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What Did John Knox Believe About Head Covering?

Head Covering: Church History Profiles

[Series introduction: This post is part of a series that will examine what certain leaders in church history believed about head covering. Their arguments, choice of language and conclusions should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from us. The purpose of this series is to faithfully show what they believe about covering rather than only selectively quoting the parts we agree with.]

John Knox (1514-1572) was a Scottish clergyman and leader in the Protestant Reformation. With five other reformers, Knox wrote the Scottish Confession of Faith and established the Reformed Presbyterian church, known as the Church of Scotland.
John Knox

In 1558 John Knox penned “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women“. This work which he published anonymously was a fiery case that female rule is contrary to Biblical teaching. His letter was aimed at the female sovereigns of England and Scotland during his time.

In his writing he quotes extensively from the Bible and appeals to various leaders throughout church history. He does this to demonstrate that women having a subordinate position is Biblical and has been taught by Christians throughout the ages. In this work he briefly stops on 1 Corinthians 11 and also quotes from a defense of head covering by John Chrysostom. His purpose in quoting these sections is not to teach on covering, but to prove his central point that women shouldn’t rule. However, when we look at these quotations we can gain some insights on his own view of head covering.

First, Knox quotes 1 Cor 11:8-10 for support that a woman should not rule over a man.

First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: “Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therefore ought the woman to have a power upon her head” [1 Cor. 11:8-10] (that is, a cover in sign of subjection). 1) John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Knox adds his own interpretation at the end of the passage showing that he understood “power upon her head” to mean a covering 2) Translated as ‘coverture’ in Knox: On Rebellion (Cambridge University Press, 1994) , which is a sign of subjection. He then shows how this passage applies:

Of which words it is plain that the apostle means, that woman in her greatest perfection should have known that man was lord above her; and therefore that she should never have pretended any kind of superiority above him, no more than do the angels above God the Creator, or above Christ their head. So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man. 3) John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Knox reasons that because of the created order (woman created from and for the man) and because she is to wear a sign of her subjection, that she should not “have pretended any kind of superiority above him”. This makes it plain that she should not lord over men as a ruling leader but should know that “man was lord above her”. Knox then adds that her subjection is even in “her greatest perfection”, a reference to the pre-Fall creation. Her subordinate position didn’t arise 4) Knox believes that her subjection was re-affirmed in a different way at the fall as her punishment. He does state that she was to be subordinate before the fall though. from the curse, but was God’s plan for her life before there was any sin.

Later in his letter, Knox circles back to 1 Corinthians 11 by interacting with the writings of John Chrysostom (347-407AD). Chrysostom was a believer in the timelessness of head covering and wrote a lengthy defense of it. Here’s how Knox starts:

Chrysostom, explaining these words of the apostle (1 Cor. 11:3), “The head of woman is man,” compares God in his universal regiment to a king sitting in his royal majesty, to whom all his subjects, commanded to give homage and obedience, appear before him, bearing every one such a badge and cognizance of dignity and honour as he has given to them; which if they despise and condemn, then do they dishonour their king. “Even so,” says he, “ought man and woman to appear before God, bearing the ensigns of the condition which they have received of him. Man has received a certain glory and dignity above the woman; and therefore ought he to appear before his high Majesty bearing the sign of his honour, having no cover upon his head, to witness that in earth man has no head.” Beware Chrysostom what you say! You shall be reputed a traitor if Englishmen hear you, for they must have my sovereign lady and mistress; and Scotland has drunken also the enchantment and venom of Circe 5) Circe is the mythical enchantress who detained Odysseus and transformed his men into swine. let it be so to their own shame and confusion. 6) John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Chrysostom says that both man and woman must appear before God bearing the signs of their respective roles. The man, who has a “glory and dignity above woman” must have no cover upon his head to show that he has no earthly head. Knox responds to Chrysostom with a sarcastic warning, telling him that those in England and Scotland are going to repute him a traitor since they love the queen ruling over them.

Knox then continues with his quotation where Chrysostom talks about the woman’s sign:

He proceeds in these words, “But woman ought to be covered, to witness that in earth she had a head, that is man.” True it is, Chrysostom, woman is covered in both the said realms, but it is not with the sign of subjection, but it is with the sign of superiority: to wit, with the royal crown. 7) John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

By saying “True it is, Chrysostom” Knox first affirms Chrysostom’s belief that women ought to be covered. He then points out in a mocking fashion how the queen with a crown on her head is actually doing the opposite. To paraphrase Knox, “She is wearing a covering all right, but it’s a covering of superiority, not a covering of subjection.” Ouch.

From Knox’s writings we learn many things about his view of head covering. We first see Knox upholds the complementarian roles of men and women (which the symbol points to). We also see that he believed the “power” that goes upon a woman’s head is a covering/coverture (not a woman’s long hair). Finally, because Knox affirms Chrysostom’s views (“True it is”) and quoted from his head covering defense positively with no qualifications, we see that he too believed it to be a timeless symbol. While we would wish he provided more specifics on how this teaching applies, we must remember that this was not his point for writing. Knox’s work had only one central purpose: to show female rule as anti-Biblical. His work drives home that one point forcefully and he does so without getting side-tracked by other topics, even head covering.

Summary of John Knox’s views:

Did he see the need for covering today?Yes
At what times does he believe women need to be covered?N/A
What did he see the covering as?Sign of subjection

References

1.
 John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
2.
 Translated as ‘coverture’ in Knox: On Rebellion (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
3.
 John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
4.
 Knox believes that her subjection was re-affirmed in a different way at the fall as her punishment. He does state that she was to be subordinate before the fall though.
5.
 Circe is the mythical enchantress who detained Odysseus and transformed his men into swine.
6.
 John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)
7.
 John Knox – The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (Accessed on: The Works of John Knox, Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and is a member of Fellowship Baptist Church. He is a husband to Amanda and father to four young children. Jeremy is also the founder and operator of Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books.

Latest posts by Jeremy Gardiner (see all)

  • Diana Johnston

    John Knox is one of our all-time favorite theologians. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Alisha

    Great article.Thank you for sharing.

  • Teresa Rincon

    So are you saying that it is wrong for a female business owner to have male employees, or for a woman to hold public office (remember the Ethiopian eunuch worked for the queen)? And Knox rallied for the punishment and execution for those with differing views. How could such a person be saved, much less someone whose opinion we should consider?

    • Kay

      I think it’s pretty clear that Knox believed that, but some of the reformers (Calvin) believed in establishing theocratic governments, which (in my understanding) isn’t taught for the Church age. Israel was a theocracy, but Christ never said to establish anything of the sort to His followers (the opposite, actually) nor did any of the writers in the NT.

    • Christian Filbrun

      Just a thought on whether to consider his opinion. The introduction to this post DID say that This post is part of a series that will examine what certain leaders in church history believed about head covering. Their arguments, choice of language and conclusions should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from us. The purpose of this series is to faithfully show what they believed about covering rather than only selectively quoting the parts we agree with.

    • ThePigStye

      Yes,

      a woman’s place is in the home. Not running a country or a huge business. Only feminists hate to hear a man say that.
      The eunuch worked for a queen, but ya fail to realize that she has a husband, who was king,(same with the queen of Sheba) God says (Gen 3:16, after the fall,) that it would be a woman’s desire to rule over her husband, but the Bible is straight to point out that woman was made FOR THE MAN, not the other way around. All thru out time, men have ruled, every time some woman decided to run a country or empire, it has failed (Look at England !!!!) the majority of women in Knox’ era knew their place was in the home. Not many women challenged God original intent for mankind.

      • Teresa Rincon

        Representative democracy isn’t biblical, either. If you are going to apply biblical standards for secular leaders, you couldn’t vote for Ronald Reagan as he wasn’t a “husband of one wife.” You would have to avoid most commercial activity, as corporations hire women. By the way, how was Queen Victoria a failure?

        • ThePigStye

          Biblical standards have always applied and still do today. Just because a “culture” changes, God doesn’t

      • Teresa Rincon

        Oh, and I am going to guess that you don’t follow the Bible regarding keeping Kosher or observing Passover and the Saturday sabbath. #cherrypicking

        • ThePigStye

          No, I’m not a jew or ISraelite. Jesus fulfilled the law. I don’t have to concern myself with the OT jewish stuff. The New Testament is what I go by and a woman’s place is in teh home there. If ya have a problem with your feminism. you’ll have to take that up with God, your Creator, who made the rules

          • Teresa Rincon

            I don’t have a husband; are you going to pay my bills? If not, I have to work (like Lydia did) or be on welfare.

          • ThePigStye

            You don’t have to be a President or CEO to work. Remember Proverbs 31 ?

          • Teresa Rincon

            Most jobs require interacting with people of both sexes. I have had to give instructions and leadership to male subordinates on many occasions.

          • ThePigStye

            But ya see, that’s usurping authority over a man. Men are made to lead, women are made to be helpmeets

          • Teresa Rincon

            No, they are not my husband, and I will not relate to them as such.

          • ThePigStye

            If you would care to please Christ, here is great reading on the subject by a good friend of mine

            http://nikeinsights.famguardian.org/forums/topic/john-knox-on-women-in-politics/

            and also

            http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/firblast.htm

          • Teresa Rincon

            If you care to please Christ rather than John Knox, you should follow Romans 13 regarding political leadership.

          • ThePigStye

            Romans 13, I assume, you are following modern day interpretations? Today’s politicians and cops are NOT God’s ministers for good. They are sorry, evil, corrupt sinners. Christians are to obey GODLY government, not just ANY government. If that government doesn’t obey God’s Commandments, just as Paul and Silas said, “it’s better to obey God than man.” Where in Romans 13 does it say for a woman to rule over man? If anyone your consider to be in “authority” can not keep God’s commandments (and none does) what gives him the right to rule over you?
            Furthermore, if you are saved, who is your King ????(Ruler,Government,Sovereign)
            According to both Old and New Testaments, JESUS is your King Ruler, Lawgiver. And as Jesus said, you can only obey ONE master, Him or man made goverment.

            Does God expect us to obey all government regardless of their character . . . or does God permit evil government to come to power to test our character to see if we will obey God rather than men?

            Man made government, for the entire 6000 years of it’s existence, has put men in bondage (slavery). Jesus is the only one to offer real LIBERTY.

            Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Gal 5:1

            Ye are bought with a price, be not ye the seruants of men. 1 Cor 7:23

            Bible clearly tells you not to be teh slave of teh State and be not entangled with man made government.

            Feminism is poison. It ruins a godly woman and also ruins godly men……………………

          • Teresa Rincon

            Ah, so women only have to submit to godly husbands, and not tyrannical husbands?

          • ThePigStye

            Romans 13 has nothing to do with husbands and wives. only a God -ordained goverment. Wives are to submit to their husbands. Not my words, God’s Word. When women fail to submit, they are going against their Creator,Savior and their own husbands, Not very good for the relationship with any of those 3 huh? Liberty is the right to do anything one pleases, unless it is contrary to God’s Law-Order.

          • Teresa Rincon

            As if Romans 13 was written in the era of George Washington; the Ceasars of the New Testament were just as depraved as today’s leaders.

          • ThePigStye

            Yes, you are 100% correct. As a matter of fact, all goverments for the last 6000 years (since Adam and Eve) were all corrupt. No, Donald Trump won’t change this, nor will Hillary. That’s why Christians should have only Jesus Christ as their KING. Man is flawed, Christ is not. Why would ya want a corrupt man (or woman) to “lead” you? Can you not be responsible for your own actions and lead yourself?
            Why is it that people choose to want to rule over overs? It’s for nothing more than power,money and fame. Where is the glory to God in any of that?

  • Sara June Thompson

    I don’t think God has given us rules concerning the secular government. We are not Israel, it is not a theocracy. We do see rules for the home and the church. But I don’t see that it is Biblically wrong to have a female as a ruler or a boss. It does however go against nature. Men in general were made to lead, women in general usually feel more comfortable in supportive roles and often want a man to protect us and provide for us. And most men do not like a woman telling them what to do.

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