I began a study on the headcovering when I was in college to find a basis that God no longer required the headcovering for today. I did not see a need for it. As I have studied the head covering in depth, I have discovered that there are many myths about the headcovering stated as truth. These false teachings are in many of the commentaries. They have been preached from the pulpit and have been passed from one Christian to another to give a “clear” understanding of what they want the Bible to say, but they have no Biblical or historical basis. They have been repeated so often that people believe them to be true and don’t verify it for themselves. After all, many of those repeating these myths have their PhD.
As a result, the church is teaching, acting, and reacting on the subject of the head veil based on faulty information. In general, I have found a lack of quality scholarly research on the headcovering.
The following are some of the more significant myths about the head covering and why they are false:
Myth #1: Only prostitutes went about with their heads uncovered and Paul did not want the Christian women associated with prostitutes.
This myth has been passed along because of a lack of good scholarly historical research. Ancient Greece and the time of Corinth under the Roman Empire have been lumped together. It would be similar to someone two thousand years from now saying what America was like in 2000 AD by studying life in colonial America.
The ancient city of Corinth with its temple prostitute system was destroyed in 146 BC. Julius Caesar restored Corinth a hundred years later. By the time 1 Corinthians was written, 200 years after the temple prostitute system was destroyed, Corinth was a thoroughly Roman city.1 Life in the Roman Empire, during this time in the first century AD, was in many ways more like society today than any other time in history. Women had a lot of “freedoms” that they did not have before. They were allowed to educate themselves, speak in public, and initiate a divorce. Women used contraceptives, practiced abortion, and exercised “sexual freedom.”2
The book of Acts mentions “chief” women in several of the cities, and women at Paul’s speech on Mars Hill. Many non-Christian women during this time did not cover their heads with a veil, although there were some who wore a veil or other head covering. Elaborate hair styles also became popular during this time.
Myth #2: The headcovering in 1 Corinthians 11 was based on cultural practices
There is no command in the New Testament where the Church is instructed to follow the practices of non-Christians. As Christians, we are not to pattern our lives after the world but after Jesus and His commands. As you can see from the description of women in the Roman Empire in the first century, the head covering teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 was not based on the Corinthian culture. Nor was it based on the Jewish culture, where both men and women covered their heads. Jewish men at that time were easily recognized by their broad brimmed hats.
The woman’s headcovering in 1 Corinthians 11 is a practice that is distinctly Christian. The command for women to cover their heads and men not to cover their heads is based on creation, not culture (v.7-10).
Myth #3: The Corinthians wore the veil because it was the “oriental” (Middle East) custom.
Part of this myth has been already addressed, but it has been perpetuated in commentaries because of an ignorance of geography. Corinth is located in Greece, which is part of Europe, not the middle east! In addition it appears that the church in Corinth consisted primarily of non-Jews. It was not a predominately Jewish church. (“Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led” [1 Corinthians 12:2]. See also Acts 18:6.)
Myth #4: The teaching of the headcovering was written (solely) to the church at Corinth.
This myth is usually given along with speculations about what was happening in the Corinthian church and why the head covering instruction was written, and why it does not apply today. This myth ignores the fact that the command about the headcovering in 1 Corinthians 11 is Scripture – the Word of God. The book of 1 Corinthians was written to all Christians, not just the Corinthians (I Cor.1:2; 11:16) It is dangerous (spiritually) for us to ignore a passage of Scripture and say it does not apply to us.
Many scholars speculate on why something was written and confidently state their speculations as facts. It is part of higher criticism. Be careful about accepting a line of reasoning as true when you see words like: “it was probably”, “evidently”, “most likely”, “obviously”, etc. It usually is the speculation of man rather than truth.
Myth #5: Paul is the one who gave this command (rather than God)
This myth attacks directly at the inspiration of Scripture. This myth is often cloaked in terms like: “what Paul was saying was”, “Paul was writing to address…” It makes commands in the Bible into doctrines of men. God, not Paul, is the author of 1 Corinthians. Paul was only the secretary, not the author of 1 Corinthians. The Holy Spirit told Paul what to write. Paul did not write on his own authority. “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37). There is no basis, historically or otherwise, to say that Paul gave this command rather than God.
Myth #6: Hair is the head covering – as in the New International Version (NIV) footnote
This is an example of twisting Scripture to make the Bible say what one wants it to say. The Greek cannot be translated as it is in the NIV footnote. Words were added to and subtracted from the Greek to get this interpretation. The NIV is not a word for word translation. There are many places where the biases of the translators comes through. This is one of them. I have not been able to find any basis in history or in the Greek for this interpretation. It is fairly clear from history and the Greek that 1 Corinthians 11 is saying that women should have two coverings – long hair and a veil.
Myth #7: This passage on the headcovering is referring solely to public worship
1 Corinthians 11 definitely includes public worship, but it does not say that this is the only place it is to be practiced. We are commanded in Scripture to pray without ceasing, not just pray in church. The early church practiced the use of the headcovering throughout the week, not just on Sunday.
This myth has been perpetuated through the biases of translators and commentators. The heading in the NIV, “Propriety in Worship” (and other headings in other translations), has been added by the translators and is not in the Greek. The Christian woman is to have her head covered anytime she approaches God, at home or in public worship. The man is to have his head uncovered when he prays at home or in public.
Myth #8: Submission makes a woman inferior to men
God addresses this myth in verses 11 & 12. “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” God tells us that both men and women are necessary and of equal importance. Husbands are not to operate independently from their wives and vice versa. Each has their God-given role that is of equal importance. Men cannot exist without women—they are born from a woman. Women cannot exist without men—they are conceived by a man. As Christians, God wants us to view both male and female as equally important, not inferior and superior.
Myth #9: A specific veiling or covering style established by the church is the only thing that truly covers the head
This myth occurs in congregations that have over-regulated the headcovering and have added commands of men to God’s command. Traditionally, Mennonites and Amish have made a certain style or styles of coverings the only valid headcovering. In doing that, a specific covering style has been made the symbol of a covered head while excluding other covered heads by calling it “protective headgear” or as “worldly”.
For example, many conservative Mennonite and Amish men disregard 1 Corinthians 11 by covering their heads most of the time with a hat. The head is not considered to be “covered” because it is not their congregation’s required style of headcovering for the women, even though the hat often covers more of the head then the woman’s covering. The Mennonite white cap style of covering has much more meaning to many Mennonites than only as a headcovering for praying or prophesying. Relatively small changes in shape, size, and strings identify and label a person as liberal or conservative. Some people use these small differences in style to judge a person’s spirituality.
It is significant that God does not specify a style of head covering or give details about how the head should be covered. Should it be a hanging veil, or a hat or cap style? God doesn’t specify. Should all the hair be covered? God doesn’t specifically say. The emphasis is on a verb, covering the head, rather than on a noun, the head covering. This is significant. By not specifying a style, God gives freedom for a variety of styles and colors of head coverings to be used. God gives freedom for the headcovering to be creative and attractive. It does not have to be old-fashioned, a drudgery, or an embarrassment.
People in the Church need to feel that the focus of the Church is first on following God’s instructions about the head covering in 1 Corinthians 11, and secondly on style. When people, especially young people, feel the focus of the Church is mainly on the style and secondarily on following 1 Corinthians 11, they will react and reject the headcovering as a false teaching or as a teaching that is not required in the Bible.
Myth #10: Women who wear headcoverings should not wear pants
This myth is taught by most denominational church groups who teach that Christian women should cover their heads. We, as Christians, are no longer under the Old Covenant Law, the Law of Moses, but under the commands that Jesus gives us in the New Testament. However, this is one place where these denominational groups go back to the Old Covenant Law and require people to follow the Old Covenant Law.
This myth is based on Deuteronomy 22:5 and an incorrect translation that women are not to wear men’s clothing. The word “man” in that verse is the Hebrew word for warrior. The Hebrew word translated “pertaineth” actually means “apparatus, armor, artillery, etc”. The verse is prohibiting women from being part of the army and prohibiting a warrior from disguising himself as a woman.
It is amazing that the myth that Christian men and women should wear distinctive clothing styles has persisted because in Bible times it was not practiced that way. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament times, the men and the women wore very similar clothing styles. Even if this command in the Old Testament was prohibiting women from wearing men’s clothing, it would no longer apply to us as Christians because we are no longer under the Old Testament Law. That command in Deuteronomy 22:5 was not restated in the New Testament. In the New Testament, neither Christian men nor Christian women are to be part of the military.
One of the big errors of conservativism in general is hanging on to the past and the way it has “always been done”. That is essentially the definition of conservatism, according to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Prohibiting women from wearing pants is hanging on to European dress styles of several hundred years ago. Today in America, with 90+% of the women wearing pants at least some of the time, it is no longer true that pants are only men’s clothing; they are also women’s clothing. Even at a distance, most women who are wearing pants can be readily identified as women.
In the New Testament, Jesus gives us a set of commands as to the distinction in dress between men and women. In I Corinthians 11, the instruction is given that Christian women are to have long hair and to cover their heads when praying or prophesying, and Christian men are to have short hair and not cover their heads when praying or prophesying. There is no other command given as to the distinction in dress styles between men and women. It is error to go back to the Old Testament Law and pull out one law and require people in a congregation or denominational group to follow it.
Another error by some church groups is that they go to the Old Testament Law in Deuteronomy 22:5 and require their women to wear dresses, but then they ignore the New Testament command in I Corinthians 11 on the distinction between men and women in covering the head and say it does not apply. Picking and choosing what the church is going to obey between Old Testament laws and New Testament commands is a mistake. Church leaders do not have the authority to hand-pick what commands in the Bible people need to obey and what they can ignore. God tells us not to go back to the Old Testament Law and require people to follow it.
“Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well, Fare ye well.” (Acts 15:24-29)
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Romans 10:4 )
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
There are numerous styles of women’s headcoverings that are worn today with pants and that do not look out of place or old fashioned. Jesus’ instruction for women to cover their heads when praying or prophesying is not as difficult a command to carry out as one can be made to feel when they look at Mennonite and Amish women as examples of what it means to cover the head.
It has been amazing to me in studying the headcovering how much we have been told by Christian sources that is not true. It appears that despite the high level of education today among Christians, many people are relying on other people’s research or opinions rather then studying things for themselves. I challenge you to study 1 Corinthians 11 and other subjects for yourself as if you were hunting for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:4). It is amazing what you will discover. Don’t ignore Christ’s commands in 1 Corinthians 11 just because “everyone else” thinks the headcovering does not apply to today.
- David Bercot, Will the Theologians Please Sit Down (Amberson, PA: Scroll Publishing Co., 2009), pp. 156-157
- Eva Cantarella, Pandora’s Daughters: The Role and Status of Women in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 140, 141, 148