What is the reason for women having their heads covered when praying ?
The chapter in which the Apostle takes this matter up is 1 Cor. 11. To focus sharply on what is said in this chapter it is necessary to carefully note what the chapter does not state, but which people often are under the impression, or say, that it does state.
There is no thought whatsoever of a woman being always covered, otherwise it would, of course, mean that a man must be permanently uncovered, which is nonsense. Nor is there any thought of her only being covered when come together with others in assembly. Verse 5 says that she is to be covered when she is praying or prophesying. Again later on in the same epistle the instruction is “Let [your] women be silent in the assemblies, for it is not permitted to them to speak”, (1 Cor. 14: 34). Now as the word for “speak” means just that and not “chatter”, all her prophesying must, therefore, be outside the Assembly. This proves that her covering is not just for in the Assembly. The simple truth from the chapter is that when praying or prophesying the woman is to have her head covered and the man is to have his head uncovered.
I may remark as well that the word used for a covering means a complete, and not a partial, covering. It has been suggested, that while a sister need not have her head covered all the time, she should have a “token” on her head in lieu of the covering. There are no tokens in this chapter—nor elsewhere in Scripture for that matter. The word in v10 is exousia — authority. If it be insisted that to make the English run more smoothly we should read it as a “token of authority”, then there is no shadow of doubt as to what that “token” of authority is. It is the head covering itself. It is not some extra band or ribbon to show that a sister is always under authority. That is not the point. Scripture must be read in context: In v5 a covering is necessary for the woman when she is praying or prophesying, in v13 the question is asked “is it comely that a woman should pray to God uncovered?” To argue that in between, in v10, the apostle suddenly and for no reason turns to the idea of the permanent state of the woman’s head is illogical and groundless.
What then is the purpose of the head–covering? In the Armed Services, as elsewhere, intermediate authority is never allowed to be set on one side. If a soldier has a grievance he must first take it to his commanding officer, (C.O.). If the C.O. cannot deal with it, the soldier will be allowed to go to a higher authority, but he must go to his immediate superior first. He is not allowed to by–pass him and go direct to a higher authority, because that would weaken the authority of the C.O. over the soldier.
Now when a believer prays, he prays in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Why? The thought of name in the Bible carries two ideas: One is character and the other is authority. The Lord Jesus said “Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full”, (John 16: 24). Acts 4: 7 states: “and having placed them in the midst they inquired, In what power or in what name have ye done this?” Now Paul says in 1 Tim. 2: 12 “but I do not suffer a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over man, but to be in quietness”. For a serviceman to by–pass his immediate superior would be to ignore the authority he has over him. That is exactly the point here. Unlike in previous dispensations, the man prays to God through the Lord Jesus Christ and the headship of Christ is owned in that way. The woman can do the same, but she should not do so without her head being covered, indicating that the authority of the man is not ignored. The woman covering her head does not profess to be the head—her head–covering is a token of the authority under which she professes to stand. While in the realm of new creation, there is no difference between man and woman, they are equal, (Gal. 3: 28), here in the conditions of flesh and blood, this is not so. She is to own man’s authority on account of the angels who are observing matters here, (see 1 Cor. 4: 9; 1 Pet. 1: 12).
Why is it limited to prayer or prophesy? What is peculiar about prayer and prophesy? In prayer a man, or a woman, can speak direct to God; in prophesy God speaks direct to men and women. Now Christ is Head as man, (not God as such), for whilst He is indeed “the head of every man”, His head is God, (1 Cor. 11: 3; see also Luke 7: 8). As man He is subject to God, and as man He is over every other man. This authority He exercises over man must not be ignored in direct communications with God, hence all is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus. Neither must that authority that man has as head over woman be set aside. Hence when praying or prophesying, the woman’s covering shows to the angels who are to learn through the Assembly that authority is recognised, (see Eph. 3: 10).