What Paul Did Not Mean
Did women wear head coverings in Bible times? By the looks of ancient artwork of the past the answer is yes! Did men wear head coverings in Bible times? Middle Eastern paintings and engravings both show males of Israelite and Gentile descent also wore head coverings. And if you have ever spent time in the land of Israel in the heat of summer or caught in a downpour in the winter, any man would consider wearing a head covering! So if this is all true, why then would Paul say to the Corinthians “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7). Paul’s head covering doctrine would seem quite contradictory for a Jewish man in his days. Any Jew who spent time in Jerusalem would know that a priest in the land of Israel was commanded to wear a head covering to give them a distinction among the people. (See Exodus 28:2)
In writing about head coverings, I decided to turn the tables on what appears to be a doctrine which achieved its popularity by taking Paul’s words out of context. To show the inconsistencies that exist within this doctrine, I applied Paul’s head covering comments to the men first. What we need in order to bring clarity to the true meaning of Paul’s “head covering” teaching is the counter-balance of the Old Testament scriptures. Alternately, if we remain ignorant of the Old Testament scriptures, the head covering issue will become cloudy in our minds. So to start, we must hold a view in our minds that Paul never forsook the belief that the Torah (the Law of Moses) was the standard for both men and women to live by. Here is what he said in his own words, “I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way… I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). If Paul really meant what he said, everything he taught would be in agreement with the Law of Moses.
Knowing the Law, Paul would never dare set up a dress standard other than what was proscribed by Moses. The apostle would have remembered the strict warnings of Moses which stated “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of YHWH Elohiym that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2) And as I read the Torah, I find no mention of a single command forbidding a man to wear a head covering. But what does the Law say about head coverings for the woman? Was it ever shameful for her to go in public or even before the presence of God for that matter, without a head covering? Let’s begin at the book of Genesis. Here we see in the creation story that Adam and Eve were completely “uncovered”. If would be foolish for us to think for a moment that Eve wore some sort of special head covering since the Bible specifically says “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:25) It was only after eating the forbidden fruit that they felt a need to cover portions of their bodies which they considered shameful until after the Creator confronted the guilty pair. It was at that time that the Creator made “coats of skin” called “koot-to'-neth” (Strongs H3801) and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)
To me the meaning of the word “coat” is obvious; it refers to some type of shirt or robe that covers the body below the head. But to save the mandatory head covering/uncovering doctrine, some could contend that the coats of skin could have included some type of hooded portion to cover the head. So to resolve this, we need to look at other places in the Bible that define what a coat is and what it is not. The book of Exodus does this very thing, it contains 29 instances where this word coat (koot-to'-neth) was used. And one particular verse found in Exodus 38:40 uses the word “koot-to'-neth” to describe the “coats” made for the Levitical Priests. Not only does it mention “coats” it also mentions a separate article of clothing which is a head covering. “And for Aaron's sons you shall make coats “koot-to'-neth” (H3801) … and bonnets” (H4021). The Bible pairs the word “coats” and “bonnets” another four times throughout the Old Testament.
What becomes clear as we look at the whole Bible is that the head covering Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 11 was not something made of fabric. We must conclude that this doctrine (something that has been practiced in the Christian church for centuries) is nothing more than a tradition made by men; something Yeshua warned his disciples against! This leads us to next question “what was the covering Paul was teaching about? I will present the answer to this question in Part two.