I Cor. 11:2-16: But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake. Therefore, the woman ought to have a token of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman, for just as the woman is from the man, so the man is through the woman, and they all have their origin from God. Judge for yourselves. Is it becoming for a woman to worship God without covering for her head?
As under the Old Covenant, God has provided his New Covenant children with tangible symbols of His spiritual relationship with them. Specifically, the physical signs for the Church are baptism, the Lord's Table, and the covering of the woman's head (and lack thereof on the man).* God lovingly gave these symbols to His people so that through their enactment, they would be continually reminded of their standing in Him - washed by His blood, recipients of salvation through His sacrifice on the cross, and beloved bride for the Son.
For women, the Lord designed the headcovering to be an honorable symbol that reflects the richness of His grace. Sadly, knowledge of its significance has almost vanished from the modern church. It is my prayerful hope that by God's grace, I might confess some of its meaning for God's people are impoverished through its neglect.
• A Symbolic Reminder of Creation Order
I Cor. 11:7-8 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed, man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
I Tim. 2:13-14: For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Gen. 3:16b: Your desire shall be toward your husband, and he will dominate you.
I Tim. 2:12: I do not permit women to usurp authority over men.
As a role distinctive, woman was made to be a suitable helper to man in a tiered act of creation. Modern women have tended to bristle over the scriptures cited above because their pride is pricked and their autonomy challenged by them. Nevertheless, God has ordained that leadership is male. Wearing a headcovering signifies a woman's assent to the Lord's establishment of this order.
• A Symbol of Christ's Headship in His Union with the Church as Reflected in Marriage
Isa. 62:4: "But you will be called, 'My delight is in her', and your land, 'Married'; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married."
II Cor. 2:11b: I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to Him.
Eph. 5:24: But as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be subject to their own husbands in everything.
Eph. 5:31-32: For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Throughout Bible, God uses marriage, binding and intimate, as an illustration of His spiritual relationship with His people. When we view the covered heads of women in the church, we can rejoice in the reminder that Christ is the personal Bridegroom of our little church body - always wise, always forgiving, deeply loving, completely resourceful, our sole provider, sovereign over time and place; in short, the perfect Husband.
The headcovering is intended as a tangible means to remind us that our own marriages are to reflect Christ's relationship to the church, i.e., His headship over the church and it’s submission to Him. An important part of Christian testimony concerning our relationship to our Lord is lost when this does not occur. I find the covering of my head with a hat or scarf to be a very steadying and useful personal reminder that it is proper and pleasing to the Lord for me to be a submissive wife. (See I Peter 3:5-6.)
• A Symbol of Redemption - the Covering of Our Sins
Eph. 1:7: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
Rom. 4:7: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.
Psm. 27:5: For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of his tent, He will set me high upon a rock.
Ezekiel 16:8: Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered in to a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
Within her marriage, a Christian wife is intended to be a living symbol of the Bride of Christ, the Church, who is under the cover (protection) of the Lord’s tent. Christ, through His own blood and righteousness, is the covering of His people and the eternal protection of His spouse. Each time we go before the Lord in the assembly of public worship, we are to be joyfully reminded of the covering of our sins by the covering the women's heads!
• A Symbolic Testimony to the Angels
I Cor. 11:10: Therefore, the woman ought to have a token of authority on her head, because of the angels.
I Pet. 1:12b: ...in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven -- things into which angels long to look.
I Pet. 3:22: ...angels, authorities and powers are subject to Him.
Women are privileged to model the submission of Christ to the Father before the whole world and spiritual beings. Men model His headship; women model His submission. A headcovering is a public sign of a wife's status under authority.
Having seen the pre-incarnate Christ in His glory, and then having observed His submission to the will of the Father through the taking of human form, suffering, and dying for our sins, the angels find this yielding of His glory and His humble submission an amazing mystery. It is a wonder of love they cannot fathom. A woman's submission to her husband is a testimony to them as she models this manifestation of the unsurpassable love of Christ. Indeed, women are highly privileged to be allowed to model this aspect of Christ's character, and our Lord has promised to use it redemptively. (To consider a good example of how He might accomplish, this see I Pet. 3:1.) If women will demand honors, this is their honor! To despise it is shameful.
Additionally, the submission of a wife (or daughter to father) is instructional to the spiritual beings on their own conduct, and it magnifies the glory of Christ. As Paul says, women are to be adorned by the significant covering of their heads "because of the angels."
Despite the fact that a headcovering symbolizes God's grace in each point mentioned above, there is a general feeling today that for a woman to cover her head during the worship (I Cor. 11:13) is merely a "Pharisaic" reflex. I hope I have been able to disabuse this perspective and to illuminate it's wonderful, practical use. It is a gift given from the Lord's own hand through the apostle Paul to help us remember the significance of submission to Him in our daily walk - - a walk that should typify the relationship between the Lord and His people, and particularly their redemption from sin.
May it become known in our hearts again that obedience is the worship prized by the Lord. As Jesus said, "If you love me, obey my word," (John 15:14).
Dedicated to my husband, Steve, with my love ~
* Footwashing and anointing with oil are also physical symbols given to the church to reflect spiritual realities.