Should Women be Covered in Church? Not Unless the Men Are.
One of the issues I had as a female with God in my early faith was the head covering and silence of women in the church. These New Testament verses have been used to subvert and silence half of God’s people for entirely too long. The fact that they are even an issue with our vast current knowledge of ancient Hebrew and Greek is kind of a mystery to me. Come on folks, Mary Magdalene was commissioned by Jesus himself to deliver his message of resurrection to the disciples. Now if that isn’t preachy, I don’t know what is! But women preaching isn’t the focus here. It is the issue of the head covering that I feel is less explored. For a thorough study on women preaching, you can listen in to previous sermons from the late Dr. Pat Holliday, or go to Amazon and purchase her ebook, “Can Women Preach?” I don’t feel I have anything extra to add to her study.
But I do with the head covering. All arguments I come across are based on 1 Corinthians 11:5-7:
” And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for it is just as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.”
What are you saying, Paul? Well experts widely differ on his statement, coming to conclusions from full support to toss it to the wind. I stand firmly in the middle. Neither are true. While I don’t want to expound on this verse for very long, I will say the IVP Bible Background Commentary was integral to my understanding of it. Once the culture of women, head coverings, and harlots of the ancient time is understood, we can see that the ancients regarded head coverings as respectful (men and women) and that a shaved head was a sign of a harlot. In the culture of the day, women wore head coverings NOT because it was mandated, but because it was a cultural norm. Let me say this again, the Mosaic law DID NOT mandate head coverings for women. Any laws for it that may have existed were set by surrounding cultures, not by Yehovah or Jesus.
So perhaps you don’t agree. I’m not a biblical scholar, so I rely heavily on the experts and Holy Spirit led reading. What I do know is that the bible is written in harmony like our Lord is in harmony. If a verse seems to be speaking in direct opposition or against the flow of the rest of the bible, I can assure you that it is being interpreted incorrectly. Paul’s words speak in direct opposition. So while I hear the argument made for women being covered and the words translated into original Greek to support it, it still flies in the face of the biblical narrative. I don’t see it tied into God’s word and plans.
I’m about to discuss the issue with the head covering that no one is talking about. When something as volatile as this is brought about, the focus should be taken off the verses in question and placed on the rest of the bible. Questions such as the following should be asked:
- Did God mandate it through His word or law?
- Did Jesus speak about it?
- Do we see it supported in other areas of the bible?
Let’s go back to the beginning when male and female were created and were called good. They walked with God and talked to him (that’s prayer, people, talking to God). Did God require Eve to wear a head covering to speak to him? The answer is obviously no. They were both naked before God and unashamed. Even after the fall when they clothed themselves, there is no mention of a head covering. I believe this tradition evolved over time and culture: it could have been because of searing hot sun or perhaps covering the head became likened to humility, royalty, or reverence. We don’t know. What we do know is that sometime between the fall and ancient culture, head coverings became normal attire for women AND men. More reading on ancient men’s head coverings can be found here: (https://www.bible-history.com/sketches/ancient/mens-head-covering.html)
There are several verses for head covering in men (Esther 6:12, Jeremish 14:3-4, and Leviticus 21:10) and several for women (Genesis 24:65, Numbers 5:18 and Isaiah 47:2) in the Old Testament. While all of these indicate a head covering was used, none of them were ordered by God except one:
“And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;” Leviticus 21:10
Fascinating. So are you seeing what I am seeing? The answer to question one above. The only time head coverings are mandated through God by His word or law is for MEN for the High Priesthood. This is important. I will come back to this.
So did Jesus speak about the head covering? The answer is no.
Which leaves us with the last question, is covering women in the presence of God supported by other verses? I say no again. The Old Testament verifies that head coverings were used, but it does not refer to set rules between men and women except for the High Priest. Paul’s words stand alone on the issue in the New Testament, and the mandated covering of women goes against the rest of the bible if you think of it as anything but a cultural norm. Women were free in Christ and casting off their coverings in the early church, which was looked down upon. In what was an unheard of exultation of women in the ancient world, women and men were now sharing homes and prayer together. Women traveled with the disciples (again, unheard of. The absolute freedom and progressive nature of Christianity for women must be understood from ancient eyes looking forward, not our modern eyes looking backward). Women were in the upper room and they received the Holy Spirit right along with the men, and then they PREACHED with the men and converted the 3,000! No wonder the crowd thought they were drunk. Not only did the new Christians speak in new tongues, but men and women stood and preached in authority and power. Were the women covered through these times? Probably. But it was because of culture and not because God ordained it.
Paul preached about women being covered as he did with other issues (and here is where we can find the biblical continuity). Interestingly enough right before he spoke about the head coverings, he made his point.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” 1 Corinthians 10:23
This is the stance Paul had when issues arose in the church. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was fine. It is nothing to a Christian. But if it causes your brother to stumble, then don’t do it. Going without a head covering is fine, but since it caused an uproar in the church, please don’t do it. The same goes for us today. If you enter the church with something outlandish enough to distract from the teaching, Jesus, and the conversion of others, if that thing causes another to stumble in their faith, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. That is the only way Paul’s preaching on head coverings fits into the harmony of the bible.
I believe it can also be argued that the hair is a person’s God-given covering. When Paul says it is disgraceful for a man’s hair to be long and a woman’s hair to be short, I am also sure this is a cultural rule of the time to keep the order in the new church. I only have to point at Sampson and Adam and Eve for that. Where were Adam’s scissors to keep his hair trimmed short? Would God bless Sampson and specifically instruct him not to cut his hair if it was disgraceful?
Finally we must return to the High Priest and his instruction not to remove his covering. This was spoken by God Himself as He laid down the rules for the priesthood. So it is not shameful for a man to be covered. Here it is in God’s word. Where else do we have a high priest? The answer is in Jesus himself.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” Hebrews 4:14
“As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” Hebrews 5:6
Now the question is, did Jesus, our sinless example, follow the law of the High Priesthood and never remove His head covering? We know the answer is no. Paul would not have stated that a man covering himself while praying was shameful if Jesus covered when praying. Jesus fulfilled the law as a man and offered Himself as a sacrifice after the order of Melchisedec, not the order of Levites, thus fulfilling the old law and yet bringing in a new order of priesthood. That is why we are not bound by Jewish law. That is why we can proclaim freedom in Christ. Because we are co-heirs and called as priests. So do we cover ourselves as the priests of the old law did? Or do we proclaim freedom in Christ as the new law of Christianity does?
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” 1 Peter 2:9-10
Which brings me to my last verse. This one alone trumps all arguments that women are to be treated differently than men under the new priesthood that is Christianity. And I never hear it proclaimed by proponents of head covering and silencing women because it shatters arguments.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:28-29
Blessings in Christ to all.