This question has been posed to the ladies in our family more times than I can remember! I have answered so many emails about it and each time it comes up again, I feel like I am typing the same response that I have done multiple times before. So the decision has been made to compile all my thoughts (or at least most of them!) and publish them in this format.
When I was about four years old, my mother was convicted to wear a headcovering while praying, based on this passage of Scripture:
But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same 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. – 1Corinthians 11:5,6
She began wearing one while she was praying, but did not wear it all the time and would sometimes scramble to find one when a prayer need came up, especially if she was on the phone talking to a friend. My father once took a picture of her with a cloth diaper on her head – a clean one, of course! After some time, she started to feel that she should be wearing one all the time but was hesitant. Then we were in a restaurant while traveling somewhere and when my father left the table to take us children to the buffet, a man started making inappropriate advances toward my mother. She felt strongly that if she had been wearing a headcovering, that would not have happened. From that point on, she started wearing one pretty much full time and I decided to also. I did not really understand why but just followed her example.
And this is slightly unrelated but I just want to add: Mothers, you have incredible influence on your children when they are young. They want to imitate you and get your approval. There is a cartoon drawing that has gone around of a mother laughing at her little girl who is saying bad words and behaving immodestly … and then the mother wonders where she went wrong when her teenage daughter ends up pregnant out of wedlock.
If you value dressing modestly/wearing a headcovering, your young daughters will also. If they are exposed to worldly influences and allowed/encouraged to think that being immodest is “cute” and desirable, is it any wonder if they go astray as they get older? Back to the topic …
For many years I wore the headcovering because my mother did, the ladies in our fellowship did, and the ladies in the community (ex-Amish/Mennonite) did. Positive peer pressure! But as I grew older, it was time to make a personal decision and answer the question for myself …
Why do you wear a headcovering?
There are two reasons I wear a covering. Actually three.
1Corinthians 11 says that a woman should wear a headcovering when she prays or prophesies, or have her head shaved. No two ways about it. There are three main arguments for why women should not wear headcoverings, in regard to this passage.
1). That these instructions were only for that culture/congregation/time period.
2). That a woman’s long hair is her covering.
3). That a woman’s husband/father/male authority figure is her covering.
My thoughts on these objections are as follows …
1). While I agree that these instructions were for the Corinthian congregation, I also believe they are for all other believers who read them. If we can disregard this passage as “cultural”, what else in the Bible can we disregard as “cultural”? Why not determine that all of the instructions given to the Corinthians are inapplicable for us today? This is a dangerous viewpoint, a slippery slope.
2). Many say that a woman’s long hair is her covering and quote verse 15 – “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.” I am not a Greek scholar but I do believe in studying the words that are used in Scripture to the best of my ability, especially when they seem to contradict another verse. It is interesting to note that the word used for “covering” in this verse literally means a mantle or veil, in other words, something tangible/material. In verse 6 Paul says, “For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” This verse instructs that if a woman is not covered, she should cut her hair short. This makes no logical sense in light of the viewpoint that long hair is a covering! Why would she shave off her covering?!
Also, if this passage is saying that long hair is a covering … how long is long? Who gets to decide? This would seem to be a very important factor. We should also keep in mind that a man is to pray with his head uncovered … thus, if hair is a covering, he must take off his hair every time he prays! These are some of the reasons why the hair-is-a-covering idea does not make sense to me and I believe that verse 15 could be better understood if it said “for her hair is given to her for covering”, like one might say “the body was given for clothing”. Not that it is clothing/covering, but it needs clothing/covering!
3). Regarding the third opposition, verse 3 of this chapter says, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Messiah, the head of woman is man, and the head of Messiah is God.” A woman’s husband (or father) is her spiritual authority or “head”. This is confirmed in a number of Scripture passages. But it never says that he is her covering, in the sense that the word is used in this chapter. And logically speaking, does that mean if a woman is not married or does not have a father in her life (i.e. is not covered), she should shave her head? This makes no sense!
In conclusion, I do not understand how people explain away the instructions in 1Corinthians 11. At the same time, I do believe that this passage is specifically referring to the public prayer/prophecy in the congregational setting. Some people use it to support the idea that a woman should wear a covering all the time, citing the injunction in 1Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing, but I am not convinced that it applies. After all, you can’t wear a headcovering while you’re washing your hair! Does that mean it’s a shame if you pray in the shower? This is why I believe this passage is referring specifically to the congregational setting. However I do try to wear a headcovering most of the time and this falls under my second reason – modesty.
There are several references in the Bible to uncovering a woman’s head/hair and in both situations, the woman is in a disgraceful position. One is Numbers 5, when instructions are given regarding what to do if a husband thinks his wife has been unfaithful to him. The priest was to uncover her head and make her drink a bitter water made from dust. If she had no reaction, she was innocent. If she became ill, she was guilty. The other reference is Isaiah 47, speaking of young women who were in shameful circumstances. These references seem to imply that it was normal for a woman’s head to be covered, and to be uncovered was a sign of shame. Sound familiar?
In light of 1Corinthians 11:15, which states that the woman’s hair is her glory, it is interesting to note Isaiah 4:5 which says, “then YHWH will create above every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering.” Melanie Ellison expounded on this in detail in her article for Shining Stars Magazine, The Headcovering: A Chuppah Of Divine Protection. Essentially, the meaning of this word for covering (over “the glory”) means “divine protection”.
That corresponds exactly to my mother’s revelation in that restaurant 20 years ago, and we have experienced numerous times that the headcovering does provide protection and inspires respect. It is definitely an outward sign or symbol of being set apart. I wear the headcovering in public for the same reason I dress modestly: I respect myself too much to reveal “my glory” to anyone and everyone. To me, it is more important to wear the headcovering in public, than in private. There are times when I do not wear a headcovering around the house but I feel strongly about having it on when I go out.
And for the third reason, that my parents want me to … that’s pretty self-explanatory! It is a family conviction and if I were to stop wearing it, I would more or less be rebelling against their wishes. If I marry and my husband has a different understanding and prefers me not to wear it at times, I certainly don’t think I would be in sin to follow his leading. But I do believe in submitting to the authority that the Heavenly Father has placed in my life right now – my parents.
With all that being said, let me make it very clear that I believe the decision to wear the headcovering is a very personal one. You cannot find a chapter and verse that say “Thou shalt wear the headcovering”! It seems to me that the principle is clear throughout Scripture but it something that each person must decide for herself. After all, if someone only wears a headcovering because of the influence of someone else, there is very little conviction involved. Each person must prayerfully consider her responsibility, study the Scriptures, seek Godly counsel and come to her own conclusions.
I have shared how and why I have come to mine … may each of you be blessed as you establish your own! If you do wear a headcovering, I would love to hear your reasons for doing so!
P.S. This is the last day to enter the giveaway for the headcovering from Rosi’s Boutique … if you haven’t entered yet, you can do so here!