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Christian Life

Q&A: Does God Expect Women to Wear Head Coverings?

Question:

Does God expect women to cover their heads whenever they pray or prophesy in public?

Answer:

This question comes from a passage in 1 Corinthians:

But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man (1 Corinthians 11:5-7).

On a first reading, it seems as though Paul is saying all women must cover their heads when they pray or prophesy in public. As always, the first thing we must remember with Paul’s letters is they were originally written to churches in specific cities that were struggling with local customs, fighting or gossiping among church members, or false teachers.

One important thing to keep in mind is that Paul doesn’t say women shouldn’t pray or prophesy in public, which indicates he is in favor of women taking an active role in ministry. In the verses before this passage, Paul introduces a hierarchy of submission: God is the head of Jesus, Christ is the head of every man and man is the head of every woman.

The first issue in this passage is modesty. In the first century, like today, a woman’s hair was very important to her–a source of vanity for some. A woman’s hair also was a source of distraction and caused lustful thoughts in men. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to make sure our conduct doesn’t cause other believers to sin.

The second issue in this passage is the focal point of worship. When we pray, prophesy or worship, our focus should be on the Lord only. In this chapter, Paul calls woman “the glory of man” and says that long hair “is a glory” to women. What Paul is trying to make clear is that the best practice for Christians is to minimize anything that distracts us from giving glory to God alone.

Since both women and men find glory in the appearance of women, Paul’s solution is that a woman should cover her head when she engages in public prayer and worship. This solution keeps both men and women from being distracted from the true object of glory and worship, our heavenly Father.

Our cultural traditions are different from those of ancient Corinth, but the message of Paul’s letter still applies to us today. Men are not as distracted by a woman’s hair today, but they are distracted by a woman’s body.

Let’s take care that we watch our appearance when we enter into group worship of God so we do not distract others from the one who deserves all of our praise and all of the glory.

How do you keep from distracting others during prayer and worship?

But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died (1 Corinthians 8:9, 11).

Written by Jenn Arman

Image: iStockphoto

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11 Comments

  1. emerald

    Posted by emerald on February 9, 2013 at 17:12

    contetious means argueing i cover my head while in the prenceses of God so thats final there should not be arguement paul was a prophet and God spoke through him

  2. vwvronee

    Posted by vwvronee on October 2, 2012 at 13:39

    I wear a head covering to church. I used to wear one almost all the time, but that is not God’s will for me anymore. Something we often forget in debating these issues is that God does speak to us personally. Personal convictions might be different for different people. As much as we each love to be right, it is still true that all Christians in all denominations can be saved as long as they believe in Jesus and His salvation, and try their best to serve God. God has spoken to me on this issue, because I have asked Him, and I would like to remind and encourage you all to do the same, not just about head covering but about anything unclear you encounter in the Bible.

  3. Project Inspired

    Posted by AshleyBaby on May 7, 2012 at 20:08

    I go to a Christian high school, and every time someone mentions this topic in Bible class, I often feel kind of lost. I could never tell if this is directed at women back then (for cultural reasons, like what Exlon said) or if it is also directed at us. From what I’ve learned so far, it seems like it really is directed to married women back then, and I don’t believe we should have to cover our heads today. However, this article is VERY true in the sense that we need to stop distracting each other. I’M even distracted when I see immodest and flashy girls around, and it often makes me feel insecure. Sometimes I see girls wearing distracting clothes or fancy hair to church (not saying that it’s bad, but there IS a limit!), and it still makes me insecure when I’m trying to worship. And I KNOW that I’m beautiful, I’m just more down-to-earth. So please, girls, lets just make sure our hearts shine brighter than our jewelry! 🙂

  4. Paris

    Posted by Paris on April 9, 2012 at 17:16

    I don’t distract others because I don’t talk during prayer and keep my voice at a lower level during worship so I don’t distract others.

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by girlofgod on April 10, 2012 at 21:25

      The Bible specifically states in Corinthians ( immediately after the part about women covering their head) that “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such customs, neither do the churches of God.” (1 Corinthians 11:16) This shows that while it is not sinful or against God for a woman to cover her head, the churchs must not be proud or contentious about it.

  5. Project Inspired

    Posted by PeacefulDove73 on April 5, 2012 at 13:34

    At my church, the females wear veils when we are at church. We take them in our purses and when we pray we put them on and keep them on until the service over. We all pray together out loud at the same time.

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by 1dolphin on April 9, 2012 at 17:21

      @ PeacefulDove73, what church do you go to that you do that???

  6. amberfishnets00

    Posted by amberfishnets00 on April 4, 2012 at 19:55

    This is so helpful! Thank you so much!

  7. Exlon

    Posted by Exlon on April 4, 2012 at 13:22

    What I learned in class about this particular issue, was that Paul was writing this specifically to that church because of the problem of women not wearing head coverings when attending. The reason it was considered a problem was because back then, married women had to cover their heads/hair in public, as a sign of being married. It’s sort of equivalent to wearing your wedding ring today. Then, some of them would go to church and take off their head coverings because they figured there was no need to, as they were all “one in Christ.” Of course, that caused some trouble among the people, and no need to guess why (there may have been some women who didn’t mind being mistaken for single).

  8. Project Inspired

    Posted by haley_nicole_4_Christ on April 4, 2012 at 12:32

    Great article, PI! 😀