Whether or not a woman is to wear a head covering is quite controversial, but by looking carefully at I Cor. 11:1-16, it is simple and clear. The apostle Paul begins in this way in vs. 1-3: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” In verse 3 he is stating the order of authority in marriage.
Paul then begins to discuss the headcovering in verses 4-7: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.” The word used for covering in these verses is katakalupto. This covering is a veil or shawl that covers and hides. Paul says that if her head is uncovered it is as if she were shaven. Then in v.6 it says if she be not covered, let her also be shorn. He is clearly comparing the woman’s uncovered head to one that is shaven.
Verses 7-9: “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” Here, Paul shows the reason for the woman’s covering as being based on God’s order of creating the man first and the woman coming from the man.
Verse 10: “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” A woman’s covering is an outward sign that she is being submissive to her husband and that she is under his authority and protection. “When the angels are ‘sent forth to minister’ (Heb.1:14), the covering on the head of the woman tells the angels that this woman is submitted to God’s delegated authority, and that she is therefore in a position to receive ministry from the ministering spirits. To understand the effect of the woman’s headcovering on fallen angels, we must consider the relationship of the first woman, Eve, with the first fallen angel, Satan. What was it that made Eve vulnerable to deception? It was simply the fact that she was acting independently from, rather than in submission to, Adam’s authority. Had she remained under the man’s authority, the deception would not have taken place, for we are told that ‘Adam was not deceived’ (I Tim.2:14).” ~Daniel Botkin~
Verses 11-12: “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” These verses show that woman originated from man at the creation, that now man is born of woman, but we are all one in the Lord. God shows no partiality(favorites), just an order of how things are to function and the differing roles for man and woman.
Verses 13-15: “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” Paul is saying that nature is an example of the natural order of things. The word for covering here is peribolaion. This is the woman’s natural covering referring to her hair.
Verse 16: “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” If this verse is misinterpreted, it can seem to deny all that Paul has said in the previous verses, which is not logical. Many take the portion of the verse that says "we have no such custom" and apply it to the previous 15 verses. If this portion is applied to the verse itself it makes perfect sense. By looking up “contentious” and “custom” in the concordance, we can properly understand this verse. Contentious means quarrelsome, strife. Custom means mutual habituation, association, companionship, i.e.. moral habit. Verse 16 reads: But if any man seem to be quarrelsome, we have no such “moral habit” (association), neither the churches of God. This is telling us that they would have no association (they would not have the same habit) with a person causing strife in this area, nor would the churches. Contentious in the Bible is a sinful attitude as shown in Rom.2:8, Prov.21:19, 26:21. Verse 16 is not just referring to the Corinthian church, as proven by the plural churches, but to “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord “ (I Cor. 1:2).
Many people want to overlook and ignore I Cor.11:1-16, as being a cultural or traditional custom, but with references to creation, nature and the other churches this cannot be so. Should we also ignore the rest of that chapter, vs.17-34, in which Paul is correcting the Corinthians in the way they came together for the Lord’s supper? Should we say that the Lord’s supper was just to be kept by the Corinthians? Obviously not. It is inconsistent to accept only a part of chapter 11 and not the whole.
Headcovering was a long held and common practice for we find several references in the Old Testament of women wearing them (see Gen.24:65, Num. 5:18, Ruth 3:15, Song of Sol. 5:7 and Isa. 47:2). And woman have worn headcoverings throughout most of history until recently. Actually our era is out of the norm for what has always been a common practice, which makes this even more challenging for a woman. But everytime we submit to the Lord, we lose more of our defiled self and become more free indeed!
Concluding thoughts . . . . . There are many women who feel convicted to wear a covering, but their husbands do not want them to. What should this woman, who desires to obey God in all things, do? Should she "obey God rather than man?" (Acts 6:29; 4:19) Or should she submit to her husband in everything? (Eph.5:22,24) Some have said that a wife is to be submissive in all things to her husband, but in doing this it would make the husband as God - the supreme authority. I believe God's word is to be obeyed first, except in non-essentials where a well defined right of principle is not involved. Now having said that one would think that the right thing to do with the issue of headcovering would be to wear one regardless of what the husband thinks. But I do not believe that is the case in this instance for the following reason. The passage in I Cor. 11 that was studied above is about the roles in marriage under Christ's headship. Whether the husband is a believer or an unbeliever, if he hasn't placed himself under the headship of Christ in this area, then the wife wearing a covering as a symbol of his authority and of the authority of Christ in their marriage means nothing to him. For the wife to wear a covering without the husband's approval will defeat the very purpose of what this command is to achieve.