Why do some people insist that women should wear something on their heads?

When I was in Ohio, there was a very small church in the country outside of Belpre called Veto church of Christ. I was surprised that in the not to distant past, people in that church insisted that women must go to church with their heads covered. The women wore hats to church. When I was in Mexico when I was in high school, I was with a tour group, and we were going to go to the Cathedral of Guadalupe and the National Cathedral,  our tour group leader said to us that the women must all wear something on their heads.  There was a man selling special scarves in front of the Cathedral of Guadalupe for women to wear in the church building.  When I lived in Nigeria, the young boys from the high school told me that I was not in subjection to my husband because I didn’t wear a scarf on my head, and they thought I needed a headscarf. When I attended the church of Christ in Jos, Nigeria, all the women wore something on their heads, so not to offend them, I did too. In Romania, the same thing was happening.  Many people thought the women should never enter a church building or go to church services without something on their heads.  Where does this kind of idea come from?  Is there any merit to it?

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What? Put that on your head?

To begin with, there is a scripture in the Old Testament that my oldest son used to joke about trying to prove that you could prove anything you wanted by taking a scripture out of context and misusing it.  I really don’t remember which scripture he was referring to, but in the King James Version, it said that women must “wear tires on their heads.”  To begin with, most people don’t know that “tire” is an old word for “turban,” but if you didn’t know that, and ran across this scripture, you would really be wondering.  Can you imagine everyone walking around with tires on their heads?  There were no tires like there are on our cars in Old Testament times.  We also can’t take our commands from some random scripture being taken out of context from the Old Testament. My son got his point across to us in a very funny way.

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When Jesus died, the Old Testament law was nailed to the cross with him, and we are now under the New Testament, so we can’t bind that scripture because it is from the Old Testament.  According to the book of Colossians, in the New Testament, when Jesus died, the Old Testament laws were nailed to the cross with him (Colossians: 2:14).  In Matthew 5:18, Jesus says not a bit of the Old Testament law will be abolished until all is finished.  He is talking about his ministry, when the Old Testament law was nailed to the cross. It doesn’t mean that we throw the Old Testament away. It is still good to study to try to understand the New Testament and study to help us understand the nature of God better. However, if it is written in the Old Testament, we need to make sure there is a corresponding scripture in the New Testament before we begin binding it.  The verse that my son used to joke about just won’t back up the argument that women need to wear something on their heads now a days.

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If you want to know the scripture I was actually given to say that women should wear something on their heads, go to 1 Corinthians 11.  It is rather lengthy:

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.  If a woman does not cover here head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man, for the man did not come from the woman, but the woman from the man. For this reason and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.  But everything comes from God.  Judge for yourselves, is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?”  (1 Corinthians 11:3-14)

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It does seem that women should have something on their heads, but it never specifies a scarf or a turban. Should we begin insisting that women wear something on their heads in all church buildings?

There is a problem.  We quit reading too soon.  The scripture is taken out of context both in the reading and culturally.  To begin with, it was the custom of the time for women to wear a headscarf or a turban, but it is not the custom of today in most countries. Does God expect us to follow all the Jewish traditions?  No.  Jesus is adamant about not following traditions (Matthew 15:3-20).  He stresses in those verses how much more important it is to be who you should be inside than to follow traditions. In Mark 7:15, Jesus says we nullify the word of God by following traditions.  Colossians 2:20-23 says, ” Since you died with Christ, to the basic principles o  the world, why as thought you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!  These are all destined to perish with use because they are based on human commands and teachings.  Such regulations, indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  In some places, wearing a headscarf can be harsh treatment of the body because I met a woman who lived in a hot country and was Muslim, and she was complaining about how hard it was to wear the scarf all the time time because it was hot, and it was making her hair fall out.  There are more verses in chapter 2 of Colosians: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ” (Colosians 2:8).  Traditions are nice, but they are never to be forced as scriptures.

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I couldn’t find any pictures of bald women because women just don’t want to be bald. However, if they become Buddhist monks, those women shave their heads too.


There is another cultural problem in the verses in 1 Corinthians 11.  It talks about women shaving their heads being a shame.  Today, women shaving their heads doesn’t mean the same thing as it meant then.  Today, if you see a woman with a shaved head, it probably means that she has been through cancer treatments.  She can’t help the fact that her head is shaven. Everyone likes to see a woman with pretty hair, but women who have cancer can’t control what happens to their hair.  In the time 1 Corinthians was written, a women with a shaven head meant something completely different.  Prostitutes shaved their heads in those times.  Women of God should never look like a prostitute, so if any of the women in the church came in with a shaved head in those times, it would really be a shame!  Even today, the women who lose their hair because of cancer don’t want to run around bald. They all find themselves a head covering like a scarf or a wig.

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Culturally, we just can’t use those verses in 1 Corinthians 11 to force women to wear something on their heads.  The other thing I mentioned was within the context of the verses.  If you keep reading, which the people who gave me these scriptures when I lived in Romania didn’t do until I asked them to, there is an explanation of the head covering it is talking about, and it makes sense if the author of the chapter was wanting the women not to shave their heads.  People just stop reading too quickly sometimes.  Read verse 15 of that chapter, and it addresses what the woman’s head covering should be: “but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory for long hair is given to her as a covering.”  God gave us hair for a reason.  He knew we would all look better with hair.  Hair is the covering women are encouraged to have, not a scarf, a turban, or a hat.

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We need to be serious when we study the Bible.

When churches try to force women to put something on their heads, they are not studying hard enough. They are not thinking. They are not reading the rest of the chapter.  They are not taking into consideration that the author of 1 Corinthians was Jewish and talking to an audience who was Greek and that it was a long, long time ago.  People who try to force women to wear something on their heads claiming it is a spiritual thing take those Jewish and Greek customs out of context.  It was the custom of the women in the time of Christ  in the Jewish and Greek cultures to wear scarves on their heads.  It is okay if it is the custom of women in your culture to wear scarves on their heads, but it should never be bound as a spiritual custom.  The Bible just can’t support it.

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The people who try to bind the women to wearing a scarf in Christianity are trying to follow the scriptures, but they need to go back and study some more.  It wasn’t wrong for me to wear a headscarf to church in Nigeria because it was the custom of the people, but I knew it wasn’t God’s command.  Let’s not make commands where there are no commands.  Remember the verses in Colossians.  Remember that making harsh rules will not help you be a better Christians.  They will not help you stop yourself from doing things that are wrong.  If you like headscarves and want to wear them, fine, but don’t insist that women who don’t wear them are wrong.

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