02. Modesty, feminine traditions, headship; honor God without contention

Women are to dress modestly and femininely, act like women, and embrace the unique role of special protection under headship given by God — as by nature weaker than the man.

Dress in a way that honors God, without contention – Lois

Hair and head covering, slacks, pants, trousers, and dresses – Lois’ viewpoint

This Bible study is based on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, NIV

Is a woman’s hair to be her head covering?

To me, 1 Corinthians 11:15 is the key to the issue of head coverings for women. I see this verse as indicating that a woman’s hair is to be her head covering, not a separate wrap that she would wear over her head. I believe the Scriptures are teaching some general principles here.

Are pants, slacks, or trousers proper attire for women?

When I was a girl in the 1950’s, girls were not allowed to wear slacks to public school. Dresses were considered the appropriate feminine attire for school, business, and church. Slacks or pants were acceptable feminine attire for casual social occasions in the 1950’s.

But in the early 1900’s, trousers were considered “severe bigotry” for a woman. I have a wonderful hardcover book called, “What Can a Woman Do?” that was published in Albany, New York in 1893. A chapter on personal appearance describes appropriate dresses for a woman, and adds this commentary:

“Custom makes laws as irrevocable as those of legislatures, and the time has not yet come, possibly never will, when a girl can snatch her hat from its nail and get out into the open air as quickly as her brother. There must necessarily be certain restrictions of sex, and no amount of reform will change the laws of nature…. The working dress of American ladies to-day is a happy compromise between the despotic fashions of a court and the severe bigotry of a reform costume of the coat and trousers pattern.”

Modesty, feminine traditions, and headship

I believe the Bible teaches that women are to dress modestly and in accordance with femine traditions of their day. Even today it is the Middle Eastern custom for women to wear a cloth covering over their head. For a woman to have appeared in public without a head-covering in the time Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians would have indicated rebellion to authority.

On the other hand, there are Scriptural principles that cannot be ignored. 1 Corinthians 11:3 begins this commentary on women’s head covering by pointing out that “the head of the woman is the man.”

Later in verse 14-15 the Scripture asks: “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?”

Verse 15 concludes with the answer: “For long hair is given to her as a covering.”

Verse 4 indicates that a covering dishonors the head of a man: Verse 4 says, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.”

Yet the Bible speaks of a special and binding Nazarite vow of commitment that a mother sometimes made for her unborn infant, or a man could make for himself. This vow included letting his hair grow long (Numbers 6:5). Sampson, Samuel, and possibly John the Baptist were among those who were set apart by a Nazarite vow.

A woman should look and dress like a woman

I believe Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 that a man should look and dress like a man and a woman should look and dress like a woman. For some women long hair is not difficult to manage and they enjoy this especially feminine touch. For others of us, long hair is very cumbersome, unbecoming, and time-consuming to manage. As such, it can become burdensome and a deterrant to the ministry God has for us to do.

If the Apostle Paul, or Jesus, were walking among us today, I believe they would instruct women to chose a feminine hairstyle and advise men to select a masculine hairstyle.

If they were speaking with women in the Middle Eastern countries where a cloth head covering is still worn today to symbolize woman’s submission, I belive they would instruct women to wear a head covering to show their lack of rebellion to authority.

In our American society where women have embraced women’s liberation and have attempted to be like men, I believe they would advise women to dress modestly and feminely, to act like women, and to embrace the unique role of special protection that God has given her since she is by nature weaker than the man (1 Peter 3:7).

Dress in a way that honors God, without contention

Paul concludes his instructions by saying in 1 Corinthians 11:16, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (I believe the KJV expresses this verse a bit more clearly and I have quoted it here.)

Commentators differ in their interpretation of this passage. I tend to agree with those who believe that “no such custom” in this verse is not referring to “no such custom” of being contentious, but rather to “no such custom” of head covering in the doctrine of the churches of that day.

I believe this Scripture is teaching that we should not defy social traditions in a way that would bring reproach on the name of Christ, thus in a society where it is a reproach for women to go unveiled, she should be veiled.

I think this is teaching us that we are not to be contentious on the issue of head covering. Some women will wear a head covering for the glory of God. Some will dress modestly in accordance with accepted feminine attire of their day for the glory of God. Since either way we serve with a pure motive of honoring Christ, let us not be contentious among ourselves regarding this issue.

–Lois

Next: Reader comment from Jo

This 2-part Bible Study was written by Tina and Lois in 2000-2001. Comment by Jo was received 2004.

Scripture taken from New International Version unless otherwise noted