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.

Verses 4 to 5a are pretty straight forward. It’s rare that the first-time reader misses Paul’s meaning here. That happens when they read it the second or third time.

It is dishonouring to Christ for a man to cover his head while praying and prophesying. It is dishonouring to her man for a woman to have her head uncovered while praying and prophesying.

A number of people suggest that the symbolism of the head covering can be replaced today with something else – a wedding ring, a dress, or some other less culturally odd wearable item. A couple of important points straight away.

First, there is a clear relationship between the fact that we have a metaphorical head and the fact that we are to cover or uncover our physical heads. Were we to use a different symbol it would take away from that clear connection and provide a much weaker link to the meaning behind the head covering.

Second, hats achieve that goal. Hats are already culturally appropriate head coverings, so why change from a literal obedience to cultural disobedience? Cultural awkwardness is not a sign of spirituality, and the head coverings you see in old paintings and sculptures from past centuries are not the only way for women to honour this tradition.

But how does what we wear on our heads do anything to honour or dishonour our heads?

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