covered when communicating with God.

A woman’s head – man – must be covered when communicating with God.

To do otherwise is to dishonor your head.

To dishonor someone is to show a lack of respect for that person. It’s like saying, "I don’t think much of this person and what he has to say to me." So a man who covers his head when praying or prophesying is saying that he doesn’t think as much of Christ as he should and doesn’t care too much about what Christ has to say to him. And a woman who doesn’t cover her head when praying or prophesying is saying that she doesn’t think much of her husband (or father or pastor) as she should. She is essentially saying that her husband or father or pastor is not worthy of being in authority over her.

6 For 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.

Up to now Paul only mentioned the head, not the hair. But here he mentions the hair. So we can see that Paul is well aware of the distinction between hair and head. So let us not read ‘cover your head’ and change it to ‘cover your hair’. Paul very consciously said, "cover the head" and did not say, "cover the hair".

Here, after considering the entire passage, Paul is saying that if a woman doesn’t want to have long hair let her go to the extreme and have no hair at all instead of having short hair. That is why in the previous verse Paul says that having an uncovered head is the same as having her head shaved.

This only makes sense if the covering for the head is long hair. That is, if you don’t have long hair then whether you have short hair or no hair it is the same thing – your head is uncovered. The distinction is between long hair and no long hair.

If Paul was trying to say that a woman should cover her hair instead of her head then this verse wouldn’t make any sense because then a woman would need to simply cover the hair whether it is long or short, and the size of the hair is irrelevant.

7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

Here Paul explains why a covering is or is not needed.

A person’s glory is the best thing about that person.

The image and glory of God should be displayed when communicating with God, but the glory of man should not. The idea is that in God-man interactions God must be exalted, not man. The greatness of God must be evident but the greatness of man must be hidden.

Why is a man the image and glory of God? Man is the image of God in the sense that God is refers to Himself as ‘He’ and not ‘she’. Man is the glory of God because Christ came as man and yet did not sin. That is, the greatest thing that God did was to come in the form of man and still not sin.

Why is a woman the glory of man? Woman is the glory of man because (as explained in the next verse) she is the best thing that came from man.

When a man keeps his head uncovered it’s like saying that he wants to give greater importance to speaking to God and hearing from God than speaking to man and hearing from man. Similarly, when a woman keeps her head covered it’s like saying that she acknowledges that she generally makes her request to her husband or father or pastor, but for now she is temporarily suspending / covering that connection and going directly to God.

Note that no verse says that the glory of woman must be covered, so let’s not add that to Scripture and use that addition as our excuse for saying that a woman’s hair (which is her glory according to verse 13) must be covered.

8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;

9 for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have {a symbol of} authority on her head, because of the angels.

The reason why the man is the head of woman is because a woman was made from man and for man. In Gen 2:18, we see that woman was created to be man’s helper, which is a subordinate role.

The head covering is a symbol of authority – God’s authority over her rather than man’s authority. That is, when a woman covers her head she is saying that while communicating with God she is temporarily suspending her communication with the man who is normally her head. She is saying that during this time she considers God’s direction more important than man’s direction.

When the angels see a woman’s head covered they know that they should communicate her message to God even though she is normally under the headship of a man.

Angels come into the picture because they are messengers who communicate God’s messages to man and man’s messages to God. As I mentioned earlier, praying and prophesying refer to the two-way communication between man and God. For examples of how angels are used in communication between man and God, consider Dan 9:20-23, Dan 10:4-21, Mt 1:20-24, Mt 2:13,19-20, Lk 1:11-20, 26-38.

The angels, who communicate your prayer to God and God’s word to you, need to know whether you, as a man, consider God’s word more important than any man’s word, and whether you, as a woman, are willing to listen to the man who is in authority over you, but are temporarily suspending that connection.

From God’s perspective, if a man gives more importance to what some other man says than what God says then he shouldn’t be trying to communicate with God – let him go and ask that man instead.

On the other hand, if a woman is not generally willing to listen to the man whom God has placed in authority over her then God doesn’t want to communicate with her. After all, if He told her to be under the authority of a man and she ignored that command would she take seriously anything else that God would say to her?

Note that the purpose of the covering is not for the sake of man (or the church) but ‘because of the angels’ as mentioned in verse 11, and therefore applies everywhere an angel can be, and not just in the church meeting.

11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man {has his birth} through the woman; and all things originate from God.

When it comes to having a personal relationship with God however, both men and women are at the same level. One shouldn’t think that a man can have a closer relationship with God than a woman just because a woman should cover her head and a man shouldn’t cover his.

13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God {with her head} uncovered?

14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Paul says that even from the natural / physical standpoint, long hair is glory for a woman (that is, it makes a woman more presentable) and disgrace for a man, making him less presentable. Even naturally speaking, you want to be presentable when presenting yourself before God. This natural scheme of things complements well the fact that long hair serves as a covering for a woman’s head.

Further, here is where Paul explains what the head covering is. There are several things to note here.

First, notice that he doesn’t say that the head covering is a piece of clothing.

Second, notice that nowhere in this entire passage does Paul say that the hair must be covered. He only says that the head must be covered or uncovered.

Third, notice that here Paul talks about long hair and connects it with covering. If it was the hair that should be covered then the above verses concerning long hair make no sense. That is, why would Paul say that it is a disgrace for a man to have long hair and a glory for a woman to have long hair if the covering were not long hair?

Suppose Paul just wanted to point out that a woman’s hair needed to be covered there would be no reason for him to consistently, and without exception, say that the woman’s head had to be covered. Further, there would be no reason for him to distinguish between long hair and hair that is not long.

Fourth, notice that Paul plainly states that the long hair is the covering. The Greek word translated as ‘covering’ in verse 15 is used only one other time in the New Testament (in Heb 1:12) and there it is translated as ‘mantle’ or ‘robe’ or ‘coat’ or ‘cloak’. By definition, a mantle is never something that must be covered but something that covers. So you cannot interpret verse 15 to say that long hair must be covered; rather, it says that long hair serves as a covering.

All these things go to show that it is the head that is to be covered, not the hair, and that long hair serves as a covering for the head.

One might question why Paul takes 15 sentences instead of one to say that a woman’s long hair is the covering for her head, and use that to ‘prove’ that this passage cannot be taken to mean that a woman’s long hair serves to cover her head. But Paul does use a single sentence, which is 1 Cor 11:15. The other 14 verses explained, among other things, why it is important for a woman to cover her head while praying or prophesying.

So when is hair considered ‘long’ and when is it considered ‘short’? The Bible doesn’t say, but I would offer to say that it was left open to take into consideration cultural differences. That is, in some cultures it might be true that all men shave their head, and in such a case two inches of hair would be ‘long’. In other cultures, the typical man’s hair might be two inches long, in which case a woman’s hair would be long if her hair were 6 inches long. In another culture, a typical man’s hair might be 6 inches long, in which case, a woman’s hair would be long if her hair were 12 inches long. I think the idea is that a woman’s hair should be long enough so that someone (man or angel) looking at her hair from behind would be able to discern whether the person is a woman or man.

16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Paul says very bluntly in the end that all the churches of God must follow this, and there is no point in trying to argue otherwise.

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