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Why Head Coverings? Reason #3: Nature

Biblical Case for Head Coverings

…the long hair is an indication from ‘nature’ of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required is in line with what ‘nature’ teaches.” – John Murray (Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1930-66) 1) From ‘Head Coverings and Decorum in Worship’ a letter from John Murray to Mr. V. Connors www.headcoveringmovement.com/articles/head-coverings-and-decorum-in-worship-a-letter-by-john-murray

Paul’s third reason for head coverings is probably the most confusing and misunderstood of all his arguments. It’s an appeal to a persons sense of what’s right, based upon what nature teaches us. I’ll break that down more as we continue, but for now let’s look at our next verse.

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (1 Cor 11:13 NASB)

A rhetorical question according to the Random House dictionary is “asked solely to produce an effect or make an assertion.” This is what Paul is doing when he says “judge for yourselves”. We know this primarily because he just finished a lengthy defense for why we must practice head coverings. He wouldn’t then overturn that by allowing you to choose if you want to obey a doctrine rooted in creation. Rather Paul is declaring the debate closed. He’s saying “you all know this is the only right option”. No one would say that it’s proper for a woman to pray uncovered in church. That may not be so obvious to you right now, but stick with me.

This isn’t the first time believers are told to “judge for yourselves”. In fact we’ll turn to a few of those passages now to help us see this verse more clearly.

I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:15-16 ESV)

When Paul asks the Corinthians to “judge for yourselves” is he saying that there are two perfectly fine options and you just need to pick the one that works best for you? One in taking communion participates in the blood & body of Christ, but the other not? Or rather is the answer implied that communion is participation in Christ?

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NASB)

When Peter & John ask the council to “be the judge” are they saying that there are two perfectly fine options and you just need to pick the one that works best for you? One chooses to obey God but the other chooses to heed man’s instruction? Or rather is the answer implied, that yes, we must obey God rather than man? You be the judge.

Now that we’ve seen other New Testament references for “judge for yourselves” let’s examine our text again:

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (1 Cor 11:13 NASB)

Just like the other examples Paul is not giving two perfectly fine options. He just finished saying “every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head” (1 Cor 11:5a). The answer to Paul’s question is implied, it is not proper for a woman to pray uncovered which is why he said “let her cover her head” (1 Cor 11:6b).

Nature Pours Forth Speech

There are two ways that God speaks to mankind. The first is through special revelation which would include the Scriptures and prophecy. The other way that God speaks to us is through general revelation, which is the silent witness of creation. In Romans 1 we’re told that everyone knows there’s a God because creation makes that clear. Now a little later in that same chapter Paul makes a reference to nature which is the Greek word “phusis”. Phusis according to Thayer’s Greek Definitions is “the force, laws & order of nature”.

Let’s take a look at the passage:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another… (Rom 1:26-27 ESV)

Paul is arguing that we can look at creation and see that sexual relations were designed for a man to be with a woman. He’s saying we don’t need special revelation to know that’s true. Nature teaches this to us through the perfect fit of our sexual organs and because it’s the only relationship that can reproduce. Through looking at creation we can see a natural order.

Now back in 1 Corinthians Paul is not arguing that you can look at creation and learn about head coverings. What he is saying is there are distinct differences between men and women seen in the natural order. These distinctions when disregarded and crossed dishonor a person. He uses the example of our hair lengths.

Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Cor 11:14-15 NASB)

Paul calls a woman’s long hair her covering. This covering is not a symbol of subjection like the one mentioned in verse 10, but rather it covers her head with glory. It’s clear from creation that God has given longer hair to women and shorter hair to men. This is a fact that is confirmed scientifically as John MacArthur notes, “The male hormone, testosterone, speeds up the loss of hair in men. Estrogen causes women’s hair to grow longer and for a longer time.” 2) The MacArthur Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:14,15 (2005, Thomas Nelson) page 1589  This is natural.

Now to show why Paul’s question (1 Cor 11:13) was rhetorical for both him and his hearers, we must ask only one question. What is a head covering in the context of 1 Corinthians 11? In verse 10 Paul says it’s a symbol that you’re under authority and more specifically, male authority (1 Cor 11:3). Since that’s the case, wearing a covering during corporate worship is a symbol of biblical womanhood. So then what would nature tell us about a man praying covered? It would shout “disgraceful” which is exactly what Paul said in verse 4.

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. (1 Cor 11:4 NASB)

And what would nature tell us about a woman praying uncovered, throwing off her symbol of subjection? It would also shout “disgraceful” which is what Paul said in verse 5.

But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head… (1 Cor 11:5a NASB)

Summary

There are two things that nature teaches us: 1) That there are distinct differences between men and women 2) When a gender distinction is disregarded and crossed that dishonors a person. To illustrate his point Paul gave the example of our hair lengths. He said that women having long hair and men having short hair is one of those gender distinctions that is seen in nature and dishonorable if crossed (1 Cor 11:14-15). Now, a head covering in the context of the local church is a feminine symbol of being under male authority. Since the symbol is rooted in our gender distinctions nature teaches us that to cross this symbol would likewise be dishonorable (1 Cor 11:4-5). So while head coverings are taught explicitly by special revelation, it is confirmed by what nature silently teaches us as well.

References

1.
 From ‘Head Coverings and Decorum in Worship’ a letter from John Murray to Mr. V. Connors www.headcoveringmovement.com/articles/head-coverings-and-decorum-in-worship-a-letter-by-john-murray
2.
 The MacArthur Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:14,15 (2005, Thomas Nelson) page 1589

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 Alberta, Canada with his wife and five children. In 2010, he founded (and continues to run) Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books. Jeremy also holds a Biblical studies degree from Moody Bible Institute.
Jeremy Gardiner

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