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Head covering is a very visible aspect of assembly practice and often one of the first things that visitors comment on. The practice is rarely observed among evangelical Christians. In this episode, I want to examine the biblical evidence for head covering and address some of the common objections to it.

Assembly Meetings are In View

Currently the head covering discussion inside assemblies is often focussed on what is an assembly meeting and what is not. I do not intend to address this issue here. It may be useful to do that in the future but for now I am concerned that this practice has become a force of habit more than something we do out of doctrinal conviction.

Strengthening assembly practice by teaching Biblical principles for gathering is one of the core purposes of Oversight Today.

As we come to the practice of head covering we are going to be looking into 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Likely the first question that may come up is: what is the context for practicing head covering? Is just in the gatherings of the local church? Or does it expand to the home sphere as well?

1 Corinthians is an epistle written to a local church and intended to be shared with other local assemblies that gather to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2).

Throughout the epistle the Lordship of Christ is exalted as His title is used in many places. This fits with the gathering purpose taught in Matthew 18:20: we gather to the Lord Jesus Christ in our respective localities.

As you look into chapter 11 you see that praying and prophesying are happening. While prayer is common in the home, the gift of prophesy was largely expressed in local church gatherings throughout Acts. Furthermore, in the second half of chapter 11 you have the Lord’s supper which is very clearly an assembly meeting. Chapter 12 deals with gifts in the local church. Chapter 14 talks about the conduct of those gifts in the local church and of visitors who come to the assembly and observe.

Hence, it seems very reasonable to conclude that the application of the truth of head coverings is for the gatherings of the local assembly.

Some have chosen to extend the practice to their homes. This is not unbiblical or unreasonable, but as far as I can tell it is an extrapolation beyond the teaching of chapter 11. In some cases, sisters keep their heads covered all the time so that they can pray any time without fear of being without a covering. Of course, by virtue of the same reasoning you would expect a brother to never cover his head. Further, you would also want to carefully consider that the same core principles in head covering apply to the silence of sisters, so, to follow the thinking to its fullest extent the sister wearing a head covering everywhere would also need to refrain from speaking everywhere.

I would not take this conviction away from anyone, although it is not one that our family feels is required of us by God, nor does it appear to be based on sound interpretation.

But I do want to make the point that it is very clear that head covering is certainly to be practiced in the gatherings of a local assembly.

Exposition of Head Covering in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

The Traditions

“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” 1 Corinthians 11:2 (NKJV)

When Paul refers to traditions like this, he is speaking of doctrine that he or another apostle has taught to God’s people. A great example of this is 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (KJV).

In contrast, when he is speaking of traditions in the sense of non-biblical values, he explicitly identifies those as the traditions of men (e.g., Colossians 2:8).

With this understanding, we can be confident that the teaching of this passage comprises doctrine that the Apostle Paul taught in every New Testament assembly. Indeed, this letter to the Corinthians is also addressed to “all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2, ESV).

This is important to note so that we understand that head covering was not just a practice that was unique to the church in Corinth. Rather, it is intended for all gatherings of the Lord’s people.

Physical Head and Spiritual Head (v.3-7)

3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, 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 or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 1 Corinthians 11:3-7 (NKJV)

Verse 3 describes headship in the spiritual realm. Headship is a term used to describe authority structures in the New Testament. The assignment of the authority concept to the head covering is explicit in verse 10 of this chapter where it says, “…the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…”.

Headship is seen in a global sense and a local sense. In the global context of the church which is His body (i.e., all believers), Christ is the head (Colossians 1:18). In other words, He has authority over His body (again, all believers).

In the context of the local church, this headship is illustrated through the uncovered heads of men and the covered heads of women. Thus, spiritual truth is made visible in the local assembly through physical uncovering and covering.

Authority is Not Superiority

Since the head of every man is Christ the spiritual truth is clear: Christ has authority over men. Likewise, in the functioning of assembly meetings men are given authority over women: they are called to lead and when they do so, Christ is exalted. Further, verse 3 states that God has authority over Christ.

In North American culture, the concepts of superiority and domination are closely linked to authority. However, the statement that “the head of Christ is God” should remove these innate cultural reactions. God is not morally or divinely superior to Christ; nor did He dominate our Lord. Rather, the Lord Jesus chose a role of functional subordination: He chose to operate in submission to His Father without any relinquishment of deity or dignity.

By the same token, the concepts of superiority and domination should not be inferred from the statement that “the head of woman is man”. In an assembly, the men do not boss the women around. The authority does not distill from superiority. The authority only exists because it was given by God. Headship is not about worth or superiority.

Having said that, there is inferiority in the headship of man to Christ. But that inferiority is not due to headship itself; rather, it is due to the fact that He is the Creator and we are the creature.

Remember: the truth of headship relates to authority. Thus, when a man does not function as a leader (i.e., is inaudible) in priesthood in the assembly, he is taking the role of a woman. And when a woman functions as leader (i.e., audibly) in priesthood, she is taking the role of a man. This represents a disruption in divine order.

Connecting the Physical to the Spiritual

If you are just learning the principle of headship and how to interpret 1 Corinthians 11, it may be helpful to take a pen and mark the letter “P” or the letter “S” above each use of the word “head” in verse 4 and 5. Allow me to illustrate:

Physical Head Covering or Spiritual Head Covering

So wearing a physical cover on one’s physical head is a symbolic expression of the honouring or dishonouring of a spiritual head.

Again, allow me to illustrate. When neither gender’s physical head is covered, then both Christ (symbolized in the man’s head) and man (symbolized in the woman’s head) are revealed. When her head is uncovered (v.5), man’s glory is in competition with Christ’s glory (this dishonours men), and the symbol of his authority is absent (v.10) from the assembly. It symbolizes both rebellion for her (against authority) and rebellion for him (his glory vs. Christ’s glory). This is unbiblical:

No head covering

Conversely, when the proper biblical order is followed, a sister’s covered head represents the concealment of male glory (v.7) but the presence of male authority (v.10). Likewise, his uncovered head represents the uncovering of the image and glory of God (v.7) and the presence or visibility of Christ’s authority (v.4) in the assembly. His authority is subject to the authority of Christ. This is biblical:

Sisters with Head Coverings

 

However, if his head is covered, the authority of Christ in the assembly is concealed and the image and glory of God is hidden. This is also unbiblical:

Brothers with heads covered: Christ is hidden, man is revealed.

 

An Appeal to Nature

The symbol of headship is extended from the natural realm to the spiritual realm in v.5b-6: “for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.” (NKJV).

From my anecdotal observation, it is a nearly universal principle that female baldness is embarrassing. And truly, my heart goes out to sisters who have experienced the loss of this feminine virtue to medical problems, aging or other causes. Also the hair of many women in African cultures cannot practically be grown to great lengths, as far as I can tell. But the shaved or shorn in this verse is not in reference to short hair so no discrimination or embarrassment is necessary. The shaved and shorn of v.5 and 6 are right down to the scalp.

Those echoes of shame from nature carry over to the spiritual realm: the failure to cover her head inverts the proper order of the spiritual realm. Again, her uncovered head show man’s glory to be in competition with Christ’s and man’s authority to be absent.

The argument from nature is paralleled by the inverted order in the Garden of Eden when Eve took the fruit. She chose to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5) and take leadership while Adam was “with her” (Genesis 3:6). See the parallel? She was competing for glory and ignoring divinely ordered authority by making the decision ahead of Adam and in his presence. Profound disaster followed.

That is why the practice of this doctrine matters to God. The assembly illustration of headship in the uncovered head of the man and the covered head of the woman is a restoration of divine order. Divine order that has been missing since creation.

Ensuring Equality in Headship (v.8-12)

8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 (NKJV)

One of the things that I love about the Christian faith, in contrast to most other belief systems, is the equality and dignity that it extends to women. This is clarified again in this section of the chapter.

Verses 8 and 9 explain divine precedent. They do not articulate God’s valuation of the worth of men versus women. Verse 8 explains how Eve was created: put simply, Adam did not come from Eve but Eve came from Adam. She was created after him and from him. Verse 9 paraphrased says that Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve for Adam. She was created to help him. God could have done it the other way around. However, He did it this way. There is no suggestion of inferiority and this should not be construed as sexism. If anything, verse 9 reiterates the incompleteness of Adam without Eve: he needed her!

What About the Angels?

Verse 10 is central to our understanding of the entire passage.

We have already mentioned creation. Let us go back again for a moment, and maybe even a little further back than that.

Angels, mentioned here in verse 10, witnessed the fall of Lucifer. You can read about this in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. Angels witnessed the rebellion of Lucifer against the authority and glory of God.

Note that there are echoes of Lucifer’s rebellion found in Eve’s fall as well. Lucifer said “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14 ESV) and then later told Eve “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Angels witnessed a repeat as once again God’s highest created beings chose to rebel against His authority and attempt to match His glory.

In Biblical interpretation the principal of first mention is often germane. The very first work given to an angel to do is found in Genesis 16:9 where an angel is instructed to tell a woman (Hagar) to return and submit to the authority structure of the household she had fled from.

Today, in your assembly, angels who have witnessed a long history of violated headship are given the opportunity to witness voluntary headship through the uncovered heads of men and the covered heads of women.

This is a compelling reminder that as overseers, the reasons why we gather the way we do have far more significance than what we can just see in front of us. The local assembly, functioning biblically through our teaching and service, gives testimony to the redemptive work of Christ in restoring what has been lost since creation. This is particularly evident in the practice of head coverings.

Equality Reasserted

Just in case there should be any lingering concern about superiority, the Apostle makes sure that we understand that men and women have equal worth in God’s assembly.

Interdependence is the lesson of verse 11. Both men and women are equally needed in order to display the truth of headship. Might I suggest we use caution around our language? We often emphasize just the head covering of our sisters. Fair enough: theirs is the more visible demonstration of this truth as an uncovered male head is unremarkable in our culture.

However, even in the title for this article I referred to “head coverings”. Yet, let us acknowledge that the truth of “head uncovering” is just as vital as the truth of “head covering”. Both are equally necessary and are complementary actions. We show consistency and fairness towards both genders by upholding the obedience of the two roles equally.

Unfortunately, paternalistic notions may linger in some of our hearts. Even if a misogynistic person were to say, “Yes, but still Eve came from Adam and so she really is a second class human” they are confronted with verse 12. There, the Apostle acknowledges the created order but glibly points out that apart from the unique ability of women to carry babies to term and successfully deliver them, there would be no men. “Man also comes through woman”, he says. Both are needed for procreation.

Despite the difference in authority, men and women are of equal worth and are interdependent. And ultimately, we all find our source in God (v.12).

Final Appeal

13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 (NKJV)

Verse 13 is an appeal to reason: if a woman’s uncovered head symbolizes human glory attempting to compete with divine glory and rebellion against divine authority, is that proper?

The assumed answer is, “No.”

Again, the Apostle turns to the natural realm to identify the dishonour associated with a man’s long hair, and the glory to a woman who has long hair.

Outside of the assembly is the natural realm. In that sphere, a sister can demonstrate headship with long hair and a man can demonstrate headship with short hair. In the assembly, this headship is shown with a physical head covering for sisters and the removal of physical head coverings for men (a careful reading of verse 6 shows there is a physical covering beyond the hair).

Now: for a sister who is unable to grow her hair long, for whatever reason: is she rebelling? Not at all. We must understand that this is the day of grace and so the length that she feels she can manage is long enough. We brothers need to be cautious not to put more pressure on our wives and daughters than the world already puts on them to look a certain way. I will speak to the “how long is long?” question below.

This issue of hair length (for men and women) is an illustration from nature. Note that verse 14 to the first half of 15 are actually a question, not a command.

Without stipulating any conditions on the length of her hair, in verse 15 the Apostle simply states that “her hair is given her for a covering”. Again, there is no doctrine present in this: it is an observation from nature. We lose sight of the Apostle’s argument if we immediately get caught up in the issue of hair length.

The Apostle Paul is illustrating from nature that the principle of headship is evidenced both in general revelation (we see it in creation as a norms associated with hair length) and in special revelation (the doctrine he has just taught in verses 2-14 regarding head coverings).

This is further evidence that the truth of head covering taught in 1 Corinthians 11 is a valid practice for 21st century Christianity. For this reason, it is doctrine that should be taught from time to time in our assemblies. Especially in a world that rejects divine authority and promotes human glory.

Things I Haven’t Figured Out

Having gone through the teaching of this passage in 1 Corinthians, there still remains some more challenging questions. These are areas where I have some convictions or at least understanding but I am not dogmatic.

Certainly, as we go through the Word of God it behoves us to be assertive where the Scriptures are assertive. To be adamant where the Word of God is adamant. But too often, we are adamant and assertive where the Scriptures are not. We do well to be more tentative in these areas, some of which come to the place of personal convictions (Romans 14) rather than apostolic doctrine.

#1: Praying & Prophesying

The reference to a woman praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5 is a challenge to understand.

1 Corinthians 14:34 gives clear instruction that women should keep silent in the churches and the verse there makes reference to the principle of authority again. Without diverting to a defence or explanation of the silence of sisters, allow me just to assume that we take that passage at face value.

What then of the praying and prophesying in chapter 11?

I have heard two explanations of this, I will share them and tell you which I prefer.

Paul Will Deal with That Later

The first explanation, which is the more common one, is that sisters in the Corinthian assembly were actually participating audibly in prayer and in prophesying.

The Apostle Paul was aware of this and believed it was unbiblical. Not wanting to confabulate his teaching on head coverings, he chose to singularly focus on head coverings in chapter 11 and simply leave the issue until an appropriate place later on in his letter (chapter 14).

And so he acknowledges what is happening in verse 5 and does not sidetrack onto the silence issue until chapter 14.

Corporate Participation

The second explanation, which is less common, is that the sisters were indeed praying and prophesying but not audibly.

How is that possible?

The context of 1 Corinthians 11 is made very obvious in the second part of the chapter and certainly even within the scope of the epistle at large. This is a letter from Paul giving instruction on local church practice. So the praying and prophesying are occurring in a corporate context.

Further, it is self-evident in the priesthood of all believers that one priest is acting for the congregation. So when a brother rises to pray, all pray with him.

In the teaching of a local body, as is given in 1 Corinthians 12:12ff you see the eye acting for the body, and the hand acting for the body, and so on. Again: you have one member acting for the whole.

When you go to Acts 4:23-31 you have evidence of a prayer made to God and yet it says “They raised their voice to God with one accord and said:…” Clearly, they did not recite a prayer in unison from a prayer book. So what was happening? One brother was exercising his priesthood audibly but the entire gathering was praying in a single voice.

I prefer this second interpretation because there is good evidence that when one member of the body engages in priestly service, the whole body participates. The eye sees for the body. The hand serves for the body. One brother worships at the Lord’s supper: all are worshipping. One brother prays, all are praying. On brother preaching the word of God, all are preaching.

Granted, it is a stretch to see this in the prophesying aspect (I used preaching as a contemporary example). Yet: the last time you brought somebody to your assembly who had never been before, how did you feel when the preacher was ministering from the Word of God? Yes: there is that very real feeling that if he says something silly, I will be embarrassed. Why is that? Because he is preaching for the body; it is a corporate act. I am represented in his activity even though I sit and listen.

If that’s the case, then sisters in Corinth could legitimately pray and prophesy inaudibly.

Do I feel this perspective is bullet-proof? No, but it is satisfactory for me for now. If you have a more robust explanation I would love to hear from you!

#2: How Long is Long?

Much has been made from the Greek words in this passage that translate as “hair”, “covering”, “long”, “shorn” and “shaven”. I do not intend to get into lengthy linguistic analysis here.

Let me ask you this: where in this passage is a woman explicitly instructed to leave her hair uncut? There is no instruction of this nature.

Or, where in this passage is a woman explicitly instructed to have long hair? Look carefully. There is no instruction for this either.

I read that Paul observes that it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved. I read that if a woman has long hair it is a glory to her. And I read that her hair is given to her for a covering.

Now: at the time of writing and recording my wife and my three daughters have long, beautiful hair. I love their long hair and they get a lot of compliments on it: much more so from the world than from assembly believers. But that’s by the way. My point is that I have no agenda and I am not calling for anyone to change their hair length or let go of their convictions.

If the Scriptures do not prescribe hair length, then how is a sister to decide? She is to hold her own conviction before God in a clear conscience. This is a matter that falls into the scope of Romans 14. It is your personal conviction and, per the teaching of Romans 14, neither your restraint nor your liberty are to be imposed on others. From the same chapter, neither your judgment nor your disregard are to be imposed on others who believe differently than you.

Allow me to just point out that if you make the argument that untrimmed hair is evidence of headship with sisters (rather than just length) then you need hold the opposite to be true for brothers. If any trimming of hair disqualifies it from headship and makes it “short” hair, then a brother would be welcome to grow his hair out to his shoulders (or beyond) as long as he trims it. That is because you are saying that trimmed hair equals short hair and untrimmed hair equals long hair. So if you have held that the only long hair is untrimmed hair I would just ask you to reconsider before you teach that to others: your claim applies to both genders. Yet, if you wish to hold that as a personal conviction I am not qualified to judge you on that.

By the same token, if “long” hair means “as long as you can possibly grow it” then the logical corallory is that for the menfolk “short” hair means as short as you can possibly keep it.

Maybe they’ll start calling us the Skinhead Brethen…but who am I to talk? I’m not sure what “short” really means but I know I have a clear conscience however that gets defined!

#3: Should a Sister Wear a Head Covering in an Oversight Meeting?

The meeting of overseers is the only gathering of a New Testament assembly where the whole company is not present.

Occasionally, overseers will need to meet with a sister — perhaps a husband and wife — to discuss a matter. In this context, should she wear a head covering? Or, more specifically, can she participate audibly in the discussion?

I see two options here. Either you can say it is not formally an oversight meeting (so the silence and head covering issues are off the table) or you can say that God understands the situation and she is free to speak as needed but should wear a head covering because she can obey that regardless.

#4: What if a Sister Refuses to Cover Her Head?

I do not know. I have never been confronted with this issue but thought I should consider it.

I would begin by asking her if there was a difference in interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11. If so, then it is a matter of teaching through the passage, ascertaining differences, and seeking the work of the Spirit in illuminating her understanding. The same would apply to a brother who does not accept the practice of head covering or uncovering.

If it does not seem to be a matter of interpretation, but the root of the issue is deeper then shepherding her heart is required. I would be curious about how she feels and what happens for her when she covers her head or tries to. You do not know but perhaps her father was violent or verbally abusive and the idea of submitting to male authority is terrifying. I am not saying every sister who refuses to cover her head has had a father like this by any means but there must be some matter of the heart that makes it hard for her to obey God. As a shepherd and with the help of the Spirit perhaps she could be helped to find healing for the heart issue and proceed with obedience to this truth.

Traditions

#1: Timing of Covering the Head

I have heard it taught that a sister should cover her head before she leaves the house.

Again: there is no instruction given on this in 1 Corinthians 11 and so the matter falls into the domain of Romans 14.

I will say that if you hold this conviction, you should hold the complementary belief that a brother should remove his head covering before leaving the house too. Rain or shine.

As someone who bears a few weeks of minus 40 every year in central Canada, I am happy to be able to wear a warm hat from the inside of my home to the foyer of the hall. Especially since I have no hair!

#2: Transparency of Head Coverings

I once heard it taught that a head covering should not be transparent or sheer — for example, a mantilla with openings in the lace would be inappropriate. A hat with an open straw weave (the sisters need to pardon me here, I am hardly up on the lingo) would not be acceptable because it is see-through.

The reason given was that if angels could see through your head covering to your head, then your head was not covered. That is, your head must be invisible.

It sounds logical, actually. But, it begs the question: if angels cannot see through a solid hat, how can they see through the solid roof of the hall?

Remember: your head covering is a symbol. It is not functional. It is symbolic.

#3: Speaking of Fashion…

Your head covering is a symbol of authority. It is not my job as an overseer to comment on specific matters of head covering fashion. However, I think it is reasonable to ask our sisters to consider that the fashion and function of the symbol should align with the intent of the symbol.

It does need to cover the head: a narrow headband or hair clip could not legitimately be called a head covering.

Likewise, it would be counterintuitive to wear your head covering with the intent to express rebellion against the authority inherent in the symbol. Likewise, if it is worn with the intent to bring glory or attention to you personally I would suggest you may have missed the point.

An assembly functions with very few symbols, but they all point to Christ:

  • the uncovered heads of the brother, and the covered heads of the sisters
  • the emblems of the Lord’s supper
  • baptism by immersion

Hence, it would seem appropriate to be thoughtful about what you choose to wear for a head covering.

#4: Children and Head Covering

No passage teaches that our daughters, not yet in fellowship, should cover their heads.

There is no mandate for this: you can develop your own convictions before God.

For our family, we taught our daughters to wear head coverings on the basis of Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (KJV). Everything you instil into your child will be expressed as an adult. I would recommend it but as an overseer see no justification for enforcing it.

Objections

In contemporary evangelical Christianity the head covering is unusual. It is not commonly practiced and it is rarely taught. I would like to deal with some of the objections raised against the modern practice of covering and uncovering.

#1: The Head Covering was Cultural

This is the most common argument I hear.

I have not seen sufficient historical evidence to support this point. I see commentators making this claim and referring to other commentators for support until this belief is posited as self-evident.

It is not evident, never mind self-evident. Further: the exposition of 1 Corinthians 11 only makes sense if the Apostle is arguing the covering should be worn for spiritual reasons, not cultural ones.

Allow me to quote part of and reference a head coverings article from Daniel Wallace, a renown Greek scholar from Dallas Theological seminary. He says this, “The argument that a real head covering is in view and that such is applicable today is, in some respects, the easiest view to defend exegetically and the hardest to swallow practically.” He is speaking of the interpretation I have supplied above.

There are a number of parts to his article I would disagree with but on this point he hits the nail on the head. The interpretation I have given is the easiest to support Biblically but the hardest to implement if your gathering does not already practice it. Interestingly, he goes on to explain that he believes it is a meaningful symbol from Bible times and needs some sort of a corresponding symbol today. I will come back to this point in a moment.

#2: The Head Covering Subjugates Women

I think the reason why the head covering is unpopular is because it can easily be seen as a symbol of subjugation.

This concern requires a careful understanding of the “symbol of authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:10.

The authority that is taught in Scripture and modelled by Christ is not one of subjugation or oppression. One only has to look at the Saviour bathing the feet of His disciples or consider the plea of Paul to the elders from Ephesus when he commanded them to feed the flock.

Yes, authority is present. Elders have authority. Brothers have authority to lead publicly. But this authority is always grounded in responsibility towards its subjects, not domination over them.

It is true that in some assemblies authority is expressed through heavy-handed subjugation. Allow me to appeal to my fellow overseers: please consider carefully how you express authority in the local assembly. I have found myself guilty of using my authority selfishly, callously and arrogantly at times. Other times I have seen it used abusively.

If we do not deliberately model the authority of Christ and Scripture, then you and I as men will default to the kind of authority our fathers modelled. If one’s earthly father was Christ-like that should be fine, if not, one may need their mind and behaviours transformed by the word of God.

Biblical authority does not subjugate or oppress women in any context. Quite the opposite: it gives them dignity and opportunity to flourish.

#3: Any Symbol Will Do

Finally, going back to Wallace’s point, there is the thought that another symbol can be used. Perhaps a dress or a ring; something else could be chosen.

The difficulty I have with this is firstly that there is no biblical basis for choosing an alternative symbol than the head covering. Secondly, there is something very visceral and real about the connection between the physical head and the spiritual head. This type of reasoning is an accommodation and while I respect the Wallace’s embracing attitude, it defeats the clear teaching of the passage. In essence, he is pushing something doctrinal back into Romans 14 territory.

#4: This Only Applies to Married Couples

In my opinion (and this is merely an opinion), the most prominent flaw in the English Standard Version is their choice to translate the male and female nouns in the passage as “husband” and “wife” rather than “man” and “woman”.

In all fairness, I understand that this translation is within the semantic domain of the Greek words used. They can be legitimately translated either way: “man” or “husband”, and “woman” or “wife”.

I started this article talking about context. In its widest scope, the letter to Corinth is one sent to deal with local church issues, not interpersonal or marital issues. In a narrower scope, chapter 11 is local church truth. In its narrowest scope, the passage itself demonstrates a corporate principle embodied in the physical symbols of the uncovered head and the covered head. This corporate aspect clashes with the marital form of these words.

To me, it seems far more reasonable to translate them as man and woman and so to restrict it to married couples is incompatible with the overlapping contexts in which this passage is located.

Summary

The proper implementation of authority in a local assembly should result in the greatest glory being brought to God. That same authority structure also gives evidence that Christ is the centre of our gatherings. As such, this simple practice of uncovered heads for men and covered heads for women is a testimony to angels and to one another of the beauty and elegance of divine order functioning in the gathering of the Lord’s people.

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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.