Should women cover their head when praying?
There is a growing movement amongst some Christians where woman are covering their head with a hat, scarf, shawl or other artificial covering while in church.
This is not a new movement, woman have been doing this for a rather long time. The Lutherans, reformationists and the methodists all teach that woman should cover their heads in church. Some like the Amish and the Mennonites teach that woman should cover their heads at all times. The tradition most certainly isn’t as popular or taught as it once was, however it seems to be gaining some new steam in recent years with some denominations including the Hebrew Israelites teaching this. Interestingly the Catholic Church taught that a woman should cover their head until they changed the teaching in 1983 when they said the tradition no longer was in effect.
The understanding that a woman should cover her head while praying (or prophesying) comes mainly from just a single passage of scripture found in 1 Corinthians 11.
1 Corinthians 11- 5 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. 6 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.
So it would seem that woman should in fact cover their heads while praying. If they do not it is as if they are shaven and it is a shame for a woman to be shaven so she should be covered.
Paul states that the woman who does not cover her head dishonours her head. Her head that she would dishonour here as Paul states is the man
1 Corinthians 11- 3 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.
So a woman who does not cover her physical head while praying or prophesying dishonours the man.
But, if we put these verses back into context and apply some understanding we will see that Paul is not referring to an artificial covering at all. The covering that Paul refers to is the woman’s own hair. Although those who claim that the hair is not what is being referenced disagree, we see that Paul quite plainly gives us the answer to which covering he is indeed referring to in verse 15
1 Corinthians 11- 15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
So Paul states that a woman who has long hair it is given to her as covering and so her head is covered when she is praying or prophesying if she has long hair.
Now some people will go back to the Greek in order to try to show that there is a different covering being referenced by Paul here from that of the hair and that Paul is not actually referring to a woman’s hair as the covering that she needs to have when praying back in verses 5 and 6.
They will state that the Greek words translated as covered and uncovered in verses 6 ,Covered being κατακαλύπτω katakalupto and Uncovered being ἀκατακάλυπτος akatakaluptos are different than the word Paul used in verse 15 which is Περιβόλαιον peribolaion. So they will claim that the Greek makes a distinction that is not evident in the English. The truth is only shown when we investigate the original language.
Now again at first, if we don’t actually investigate the claim, this might sound like it does show what they are so desperately trying to show. However yet again this argument fails. When we look at these different Greek words used we will see that katakalupto is a verb and akatakaluptos is an adjective. However the word peribolaion is a noun. While Katakalupto refers to the act of covering the head, Peribolaion refers to the physical thing which the head is covered by. The difference being one is an act of doing the other is a literal physical thing. There is no distinction between 2 things that are used as a covering at all.
The hair (noun) being the thing that a woman uses to cover (verb) her head.
It is long hair that a woman uses as her covering. Short hair would not be a covering for a woman.
This does not mean, even though some do claim it does, that woman cannot have short hair. Paul specifically states that it is ONLY when praying or prophesying must a woman have her head covered.
1 Corinthians 11- 5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
There is no statement by Paul that a woman must always have her head covered. So Paul states that a woman who has short hair and thus the hair not be a covering, should then cover her head when praying or prophesying.
If the woman, who does not have long hair but has short hair, does not cover her head then it is as if she is shaven. So a woman with short hair should use an artificial covering on her head when praying or prophesying.
Now there are however some people who will claim that the word shorn means to have short hair.
This they claim means that verse 6 makes no sense if hair is the referent.
1 corinthians 11- 6 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.
They point to the fact that shorn is translated from a different Greek word than shaven.
Shorn being κείρω keiró and shaven being ξυράω xurao
So the claim being if we take the covering as hair then the verse would read if the woman be not covered (have short hair) let her also be shorn (have short hair). If the woman already has short hair then making her hair short would make no sense. This I would totally agree with IF the word shorn meant short hair. But it doesn’t.
The word shorn is simply another word for shaven and used interchangeably to mean exactly that, shaven.
The Greek word κείρω keiró which as we have already seen is translated as shorn in verse 6 in Corinthians means to cut the hair. It is used synonymously with the word shaved. It is also used in Acts 18-18 when referring to Paul after he had taken the Nazarene vow. Paul having shorn his hair for he had a vow.
Acts 18-18 And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.
The Nazarene vow can be found back in the Old testament in the book of Numbers
The person taking the vow would allow their hair to grow during the period in which they were fulfilling the vow. They were not to cut their hair during this time.
Numbers 6-5 All the days of the vow of his separation there shall no rasor come upon his head: until the days be fulfilled, in the which he separateth himself unto the LORD, he shall be holy, and shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.
However at the end of their vow the person who had taken the vow was required to SHAVE their head and put the hair in the fire.
Numbers 6-18 And the Nazarite shall shave the head of his separation at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shall take the hair of the head of his separation, and put it in the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offerings.
So we see Paul had Shorn his head at the completion of his vow did so just as the Nazarene vow requires that a person must shave their head. Paul who is stated as having Shorn his hair therefore this was the same as having shaved his head. Shorn and shaved very clearly used synonymously. They mean the same thing
The claim that shorn means short hair fails. Shorn is just another word for shaved.
Therefore the correct understanding of the woman’s covering for praying and prophesying is
A woman should have her head covered while doing so
If a woman has long hair then this is her covering.
If a woman has short hair then she must wear an artificial covering for her head. If she fails to do so it is as if she has her head shaved and this is a shame upon the woman’s head, who is the man.
Paul continues his teaching regarding HAIR when he makes a contrast between the woman having long hair and a man having long hair when he states that nature teaches that it is a shame for men to have long hair.
1 Corinthians 11- 14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
This coming in the immediate verse before the teaching about the woman’s long hair being a glory to her and her covering.
A man then who has long hair should not be praying or prophesying if he has long hair for it is a shame unto him.
The whole teaching here is about hair length.
Furthermore, if we take covering as an artificial covering for the woman then we must also be consistent with this understanding and apply it consistently in all parts of this chapter.
Verse 7 says that a man should NOT cover his head.
1 Corinthians 11-7 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.
So a man should not cover his head. Anyone who has seen any Amish priest or Catholic bishop (which includes the Pope) would know that they do in fact wear head coverings.
If the covering for the woman is an artificial covering and she has to wear such when praying then we must understand that Paul is saying that a man should not wear an artificial covering on his head.
That must therefore include the head coverings worn by the Amish and the Catholic bishops.
There is also a problem for those denominations that teach that this is not in reference to hair but an artificial covering and also teach that we are still under the law of Moses. The Hebrew Israelites would be one such group.
If we must take head covering as an artificial covering and we are consistent and say that men must not wear an artificial covering then there is a huge problem found in the law.
Wearing a head covering was actually part of being a priest under the law. The priests under the law, were actually commanded to wear such.
Exodus 28- 40 And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. 41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office.
Exodus 29- . 9 And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest’s office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons.
Exodus 39- 28 And a mitre [of] fine linen,and goodly bonnets [of] fine linen, and linen breeches [of] fine twined linen,
Leviticus 8-13 And Moses brought Aaron’s sons, and put coats upon them, and girded them with girdles, and put bonnets upon them; as the LORD commanded Moses.
Bonnet is מִגְבָּעָה migbaoth means headgear
The teaching that women must wear an artificial covering on their head when praying when actually analysed is simply shown incorrect.
Paul in his teaching in the passage in 1 Corinthians 11 was referring to hair.