The Headcovering Contention ― Ignorance, or Feminist Rebellion?

1 Corinthians 11:3-16

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. 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. 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. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 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.

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.

But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): We know how to distinguish contentious persons. A contentious person is one who does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs, raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful, and who do not yield to reasonings.

ADAM CLARKE (1760-1832): From the attention that the apostle has paid to the subject of veils and hair, it is evident that it must have occasioned considerable disturbance in the Church of Corinth. They have produced evil effects in much later times.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): The root trouble, even among good Evangelicals, is our failure to heed the plain teaching of Scripture. We accept what Scripture teaches as far as our doctrine is concerned; but when it comes to practice, we very often fail to take the Scriptures as our only guide. When we come to the practical side we employ human tests instead of scriptural ones. Instead of taking the plain teaching of the Bible, we argue with it.

JOHN CALVIN: Let us therefore carefully mark this passage.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): It was the common usage of the churches for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled.

JOHN MURRAY (1898-1975): Since Paul appeals to the order of creation, it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising there from.

MATTHEW HENRY: The woman was made for the man,” to be his help-meet, “and not the man for the woman.” She was naturally, therefore, made subject to him, because made for him―for his use, and help, and comfort.

EZEKIEL HOPKINS (1633-1690): The men were uncovered in their assemblies, as the apostle tells us, to signify that they had nothing over them, but were superior to all visible creatures, and subject only to God.

JOHN CALVIN: As the man honours his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection.

MATTHEW HENRY: And she who was intended to be always in subjection to the man should do nothing in Christian assemblies that looks like an affectation of equality. She ought to have power on her head—power, that is, a veil, the token not of her having the power or superiority, but being under the power of her husband, subjected to him, and inferior to the other sex.

H. A. IRONSIDE (1876-1951): I suspect there are some women in our modern day who would resent that―they resent the thought that God has given to woman anything that looks like a subject or inferior place. Let us put aside any thought of inferiority.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): As far as my personal opinion is concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that in many things the woman is the superior of the man: in the finer sensibilities, in the nobler qualities that go to make up character, in patience and powers of endurance, in gentleness, in tenderness, in unselfishness, in ministering to the suffering, in love, the woman is the superior to man. But that is not what is under discussion here. What is under discussion here is the position that God has given unto each and how that position must be owned and acknowledged by the symbol that God has appointed—Because God has placed woman in the position of subordination her head must be covered.

H. A. IRONSIDE: Bear in mind that Paul is not speaking here, as he does elsewhere, of a woman’s place in the new creation. In the new creation there are no distinctions: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” Galatians 3:28. We are all one in Christ. We were all sinners alike, we have all been redeemed alike, we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit alike, we have all been baptized into one body alike, and so all these distinctions vanish and we think of one another as members of Christ. But this does not alter the fact that we still have our place in nature and must maintain that place.

You will see how important this is if I illustrate it in this way: According to the Word of God I am a heavenly citizen. Suppose I say, “Inasmuch as I am a heavenly citizen, I have no responsibilities to any country here on earth,” I will soon have to reckon with the income tax collector and other authorities―and I shall have to learn by experience that I have responsibilities, I have earthly relationships that must be maintained. Just so, although there is neither male nor female in the new creation, yet we have our places to fill in nature and in the church… “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” Genesis 3:16―and that relationship still exists. “The head of the woman is the man. 

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Paul does not say that it was only for the time being―it is something that is true, therefore, of the age in which we live.

JOHN ANGEL JAMES (1785-1859): Why were not the women to lay aside their veils? Because it would be forgetting their subordination and dependence, and assuming an equal rank with man. This is the gist of the apostle’s reason. It was not merely indecorous, and contrary to modesty, but it was ambitious, and violating the order of heaven.

H. A. IRONSIDE: She shows by uncovering her head that she wants to be like the man; she dishonours her head when she says, “I am not going to take any subject place, I have as much right to have my hat off in a public meeting as a man.”

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: But thus, you see, we argue with Scripture. Instead of taking its plain teaching, we say that times have changed—when it suits our thesis we say it is no longer relevant…The apostle tells them that that’s quite wrong; it’s not only wrong because a woman should have her head covered to show that she is under the authority of the man, but in addition to that he says that she should be covered because of the presence of the angels.

CHRISTOPHER LOVE (1618-1651): The women are to take heed how they come into the church, because the angels are spectators and behold how you behave yourselves, they being fellow-worshippers of God with you in church assemblies. And this should make you take heed of your carriage; for although they do not know your hearts, yet they behold your carriage as you come into the presence of God.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The reason why our sisters appear in the House of God with their heads covered is “because of the angels,” since the angels are present in the assembly and they mark every act of indecorum, and therefore everything is to be conducted with decency and order in the presence of the angelic spirits.

R. L. DABNEY (1820-1898): The holy angels would be shocked by women professing godliness publicly who throw off this appropriate badge of their position.

THOMAS MANTON (1620-1677): Therefore, be covered “because of the angels.”

WILLIAM GOUGE (1575-1653): Her hair is given her for a covering.” And if hair be given her for a covering, say you, wherefore need she add another covering?

JOHN CALVIN: Should anyone now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it.

JOHN MURRAY: The covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6; for the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient.

A. W. PINK: What is so solemn in that sixth verse is the word “also.” I want you to notice that the Holy Spirit has there linked two things together. “If the woman be not covered let her also be shorn.”―In other words, God requires a double covering. He has given the woman the long hair to cover her head naturally, so that her head is covered when she is outside the church, to show that she is not her own ruler, her own head, but in subjection to the head of her household; but when she enters the house of God, another covering is required, to show that she is also in subjection to her spiritual head—those who have the rule in the house of God.

DAVID DICKSON (1583-1662): She ought to profess subjection by the covering of herself.

JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (347-407): That not nature only, but also her own will may have its part in her acknowledgement of her subjection.

JOHN ANGEL JAMES: If the veil were thrown aside, they might as well cut off their flowing hair, one of the woman’s distinctions from the man, the ornament, as well as the peculiarity of the sex.

JOHN CALVIN: And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability―that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not, therefore, without good reason that Paul, as a remedy for this vice, sets before them the opposite idea―that they be regarded as remarkable for unseemliness, rather than for what is an incentive to lust.

THOMAS MANTON: Women who come with shameless impudence into the presence of God, men, and angels―such boldness feeds your own pride and provokes others of your rank to imitate your vanity.

A. W. PINK: The long hair is a “glory” to the woman. Now what does that mean? Her “glory” is not to be limited to her physical attractions, but refers to the loveliness of submission, and the beauty of obedience. I want you to turn now to John 12, verse 3:—“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair.” Mary placed her “glory” at the feet of Christ! Have you?

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688): Methinks, holy and beloved sisters, you should be content to wear this.

H. A. IRONSIDE: In the presence of God she covers her chief beauty in order that no mind may be turned from Christ to her beautiful hair.

MATTHEW HENRY: Those must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside.

ADAM CLARKE: If any person puts himself forward as a defender of such points―that a woman may pray or teach with her head uncovered―let him know that we have no such custom as either, nor are they sanctioned by any of the churches of God, whether among the Jews or the Gentiles.


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