Head Covering


While wandering the internet I stumbled across a blog advocating that women cover their heads.   Naturally, 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 was the author’s text—

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved. So if a woman’s head is not covered, her hair should be cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should be covered.

I read the post and some comments. Discussion topics included the usual suspects. The pro-head covering camp argued for a literal reading of scripture. They were also concerned about obeying God’s word rather than bowing to modern social conventions. The argument I hadn’t heard before was that women wore head-coverings as a matter of course in the early church. The author cited the writings of Tertullian to support this.

On the other side, people said we aren’t bound to the directive about head-coverings; it had to do with the culture in Paul’s day and no longer applies.

I’m not going to wade into the weeds of all this. For me, there’s a more basic question, one rarely brought to bear in such debates: Does God intend for the New Testament to be another law or an addition to the law?

As Paul points out, the law of Moses says, “the one who does these things will live by them” (Gal. 3:12; Lev. 18:5). Is the new covenant a “live by doing” covenant like the old?

A covenant defines the nature of our relationship with God. If the new covenant is a “live by doing” covenant then it is the same covenant as the old. Granted, Jesus replaces Moses as the figurehead, and we restyle rituals and traditions around Him. But the covenant itself—the nature of our relationship with God—is unchanged. We have merely redressed Judaism in Christian garb.

This begs the question: Why make any distinction between the old and new covenants if they are the same?

Changing figureheads isn’t enough. Figureheads changed a number of times under the old covenant: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc. Practices, too, changed between Genesis and Malachi. None of these changes in figureheads or practices amounted to a change in covenant.

If we accept that the covenant under Jesus is new in reality (not just in name) we must abandon the “live by doing” relationship. This means looking at the New Testament (and the Old) with different eyes.

Years ago, the Lord said something that continues to shape my understanding of covenants and scripture: “In the scriptures, you either see things Jesus fulfilled or things you have to fulfill.” This statement speaks to how scripture must be read. It also illustrates the difference between the old and new covenants. The new covenant is based on what Jesus fulfills; the old is based on what you and I fulfill. This is less a matter of Old or New Testament than about which covenant informs our reading of either testament. We can read Old and New Testaments with an old or new covenant mindset (Luke 24:27).

Back to head-coverings. Do we put this instruction on par with “Do not have other gods before Me” or “Do not murder”? (Ex. 20:3, 13). Do we add head-coverings to the 600-some commands of Moses? The Pharisees added a bunch of commands to Moses, and we see where that got them. Will adding commands about head-coverings, tithing, or baptismal formulas help us know Jesus better than they did?

Jesus is our covenant or He isn’t. People who mixed the old and new covenants made Paul super grumpy. He sarcastically wished they would take circumcision further and emasculate themselves! (Gal. 5:12). (Being emasculated, I suppose, they could then wear head-coverings…or not…probably not).

Christ is all and in all. In Him, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). That is covering enough for all of us.


For more about the law, see my booklet Wonderful Things in Your Law.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Jamie Carter says:

    This site … does it happen to have a big quote from R.C. Sproul on it’s front page, by any chance? If It’s the one I’m thinking of, it features another teaching from R.C. Sproul on 1 Corinthians 11’s head-covering verses that says: “Sometimes, after we have studied the background of a text thoroughly, we are still not sure whether it is giving us a principle or a custom. But it is better to treat a custom as a principle than a principle as a custom. If we think a custom is a principle, we are only guilty of being overtly scrupulous. However, in disregarding what is really a principle because we say it is a custom, we disobey God. When faced with unclarity, treat the biblical teaching as if it is a principle.”

    1. mrteague says:

      Sproul’s comment belies the issue I’m addressing. Do we view the New Testament as a law we must fear breaking? Do we have as much confidence in grace as we do fear of failing? How we answer these questions indicates which covenant we operate under.

      1. Jamie Carter says:

        The people who often teach a pro-head-covering stance don’t seem to consider the law. They say it is a tradition or ordinance delivered with apostolic authority (1 Cor. 11 v 2) pointing to creation order (v 3, vs 8-9, Genesis 1-3). It is a symbol of a husband’s authority over his wife (v 10.) It’s to bolster Complementarian teachings (compare Ephesians 5:23 to 1 Cor. 11:3) – so that people who say “head coverings are obviously cultural – so male headship must also be cultural” won’t have as strong of an argument if there is a group of Christians who view both head coverings and male headship as equally important as other ordinances like baptism and communion. My friend pointed to the Pharisees and said that when Jesus called them out for tithing spices, he said they neglected justice, peace, and mercy. He didn’t tell the Pharisees to stop tithing; just to stop neglecting to tithe the other things. Likewise, head coverings (to him) isn’t an either/or thing – but both/and. Both helping the poor and wearing head coverings are equal in his book because male headship is at stake, and with it the authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures themselves. Because if you stop believing one part of it, then you have to throw out the whole book.

        1. mrteague says:

          The question for me when it comes to scripture is whether God intends us to embrace the letter or spirit. There are instances in scripture where the letter is violated but the spirit kept (i.e. Jesus picking grain on the sabbath, David eating the show bread or keeping the ark in a tent separate from the tabernacle). Others kept the letter but violated the spirit (i.e. the Pharisees). In every case, God stands with those who observe the spirit. As 2 Corinthians 3 shows, the spirit of the letter is what is revealed about Christ. He is the true covenant & relationship with God, not keeping commands. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  2. lptrey says:

    This interesting. I agree that we are not saved by the Law. God’s grace and sacrifice are more important. We should do our best to still follow the Law though. Never really focused on these verses before. Check out my page for my current and upcoming political and theological posts. Follow for follow. Have a great day. th3platform.wordpress.com

    1. mrteague says:

      How do we follow the law? If the law was a shadow of Christ, should we do our best to be a shadow or simply let Christ be the reality? (Col. 2:17, Heb. 10:1). Under the new covenant, Christ is the fulfillment of the law. The distinction between covenants is huge. I fear the church is guilty of not expounding that difference clearly enough. To put it more on the nose, we are guilty of not expounding Christ clearly enough. Thanks for your comment 🙂

      1. lptrey says:

        Maybe I should’ve been a little more clear. We should obey His 10 commandments. That’s how we show our love for God. It won’t save us like Christ’s sacrifice did but it is a good thing to do and it’s how we receive blessing in our lives. John 14:15

        1. mrteague says:

          John 14:15 isn’t referring to the 10 commandments. It is referring to Jesus’s new commandment in the chapter before & after (John 13:34, 15:12). It is a new covenant with a new command. As Hebrews 8:13 says, by calling this covenant “new” God signals the previous one is obsolete. And as Ephesians 1:3 says, every spiritual blessing is in Christ, not in keeping the 10 commandments. God bless 🙂

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