Head Coverings and Tongues Speaking

I have two questions to which I have not been able to get satisfactory answers. The Netherlands Reformed Congregations, Free Reformed Churches, and some Presbyterian denominations require women to wear head coverings in worship. This they base on I Corinthians 11:2-16. To my knowledge, the Protestant Reformed Churches have no such requirement. Whereas I don’t believe the Bible is teaching that a woman’s head must be covered in worship I have difficulty explaining the meaning behind this passage. What are your views on women being required to cover their head in worship, and what is the Bible teaching in I Corinthians 11:2-16?

My second question deals with the “speaking in tongues” issue. What should be the Reformed response to speaking in tongues? I Corinthians 14 seems to indicate that, although the gift of prophecy is greater than that of speaking in tongues, we should desire the gift of speaking in tongues (cf. v. 5). At the very least, verse 39 says we shouldn’t forbid it. Does the Bible give evidence that the gift of speaking in tongues- was only for the early church, or should we too pursue these gifts? Concerning those people who hold to false teachings (Pentecostals, Roman Catholics) and claim to speak in tongues, is their gift from the Holy Spirit or from Satan? I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

These questions have arisen from discussion among several people, and I can assure you that your answers will be well read.

Paul Wiersma

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada



We answer first your question about the “head-covering” for women at the worship of the church. Paul required such a covering of the women in Corinth according to I Corinthians 11:3-16.

The Protestant Reformed Churches do not require such a covering of worshiping women. They regard the covering referred to in I Corinthians 11:3 ff. as an external token in that day of the wife’s submission to her husband.

The undying principle in the passage is the husband’s headship over his wife (vv. 3, 7-12). This headship involves authority. “Power” in verse 10 is literally ‘authority,’ that is, a sign of the authority of the husband over his wife. The headship of the husband over his wife is the same in this respect as the headship of Christ over every man and the headship of God over Christ (v. 3). The sphere in which this headship is to be shown is the public worship of the church (cf. vv. 4, 5: “praying or prophesying”).

This basic, enduring truth, grounded in creation itself (vv. 7- 12), was manifested in the apostle’s day in Corinth, Greece by the woman’s having a certain “head-covering.”

This covering was not her long hair itself, as is evident from the comparison between the covering and her long hair in verses 5, 6.

But neither was that covering a hat, or some kerchief perched on top of her head. The Greek original of verses4-7makesplain that the apostle refers to a veil hanging down from the head. A literal translation of verse 5 would read: “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth without having (something) hanging from the head,” etc. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, explaining the verb that occurs there, gives as the meaning of verse 6, “to veil oneself.”

Those, therefore, who insist that the “head-covering” ofI Corinthians 11 is law for the church in all places and times must require that their women wear veils at church.

The veil, however, was only a local and temporary manifestation at church of the lasting, binding principle that wives are subject to the authority of their husbands. The very fact that the veil was a mere article of clothing indicates this. This is how the notes on the passage of the Geneva Bible, great predecessor of the King James Version, explain the mention of the “head-covering” in I Corinthians 11:3 ff.: “This tradition was observed according to the time and place that all things might be done in comeliness and to edification.”

This was also Calvin’s view of the “head-covering.” With specific reference to the prohibition in verse 3 against the man’s having such a covering, Calvin wrote:

Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this – that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is . . . decorum. If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther (commentary on

I Corinthians 11:4


In his sermons on the passage, Calvin acknowledged that the matter of “head-coverings” had to do with local custom and that “the piety and holiness of the children of God is not comprised of this.” In explanation of the rule laid down in verse 4, that a man ought not to cover his head, Calvin taught his congregation:

Let us observe that St. Paul has only taken exception to something that was not appropriate and fitting according to the usage of the land. For (as we have shown) we are not to take those countries and measure them by our custom(s). Yet there was such disorder, as we said, that the men had exchanged (places) with the women, which was intolerable. This is why St. Paul says that a man, when he executes the function of prophesying, or prays on behalf of all so that all may answer, “Amen,” must not have his head covered, as if he hid himself for shame (Men, Women, and Order in the Church: Three Sermons by John Calvin, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1992, pp. 12, 24, 25).

The great principle of the passage is the headship of the husband over his wife as maintained in the public worship of the congregation. This is as basic and enduring in the history of the church as Christ’s headship over every man and God’s headship over Christ (v. 3).

This principle necessarily implies that women may not have the office of teaching or ruling in the church (I Cor. 14:34, 35I Tim. 2, 3).


Your second question concerns tongues-speaking. As you point out, I Corinthians 14 makes plain that there was the gift of tongues in that day, although not all the believers received it. Also, verse 39 instructed the Corinthians not to forbid those who had the gift to exercise it.

Regardless whether one views tongues as the ability to speak foreign languages without study or as the speaking of new, unknown languages, it was an extraordinary gift and operation of the Holy Spirit. It was part of the miraculous of the apostolic time. With the exorcism of demons, special prophecy, miracles of healing, and the like, tongues-speaking was connected with the office of apostle in the early church. The purpose of the miraculous, extraordinary operation of the Spirit was to validate the office and gospel of the apostles (Mark 16:20Acts 14:3II Cor. 12:12Heb. 2:3, 4).

When the office of apostle passed away, the miraculous passed away with it, including the gift of tongues. The miraculous was no longer necessary. The foundation of the church had been laid. The gospel of the apostles had been accredited. The church now had the complete Scripture of the Old and New Testaments.

The charismatic movement today acknowledges the inseparable relation between the extraordinary gifts and the office of apostle in that it allows for, and even requires, the restoration of the apostolic office in the church and the appearance and function of latter-day apostles. With new apostles come a new gospel, a new church, and a new Christ.

The inescapable implication of this analysis of tongues is that all tongues-speaking in the post-apostolic history of the church is sheer fraud, self-induced emotional gibberish, or direct demonic influence.

We recommend B.B. Warfield’s Miracles: Yesterday and Today (originally published as Counterfeit Miracles). We have sent you a copy of the booklet published by the Evangelism Committee of the South Holland Protestant Reformed Church, “Try the Spirits: A Reformed Look at Pentecostalism.”

– The Editorial Committee


Recently a Baptist friend of mine asked me, with considerable puzzlement, why it was that the Reformers, both British and European, were not rebaptized. How could they possibly accept their Roman Catholic (infant) baptism as valid?

I note that Prof. Hanko’s book on the Reformed teaching about infant baptism does not grapple with the subject of rebaptism. Yet, in our context the whole topic of Rebaptism is very practical. Why were the converts of the Reformation period so very clear that Rebaptism was unnecessary, yet so many folk today flounder in a muddle?

As it happens, I think I know the answer, but I have never seen it in print, and would welcome a good discussion in the SB. If there is something in print easily lendable, please refer to it.

D.J. Stephens

Liverpool, England


Thank you for writing. We appreciate your interest in this subject and the Standard Bearer.

John Calvin argues that the validity of Baptism does not depend on the merit of him who administers it. Writes he:

Now, suppose what we have determined is true – that a sacrament must not be judged by the hand of the one by whom it is ministered, but as if it were from the very hand of God, from whom it doubtless has come. From this we may then infer that nothing is added to it or taken from it by the worth of him by whose hand it is administered. Among men, if a letter is sent, provided the handwriting and seal are sufficiently recognized, it makes no difference who or of what sort the carrier is. In like manner, it ought to be enough for us to recognize the hand and seal of our Lord in his sacraments, whatever carrier may bring them. 

This argument neatly refutes the error of the Donatists, who measured the force and value of the sacrament by the worth of the minister. Such today are our Catabaptists, who deny that we have been duly baptized because we were baptized by impious and idolatrous men under the papal government. They therefore passionately urge rebaptism. 

We shall be armed against their follies with a strong enough argument if we think of ourselves as initiated by baptism not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19]; and that baptism is accordingly not of man but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God’s that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name. But if it was the baptism of God, it surely had, enclosed in itself, the promise of forgiveness of sins, mortification of the flesh, spiritual vivification, and participation in Christ. Thus it was no hindrance to the Jews to be circumcised by impure and apostate priests; nor was the sign therefore void so that it had to be repeated, but it was a sufficient means by which to return to the real source (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Iv, Chapter XV, Section 16).

The above quotation constitutes the heart of Calvin’s position on the matter. You may wish to read all that Calvin had to say on this question in sections 14-18 of Book 4, chapter 15 of The Institutes. Calvin’s position remains the position of the Reformed Churches today.

It will interest you to know that the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches made a rather lengthy study of this question in response to a request for advice on the question from her sister churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore. Among other things, this study report contains translations of several prominent Dutch theologians (Drs. A. Kuyper and H. Bavinck, et. al.) who took the same position as Calvin. This material may be found in the 1988 Acts of Synod and Yearbook of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Copies of this report are available on request from the Protestant Reformed Seminary, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville, MI 49418.

– The Editorial Committee