Question & Answer Forum

What is the significance of the two head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11?

Paul develops only two of the three spheres of headship he introduces in verse three. By engaging in activity within the assembly with a covered head, a man dishonors Christ, his head (v. 4). That is the first sphere of headship. By engaging in activity within the assembly with an uncovered head, the woman dishonors the man, her head (v. 5). That is the second sphere of headship. At that point, Paul adds, “For that is even all one as if she were shaven.” He is clearly teaching two head coverings for the woman: her natural covering, long hair; her temporary or cultural covering (whatever form of woman’s head covering is acceptable or normal in her culture), otherwise an uncovered head (v. 5a) and a shaved head (v. 5b) are exactly the same thing and the last part of the verse is a meaningless repetition (impossible!). In what way, then, are the uncovered head and the shaven head “even all one”? One possible answer is that dishonor (v. 5) or shame (v. 6) are the result of both. A difficulty, though, arises from noting that the one dishonors Christ and the other dishonors the woman. Further, the woman has chosen to uncover her head in the first case, but “shaven” is passive, indicating that someone else has chosen to shame her by making her shaved or shorn.

A second, more tenable view is that an uncovered head and a shaved head are equivalent in violating the same truth, the truth of headship as established by God. A woman’s long hair expresses a headship God manifested at creation: the man is the head of the woman. The cultural covering is part of a double symbol; it requires the uncovered head of the man and the covered head of the woman. Together these symbols display a headship that results from Christ’s incarnation and redemption. He is head of the man and the assembly honors that headship by the uncovered head of the man – honoring his head, Christ – and the covered head of the woman – further giving Christ honor by covering her head, the man.

The two coverings relate to the two spheres of headship Paul develops in this passage. A woman’s long hair expresses that not she, but the man has headship. This is a personal and permanent covering. Her cultural covering must be paired with the man’s uncovered head to display that Christ, not man, has headship over the man. This is a cultural and congregational (because it requires others to present this paired symbolism) covering. Further, in the context (vv 2, 17), Paul connects his remarks about headship with his teaching about the Breaking of Bread, “when ye come together in the church.” Third, the cultural covering is a “church” matter because the assembly is designed by God as a “pillar . . . of the truth” (1Ti 3:15), in this case, the incarnation and redemption truth of Christ’s headship over the man.

D. Oliver

Must sisters cover their heads at weddings and funerals?

No. The Scriptures teach that “cultural head coverings” are part of the testimony when the assembly comes together. Weddings and funerals are not assembly meetings. If a sister chooses to wear a hat, it is unbecoming for any believers to belittle her for her ostensible failure to grasp that this occasion is not an assembly gathering. Nor is the sister who wears this covering indicating that, because of this, she is more spiritual than those who choose not to wear a head covering.

A case can be made that it is advisable for sisters to wear head coverings because the reading of and speaking from the Word of God at these social occasions is related to the assembly’s testimony. Also, a sister may see the value of letting others who do not attend the assembly gatherings know that the assembly still carries out the Bible’s teaching about head coverings, although many other congregations have discontinued that practice. On the other hand, some make the case that sisters with their head coverings unnecessarily alienate unbelievers by making them feel uncomfortable. In either case, the choice is personal. A sister may make either choice with the purpose of honoring the Lord. Romans 14, verse 6 is relevant to this issue.

D. Oliver

Should a Christian bride-to-be wear a head covering?

The apparent viewpoint behind this question is that a head covering on the bride expresses that she submits to the new headship relationship she is entering in marriage. In addition, some may suggest that the bride’s head covering honors God’s establishment of headship in marriage. These are interesting and valuable thoughts, but applying these principles as a mandate for a bridal head covering is beyond the Bible’s teaching. The Scriptures do not mandate a bridal head covering.

Many regard a bridal veil as an expression of modesty, perhaps supporting this from Genesis 24:65. Upholding modesty is very important in our culture, but this passage hardly establishes a mandate. If the bride chooses to wear a head covering to honor the Lord, He knows and appreciates her motive. If she chooses not to wear a head covering, she has not sinned. This is a matter of personal choice.

Such matters should never be divisive among believers!

D. Oliver

Is the Christian bride’s long hair a sufficient head covering for her wedding?

Yes. The Scriptures only instruct a sister to wear a head covering when the assembly has come together. This, once again, is a personal choice.

A sister’s long hair is her permanent expression of the headship of the man (see question 1). If her behavior during and after the wedding indicates that she respects the headship of her new husband, this is consistent with the “message” her long hair gives. Apart from that, she is disobedient to God and disturbs the beauty of His plan.

D. Oliver