The Head Covering Issue
In years past no well dressed woman would attend church without a hat.
Many wore hats without any thought of obeying Scripture. It was proper
Bult times have changed and the bareheaded look became the style. Few
women wear hats now and most feel it is unnecessary to wear them in
church. In conservative churches such women may accept the teaching
about the roles of the sexes (I Cor. 11:3) and are happy with male
leadership. But for some of them wearing a hat seems strange and utterly
irrelevant in this modern world.
Let us examine both positions and try to understand the reasoning
First, let us hear the stand of those who believe dress is a matter of
Such would say, first of all, that there is no command in the Old
Testament to wear a veil. It is mentioned as a custom but not taught in
the Torah (Cf. Rebecca in Gen 24:65). There is teaching concerning male
leadership implied in creation (I Tim. 2:13) and commanded in the fall
(Ge. 3:16). The whole Old Testament is in harmony with this.
Secondly, the Semitic culture of the day practiced the use of the veil.
This is true today in Muslim lands where some form of the veil is still
used. It may be over the top of the head, leaving the face exposed, or
the face may be partially covered. Local customs vary.
Thirdly, the plea of Paul in I Corinthians 11 is based on culture. Paul
does not appeal to a command of Scripture to reinforce his exhortation,
but to what is pe\roper or fitting (I Cor. 11:13). He does appeal to
Scripture for the creation order to teach the subordinate role of the
woman. Here the veil is viewed as a symbol of her submission to male
authority (I Cor. 11:10).
The woman appearing without a veil in public is viewed as disgraceful
conduct (I Cor. 11:5). She is stepping out of her role and dress as a
woman in that culture.
Finally, the point is made that in today's Western culture women do not
veil themselves in public. For a woman to be unveiled in public is not
to transgress public propriety or to step out of her role as a submissive
wife. Today to put on a veil is to go against social custom.
And some would say that what is important is the attitude, not the
dress. In the military service one may wear work clothes or dress
uniforms but each knows his rank and keeps it.
Now let us consider a more traditional position, which believes the
woman should still wear a covering. What are some of the arguments?
First, churches for 1,900 years generally practiced head covering for
the woman. The Roman Catholic Church for centuries was very strict on
this. A woman could not enter one of their churches without putting a
scarf or hat on her head. Until recently nuns wore veils. And most
Protestant churches encouraged women to wear a hat. There is a long
tradition in the churches for the women to be covered.
Secondly, Paul takes a very strong stand on women being veiled in I
Corinthians 11. If it were just a matter of culture would he have
written so strongly urging women to be veiled? He asserts that this is a
symbol of her taking her proper place in society.
Thirdly, it is an eloquent symbol that a woman is willingly taking her
God ordained place in the church. In a world where women are asserting
their independence and rejecting the idea of a difference in sex roles
this is a powerful statement by a godly woman of her submission to God's
Finally, Paul insists that this is the universal practice of the
churches (I Co. 11:16). Those who contend for a different position go
against the teaching followed in all other assemblies. Apostolic
practice was uniform in this area in the first century.
Much more could be said for both positions, but this may help in seeing
the other perspective. We must allow for sincerity and a desire to
please God in each camp. It is a question of an external symbol and does
not affect the functioning in the respective roles.
If conformity is not from the heart and is reluctant and resentful, God
is not pleased. Perhaps an assembly should wait for God to change the
thinking of His children, rather than to force compliance. Is the basis
of fellowship a head covering?
In a fellowship where some wear a head covering and some do not, what
could be an attitude that would please God? Perhaps the attitude of Paul
is needed: "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let
not him does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him" (Rom.
Let not the woman who sees no need for a covering regard her covered
sister with amused contempt, as though she were benighted. And let not
the covered sister judge and condemn her unveiled sister. "Who are you
to judge another's servant?" (Rom. 14:4).
Is it too much to ask God's people in an assembly to be loving accepting
in areas such as these? Or is it such a vital matter it should be made a
condition of fellowshipo? Elders will need wisdom from God to be good
shepherds of His flock and to guide God's people aright.
Donald L. Norbie
Food for the Flock,