Of Male and Female Head Covering


One should observe that headship is not a matter of salvation but a matter of role. One should observe that Galatians 3:28 in speaking of there being neither male nor female refers to salvation not role.

Male headship is the biblical norm for spiritual matters in the home, church, and nation in general. But this does not apply to non-spiritual matters and heading entities such as a computer business, construction company, or a non-profit organization whose mission is not primarily preaching and teaching of spiritual doctrines. Here non-profits include government entities since their primary role is not preaching and teaching of spiritual doctrines although they are to apply spiritual doctrines in their job capacity.

Nothing in this document should be misconstrued as justifying abuse of females by males or males by females. Indeed all forms of abuse to include but not limited to mental and physical abuse are forbidden by scripture. Occurrence of physical abuse is self-evident when the event occurs. Mental abuse may be more difficult to determine; but biblical love will prevent its occurrence.

With respect to male headship principle 1 Cor 11 establishes the man is the head of the woman (1 Cor 11:3) and the image and glory of God and the woman is the glory of the man (1 Cor 11:7).

Eph 1:22 says: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

In 1 Cor 11:3 and Eph 1:22 the same Greek word (G2776) is translated head. It has the sense of responsibility for and authority over. This is as in the sense that the physical head of the human body governs the physical body.

Indeed, headship exists in the godhead.  It is the Father who sent the son. It is the Father and Son who sent the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in 1 Cor 11:3, Jesus himself has a head so certainly there is no dishonor in having a head.

Head Covering Symbolism – Male and/or Female?

Here I discuss the head covering provision of 1 Cor 11.

I admit the head covering provision has been a rather difficult subject for me. Mostly because of emotional desire not to offend.  But I have concluded that it is best for me and all others to accept the truth of the Word of God no matter how much it offends. I have concluded it is best not to wrestle against the scriptures as Peter speaks of some doing to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16)

The biblical male headship principle is transcultural and transgenerational. Therefore, some form of symbolism, head covering or otherwise, should be employed by the body of Christ to facilitate good order and discipline regarding projecting, teaching, and sustaining the biblical male headship principle.  This is especially important in a world where extreme feminism principles are taught in our academic institutions and promoted in media. The body of Christ has the God given authority and responsibility to make sure its members are properly informed so as to eliminate or at least reduce the deceptive influence of worldly institutions.

In 1 Cor 11:1-2 Paul says:

(1 Cor 11:1)  Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
(1 Cor 11:2)  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

The word translated ordinances (Greek Word paradosis, Strong’s G3862) is also translated traditions in Matthew 15:3 where it says: But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

In the New Testament the Greek word paradosis seems to usually be described as traditions of men as the word men/man with respect to the religious elders is associated with it in most scriptures.  However, there are some scriptures when the same Greek word translated tradition is associated with what the apostles established.  For example, in addition to 1 Cor 11:2 there is:

(2 Th 2:15) Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

(2 Th 3:6) Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

So there is a difference between traditions of men and traditions set by the apostles.  Traditions of men are viewed in a somewhat negative sense in that humans used them improperly.  However, traditions set by the apostles are expected to be obeyed by the believers.

So we see this word ordinances in the context of 1 Cor 11 has to do with the traditions that humans devise.  The reference to ordinance/tradition in verse 3 speaks to the head covering provision; it does not speak to the Lord’s Supper which Paul addresses beginning with 1 Cor 11:17. The reason for this conclusion is that in 1 Cor 11:2 he says he praises them in their keeping of the head covering tradition; yet in 1 Cor 11:17 he says he does not praise them in their not keeping of the Lord’s Supper in the right way.  In other words, they were faithfully keeping the head covering provision as established in all the churches (1 Cor 11:16) but they were unfaithful in the keeping of the Lord’s Supper as some were corrupting/polluting its process.  Moreover, the Lord’s Supper is a commandment given by Jesus not a tradition of men although the way churches do it might be a tradition of men.

Indeed, the head covering provision is a tradition that was used in that day for specific purposes.  So then the basic question is do churches today have an obligation to follow the traditions set by the apostles as recorded in the bible or can we discard those traditions completely or replace them with others that serve the same purpose.  I suggest that we should not discard them completely; but, we may replace them with others that serve the same purpose for the purpose they served are still needed today. The purpose of the head covering was to bring to remembrance and teach to each generation the male headship principle.  Its purpose is still needed today even if the head covering symbol is replaced by another at least equally as expressive. Consider the tradition of greeting one another with a holy kiss (Rom 16:16), today that is replaced with things such as a holy hug or a holy handshake but the principle of greeting is maintained.

The words tradition and custom are generally functionally equivalent though in certain contexts for certain specific purposes they may slightly differ.  In the context of 1 Corinthians 11 they are functionally equivalent; they are common practices.

In 1 Cor 11:16 Paul ends the discussion by saying: But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

So then Paul clearly identifies the head covering provision as a custom (ordinance, tradition) to convey/communicate the male headship principle in the midst of the congregation.  Customs may be cultural and generational but the principle they represent is usually transcultural and transgenerational as in the case of the male headship principle set forth throughout the bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Paul’s apostolic head covering provision was a cultural symbolism Paul used in that day and environment. Paul used such cultural symbolism to facilitate good order and discipline regarding projecting, teaching, and sustaining the biblical male headship principle.

Clearly Paul’s identification of the head covering provision as a custom indicate he understood other symbolism may be employed and appropriate in the future. In the absence of another sufficient and effective expressive custom, the head covering custom should be abided by.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 provides important headship symbolism provisions for both male and female in the assembly; this symbolism reminds both males and females that biblically, females are to have no spiritual authority over adult males and are to avoid giving the perception that they do. Note that all of God’s prescriptions he gave in Genesis 3:16-19 are yet in effect.

The specified 1 Corinthians 11 head covering symbolism is the best universally understood practice within a church assembly. Its meaning and significance is recognizable within the assembly when taught and adhered to by all women and girls who prophesy or pray before the assembly. One should be mindful that the church is to influence society and not allow society norms to produce non-adherence to sound biblical doctrines and principles.

The head covering symbolism applies within the assembly rather than outside the assembly. Therefore, its usage and applicability should not be affected by changing society norms.

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul speaks of women wearing head covering when praying or prophesying where prophesying is speaking or preaching under divine inspiration.

So then the head covering provision also applies in a public (church like) assembly of all women, that is, no man is present.  It also applies in an assembly designated for women but which men also attend.  It applies even if no man is present because of the angels (which are presented as male in the bible) per 1 Cor 11:10; for angels watch us (Matthew 18:10; 1 Tim 5:21; Heb 1:14); the idea includes that a man even the bishop/pastor of the female speaking may stop by at any time and in his presence she should have a head covering.  An example of such a service includes the afternoon women missionary service for women and children such as one fulfilling the Titus 2 function of teaching women to be godly wives and mothers though such speaking would not be limited to that function.    The idea is that a woman may pray or prophesy with a head covering in the regular worship service demonstrating the male headship principle because angels are especially observant and involved in worship of God and in the church (e.g., 1 Tim 5:21; Heb 2:7; Rev 2:1).  Now someone might say why so.   To them I say to obey the spirit (2 Cor 3:6) of the biblical mandate as given in 1 Cor 11 and the male headship principle throughout the Bible.

In 1 Cor 11 Paul establishes that men are not to cover their heads or at least not to completely cover their heads as done with a veil (1 Cor 11:7) or scarf where a veil or scarf completely covers the head and sometimes some part of the sides of the face/jaws.  This applies to the assembly.  A man may wear a head covering outside the assembly.  So then in the absence of specific instructions such as 1 Cor 11:7, it is not sinful for a man to have a head covering or not have one.

Now there is no controversy about the man not wearing a head covering for the plain language and meaning of that is clear and accepted. So this document will not spend a lot of time on that but rather on the more controversial issue which is that of the woman head covering.

Now let’s consider 1 Cor 11:3 where it says the heard of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man.

In that verse the Greek the word for man is aner (G435) and the Greek word for woman is gune (G1135).  These same words are translated husband and wife, respectively, in 1 Cor 7:2; therefore, we see a dual use for those Greek words.

So the question arises is Paul saying the head covering provision applies only to married women and the KJV translation should say husband and wife instead of man and woman in that verse or does it also include unmarried women and the translation is correct.

The account of Isaac and Rebecca for men gives some insight into the proper answer to that question. Genesis 24:51, 64-65 says:

(51)  Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the LORD hath spoken.

(64)  And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel.
(65)  For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.

So the scriptures says the betrothed (given in marriage) woman Rebekah is out riding on her camel for some reason. While out she is uncovered but when she entered the presence of Isaac to whom she has already given in marriage (Gen 24:51) she covered herself with a vail which is a kind of head covering.

Now let’s consider Gene 38:14:

(Gen 38:14)  And she put her widow’s garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Here is the case of Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah whose son Tamar husband had died which means she is unmarried.  Tamar puts on the vail as she plays the harlot deceiving Judah to have sex with her.

So we see where the vail is put on in a marital context and in an unmarried context.

Now let’s consider 1 Cor 11:7-12 where Paul speaks of the woman being created for the man not the man for the woman.  Of course, this has referenced to Genesis 2:18-25 which records she was made to be his helpmeet or helper or assistant.  Now this help is not limited to sex for a woman completes a man in many more words than sex; most if not all of these non-romantic non-intimate contributions apply to relationships between men and women not romantically involved for a woman brings a unique quality/glory to every relationship. In 1 Cor 11:10 says the woman ought to wear the head covering as a symbol of authority because of the angels.  Now are only married women in the presence of the angels?  It would seem that unmarried women would also be in the presence of the angels.

So then given the example presence of the vail and in both married and unmarried contexts and the expected presence of angels in both married and unmarried contexts, it is unreasonable to conclude that male headship and the head covering provisions only applies to married women.  Certainly the husband is the head of the wife as mentioned in Eph 5 and 1 Peter 3 and it would follow that when the husband is present he overrides all other men and even when he is absent other men are not to overrule his rulership.  Yet, in his absence the wife is bound to submit to those men who are present.  Moreover, it follows that unmarried women are bound to submit to those men in her presence regarding righteousness they engage in but of course not any unrighteousness just as the wife is not to do regarding even her husband.  Because of the angels, although the head covering symbol of authority/power clearly applies in a marital context, it also applies to single women just as the no covering principle applies to both married and single men.

In other words, 1 Cor 11 shows the head covering provisions instituted under the New Covenant included both married and unmarried women, Jew and Gentile; indeed, the church at Corinth most likely included Jew and non-Jew. For Christ is head of both the married and unmarried man (1 Cor 11:3) and one would expect both married and unmarried men and women to potentially pray and prophesy (1 Cor 11:4-5). Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the unmarried man is also the head of the unmarried woman and of the married woman in the absence of her husband (1 Cor 11:3). But even if it was the case that the scripture here applies to only the married woman, why is it that even the married woman does not abide by the scripture in modern times?

It is really not about what people do but more about what people ought to do.

As a former pastor of mine said one day, we are to LET people light shine not MAKE their light shine.  This is similar to the adage live and let live.  This of course does not relieve us of the responsibility to preach and teach the truth.  It merely means we are not to demand compliance in ordinary circumstances.

Now of course as in bible days, people (male and female) are disobedient and do not comply with the male headship principle and appropriate symbolism.

So I tend to try and avoid contention about such matters (including female “pastors” and females in the pulpit) in the midst of the congregation assembly.

I am not about intervening in the worship service every time someone is out of biblical order. There is a time and place for all corrections and every time and place is not necessarily the right time and place especially if it is not a matter of salvation.

So I simply preach and teach and practice the Word of God regarding the male headship principle ensuring all know its value and importance. It is others (male and female) responsibility to abide in that principle with respect to both attitude, position, and projection.

When I am officiating, I exemplify its provision in what I do and not do, say and not say, and invite others to do and not do, say and not say, in the midst of the congregation.  I try not to allow anyone to cause me to say or do or support anything in violation of it.

I think this is the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11:16 where Paul exhorts us to avoid contention about such a matter.

Let’s look at 1 Cor 11:16 again as unfortunately there are different translations and interpretations of it in the church world.

Again, in 1 Cor 11:16 Paul ends the discussion by saying: But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

There is controversy as to what Paul means by no such custom. Whatever it is he says it applies to all churches everywhere and that the head covering symbolism provision has to do with a thing being a custom or not a custom not to being a commandment or not a commandment. In other words, the male headship principle is a commandment; however, the head covering symbolism provision is a custom replaceable by other customs that present the headship principle.

There are some bible translations that say the phrase “no such custom” means Paul is saying what he just wrote about the head covering is not the practice in the churches anywhere.  Well, that makes no sense as why would he spend all that time to end my saying well forget all I said as we don’t do it anyway?

Others say he is saying if anyone is contentious about it, well what I said is our custom.  But then his use of the word no makes no sense if that is what he was intending to say.

Others take the view that the word no applies not to the head covering custom but to a custom of being contentious.  Be mindful that a synonymy for the word custom is practice; that is, a custom is something that is common practiced.

So let us establish what 1 Cor 11:16 actually means.

So does he mean that churches do not say a woman ought to cover her head when she prays or prophesies in the midst of the congregation?

To the contrary the phrase no such custom is an answer to the question in 1 Cor 11:13 which says:

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

The answer is people ought not to contend about that matter for it is a settled matter.  It is not comely (becoming, suitable, beautiful, honorable, looks good) for a woman to pray unto God uncovered.  There is no such custom that a woman prays uncovered. The custom is that she prays covered and that custom applies in all churches.  That is what the word contention applies to.  He is saying if anyone questions it or contends about it, let them know the custom is not women pray uncovered but women pray covered per 1 Cor 11:5, that applies when a woman prophesies as well.

So then Paul’s conclusion in 1 Cor 11:16 is that what he has set forth in the preceding verses is not something churches should customarily contend about for it is a settled matter not to be quarrel about; the man is the head of the woman and there ought to be appropriate symbolic customs to represent that.  In other words, preach and teach what ought to be done but if the women don’t, then don’t point them out in the public assembly but pray and hope they will grow and be obedient to the male headship principle including its various symbolisms.  This is similar to his teaching on speaking in unknown tongues in 1 Cor 14.  There he says speaking in an unknown tongue is childish but yet don’t forbid it.  By that he means just like we don’t kick our children out the house because they talk babytalk but give them time to grow up so ought we to treat one another in the church especially over matters that have nothing to do with salvation.  This does not mean that some things or conditions are not serious enough to address publicly (e.g., Paul rebuke of Peter as recorded in Gal 2:11-14); it means leadership must be wise in so dealing with matters.


It would be dishonest and contradictory for me to say God is speaking through Paul with respect to those things I desire to be true and yet say God is not speaking through Paul with respect to those things I do not desire to be true.

So then if God considered women to be equal to their husbands and other men in the assembly could he not have had Paul to say something like the following in response to the issue of whether females are to wear head covering in the assembly:

  1. Females are commanded to be in subjection to their husbands in their homes but in the assembly this headship doctrine does not apply with regard to any man.
  2. So then let the females not wear a head covering in the assembly for they are equal to men before me.
  3. But let the females wear a head covering when not in the assembly and in public so as to avoid conflict with men whose society norms are that women are to be covered when in the public; do this so as not to be distracted from the message of salvation through Jesus Christ for the Lord God will deal with that society matter later.
  4. Or if God considered women to be equal to their husbands and other men everywhere could he not have had Paul to say something like the following in response to the issue of whether females are to wear head covering:
  5. Females are not commanded to be in subjection to their husbands or any man anywhere for they are in equal to men everywhere. So then let the females not wear a head covering anywhere even though it will cause conflict with society.

But of course God did not have Paul to say any of those things listed in the preceding list of items.


For a discussion of the male headship principle and role of females in ministry see Of Male Headship and Women In Ministry

To God Be the Glory!

Church Organization and Worship

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *