As we conclude our look at Paul’s teachings on head coverings, we would be remiss if we failed to note that the practice of wives’ covering their heads in corporate worship is not often followed today, at least in Western churches. Many of these churches still affirm male leadership in the home and church, but they say that head coverings as a sign of a wife’s submission to her husband were culturally specific and are no longer required today. Perhaps the most common reason for this belief is the contention of many commentators that since Corinthian prostitutes commonly left their heads uncovered, Paul called for Christian wives to wear head coverings so as to make it clear that they were not prostitutes.
Cultural factors such as the one mentioned may play some limited role in Paul’s thinking. However, as Dr. R.C. Sproul notes in his book Knowing Scripture, there is a problem with leaning on them too heavily. “Our reconstructed knowledge of first-century Corinth has led us to supply Paul with a rationale that is foreign to the one he gives himself. In a word, we are not only putting words in to the Apostle’s mouth, but we are ignoring the words that are there.” As Dr. Sproul frequently noted, Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 11:2–12 grounds head coverings for wives in worship in the order of creation. Man was created first, which puts him in a position of authority over his wife; therefore, his wife should cover her head in corporate worship as a sign of her submission. Whatever role other cultural factors may play, grounding head coverings in the creation order suggests that the practice should be followed in every generation. It is something that reflects the world as it was created and how it should be.
In today’s passage, the Apostle finishes his thoughts on the subject with another appeal to creation. He notes that if one looks at nature, it is a glory for women to have a covering because women, according to nature, have long hair (vv. 13–15). “Long,” of course, has meaning only in comparison to something shorter. For example, an inch of hair is long compared to half an inch of hair, and twelve inches of hair is long in comparison to six inches of hair. Thus, Paul is not prescribing a fixed length of hair for men or women. He is simply noting that nature shows us, generally speaking, that women have longer hair and that the possession of longer hair shows that it is proper for them to wear a covering in worship. Nature itself informs us how things should be.