Head Coverings—When and Why?

When and why should a Christian woman wear a head covering in connection with her worship? Let us consider the apostle Paul’s inspired discussion of this subject. He provides the guidance we need in order to make good decisions, ones that honor God. (1 Corinthians 11:3-16) Paul reveals three factors to weigh: (1) the activities that call for a woman to wear such a covering, (2) the settings in which she should do so, and (3) the motives for her to apply this standard.

The activities. Paul mentions two: prayer and prophesying. (Verses 4, 5) Prayer, of course, is worshipful address to Jehovah. Today, prophesying would apply to any Bible-based teaching that a Christian minister does. Is Paul suggesting, though, that a woman should cover her head whenever she prays or teaches Bible truth? No. The setting in which a woman prays or teaches makes all the difference.

The settings. Paul’s words suggest two settings, or spheres of activity—the family and the congregation. He says: “The head of a woman is the man . . . Every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered shames her head.” (Verses 35) In the family arrangement, the woman’s husband is the one whom Jehovah designates as her head. Unless she gives due recognition to her husband’s authority, she would shame her husband if she handled responsibilities that Jehovah assigns to him. For example, if it became necessary for her to conduct a Bible study in her husband’s presence, she would acknowledge his authority by wearing a head covering. She would do so whether he is baptized or not, since he is the head of the family.* If she were to pray or to teach in the presence of her minor baptized son, she would likewise wear a head covering, not because he is the head of the family, but because of the authority granted to baptized male members of the Christian congregation.

Paul mentions the congregation setting, saying: “If any man seems to dispute for some other custom, we have no other, neither do the congregations of God.” (Verse 16) In the Christian congregation, headship is given to baptized males. (1 Timothy 2:11-14; Hebrews 13:17) Only males are appointed as elders and ministerial servants with the God-given responsibility to care for the flock of God. (Acts 20:28) Occasionally, though, circumstances may require that a Christian woman be called on to handle a duty normally performed by a qualified baptized male. For instance, she may need to conduct a meeting for field service because a qualified baptized male is not available or present. Or she may conduct a prearranged home Bible study in the presence of a baptized male. Because such activities are really extensions of the Christian congregation, she would wear a head covering to acknowledge that she is handling the duty normally assigned to a male.

On the other hand, many aspects of worship do not call for a sister to wear a head covering. For example, she does not need to do so when commenting at Christian meetings, engaging in the door-to-door ministry with her husband or another baptized male, or studying or praying with her unbaptized children. Of course, other questions may arise, and if a sister is unsure about a matter, she may do additional research.* If still unsure and if her conscience moves her to do so, wearing a head covering would not be wrong, as shown in the accompanying picture.

The motives. In verse 10, we find two reasons why a Christian woman would want to fulfill this requirement: “The woman ought to have a sign of authority upon her head because of the angels.” First, note the expression, “a sign of authority.” Wearing a head covering is a way for a woman to show that she acknowledges the authority that Jehovah has placed upon baptized males in the congregation. Hence, she expresses her love for and loyalty to Jehovah God. A second reason is found in the words “because of the angels.” How does a woman affect those mighty spirit creatures by wearing a head covering?

The angels are interested in seeing that divine authority is recognized throughout Jehovah’s organization, in heaven and on earth. They also benefit from the examples of imperfect humans in this regard. After all, they too have to be submissive to Jehovah’s arrangement—a test that more than a few angels failed in times past. (Jude 6) Now, the angels may see instances when a Christian woman is more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more intelligent than a baptized male in the congregation; yet, she readily shows her submission to his authority. In some cases, the woman is an anointed Christian who will later become one of Christ’s joint heirs. Such a woman will eventually serve in a position even higher than that enjoyed by angels and rule with Christ in heaven. What a fine example for the angels to observe now! Really, what a privilege all sisters have to demonstrate humble obedience through their loyal and submissive conduct in the sight of millions of faithful angels!

[Footnotes]

A Christian wife would not normally pray aloud in the presence of her believing husband except in unusual circumstances, such as if he has been rendered mute by an illness.

For more information, please see The Watchtower, July 15, 2002, pages 26-7, and February 15, 1977, pages 125-8.