Covered and Uncovered Heads

Brodie Crouch
Evanston, Ill.

Several articles and tracts which have recently appeared make it clear that a number of preachers feel that not enough women are wearing their hats to worship. Perhaps many, of both men and women, have lost sight of the spirit of dignity which should prevail when we draw near to God in worship, but it does appear to this writer that there is considerable basis for questioning whether I Cor. 11:1-16 teaches that women must wear hats or artificial coverings today when they pray or prophesy.

I. The Viewpoint Which Attributes This To A Custom of Paul's Day Is To Be Considered.

Though commentators are not infallible, it is known that many eminent men such as Clarke, Barnes, and McGarvey held the view that Paul was treating a situation which arose when certain women wanted to break away from an established custom of that day which attached a symbolism of subjection to one's husband to the wearing of a veil or headcovering. Objectors to this view attach great significance to the claim that: (1) God would not bind a human custom on the church, and (2) Paul bases this argument on the fact that God created Adam before Eve, showing that this sign of subjection has been needed since the Garden of Eden.

Concerning these points, we may say that Paul did recognize customs when to disregard them was to bring reproach on the church, or to hinder it. Timothy was required to be circumcised, Acts 16:3, though at the time it was but a Jewish custom. Who among us today would contend that the church can refuse to abide within customs which are in themselves not wrong, and when to refuse to conform is to bring reproach upon the church? We might point out that the modern marriage "ceremony" is a legalized custom to which Christians must submit. If it be objected that this is a requirement of law, let us remember that it is the kind of law which was first custom, and then made a law. For Christians to ignore it in any country wherein to do so is to be considered not married would bring reproach on the church whether law required it or not.

On the basis of this point we may conclude that if the people of Paul's day considered the unveiled head of the woman during praying or prophesying to be a sign of independence from, or equal authority with her husband, the apostle may well have bound the custom on the church for just so long a period as the general acceptance of such a custom would have meant that to reject it would have brought reproach upon the church

In the second place, no proof is given that the apostle means to imply that an artificial head covering became a symbol of subjection to mankind, or to God, back in the Garden of Eden. Certainly man was subject to God, and woman subject to man at that time. But to claim, without scriptural proof, that woman's sin required that she again be subjected to man, that now the natural covering is insufficient and an artificial covering becomes necessary, is equal to saying that when man did sin also, it would be necessary to remove his short hair as a sign of his second subjection to God.

Certainly that which the apostle taught must be observed. It should also be recognized that Paul does not confine this teaching nor the covering which it enjoins to public worship only. This writer has read one tract wherein the author quotes an authority who says we may "assume" this much, because Paul is dealing with the public assembly. But Paul's instruction concerns the appearance of the individual when praving or prophesying before God. Here we cannot assume. A Methodist might assume that baptism is referred to as "a burial" in Romans 6:4 because the practice of sprinkling was not yet widely recognized, but such assumption would be to misuse the scriptures. If Paul's charge concerning the covered heads requires an artificial covering while praying in this age of the world then it must be agreed that Paul makes no distinction between public worship, private worship in the home, or the woman who prays in the secrecy of her closet.

Nor can we conclude that the modern women's hats supply the required covering unless it can be established that the modern hat does what the original term employed by Paul would require.

Even if it be granted that the passage in question is equally binding on all Christian women today, the advocates of the "wear a hat" custom have not removed their difficulties. They still must show that the average modern hat provides the required covering, as we shall see. Most of those who insist that woman must wear an artificial covering, in addition to the natural covering of her hair recognize no middle ground between the "long hair" of verse 15 and the state of being "shorn" of verse 6. As one writer puts it:

"Paul shows in verse 15 that it 's a glory for a woman to have long hair. The opposite of long is short. The opposite of glory is shame." Another writes;

"If a woman were not covered with hair she would aready be shorn, and could not also be shorn,' as Paul says here."

If Paul's instruction truly comprehends but two possible degrees of hair covering, then the use of "also" would require an artificial covering. But if it can be shown that the language can refer to three degrees of natural covering, then the emphasis placed here by the advocates of the artificial covering falls, and the natural covering, may well be the covering Paul required. Let us consider the following points which are based upon some definitions of terms recognized by the weight of Greek scholarship which can be easily read by those of us who are not able to read the original.

II. Considerable Evidence Indicates That a Woman's Hair May Be The Coverinq Given Her For This Purpose.

1. Many translations render the term katakaluptestho by the word "veil," rather than by the term "covered" found in the common version. The Emphatic Diaglott, Goodspeed, Conybeare and Howson, Revised Standard, American Standard, Catholic Confraternity, Weymouth, and New World translations a1l so render it.

The lexicons define the term variously, but despite their slightly varying terminology it is obvious that the term requires a complete covering. Liddell and Scott defines it: "To cover up; to veil oneself." Thayer, Abbott-Smith, and James Donnegan's classical lexicon all employ virtually the same words. The new Arndt and Gingrich lexicon says: "Of a young woman, covered or veiled to the forehead. 2. Middle, cover oneself with a veil." Both Robinson's lexicon arid W.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words point out that the term signifies a covering which hangs down. Robinson says: "To cover with a veil which hangs down." Vine adds a note under the definition of the term, as follows: "In I Cor. 11:4 'having the head covered' is lit., 'having (something) down the head."

The term is then obviously one which conveyed the idea of complete coverage of the top of the head, most probably "to the forehead," and very probably the veiling of an even larger portion of the head. The term "veil" is used by all authorities in supplying full definition, though no one would contend that no garment other than a veil could supply this degree of covering.

2. The term peribolaiou, I Cor.11 :15, is variously translated, and certainly in such a manner as to give credence to the belief that the hair is the covering already spoken of. It is variously translated as follows:

Englishmen's Interlinear: "Instead of a covering."

Diaglott: "instead of a veil."

Twentieth Century: "to serve as a covering."

King James Version: "for a covering."

A host of other translations employ virtualIv the same words found in the common version.

The lexicons again throw light on the subject. Liddell and Scott, Donnegan, Abbott-Smith, Thayer, and Arndt and Gingrich all define it as all article of clothing which is "thrown around." It is termed variously a "mantle," "cloak," "covering," "vesture," or, "veil." Vine's Dictionary Of New Testament Words says:

"Literally denotes something thrown around (peri, around, ballo, to throw); hence, a veil, covering, 1 Cor. 11:15 (marg.) or a mantle around the body, a vesture, Heb. 1:12."

This then describes the kind of covering for which the woman's hair was given to her, since this was the term Paul employed. That this kind of covering does "hang down" is not to be questioned, and at least two authorities specify that the term found in I Cor. 11:6 requires that kind of covering. Authorities abundantly testify also that the usage of "anti" with the term in 11:15 indicates "instead of" this kind of covering, as the term "anti" signifies in Luke 11:11 where the Lord employs it in asking what father would give his son a serpent "instead of" a fish. Woman's hair was given to her not only "as a covering," but "instead of" the kind of covering suggested by the term peribolaiou found in 11:15, "instead of" a covering, mantle, veil, or vesture for the purpose. To say the least, one is being presumptive to say that there is "indisputable" proof in the passage in favor of an artificial covering. Among the worthy commentators who have not seen it as "indisputable" was David Lipscomb. He says:

"The woman, when she comes before God in prayer, or in prophesying, must do it with her head covered either with long hair or with a veil or covering of some kind." Queries And Answers, p. 115.

  1. There is A1so Evidence To Indicate Paul Had Three, Not Two, Degrees Of Covering Under Consideration.

In efforts to justify the artificial covering as a necessity today, much emphasis is placed upon the words of Paul, "let her also be shorn," verse 6. It is pointed out that the use of the term "also" means either "long hair," v. 15, and the covering, v. 6, or else remove both. This conclusion is reached by assuming that any trimming of the hair will equal what Paul terms "shorn."

Bro. Lipscomb saw three styles for wearing the hair. He says:

"There were three styles for wearing the hair: (1) to have the hair long; (2) to have the hair cropped, as is common with men; (3) to have it closely shorn, as with lewd women. Paul required that a woman should have her head covered with her long hair; or if her hair was not long, she must wear a veil or kerchief as a covering." Queries And Answers, p. 114.

Does the language of Paul permit this conclusion? Again we look to the authorities of the language Paul employed. Of keirastho, from keiro, the lexicons say:

1. Liddell and Scott: "To shear, cut the hair short; 2. to cut or hew off; 3. to ravage, waste a country.

2. Thayer: "To shear, a sheep, Mid., to get or let be shorn; absol. of shearing or cutting short the hair of the head."

3. Robinson: "To shear, to clip - a sheep; spec. the head, to cut off the hair."

4. Arndt and Gingrich: "To shear a sheep; Middle, cut one's hair, or have one's hair cut."

5. Abbott-Smitb: "To cut short the hair, shear a sheep; Mid., to have one's hair cut off, be shorn."

6. Vine: "Keiro is used (a) of shearing sheep, Acts 8:32, 'shearer,' lit. 'the (one) shearing; '(b) in the Middle Voice, to have one's hair cut off, be shorn, Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 11:6."

It is thus seen that though the word apparently sometimes does signify an ordinary haircut, as in Acts 18:18, such a conclusion in this passage is by no means certain since commentators agree that we know not the nature of Paul's vow nor the details of it. And the evidence is weighty that the general use of the term is to completely cut away all the hair as one would shear a sheep. Yet the man wears his hair longer than this and is recognized as "uncovered" in the sense in which the apostle employs the term. Hence, Paul's meaning may very well be: if the woman have not the long hair given to her "instead of a covering," as is true today with many women with their masculine style haircuts, then let her "also be shorn" or wear an artificial covering that actually covers her head.

  • Those Who Contend That An Artificial Covering Is a Must, Overlook The Fact That Consistency Requires They Go Farther Than The Average Modern Hat.

That a modern hat covers a part of the head no one questions. That some of them do a fair job covering most of the top of it is also evident. But when the definition of "katakaluptestho," already cited, is considered it is obvious that a complete covering of the head is required, two authorities going so far as to say that a covering which "hangs down" is demanded by the term. Are we to simply conclude that because God is above us it is but necessary to have something over the top of the head? Certainly the average modern hat cannot be said to "cover up" nor "to veil" the head. Actually, in most cases where congregations insist upon the artificial covering, inany individual cases are seen in which the hair is covering as large or larger portion of the still uncovered head as is covered by the hat itself.

Woman's hair indeed provides a covering for her head, when it is left long as God intended, and is not cut in the shorter masculine style. Honesty compels one to admit that the average modern hat, aside from never having been popularly assigned the symbolism of subjection, comes but little nearer to the real meaning of "katakaluptestho" than Methodist sprinkling comes to "baptizo."

We may sum up by pointing out that there are two views of this passage, (1) that which considers it applicable to a custom of Paul's day, and (2) that of the natural hair providing the covering required, either of which is plausible and either of which adds up to the sarne ultimate conclusion; that an artificial covering is not required when engaging in worship today. 'I'he difficulty of deciding which of these two is spared us since in either case the result is the same.

The prevalent idea that woman was first given her hair as a covering to signify her subjection to man, and that when she sinned, Gen. 3:16, God gave her the artificial covering in subjecting her the second time overlooks the truth that the "sign of authority" required in 11:10 was predicated on the headship given to man at the time of creation, 11:9. At that time the hair was given to her "anti" (instead of) a covering, to accept the conclusions of two writers in defense of the artificial covering, and the usage of "anti" in Luke 11:11.

On the other hand, those who insist upon the artificial covering have failed to give scripture showing that God imposed an artificial head-covering later in the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, they weaken their position by the following inconsistencies:

1. They do not insist upon the kind of complete covering Paul spoke of. They substitute a modern custom of wearing a hat, which need not completely cover the head to be acceptable.

2. They do not require the artificial covering in private worship, or in family worship. Paul spoke of that which should characterize the Christian woman when she approached God in prayer, or in prophesying.

Truth Magazine II:7, pp. 22-24
April 1958