Recently, I was asked if we women should wear head coverings to church in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11:2-15. Verse 5 reads: “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.”
If you just read the passage, without taking things in context and looking at the cultural period in which this was written, then yes, it does sound like women should wear head coverings when they pray at church.
However, this passage goes beyond surface reading. This letter was written to the church in Corinth, probably one of the most licentious cities in the world at that time. Paul wanted the women to (1) demonstrate submission to their husbands by wearing a head covering, and (2) set themselves apart from the prostitutes who shaved their heads and didn’t wear coverings. Paul was dealing with a specific issue going on in the Corinthian church.
At that time in Corinth, women wore long hair and wore a covering over their heads in public. This covering symbolized her submission and purity. The only exception to that were prostitutes who shaved their hair or wore their hair in a disheveled manner.
The head covering was a sign of submission.
So is this a timeless principle for all women throughout all ages? The principle in this passage is for the wife to honor her husband and demonstrate submission. The application of that principle in the Corinthian church was for the woman to cover her head in public, in contrast to the appearance of the prostitutes.
The universal, timeless principle that transcends all times and cultures is not that we need to wear head coverings at church, but that we are to demonstrate a submissive spirit to our husbands, our head. The application of that principle today is not by wearing a head covering, but by showing respect and honor to our husbands in other ways.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.