In Christian gatherings, is the woman's Headcovering a Principle or merely a Cultural custom?


1 Corinthians 11:3-10  I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. nkjv


  • PRINCIPLES  Things that apply at all times, in all situations to all of God's people.  
  • CULTURAL CUSTOMS  Things which are varied local applications of principles, or at least can usually be traced somewhere back in time to have come from a principle held.

Principle: Modesty - always appropriate in all situations

Cultural Customs: Modest clothing styles in one culture are manifested differently compared to another culture, but there usually remains a perception of that which is modest and that which is not. Here open toed shoes are immodest, there, they are ok. When the ladies championship team goes to the White House, flip flops aren't appropriate.


Principle: Under the Law, Tithes were the principle. Joyful Giving in Grace, is the Christian principle

Cultural custom: Various cultures & customs dictate concerning giving. Social expectations, employer expectations, cultural ideas, tax deductions, self-serving reasons, philanthropic tendencies, etc. But these aren't rooted in God-given principles. 


Principle: The Lord's Supper - taking the Bread and Wine - the believer's privilege. The example in Acts being a weekly observance. A principle is in place

Cultural custom: Various cultures may use unleavened bread & grape juice due to alcohol taboos. Some remote places have no wheat, so other food staples are used, yet they are still the "bread" of that culture. Some may have a custom of less frequent practice of the Lord's Supper, and the question becomes, is it a principle to do so weekly or a custom? (We see it as a principle).


Usually, distinguishing between custom and principle is easy, but at times is challenging.


When the way is unclear, the way forward is that "whatever is not of faith is sin."  This of course doesn't make the conscience the final arbiter. Often the burden of proof should lie upon them that argue for "custom" and not "principle". When not sure it may be wise to treat it as a principle.  If we treat a custom as a principle we might (if in error) end up by being overly scrupulous, BUT if we have a principle from God and treat it as a custom, and thereby we ignore that principle, then we have sinned against God, which is very serious.


So with that background let us look at last look at our question from the beginning of this blog, namely:


Is the Christian Woman's Headcovering a Principle, or a Cultural custom?


Those who do not practice the covering will emphasize that in Corinth one of the signs of a prostitute may have been her uncovered head and that Paul is telling the Corinthian women, "don't come to church meetings, or walk around looking like a prostitute with your head uncovered."  


This is thereby readily accepted as the meaning of the passage, and that the covering was a cultural custom particular to the Corinthian situation. Because a woman's subordination is mostly culturally taboo (in the West), this explanation is glady and quickly accepted as a truth. It avoids any and all problems to do so.


So, widely today-since the 1950's or so, the headcovering is said to be a 1st century Grecian "custom" and thus not really applicable to Christian women today in assembly gathering. This is because prostitutes do not abound around us as those identified by uncovered heads. And so sisters cannot be mistaken as such, and need no covering to distinguish themselves.  So it is said.


The problem with this thinking is that we are assigning a "reason" for Paul as to why the headcovering was practiced...when Paul himself gave very DIFFERENT reasons than "the culture of Corinth".  What is Paul's point of reference?  Creation is that point of reference. Not Corinth.  He appeals to men and women as men and women, and this transcends local custom.


For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.


Things that scripture tells us find their root and order in creation, these things are principles and not merely local or cultural customs. To assign FOR PAUL another "reason" (ie..Corinthian culture & prostitutes- or as one said "pagan modesty standards")...anyway, to assign for Paul another reason for the covering to the Corinthian believers, other than the reasons HE do so blatantly ignores the very points of reference that PAUL HIMSELF GIVES. This is a telling example of how we as human beings excuse our disobedience by seeking and accepting fallacious arguments, instead of obeying the word of God.  Its easier that way.


Next, do not miss the other point of reference Paul gives, "Because of the Angels". The woman is covered because of the angels. Without going into great detail here, one merely has to remember that the first and greatest rebel was Lucifer; himself once the "covering" cherub. In his rebellion against God he refused his position and place and sought to exalt himself to the very throne of God (Isaiah 14 - Ezekiel 28).


Surely this was as if he was "uncovering" on a massive scale. With this context, we suggest that the covered Christian woman apparently has an extensive testimony and ministry to the angelic host when covered & even silent in Assembly Gatherings. She ministers where the man cannot- in this unseen sphere....she testifies to the interested Angels (fallen and unfallen - we believe) to the order and headship that God has given. And this order is to be manifested in the gatherings of Christians. ponder.....If she is uncovered, what is she doing?  Some time ago we were at a church meeting where a quartet of young people sang. Many sisters were covered in the hall, and the apparent lead singer of the group, a female, was not covered. It was thought this was worship, yet we could not help but wonder, here is a young woman, with her glory (her hair) uncovered, in assembly gathering, taking a prominent place even, - dishonoring her head.. It is a fact that she did not really minister scripturally in what she did nor was it worship.


And where in that same audience sat a silent & covered sister...she...SHE.... ministered to the angelic host. About what?  God's order in creation, headship, and glory. Who noticed?


Principle or Cultural custom?  



Some of the logic and content of this blog was gleaned from an online audio ministry Hermeneutics lesson of RC Sproul, a brother with whom we disagree on much of his Reformed/Covenant/Preterist Theological grid, but give credit for persuasive and excellent argumentation on this topic. We would that he would apply such hermeneutics to other areas, he would be come a premillennial dispensationalist!.