Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.


As with that of a man, a woman’s testimony is given by all that she is and does. She may preach and teach and seek to lead souls to Christ, but her real witness is through her daily life. Of our Lord it is stated, “The life was the light…” (Jn. 1:4).

In this regard there is, of course, much that is said in Scripture that applies equally to men and women. But there are several passages in which the counsel is directed particularly to women.  Two of these are of special interest, because, in the first place, of their importance, and, in the second place, of misunderstanding regarding their meaning.

Our Attitude

The misunderstanding has arisen through a failure to take into account certain local customs that were involved. The customs observed in a region can have a very definite bearing upon the actions and, therefore, the testimony of the Christian. Missionaries in foreign countries have to realize this. For instance, some years ago a party of new missionaries went to a town in interior Paraguay where we have an active work. The traveling in the district was done on horseback. It was the custom for women to use the side-saddle, riding astride being considered unbecoming. The new lady missionaries paid no attention to the local custom and rode astride.

The result was definitely harmful. Decent women were offended, feeling that these foreign young women were careless of the conventions. The community as a whole was offended by foreigners introducing new-fangled foreign customs. The work of the Gospel was hindered because the message of Christ was associated with that which, to the community, was extremely foreign and improper. Later the missionary ladies recognized this, learned to ride side-saddle and conformed to the custom.

In Corinth, at the time when Paul was writing, a father evidently had the power to permit, or refuse to permit, his daughter to marry. Paul made no attempt to change that custom. It was not contravening any spiritual principle. He wrote to the Church in Corinth: “But he who is firm in his resolve, and is not constrained to marry his daughter, but has the power to carry out his will, and has determined to keep her unmarried, does well” (1 Cor. 7:37, Conybeare). That seems strange to us in our day, but in the circumstances prevailing at the time, due to the customs that ruled, Paul’s advice was sound. However, we would not think of following that rule today. In not doing so we do not disobey any Scriptural or spiritual principle.

The Veil

VEILAnother custom prevailing in Corinth is mentioned in the same Epistle. Women in public wore a veil that covered the whole head, only the eyes being visible. Some of the Christian women, converted from heathenism, laid aside the veil, appearing in public without it. They reasoned, no doubt, that their new-found freedom in Christ released them from the custom of veil-wearing. They were right and the freedom of Christian women generally today from any such custom proves it; and yet they were wrong. Another and very vital factor had to be considered: our freedom must not become a stumbling-block to others. The laying aside of the veil by the Christian women became a stumbling-block to the heathen.  It was misunderstood and therefore caused an impression that was not good and brought the Gospel into disrepute.

What Paul writes about it is as follows: “And I wish you to know that of every man the head is the Christ, and the head of a woman is the husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having the head covered, does dishonor his head, and every woman praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, does dishonor her own head, for it is one and the same thing with her being shaven, for if a woman is not covered – then let her be shorn, and if it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven – let her be covered; for a man, indeed, ought not to cover the head, being the image and glory of God, and a woman (wife) is the glory of a man, for a man is not of a woman, but a woman is of a man, for a man also was not created because of the woman, but a woman because of the man; because of this the woman ought to have a token of authority upon the head, because of the messengers; but neither is a man apart from a woman, nor a woman apart from a man, in the Lord, for as the woman is of the man, so also is the man through the woman, and all things are of God” (1 Cor. 11:3-10, Young’s Literal Translation).

Paul tells these Christian women that they are bringing dishonor upon themselves and upon their husbands when they preach or pray with their heads uncovered; it would be just the same if they were “shorn or shaven.” Here another local custom is mentioned that had to be taken into account. The punishment at that time for an immoral woman was to be shorn or shaven. Only a woman of the street would be willing to go unveiled in public, so the Christian woman in doing so caused people to regard her as loose morally. Therefore, Paul explains to them, to go unveiled would brand them as immoral women in the eyes of the public just as surely as if they were shorn or shaven. They might just as well appear with their heads shaved.

Paul explains that there is nothing in the wearing of the veil, although it was a custom of the heathen, that would have a wrong significance. On the contrary, it could be a testimony. He gives the ground for this. That the woman should wear a veil when the man did not have to do so would speak of the fact that God made the woman for the man. The man’s responsibility is to manifest always the glory of God. The wife should manifest her husband’s glory (that is, be mindful of his honor to guard it). The wearing of the veil would do this for, to the people of that place, it represented her recognition of the authority and honor of her husband. Not to wear the veil brought shame upon him as well as upon her.

And there was nothing necessarily wrong in the wearing of a veil upon her head, Paul explains. Has not nature given the woman her hair as a natural covering for her head, and it is her glory? With a man it is not so; long hair is not becoming to him. And he ought not to wear a veil because its significance would be wrong since his duty is towards God, to manifest his glory, guarding his honor.

“Nevertheless”, Paul adds, “in their fellowship together with the Lord, man and woman may not be separated the one from the other” (v.11, Conybeare). That would be contrary to God’s order and should not be done (cf. Gal. 3:28).

Paul makes it clear that in their worship of the Lord no difference or distinction, may be made between the man and the woman (Gal. 3:28). In their spiritual responsibilities and privileges they are equal. The conforming to the local custom of wearing the veil must not be interpreted as a sign of spiritual inferiority.

Dead Works

We once knew two old widow ladies who insisted that a woman must always wear a sign of subjection on her head. They lived together and each wore always, instead of a veil, a velvet bow on her hair. However, each condemned the other’s bow, saying it was not an adequate covering. The one wore a bow of broad velvet ribbon low at the back of the head. It was condemned by the other because it was not on the top of the head. The other’s bow was of narrow ribbon on the top of the head. It was condemned as useless because it was too narrow. Both these ladies had the reputation of having been far from subject to their husbands!

The attempt to enforce the covering of the head in the gatherings of the Church today, in the midst of entirely different customs, has resulted in a completely illogical practice. The veil covering the face is something that belongs to eastern heathen cultures and does not fit into the customs of Christian lands. So a compromise has been made and the hat substituted. But the hat, not covering the face, has no significance – except as it may be in or out of fashion, plain or extravagant, or, perhaps an expression of vanity. It does not signify, as the veil did then, that the wearer is virtuous and mindful of her husband’s honor. It has no meaning.

Today the wearing of something on the head by a woman in a gathering of the Church has come to be looked upon as a religious rite or symbol and falls into the category of works. Religious symbols and works are not for the Christian born again by the Spirit. They are deceptive exterior appearances taking the place of what should be an inner experience and causing the doer to feel a virtue that is really not possessed. How often it is remarked that the women who insist on the wearing of a covering on the head are far from meek in their attitude to their husbands at home! Works wrought by man always tend to produce spiritual weakness and pride.

In heathen religions, symbols and works take the place of the reality of inner experience. Symbols of subjection to God and of moral cleanness take the place of the real thing and the worshipper in his life feels free to break the laws of God.  The same psychological effect can be observed in the Christian religion. It is common to find that women who would consider it wrong to express themselves in the gathering of the church and who feel they must wear a veil as a token of subjection, seek to rule their husbands at home and to rule the church through their husbands. Actually this is a natural outcome of a practice that is contrary to the laws of God – a reaction to an unnatural restriction.

It is to be noted that Paul did not mention the wearing of the veil to any other church. The lesson to be learned from it is that the local environment may have to be taken into consideration in a believer’s conduct. His or her freedom is dependent upon what will give a truly spiritual testimony before the world. However, local customs may be conformed to only after a careful weighing of the matter to make sure that it will have no significance that is unspiritual. The believer must not conform to the world.

The statement, “because of the angels,” in v.10 has caused difficulty.  Young’s translation quoted above, “because of the messengers,” gives the correct meaning. Angel means messenger. The messengers of the Gospel, or preachers, were sometimes called angels in that sense. The word is so used also in Rev. 1:20; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14.

When the statement is taken as referring to the heavenly angels an enigma is introduced. Nowhere in Scripture is any such activity attributed to the angels nor any light given that would explain how or why they would be offended if a woman did not wear a veil.

(For a more extensive study on the fascinating subject of “the angels of the seven churches”, we refer the reader to the Appendix to the “Dear Pastor…” e-booklet –

The Hair

This passage has also been used to condemn hair-styles in which the hair is cut shorter than its natural length. It can be seen that there is no reference whatsoever to the cutting short of the hair. What is spoken of is the shaving or complete cutting off of all the hair as a punishment for immorality.

We shall refer to this point again later. Meantime we shall consider the counsel given in Paul’s first letter to Timothy (2:8-10): “I wish, therefore, that men pray in every place, lifting up kind hands, apart from anger and reasoning; in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, with modesty and sobriety to adorn themselves, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or garments of great price, but which becomes women professing godly piety – through good works” (Young’s Literal Translation).

Peter gives a similar counsel: “Your adornment ought not to be a merely outward thing – one of plaiting the hair, putting on jewelry, or wearing beautiful dresses. Instead of that, it should be a new nature within – the imperishable ornament of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which is indeed precious in the sight of God. For in ancient times also this was the way the holy women who set their hopes upon God used to adorn themselves…” (1 Peter 3:3-5, Weymouth).

Here again, in a most natural way, the customs of the time influence what Paul and Peter write. In those days men of means did not keep their wealth in banks but invested it in gold and jewels and such things that did not depreciate in value and could be sold at any time. The wives of such men had the custom of spending much time braiding their hair in many small braids in which they wore ornaments of gold and pearls. Such a display and waste of time, Paul explains, is not becoming in a Christian woman. Her attractiveness and worth should come, not from such braiding of the hair or costly ornaments, but from her good works and truly Christian character, manifesting the grace of the Lord.

It is not said that a woman should not braid her hair or wear gold or pearls or simple ornaments. She should not wear costly ornaments or make a show of wealth. Simplicity and modesty is to be the keynote of her dress. By a misreading of such passages – reading into them what is not there, or exaggerating them – it is easy to get into bondage that is spiritually sterile. This also comes to be nothing more than dead works that take the place of true spiritual life and give room for pride.

These things may be done in all sincerity by those who believe they are God’s command, but even then they bring misunderstanding of what true spirituality really is and so bring loss. They bring down to a lower plane the manifesting of the life of the indwelling Christ, tending to make it a matter of doing rather than being.


There is nothing in God’s Word to say that a woman should not dress tastefully or wear simple jewelry or cut her hair. A Christian woman should be becomingly dressed. Carelessness, untidiness, dowdiness, or the affectation of some severe style as evidence of spirituality, does not give a testimony that is truly spiritual. We cannot think of our Lord being either careless or extreme in his attire or personal appearance. It would have been a denial of the truth which He taught.

There is an attractiveness that does not attract attention to self. It is wholesome and bears a true testimony. Personality and dress both contribute to it. The dress is a manifestation of the personality, contributing to the revealing of the inner man. In the Christian woman whose whole personality manifests Christ, there will be in her dress that which definitely speaks of her Lord. What does not speak of him speaks of her.

There are styles that manifest the pride and vanity of the human heart seeking display or applause. There are styles designed for immodest display. They are of the thought and desire of a nature that is fallen and carnal. It is the flesh appealing to the flesh. We could not think of the Lord admiring them and delighting in them or excusing them. “But it is the fashion!;” “It is cute!;” “Everybody is using it!” Can the fashion or custom ever be a reason for setting aside the Christian woman’s duty to deny self and her privilege to manifest Christ in everything that she is and does?

It is said that “clothes make the man.” But, also, clothes manifest the man.   Scripture teaches that a woman’s adornment should be with “modesty and self-restraint.” That is a good guide. It gives plenty of freedom. It bases the whole matter on principle, placing the responsibility upon the Christian conscience, guided by the principles of God’s Word.

Modesty and Beauty

Modesty is a word that is out of fashion. The world calls it old-fashioned and sneers at it. The carnal Christian agrees with the world as far as he or she dares. What is not modest? Sometimes, as we have seen, it depends upon what is the custom, but not always. Some things are immodest, no matter what the custom is. What is self-restraint? It is the restraining of self. What is self? We all know what it is if we want to be honest and admit it. Self does not want to be modest; it wants liberty to express and display itself.

There are principles clearly taught in God’s Word that will aid us if we want to know them and follow them. But self can reason very plausibly and it is necessary to have our heart fixed in its love for our Lord, for the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”

Christ said: “If any one desires to come after me, let him deny himself…” That is Christian self-restraint. It means the complete denial of all that is of self so that it will be true that, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20).

Modesty will not permit an immodest display of the body whether clothed or unclothed. Modesty will not be dishonest, seeking to appear other than it is. It will not be false. Modesty trusts in the simple attractiveness which God has given by nature and adds a beauty to it that is real. And the beauty which God has given is no negligible gift. How poor and unconvincing is the artificial flower alongside of the real one! Nature’s colors are the despair of the artist, for, no matter with what skill he may mix his pigments, his colors remain but a poor imitation. There is an attractiveness and beauty in nature that man’s greatest art cannot even imitate. The greatest artists have striven for it but freely admit that they could only, as it were, hint at it. It has a purity and simplicity and truthfulness, the soul of true art and beauty, that man’s work must always lack.

In these days when the use of cosmetics has been popularized by the most lavish advertising and multi-million-dollar businesses have been built on the trade, the godly woman is faced with the need to know what her personal attitude should be in this matter.

In all such matters, whether it be the use of cosmetics, or anything else that affects the standard of the Christian’s life and the testimony that is given, there are simple questions that, when answered honestly in the light of God’s Word, make clear the issues involved and the course that should be taken.

(1) What has God’s Word to say on the matter?

(2) What is my motive for doing it? Has self anything to do with it?

(3) Does it mean the adoption of the World’s standard? Does it make me like those of the world and hide the fact that I am not of it?

(4) Does it affect the manifesting of Christ through me? What effect has it upon others?

(5) Does it mean the selfish and wrong use of money?

(6) Does it involve a use of time that is selfish and wrong?

(7) Is it manifesting truth? Or, is it false?

(8) What is its effect on my inner fellowship with the Lord?

(9) Is it beneficial or harmful to the body, which is God’s? For instance, the painting of the lips is definitely harmful. It produces an unhealthy condition that drains them of their natural coloring and may have other consequences. When painting the lips is stopped, it takes some time for them to regain their natural health and beauty.

There is very much in God’s Word on all of these points. Many of God’s people have not realized that there is so much and have never gone to the Word concerning these matters. One statement that must be basic in every believer’s life is given in Ephesians 4:15: “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into him who is the head – Christ.” “Speaking the truth” does not give the full force of the Greek word used. Literally it would be, “truthing it in love” – manifesting truth, not only in speech but actively in all that one is or does: living truth, working truth. Further on in this chapter Paul deals with the speaking of truth (v.25).

To “grow up in all things into Christ,” a life that is the manifestation of truth in love is necessary, for He is Truth and in all His life, in every action and word, He manifested truth in love. And that love was never for self, but always for God and for man.

A wise care of the body is right and good. To make that which God has given us appear at its best is right. What contributes to comfort and convenience in clothing and hair style also is right, so long as no other principle is affected. But whatever has as its inner motive, vanity, the manifesting of self, or making ourselves appear what we are not, or attracting attention to ourselves, is wrong.

Penciled eyebrows, painted lips and finger nails, shaded eyes, dyed hair, and such forms of make-up, do not “manifest truth” in the one who would “grow up in all things into Christ.” They do not contribute to convenience or comfort. Their motive is vanity and conformity to the world’s customs and standards. They are false, making one appear what one is not. They require the use of time and money that are God’s. They hide what the woman in Christ really is.

This latter point is more important than many have realized. The covering of make-up hides the evidence of the indwelling Christ that manifests itself so subtly and yet so clearly in the face of the truly spiritual woman. It used to be easy, as one looked over an audience, to tell who were born-again believers in Christ and who were not. Now, so far as many of the women are concerned, it is not possible to do so. They look no different to those who know not the Lord. The Lord in their faces is hidden. This is a loss to the Lord for it hides something of “The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18).

The use of make-up has become so common in some communities that Christian women find it hard to be different. Some have said, “As it is done by everybody now, it is not wrong.” Can custom make right what is untrue? One said, “If I do not paint I find it difficult to reach other girls.” Will conformity to the world’s standards and ways enable the Christian to represent better the Christ who lives within?

There has been a lowering of standards in the Christian’s conduct. Religion has become popular – and shallow. The difference between the Christian and the world has become less evident. This has happened before in the history of the Church. It has never meant that the world’s standards have been raised, but always that the world has corrupted the Church. Where religion is popular, naturally it is the easy way that appeals. Anything with the Cross in it is shunned. It must be pleasant comfortable, cost little, leave self its freedom. The Christian woman has to face the fact that to keep her own heart pure before God that her witness be truly pure, there are things in which she must be different. Christ said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

It is the beauty of the Christ that is to be manifested in her – and that is manifested in simplicity and truth. “His visage was marred more than any man,” yet how truly perfect is his beauty and attractiveness!

Artificiality and reality are opposites, the one untrue, the other true. How often is it seen that a very attractive Christian girl has no special physical beauty. The attractiveness comes from the inner life that shines and that gives true beauty. There should be a difference in the appearance of the one who is Christ’s and who manifests him.

But, it may be said, some affect such outward simplicity, yet in their hearts they display little of the beauty of the Lord. That is true. But their simplicity is only artificial, an exterior show of piety to hide that which is death – and it does not hide it! The heart is deceitful in many ways. Its pleasure may be either in the outward show of borrowed beauty or in the outward show of borrowed piety. Neither is right and the one does not excuse the other. Both fall short of the witness in which the Cross of Christ is manifested in its truest and fullest meaning.

Differences between the Sexes

Another principle is expressed in Deut. 22:5: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for all who do so are an abomination to the LORD your God.”

This is not an arbitrary rule; it deals with a fundamental principle: a man must retain his manliness and a woman her femininity. A feminine man or a masculine woman are contrary to God’s order. They are ridiculous because they are contrary to nature. Psychology teaches correctly that in a properly integrated personality there is satisfaction with one’s sex.

The Christian is not commanded arbitrarily to do or not to do certain things. There is always an important principle underlying each command. It is not good for either sex to try to be like the other. The special characteristics of each are God-given for man’s good, and for man’s good they must be carefully preserved. Nature teaches us this. For instance, for the sake of their future character, that they may be prepared for the roles they are to perform in life, it is important that the boy be brought up as a boy, the girl as a girl. And the boy needs to have the example of a father who is truly a man, and the girl of a mother who is happily a woman. The boy is to be a father, the girl a mother. In each the special characteristics for the work and responsibilities for which they are destined should be developed. If this is done, each will obtain the fullest satisfaction from life and those for whom they, in turn, will become responsible will benefit as God has intended. But if not, deep emotional damage may be done, disqualifying them for their responsibilities and bringing to them dissatisfaction and frustration. And in their future homes and children the effects will be manifested and, it may be, bear bitter fruit.

As we have already noted, the differences between the sexes go deeper than just a few physical and emotional contrasts. Their effects are subtle and far-reaching. The same style of dress is not suitable to the two. Scripture says that a woman’s hair is her glory. It is not a man’s glory. A man who is bald has not necessarily lost all his good looks, but a woman’s face is so molded that her hair not only lends beauty but is indispensable to her appearance.

We have seen that there is no statement in Scripture to the effect that a woman must not cut her hair, but to cut it short like a man’s is contrary to Scripture. To cite 1 Cor. 11:6, which speaks of the shaving or complete cutting off of a woman’s hair as a punishment for adultery, to prove that scissors should never be put to a woman’s hair is to deal falsely with the Word of God. However, in v. 15 of that chapter it is stated that nature teaches that a woman’s hair is “a glory to her.” To cut the hair to the extent that she is shorn of the glory, or covering, which it was meant to be to her, is neither right nor becoming to the Christian woman.

The Fashions

There is still another principle that is of great importance. Something may be, in itself, permissible and yet not convenient because of the misunderstanding it will cause. We have mentioned the unfortunate effect in a country district in Paraguay when foreign missionary ladies, just arrived in the country, rode astride instead of side-saddle as was the custom.

Custom has a definite bearing upon what is proper and, therefore, right. A change beginning to take place in custom may possibly involve nothing that is in itself wrong and yet, if it is a radical break with previously accepted usage it may at first be considered unbecoming by the older generation. In such a case the Christian woman should not take the lead in the change. It is not necessary to attractiveness to be in the forefront of such fashion. Her testimony is always of paramount importance. She must take care that she be not a stumbling-block to others. Her spirit should not be that of one whose ambition is to be in the van of fashion, drawing attention to herself, glorying in her appearance.

Fashions are continually changing. The older generation, especially the women, generally tend to cling to the fashions that prevailed in their youth, while the younger generation welcome novelty. There is nothing necessarily wrong in change and the older generation of Christians must be careful when they condemn the new that they are not just making sacrosanct the styles and customs to which they have been accustomed. To regard customs as sacred and equate them with spirituality is a subtle manifestation of the carnal mind substituting works for true spiritual life.

On the other hand, there are customs that are the fruit of “The wisdom of the ages” and are wise and good. To throw aside these is to give license to that which is not good. It is this, too often, that happens and we must beware of it. To the cry of progress and liberty, safeguards are abandoned and moral standards decline.

However, the change may involve no moral principle. It may be simply a natural and normal expression of a desire for change or for improvement. Sometimes it is necessary, due to changing conditions. For instance, better central heating, heated trains and cars, air-conditioning, new fabrics, new modes of travel, the fact that more people travel, engage in sports, go on holidays, all exercise a natural influence on clothing styles.

Always there are extreme styles – appealing by their novelty, garishness or immodesty. To the spiritual believer these, of course, should have no appeal. At any time and in any land there is always that which, while up-to-date and attractive, is, at the same time, modest and becoming.

Is not all this just the carrying out of the Scriptural injunction that in her dress a Christian woman should be “seemly”, adorning herself “with modesty and self-restraint?” One in whose heart reigns a true love for her Lord will find a satisfying joy in thus manifesting her indwelling Savior.

As we consider the godly women pictured for us in the Old and New Testaments, and those whose lives have been an example through the centuries of the Church that have followed, there is one thing that all have in common: in actions, in dress and manner there is modesty, simplicity, sincerity and truth. In all there is the truest womanliness, but always there is the careful avoidance of any display of self. We cannot reason away this principle. The fleshly heart will always seek to do so for it wishes freedom for display. It will always resent the restrictions placed upon it by the godly life. Written upon it is never Christ but always Flesh.