Presbyterian Head Covering


1st book of Corinthians ; Chapter 11 –

First Section: Ordinances of the Church

Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

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.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

St Paul’s ordinances of the church reveal that a man does not cover his head because he is the glory and image of God. Women must cover her head because she is the glory of man, and not in the image of God. We soon learn that long hair is the glory of a woman.

Second Section: The natural law of God

For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.

Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

St Paul reflects on the Genesis creation story to make clear that woman is not the image & glory of God as she was created for the man. Paul continues to argue that natural law deems it unholy for a woman to pray to God without a covering and that long hair is a glory to women as it is a natural covering for her.

Church ordinance deems that it is unholy for a woman to pray to God without covering her hair; and that if her hair is uncovered she has committed a dishonour equal to shaving or cutting off her hair.

So where is the reasoning behind this?

It can be argued firmly that women should cover their hair as it is a glory to them; covering her hair is for modesty  ( 1 Timothy 2:9 ).

The covering is an important symbol to denote Godly submission to her husband. Just as man is the head of woman: God is the head of the angels – those angels whom in rebellion ( Job 4:18, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6 ) bring darkness to the world. She must then wear the “power” ( a sign of submission ) upon her head.

Let us not forget that the only time in the scripture in which women had their hear uncovered in church was in Numbers 5:18 ; where these women were uncovered to be identified as those who stand accused of being disloyal, rebellious wives who had committed adultery with other men.  Genesis 24:64-65 also shows that Rebekah wore a head-covering as a symbol of her submission to Isaac.

Conclusively it must be understood that 1 Corinthians 11 is written in two discrete sections. The law of the scripture demands women dress modestly in church and given the second section of this chapter; they must cover their hair in church as the hair of a woman is the glory of a woman. Ultimately women must wear the head covering as a symbol of their submission to their husbands and submission to the ordinances of God and the fathers of the church.

There are no contradictions in scripture; and we know the Presbyterian church has always advocated head-covering until the age of church liberalism in the 1960s : We should look to the combined wisdom of the many generations to find balanced and clear doctrine.

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A. R. Fausset (1821-1910)

Fausset co-authored with David Brown and Robert Jamieson the work, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments.

“In putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man (which is her true ‘honor’), and of her connection with Christ, man’s Head. Moreover, the head covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (Gen. xxiv: 65), and chastity (Gen. xx: 16). By its unlawful excitement in assemblies is avoided, women not attracting attention. Scripture sanctions not the emancipation of woman from subjection: modesty is her true ornament.”

“It hath a threefold use, For decoration, as in Isa. iii. 23. 2. For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the apostle, 1 Cor. xi. 6. 3. And mainly a sign of women’s subjection to their own husbands…”

M. R. Vincent (His Word Studies in the New Testament was published in 1886)

“The head-dress of Greek women consisted of nets, hair-bags, or kerchiefs, sometimes covering the whole head. A shawl which enveloped the body was also often thrown over the head, especially at marriages or funerals. This costume the Corinthian women had disused in the Christian assemblies, perhaps as an assertion of the abolition of sexual distinctions, and the spiritual equality of the woman with the man in the presence of Christ. This custom was discountenanced by Paul as striking at the divinely ordained subjection of the woman to the man.”

J. Vernon McGee (1904-1990)

“Apparently some of the women in the church at Corinth were saying, ‘All things are lawful for me, therefore, I won’t cover my head.’ Paul says this should not be done because the veil is a mark of subjection.”

John Knox (1505-1572)

“First, I say, the woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As saint Paule doth reason in these wordes: ‘Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therfore oght the woman to have a power upon her head,’ (that is, a coverture in signe of subjection).”

John Calvin (1509-1564)

“So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature….So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, ‘Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?’ And then after that one will plead [for] something else: ‘Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?’ Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard.”

“Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering. Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it. And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability — that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not…” (John Calvin’s Commentary on Head Coverings)

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