Is Headcovering Biblical?

David Silversides


The Question of women’s headcovering in public worship is one that divides many in Reformed churches. It is our conviction that it is indeed a Biblical requirement that women cover their head when the Church gathers to worship God. It has been urged upon us that the statement of the Reformed Presbytery of North America (RPNA) proves our position unbiblical. In this article Rev David Silversides (Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland) gives a response to the RPNA statement.


1. The Method.

The background to their statement is that they originally took the opposite view. In support of their previous pro-head-covering stance, Greg Price produced in1996 a useful booklet, ‘Headcoverings in Scripture’. The section headings in this earlier work should be noted - 1. Are Head-coverings Cultural in 1 Cor 11? 2. Who Should Wear a Head-covering? 3. What is the Nature of the Head-coverings Worn in 1 Cor 11? 4. What Does 1 Cor 11:2-16 actually teach? 5. What Does Church History Teach? By Contrast the later anti-head-covering statement follows a different course as follows - 1. The Subordinate Standards (this consists of a survey of aspects of Scottish Church history, rather than discussion of anything in the Westminster Standards themselves.) 2.European Reformed Testimony. 3. The Scriptural Observations of the Reformed Presbytery in North America Upon 1 Cor 11:2-16.

The method was right the first time:- Scripture first, then history. It is clear that the RPNA want to believe in a complete continuity from Scripture to the Reformers to the Scottish Covenanters to the RPNA in all their practices. Having taken a Scripturally based pro-headcovering position earlier, they then discovered statements in Gillespie & Rutherford that seemed to put a question mark over that complete historical continuity. As a result, Calvin et al had to be reinterpreted and then even Scripture itself. We do not impute ill motive, but on the face of it, this seems to be the path followed and it is a wrong one.

2. The Cultural Argument.

In the earlier publication, Greg Price resolutely opposed the cultural argument. He states, ‘There was no universal practice of women being veiled in public among the Greeks or Romans (Corinth was a city greatly influenced by Greek culture). However, it was a custom applied with particular stringency among the Jews, and yet it was more of an oriental custom than a distinctive Jewish custom. In fact, “the Jew regarded it as typical of Gentile women that they should go about unveiled. It is quite wrong that Greek women were under some kind of compulsion to wear a veil in public” (Kittel: Theological Dictionary of the NT). Neither are there any cultural considerations in this apostolic requirement to cover the head in the worship service’ (p. 8).

What evidence does the RPNA bring forward to overturn this position?

a) The Context of 1 Cor 10-14. Here reference is made to giving offence by eating meat offered to idols, the eating of the bread & wine before others arrive and getting drunk at the Lord’s table, the abuse of Spiritual gifts. This is somehow seen as providing a basis for regarding the headcovering as only a cultural requirement. The argument is completely astray because it confuses sins to which a particular culture exposes the church with purely cultural requirements. It is always wrong to get drunk at the Lord’s table etc, even though our culture may not particularly expose us to these particular sins. Our feminist culture certainly does expose the church to the temptation to abandon the Scriptural sign of acceptance of male and female distinctiveness.

b) Other cultural issues. Here reference is made to footwashing & the holy kiss (John 13:14-15, Romans 16:16, 1 Cor 16:20, 2 Cor 13:12, 1 Thess 5:26). There is abundant evidence in Scripture itself that footwashing was both a practical necessity and a cultural norm of hospitality (Gen 18:4, 19:2, 24:32, Judges 19:21, 1 Sam 25:41, Luke 7:44-45, 1 Tim 5:10). Likewise the kiss as a form of greeting (Ex 4:27, 18:7, 2 Sam 20:9-10, Prov 27:6, Luke 7:45, 22:48) and it can be argued that the emphasis is on the holiness of the kiss, rather than insisting on this particular form of greeting in all times & places (cf. Gal 2:9). In the case of headcovering, there is no such evidence in the text of 1 Cor 11 or in Scripture as a whole. The rule of interpretation is that given by Gillespie:

We ‘hold, that not only we ought to obey the particular precepts of the word of God, but that also we are bound to imitate Christ, and the commendable example of His Apostles, in all things wherein it is not evident they had special reasons moving them thereto, which do not concern us’ (George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies, p. 428)

The headcovering requirement is based on the order of creation. It has been argued that this means that the principle of male headship is permanent, but the particular application of it (i.e. headcovering) was cultural. There is no evidence in the passage for this. Indeed, the evidence is in the opposite direction. Why the references to acts of worship? If it were a cultural matter, it would apply to all public appearances of women since the pagans of Corinth would not be concerned specifically about Christian worship practice. Some suggest that some of the women particularly abandoned their headcovering during ecstatic utterance, but this is pure invention as far as the text is concerned. The word rendered ‘ordinance’ (v. 2) is consistently used of that which has apostolic authority (rendered tradition in 2 Thess 2:15 & 3:6). The appeal to universal practice in v.16 should be noted. The idea that we must find ‘culturally relevant’ ways of expressing male headship becomes obviously absurd in a culture like ours where every trace of male leadership is being eradicated.

Is Headcovering Biblical? (2)

3. The Danger of the Cultural Argument.

The random imposition on a passage of Scripture of cultural considerations has serious repercussions for Biblical interpretation generally. As an example of this approach applied to other passages relating to gender issues, let us see how it works with 1 Tim 2:11-14.

a) The concession - the principle of male leadership is based on the creation order and is permanent.

b) The assumption - in the culture of the 1st century AD, the woman’s acceptance of male leadership was expressed by her being silent in public assemblies (probably more easily provable than the use of headcovering).

c) The conclusion - female silence wasn’t the real issue, but the principle of male headship which may find different expression according to time and place. Therefore, women may now, in our culture, preach and teach in the church. We are sure the RPNA would draw back from such a conclusion, but they have conceded the ground to it in their opposition to headcovering.

Again, the repercussions of the random appeal to culture approach on other aspects of worship should be kept in mind. Immediately after the headcovering passage, we have the section relating to the Lord’s Supper. Let us see how the random cultural approach applies in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27.

a) The concession - the principle that an ordinance commemorating the death of Christ in a meal is to be observed is permanent.

b) The assumption - bread and wine were the normal elements of food and drink in the 1st Century AD (undoubtedly true) and can be assumed were only used in the Lord’s supper for cultural reasons.

c) The conclusion - We are to remember Christ’s death by communal partaking of food and drink, but the precise elements will depend on the culture of time and place (tea and biscuits or coke and crisps etc.).

Liberals, of course, apply this to doctrine as well. The cross of Christ, they say, permanently shows the love of God, but the setting of it in the language of propitiation and atonement are simply cultural baggage no longer applicable. We are sure that no-one involved in this discussion would fail to abhor such sentiments, but let us make no unwitting concessions to it. The God-ordained sign of a fabric head-covering, when understood and conscientiously practised, is the Divinely appointed expression of acceptance of the Divinely appointed principle of male leadership.

4. Historical Arguments.

a) The RPNA state in connection with Calvin,

‘We do not deny that the cultural practice of Geneva was generally for women to wear a headcovering in society and public worship. This, however, is not at the heart of what we are seeking to ascertain. The question we are asking is whether the covenanted divines of Geneva understood the passage in 1 Cor 11 to be teaching that the headcovering is a permanent moral sacred significant sign, or alternately, a culturally alterable circumstance’ (p. 7).

They later quote the Geneva Bible notes as saying, ‘ these our days for a man to speak bareheaded in an assembly is a sign of subjection’ and proceed to argue that the culture of Geneva was the opposite of Apostolic times (p. 8-9). If that is so, then it is clear that the women of Geneva wore headcoverings, not out of regard to culture (which would have dictated the opposite practice), but on the basis of permanent Biblical requirement.

b) Calvin is quoted in support of the idea that he saw headcovering as merely a matter of cultural order when he states, ‘There are examples of the first sort in Paul: that profane drinking bouts should not be mingled with the sacred supper of the Lord (1 Cor 11:21-22), and that women should not go out in public with uncovered heads (1 Cor 11:5)’. Do the RPNA brethren really believe that Calvin taught that only in certain cultures should the mingling of profane drinking bouts with the Lord’s Supper be avoided? Once more, they seem to have confused the cultural variation in what sins the church is more prone to, with requirements based only on the need not to unnecessarily offend by violating cultural norms.

This must suffice for now, but for Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Cor 11 (as well as David Dickson) see here. Calvin is however much more strident in his sermons on the passage compared to his commentary.

Is Headcovering Biblical? (3) - Positive Historical Testimony

Greg Price, in his booklet ‘Headcoverings in Scripture’ published before the RPNA did its u-turn on the subject, points out, “the paintings on the walls of the catacombs reveal that the uniform dress of women in worship was to cover the head and hair (not the face) with some type of cloth” (p.90). He quotes Schaff as dating these 100-300AD. There follows a series of quotations from Irenaeus (120-202 AD), Tertullian (150-225), Clement of Alexandria (153-217), Hippolytus (170-236), Chrysostom (340-407), Jerome (345-429) and Augustine (354-430) all of which are in favour of women covering their heads above and beyond the natural covering of the hair.

The Reformation Period.

Gary Sanseri in his book Covered or Uncovered (pp. 192f.) takes the Augsburg Confession as distinguishing between headcovering in the congregation (required) and in public generally (not required if no offense given). Turning to the main Reformers, however:-

Peter Martyr (1500-1562). “A woman ought seeing her hair is given her of God, to follow this his institution, and to imitate her Maker, and cover her head; which if she will not do, as much as is in her, she throws off the natural veil”.

Henry Bullinger (1504-1575). But the apostle Paul biddeth the woman to pray, or to come into the congregation to hear a sermon, with her head covered, for none other cause, but for that she is not in her own power, but subject to another, that is to her husband”.

John Knox (1505-1572). “First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: ‘Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of the man; and therefore ought the woman to have power upon her head’ (that is, a cover in sign of subjection)...Chrysostom, explaining these words of the apostle, ‘The head of woman is man’, compares God in his universal regiment to a king sitting in his royal majesty, to whom all his subjects, commanded to give homage and obedience, appear before him, bearing every one such a badge and cognisance of dignity and honour as he has given to them; which if they despise and contemn, then do they dishonour their king. ‘Even so,’ says he, ‘ought man and woman to appear before God, bearing the ensigns of the condition which they have received of him. Man has received a certain glory and dignity above the woman; and therefore ought to appear before his high Majesty bearing the sign of his honour, having no cover upon his head, to witness that in earth man has no head.’ Beware Chrysostom what you say! You shall be reputed a traitor if Englishmen hear you, for they must have my sovereign lady and mistress;...He proceeds in these words, ‘But woman ought to be covered, to witness that in earth she had a head, that is man.’ True it is, Chrysostom, woman is covered in both the said realms, but it is not with the sign of subjection, but it is with the sign of superiority: to wit, with the royal crown.” (‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”, Work vol. 4, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 383-4 & 402-403).

Is Headcovering Biblical? (4) - Positive Historical Testimony

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...Further, we know that the world takes everything to its own advantage. So, if one has liberty in lesser things, why not do the same with this the same way as with that? And in making such comparisons they will make such a mess that there will be utter chaos. 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” (Sermon on 1 Cor 11:2-3 in Men, Women and Order in the Church, trans Seth Skolnitsky, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 12-13).

“St Paul now continues with the subject which he had begun: namely, that women must have the decency not to come to the public assembly with their heads uncovered; and that men must also be decently attired so that there be no beastly confusion. To confirm it, however, he adds a further reason. ‘Does not nature itself teach that if a woman have no head-covering, it is a shame to her?’ he says. One would surely say that a woman was mad, if she came without hair. When he says ‘her hair is for a covering,’ he does not mean that as long as a woman has hair, that should be enough for her. He rather teaches that our Lord is giving a directive that he desires to have observed and maintained. If a woman has long hair, this is equivalent to saying to her, ‘Use your head-covering, use your hat, use your hood; do not expose yourself in that way! Why? Even if you have no head-covering, nor hood, yet you also have something to conceal yourself. You see that it would not be fitting to go bare-headed; that is something against nature.’ This is how this passage of St. Paul’s must be understood” (Sermon on 1 Cor 11:11-16, op. cit. pp. 52-53).

“4....Prophesying I take here to mean — declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers, (as afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14,) as praying means preparing a form of prayer, and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people — which is the part of the public teacher, for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public... 5. Every woman praying or prophesying... Here we have the second proposition — that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonour their head. For as the man honours his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection — involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Timothy 2:12.). It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophecy even with a covering upon her head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he here argues as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter xiv.” (Calvin, Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:4-5).

We conclude:-

1) Calvin, like a number of the older writers, introduces the concept of modesty into the passage, instead of sticking to the issue of head-covering as a sign of subjection. Whatever we may think of that, the extreme examples of immodesty that he links with it militate heavily against the idea that he thought the head-covering a merely temporary requirement.

2) The RPNA statement brings forward no indications from Calvin’s commentary or sermons on 1 Cor. 11:2-16 to defend the idea that he held the ‘cultural view’. No doubt they would have done if they could. Instead we are given a reference in the Institutes that would make mingling drinking bouts with the Lord’s Supper a cultural matter, if the passage meant what the RPNA maintain. In fact, if you read the passage in full, you will find it does not bear the meaning attributed to it (vol. 2 pp. 435-436 in the Eerdmans edition).

3) Would Calvin have preached and taught the necessity of women covering their heads in public worship when expounding 1 Cor.11 in such strong terms if it were only a matter of culture? Would it be compatible with his view of the ministry to employ his authority as a minister of the word to urge a usage which was purely cultural and not say that he regarded it merely as such?

Even the reference to Turretin (in the RPNA statement) is inconclusive, because he specifically refers only to prophecy, whereas the passage of Scripture refers to prayer and prophecy in verses 4 & 5 and only to prayer in verse 13. It makes good sense if we understand Turretin to be saying that head-covering when prophesying has ceased because prophecy has ceased. This would also explain the absence of reference to prayer which seems to be a deliberate exclusion. If this is correct, it tells us nothing about Turretin’s overall position on head-covering. We are not aware of any great furor in the Continental Reformed churches over a change in practice. Yet, in the events leading up to the Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands, we read of “some men who registered their conscientious objection against hymns by putting their hats on when a hymn was announced.” (The Secession of 1834, by Rev A. Baars, pub Ontario 2004).

Is Headcovering Biblical? (5) - Westminster Assembly

The Westminster Assembly

1. The absence of reference to head-coverings in the Westminster Standards does not mean that it was not widely practiced. A number of matters, such as standing or kneeling in prayer, are not mentioned in the Confession and Catechisms, but were undoubtedly the normal practice - following Calvin’s view; “Nothing, moreover, forbids him who, from disease, cannot bend his knees, to pray standing” (Institutes, Book 4, ch. 10, para. 31).

2. Use is made of 1 Cor. 11:13-14 as a proof text to Westminster Confession 1:6, when it states, “...and there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.”

The reason for the use of this proof text is to establish the place of the “light of nature” in determining what to do in the church’s worship and government. In 1646, during the period of the Westminster Assembly, a work entitled Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici (‘The Divine Right of Church Government’) was published by ‘sundry London ministers’. It was a defence of the Presbyterian majority’s views of church government, which could be done outside the Assembly even more fully than they could hope to do inside it. Many of the Assembly members were ministers within the London synod and the work is regarded as reflecting their views. In dealing with the place of the light of nature, we read,

‘Because the Spirit of God and of Christ in the New Testament is pleased often to argue from the light of nature in condemning of sin, in commending and urging of duty, as in case of the incestuous Corinthian: “It is reported commonly, that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles” (who had only the light of nature to guide them, 1Cor. 5:1) [and] in case of the habits of men and women in their public Church-Assemblies; the women’s heads should be covered, men’s uncovered in praying or prophesying: “Judge in yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is a shame to him? But if a woman have long hair it is a glory to her, &c.” (1 Cor. 11:13-15). Here the Apostle appeals plainly to the very light of nature for the regulating and directing of their habits in Church-Assemblies. And thus in case of praying or prophesying in the Congregation in an unknown tongue (unless some do interpret), he strongly argues against it from light of nature (1 Cor. 14:7-11); and afterwards urges that women be “silent in the churches” (ab indecoro naturali) from the natural uncomeliness of their speaking there: “for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church” (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

Now if the Spirit of God condemns things as vicious, and commends things as virtuous from the light of nature, is there not a jus divinum in the light of nature? May we not say, that which is repugnant to the light of nature in matters of Religion is condemned jure divino. And that which is correspondent to the light of nature is prescribed jure divino? And if not, where is the strength and force of this kind of arguing from the Light of nature?” (The Divine Right of Church Government, Naphtali Press, p. 11).

Although it is only a passing reference, yet in the light of the above, and especially the examples given along with that of head-covering, it would be difficult to interpret this as favouring women’s head-covering as anything other than a permanent requirement. It can also be regarded as very representative of puritan thinking at the time of the Westminster Assembly.

Is Headcovering Biblical? (6) - Puritan Comments

Quotations from the English Puritan Period on Head-covering

William Greenhill 1581-1671

“They (the angels - DS) reverence the greatness and majesty of Christ. Though they be high and glorious, yet they see so vast a distance between Christ and themselves, that they cover their faces, Isa. vi. And their bodies, here; they come not into his presence rudely, but with great respect and reverence. As God is to be had in reverence of all that are about him, Psalm 89:7, so Christ is reverenced of all the angels that are about him. Women are to be veiled in the assemblies, because of the angels, 1 Cor. 11:10, to show their reverence and subjection to them being present; and angels are covered, to show their reverence and subjection to Christ. It is an honour to the angels, that in reverence to them the women are to be veiled; and it is a great honour to Christ, that angels reverence and adore him.” Commentary on Ezekiel (Ch. 1:23), by William Greenhill, member of the Westminster Assembly.

William Gouge 1575-1653

“Heading 3. - Of an husbands superioritie over a wife, to be acknowledged by a wife.
....6. The very attire which nature and custome of all times and places have taught women to put on, confirmeth the same: as long haire, vailes, and other coverings over the head: and the former argument doth the Apostle himself use to this very purpose, 1 Cor. 11:7 & c. ...’And if it (i.e. the hair - DS) be given her for a covering (vail), say you, wherefore need she add another covering (vail)? That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgement of her subjection’ (Chrysostom).

‘Of Domestical Duties’ by William Gouge, member of the Westminster Assembly.

John Lightfoot 1602-1675

“Therefore the Apostle requires the vailing of women in Religious worship, by the same notion and reason, as men veiled themselves, namely for reverence towards God. But certainly it may be required, whether he so much urgeth the vailing of women, as reproves the vailing of men. However, by this most fit argument, he well chastiseth the contrary custom, and foolishness of the men: as though he had said, do ye not consider, that the man is doxa theou the glory of God, but the woman is only doxa andros, the glory of the man; that the woman was made for man; that man is the head of the woman: and how ridiculous is it, that men should use a vail, when they pray, out of reverence and shame before God, and women not use it, whose glory is less?” Commentary on First Corinthians (ch. 11:5), by John Lightfoot, member of the Westminster Assembly.

Thomas Manton 1620-1677

“In the assembly you meet with angels and devils; angels observe your garb and carriage and devils tempt you. Therefore, be covered because of the angels. The practice of women (who come hither with a shameless impudence into the presence of God, men and angels) neither suits with modesty nor conveniency...(Such boldness) feeds your own pride, and provokes ...others of your rank to imitate your vanity. Now we should rather please God than men; better never please men than offend God” Sermons on Titus 2:11-14, Complete Works, vol. 16, p. 138 of Thomas Manton.

Christopher Love 1618-1651

“Eighth, the angels are present with us, beholding us in our church assemblies when we come to worship before God. When you are in the worship and service of God, the angels are with you, beholding you, though you see them not. This is hinted at in 1 Cor. 11:10 ‘For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels.” Some refer these words to ministers, who are elsewhere called angels, but we may understand it of the angels themselves because they delight in the things of the gospel. Here the apostle speaks of women not coming into church without covering. Why? Because of the angels, not the ministers. It is meant of the angels of heaven, and therein the women are to take heed how they come into the church, because the angels are spectators and behold how you behave yourselves, they being fellow-worshippers of God with you in church assemblies. And this should make you take heed of your carriage; for although they do not know your hearts, yet they behold your carriage as you come into the presence of God.” A Treatise of the Angels by Christopher Love.

John Bunyan 1628-1688

“For this cause ought the woman to have power”, that is a covering, “on her head, because of the angels” 1 Cor. 11:10...Methinks, holy and beloved sisters, you should be content to wear this power or badge...”

John Cotton 1585-1652

“How is the public worship of God to be ordered and administered in the church? All the members of the church being met together as one man (i) in the sight of God (ii) are to join together in holy duties with one accord (iii) the men with their heads uncovered, the women covered.”

“For a woman to cover her head in time of public prayer, or prophesying, and for a man to uncover his head, the Apostle warranteth from both the light of nature, and the custome of the churches, 1 Cor. 11:4 to 16.”

Ezekiel Hopkins 1633-1690

“The apostle tells us (1 Cor. 11:10) that the woman was ‘to have power on her head, because of the angels’. Which place, especially the latter clause of it, is diversely interpreted. But I think all agree in this, that this power which they were to have on their heads was a vail or covering, which at other times, but most especially in the congregation, women ought to wear on their heads...But the men were uncovered in their assemblies, as the apostle tells us (v. 4) to signify that they had nothing over them, but were superior to all visible creatures, and subject only to God.”

Benjamen Keach 1640-1704

“The thing signified is sometimes put for the sign materially...1 Corinthians 11:10, ‘A woman ought to have power on her head,’ that is a garment signifying that she was under the power of her husband.”

Is Headcovering Biblical? (7) - Scotland


We have seen Knox’s reference to 1 Cor.11 in an earlier section.

Much is made in the RPNA paper of passages in Samuel Rutherford (c1600-1661). With all due respect, however, to that great man, the context is his attempt to defend the unwarranted practice of uncovering the head (as an expression of reverence) when partaking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and to clear this practice of the charge of being the equivalent to adoration of the elements. It is in this context that he refers to the cultural use of head-coverings and the fact that uncovering the head in his day was seen as a sign of respect. In light of this, it is hardly surprising if the matter is muddled. Presumably, this unjustified practice was dropped in due course, though it is not clear who actually practiced it anyway. (The painting Covenanters’ Communion by George Harvey seems to represent the men as uncovered and the women covered except when the latter are actually taking the elements - which would imply that the women had their heads covered during the verbal/audible parts of worship. This may or may not indicate what actually took place). The reference to head-covering being a national sign of some kind in Corinth is clearly a mistake in the light of the references to the created order in 1 Cor. 11:1-16 and the practice of the churches in general in v.16. Any confusion in the Scottish churches indicated in the RPNA paper is due to the injection of a cultural use of head-covering (or uncovering) even into the administration of discipline (as a sign of penitence etc.) instead of rejecting all man-made uses of head-covering and concentrating only on its non-cultural use appointed by the Lord in 1 Cor. 11. Unscriptural additions usually do adversely affect Scriptural appointments.

David Dickson (1583-1663)

Dickson is to the point:

“Verse 1. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

Verse 2. Now I praise you, Brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the Ordinances as I delivered them unto you.

As concerning the first part, he premises a command to imitate him, so far as he followed Christ: He also commends the Corinthians, that for some time they observed the Doctrine and Precepts delivered to them, partly by letter, partly by his lively voice, concerning Religion, and things which appertain thereunto, so far at least, that they deserved some commendation.

Verse. 3. 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.

Furthermore he sub-joins to the following admonition a maxim concerning order divinely stablished in the mystical body of the Church, viz., that Christ is nearest subordinate to God, as he is God-man, the Mediator and the Head of the Church, and that the man next succeeds in dignity unto Christ, and the woman to the man, which so far as it appertains to the honour of the sex, she is made subordinate to the man as Head; whereupon they may understand that order in Church-Assemblies is to bee observed.

Verse 4. Every man praying, or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

It is apparent that the Corinthians did not sufficiently observe this order, because their women in the public Assemblies (after the manner of Heathens) laid aside their veils, and the men covered their heads and faces; (they are said to pray and Prophesise, who met publicly, and consented to promote this public Worship of God.) This uncomeliness he reproves both in the men and women, by nine Arguments.

[Dishonours] Argument I. The covering of the man is not agreeable to the dignity of his sex, and against the honour of Christ, whom he ought to represent: Therefore it is uncomely.

Verse 5. But every woman that prayeth, or Prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she was shaven.

Verse 6. 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.

Argument. 2. It is dishonourable to the Female Sex to lay aside her veil, and against the dignity, as well of her natural head, as of her metaphorical head, to wit, the man to whom she owes subjection for the honour of the Masculine Sex; the reason whereof he gives, because it was not less unseemly for the woman to be without her veil, than to be shorn: Here therefore the woman is reproved for indecency, which she ought to amend.

Verse 7. 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 man.

Argument 3. The man (seeing he is the Glory of God, and the representation of his glorious Excellency in respect of the woman over whom he is appointed head) ought to show forth the Glory of God in his manly deportment: Therefore he must beware of this unseemliness in the use of a veil.

[The woman] Argument 4. The woman is the glory of the man, or the image of his dignity, in whom (as in a Glass) the excellency of the man (for whose sake she was created ) is seen, to whom she ought to profess subjection by the covering of herself: Therefore seeing the woman behaves herself otherwise amongst you, she is blamed for uncomeliness. This does not any whit hinder but the woman is created, in respect of her Soul and spiritual state, to the glory and Image of God, as well as the man.

Verse 8. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.

Argument 5. The man is the material principle of the woman, because she was made out of the ribs of man: Therefore it becomes the man and the woman to testify the privilege of their original, in the observation of the aforesaid decency: Therefore you are guilty of indecency which do otherwise.

Verse 9. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.

Argument 6. Seeing the man hath the respect of the end, and the woman is destined for the end; it is fitting that this difference of their excellency should be expressed by the observance of decency: Therefore when it is not observed, you are deservedly to be reproved.

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

Argument 7. Even because of the Angels, who behold and are witnesses of comely and uncomely deportments in the Church, although you would not regard that men look upon you, yet it becomes Women to testify the subjection of their Sex, and the power of the Man, by putting a veil over their head as a sign of it? Therefore you are guilty of indecency when your behaviour is otherwise.

Verse 11. Nevertheless, neither is the Man without the Woman: neither the Woman without the Man in the Lord.

Verse 12. For as the Woman is of the Man, even so is the Man also by the Woman; but all things of God.

That this comparing of the Man and the Woman, may not be drawn out further to the desiring of the Woman, in a threefold respect he equals the Woman to the Man. First, In respect to Christ our Lord, or in respect to our state of Grace in Christ: The Man and the Woman are equal, bought with the same price, and alike ordained to their service of Christ.

Secondly, In respect to the same Original; for as in the Creation the Woman is of the Man, so by ordinary propagation the Man is by the Woman. Thirdly, In respect to the first and principal efficient cause, i.e., God; (who hath made the Man and the Woman, and all things else) the Man and the Woman are equal.

Verse 13. Judge in you selves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?

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

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

Argument 8. Common sense, and nature itself, or natural inclination (so he calls settled custom, and agreeable to nature, in respect to what is comely) dictates that it is unseemly for a woman to pray uncovered, or that a man should wear long hair, and the contrary is decent: Therefore you observe no decorum when you behave your selves otherwise. Hair is said to be given to the woman for a covering, because it is given to that end, that she may know her head ought to be covered.

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

Argument 9. If any perhaps should not be moved by these Arguments, but should contend, the Apostle opposeth to their contentious Apologies, the received and established custom of the Jews, and the rest of the Churches: Other Churches have no such custom, that women should be present at public assemblies, with their heads uncovered, and the man with his head covered: Therefore your custom not agreeing with decency, either according to natural use, or of the Churches, is altogether unseemly. (Commentary on 1 Corinthians)”

James Durham (1622-1658)

“It (the veil) hath a threefold use, 1. For decoration, as in Isaiah 3:23. 2. For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the Apostle, 1 Cor. 11:6. 3. And mainly a sign of women’s subjection to their own husbands...” (Commentary on Song of Solomon, Banner of Truth, p. 280).

If there were any divergence in 17th century Scottish practice, this would be similar to the question of exclusive psalmody. There was difference of opinion in Scotland over the addition of the Trinitarian doxology to the psalms when sung and the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly, prior to that Assembly meeting, were not opposed to its use as some Scottish ministers were. As a result of the Assembly, however, they were happy to see it dropped and a strict exclusive psalmody adopted in the Directory for Public worship and expressed in the 1650 Psalter (of which the Assembly produced the initial draft before the Scottish church did the final revision) containing only the 150 Biblical psalms in metre. Thereafter, exclusive psalmody was the norm and strongly defended by such Covenanters as McWard and Brown of Wamphray. (For a discussion of this, see Hold Fast Your Confession, the chapter by Hector Cameron on Purity of Worship, pp.102ff. and also Hay Flemming on The Psalmody of the Scottish Church). Though the Scottish Commissioners were of immense help to the Assembly in many things, the English Puritans did influence the Scottish Church on some matters in worship.

It may have taken longer to attain uniformity in Scotland on head-covering than it did on psalmody. Nevertheless, H.M.R. Reid in The Cameronian Apostle (An account of John MacMillan of Balmaghie, 1669-1753) indicates that the women wore white linen coverings at church and the men removed their blue bonnets when public prayer began (pp. 52-54). He also refers to a minister called Nathaniel M’Kie of Crossmichael giving a rather homely rebuke to a man for having his hat on as the Scriptures were being read in church (p. 91). By the time J.A. Wylie’s History of Protestantism was published in 1899, in the engraving of ‘Covenanters Worshipping by the Banks of the Whittader’ (vol. 3 p. 595), they are pictured with the men having clearly removed their hats (holding them in their hand or placed on the ground) while the women have their heads covered (see also The Swearing of the Covenant ibid. p. 547). This, at least, indicates that the practice was so well established by Wylie’s time, that it was assumed also to have been the practice of the later 17th century Covenanters.

In more recent times, Scotland has not been without its distinguished advocates of the head-covering position as the extract below indicates.

John Murray (1898-1975)

“Your main question turns, of course, on the interpretation of I Corinthians 11:2-16. Permit me to offer some of my reflections in order.

1. Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (vss. 3b, vss. 7ff.), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising there from.

2. I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (vss. 4, & 7) and enjoined for the woman (vss. 5, 6, 15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. In this connection it is not proper to interpret verse 15b as meaning that the hair was given the woman to take the place of the head covering in view of verses 5, 6. The Greek of verse 15 is surely the Greek of equivalence as used quite often in the New Testament, and so the Greek can be rendered: “the hair is given to her for a covering.” This is within the scope of the particular argument of verses 14, 15 and does not interfere with the demand for the additional covering contemplated in verses 5, 6, 13. Verses 14 and 15 adduce a consideration from the order of nature in support of that which is enjoined earlier in the passage but is not itself tantamount to it. In other words, the long hair is an indication from “nature” of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required (vss. 5, 6, 13) is in line with what “nature” teaches.

3. There is good reason for believing that the apostle is thinking of conduct in the public assemblies of the Church of God and of worship exercises therein in verse 17, this is clearly the case, and verse 18 is confirmatory. But there is a distinct similarity between the terms of verse 17 and of verse 2. Verse 2 begins, “Now I praise you” and verse 17, “Now in this . . . I praise you not”. The virtually identical expressions, the one positive and the other negative, would suggest, if not require, that both have in view the behaviour of the saints in their assemblies, that is, that in respect of denotation the same people are in view in the same identity as worshippers. If a radical difference, that between private and public, were contemplated, it would be difficult to maintain the appropriateness of the contrast between “I praise you” and “I praise you not”.

4. Beyond question it is in reference to praying and prophesying that the injunctions pertain, the absence of head covering for men and the presence for women. It might seem, therefore, that the passage has nothing to do with a head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church if they are not engaged in praying or prophesying, that is, in leading in prayer or exercising the gift of prophesying. And the implication would be that only when they performed these functions were they required to use head covering. The further implication would be that they would be at liberty to perform these functions provided they wore head gear. This view could easily be adopted if it were not so that Paul forbids such exercises on the part of women and does so in the same epistle, (I Cor. 14:33b-36): “As in all the Churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak” (vss. 33b-34a). It is impossible to think that Paul would, by implication, lend approval in chapter 11, to what he so expressly prohibits in chapter 14. Hence we shall have to conclude that he does not contemplate praying or prophesying on the part of women in the Church in chapter 11. The question arises: how can this be, and how can we interpret 11:5, 6, 13? It is possible to interpret the verses in chapter 11 in a way that is compatible with chapter 14:33b-36. It is as follows: —

a. In chapter 11 the decorum prescribed in 14:33b-36 is distinctly in view and Paul is showing its propriety. Praying and prophesying are functions that imply authority, the authority that belongs to the man as distinguished from the woman according to the ordinance of creation. The man in exercising this authority in praying and prophesying must not wear a head covering. Why not? The head covering is the sign of subjection, the opposite of the authority that belongs to him, exemplified in praying and prophesying, hence 11:4, 7. In a word, head covering in praying and prophesying would be a contradiction.

b. But precisely here enters the relevance of verses 5, 6, 13 as they pertain to women. If women are to pray and prophesy in the assemblies, they perform functions that imply authority and would require therefore, to remove the head covering. To do so with the head covering would involve the contradiction referred to already. But it is the impropriety of removing the head covering that is enforced in 11:5, 6 & 13. In other words, the apostle is pressing home the impropriety of the exercise of these functions — praying and prophesying — on the part of women by showing the impropriety of what it would involve, namely, the removal of the head covering. And so the rhetorical question of verse 13: “Is it proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled?”

c. This interpretation removes all discrepancy between 11:5, 6, 13 and 14:33b-36 and it seems to me feasible, and consonant with the whole drift of 11:2-16.

5. The foregoing implies that the head covering for women was understood to belong to the decorum of public worship.

6. The above line of thought would derive confirmation from I Cor. 11:10. Admittedly the reference to the angels is not immediately perspicuous. But a reasonable interpretation is that the presence of the angels with the people of God and therefore their presence in the congregations of the saints. What is being pleaded is the offence given to the holy angels when the impropriety concerned mars the sanctity of God’s worship. But, in any case, the obligation asserted is apparent. It is that the woman ought to have upon her head the sign of the authority to which she is subject, in other words, the sign of her subjection. But this subjection pertains throughout and not simply when in the exercise of praying and prophesying according to the supposition that such is permitted. I submit, therefore, that the verse concerned (vs. 10) enunciates a requirement that is general within the scope of the subject with which Paul is dealing, namely, the decorum of worship in the assembly of the saints.

On these grounds my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle’s words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church, that apparently this part of decorum was recognised, and that the main point of verses 5, 6, 10, 13 was the impropriety of any interruption of the practice if women were to pray or prophesy, for, in that event, it would be necessary to remove the covering in order to signify the authority that praying and prophesying entailed, an authority not possessed by women, a non-possession signified, in turn, by the use of the covering.” (Extract from a letter of Professor Murray’s of 1973 and published in the Presbyterian Reformed Magazine, Winter 1992).

Head-covering (8) - Quotations

General Quotations

John Angel James (1785-1859)

“If the veil were thrown aside, they might as well cut off their flowing hair, one of the woman’s distinctions from the man, the ornament, as well as the peculiarity of the sex. Constantly and completely Christianity is the parent of order, and the enemy of indecorum of every kind.

Why were not the women to lay aside their veils? Because it would be forgetting their subordination and dependence, and assuming an equal rank with man. This is the gist of the apostle’s reason. It was not merely indecorous, and contrary to modesty, but it was ambitious, and violating the order of heaven.” (Female Piety, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994, pp. 67-69)

Henry Alford (1810-1871)

“1 Corinthians 11:2-16 - The law of subjection of the woman to the man (vv. 2-12), and the natural decency itself (vv. 13-16), teach that women should be veiled in public religious assemblies.

The women overstepped the bounds of their sex, in coming forward to pray and to prophesy in the assembled church with uncovered heads. Both of these the Apostle disapproved, as well as their coming forward to pray and prophesy, as their removing the veil. Here, however, he blames the latter practice only, and reserves the former till chapter 14:34.” (Alford’s Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids,MI: Guardian Press, 1976, pp. 562f.)

Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898)

“Thus he who stands up in public as the herald and representative of heaven’s King must stand with uncovered head; the honour of the Sovereign for whom he speaks demands this. But no woman can present herself in public with uncovered head without sinning against nature and her sex. Hence no woman can be a public herald of Christ... (Discussions Evangelical and Theological, vol. 2, pp. 98)

...secondly, verses 5, 13, that, on the contrary, that for a woman to appear or to perform any religious function in the Christian assembly, unveiled, is a glaring impropriety, because it is contrary to the subordination of the position assigned her by her Maker, and to the modesty and reserve suitable to her sex; and even nature settles the point by giving her long hair as her natural veil. Even as good taste and a natural sense of propriety would protest against a woman’s going in public shorn of that beautiful badge and adornment of her sex, like a rough soldier or a labourer, even so clearly does nature herself sustain God’s law in requiring the woman always modestly covered in the sanctuary. The holy angels who are present as invisible spectators, hovering over the Christian assemblies, would be shocked by women professing godliness publicly throw off this appropriate badge of their position (verse 10). The woman , then, has a right to the privileges of public worship and the sacraments...but she must always do this veiled or covered.” (Discussions Evangelical and Theological, vol. 2, p. 104)

A. R. Fausset (1821-1910)

“As woman’s hair is given by nature as her covering (v.15), to cut it off like a man would be palpably indecorous, therefore, to put away the head-covering like a man would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering, to show that she does of her own will that which nature teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.” (Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset & Brown on 1Cor. 11:2-16)

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

“Do you think you and I have sufficiently considered that we are always looked upon by angels, and that they desire to learn by us the wisdom of God? The reason why our sisters appear in the House of God with their heads covered is ‘because of the angels’. The apostle says that a woman is to have a covering upon her head, because of the angels, since the angels are present in the assembly and they mark every act of indecorum, and therefore everything is to be conducted with decency and order in the presence of the angelic spirits” (Sermon on Eph. 3:10, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 8, p. 263)

Frederic Louis Godet (1812-1890)

“If the Apostle’s reasons were true then, they will be to the end:

...(if) solely a matter of time and place, so that it is possible to suppose, that if (Paul) lived now, and in the West, the apostle would express himself differently? This supposition is not admissible; for the reasons which he alleges are taken, not from contemporary usages, but from permanent facts, which will last as long as the present economy.

The physical constitution of woman (vv. 13-15) is still the same as it was when Paul wrote, and will continue so till the renewing of all things. The history of creation, to which he appeals (vv.8-12), remains the principle of the social state now as in the time of the apostle, and the sublime analogies between the relations of God to Christ, Christ to man, and man to woman, have not changed to this hour, so that it must be said either that the apostle was wholly wrong in his reasoning, or that his reasons, if they were true for his time, are still so for ours, and will be so to the end.” (Commentary on First Corinthians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Reprints, 1977, p. 561)

Noel Weeks (in 1988)

“If we may set aside one teaching of Scripture that is unpopular today, then surely we may set aside other teachings....Consequently Paul turns to what such unveiling must mean for the woman. In contrast to the man, when she prays or prophesies, the unveiling of her head must be dishonourable to her...In 14:36 as in 11:16, Paul attacks the Corinthian deviation from the uniform practice of the churches. What he is dealing with is not a local rule for the Corinthian situation. It is a universal rule in the churches.

Paul makes a clear distinction between what is permissible in the church and what is permissible in the home. In her home, naturally, the wife may speak. Thus the assembly of the church is a special event, surrounded by special requirements.

Often it is argued that Paul is requiring women to conform to the Oriental custom of wearing a (face) veil. His teaching is thus asking women to conform to the normal standards of propriety in the culture.

However, Paul’s appeal is not to community standards. It is to creation. Nowhere does Paul tell women to wear (face) veils. Indeed nowhere does he even refer to the face...Corinth was a Greek city. It is highly doubtful that women in that city would have veiled their faces. Jewish women did not veil their faces...

In defence of the idea that Paul was appealing just to popular customs, some have cited his discussion about long hair in 11:14. He refers there to ‘nature’.

A consideration of the use of ‘nature’ in Paul will show that it does not mean custom (e.g., Romans 1:26; 2:14, 27; 11:21, 24; Galatians 4:8). It is a reference to the inherent or constituent character of a thing or person. When Paul says in Romans 2:14 that the ‘ by nature the things of the law’, he obviously refers to some remaining inherent sense of what is right or wrong...In 1 Corinthians 11:14...Paul appeals to an inherent sense that long hair is appropriate for women, but not for men.” (The Sufficiency of Scripture, Banner of Truth, 1988, pp.127-133)

Ligonier Ministries (1996)

“Our actions must conform to the principles that God has established...Do you disregard the exterior aspects of religion, saying the heart is all that matters? If so, confess your pride before God today.

Whenever we have a lesson from both the Scriptures and from nature, we are doubly bound to obey. We also must recognize that it is a rule rooted in nature, not custom.

If it is shameful for a woman to have her head shaved, then she must realize that it is just as shameful for her to enter public worship with her head uncovered. We must not confuse Paul’s use of hair as ‘nature’s covering’ and the covering he is exhorting women to wear in public worship.

Nowhere does (Paul) give cultural reasons for his teaching, i.e. abusive practices of a pagan society that placed prostitutes with shorn heads in the temple. Paul points back to God’s established order in nature. Whenever a teaching in Scripture refers to ‘creation ordinances’, that teaching is binding for all cultures in all ages...

The ‘rules of decorum’...regarding the worship of God are established by God Himself not by the whims of culture. It is proper for a woman to have a symbol of authority on her head...The necessity of the symbol remains fixed even as the authority of the man remains fixed.” (From ‘Table Talk’ Devotional Guide for June 17-24, 1996, pp. 36-43 - quoted by Sanseri op. cit. pp. 278f.)

Headcovering (9) Concluding Remark

Concluding Remarks

1. The RPNA Paper Misguided

The RPNA paper is peppered with the word ‘covenanted’ (e.g. ‘covenanted Genevan divines’, ‘covenanted session’ etc. because, as we noted at the outset of this series, it is clear that the RPNA are endeavouring to find something like a uniform ‘covenanted succession’ of testimony down through history to themselves. This is misguided because such uniform testimony simply does not exist. It is also misguided because, in so far as historic testimony is uniform, it is overwhelmingly in favour of the permanence of the requirement of women’s head-covering in congregational worship. It may also be questioned, regarding those occasional exceptions where concession is made to the cultural argument, whether the writers concerned would have been rather more careful if they had lived in our day and seen the lengths of abuse to which random appeal to culture, in order to avoid Biblical teaching, has been taken.

We believe Seth Skolnitsky has correctly summed up the position when he states, “The particular practices Paul addresses are (1) head-covering and (2) hair-length. In recent treatments of the passage, it has become customary to effectively collapse these two topics. That is, when the hair itself is equated with the head-covering - and the subject of hair-length is (as is often the case) not addressed in any practical way - then the whole subject of the head-covering becomes moot. That is, the net effect is to ignore the apostolic legislation, which is, of course, to disregard the law of God. The view of Calvin, while very different from the approach under discussion, was certainly not novel in his day, or unusual for long years thereafter. That it strikes us very strange is a sad but eloquent commentary on how far we have moved from the heritage of the Reformers and their Puritan disciples.” (Translator’s Preface of Men, Women and Order in the Church - Three Sermons by John Calvin, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, Dallas, 1992, pp. 3f.)

It is certainly true that there has been an immense shift of opinion and practice in the last number of decades away from the once almost universal practice of women’s head-covering in public worship. Even the Church of England did not revoke the canon law requiring that women have their heads covered at Communion until 1942. Sanseri (op. cit. p. 249) quotes an early unbelieving feminist called Elizabeth Cady Stanton writing in 1899 as saying, “A veil on the head was a token of respect for superiors; hence for a woman to lay aside her veil was to affect authority over the man...The same customs prevail and are enforced by the Church, as of vital consequence; their non-observance so irreligious that it would exclude a woman from the church. It is not mere social fashion that allows men to sit in church with their heads uncovered and women with theirs covered, but a requirement of canon law of vital significance” (The Woman’s Bible, Seattle, WA: Coalition Task Force on Women and Religion, reprinted 1979, p. 157).

Female head-covering was the norm in the majority of churches for centuries. The comparatively recent change of this state of affairs is, we suspect, not due to greater exegetical insight or true scholarly advance, but concession to the spirit of the age in which we live.

2. The Cultural Argument Invalid

The cultural argument is asserted repeatedly, but seldom have we ever seen even an attempt to prove it, and when the attempt is made, it is invariably entirely dependent on alleged historical sources as to the practice of Corinthian society outside the passage itself. We should not be dependent on extra-biblical sources for our interpretation of a passage of Scripture that can make good sense without any external information being imported. This is all the more true when the argument of the passage depends on the created order.

3. The Covering a Fabric Worn Over and Above the Hair

That the covering in view is not simply a woman’s hair is equally clear. The passage becomes unbelievably tortuous if all the apostle intended was to teach about hair length. The term rendered ‘covering’ in verses 2-13 is ‘kalumma’. This term is used elsewhere in the New Testament of the veil covering Moses’ face in 2 Cor. 3:13-16, while the verb form is used in Matt. 8:24, Luke 8:16; 23:30 etc.

It also appears in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from which the Apostles sometimes quote). It appears in Exodus 26:14, Num. 3:25, 4:8, 10, 11, 14 & 25 where it is rendered ‘covering’ in the AV. It is also found in Ex. 27:16 & 40:5 (translated ‘hanging’) and in Ex. 34:33-35 (translated ‘veil’) and in 1 Chron. 17:5 (translated ‘tabernacle’). The verb form is used in Gen. 9:23, 38:14-15, 2 Sam. 15:30 & Isaiah 47:2. It is not difficult to see that it refers to a fabric covering to be worn specifically in congregational worship as distinct from the constant covering of the woman’s hair. This is confirmed by the fact that the apostle, when he is referring to the hair in vs. 14-15, uses a different word, ‘peribolaion’ (‘something cast around’) from the kalumma to which he has referred in the previous verses.

The apostle indicates that the woman uncovering her head in worship, as with her removing her everyday covering by shaving her head, is a ‘shame’ (1 Cor. 11:6). The word rendered ‘shame’ is ‘aischron’ as when the apostle says, “it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35) and “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret” (Eph. 5:12). In the latter reference the apostle has in view the immoralities of the pagan world, not some infringements of cultural practice or custom. The former reference indicates a permanent rule for the church in all ages; the silence of women. Likewise with the head-covering - it is required now as surely as when the inspired apostle wrote these words to the church in Corinth - “Let her be covered”.

Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right’ (Psalm 119:128).”

David Silversides

Works on Headcoverings for Women


David Silversides is pastor of Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church in County Down, Northern Ireland.

This article is used by permission of the author, David Silverside.

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