WAMS 2018: Headship and Head Coverings (Part One)

Let’s just get this right out there. I absolutely believe the Bible teaches that women should cover their heads. And furthermore, I do cover my head.

So, why write an article about it?

In a nutshell: brevity of scriptural mention, difference of interpretation and practice, and relatively no teaching on the subject.

The Bible teaches head covering in just 15 verses. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16) Comparatively there are over 2000 verses about money, 365 verses on “fear not”, and 692 mentions of heaven.

In addition to this brevity, the 1 Corinthians passage ends with this verse,

If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practices, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:16 ESV)

What??? No wonder there’s confusion.

It’s not a black and white topic. There is much varying interpretation on the ifs, who’s and when’s of head covering. Even “experts” from Bill McDonald to Jamieson, Foster, Brown, to Matthew Henry to F.B. Meyer to Darby, have quite differing takes on the same passage.

Various views paired with little to no teaching.

Cultural conundrums

Women covering their heads in public was an almost universal cultural norm up until the 1960s. This cultural norm subsequently spilled over to church. In almost any denomination, any culture, any religion, you’d find the women with some sort of covering on their heads, be it a hat, mantilla, scarf, bonnet, or ______.

As a matter of fact, it was such a “normal” practice, that the Catholic Church did not feel it necessary to include the mandate to cover until the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Then came the 60s and 70s. Fancy hats were no longer the fashion standard for women. Women went bare headed everywhere, including church. The practice of head covering fell into disuse, and in the 1970s the Catholic Church addressed that.

“It must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period…such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Corinthians 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value.” [1]

In the 1983 Code of Canon Law—the one in effect today—the canon about head coverings was not re-issued. In addition, Canon 6 of the current code states that all subsequent laws that are not reissued in the new code are abrogated, and it specifically mentions the Code of Cannon Law of 1917. [2]

The Catholic Church made a clear statement. And, ironically enough, their decision affected more than just Catholics.

Because head covering had always been a cultural practice, the spiritual practice was not taught. Thus, when culture changed, conservative denominations were left with generations of men and women who really didn’t understand or appreciate the Biblical basis, picture and conviction of the head covering.

The “truth” was not as “self-evident” as we’d like to have thought.

The practice of head covering has mostly faded away in American, European, and Asian churches. With the exception of a few denominations-including the Amish, Mennonite, Apostolic, church of Christ, Plymouth Brethren assemblies, and a handful of others.


Many times I’ve heard women say, “I cover my head to show I’m submissive to my husband.”

This idea comes from the use of the greek words, aner (man or husband) and gune (woman or wife). These words are translated contextually. The KJV translates them man and woman. The ESV translates them husband and wife. It is very confusing. (Do you cover your head if you are a single woman?)

Is head covering about submission? (if you aren’t submissive, slapping on a head covering doesn’t change that fact.)

To put it another way, headship is a noun, submission is a verb. While wearing a head covering can be an action of submission, it is a picture of a much bigger concept-headship. Headship and submission are complementary topics, but they are not the same thing.

Submission is the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person; while headship (kephale) has three meanings in Scripture:

  1. a physical head (1 Corinthians 11:7)
  2. source or origin (Colossians 1:18)
  3. a person with authority (Ephesians 1:22)

Glory and Covering

In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 we have three words used repeatedly…head, cover, glory. 

There are three heads listed…
With their corresponding subordinates (lower in rank or position)
God >>> Christ (Christ is equal with God, but He submitted Himself to the will of God.)
Christ >>> Man
Man >>> Woman

The reason for this order is found in verses 8, 9

“For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” 

Eve was created from Adam’s rib (from man). She was created as a helper for Adam (for man). (Genesis 2:18)

And their corresponding glory (magnificence or great beauty)
God >>> Man
Man >>> Woman
Woman >>> Her Hair

Unique glories

Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation. The “very” good. Man is the image and glory of God.

Proverbs 31 elaborates on the idea of women being the glory of men.

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life…Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land…Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Do we dispute that a woman’s glory is her hair? There have been many cultural changes in hair styles since Paul’s time, but the constant has remained…women glory in their hair. Long or short, straight or curly, grey, blonde, brunette, black, red. It’s often a love/hate relationship with women spending (accumulated) years of their life caring for their coiff.

The truth of this really hit home to me when my 5 year old daughter lost her hair because of chemotherapy. I cried and cried over her hair loss. Hair is an integral part of any woman’s life. It’s important.

Whether or not we consider it magnificent or a great beauty, fundamentally a woman glories in her hair.

(Part 2 here)

[1]Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Inter Insigniores


Bernadette Veenstra


  1. Avatar

    I wish to comment on your article
    1 The teaching on the head covering is not based on the culture in the past nor on the culture today.

    2 The fact that it is only mentioned in the book to the Corinthians, does NOT INDICATE that it has little importance. It is in the Bible and INSPIRED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, so the symbolic meaning is of GREAT IMPORTANT.

    If we believe in the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Scripture this has importance to God and has been practiced around the world for 2000 years after Pentecost.

    Paul mentions this detail in the Book of the Corinthians because many years after Pentecost which was the inauguration of the NEW COVENANT (Christianity) this practice was immediately followed as a practice of the church, and a practice in the churches where Paul and others established new assemblies. … It is only mentioned here many years later because the church in Corinth were refusing to accept this symbol as important. The entire message of Paul to the church in Corinth is to correct the many errors in the church, of which this is ONE of the many errors.

    3 This topic falls between 1 Corinthians 11-14 where the topic is the service of the believer in the Assembly
    Chapter 11:2-16 The authority of Christ is established first and
    the means of Outwardly demonstrating it .

    Chapter 11:17-34 The Lord’s Supper is discussed as the
    assembly’s response/service/worship to God

    Chapter 12, 13 The ministry of the saints to one another by the
    use of the spiritual gifts is the third topic, with emphasis on the
    spiritual principles that govern their practice.

    Chapter 14 The ministry of the believers to one another is
    discussed with emphasis on practical details. (notes taken from
    John Headings Book on Corinthians)

    The order of the topics are intentionally placed as such by the Holy Spirit to indicate that
    1. Voluntary submission to God is our first obligation, in the assembly’s service to God (this is the area where this topic is important)
    2. then worship/gratitude/devotion as shown in the Lord’s supper,
    3. then doctrinal teaching on the different ministries
    4. and then the practical outworking of our service.

    Therefore, we should look at these verses as ESTABLISHING and DEMONSTRATING the AUTHORITY OF CHRIST in all local meetings of the believers, and this is the basis of the following topics that Paul also needs to correct in this church. The order of the topics is also guided by the Holy Spirit

    1 Corinthians 11:16 which was quoted in the article is NOT CONFUSING, but is CLEAR declaration as a SUMMARY to the topic, that if anyone want to argue with Paul about this topic, there has been no other practice until now, and none of the churches, have argued about this practice, as it was universally accepted by all until this negative attitude of the believers in Corinth.
    1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone wants to argue about that, we don’t have any other practice. And God’s churches don’t either.

    4. Though Judaism has been abolished at the inauguration of the New Covenant, yet the SYMBOLISM of the Old Testament is a KEY to God’s symbolism in the New Covenant.

     The High priest wore a turban with the words engraved “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” This is a picture of Jesus as our High priest, and that he was SUBMITTED to Jehovah. Exodus 28:36 The priests who served daily in the Tabernacle also wore a turban
     There are no priests today in the same sense, but every believer is a priest, saved by faith, declared Holy, called to service for God and expected to live a live of submission to God.
    Revelations 1:5, 6; 1 Peter 2:9

    The Head covering still shows SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD in HOLINESS, and in submission to HIS WORD which is, or should be the case of all true believers. …

    … but in the New Covenant it was changed for the women (to practice the head covering in the meeting of the assembly) as a sign of submission to our head WHICH IS JESUS (and not the elders or the husbands etc.)
    It represents the submission of the bride of Christ to JESUS as the head of the church.

    I will comment more next week


    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      Wow, Bev! I think with all your long comments, you should join our writing staff. =)

      I don’t believe head covering is only a cultural thing. I do think our past “leaders” were lazy in teaching head covering though, because it was such a cultural norm. We don’t only cover because it is culturally normal. Cultural norm is not the reason at all.


  2. Avatar

    I appreciate you bringing this topic up. I, too, have observed that there is very little understanding or relevant discussion about this topic. Perhaps you are right that it has just become a cultural norm (and not a spiritual conviction) within the assemblies, and since cultures change, that is why many in the younger generation are largely abandoning the practice today.

    Mind if I share an observation to add to your discussion? I’m single, so this idea of headship and authority has particularly captured my attention. And Paul was single, so I found it odd that he would have excluded single people in this 🙂 But when 1 Cor 11:10 says “For this reason the woman out to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels,” I don’t think Paul is referring to the authority of a husband or even of men in general, I believe he is speaking of the authority of Christ, and, therefore, the authority of God. If men are the glory of God and women are the glory of men, men represent God and women represent men (and women are obviously representing themselves as well), therefore, women represent all of mankind, and are, therefore, showing the church, the world, and the angels that when we wear a headcovering, the women AND men in this church are submitting to the authority of Christ as our Head and Chief Shepherd of this church, and, therefore, are submitting to the authority of God, our Creator. It’s really quite a beautiful picture, and a privilege for me as a woman, to be able to represent mankind in the presence of the glorious angels. I find it touching that God cares that much about His angels, to want to specifically include them as observers in the worship of His saints in His Church. Many of His angels, who saw Him in all of His magnificent glory, still rebelled against Him and fell (and many also remained faithful), and yet here are these frail and weak little human beings that God created after them (so weak in comparison to angels that we are confined by gravity and if we fall off of a building we die or if we get a tiny parasite in our body we can die), who have NEVER seen God in all His magnificent glory, and still, we submit to His authority as Supreme simply and purely by faith. Can you fathom how MUCH glory God is receiving in the presence of the multitudes of His angels (both the fallen and faithful ones) by our tiny act of obedience done because of faith? I mean, the angels must be absolutely dumbfounded as they watch us! Faith is something they have never experienced. And when we wear a headcovering, we are showing these angels, week in and week out, that as weak as our bodies are, we can be strong in the spirit, by faith, making us greater than them, and of whom we will judge one day (1 Cor 6:3). And when I say strong in the spirit, I don’t mean our own strength, I mean, because we have God, the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us (which the angels don’t have), that makes our spirit strong by faith. I mean, many weeks it gives me goosebumps sitting in church with a headcovering on, knowing the astounding significance of what I’m doing, as the angels watch me in wonder and curiosity of this thing called “faith.” Though I don’t see God, I don’t see Christ, I don’t see the angels, I still wear a headcovering by faith, showing that I submit to God by faith, because I was saved by faith and I live by faith in every aspect of my life until I am face to face with my Creator and in the presence of the angels where faith will no longer be needed. And Satan knows all this, that is why he is distorting headcoverings and getting women to have disdain for it, but I’m telling you, women who don’t wear headcoverings are missing out on this amazing privilege and strengthening of faith 🙂 To God alone and forever be ALL the glory!

    “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” -2 Cor 5:7


    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      Great thoughts about the head covering and authority. I do touch on it some in Part 2. But not to this extent. You’ve said it beautifully. Thanks.


  3. Avatar

    When you quote the verse regarding being contentious…considering that Paul was addressing the believers at Corinth who were not doing as they should in some respects. It seems that the Corinthians were doing as they should in uncovering of men and the covering of women, however, it would seem that they did not understand why. verse 3 states “But I want you to understand…” So maybe there was confusion as to the why. In verse 14, the practice that we don’t have is related to being contentious. “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice…” If anyone disputes the teaching that I gave you that men are to uncover in a meeting of the assembly and the women are to cover or veil, we have no such practice of being contentious! “Nor do the churches of God” (tail end of verse 14.) The practice is not referring to the use or not of head coverings but rather those who would still be inclined to disobey the command.


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