The passage in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, which covers covering, has been the subject of a long-standing confusion, even apparently for the translators, and also for my fellowship, my wife and myself. I think it is still relevant to think on this topic as Paul writes: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.” In other words, Paul is concerned that this tradition (action) as well as teaching is continued without alteration, in his absence.My wife and I prayed to the Lord for wisdom, and I believe He answered. The main difficulty was in the two alternative translations of verses 4-7:
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair dishonors her head—she is just like one of the “shorn women.” 6 If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair; but since it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. 7 A man ought not to have long hair…
The essential question at this stage is: which one makes sense?
Looking at version 2, verse 5: it basically says that if a woman has no hair- she has no hair… this reads like an unnecessary tautology: something that is just obviously true, like saying: if I paint this house red, it will be red. This hardly sounds like sound biblical direction. Whereas in version 1, the same verse reads such that if a woman has not covered her head when praying or prophesying (i.e. with something over her hair) it is as shameful as if she had no hair. Now we might not like this (it took our family some getting used to for all of us) but at least the words make sense! Verse 6 in version 2 reads essentially: if a woman has “no covering” [of hair] then she has short hair (another truism) but then advises she should have long hair. Version 1 again makes more sense, suggesting that if having short hair would be a shame (which Paul says is “dishonour”), so should having no covering when praying/prophesying*.
Verses 14-15 tell us: “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” In other words, in the natural way that men and women have different hair-cuts the world over, with women generally having longer hair: this is a sign of a covering that God has provided.
Verse 3 reads “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” This is a fact which can not be bartered away to feminism, because men and women who have given themselves to Christ have both given away their own self-authority back to the God who made them: the Lord Jesus Christ. This is made clear in the same passage:
“For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Notice how both the interdependence of man and woman are emphasised (verses 8-9 and 11 woman from man and for man, verses 11-12 man from woman) along with the ultimate sovereignty of God (verse 12).
Paul clearly believes his point is clear and states: 13 “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” I think if we choose the translation option that makes sense (we can safely assume God knows what he is talking about), then we can answer Paul’s question for ourselves, and since the Holy Spirit will not contradict Himself, we can be sure that the command of the Lord will not have changed since Paul’s time. Paul ends with the somewhat sombre: “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” He is basically laying down the gauntlet and saying there is no other acceptable way!
There are no directions on what the covering has to be: so anything from a shawl to a “hoodie” to a hat or anything else that seems right probably is. It should certainly be something comfortable! Incidentally a total stranger from another country recognised my wife as a sister in Christ because of her head covering, and commented on how nice it was to be able to discern a sister from anywhere. Amen!
Here is just one possible example of an excellent hat! —>
*Incidentally, women are shown to be active participants in spiritual matters, even in this passage which would cause some to label Paul as chauvinistic: they are praying and prophesying; some are hearing the Lord God speak to them!