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