Answer: This is a question frequently asked by some Christians who belong to some branches of Pentecostalism. The teaching about “male covering” for women is rarely found outside of these groups and has never been accepted by the vast majority of evangelical Christians.
Those who promote this teaching base it on 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. This is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible and is subject to many differing interpretations. In considering this passage we must remember the basic rules of sound Bible interpretation.
First, every passage must be considered within its cultural, historical and literary context. Second, interpretations must consider all passages in the Bible that deal with the subject.
The Corinthian church was a young church with many problems, and Paul deals with nearly a dozen of them in this letter! That is part of the literary and historical context.
Every culture has its own strong ideas of how people should dress, wear their hair and act in public. Paul didn’t want the gospel of Christ to get mixed up in these matters. His basic message to Christians is: Don’t offend people unnecessarily.
The term “head” appears 13 times in this passage. Seven times it clearly applies to the physical head of a man or women. Three times it is clearly metaphorical, and three times it is subject to interpretation.
The metaphorical uses appear in verse three: “The head of every man is Christ; the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.” Those obviously cannot refer to physical heads, but mean something else — which is open to interpretation.
Head in verses four, five and six obviously refer to a physical head.
Most scholars believe the “covering” referred to in verses five and six is some type of veil, which some scholars believe married women wore at that time. Others believe the “covering” refers to a long hairstyle, which Paul talks about in verse 15: “Long hair is given to her for a covering.”
Neither short hair nor lack of a veil is an offense to our culture. There are many “commands” in the New Testament that were cultural and no longer practiced. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” appears five times in the New Testament. I know of no church where this is practiced! But it was the custom then and still is in some cultures.
The idea of a man being a “covering” is based on verse 15: “For this reason, a woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.” But to see this “covering” as referring to a man is a long stretch and does not agree with Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 — part of the same letter. Here Paul teaches that the Spirit gives spiritual gifts to whomever he chooses (verse 11). Paul is very insistent that all who are gifted must use their gifts for the edification of the church — no exceptions.
Some of our interpretations are handed down from one generation to another without careful examination. It is always sad when particular interpretations stand in the way of God’s loving message being proclaimed.