The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 about the necessity for women to have their heads covered while praying or prophesying. When you read this passage of scripture I believe that you can only walk away with one of two possibilities. Either woman are supposed to have their heads covered as Paul says, or the scripture is not applicable today and woman are not supposed to have their heads covered.
Below is the portion of scripture that speaks to this issue. We will look at this first, then look at a couple of opinions regarding this scripture today and then take a look at the early Church and see what their practice was regarding head coverings. With that it should be relatively easy to formulate an opinion as to whether the scripture is accurate and then, if it is accurate, as a woman, whether you think you should follow what the Bible says on the matter.
2 Now I praise you brothers that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is the same things as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, she should cut off her hair. But if is is a shame for a woman to have her hair cut off, let her be covered. 7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and the glory of God. But the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman should have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor is the woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman came from man, so man also comes from the woman; but all things come from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God uncovered? 14 Does not even nature teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him? 15 But is a woman has long hair is it a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But any man supposes to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God. –1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (GFS)
There are essentially three points of view on the matter of woman having their heads covering while praying or prophesying. As an aside, this includes head coverings actually in churches during services as generally there is prayer going on inside them. Without belaboring the issue, the three points of view are that women should be covering their heads, women don’t have to cover their heads, and third, the long hair of the woman is the covering in question. The scripture clearly says they should cover their heads. The reading above clearly talks about a covering other than the hair. So that should be then end of it, right? But it isn’t. Most churches don’t abide by this teaching. They say it was a tradition only in the days of Paul or the long hair on a woman is the covering. How many women would go to church today if the preacher said they had to have their heads covered? In light of this let’s take a look at what the Early Church believed about this very specific teaching. The importance of looking at what the Early Church believed is the fact that they were the first interpreters of what was written by the Apostle Paul on this matter.
Historical accounting of this subject matter clearly details that the Early Church believed in a cloth head covering and not long hair as the covering. The information below about the Early Church’s understanding of the head covering comes from Scroll Publishing. They have some well-researched information on this and many other subjects. They can be found at the following address: Scroll Publishing Company – David Bercot. The information below can be found at: http://earlychurch.com/the-head-covering-or-prayer-veil/
Around the year 200, at Carthage, North Africa, Tertullian wrote a tract entitled, “The Veiling of Virgins.” Tertullian makes the argument that the passage applies to all females of age—not just to married women. Of course, Tertullian’s personal view is of little concern to us. But what is so valuable about this work of his is that he discusses the practices of different church in various parts of the world. Here are some key excerpts from his work:
I also admonish you second group of women, who are married, not to outgrow the discipline of the veil. Not even for a moment of an hour. Because you can’t avoid wearing a veil, you should not find some other way to nullify it. That is, by going about neither covered nor bare. For some women do not veil their heads, but rather bind them up with turbans and woollen bands. It’s true that they are protected in front. But where the head properly lies, they are bare.
Others cover only the area of the brain with small linen coifs that do not even quite reach the ears…. They should know that the entire head constitutes the woman. Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when it is unbound. In this way, the neck too is encircled.
The pagan women of Arabia will be your judges. For they cover not only the head, but the face also. . . . But how severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve, who remain uncovered even during the recital of the Psalms and at any mention of the name of God? For even when they are about to spend time in prayer itself, they only place a fringe, tuft [of cloth], or any thread whatever on the crown of their heads. And they think that they are covered!
Earlier in his tract, Tertullian testified that the churches that were founded by the apostles did insist that both their married women and their virgins be veiled:
Throughout Greece, and certain of its barbaric provinces, the majority of churches keep their virgins covered. In fact, this practice is followed in certain places beneath this African sky. So let no one ascribe this custom merely to the Gentile customs of the Greeks and barbarians.
Moreover, I will put forth as models those churches that were founded by either apostles or apostolic men. . . . The Corinthians themselves understood him to speak in this manner. For to this very day the Corinthians veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, the disciples of the apostles confirmed. [Tertullian, The Veiling of Virgins The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4 pp. 27-29,33]
Clement of Alexandria, an elder writing from Egypt around the year 190, counseled:
“Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happens to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled.” [Clement, The Instructor 3.12]
Hippolytus, a leader in the church at Rome around the year 200, compiled a record of the various customs and practices in that church from the generations that preceded him. His Apostolic Tradition contains this statement:
And let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering. [Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition
In summary, the early Christians practiced exactly what 1 Cor. 11 says: Men prayed with their heads uncovered. Women prayed with their heads covered. Nobody disputed this—regardless of where they lived—Europe, Mid-East, North Africa, or the Far East.
This written evidence of the course of performance of the early Christians is corroborated by the archaeological record. The pictures we have from the second and third centuries from the catacombs and other places depict Christian women praying with a cloth veil on their heads.
So the historical record is crystal clear. It reveals that the early generation of believers understood the head covering to be a cloth veil—not long hair. As Tertullian indicated, even the women who did not wish to follow Paul’s teaching were not claiming that Paul was talking about long hair. Rather, they simply wore a small cloth in minimal obedience to his teaching. Nobody in the early Church claimed that Paul’s instructions were merely a concession to Greek culture. Nobody claimed that they had anything to do with prostitutes or pagan priestesses. Such claims are merely inventions of the modern church. –David Bercot, Scroll Publishing
The information above on the subject of head coverings makes it quite clear that the Apostle Paul intended this to be a teaching that the whole Church should follow all the time. The only question to ask yourself now is are you going to follow a teaching that has now been revealed to you that is in the Word of God. It’s your choice. But the Word of God is clear on the matter!
Mr. Bercot’s entire study on this subject can also be found on YouTube at the following address: