Question: Why a head covering?
Why do some groups of Christians appear to insist that women wear hats in church?
Understanding the head covering
I will begin by quoting the relevant passage from 1 Corinthians 11: “But I wish you to know that the Christ is the head of every man, but woman's head is the man, and the Christ's head God. Every man praying or prophesying, having anything on his head, puts his head to shame. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered puts her own head to shame; for it is one and the same as a shaved woman. For if a woman be not covered, let her hair also be cut off. But if it be shameful to a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, let her be covered. For man indeed ought not to have his head covered, being God's image and glory; but woman is man's glory. For man is not of woman, but woman of man. For also man was not created for the sake of the woman, but woman for the sake of the man. Therefore ought the woman to have authority on her head, on account of the angels. However, neither is woman without man, nor man without woman, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman, but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman should pray to God uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you, that man, if he have long hair, it is a dishonour to him? But woman, if she have long hair, it is glory to her; for the long hair is given to her in lieu of a veil. But if any one think to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the assemblies of God” (1 Corinthians 11:3-16).
This is the scripture where it is clearly set out that a woman should have her head covered during prayer or prophecy (meaning when God’s mind is being made known to His people not just foretelling the future). It is also clear that a man should not have his head covered during prayer or prophecy.
The reason given is this: The head of a brother in the Lord is representative of the glory of Christ. Therefore, what represent Christ’s glory should definitely not be concealed in God’s presence. The head of a sister in the Lord is representative of the glory of man (because Eve was made from Adam) and therefore anything that represents the glory of mankind must be hidden in the presence of God. Likewise, the head of Christ is representative of God and therefore holds a special place in God’s sight. Furthermore, the long hair of a woman is given as a glory to her and therefore there is a double reason for covering it in the presence of God because she is covering what represents both the glory of Man and Woman so that only what symbolised the glory of Christ is seen.
The reason why there is some contention about this is because the head covering is a symbol of subjection. Yet, the scripture is quite clear here that it is not, as some have assumed, a sign of subjection to men but rather it is a sign of subjection to God and His ordering. So also is the removal of a man’s head covering a sign of His subjection to Christ. The same principle applies in marriage. When a wife is subject to her husband it is because she is subject to the Lord. So also, a husband will treat his wife with love and respect because he knows she belongs, not to him, but the Lord and he has a consciousness of the Lord’s great love for His Church/Assembly which his wife represents.
The word “cover” has caused some problems. The purpose of this covering is to conceal what represents our glory. It does not necessarily mean a hat but anything that covers, even a handkerchief is a head covering. Perhaps, when hats meant more in Britain than they do today, then it would have meant more for a man to remove his hat. Head coverings can be used to give indications of status and social class and all of this pride and glory must go in the presence of God. Brothers should remove head coverings and sisters should cover their heads in a simple fashion. Having fancy hats would rather defeat the purpose of covering the glory.
Some people have claimed that this passage is not certain and in some translations it does appear to contradict itself. It begins by saying that a woman’s head should be covered and then seems to say that a woman’s hair is given to her as a covering. A closer examination of the words translated as “covering” in English will show that this part of scripture does not (as indeed no part) contradict itself.
In verse 4 the word used for covering means “To have on one’s head”..
In verse 6 and 7 the word used for covering is ‘katakalupto’ meaning ‘to cover fully’.
In verse 15 the word used is ’peribolaion’ which means “something cast around”. The translation I have quoted from recognises this distinction by using the word ‘veil’ rather than covering. In other words, like a wedding veil a woman’s hair is given to bring beauty to her and to ‘cast around’ her face. It may cover her head but it in itself is her own glory which should go out of sight in the presence of God.
There is one other thing worth mentioning. The angels are looking on. They see men and women being subject to the will of God where they hadn’t been before they were saved and they can see the effect of the work of God in redeemed persons. This covering gives a sister in Christ authority from God because she is being subject to Him. People will see her subjection to Christ and will want to know why the Lord means so much to her that she is prepared to cover up her glory which the rest of the world flaunts.
Note: The meanings for the words used for the English ‘to cover’ have been quoted from ‘Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible’.