Aside from being an item of dress, head covering has a spiritual significance among God’s servants, as a symbolic figure in connection with headship and subjection. The apostle Paul sets forth the God-ordained principle of headship operative in the Christian congregation, saying: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3) Paul points out that a head covering is a “sign of authority” that the woman should wear in acknowledging the headship of the man, submitting herself to proper theocratic authority, when she is praying or prophesying in the congregation.—1 Cor. 11:4-6, 10.
The apostle shows, conversely, that the man should not wear a head covering when taking the lead before the congregation, such as praying or prophesying. It is his normal position under God’s arrangement. For the man to wear a head covering in these instances would indicate disrespect, not only for Jesus Christ as his head, but also for the Supreme Head, Jehovah God, for man is “God’s image and glory,” originally made as God’s representative on earth. He should not obscure this fact by wearing a head covering. The man was created first, prior to the woman; the woman is “out of man” and was created “for the sake of the man.” Her qualities are an expression of the man’s honor and dignity, just as the man’s qualities are a reflection of the honor and dignity of God. Therefore the Christian woman should be happy to acknowledge her subordinate position by the modesty and subjection she displays, and she should be willing to represent this visibly by wearing a veil or other material as a head covering. She should not try to usurp the man’s place, but should, rather, uphold his headship.—1 Cor. 11:7-10.
Paul calls attention to the naturally long hair of the woman in the congregation to which he wrote as a continuous God-given reminder that the woman is by nature subject to the man. She should, therefore, acknowledge this when performing what are customarily the man’s duties in the Christian congregation, and she should wear some form of head covering besides her hair, which she normally always has. She will thereby show that she recognizes the God-ordained headship principle, and that she makes a distinction between her normal daily activities and the performing of special duties in the congregation when, for example, there is no qualified male member present, or when teaching other individuals in the presence of her husband or a male member of the congregation.—1 Cor. 11:11-15.
As a powerful reason for the congregation of God to follow this procedure, the apostle points to the angels of God, who are “sent forth to minister for those who are going to inherit salvation.” (Heb. 1:13, 14) These mighty spirit persons are interested in and concerned with Christians keeping their places within God’s arrangement, so that theocratic order and pure worship are maintained before God.
The need for this counsel to the congregation at ancient Corinth is better understood when we realize that it was the general custom then for women always to be veiled in public. Only those of loose morals went unveiled. And the pagan priestesses at the temples evidently followed the practice of removing their veils and letting their hair hang disheveled when claiming to be under divine inspiration. Such a practice in the Christian congregation would be disgraceful and a flouting of Jehovah God’s arrangement of headship and subjection. Paul concluded his argument by saying that, if anyone disputed for any custom other than what he set forth, the congregation should nevertheless follow the apostle’s counsel regarding the wearing of a head covering. This makes such instruction applicable at all times and places in the Christian congregation.—1 Cor. 11:16.
The Hebrews in ancient times, aside from wearing a headdress as an article of apparel, would cover their heads to signify a condition of mourning. (2 Sam 15:30; Jer. 14:3) Women also showed modesty in this way. When Rebekah was about to meet Isaac, “she proceeded to take a headcloth and to cover herself,” evidently as a symbol of her subjection to him as her husband.—Gen. 24:65; see HEADDRESS; HEADSHIP.