On 1 Corinthians 11, Authority, and God’s Glory

If you’ve seen me in the last week or two, you may have noticed something unusual.

I’ve been wearing a head scarf. I started wearing one because the new anxiety medication I had started had made my skin really sensitive, and my hair brushing the back of my neck was almost too much to bear.

That was three weeks ago. In the time since, I have noticed how comfortable it is to have my hair like this: the scarf kept the hair off my neck, which made me cooler; it removed the necessity to tie my hair up in a ponytail, which always gives me a headache after a couple hours; and it made it quicker to do my hair (I often restyle my hair five or six times in a day, taking about 10 minutes to do it each time).

While I was stuck at home, waiting for my medication to set in, I stumbled across The Head Covering Movement. It was started by Jeremy Gardiner after he and his wife Amanda studied 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, which you may recognise as the passage in which Paul talks about head covering in corporate worship. After reading his testimony and argument for head covering, my spirit implored me to explore this issue more. For a little while, I talked to people, read testimonies, and prayed about the issue. Eventually I returned to my previous position on the matter: that head covering in the Corinthian church mattered to them, because in that culture, married women signified their marital status by covering their heads. To leave their heads uncovered was greatly disrespectful to their husbands, as taking off wedding rings is today, as it implied that she did not recognise his authority over her. That’s how I take it, at any rate. I don’t think that unmarried women need be concerned about the issue, by the way, both because of the cultural practice, and also because Paul says that head coverings signify authority; that the husband is in authority over his wife. I think that as long as a woman wears some recognised symbol of authority (a wedding ring, for example), Paul’s commands in this passage are fulfilled.

But though I returned to my previous convictions, for a few days I still thought about the issue. I’ve been thinking about submission and how our culture ignores the issue, and I came to the conclusion that, despite wedding rings signifying marital status, I don’t think they portray the image of the wife being in submission with her husband.

For this reason, I have decided to cover my head, full-time.

Many of you will be surprised. Some of you will think that I am misguided, and am imposing unnecessary restrictions on myself, in order to be more holy. Paul calls this asceticism in Colossians 2, and condemns the practice. Let me reassure you: I do not think that covering my hair will save me. I know that my salvation comes through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and that nothing I do will make me more saved. My head covering has nothing to do with that. Instead, my decision was based on a number of things: it’s comfortable and it’s easy; it makes me less concerned with my appearance (vanity); it was practiced well into the 20th century; and it glorifies God by showing that I live in submission to Him and my husband, as He ordained. I’ll go through each point in detail, and show you what I mean.

It’s comfortable and easy.

As some of you will know, I frequently suffer from severe headaches. This is due to a number of reasons, the most relevant to this post being that I have extremely tight muscles. Anything that pulls or pushes on the muscles that surround my skull will eventually give me a headache. For this reason I can’t wear headbands or leave my hair up for long. This becomes an even greater issue in the Brisbane summer. Wearing a headscarf solves this issue, as I needn’t put up my hair; I just put it all into my scarf when I’m tying the scarf up. Sometimes my scarf gives me a headache if I’ve tied it too tight, but loosening it removes that problem and relieves the pain.

It combats my vanity.

As I said above, when I was just putting up my hair, I would change it several times a day. One of the reasons was that I would eventually get a headache, but another, more concerning, reason was that I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and decide that I looked terrible the way I’d styled my hair. I’d then spend several minutes trying to decide how to change my hair, and I’d pay quite a bit of money on my hair combs and bobby pins (which frequently break or get lost) in order to keep up this practice. Since wearing a head scarf, I have been able to ignore my hair and not stress over my appearance in that way, because no one can see it. It’s also helped me to take care of it better, because I hate being seen with greasy hair, but shampoo is very bad for it. I can now wash my hair less, which is much better for it, and not be concerned with what people think of me.

The above two points are really more just added pros about covering my hair. These next two points are what really convinced me.

It was practiced well into the 20th century.

I don’t like new interpretations of the Bible. My general rule of thumb is, if your “new interpretation” is not spoken about by the church fathers (first century believers) and other major historical Christian leaders, then it’s probably just re-wrapped old heresy. If you look hard enough, you’ll probably find that your theology has been rebuked by one of the aforementioned Christian leaders. This is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, who claim that they are the only ones who have stumbled upon the fact that Jesus is not God, and was instead created by God before he created everything. This is not new. Arius, a man who lived circa AD 250-330, is credited with this idea, and in fact the first Nicene council, in which the Nicene Creed was created, was formed to discuss this idea. The council deemed Arius a heretic, and in response to him, wrote the creed. The version we use today is slightly different to the original; I prefer the old one, to be honest.

But that’s neither here nor there. My point from all of that is that it was in the mid-20th-century that the church abandoned head covering. Before that, however, is was customary for married women to wear a hat or shawl or similar covering their hair to signify their marital status. In fact, John Calvin, John Knox, Martin Luther and various other reformers maintained that married women should wear head coverings in corporate worship. So we can see, historically, that head covering was an accepted thing; most women were expected to do it, to signify their submission to their husband.

It glorifies God.

This was the biggest thing. Because head coverings are not culturally practiced as they used to be, I will stand out quite a lot from other women. I know that head coverings are more recognised as a symbol of female oppression (this is how many people see the Muslim burka, for example). I’m not threatened by this. In fact, if people comment on it I will have a chance to tell of God’s glory, and maybe win more souls for Christ.

Most of all, though, the head covering reminds me of my submission to my husband and to God, and it reminds me to act in a way that first glorifies God and then my husband. This article on modesty helped me in thinking about the issue, because although it doesn’t talk about head covering at all, it speaks about the heart issue of modesty and my attitude toward my brothers in Christ. In fact, I think head covering has made me thing about what I wear more than I did – I mean, how ridiculous would it be for me to show lots of leg and cleavage when my hair is covered? And it has made me more conscious of my heart attitude toward sin that I allow in my life.

To clarify

If you’ve been skim reading up until here, I would ask you to stop for this part. Just because I am head covering doesn’t mean that I will deem you (my sisters in Christ) as less holy or less Christian or less anything for not doing the same. I want to get that out there. This is my decision. It is personal, and my reasons appeal to me. I do not expect other women to think the way I do. To think that every woman needs to have her head covered is wrong; in my mind, it’s a conscience issue. My conscience says that this is the right thing for me to do; yours may not. Don’t think that I’ll pass judgement on you for not head covering. I would ask you to do the same for me.

Edited to add: This was entirely my own decision; Daryl had no influence. When I told him he was entirely unaffected; he actually said that he though it was just a fad I was going through. Now that I’ve explained myself to him, he supports me wholeheartedly, but never did he try to pressure me. He is also of the “it was a cultural thing” persuasion. Just to reassure those of you who may worry!

Anyway. Thanks for reading. Sorry the blog has had such a hiatus; I’ve got another couple (I think) of posts to put up in the coming weeks, so hopefully you’ll hear from me again soon.

Soli Deo gloria.

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One thought on “On 1 Corinthians 11, Authority, and God’s Glory

  1. Saw your post on /r/Reformed, great read. This is something my wife and I have really been discussing. I’m not sure wear I stand at the moment, still need to talk to our pastor about it. Im not very convinced of the cultural argument at all though. If I had to pick a side today, I would be pro-head covering.

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