Is Paul’s injunction for women to cover their heads in worship binding today (1 Cor. 11:2-16)?
Most of the Reformed, the Scottish covenanters and the Westminster divines in the Reformation and puritan era said ‘No,’ that Paul’s ordinance was relative to his culture, which used this custom.
In the most detailed exegetical and theological treatment of this issue since that era, Travis Fentiman (MDiv, webmaster) argues that this view is conclusive from the Word of God, in his new book:
1 Corinthians – Head-Coverings are Not Perpetual & they were Hair-Buns, with or without Cloth Material: Proven (RBO, 2022) 283 pp.
The book’s Intro and the Overview of the Argument following it will whet your desire to invest the time to look through the rest, from which you will reap many rewards. To see how Corinthian women covered their heads, see the many pictures in the History section on pp. 188-98.
For a summary of the main points of the whole book, see the Summary Conclusions beginning on p. 258. Here is the logical structure of the book’s main argument. Every proposition is thoroughly proven in detail in the book:
1. All positive, instituted worship must be “expressly set down in Scripture” or “by good and necessary consequence… deduced” therefrom (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.6).
2. In Scripture head-coverings, or the lack thereof, bore a variety of contrary meanings and acceptability, or not, in worship. Hence they were clearly cultural.
3. Head-coverings cannot be taught by pure-nature and have no intrinsic value for worshipping God.
4. Paul only uses the language of “dishonor,” “becometh,” “glory” and “custom” about head-coverings, which are all things of social decency, but do not reflect inherent sins. As with head-coverings, Paul uses imperatives in 1 Cor. 7 about things not intrinsically sinful.
5. Some apostolic ordinances were circumstantially conditioned and mutable.
6. Universal moral reasons given for a practice, such as head-coverings, not eating creeping things (Lev. 11:41, 44), the holy kiss, foot-washing, etc. does not necessarily make it perpetual. A context is assumed and generals can only bind generally.
7. There is nothing in 1 Cor. 11 necessitating head-coverings to have a different meaning or use in worship than in society.
8. There is no necessary warrant Corinthian head-coverings were geographically or temporally universal in the apostolic churches; but if they were, this does not itself make an ordinance to be of positive religion, especially as the Greco-Roman culture (which head-coverings were appropriate to) was vast.
9. Part I’s survey of all the relevant Scriptural head-covering data (consider it for yourself) shows there is no express or good and necessary consequence from these texts that Corinthian head-coverings were a positive, perpetual rite of religion (WCF 21.1) beyond circumstances common to human society, ordered by nature’s light, Christian prudence and the Word’s general principles (WCF 1.6), which things may be culturally relative.
10. These things being the case, Paul’s statement that improper head-covering “dishonoreth her head,” (v. 5) must be, not prescriptive, but descriptive, as the case was in that society (which it was). Hence Paul’s natural and spiritual arguments are contingent on this de facto premise. A change of the premise in a different culture where not covering is not dishonoring, changes the conclusion.