God’s law-word can be viewed either as a burden with hundreds of do’s and don’ts that stifle the creativity and freedom of individuals, OR as a blessing given by God to man within the context of families as the standard by which to glorify Him and enjoy Him. Believers should view it from the second perspective.
In Scripture God has differentiated the roles of men and women. Despite attempts to blur the distinctions between the sexes, God’s Word makes it clear that men have been given the responsibility to lead (headship) and women have been given the task to assist them in their calling.
If we are going to take the Word of God seriously as a faith for all of life, then we must do an inventory of our lives and determine which areas have been placed outside of God’s domain (whether intentionally or unintentionally). We also must honestly examine whether we have allocated some actions or responsibilities to the “important” column and others to the “less important” or “inconsequential” categories. If we truly are to be the salt that hasn’t lost its savor, or the light not hid under a bushel, then we would do well to ensure that we have not only embraced God’s directives (no matter how big or small they may seem to us), but also unearthed areas in our own lives that have been in direct contradiction to clearly ordained elements of scriptural living. I submit that there are more areas than most of us would care to admit, where we have been ignorant of God’s requirements OR have been willing to remain “inconsistent” in adhering to them or trying to obey them in the first place.
I can hear the cries of legalism and works salvation. But I’m not discussing the way in which we become justified with God. We are justified by the act of God’s grace, which recognizes Christ’s death and resurrection as applying to us. I am talking about how our sanctification (growth in grace) constitutes our response to living out God’s definitions of right and wrong, righteousness and unrighteousness, blessings and cursings, and so on.
Outdated or Relevant?
Years ago, my husband and I would make our monthly (sometimes weekly) jaunts to Vallecito to hear Dr. Rushdoony preach. We would have regular Sunday afternoon discussions with him in his living room along with his wife, Dorothy, and any other guests who happened to be visiting. I always intently asked questions about those portions of Scripture I “knew” didn’t apply any longer and was eager for Rush to help me understand why I was correct in my thinking. He provided me with no justification to assume that God’s directives were things of the past, no matter how inconsequential they seemed to me. Rather, he would give an answer, provide a Scripture reference to back it up, and then add, “Someone should really write about this. This is an area that needs more development.” This article is an effort to further develop a Biblical understanding of one of those issues.
After the creation account, concluding with the creation of Adam, the Bible proceeds to define the purpose and role of the woman. She was to be his complement—providing aspects of personality and gifts that matched up well with his. Physically, the bodies of men and women clearly show an intentional design that makes them compatible with the task of producing progeny that God assigned to them.
Likewise, in matters of size, strength, inclinations, and temperament the differences in the sexes was a deliberate act of creation and one that was designed to further the Kingdom of God.1 Men are stronger and more suited to the tasks of combat, hunting, defense, protection, and leadership.2 Much like the outside of a building, God has instilled in men to be that which stands in constant protection of that which is inside—providing a barrier between the outside and the inside. Women, on the other hand, are more concerned and gifted in the areas of childbearing, comfort, edification, and beautification, similar to the inside of a structure that serves as a pleasant and suitable environment for family life and nurturing. A building without insides is an empty shell; rooms without outside protection are short-lived and vulnerable to predators and thieves. Thus, from the outset, the roles of men and women were defined and established to ensure the furtherance of the Kingdom by means of the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.
Assault on the Weaker Vessel
Opponents of Biblical Christianity like to paint a picture of the caveman-mentality when it comes to describing what the Bible says about men and women. Not unlike their father the devil, they seek to attack the most vital stronghold of Christian civilization—the Biblical trustee family.3 By promoting egalitarianism, and perpetuating the “battle of the sexes,” they stimulate a conflict of interests rather than a harmony of interests. Their assault undermines a woman’s most important role—raising and educating God’s children. By succumbing to the lure of outside careers and personal fulfillment, women are abdicating the royal role of wife and mother and transferring it to paid surrogates.
Our Lord said, “He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). In the Garden, Satan avoided a direct assault on the “door,” Adam, and sought entry through “some other way,” Eve. She was clearly a weaker point of entry (1 Pet. 3:7), but that’s why the Bible describes the Fall of man as the “sin of Adam” (Rom. 5:12, 14), and not Eve. It was Adam’s responsibility to “dress and keep” the Garden (Gen. 2:15) and that included his wife. Yet Eve was still culpable in that she allowed herself to be deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). The end result was a disastrous course for world history that is only remedied by Christ’s redemption and a deliberate reversal of the original sin on the part of man, i.e., the marriage relationship must be reconstructed along Biblical lines.
God never has left mankind without a witness to that which pleases Him and obtains His blessings. Throughout the pages of both Old and New Testaments, there are provisions that serve to safeguard the interests of the trustee family by acknowledging the vulnerability of women and establishing the protective responsibilities of fathers and husbands. Rushdoony has this to say:
We understand … why a married woman as well as unmarried daughters carry the name of the husband and father. They signify thereby that they are under his care and authority. It is a protective covering.4
A pertinent portion of Scripture on the subject of vows can be found in Numbers 30:1–16. It is an example of a law given by God to protect the interests of the family by giving the husband and father the responsibility to examine and approve the dealings of his wife and daughters and thereby act as a covering for them in business dealings and other important matters.
This obviously is a law of far-reaching implications because here alone in the law do we find that statement, “And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel” (v. 1); usually Moses is commanded to speak to the children of Israel. Obviously, we have a law of importance and a different in kind.5
Much is important in this passage, but for the sake of this discussion Rushdoony’s comment on the role of husbands and fathers is highlighted:
The reason why the husband or father had oversight where a wife or daughter made a vow was to prevent rash vows which, however well-intended, could adversely affect family life. This meant that the head of the household had to be responsible, not only to annul rash vows, but to avoid himself any rash vows that would harm the family.6
How can we presume that the New Testament contradicts or overrides these God-given directives that preserve and uphold the institution of the family? Yet, it is the Biblical trustee family, of all the institutions that God has ordained, that is continually assaulted (either directly or indirectly) by both church and state—the family’s authority, preferences, and jurisdiction are regularly challenged. This is so true in our day, that the portion of Scripture cited above is virtually unknown among professing Christians.
The church is often guilty of dealing with believers as autonomous units rather than within the context of family life—often approaching men, women, and children in isolation from their familial roles. The state, too, is not without guilt as it robs the loyalty of the children from their parents by means of the compulsory educational system, not to mention robbing the family wealth by means of inflation and excessive taxation.
New Testament Application
A look at the early church gives us a picture of the application of the covering commanded by God for women (either wives or daughters) by their husbands or fathers.
In chapter 7 of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, he writes in direct response to a letter from them regarding fidelity, morality, and marriage. The apostle’s reply included a condemnation of fornication (v. 2), a remonstrance against individualism in a marriage (vv. 3–5), a recommendation of abstinence (vv. 7–8), and the problematic issue of having an unsaved spouse (vv. 10–16). It’s in this last matter that neither salvation nor the church sought to annul the institution of the family: an unbelieving husband remained the head of his believing wife, insofar as he was willing to remain in the marriage.7
This has far-reaching implications. From the outset, the church was not claiming jurisdiction over the family, but declared it was God’s institution to support and uphold family life. In fact, it maintained that within the structure of marriage and family life, evangelism was most likely to find its good fruit, thereby encouraging new converts to stay married if the other spouse was willing. Even 1 Peter 3:1–6 instructs wives to be in subjection to husbands who obey not the Word, as a means of converting them. Paul never wavers from identifying the family as an institution under God rather than under the church. And an important distinction includes that wives are to be subject to their own husbands, not to any and every man. Thus, a wife’s membership in the church never was intended to replace the authority of the husband as the family head.
Power on Her Head
In 1 Corinthians 11:1–15, Paul instructs men and women in their proper roles under God and in public worship.
- Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
- Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
- But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
- Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
- But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
- For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
- For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
- For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.
- Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
- For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
- Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
- For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
- Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
- Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
Despite how unpopular the entire subject of head coverings is today, it has a long and important history in the life of the church and Christian civilization in general. All one has to do is view films made earlier than the 1960s that contained church scenes and you will see women with their heads covered. I know from my own childhood that this was accepted practice, even if most did not recognize its origin.
Rushdoony comments on 1 Corinthians 11:10, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels,” and points out the seeming contradiction between Paul establishing a head covering as a sign of subordination and authority at one and the same time:
This seeming contradiction arises from the anarchic concept of authority which is so deeply imbedded in man’s sinful nature. All true authority is under authority, since God alone transcends all things and is the source of all power and authority. A colonel has authority because he is under a general, and his own authority grows as the power, prestige, and authority of those above him grow, and his unity with them in mind and purpose is assured. So too with the woman: Her subordination is also her symbol of authority.8
Think of the implications of a woman covering her head in worship within the context of Paul’s remarks:
- Praying with her head covered prevents a woman from dishonoring her head (her husband).
- By way of analogy, since it would be shameful for a woman to have her head shaved, likewise, she should cover her head in public worship.
- Covering her head is a visual symbol of her being the “glory of the man” and under her husband or father’s authority as ordained by God.
- Because of this aforementioned relationship, a woman has (wears) power on her head, establishing that she lives and acts under authority. (This is much like the practice of nurses, policemen, and military personnel having a head covering that denotes they are under authority, and thus have power or jurisdiction in a particular area.)
Finally, Paul asks and answers the question, “[I]s it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” By answering that nature itself testifies that men and women have differing roles and thus designated manners of dress and adornment, he is answering this question with a definitive “no.” The meaning seems straightforward: men dishonor their heads when they come to congregational worship with covered heads, and women do so when they fail to cover theirs.
There are any number of alternate explanations of this Biblical text, and one in particular which, although it doesn’t maintain the need for actual head coverings, does concur that God’s authority structure of male headship must be maintained.9 However, there are some published church standards that emphatically state that women must not cover their heads as a sign of submission and are liable to cause division and offense by doing so.10 If the authority for this statement comes from Scripture, then the passages on either side of this directive to women, admonishing men to pray without a covering on their heads, might be called into question as well. Furthermore, since Paul talks about some sort of covering, where is the teaching in the church today that does more than say “This doesn’t apply any longer”? In the very same portion of Scripture there are instructions regarding the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Are these to be taken as specific answers to problems of the Corinthian church and not applicable to our time?
Shortly before his death, I asked Dr. Rushdoony in a private conversation about the issue of head coverings for women and why it generated such division and discord among Christians. His answer was succinct. He said, “Because it is just a matter of obedience. There isn’t attached to it any other obvious benefit. You will see the beginnings of true revival when once again women have their heads covered in worship. It will mean you have a people desirous of obeying God completely.”
But I didn’t stop there with Rushdoony’s answer. After all, years before, he had commented that there were topics in Scripture that needed more scholarship and study. So my husband and I began to discuss this issue and see what, if anything, we were missing. It was my husband who finally identified that the sign of a woman covering her head in worship was a visible display that familial ties were not abandoned when families walked through the doors of a local church. Rather than become absorbed into the life of the church, this visible sign established the family as the first and foremost of the three major institutions (family, church, state) ordained by God. Herein lies the key to liberty in the Christian sense of the word to be nurtured and developed within the context of the Biblical trustee family.
Additionally, as the early church grew, there were many families where one spouse would come to faith before the other. What better sign that the church had no desire to rob a man of his wife11 or his daughters, than for women to have a visible representation that they were under the protection of husbands and fathers?
Because of the Angels
Many commentators differ when it comes to explaining the clause “because of the angels” in this text. Whether you accept the perspective that Paul is describing fallen angels or faithful ones, he is nonetheless emphatic that women should wear power on their heads. Without settling the designation as to which angels are being referred to, we have to acknowledge Paul’s emphasis.12
Where Do We Go from Here?
A congregation consisting of women with covered heads is a testimony to God’s creation order and a visual symbol of the high regard the Christian faith places on women. Biblically speaking, this is an obvious sign that a woman is under the care and protection of her husband or father (or some male relative in the case of death) and serves as a constant reminder to both women and men that women minister under authority (Proverbs 31), and do so with power—that power that derives itself from He who owns the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory and delegates it to men in authority and women under their fathers and husbands.13 This line of thought runs completely counter to modern thinking.
I can testify from my own experience that at the point in my Christian walk that I took this directive seriously, my efforts within my own family, in homeschooling leadership roles, and in Christian ministry reached new levels.14 If for no other benefit than as a testimony to myself, I was able to embark on existing and new opportunities for service within the context of being a woman under authority. The sign on my head continues to serve as a reminder that I live and breathe in terms of God’s order and that I am in no way autonomous in any of my earthly relationships.
We constantly hear clamoring for strong family values and strengthening the family against the attacks from those outside the faith. Maybe it is time we examined how we have been party to disobeying God and abandoning the very symbol He has ordained to regularly and routinely picture the family as His most basic, fundamental institution. Maybe the greatest opposition to God’s order for the family is unwittingly found within the very walls of the church.15
1. See Chris Ortiz’s article on the Kingdom, “The Kingdom-Driven Life: Discovering God’s Larger Purpose and Our Place in It,” Faith for All of Life, March/April, 2008,
2. When Adam was created, there was no need of combat or hunting. Defense and protection probably did come into his calling at that point, but in a nonviolent way. The calling of the male as head and the female as helpmeet were normative in a non-fallen world.
3. Andrea Schwartz, “The Biblical Trustee Family,” Faith for All of Life, Nov./Dec. 2007.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008), 79.
5. R. J. Rushdoony, Numbers (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2006), 340.
6. Ibid., 344.
7. The unbeliever’s headship did not mean that the wife had to obey the husband when he wanted to lead her or the family into sin or outside the clear directives of the Scriptures.
8. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. I, (Phillipsburg, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973), 347.
9. See James B. Hurley, “Did Paul Require Veils or the Silence of Women?: A Consideration of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 1 Cor. 14:33b–36.” Hurley’s conclusions assert, “1) that the primary issue was the authority of husbands in relation to their wives as focused in the hair-style of wives at the worship service and 2) that Paul did not intend to silence women but rather to regulate their relation to their husbands as they charismatically prayed and prophesied.”
10. See The Practice of Headcoverings in Public Worship, issued by the Reformed Presbytery of North America, June 4, 2001.
11. Note in pagan cultures, it was not uncommon for men desirous of another man’s wife to kill him so as to have the wife. Such were the cases in Genesis regarding Abraham and Sarah.
12. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. I, 347.
13. It is important to distinguish between the Christian covering of women and the Islamic covering of women. The covering of a Muslim woman certainly has nothing to do with power, but rather degradation. If you saw a Christian woman and a Muslim woman each with their heads covered, would you be able to tell the difference? Folks often comment when they see a woman with her head covered, “Is she a Muslim?” Under Islam a woman is covered because she is deemed a temptation and snare to men. Under Christianity, she is recognized as having full status as a redeemed person, albeit existing in an authority structure with the husband as the head. This relationship has been compared to a king and his prime minister.
14. It should be noted that sola Scriptura, not experience, must be the final guide in determining how we should live.
15. Some would challenge my premise and ask if all women immediately covered their heads in worship, would revival result? The question confuses the symbol with that which the symbol refers. I could ask likewise: if a woman removed her wedding ring, would she suddenly not be married? The symbol points to a reality of her being married. Likewise, the wearing of a veil during the marriage ceremony was a symbol of being under authority. The father brings the woman to the husband, and she is “given” in marriage. Thus, a transfer of authority takes place.