In 1 Corinthians11 it says that women should cover their head when they
pray; is that a literal term? Does this mean that women must cover their
head when we pray?


Yes…. and No…. What I mean is yes, Paul is talking about a literal
head covering in 1 Corinthians 11:5,6, but no, this does not mean that
women today must wear a head covering when they pray. In the context and
given the language of the text, Paul is telling women to wear a veil when
they pray. This is one of the more difficult passages in the New
Testament, both to understand the meaning in its original context and to
know how to apply it in a modern context. I believe that the application
of this passage for us is not whether or not women should wear a veil or
whether men should have short hair. I believe the passage is about the
attitude we should take in prayer. Paul is saying that women (and men as
well, but in a different way) should take a submissive attitude in the way
they pray. This passage is about being in submission to God and to the
husband. Paul says, “Now, I want you to know that the head of every man
is Christ, and the head of a woman is man, and the head of Christ is
God.” This is not about who is more important, as clearly both the Son
and the Father are God. Similarly, “There is neither…. male or female,
for you are all one in Christ.” Both husband and wife are equal before
God, but the wife is in a submissive relationship to her husband.

Let me be honest with you. Exactly what this has to do with a man’s or a
woman’s prayer in not obvious to me, and why Paul wanted women in the
first century to wear a veil when praying is also not clear. The point,
however, is “a sign of authority.” (1 Cor 11:10). Paul concludes by
noting that neither man or woman is independent of the other (v. 11,12).
Again we see that they are equal, even though there is a sign of
authority. Paul concludes by saying that this (veils for women) was the
policy of the churches of God at that time. It is my opinion that this is
not a rule for all time for all Christians. What is a rule for all time
for all Christians is that the wive/woman is in some sense in submission
to/under the authority of her husband/man. I will leave you to decide how
to apply this in your situation, but conclude that this is not about women
today wearing a veil.

I am sorry that this passage is tough to interpret and that my discussion
leaves it somewhat vague, but I do not want to make strong statements from
a passage whose interpretation is somewhat debatable. I suggest you find
a couple of commentaries on Corinthians which will give you a few possible
points of view and reach your own conclusion. It is worth bearing in mind
that this is not a central teaching of Christianity in any case.

John Oakes

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