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What is a sufficient head covering? Does it have to be a certain size or style?

Head Covering Questions
What is a sufficient head covering? Does it have to be a certain size or style?

A covering in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 is a Christian symbol to be worn by women while praying and prophesying. Paul says this covering is a symbol of authority (1 Cor 11:10) and it’s to be worn on top of her head (1 Cor 11:5-6). No other information is given so where Scripture ends, Christian liberty begins. What that means is the specific type of covering you use is your decision as an individual or family. Having said that, there are other Scriptures that will help guide our choices byway of principle. I’d like to present that to you and also deal with issues such as hair being exposed (outside of a woman’s covering) and face veiling.

WHICH STYLE?

The Bible says that a woman’s long hair is her glory. When she covers her head while worshipping, her glory is supposed to be veiled. Since the purpose is to cover/shield/hide, it’s important that she honestly ask herself, “is my covering accentuating or veiling my glory?” Some “coverings” may be better categorized as a hair accessory, which calls attention to the hair, rather than a covering, which veils it.

There are no commands which would dictate the color or design of the covering. However, there are two important passages which give us a principle that does speak to this issue.

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

According to Paul and Peter, women are to dress modestly, discreetly and should let their internal adornment be what’s on display. So how do we apply this principle to the choosing of a covering? I believe the application would be for women to cover their heads with something that is not overtly ostentatious. Once again, the spirit of the command is to veil your glory, not to accentuate it. Modesty and discreetness does not mean frumpy or devoid of beauty, but it also does not call attention to itself.

MUST ALL HAIR BE COVERED?

Hair-Exposed

Another issue regards how much hair can be exposed outside of the covering. Must all her hair be hidden or can some still show? The passage we looked at in the previous section helps us answer this question.

In 1 Timothy 2:1 Paul starts a new section that teaches “how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God” (1 Tim 3:15). When Paul exhorts women to dress modestly in church, one of the applications of that principle was to not have “braided hair” (1 Tim 2:9). Since women covered in all churches (1 Cor 11:16) and Paul also instructed them about their hairstyles, we must conclude that hair was exposed outside of the covering. If Paul meant that all hair must be covered then his instructions in 1 Tim 2:9 would be unnecessary. In that case, his command for head coverings would eliminate anyone appearing in the assembly with braided hair.

FACE VEIL?

Some have troubled believers by saying that unless a woman wears a veil that covers her face, she is not truly covered. Paul however only concerns himself with what’s on our “heads”, not over our faces. In his second letter to the Corinthians he says:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory… (2 Cor 3:18)

In context he’s contrasting the believer (who has an unveiled face) with Moses who who “used to put a veil over his face…” (2 Cor 3:13) From this passage we can make two observations.

  1. Since Paul writes to the Corinthians and mentions “unveiled face” (anakaluptō prosōpon) we know he could have used that wording in 1 Cor 11. Instead, he only mentioned “uncovered heads” (kephalē akatakaluptos) as that is his concern.
  2. If Paul required all women (or even, just Corinthian women) to veil their faces he couldn’t have said “we all, with unveiled face” as it wouldn’t be true. Only men would have “unveiled faces”, not all believers who he’s speaking about. If one were object that Paul only means “unveiled” in a metaphoric sense, it’s still hard to imagine Paul would have said this as it would be far too ironic.
A Coin from Roman Corinth. "Livia" is likely pictured according to Cynthia L. Thompson

Some have suggested that face-veiling was common during Paul’s time, but no such evidence exists. There is evidence 1) See ‘Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth’ by Cynthia L. Thompson (Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988) Page 113 of face-veiling in areas such as Tarsus, Arabia and Syria, but not Roman Corinth. An archaeological survey shows that women in Corinth were seen either uncovered or with a covering that drapes down over the head (but not the face). 2) See ‘Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth’ by Cynthia L. Thompson (Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988) and ‘The Importance Of Roman Portraiture For Head-Coverings In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16’ by David W. J. Gill (Tyndale Bulletin 41:2, 1990) Furthermore, even if there was only one type of covering used in Paul’s day, that is not what we’d have to use. Paul only commands the result (head being covered) not the specific way in which she does so.

References

1.
 See ‘Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth’ by Cynthia L. Thompson (Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988) Page 113
2.
 See ‘Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth’ by Cynthia L. Thompson (Biblical Archaeologist, June 1988) and ‘The Importance Of Roman Portraiture For Head-Coverings In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16’ by David W. J. Gill (Tyndale Bulletin 41:2, 1990)

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.

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  • Mama_Fish

    “The Bible says that a woman’s long hair is her glory. When she covers her head while worshipping, her glory is supposed to be veiled. Since the purpose is to cover/shield/hide…”

    I agree, but now you seem to contradict yourself…

    “Since women covered in all churches (1 Cor 11:16) and Paul also instructed them about their hairstyles, we must conclude that hair was exposed outside of the covering. If Paul meant that all
    hair must be covered then his instructions in 1 Tim 2:9 would be unnecessary.”

    I don’t see how we ‘must’ conclude that hair was exposed during worship from this. These were directions in how to dress at all times. These were not directions given for times of prayer only. They weren’t even included in the same letter.

    Maybe you just mean that small amounts of hair might have shown… I’m not sure. I cannot
    imagine that a woman’s glory would be considered hidden or covered with a scarf like that you have pictured in the article.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    • Thanks for the reply. I think the reason you may see a contradiction is because we’re interpreting the context differently. I see 1 Cor 11:2-16 as instructions for the local church gathered along with 1 Tim 2:1-3:16. 1 Tim 3:15 is the key that shows “where” he’s speaking of.

      We can and should dress modestly everywhere just like we can any should pray for “all people” everywhere (1 Tim 2:1), but just because we can (or should) doesn’t mean the context becomes “everywhere”. He stated his focus was narrow: “how one ought to behave in the household of God”. (1 Tim 3:15)

      So my conclusion that hair must have been allowed to be exposed OUTSIDE of her covering is a harmonization between the two passages.

      • Kay

        Just some thoughts…..I have somewhat of an issue with all the distinction between being “in church” and in public. We are all members of the body of Christ no matter where we are, or who we are with. There are specific admonitions about assembly behavior, but not too many. Not to break the bread (share communion) with unbelievers, women are to be silent in mixed meetings, but are told to teach other women in other types of gatherings. Not to take up collections (what happened to *that one?) Nowhere is there specific dress codes for gathering that I can see. I see in our society people dressing differently for assembly meetings, women wearing a skirt or dress when they generally don’t the rest of the week. Often they wear more make-up as well, and jewelry. I believe these behaviors mark the modern Church as somewhat hypocritical, and I don’t understand where this has all come from.

    • IMHO what is pictured is scriptural as the article explains. A woman’s glory is to be covered, i.e. have something on top of it as a sign of her submission to the man’s headship; not that her glory is not to be seen at all (“hidden”) so that she is only recognizable as a woman by the covering… such goes beyond what Scripture commands and infringes upon Christian liberty.

      I also think it is exegetically reasonable to conclude that Paul’s instructions about hairstyles would apply generally and if there were exclusions or limitations he would have states such in one letter or the other.

      Grace and peace.

      • Kay

        I agree with this, and will add that although many feel more physically modest when covering more of the hair, I believe the admonition for covering is much more about a heart of submission than covering her physical glory. Just as the teachings on modesty don’t mention covering the hair, or protecting brothers from lustful thoughts. Yet these things are used by many to (try to) convince women to submit to the teachings. I agree with physical modesty, and a physical covering. But it is the submissive spirit that is shown. The setting aside of her own “glory” is not about her hair, it’s about her position in God’s given order. When women dress modestly, it tends to cover more skin, cling less, but it’s more about not seeking attention; in manner, activities, loud or belligerent speech, etc., and less about how much skin (or hair) they show or don’t show. I know that beautiful hair can be a distraction for men, but I don’t believe that is the reason for the practice.

    • Geneviève Godbout

      What about depictions of the Biblical women? They are normally seen with all the hair covered. Maybe we can gather clues as to how we cover from them? It makes more sense to cover all the hair as what’s the point in covering if you’re not?

      • There’s nothing wrong with covering all your hair. You should feel free to do so. It’s just it goes beyond the command and would fall into the category of Christian liberty. The symbolism is present no matter if all hair is covered or not.

  • Angela

    I have heard that there is a word in the 1 Corinthians 11 passage that means “to wind or wrap around”. I always thought that that was referring to the hair, so that a covering could cover/hide a woman’s glory, better. I’m sorry I don’t have time right now to look up which Greek word that is, but I was wondering if you’ve heard that before, and if you would agree? Thanks.

    • Yes, that’s the Greek word behind “covering” in verse 15. That describes her long hair as a natural covering. A different Greek word is used in verses 4-6.

  • Jessica

    I had previously written a note in my bible next to the word ‘cover’ in verse six. The Greek word for cover here is ‘katakalupto’ which means “to cover wholly, to hide.” Is this incorrect?

    • That’s a direct quote from Strongs, so no it’s not incorrect. I don’t have access to many lexicons but Thayer’s has two definitions and neither include “wholly”: 1) to cover up 2) to veil or cover one’s self.

      I wish I had access to more to provide you a larger sample size.

      When it comes to lexicons there’s a couple things to remember. 1) They’re essentially “commentaries” as the people who wrote it are building definitions for words based upon their use in the Bible and in ancient Greek literature. Just like everyone else, they have bias’ or may make an error interpreting a words use. That’s why it’s important to consult more than one 2) Just because one definition may stand out from the others doesn’t mean it can be applied in that particular context. The context always determines which definition applies when there’s more than one to choose from.

  • Christian Filbrun

    Scripture does not seem to require the
    veiling to cover all of a woman’s
    hair, but shows how “long” hair, rather than all the hair of her head, is her
    glory; therefore, as far as my wife and I have been able to ascertain, the practical side of the teaching seems fulfilled when the
    veiling covers the length/bulk (the “long” part, more or less) of a sister’s hair, rather than every single strand,
    and it seems that a straightforward consideration of this fact may assist us in avoiding the
    creation of an extra-Biblical burden in this area. It will also help to direct
    our focus more fully toward the purpose
    of the veiling rather than only upon the practice
    thereof.

    Jeremy, I’m probably just missing it, but have you specifically addressed on your site what it actually means to cover, as in the difference of whether to simply have something on (or over / on top of) the head versus something that actually conceals a woman’s glory (which is seen in her long hair)? This seems to be a point of confusion in many discussions on veiling…

  • Sheryl Lynn

    As a head covering woman, we need to not lose sight of the fact that the covering is a SYMBOL. We need to not become too legalistic about it. Christs blood shed for us , saves us not wearing a covering. That said, I believe most of the hair should be covered, if not put up then at least a braid. So that her “glory” is for her husband. eg only her husband sees her long, flowing hair.

    • Amanda Sadler

      I have recently started covering and my husband’s only objection is that he will miss seeing my hair. I told him as my husband, he gets to be the only one to see my hair so it makes it special for him. We discussed it and the plan is to be uncovered at home except during prayer and bible study, but covered when I go out.

  • Brenda

    Hello Jeremy.
    Thank you for writing these articles. I have thoroughly been enjoying everyones thoughts on it. I am not wearing headcoverings yet. The first time I read 1 Corinthians 11, I came away with a big YES, thats what I am suppose to do. I mentioned it to a close friend and she said it was intended for the corinthian church, not for now. We don’t have those customs now. With that said, I do cover when I have my prayer time in the morning and I have noticed a big difference in my prayer time, I am not easily distracted for one thing. My question is, how does one go from not covering to covering either all the time or even just in church? I go to a very large charismatic church and in all the years I have attended there has never been any teaching on it. It was read, but no actual teaching on it.

    • Thanks Brenda for your comments. I would encourage you to go for it! For my girls, sometimes they have their coverings on in the car on the way to church and sometimes they put them on just before worship begins. They then remove them after we’re dismissed. I get the feeling from the description of your church that you’ll likely won’t run into any issues. Usually only in smaller, tight-knit fellowships you may have a pastor ask to have a conversation about it to gauge your beliefs and to see what your intentions are. If your question is, can you cover in a non-covering church? The answer is yes. Generally speaking, pastors allow freedom for their members on practices within the bounds of orthopraxy. So I’d just go for it! Let us know how it goes.

      You may also find help from the testimonies. I believe I asked everyone what their first Sunday was like when they showed up with a covering.

  • Zeek and Connie

    Maybe a nuance. . . . but the scripture does not say anything about the top of her head, just that her head should be covered. If it is simply the top of her head then would a yamaka be sufficient?

  • Teresa Rincon

    I would think that if head coverings were a universal command, it would be commanded throughout scripture rather than limited to only one passage in the entire Bible.

  • Amy Unruh

    I’ve heard some scholars say that braided should actually be broided, which meant braiding one’s hair and weaving costly arraignment such as pearls into the braid. I’ve also heard the argument for women covering their glory in the site of God because angels also cover their glory in the site of God. If that is the case, I would think that a covering would need to cover all of her glory, if she indeed has long hair, so that she is not trying to outshine God, in a sense. In that case, I would think that it would not only be in public worship that one should cover but whenever one is in the presence of the Lord.
    I’d love to hear thoughts on this.
    I’ve also wondered on whether or not a woman should cover if she already has short hair. The passage speaks about covering if she should be disgraced to have short or shaved hair. So I would think that short hair is not a glory and need not be covered. It’s no longer a disgrace to have short hair and it also doesn’t dishonor my husband, in his eyes, at least, but maybe this was meant universally that it should be a disgrace and it should dishonor my husband? All I know is, all of the women I know who have long hair look the most beautiful to me. There is one woman in our church who has never cut her hair. These are the women that embody femininity to me. I hate short hair, but my hair is so thin and fine that I can’t wear it long and style it, though I could grow it long and cover it or wear it in a bun or braid at all times, which would satisfy me but would put me at odds with family and churchgoers. I suppose I would just have to stand firm on my convictions if I felt it was the right thing to do. After all, I hope to always be in the presence of the Lord. When I cover, I feel humble and protected.

    • I do find it odd that the writers placed so much emphasis on hairstyle and failed to mention “wear a head covering” – the two passages that refer to what women ought to wear specifically were written after 1 Corinthians was (1 Tim 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3). If you’re referring to Isaiah 6, you’ll notice that the angels that do cover their faces and their feet use their wings to do so – there is no mention of a removable material being used to cover them – so God provided their cover. In that sense, then a woman’s hair is her covering as it was provided to her. Also, it does not mention in that passage that angels cover their glory. I used BibleGateway, but couldn’t find a verse that states that angels cover their glory. God has created our massive universe – brilliant suns and beautiful nebulas – if a woman’s hair is his most glorious achievement, it suggests that His own glory is lesser or easily offended. The Bible doesn’t really give us any indication of how long long hair is is and how short short hair is – that’s left up to cultural norms. Most of the ladies I see on television have hair that is around shoulder length, shorter hairstyles are also common – like a pixie style. Almost never is it culturally common to see ladies with hair down to the waists or longer than that. That’s a religious custom for groups that believe that women will get to use their hair to wipe the feet of their lord (husband) or Lord (Jesus) but that’s a Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints teaching on why they’re not permitted to cut their hair. In my churches, most women have one of two hair styles: shoulder length or short perm (common to elderly women). There are usually exceptions to every rule, but in this area head covering teachings are non-existent. Do whatever your convictions lead you to do – wear your hair however you feel most honors God and cover it however you feel the passage calls for. If you’re uncertain to how long long hair is, then here are some stats from Wikipedia: “(In) 1972, it was estimated that 24% of American women wore shoulder length hair or longer (44% of women in ages 14 to 44), meaning slightly more than 12% of men and women altogether. Similar frequency was found in 2001, when it was estimated that about 13% of the US adult population population, male as well as females, has hair shoulder-length or longer, about 2.4% have hair reaching to the bottom of the shoulder blades or longer, about 0.3% have hair waist length or longer, and only about 0.017% have hair buttocks-length or longer.[49] By extrapolating the above data and the number of hair length records, the number of people with waist length hair in USA is estimated to 27 million, with buttocks-length hair to 40,000, with knee length hair to 2,000 and with ankle length hair to 70.” Culturally speaking; shoulder-length is long hair.

  • Don Partridge

    Faulty hermeneutics. 1Tim 2 is not about in church. Is childbearing done in church? This is a lifestyle not a church time only mandate. So this pertains to at all times, everywhere, as the passage clearly teaches.
    1Ti 2:8 I desire then that in “every place” the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 “likewise” also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
    1Ti 2:11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

    • Verse 13-14 is an argument/explanation of the command in verse 12. Verse 15 is a qualifier on verses 13-14.

      I think a fair parallel is the long hair argument in 1 Cor 11:14-15. In his argument he appeals to something that is more broad (for all times). However, that doesn’t change the context of the subject. I agree that the instructions in 1 Tim 2:8-10 have broader application, but that doesn’t change the context of his instructions.

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