Some believe the apostle Paul taught that women must wear hats or head coverings to worship God at church. What does the passage really say?
The idea that a woman must wear a hat or veil of some kind while worshipping God comes from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:5-15. There are differing points of view expressed in various commentaries on how to apply this instruction. But there really is little need to search the opinions of commentaries, because Paul tells us exactly what he means if we read the section in context.
Consider the context
In verses 4 and 5 we are told that a man should not pray with his head covered, while a woman should have her head covered when she prays. In the very next verse Paul writes about a woman’s head being shorn, shaved or covered. Both shaved and shorn are references to hair length: shorn being very closely cut hair, while shaved means completely cut off, as a man might shave his face or a woman shave her legs removing all the hair above the skin. Since the first two speak of length of hair, it seems incongruous that Paul would suddenly throw in a third description that doesn’t refer to the length of her hair.
Hair length, not hats or head coverings
Paul’s meaning is very clear—he is speaking of hair length, not a veil or hat or some other type of covering for her head.This is confirmed just a few verses later in the same chapter. Notice verses 13-15: “Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (emphasis added).
Paul’s meaning is very clear—he is speaking of hair length, not a veil or hat or some other type of covering for her head.
The point is that a woman was created by God to look like a woman, and her hair is to enhance her beauty that her husband may glory in her femininity (verse 7). A man was not intended to take on the feminine characteristics, including long hair. Christians should honor these God-given distinctions between the sexes.
Not a matter of righteousness
Fashion and style or even culture may at times include wearing a hat or veil, and that certainly is not forbidden by Scripture. However, it is important to understand that such accessories are worn as a matter of fashion or culture, not as a matter of righteousness or a degree of righteousness.