Creational Laws

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

—Matthew 19:3–9

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I hope to see more of these Creational Laws. It concerns me about the vast majority of women (myself included) who do not headcover during public worship… as there is an appeal to creation.

    • As far as I can tell, the only time that Paul required head covering was in a very particular circumstance. It does not seem to be a universal command of every circumstance:

      But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor 11:3–16; ESV).

      When a woman, in the congregation, during worship, “prays or prophesies” she should have her head covered. Prayer seems clear enough. We might debate exactly what the verb “to prophesy” (προφητεύω) signifies. Louw & Nida define it “to speak under the influence of divine inspiration….” Others have interpreted the verb “to prophesy” to refer simply to preaching. It seems to me that, in context, Louw & Nida are closer to right than the other view. In any event, whatever exactly was happening in the Corinthian congregation it seems to have been part of the direct revelation given to the churches during the apostolic period, before the completion of the canonical (authoritative) Scripture imposed upon the churches by the apostles. I would not expect anyone, male or female, today, to stand, in a service, to pray and prophesy. Thus, I doubt that head covering is a major issue for us.

      It is important to note, however, how often Paul and Jesus appealed to the creationaal order as the ground of their moral/ethical instruction.

      • Thank you for your response, my husband and I are studying 1cor. 11 so headcovering is a “stopping to consider” issue for us as there is so little teaching about it, too little in my opinion. We’ve lost truthful teachings on headship in our American culture; either it’s taught to be abusive or not to be practiced at all cause men and women are equal now; both the wrong extremes. I am coming at the Creation aspect of headship to headcovering, but in our PCA church we all do stand, sit, and bow in prayer… but we’re not prophesying. Perhaps taking headcovering in light of a cessationist viewpoint may be helpful to us? Or is “praying and prophesying” considered a single, collective act? I guess it’s time for some Greek word studies 🙂

  2. Headcoverings short answer: The Westminster divines appealed to 1 Cor. 11:13,14 as a proof text for the “circumstances” of WCF 1:6

    Long answer: the Dutch theologian Witsius in his Sacred Dissertations on the Lord’s Prayer (pp.87-90).

    Paul, when writing to the Corinthians who were Greeks, gives preference to that custom. (1 Cor. 11:4) In doing so, he did not intend to lay down a universal law which should everywhere be observed. He [87] merely accomodated himself to a custom of civil life observed, at that time, by those whom he was writing. This is admirably, I think, explained by Altingius in a discourse already quoted. The Greeks, we have said, were wont to perform their sacred rites with uncovered heads, in the worship of their idols. Those who perpetrated dishonourable actions were in the habit of concealing their heads by throwing over them old tattered clothes. Those, again, who were engaged in any honourable occupation, were wont to keep their heads uncovered. Hence originated the proverbial expression, γυμνή χεφαγή, with naked head, applied to those who did anything openly and without shame. Now, as nothing is more noble than religion, they thought that its services should be observed with bare or uncovered head. At a subsequent period, however, when the Greeks, in considerable numbers, had abandoned idolatry, and gone over to the Christian faith, they appeared to have departed from the practice of laying bare the head, either in imitation of the Jews, or from an aversion to the ancient custom. From this change in their outward services, some of the their Greek neighbors might apt to fancy that they treated the Deity with profane contempt, in consequence of their abstaining from every expression of reverence in their new religious observances. Paul, therefore, exhorts that in praying or prophesying, they should attend to the proprieties of manner which were customary among the Gentiles, and that, after becoming Christians, they should not hold out [88] to strangers the appearance of being more ashamed of their new religion than they had been of their former idolatrous services. Such is the view given by Altinguis.

    To this observation may be added one by Ludovicus Capellus. Both among the Greeks and Romans, says he, all respectable persons appeared in public without any covering on their heads, and were not accustomed to cover the head except when the were compelled by mourning, by disease, of by any necessary cause, or when broken down by effeminate softness. Paul, therefore, did not wish the Corinthians to attend religious services with the head covered, according to the custom of superstitious or idolatrous persons. Such a practice would argue a perverted, and certainly uncalled for ambition to follow the Jewish customs, or would betray δεισιδαιμονίαή, an unhappy and slavish dread of the Deity, and not that open freedom and boldness which Christians should cultivate and profess toward God. Or, in fine, he would give no countenance to an approximation, in Christian assemblies, to the effeminacy of some persons of that age, who gave out that they were unable to endure any severity of weather.

    It must not be supposed that the same rule, which he had given to the Corinthians from a regard to their customs, would have been invariably given to Jews dwelling in their own country, or to Egyptians, or Arabians, who followed a different custom. The usages of civil life are endlessly varied by place and time. Consequently what, at one place and time, [89] is sufficiently becoming, would be, at another place and time, highly unbecoming. Yet the Apostolic rule has been in force, since that time, among almost all Christians. Is it because keeping the head uncovered is universally regarded by them as a token of reverence? I hardly think so. It has spread widely in the north, through the nations of France and Germany. But among the Jews, the Greeks, ancient Italy, and the whole of the east, the custom is wholly unknown. It appears, therefore, to belong to the liberty of the New Testament. With uncovered head, says Tertullian, because we are not ashamed. . . [90]

    • Bob,

      By appealing to commentaries, especially without providing the exegetical reasoning that the quoted men used, this reply comes off a lot like replies I have gotten from Muslims, Jews, or Roman Catholics when I have engaged with them regarding what their (or in the case of the RCC and Jews, “our”) scriptures say. It’s impossible to engage with them without becoming an expert in their vast and myriad commentaries and religious pronouncements because they don’t hold to the perspicuity of scripture and therefore deem that they are not competent or authorized to interpret it. Thus, I view such appeals as little more than smoke screens.

      In the case of discussions with the aforementioned, the interlocutor almost never deals directly with what the text of the scripture actually says but they instead appeal to some other rabbinical teaching or something out of the Sahabah Tafsir or a papal encyclical or any number of other secondary/tertiary sources. Here, you have appealed (sans cogitantes or sine ratione) to the WCF and a few other works in the same way.

      Simply asserting that this discussion of head coverings was a nod to cultural practice (and quoting a few contemporary or ancient men who agree) doesn’t make it so. While you provided some reasoning in your reply, your comment fails to address the issue through lack of exegesis.

      Paul was giving one directive to men and another to women and not to the congregation as a whole irrispective of sex. Appealing to wider Roman or Greek culture, and whatever was their wont in their religious services, doesn’t actually address the reasoning that Paul uses to justify his directive. Paul’s (and therefore God’s) argument is one from creation order and headship, not from “don’t offend your neighbor” or “don’t bear false witness”. If you need to be convinced of that, look at his form of argumentation when dealing with an issue of cultural import. Look to his writing on meat that has been sacrificed to idols that is given in the very same letter (1 Cor 8).

      In order to begin to address this issue, perhaps we could survey various places where creation order is envoked and see if you can apply your church scholar/fathers there as well. This wouldn’t be an authoratative answer, but it would at least be a step in the right direction. Do the Westminster divines, Witsius, Altinguis, Ludovicus Capellus, and Tertullian also sweep 1 Timothy 2:12-14 under the rug conscientious culturality? Do you agree with them?

      • Mr Fosi,

        1. Please note the comment policy re pseudonyms.

        2. Your invocation of “Muslims, Jews, and Roman Catholics” seems like (note the qualifier) guilt by association. Noting what earlier writers/authorities have said is perfectly acceptable. It’s only illegitimate if one appeals to them as if they end all discussion. I didn’t see Bob doing that.

        3. The Reformed churches certainly affirm the perspicuity of Scripture but we also acknowledge:

        all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF 1.7)

        This is probably one of those difficult passages. Bob’s references show that there has been a range of opinion on this passage.

        4. I already noted the context above. Paul was giving direction regarding a particular problem (females speaking out of turn, without head coverings) in a circumstance that no longer exists (i.e., ongoing revelation). His appeal to creation is notable, of course, but does not necessarily make it universally binding. 1 Timothy 2:12–14 does not evidently refer to an issue unique to the apostolic period. Paul says “I do not permit a women to teach or exercise authority over a man” in the context of public worship. He grounds that direction in nature. So it is similar to 1 Cor 11 but not identical.

        5. This seems as if this is a place (1 Cor 11 and head coverings) where we can disagree peaceably. The authorities Bob cited were serious, faithful, believing interpreters of Scripture.

    • Hi Scott.

      Thanks for addressing my comment to Bob. Thank you also for leaving the comments open and thus providing me an opportunity to clarify my statements.

      I do not wish to be contentious, rude, dismissive, or harsh. Rather, I am earnestly seeking some understanding of creation-order arguments from a scriptural standpoint.

      1) I was unaware of a pseudonyms policy for comments here but I am pleased to abide by it if you would be pleased to direct me to it. Full disclosure: I am Cherriezzzzz’s husband.

      2) I am not intending to commit the fallacy of guilt by association against Bob nor slander him in any way. I have noted that Bob’s reply is similar in form to other replies commonly given in doctrinal discussions that I have had with people of other (false) religions and I have done so to bring his attention to it rather than to discredit him.

      3) I am aware that the WCF and The Heidelblog commentators in general hold to the perspecuity of scripture. It isn’t my intent to discredit Bob or any of his sources by implying that they don’t hold to that doctrine. Rather, I am noting that appealing to the authority of church fathers, divines, or counsels in and of themselves without appealing to the plain text of scripture doesn’t jive with Reformational Christianity and the perspicuity of scripture in general. I believe that it was Luther who said that he needed to be conviced by both scripture and plain reason. I hope you appriciate my irony in appealing to Luther. :^)

      4) I very much appreciate your reply to the 1 Tim passage. I have read your other comment in this thread but I am not sure yet if I agree with you. Regardless, thank you very much for addressing that question head-on. I’ll think more on your argument and how it applies to both passages.

      5) I am sure that we can peacably disagree and I certainly do not mean to imply or state that you (R. Scott Clark), Bob, the Heidelblog comentators, or any of Bob’s sources are anything less than faithful, believing interpreters of Scripture. I have nothing but good will toward you all, though I confess that it is one manifestation of my failure to control myself that I often allow zeal to sour my tone.

  3. The Free Presbyterian Bookroom in Glasgow, Scotland has resources on headcovering and other aspects of Biblical, Reformed worship. And the proper Westminster Confession of Faith.

    • Oh yes I knew that Free Pres had headcovering resources… I have forgotten about that. My husband and I went very briefly to a Free Pres. church (wonderful pastor, prayer, sermon, people; just not where the Lord ended us up at.) So I have used a hat in the past when we went there. I will revisit their materials, thanks so much!

  4. Bob-

    The clause in WCF 1:6 you cite, with the reference to 1 Cor., seems more to be saying that there are aspects of the worship of God to which even nature itself testifies, and he uses headcovering as an example. So it’s not that he’s saying headcovering is a mere circumstance of worship, but an element of worship which is self-evident.

    • Alexander,

      A head covering is an “element” of worship, i.e., it’s essential to worship? Are you sure you want to say that? Word (read, preached, visible in the sacraments, and sung) and prayer (said and sung) are elements but I don’t know about head coverings as an element.

    • Alex et al,

      One, I am with Dr. Clark on this. If headcoverings are an element of worship they should be mentioned as such in the WCF – at least for presbyterians. (We will, ahem, forbear comment on the PCA.) Barring that, they are what? The obligatory common circumstantial distinctions between the sexes in all times and places? A creational ordinance or aspect that accompanies a creation ordinance like marriage?

      I suppose one could argue something like the situation with musical accompaniment. The WCF doesn’t include it in the elements of worship, but the modern view is simply to assume that singing is always accompanied and therefore musical instruments are a circumstance. Or that the singing of psalms necessarily means/includes uninspired hymns. So too, the divines necessarily thought women should be covered. “It goes without saying” as it were. Yet WCF 1:6 speaks to circumstances, not law, does it not?

      Two, Sola Scriptura. Arcane appeals to obscure extra biblical authorities as epitomized by Rome are verboten — been there and done that in even a P&R church, so I think I can sympathize with the objection — but again the short answer of WCF1:6 and the appeal to its proof text answers it.

      That said, I thought Witsius’s comments were at least interesting, if not helpful, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the response they got either.


  5. If I could give some context…

    I asked for The Reformation Heritage King James Bible this year for Christmas… an innocent enough request that has send me into discovering headcovering doctrine! I wanted this particular bible because it is a decidedly Reformed in its commentary and I love the KJV. The general editor is Joel R. Beeke, which, I believe, we can all agree that he’s a solid, reformed Christian man (with that assumption…?) Anyhow, I googled the title for that bible to check the prices and saw this article:

    Hence, I became intrigued upon the website itself, listened to some things on there, did some reading (not the full study however) and realized quickly that I needed to bring this to the attention of my husband. I did not want to run away onto a theological train without his leading nor guidance.

    So he’s done a bit of research now himself, and we’re studying, seeking, praying, and searching other’s wisdom (hence why I commented originally on this blog as Scott is, again, a solid, reformed Christian man.)

    We are thankful for the responses. We shall be taking this to our local pastor also. Let’s just say we don’t, as a family, use culture (past nor present) to define any particular part of our lives here and now as Christians. And we aren’t Jewish, so greek gentiles we must admit to haha! We seek to follow Christ, no matter where that leads, and it has lead us to very counter-cultural lives, so headcovering wouldn’t appeal to me based upon it’s subversiveness, but rather what you originally titled the article these comments generated, because of Creational Law aspect. Be fruitful and multiply also comes to mind, under this heading.

    Dr. R.C. Sproul has touched upon this in a talk series (available on partial on youtube and in his book “Knowing God”)

    Again, I am forced to quote from the headcovering movement website, but it is where I learned of yet another highly respected, reformed Christian man about headcovering. His son Sproul Jr. (whom I also greatly respect, even though he does differ on topics with his father) is in agreement here.

    So there are three Godly men (not scriptures) I’m appealing to 😀 I’m not well versed in church fathers, but the leg work, for you more scholarly gentlemen types, has been done on the headcovering movement website if you’re interested.

    Perhaps my own conscience is already speaking to me on this matter…

    Cheers and In Christ to all.

  6. Well it’s not a circumstance, as in something that can be changed depending on culture. It is required of women in worship. So come up with a different term which expresses its requirement but doesn’t make it an element and I’ll go with that. The time we meet is a circumstance: ergo head coverings cannot be a circumstance.

    And musical accompaniment is not a circumstance: it fundamentally alters what it accompanies. Just listen to the psalms sung unaccompanied and sung with an organ and you’ll see that clearly enough. And the westminster standards are clearly exclusive psalmody: which can be seen not merely in in the Confession, but in the directory of public worship and in the production of the psalter: doxologies were explicitly excluded because they were not part of the psalms.

    • As I understand an “element of worship” it is that without which one could not have a proper public, stated worship service. That’s why I say there are, in essence, two elements: Word and prayer. Christ comes to us in his Word preached, read, made visible in the sacraments, and sung and we respond in prayers said and sung (i.e., by repeating his Word back to him in response to his Word).

      A head covering is neither Word nor prayer. It is more like posture (sitting or standing), language (French or English), time (9AM or 11AM), and the like than it is like Word or sacrament. It seems to be one of those things determined by the light of nature.

      The fundamental matter re head coverings is to make clear the creational order and, in some readings, the difference between the sexes. In the way the Corinthian women were behaving in worship, that difference was being elided or obscured. That is the principle at stake here.

    • Not to pile on, but WCF 1:6 is explicitly about circumstances, the light of nature and Christian prudence or it is about nothing at all.

      Two, the argument was not that instruments and uninspired songs are circumstances, but that according to the WCF they are not circumstances, just as head coverings and fashions are, however much parties to the discussion might assume to the contrary in ignorance of the WCF.

      Three, the whole thrust of 1Cor. 11-14 is not that it is permissable for a woman to pray or even prophecy as long as she covers her head, but that decency and order should prevail in worship and women are not to speak, i.e. preach.

      I can appreciate the fact that the conservative presbyterian churches such as the Free Pres maintain the historic practice of the WCF and the Dir.Public Worship on psalmody and accompaniment, as well as the custom of women covering their heads in worship, but I do not see the WCF ever equating the elements of worship with its circumstances, Scottish, conservative or otherwise.

  7. I would agree to an extent. The point I wished to make was that headcovering is a requirement for women. Perhaps element is the wrong term, but as I understand circumstance it is something negotiable. Headcovering is not negotiable.

    • Alexander,

      I wish you would read Recovering the Reformed Confession because it seems to me that your insistence on head coverings as immutable truth and practice, despite the fact that the Reformed have always held differing opinions on this passage and its implications, is a classic example of what I call the Quest for Illegitimate Certainty (QIRC). Here are some resources on this.

  8. In respect to any differing opinions, headcoverings are only for that (Corinthian) culture because of “x” circumstance/s; women were speaking out of turn? Can we also ignore the long/short hair commands for men and women?

    Now discerning the times American Christians are in, headcoverings would speak to the “Greeks” of our day, as it were, if culture is the issue. Women are in the very pulpits preaching right now… they are running entire churches and if they’re not, the male pastors are allowing women to run literally every single ministry of the churches they “lead.” Women aren’t remaining silent in anyway, but are the complete opposite.

    The Christian Faith, Marriage, Family, and Sexuality etc. are all being under the strongest attack America has ever seen. Is there a sin in headcovering? Why are Christians so strongly against it? I’m trying to find out what makes it so wrong. I would imagine if it is not wrong, men would simply say to go ahead and cover if we want, but when the question is posed, it is a “No!”

    It seems headcovering does the following:
    1) honoring God’s headship from Creation
    2) following to cover our glory during worship (long hair)
    3) to have power on our heads “because of the angels” > what that means I cannot discern!
    4) that it HAD been practiced until the 20th century? It seems very coincidental to me that feminism came to its head then?

    At least, help me understand the reason it’s a “No” and not a “Go with your conscience” or “If your husband, pastor etc. wants to headcover.” There seems to be prevalent anti-headcovering view, that still, from scripture itself, makes little sense to me. It seems I can honor, God, my husband, society, and the angels all at once by simply covering my head during public worship… is that not what is said? If it stands true for the Corinthian culture, why can’t it be true for this modern day culture also, given the times?

  9. Again FWIW

    1 Cor. XI. 4 Every man that prayeth [That is, that either makes the publicke prayer in the assemblies, or heareth and joynes in prayer] or prophecyeth [or readeth and expoundeth the writings of the Prophets in the assemblies, 1 Cor. 14:3,29 &c. or foretels some future things by divine revelation. For that gift was then given by God to some for the comfort of the church, 1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 4:11 . Or he that heareth such expositions in the congregations] having (ought) on his head [namely any covering, as is long hair, v.14. or a hat, vail or the like, v.7 as the Gentiles used to worship their Idols with covered heads. See Virgil. Aneid.ჴ.Sueton. In Vitell.] he dishonors his own head. [namely, forasmuch as the uncovering of the head was then a sign of power and dominion, as on the contrary now at this day those that have power over others, will keep their heads covered, and they that are under others will uncover their heads before them. But in all these things, we must always have respect to the use of divers times and contreys, and what is honorable and edifying therein, 1 Cor. 14:40. Phil. 4:8]

    (From the Staten Vertaling Bible or the Dutch Annotations on Scripture, as called for by the Synod of Dordt in 1617-19 and published 1637. It was translated by Theo. Haak into English in 1657 as requested in 1645 by a number of Westminster divines including the Scots in toto. It was reprinted in 2002 by Gereformeerde Bijbelstichting, but is now out of print.)

  10. 1 Cor. 11:4 3 Every b man praying or prophecying having any thing on his head, dishonoreth his head.

    3. Hereof he gathereth, that if men do either preach or pray in publick assemblies, having their heads covered (which was then a signe of subjection) they did as it were, spoil themselves of their dignitie, against Gods ordinance.
    b. It appeareth, that this was a politick law serving only for the circumstances of the times that Paul lived in, by this reason, for in these our days for a man to speak bareheaded in an assembly , is a sign of subjection.

    from the 1602 Geneva Bible

  11. Paul references “ordinances” as he introduces the subject. I would suggest that the head covering is perhaps not an ordinance of worship in the larger understanding of ordinances (as prayer, praise, preaching, sacraments), but more akin to something pertaining to an ordinance which is not left to our option (as the use of a common table or a common cup in the Lord’s Supper). Your mention of posture would only reveal more differences, Dr. Clark; historically, Presbyterians believed (and some still do believe) that posture in prayer is not an indifferent matter. See, e.g., Samuel Miller, “Thoughts on Public Prayer.”

    My wife and daughters wear hats during all services of public worship. I would highly recommend a book on the subject by David Lipsy (available from Reformation Heritage Books), and an article by Bartel Elshout that appeared in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth (July/August 2012). Both men are ministers in the Heritage Reformed Congregations, along with Dr. Joel Beeke. Prof. John Murray also spoke quite decisively to the subject, in two separate letters (the more well-known letter can be found quickly on an Internet search; the other is in the back of Iain Murray’s biography of John Murray).

    Not to get into all of the historical material which the Edmonton Steelites amassed a while ago on the subject, which some today still apparently parrot (and which has been ably answered by David Silversides); but how, why, and when was it that some of the strictest, most conservative Reformed congregations and denominations in England, Scotland, the Netherlands, the United States, etc. began to insist upon this practice, if it is not something that goes back at least to Reformation times?

  12. “despite the fact that the Reformed have always held differing opinions on this passage and its implications”

    You may refer to it with your quirky QIRC label; but it is a nearly uniform practice in several Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. In Alexander’s denomination, and in several others with which I am familiar, women cannot come to the Lord’s Table without their heads covered. If you can find a Heritage Reformed or Presbyterian Reformed minister who does not believe in that interpretation of 1 Cor. 11, I would be quite surprised. You should ask them about it the next time you go to a NAPARC meeting.

  13. Daniel Cawdrey, Westminster Divine,
    A Vindication of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, pg. 98

    “And whereas you say, “The Apostle in 1 Cor. 14:40 does not at all enjoin, nor allow the church to enjoin such things as decent, whose want or whose contrary is not indecent, nor such orders, whose want or contrary would be disorder.” I answer, that for men to pray or prophesy with their heads covered, or with long hair, and women uncovered, were things in their own nature indifferent (unless you make it necessary, as a moral duty, for men to pray or prophesy uncovered, and women contra; which no interpreters upon that text do) and yet the Apostle enjoins the Corinthians so to do, ergo, the Synod may do so too.”

    Why was this learned Westminster divine not only under the impression that head coverings were not a necessary moral duty, but also that no reformed interpreters understood this passage to carry a perpetual moral significance?

    Thomas Goodwin, Weatminster Divine, in a letter to John Goodwin regarding the nature of the Independent’s church covenant (Collected Works, Vol. 11, pg 540) remarks that,

    “Lastly, there is no question to be made but that many times the diversification of circumstances and aspects of things in the world, and course of God’s providence, have not only a lawful power of dissolving the binding force and authority of many examples, but of suspending our obedience to many rules, and precepts, and exhortations. As, for example, that kind of salutation between men, mentioned Gen. xxvii. 26, 1 Sam. xx. 41, and oft elsewhere, being generally left and out of use. Those injunctions of Paul, Rom. xvi. 16, 1 Cor. xvi. 20, and elsewhere, ‘ Greet ye one another with an holy kiss,’ impose no such literal tie upon the saints in these days, as when they were written ; neither do I conceive (nor, I suppose, you) that the elders of the church are now bound to anoint the sick with oil, because this is commanded, James v. 14. Neither do I conceive that the French churches lie under any guilt of sin, for suffering their teachers to have their heads covered in their public ministry, notwithstanding the rule or direction of Paul : 1 Cor. xi. 4, “Every man praying or prophesying, having anything on his head, dishonoureth his head ;’ because that topical custom among the Grecians, upon which Paul built this rule or assertion, is wholly disused by their nation, and the contrary generally practiced among them. Though I do not think this scripture is to be restrained to the teachers only, but to concern as well the whole assembly of men present, who are all here said to pray or prophesy in a passive sense (as women also are, ver. 5), that is, to partake of these ordinances with the teachers. Other like instances might be given. And doubtless the rule that Cameron gives (who was a man of as much learning, sharpness of wit, and happiness in opening the Scripture, as any of the reformed churches in France, yea, I may say, in any part of the world, have enjoyed of latter times) is most true. There are many things commanded in Paul’s epistles whereof there is no use at this day.”

    Why is this learned Westminster Divine under the impression that a minister is under no guilt of sin if he preaches covered, that the head covering was only a Grecian custom and Paul’s command was of no use in his day?

  14. John Cotton, Puritan Minister

    Cotton was born in England in 1584, was converted under Richard Sibbes, studied under Lawrence Chaderton at Emmanuel College, Caimbridge, and moved to America in 1633, one year prior to the following events. Because of the incredible respect that followed Cotton, he was invited to be a member of the Westminster Assembly, but couldn’t make the voyage. His former assistant and relative, Anthony Tuckney, sat as a member for the duration of the Assembly.

    When radical independent, (and arch villain to the Puritans) Roger Williams came to preach at Salem, he preached that the wearing of head coverings was a perpetual moral duty of women. After hearing this for a while women began to don veils, and word began to spread. The events are recorded in John Winthrop’s (American Puritan and governor of Massechusets) Journals, and a more detailed history is given in William Hubbard’s General History of New England on page 204. (Hubbard (1621-1704) was a Puritan minister who was hired by the Massachusetts government to write an account of the colony to that point.)

    “Mr. Williams had begun, and then (being in office) he proceeded more vigorously, to vent many dangerous opinions ; as amongst many others, these that follow were some ; for having obtained a great interest in the hearts and affections of all sorts of his hearers, by his great pretence to holiness, zeal, and purity, he had thereby strongly leavened the people of Salem with many strange notions, partly also confirming the people in some which they had imbibed from Mr. Skelton.

    First, that it was the duty of all the female sex to cover themselves with veils when they went abroad, especially when they appeared in the public assemblies ; as if he meant to read them a lecture out of Tertullian, De Velandis Virginibus, &c., for the uncouthness of the sight to see all the women in the congregation veiled, contrary to the custom of the English nation, would probably have drawn the eyes of the rest upon them, especially strangers, much more than if they had attired themselves after the fashion of their neighbors. But, in reference to this kind of fancy, it is observable, that the reverend Mr. Cotton, taking an occasion about this time to spend a Lords day at Salem, in his exercise in the forenoon he, by his doctrine, so enlightened most of the women in the place, that it unveiled them, so as they appeared in the afternoon without their veils, being convinced that they need not put on veils on any such account as the use of that covering is mentioned in the Scripture for ; viz. not as they were virgins, which the married sort could not pretend unto ; much less as harlots as Tamar ; nor yet on any such like account as is mentioned of Ruth in her widowhood—which discourse let in so much light into their understandings, that they, who before thought it a shame to be seen in the public without a veil, were ashamed ever after to be covered with them.”

    So head coverings are strange, dangerous and contrary to the custom of England, huh?

    Wilhelmus a’ Brakel, Christians Reasonable Service Vol. 3 (pg. 151)

    “it must also be noted that the word ―ceremonial is not found in the Bible and that one therefore ought not to dispute about this word. The common usage of the word signifies an ecclesiastical duty, or an external circumstance, deed, action, or transaction. In this respect there are also ceremonies in the church of the New Testament: preaching with either a covered or uncovered head, sprinkling once or thrice in holy baptism, either immersion or sprinkling at the administration of baptism, either sitting or standing when partaking of the Lord‘s Supper, etc. These are ceremonies which neither add to nor subtract from the essence of the matter.”

    William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture (pg. 549)

    “We allow that not all things were written immediately; but we say that afterwards, when all the sacred books were published, all things were abundantly contained in them. If, then, this place be understood of doctrine, we say that it is now fully written, although it was not so then; if of indifferent ceremonies, it is still further from touching us. For these maybe changed, provided only the reason and end be preserved; nor are they necessary as is plain from the place before us. For the apostle speaks of that modesty which women ought to observe in congregation, and of the decency also which is required in men when they frequent religious meetings and assemblies. He requires men to pray with uncovered, women with covered heads: which injunctions are not of a perpetual obligation; for they are not now observed even by the papists themselves; so as to make it plain that all churches are not bound to the same ceremonies.”

    Also, for those who are interested (and can read Latin) David Calderwood, in Altare Damascanum, pg. 394 & 395, has a lengthy section in which he examines the head covering as commanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians (the English version of this text is a shortened and summarized version of the Latin and does not contain this section, in case any are wondering.) He concludes that it was a civil custom, that it would vary from nation to nation, it carries no religious signification and is not an institution of the church. (William Ames in The Fresh Suit, pg. 345 and following, comes to the same conclusions on the subject of head coverings, as at the time of its publication both men are to some degree involved in the same debate with Thomas Morton and John Burges regarding the imposition of English ceremonies.)

    Also worth noting is that Gisbertus Voetius in In Excelsis Mundi, when asking the question of whether or not women should be required to cover in church, recommends that people read Calderwood’s section from Altare, indicating that he too viewed coverings as being temporary and cultural.

    These quotes truly can be multiplied, and I can guarantee you this: Anyone who asserts that the “pro head covering” position has been the accepted teaching of the Reformed churches has done little or no substantive research into the subject. They are simply repeating quotes and arguments from popular internet articles that fail to deal with traditional Reformed interpretation and usage of 1 Cor. 11.

    • Colin,
      I much appreciate this information. I would like to look further into what were the views of the puritans on this question of headcovering in 1 Cor 11. I would also like to know when and how the practice entered churches like the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. If it did not originate from the Puritans, where did they get it from? From the Anabaptists perhaps?

Comments are closed.