Question & Answer Forum: Headship

In what ways do the sisters’ head coverings and silence honor the Lord in the assembly?

The head coverings in the assembly are the subject of the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 (vv 3-16). The Spirit of God introduces the passage by itemizing three spheres of headship: the head of every man is Christ, the head of the woman is the man, the head of Christ is God. At the end of 1 Corinthians 14, the Spirit clearly teaches the silence of the sisters in the assembly (vv 34, 35). This New Testament teaching is consistent with Old Testament revelation: “but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (v 34 ESV). This likely refers not to the regulations associated with the Mosaic law, but to the Bible’s first five books, which the Lord referred to as “the Law” (Luke 16:16; 24:44). The supporting passage goes as far back as Genesis 2. There God gave Adam the responsibility of keeping the garden, forbearing from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and naming the animals (vv 15-20). Then God gave Eve to Adam to complete him (vv 18, 20b-24). God demonstrated the truth of headship in giving responsibility specifically to Adam for a role that he and Eve were intended to fulfill together (Gen 1:26, 28). This male leadership is the reason the men pray audibly and the sisters remain silent. Headship then is the underlying truth expressed in the silence of the sisters and the head coverings of both the sisters and the brothers.

In dealing with head coverings, the Spirit says that in assembly functions the covered head of the man dishonors his Head (1Cor 11:4) and the uncovered head of the sister dishonors her head (v 5). The covered or uncovered head of the sisters or brothers refers to their physical head, which is symbolic. The dishonored head refers to their ordained head: God has ordained that the head of the man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man. The covered head of the man dishonors Christ. The uncovered head of the woman dishonors males. In the assembly, the man then uncovers his head to honor Christ, and the woman covers her head to honor the males. Both actions recognize a sphere of headship which God has established.

The end of verse five equates a woman’s uncovered head with a shaved head. This, first of all, necessitates two different head coverings. If the hair were the missing covering of her head, the statement would be redundant. But in what way is it the same if a sister doesn’t wear a temporary head covering (one she puts on and takes off) and shaves off the permanent head covering, her hair? These two involve a very different result in appearance and in substance, but, in the context, they must both represent the same truth – the truth of headship. It is unlikely that they both represent the exact same truth of headship, because then only one of these coverings would be needed. The more likely possibility is that both express headship, but each represents a different sphere of headship. In society, her long hair expresses that she recognizes the headship God established for her: “the man is the head of the woman.” In the assembly, the men by their uncovered head (no temporary covering) express the truth of another sphere of headship that God established: “the head of every man is Christ.” In the assembly, the woman wears an additional (temporary) head covering to display that, where the headship of Christ is on display, it is an honor for the males that their headship is veiled. Is it possible that, in effect, the sisters’ temporary head coverings express that the men, all of whom have headship, are bowing in submission (as in Joseph’s family Gen 37:9, 10) to acknowledge the transcendent headship of Christ?

The chief significance of a sister’s (temporary) head covering (and of the missing temporary head covering of the men) is that it honors Christ, which is the wonderful intention and privilege of all assembly testimony. Both the temporary and permanent (male short hair and female long hair) head coverings have another significance. The passage speaks of three spheres of headship, but only deals with two: the headship of males and of Christ. However, this mention that the head of Christ is God reminds us that the two spheres of headship that the passage highlights are of equal significance to God as His responsibility for the well-being and honor of Christ, a matter of highest significance in heaven. In fact, God has stamped every purpose that He will accomplish with His imprimatur, headship. “The Father loveth the Son and hath committed all things into His hands” (John 3:35). He has given responsibility for (what headship is) “all things” to His Son. Therefore, maintaining this Biblical order for head coverings honors headship itself, which is God’s means of bringing ultimate honor and glory to His Son.

What a great privilege we have by these head coverings and by the sister’s silence to share in honoring Christ by these displays of headship!

D. Oliver

Are the men who pray in the assembly responsible before God to express the sisters’ spiritual concerns?

Only the males praying audibly in the assembly expresses male headship, as 1 Corinthians 14 teaches (vv 34-35). Since headship and leadership are inseparable, this means that the males are functioning in a leadership role, praying on behalf of the entire assembly. When the assembly in Jerusalem prayed (Acts 4:24-30), “they (plural) lifted up their voice (singular)” (v 24). The entire assembly prayed, but one voice was audible. A man who prays in the assembly should therefore be sensitive to the needs and desires of all who form a part of the assembly. One man cannot express the desires of every heart, but each brother who prays bears the responsibility of expressing burdens which concern both his own heart and also the hearts of others. The total of the prayers in the prayer meeting should encompass the concerns of all. The predictable “bus tour prayers” hardly meet this criterion when making the same familiar “stops” like clockwork from week to week. Sisters should be able to leave the assembly’s prayer meeting (1Tim 2:1-8) with a sense that their burdens have contributed to the audible prayers of the assembly and that others in the assembly share in their spiritual concerns. This would be an expected outcome when those who lead in pray are praying “in the Spirit” (Eph 6:18). This would cause a visitor to acknowledge that “God is in you of a truth” (1Cor 14:25).

D. Oliver