How should women pray?

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QUESTION: The Apostle Paul seems to state that women, when they pray, should have their head covered. Is this true? Should their heads be covered all the time or only when in church?

ANSWER: Does the Bible really command that women wear something on their heads when they pray? Some modern-day religious groups do require their females to wear a head covering. For example, the Amish require them to always wear (whether in church or not) a covering called a kapp. The kapp is typically white and is worn directly over the hair. The justification for this practice is taken from 1Corinthians 11:5 - 6, where the Apostle Paul is discussing how women should present themselves when they pray or speak.

Paul informed the Corinthian church that, " . . . every woman (Greek gune, Strong's Concordance #G1135) who has her head uncovered when she is praying or prophesying puts her head to shame, for it is the same as being shaved." (1Corinthians 11:5, HBFV). After several verse comparing how men and women should present themselves before God he states, "You judge for yourselves. Is it becoming for a woman (gune) to pray to God uncovered?" (verse 13).

There is one crucial fact often overlooked (but implied) concerning Paul's statements regarding women when they pray (which also applies to 1Timothy 2:11 - 12). This misunderstanding is the reason why some religious groups even make young (pre-teen) girls wear a covering, all the time, over their head. The Greek word translated "woman" in the above Biblical quotes, and in verses 6 through 12 of 1Corinthians 11, is gune. This word refers to a female who is MARRIED. It does NOT refer to all women, everywhere, regardless of age or marital status! Strictly speaking, these verses only concern married couples when they pray and not unmarried females!

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What is also lost on many people who study these Bible verses is that the context of 1Corinthians 11 is speaking more of SPIRITUAL things rather than physical things. These verses mean FAR MORE than merely putting a veil or hat on one's head. They concern the attitude of a person towards one who is in authority over them. As Paul mentions in verse 3 of the chapter, God the Father is in authority over Jesus Christ, who is also a member of the Godhead. If Christ is subject to the Father then man needs to be subject to Christ (John 13:13).

Amish women wearing prayer coverings.
Amish women wearing prayer coverings.

Paul's discussion concerns the situation where married women pray or teach, with their heads 'uncovered," in the presence of their husband. But what does it mean to have their head uncovered? He tells us in verse six that it would be a disgrace for a wife to cut her hair too short or shave it off. This type of action expresses an attitude of rebellion. He then states in verse 10 that, "For this reason, it is necessary for the woman to have a sign of being under authority on her head because of the angels."

Simply stated, a married woman should have long hair so that heavenly angels can differentiate between husbands and wives just in case an angel has to quickly intervene to protect "the weaker vessel" (Hebrews 1:14). Verse 14 of the chapter confirms the fact that the "covering" women are meant to have, especially when they pray, is long hair.

Although both men and women are equal in God's eye, and joint heirs of eternal life (1Peter 3:7), a wife is nevertheless to be subject to and under the authority of her husband. The sign of this natural order is her long hair. At the very least, these often-debated verses should not be used as the definitive proof that all females should wear a head covering either when they pray or do other activities.

Additional Study Materials
Should women wear only dresses?
How can children be taught to pray?
Does God approve of earrings?

How should women pray?

Amish America
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