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Our Response to “Uncovering The Head Covering Movement” Part 1: The Theology


I was recently surprised to see that a Reformed pastor has taken the time to produce a carefully written 3-part series about his disapproval of The Head Covering Movement.

Of course, a number of Christians (mostly in the last century) have written commentaries, studies, and sermons that disagree with the modern day practice of head covering. But this is the first time I’ve seen someone write against the Movement. He even picked a creative title: “Uncovering the Head Covering Movement.”

After the initial feeling of surprise, my next response was gratitude. The Head Covering Movement must be making a splash that’s big enough to be noticed by those who haven’t yet embraced the practice. Whether that splash is happening due to the “Movement” itself or due to God’s overall work in returning His people to 1 Corinthians 11, praise the Lord!

My third response was to consider whether I should write a rebuttal to his essays. But as I read them, I got surprised again: I ended up agreeing with almost all his conclusions! To be more accurate, he agreed with most of the positions that The Head Covering Movement has faithfully held over the last 10+ years. While those who reject the practice of head covering often base their approach on a common set of misunderstandings, much of this pastor’s writing was actually devoted to debunking those misunderstandings.

In short, the guy did his homework. That, plus his foundational premise that we must honor the authority of Scripture, resulted in his essays having many excellent points. So you might now be curious: why would he want to “uncover” The Head Covering Movement if he agrees with so many of its beliefs? In the end, his primary disagreement is with the belief that head covering should be practiced by Christians nowadays. Through his essays, he basically built a complete vehicle apart from one small issue: the ignition switch is broken. The car, which is otherwise well-built, is unable to do what it was built to do.

What follows below will perhaps be your first surprise: my endorsement and summary of his numerous on-target conclusions. Such conclusions make up the majority of his essays, and so they will also make up the majority of this article. Afterwards, I’ll review our primary areas of disagreement, and introduce the need for a “Part 2” of our response.



Adam McIntosh is the pastor of Saint David’s Reformed Church, located about a ½-hour outside of Houston, Texas. He has written dozens of articles on the website Kuyperian Commentary, which is named after the Dutch theologian & politician Abraham Kuyper. It is on the Kuyperian Commentary website where his 3-part series, “Uncovering the Head Covering Movement,” appeared this past year.

McIntosh begins his series this way:

In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul writes, “Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…the woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels” (vv. 5, 10). At first glance, this could be taken as an on-going command for all generations. Thus, the practice of wearing an artificial headcovering (for Christian women) has gained popularity in recent months and years.

He then presents a useful list of common questions that many people have when they first read 1 Corinthians 11. Most of these issues impact how Christians understand the practice of head covering as described in the passage. I’d like to highlight the interpretive decisions where McIntosh gets it right.

  1. HAIR: Is a woman’s long hair the only “head covering” that Paul discusses in the passage?  McIntosh says: “personally, I am not a proponent of the hair-theory… I agree with the headcoverers that he [Paul] is speaking of a fabric.” Of course, we likewise believe this conclusion is accurate.
  2. SYMBOL: Does 1 Corinthians 11:10 refer to a head covering as a literal “authority” or as a “symbol of authority”? As McIntosh says: “English translations add ‘symbol’ to make sense of it… If the covering is a fabric, as I believe, then ‘symbol’ is a fine and proper understanding… The fabric [itself] isn’t the authority.” We also affirm this.
  3. MARRIAGE: Does the symbolic nature of head covering point to husband-wife relationships, or to man-woman differences more generally?  McIntosh says: “It is my position that Paul has men-in-general and women-in-general in view, not just married people.” He goes on to provide a great defense for this view. We similarly arrive at the same belief.
  4. UNIQUELY CHRISTIAN: Is the practice of head covering based on an Old Testament command for Jewish women, or is it uniquely a New Testament command for all Christian women? McIntosh believes: “There is no command for women to wear headcoverings anywhere else in the Bible, including the Old Testament… Something changed in the new covenant to bring about this rule. Men ought not cover their heads, even though priests were commanded to in the old covenant. Women ought to cover their heads, even though no such law existed in the old covenant.” We’ve previously published two articles (here and here) which draw the same conclusions.
  5. CUSTOM: Some Christians have noticed the word “custom” in 1 Corinthians 11:16 and have concluded that Paul was referring to a local cultural practice of head covering, rather than a universal Christian practice. If that were so, MacIntosh writes that we could “discard everything he [Paul] just said about headcovering.” However, McIntosh continues: “As tempting as that might be, I don’t think it’s a legitimate option. Throughout church history, the common views were that the “custom” is either (1) being contentious or (2) letting women be uncovered. Both of these options are acceptable, for they carry the same conclusion: You must obey what Paul has written on headcovering.” We agree.
  6. NATURE: “In verse 14, Paul says that ‘nature itself’ teaches that men should have short hair and women should have long hair… so what does Paul mean by ‘nature’? It seems to me that Paul must mean God’s intention, his design and purpose, for men generally and women generally.” McIntosh continues by concluding: “Men, generally, should have shorter hair than women. Long hair is a normal characteristic of women, short hair is a normal characteristic of men.” While some try to equate the word “natural” with “local cultural norms,” we believe that the Greek (and biblical) usage of the word indicates God’s design.
  7. ANCIENT CUSTOMS: Several articles on the Head Covering Movement website address the mistake of re-interpreting 1 Corinthians 11 based on the local customs of the ancient Corinthian people. Historical analysis shows that their customs have very little to do with Paul’s teachings, which were actually countercultural to the Corinthians’ practices. McIntosh takes a similar approach: “You’ll notice that I did not address the cultural traditions of the Corinthians, how the prostitutes dressed, etc. These are frequently appealed to in order to interpret the passage. I do not put much stock in those theories.”
  8. CHURCH HISTORY: McIntosh mentions that “there is some truth” to the idea that “every theologian in church history was pro-headcovering.” He explains: “If you look up the earliest commentaries on 1 Corinthians 11, you will likely find an argument in favor of covering, or at least a brief comment.” He also does well in explaining that there were some exceptions within Christian history. Even well-known theologians such as Matthew Henry and John Calvin are not featured on the Head Covering Movement website as endorsing the practice of head covering, due to their lack of clarity on the topic or lack of affirmation for the practice. While history is interesting and informative, we agree that it isn’t authoritative for the practice of biblical interpretation.



Unfortunately, McIntosh does get a few things wrong, including an occasional misrepresentation of the beliefs held by Christians who endorse coverings. 

Probably the most surprising issue is his belief that it is impossible to have confidence about the practice of head covering. As he puts it: “no theory on headcovering can be 100% certain.” However, despite that statement, he comes across as fairly certain about a number of his beliefs, including several of the correct ones listed above.

He also promotes a few other perspectives which lack accuracy. Among those, I’ll review my two primary concerns.

  1. The main reason that McIntosh doesn’t see the need for head coverings today is that he believes they were needed only while a woman was using charismatic spiritual gifts. He is referring specifically to prophecy and tongues (“sign gifts”). This theory isn’t very common, but we have previously addressed it here.

    McIntosh believes that “prayer” in 1 Corinthians 11 must only be interpreted as meaning “praying in tongues.” And so, “If tongues and prophecy are still in effect, then women should keep a fabric close by. But “if those gifts are no longer normative for today (my position), then headcovering is no longer applicable. When tongues and prophecy fade away, so do the headcoverings.”

    McIntosh further believes the purpose of the head covering was to help the woman “symbolically make herself look like a man. She was to cover up her glory by covering up her hair.” This is a very uncommon perspective, and conflates head-covering for hair-covering. Besides, a head covering (in practice) creates more visual distinction between the two genders. Christian head covering is feminine and does not make women look like men.

    Note that these theories also don’t explain why men must take off their hats to pray. After all, as McIntosh says: “Men used to wear hats as a daily accessory, just as women did.” If the presence of a hat makes a woman look manly, then why would a man need to remove his hat when praying?

    Fortunately, we can often spot mistaken conclusions by their departure from the reasoning/logic that’s already given to us within Scripture.

  2. McIntosh believes that women wearing a head covering “was actually a sign of submission to their pastor.” This is also an uncommon position.

    He starts towards this conclusion by accurately disproving the view that women should wear a head covering to protect themselves from demons. He then points out that the Greek word translated “angels” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 literally means “messengers.” He unfortunately skips over the option of Paul intending to describe “good angels” and concludes that Paul must mean “pastors” when he says “messengers.”

    However, many of the male-female dynamics that Paul describes in this passage have much broader applications than just pastoral relationships. His theory also doesn’t explain why men must take off their hats while praying.

    I should note that McIntosh assumes that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 creates an exception to Paul’s command that “Women are to be silent in the churches.” (1 Corinthians 14:34). While he does not provide a thorough defense for this position, it becomes almost necessary to adopt this perspective if you believe that “angels” are “pastors.” In other words, McIntosh believes that a head covering provides a sign to the pastor that the woman is able to speak in a church role normally reserved for men.

    He also presents no evidence that Paul’s original audience believed that head coverings were meant to indicate submission to pastors. Instead, he finds a total of just two writers within Christian history (including one whose true identity is considered “uncertain” by McIntosh’s source material) who expressed their belief that the “messengers” were “bishops.”



I’m grateful that the Head Covering Movement is attracting enough attention that those who disagree feel that it warrants a critique. And we should always be open to healthy criticism.

Ironically, the author of “Uncovering the Head Covering Movement” actually does an excellent job defending almost every belief we hold to. It’s not just that he understands most of our positions (as important as that is), but he actually believes them.

My hope is that this situation provides some unintentional encouragement to you: even when someone disagrees with your modern practice of head covering, they can easily end up agreeing with the majority of your beliefs if they simply hold to the authority of Scripture and do honest research about the relevant interpretive issues.

I mentioned earlier that the author has basically assembled a fully functional car apart from the ignition switch. The vehicle is pointed in the right direction, but it’s stuck in “park.” However, there is one other unfortunate detail: its exhaust isn’t very pleasant for the other cars nearby. In other words, the tone of “Uncovering the Head Covering Movement” can easily be offensive to Christians (especially women) who support the modern practice of head covering.

The issue of respect is important to address, because communication between Christians is not only theological, but also relational. We must focus not only on the truth, but on how the truth is communicated. Ephesians 4:15 provides our standard to “speak the truth in love.” As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of our goals is that “when we write our articles we try very hard to present the contrary side in a good light. We try to present their case in a way they’d affirm and want it presented.”

Because of this, we will publish one additional response article written by Jessica Roldan. In it, she will address McIntosh’s attitude and accusations towards Christian ladies who wear head coverings nowadays.

David Phillips

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