Q: #146. When (1 Cor 11:2-16) talks about "head coverings," is this saying a woman should literally cover her head?
By: Steve Shirley
A: These verses are a bit complicated to explain, and almost require a verse by verse explanation to fully understand what is being said. But, for the sake of brevity, let me try and give an overview of how I view the "head covering" verses.
I believe that "head coverings," from the woman's viewpoint, are mainly referring to her submission to a man, and more specifically a wife to her husband. It does not mean to literally cover her head with something. However, Paul does use the local custom of Jewish women literally wearing a "head covering" to make his point.
Jewish women covered their heads in public as a sign of submission, and when they did not, it was a sign of rebellion. Paul tells us in (1 Cor 11:5) that, "every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all as if she were shaven." (1 Cor 11:6) tells us that it was a shame for a woman to have her hair shaved off. According to tradition, this is how prostitutes were often identified. Also, when the hair of men or women was shaved, it was a disgrace (Num 5:18)(Isa 7:20)(1 Chr 19:4), as well as a sign of uncleanness (Deut 21:12)(Num 6:9)(Num 8:7).
Not only does a lack of submission dishonor the man, but it also dishonors God. In the marriage relationship, it can cause the word of God to be blasphemed (Titus 2:5). God has made the man the head of the woman (1 Cor 11:3), and the wife is commanded to submit to her husband (Col 3:18)(Eph 5:22-24)(1 Pet 3:5-6). If a woman does not follow God's commands to humble themselves, they aren't submitting to God (James 4:7,10)(1 Pet 5:6)(Rom 10:3)(Ps 81:15).
However, this does NOT mean that God views a woman as less valuable than a man! God loves men and women equally. Jesus died for ALL men and women. In Christ, men and women share equally in the promises and blessings of God. But, God does make some distinctions between men and women, and one of these distinctions is that they are not positionally equal. The same can be said of Jesus' relationship to the Father. Jesus is equal to the Father (Phil 2:5-6). He IS God! However, He also submits to the Father (1 Cor 11:3)(1 Cor 3:23) (1 Cor 15:24-28)(Jn 4:34)(Jn 5:30)(Jn 6:38)(Jn 14:28). Just as Jesus positionally submits, so the woman is to positionally submit to the man.
I believe this is what Paul had in mind in other places as well in the Bible (i.e. women are to be silent in the church [1 Cor 14:34-35], and not teach [1 Tim 2:12]). It isn't that women are never to say anything or teach anyone in the church, but rather, they should not hold positions where they exert ultimate authority over men within the church. (See: Q: #338 for more on this.)
At the beginning of creation, the woman came from the man, and was created for man (Gen 2:18-24)(Gen 3:16)(1 Cor 11:9). The husband is commanded to love his his wife (Eph 5:25,28,33), and to "cover" her. He is to treat her with understanding and honor as the weaker vessel or his PRAYERS WILL BE HINDERED (1 Pet 3:7). The woman is to respect her husband (Eph 5:33), and to submit to this God-given authority, and thereby have her "head covered."