In 1 Corinthians 11, God gives the command that a woman is to cover her head when praying or prophesying and that a man is to have his head uncovered. The focus of the entire passage is on the covered or uncovered head. Nothing is commanded or suggested concerning the style, color, or size of the woman’s or man’s headcovering. It is significant that God does not specify a style, a color, or size of headcovering.
Because God does not command a specific style, color, or size of head covering, it is important that the church does not add to God’s Word and require a specific style, color, or size. Some churches have specified a style, color, and size thinking that it would prevent the people of the church from discarding the headcovering. That is human reasoning and is a false teaching. Do not fall for it. God warns us that adding to His commands does the opposite, it causes people to disobey His commands. Deuteronomy 4:2 “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” God also commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and not turn from what God commanded either to be more conservative, or strict nor to be more liberal, or “progressive” than the command. Joshua 1:7 “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.”
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees over and over for going beyond what God had commanded and requiring the people in their “church” to do more than what God commanded. It is easy for us to see how adding to God’s commands did not result in the Pharisees following God’s commands better, and did not result in a closer relationship to God. The result of adding to God’s commands was that they did not recognize God (Jesus) when He came to them in person. They thought Jesus could not be God because He did not obey their additions to God’s Word. The result of the Pharisees adding to God’s commands was pride, arrogance, hypocrisy, disobedience, and ultimately in rejecting Christ. Most of them are spending eternity in Hell. Adding to God’s commands and being “more conservative” is disobedience to God’s command and is just as much sin as taking away from the command. Learn from the mistakes of the Pharisees and do not add to God’s commands in the New Testament, including the headcovering command.
Adding to God’s commands results in bondage to the additions to the commands. Jesus said about the Pharisees: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matthew 23:4) Conservatives have done the same thing with the headcovering today in adding burdens to the headcovering command that take away the glory of the woman that do not need to be followed. There is freedom and joy in God’s commands, not bondage.
Should the headcovering cover the face?
Several people brought to my attention that Strong’s Dictionary gives the definition for covered in 1 Corinthians 11:6,7 as “to cover wholly”. Does it mean that the face and all the hair is to be covered like Muslim women do?
This is the only place in the New Testament that this Greek word is used. Therefore it is important that we don’t lean too heavily on one person’s definition for the word. There are four different Greek words used here in 1 Corinthians 11 in referring to covering the head. In addition there are a number of other Greek words used throughout the New Testament that mean to cover or to veil. The four Greek words used in this passage are:
- Covered (verse 4) – #2596 κατά kata
- Covered ( verses 6,7) – #2619 κατακαλύπτω katakaluptō
- Covering (verse 15) – #4018 περιβόλαιον peribolaion
- Uncovered (verses 5,13)– #177 ακατακάλυπτος akatakaluptos
It is important to note that in commanding a woman to cover her head, God did not use one of two other Greek words that are used in the New Testament that clearly mean to cover the face.
- Cover – #4028 περικαλύπτω perikaluptō to cover all around, that is, entirely (the face, a surface): – blindfold, cover, overlay. Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries. This Greek word is used in Mark 14:65 “And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.”
- Veil – #2571 κάλυμα kaluma a cover, that is, veil: – vail. Strong’s Greek Dictionary. This word is used in 2 Corinthians 3:13 “And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished:”
If God would have intended women to cover their face, He would have made it clear by using one of these other words. If women had to cover their face it would also raise another problem as well. I Corinthians 11 is addressed to all women, not just married women – “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered”. How would a young man know if he wanted to marry a young lady if she always had her face covered? He wouldn’t even know what she looked like.
Another indicator that God is not requiring women to cover their face is that pictures of the early church show women with veils that do not cover the face. Taking the above information and the information that we find under the next question about covering all the hair, it seems clear that God is not requiring a woman to cover her face.
Does the Head Covering Need to Cover All the Hair?
God does not state in I Corinthians 11 that all of the woman’s hair needs to be covered. Instead He says that her long hair is a glory to her. 1 Corinthians 11:15 “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” If a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, then the long hair has to be seen. There is no glory in a woman having long hair if all of her hair is covered and no one sees it.
There are several other verses that also shed light on this question and indicate to us that all the hair does not need to be covered. In 1 Timothy 2:9 God tells us: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” If all of a woman’s hair was covered, this command for a woman not to use elaborate hair styles would not be necessary. We see the same thing in 1 Peter 3:3 where God tells us “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;” God does not require that all of a woman’s hair be covered. She does not have to conceal all of her hair.
The size of the head covering is not specified by God. At the same time, something that is small, such as a bow, does not cover enough of the head to really be called a head covering. Something that is small becomes a hair accessory rather than a head covering. A covering over a bun of hair on the back of the head is a hair covering but because it is attached on the back of the head or at the base of the neck it does not really “cover” the head.
The command in scripture is to cover the head, not necessarily all the hair. God commands a woman to wear her hair long and not cut it short. God does not specify that a woman needs to wear her hair up. Whether a woman wears her hair up or lets it hang down is a matter of her and her husband’s choice if she is married. When a church specifies that the woman’s hair has to be worn up, it is adding to God’s command and the church is in disobedience to God’s Word.
The Style of the Head Covering
The purpose of the command in 1 Corinthians 11 is not to take away the glory of the woman or to make her ugly or unattractive. The purpose of the command is to do the opposite. It makes her more attractive by helping her have a meek and quiet spirit. “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. 5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: 6 Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (1 Peter 3:3-6)
The purpose of the woman’s covered head is not to bring shame but honor. God says that the shame instead occurs when a woman does not cover her head, and that by not covering her head she brings shame and dishonor to her husband. The first thought is that that is not true today in our society. However, it is true today. Women who do not wear a headcovering are much more likely to divorce their husbands, to belittle their husbands, to dishonor their husbands, and to fight with their husbands, to argue with their husbands and ultimately bring shame to themselves and their husbands.
The legislating of specific styles of headcoverings by the Amish and Mennonite groups has resulted in the perception that a headcovering makes a woman look unattractive, old fashioned, or a misfit in society. Rather than being creative and designing attractive styles of headcoverings, many women have instead chosen not to follow God’s command and are not covering their heads.
Let us put aside our preconceived notions of what a headcovering should look like. God has given us a lot of freedom in the style, color, and size of the woman’s headcovering by not commanding specifics. Just as you would not think of wearing the exact same color, fabric, and style of dress or blouse every day, neither is it necessary to wear the exact same color, fabric, or style of headcovering every day or for every occasion. It is appropriate that the headcovering match or complement the dress or blouse and skirt that is worn that day. Not only is it appropriate, but it is also important that a woman use a number of different styles and colors of headcoverings so that she does not fall into the trap or lead others into the trap of the conservative groups of going beyond the command and making the headcovering itself the symbol rather than the covered head.
There are a number of different general styles that can be used to cover the head. For example: hat, cap, scarf, bandana, doily, veil, or bonnet. Within each of these broad categories there is room for a lot of variation and creativity using various colors, fabrics, variations of styles, trims, ribbons, bows, appliqués, etc. Ask God to guide you in what you should wear and to give you creativity in designing your headcoverings.
Not every headcovering is necessarily appropriate for a Christian woman to wear. The headcovering needs to follow God’s other commands for a woman’s clothing for example: “not gold, or pearls, or costly array” (1 Timothy 2:9) A Christian woman should not wear a head covering that would identify her with sin, wickedness, immorality or non-Christian religions. Nor should the headcovering identify her with Christian groups who are adding to the Word of God.
It is not the style, color, or size of a head covering that is most important. What is most important is that the Christian woman covers her head in obedience to Christ’s command. God has allowed us a lot of flexibility and creativity in how to carry out this command. We do not have to follow the styles of the early church or others in the past. Ask God to give you creativity in regard to how you cover your head so that you can do so in an attractive and appropriate manner. Others are watching you. It is important that they see that obeying God’s command to cover your head is a joy and a blessing; not a burden, a disgrace, or old fashioned.
For a few ideas of different styles of headcoverings, check out the “Stores” page at The Headcovering Directory.