Do women have to wear head coverings in church? What does 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 mean?
First Corinthians 11:3-16 discusses women wearing head coverings in church. Does this apply to Christians today? Why or why not?
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The instructions regarding head coverings are in context of a discussion on submission and headship. First Corinthians 11:3 gives a sort of "chain of command": God the Father, God the Son, the husband, and the wife. Head coverings are an illustration of submission.
To understand this illustration, one would need to be familiar with the local customs of Corinth in the first century. Women in that time and area typically wore a head covering while men did not. This was one clear cultural distinction between men and women.
This also explains the discussion in this passage regarding hair length. Again, in that time and culture long hair was associated with women and not men. A shaved head was also seen as a sign of mourning and was considered dishonorable for women from a Jewish background (though Corinth's Christians were primarily Gentile background).
Other historical and biblical examples to show the cultural nature of this passage can be provided as well. For example, the historical Vikings were known as men who often had longer hair, yet were known as strong men of their time. Samson had hair that was to never be cut and was known as the strongest man in the Bible.
Because of the illustrative purpose of this passage, it would not be accurate to teach that the Bible commands women must wear a head covering in church today. While there is nothing wrong with the practice, it is a cultural issue rather than a biblical command for all times and places.
Still today, in some cultures a head covering or headscarf is culturally appropriate for women. However, in Western culture, a hat or head covering is typically a fashion accessory.
Rather than any specific item of clothing, the Bible gives principles for what a woman should wear. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:9-10 offers a focus on modesty, decency, and propriety (what is proper) for women who profess to worship God.
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