by Tad Lindley
I’ve always known men to take their hats off when they pray, except my friend Jeff. He must have never taken his off. He probably did to sleep, but I never saw him with his hat off ever. And then one day I was at his house and I saw a family portrait. Now Jeff looked like he had a good head of hair under his hat, but the portrait proved otherwise. Yes, he had thick hair below the rim of his hat, but from there up, he was completely bald. Shiny bald. He sheepishly admitted to me that his wife had made him take his hat off for the picture. But every other man that I have observed has taken their hat off to pray. Where does that come from?
2,000 year old custom
As near as I can tell this comes from the Bible. In his second letter to the Corinthians, (which is called I Corinthians since the real first letter to the Corinthians does not appear in the Bible, it is only mentioned in I Corinthians 5:9), Paul teaches about hair, and it is in the body of this teaching that our “hats off during prayer” rule is born. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. (I Corinthians 11:4)
Unpack the verse
Let’s dig deeper into this. If you read verses 1-3, you find out that the verse should be understood like this: Every man who prays or prophesies with his head [as in the top part of his body] covered dishonors his head [Jesus is the head of the man in verse 3]. (I Corinthians 11:4) So if I cover my head when I am praying, I am dishonoring Jesus, who is the head of my life. Even though I did not know this Bible verse growing up, the expectation to take my hat off during prayer was ingrained in me. I still do it except in the extreme cold conditions we sometimes encounter in snow machine travel. But what if it is not about hats?
What if it is not really about hats?
A quick fact check of I Corinthians 11 proves that it is not about hats at all. It is actually about hair. The word hat does not appear anywhere in the passage. So if it is not about hats, then what is the covering? If you are man, you want to know, so you do not dishonor the Lord. Well it turns out that the covering is hair, specifically long hair. Now you might be saying, “Brother Lindley, if this is true, then why haven’t I heard it before?” Possible answers to that might include, 1. You tend to miss church when it is preached on, or 2. It never gets preached on where you go to church, and 3. You were distracted when you read I Corinthians 11.
Hats are out, let me prove it to you
From the same chapter, we read these words: But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. (I Corinthians 11:15) It seems from this perspective that the covering for women is long hair, agreed? And that men should not cover their head with long hair. Here’s the scripture for that: Does not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (11:14) This is super interesting, because If I have a haircut, as a man, I can probably leave my hat on when I pray (check out Ezekiel 44:18-20).
How about for the ladies?
Men should have their head uncovered (their hair cut, not long), but ladies should have their head covered (remember the covering is long hair). Here is why: …every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. (11:5) This is why many Christian women have stopped cutting their hair; they want the covering, because God wants it.
But what if she’s cut her hair? Pelatuuk
There are many women who are devoted to Jesus who have been cutting their hair their whole life. They simply have never read I Corinthians 11 until now. They have never heard it preached on. Or perhaps they have lost their long hair to chemotherapy. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn [scissored]. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn (scissored) or shaved, let her be covered [sometimes interpreted as wearing a veil or a pelatuuk]. (11:6) So it is possible that you attend a church where women wear veils to church. It comes from this passage. But please remember, the ultimate covering for a woman is not a veil or pelatuuk, but long uncut hair. The pelatuuk is a band-aid for cut hair, the healing is letting it grow back to its natural maximum length.
“Brother Lindley, I’m right and the Bible is wrong!”
For a variety of reasons you may think that the Bible is wrong, perhaps you feel that it is not sensitive to the individual’s need of self expression through hair length, or that it disagrees with religion brand X where you attend church. Interestingly, the Biblical teaching on hair closes with these words: If anyone wants to be contentious about this [wants to argue about it], we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. (11:16)
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.