For centuries, there has been debate around whether it is appropriate for a man to wear a hat during church services. This issue has caused confusion and contention in many congregations. As Christians, it is important that we seek biblical truth on disputable matters such as this.
In this post, we will dive deep into what the Bible teaches about head coverings for men and women, cultural context around head coverings, and principles we can apply. My goal is to present clear biblical evidence and guidance so you can make an informed decision for yourself on whether wearing a hat in church is right or wrong.
- The Bible does not explicitly prohibit men from wearing hats during worship. The passages about head coverings applied specifically to cultural norms for women at the time.
- In Western culture today, wearing a hat carries little symbolic meaning in regards to honor or shame. The cultural context is much different than New Testament times.
- While women wearing head coverings was a sign of submission, the passage was instruction for Corinthian customs, not a mandate for all people and places.
- Principles of avoiding distraction and showing respect during worship still apply. But the Bible leaves room for freedom in choosing how to apply those principles.
- Rather than judging or quarreling over disputable matters, Christians should focus on biblical truth, love for one another, and unity in Christ.
What Does the Bible Say About Head Coverings?
The primary passage that directly addresses head coverings during worship is 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. Let’s take a close look at what the apostle Paul teaches in this passage:
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, NIV)
Let’s break this down point-by-point:
- Vs. 3 establishes an order – God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. This reflects hierarchical gender roles at the time.
- Vs. 4 says that a man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head (Christ).
- Vs. 5 says that a woman praying or prophesying without her head covered dishonors her head (her husband).
- Vs. 6 indicates that it would be the same as if she had her head shaved.
- Vs. 7 states that a woman should cover her head so as not to dishonor her head (husband).
- Vs. 10 mentions angels as a reason women should exercise authority over their head.
- Vs. 13 tells the Corinthians to judge for themselves if it is proper for a woman to pray uncovered.
- Vs. 14-15 refers to nature teaching that long hair is a woman’s covering but long hair on a man is disgraceful.
The key points here are that:
- Men should not cover their heads while praying or prophesying. This would dishonor Christ.
- Women should cover their heads while praying or prophesying. This shows honor to her husband.
- A woman’s long hair is given as a covering.
So this passage gives instructions against men covering their heads and women uncovering their heads during times of public worship. Let’s dig into the cultural background to better understand why.
Cultural Context of Head Coverings
To rightly interpret and apply this passage, we need to understand the cultural context regarding head coverings in ancient Corinth:
- Head coverings were a common cultural practice for both men and women in Bible times. Covering one’s head was associated with piety and honor.
- For men, having an uncovered head was a sign of honor and freedom. Covered heads indicated shame or condemnation.
- For women, uncovered heads were seen as a sign of sexual looseness or impropriety. Covered heads denoted modesty, piety and submission to their husband’s authority.
- Prostitutes and adulteresses went out in public with their heads uncovered. This communicated their sexual availability.
- Within the church setting, Paul was establishing distinctions between appropriate attire for men and women in that cultural environment. Men uncovered and women covered during public spiritual activities.
- The principle of showing honor by symbolic head coverings was well understood in their world. Paul called the Corinthians to honor God’s design for gender roles and authority as Christians gathered.
So in summary, head coverings carried strong cultural meaning related to gender, morality, and social order. Paul’s instructions reflect application of spiritual principles to cultural standards of honor and dishonor in Corinth.
Does This Mean Men Can’t Wear Hats Today?
When we examine the cultural background, we see that Paul’s teaching against men covering their heads was addressing specific norms in Corinth related to honor and gender roles. The principle was showing respect during worship according to their customs. Does this mean men sin if they wear a hat during church today? Not necessarily. Let’s explore some key considerations:
Customs Have Changed
In Western societies today, wearing or not wearing a hat carries little meaning. Hats no longer convey levels of honor or virtue, especially in the church setting. So the cultural standards Paul was applying have changed. This allows for more freedom on whether or not to wear hats during worship.
Old Covenant Regulations Don’t Apply
The ceremonial law given to Israel included stipulations about priests covering their heads with turbans or caps during Temple service (Exodus 28:4; 39:28). While similar, Paul’s teaching on head coverings for men was not reinstating these priestly regulations. We are not under Temple worship codes today.
No Explicit Command Against Hats
Paul doesn’t explicitly prohibit the wearing of hats by men. The focus is on head “coverings” that were part of their cultural gender distinctions and decorum in public ministry. Hats today do not carry those same implications. The Bible does not forbid men wearing hats during worship in all times and places.
Principles to Apply
While hats may not imply dishonor today, important principles still apply:
- Men should show respect for Christ’s headship and authority during worship.
- Men and women should avoid distracting dress or behaviors that detract from a focus on God and the gospel.
- All cultural practices in the church should affirm biblical gender roles.
- Christians should pursue unity and love rather than quarrel over disputable matters of opinion (Romans 14:1-23).
The Bible leaves room for wisdom and freedom in applying these principles in diverse cultural settings. The focus is being respectful and avoiding distraction from Christ. This applies to numerous matters of dress, style, and custom.
Are Head Coverings Required for Women Today?
Similar cultural analysis shows that head coverings for women were a particular sign of modesty and submission within the Corinthian context. The principle of gender distinction in public ministry is still valid. But the way of expressing that distinction depends on the culture. Here are some key points:
- The Bible does not prescribe mandatory head coverings for women of all cultures. Paul appeals to local Corinthian customs for how women should display submission and authority over their head.
- In many modern churches, female submission and honor can be expressed through modest dress and attitudes other than head coverings.
- While women’s head coverings are still practiced in some churches and cultures, they are not mandated for all by Scripture. There is freedom for diverse cultural expressions that honor Biblical values.
- Rather than contentiously regulating dress codes, the focus should be on women exemplifying godly submission, respect, and Christ-centered living in their particular cultural setting.
In summary, prescriptive references to head coverings reflected the historical situation of the early church. The teachings remain applicable through their principles, rather than letter of the law. Expressions of those principles differ based on changing times and contexts.
Modern Practice Regarding Hats and Head Coverings
In light of these biblical and cultural considerations, what principles should we apply regarding wearing hats in church today? Here are five key guidelines:
- Focus on God and the Gospel, not quarrelling over opinions. Romans 14:1 says, “Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” Things like hats and attire are disputable matters of conscience and Christian freedom. They should not be grounds for passing judgment or creating division.
- Follow biblical principles for gender roles and raising awareness of Christ’s glory during worship. Head coverings are no longer essential for expressing these truths. But we should still avoid cultural practices that would compromise biblical values.
- Be sensitive to what practices might distract others and detract from reverence for Christ in your cultural setting. Our witness should draw people to Christ, not create hindrances. This requires discernment based on context.
- Respect denominational policies and leadership decisions on disputable matters. There may be particular settings where hats are or are not allowed for men and women. Submit to those standards among that church body while personally following your conscience.
- Practice Christian liberty with wisdom and love. Avoid exercising your freedom in ways that intentionally offend or confuse other believers. Focus on serving others, not selfish demands (1 Corinthians 9:19).
The New Testament gives principles but also liberty regarding head coverings and hats during worship. The priority must be proclaiming Christ and pursuing love and unity in the Body of Christ above personal preferences. Pray for discernment and be sensitive to your setting and culture.
The Bible’s teaching on head coverings reflects the historical context of Corinthian cultural norms about honor and propriety. While those norms have changed, abiding principles remain relevant. As we apply instructions about head coverings today, focus on:
- Affirming distinctions between male and female roles established by God.
- Showing respect for spiritual authority and Christ’s headship over the Church.
- Making practices that might be distracting secondary to drawing attention to the gospel.
- Pursuing Christ-centered unity rather than quarreling over opinions.
- Respecting church leadership decisions on disputable matters.
- Exercising liberty responsibly with love for others and discernment of cultural perceptions.
The Bible does not explicitly prohibit men wearing hats during worship in all settings. This issue requires wisdom in applying principles to varied cultural contexts. Above all, remember that the Church is Christ’s Body united in Him. Our conduct should serve that eternal oneness.
Whether you wear a hat in church or not, make honoring Christ your foremost concern. May we keep His gospel and saving grace central in all cultural practices. Let us build one another up in faith, hope and love until the day our Lord returns.