Dale Partridge wrote A Cover for Glory, which Relearn Press published just recently in 2023. Partridge is the pastor of King’s Way Bible Church in Prescott, Arizona, and he leads several other ministries, including Reformation Seminary. The book is an exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which is the biblical passage that instructs women to cover their heads during prayer and prophecy while instructing men to uncover their heads during the same. He employs the “Grammatical-Historical Method” of biblical interpretation, a method he defines as the “approach that takes the text literally within its proper context” (p. 50). He also presents an historical argument, alleging that the feminist movement of the mid-20th century altered the way Western Christians think about head coverings at church, so much so that, despite it being common practice for 1,900 years, the practice of women covering their heads during worship ceased with the advent of feminism. He calls for a restoration of the practice, as well as for the proper exegesis of the text at hand.
The book piqued my interest because I have preached through the entirety of 1 Corinthians, and I preached on the head-covering text of 1 Corinthians 11 in January of 2017. I had already been thinking about the topic for almost fifteen years at that point, having previously encountered conservative Baptists and Presbyterians who did uphold the practice of head-coverings. You can view and listen to that sermon here, and you can review the pulpit curriculum for the small group study of that week here. Essentially, I landed in the same place as Partridge. I believe Western churches have erred in glibly dismissing this teaching as a first century cultural phenomenon, and I am convinced the practice needs to be restored. That said, when I preached the text, I gave room for the congregation to wrestle through the teaching. I figured I’d already been afforded over a decade to come to my conclusion, and the congregation ought to be offered the opportunity to do the same. Partridge takes a similar pastoral approach in his book, noting “it’s important to exercise patience with your congregation and trust in the Lord’s guidance” (175). The consensus of our elders was to leave it with the consciences of people.
I found myself agreeing heartily with the overwhelming majority of his exegesis, but he could have been clearer in his definition of prophecy. Prayer and prophecy are the activities during which women are required to cover their heads, while men are to uncover their heads. He properly defines prayer, but his definition of prophecy, especially as it relates to head-coverings, is somewhat blurry. Scripturally, prophecy is the proclamation of divine truth on behalf of God. The prophets of old often received revelation of the future. Today, we prophecy when we proclaim audibly, in the presence others, the revelation of Scripture. If women are not to teach in church – a point on which both Partridge and I agree – how do they prophecy? In what context are they to cover their heads, if they are never to teach in the gathered assembly? I believe prophecy, in this instance, specifically refers to congregational singing. When the church gathers, it gathers for prayer and prophecy, which is the activity that takes place during corporate prayers, corporate readings, and corporate singing. Miriam, for example, was a prophetess, and her prophecies consisted of asserting the truth of redemption in song (Exodus 15:20-21). Samuel promised that Saul would meet a group of prophets at Gibeath-elohim who were prophesying by singing (1 Samuel 10:6). The act of corporate worship is an act of corporate prophecy. The congregation, in that context, corporately heralds divine truth by song. That is prophecy, and during such practices women are to cover their heads because they are participating in the corporate act of prophecy. While I resonated with the majority of Partridge’s exegetical work, he could have explained prophecy, as a concept, better.
Partridge, helpfully answers a series of practical questions near the end of his book. For example, “How much of my head should be covered?” (169). The text, after all, “does not give us direct dimensions” (169). This is relevant because “the shame and embarrassment that many women experience when they cover have caused them to find smaller and smaller covers” (170). The Bible does not provide a specific size for covering, but it does tell women to cover. To answer and illustrate, Partridge helpfully asks, “Now, if you bought a cover for your car and you pulled it out of the packaging, and it only covered the hood, could it still be considered a car cover? Probably not” (170). The point is that the head-covering is to cover the head in a way that one would reasonably consider the head to be covered. In an earlier section, he quotes Tertullian of Carthage, who “gently” jests over women who wear head-coverings that don’t really cover their heads, saying, “they place a fringe, tuft, or any thread whatever on the crowns of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered” ( 24—25). He helpfully defines a head-covering as a covering that covers the head.
Here’s another helpful question: “I used to belong to a church with legalistic and cult-like doctrine, and as a result, I associate headcoverings with that group. It’s difficult for me to wear a headcovering again. What should I do?” (175). This is especially relevant in my neck of the woods, where multiple Mennonite sects mandate women wear head-coverings at all times. I have heard stories of Mennonite pastors thunderously preaching that ladies ought to wear head-coverings at all waking hours, lest they be given to harlotry and damned to hell. Of course, the Mennonite head-coverings often don’t cover their heads, but are more akin to a fabric coaster or a small doily, fastened to the back of their heads by a bobby pin. That notwithstanding, the Scriptures don’t mandate that head-coverings be worn every breathing moment, and they “are not intended to be a tool of oppression” (176). Instead, they are to display femininity within the context of New Covenant worship, as “a way to honor the distinct roles of men and women” (176). He pastorally encourages those who have been under abusive forms of this teaching to “not let those experiences rob you of the beauty and truth of this practice” (176).
Ultimately, I enjoyed reading this book. It affirmed and strengthened my previous convictions, as I had taught from 1 Corinthians 11. Beyond that, I have not previously found a published work that is this thorough and persuasive on the topic. I highly recommend Dale Partridge’s book, A Cover for Glory, to anyone who wants to think through this doctrine seriously, something that I recommend all do. Glibly dismissing the teaching as irrelevant to the so-called enlightened 21st century is not a meek approach to Scripture, but rather the opposite. Instead, we should be wrestling through the text of Scripture, while joyfully submitting to the Scripture, even – or maybe especially – when said teachings offend secular 21st century dogma on gender. In this case, it might even help clarify the Scriptural distinctions between men and women to our androgynous age.