“Do the Bible’s Statements on Head Coverings Apply Today?”

I would like to hear your explanation of 1 Cor. 11:2-16 where it talks about woman wearing a head covering and if this applies to us today. And why.

Thanks for your letter. You’ve asked a rather difficult question about an extremely controversial and emotionally-charged issue. For what it’s worth, I will offer my opinion (we don’t have an official Probe position on this issue). But I certainly don’t think I have any special insight into this issue.

Commentators point out that Paul offers a number of reasons why women should wear head coverings in the church. First, it appropriately reflects the Divine order mentioned in vv. 3-6. Second, it is based on creation (vv. 7-9). Here Paul seems to allude to Genesis 2:18-24. Third, Paul mentions that the woman should wear a covering because of the angels. Apparently, angels observe church meetings and may be offended to witness the insubordination of wives to their husbands (in particular), or the rejection of the Divine order by women in general. Fourth, Paul offers an argument from nature (vv. 13-15). His point may be that just as a woman’s long hair is her natural glory, and is given to her as a covering, so also it is her glory to wear a covering in the church as a symbol of subordination to her husband and/or to God. Finally, Paul seems to argue for women wearing head coverings on the basis of this being the universal practice of the church in the first century (v. 16).

Of course, this is not the universal practice of the church today. But should it be? Although I don’t know for sure, I tend to think that the key issue in this passage (i.e. the timeless truth which applies to all believers at all times and in all places) concerns subordination or submission. In particular, the man must understand that Christ is his head. Just as Christ willingly subordinated himself to the Father (Phil. 2:5-11, etc.), so also should man subordinate himself to Christ and follow his example. Similarly, a woman should be submissive to her husband (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s important to understand that this does not imply inferiority. Just as Christ is not inferior to the Father, so also the wife is not inferior to her husband, nor is woman inherently inferior to man. However, there is a Divine order, also reflected in creation, and men and women have different roles and different responsibilities in that order.

Thus, I tend to think that the timeless truth of this passage is that both men and women need to recognize and accept their God-ordained position and purpose in both creation and the church. Just as it would be completely inappropriate for a man to refuse to subordinate himself to Christ, so also it is inappropriate for a wife to refuse to submit to her husband (or for a single woman to reject the Divine order, etc.). The head-covering was a visible symbol of such submission in the first century church. But I don’t think that head-coverings are the real issue. The real issue is one of subordination to the will of God and an acceptance of the Divine order. In a sense, it’s the distinction between the letter of the law—and its spirit.

At any rate, for what it’s worth, that’s my opinion.


Michael Gleghorn

© 2006 Probe Ministries


See Also:
“What Do You Think About Headcoverings for Christian Women?”
Sue Bohlin’s Blog Post: “Why I’m the Lady in the Hat”