Does a woman need a spiritual “covering”?
Submission and authority are a big issue in the church today. Closely tied into the issue of authority is the teaching that women need a spiritual “covering”. Men, we are told, are to be the spiritual “covering” to provide protection and to allow the man to have the accountability. But is a human “covering” a Biblical teaching? There is no New Testament concept of a human “covering” and only one clear human “covering” in the Old Testament.
There was a tradition in the Old Testament of the kinsman redeemer who would “redeem” a widow by marrying the widow of a deceased relative.
Ruth 3:9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.”
Ruth 3:10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.
Ruth 3:11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.
Ruth 3:12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I.
Ruth 3:13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the LORD lives. Lie down until morning.”
The purpose of the marriage would be the protection and support of the widow who would be lost to the family and likely made destitute because of the the death of her husband. This was a very needed help in that culture where a woman was traditionally unable to make a living for herself. But other than the kinsman redeemer in the Old Testament, there is no human “covering” spoken of in the Bible.
But what about the teaching in the church today that a woman needs a spiritual covering? The term spiritual “covering” is really spiritual “control”. The teaching is that a woman must be under a male spiritual “covering” and if she operates outside of that control she will be spiritually attacked by the devil. This is what supposedly happened to Eve. According to the spiritual covering teaching, the woman was created to be under the authority of her husband (her spiritual covering) and in apparent rebellion against her spiritual authority, she stepped outside of that authority by making a decision without the approval of her husband and this caused her downfall.
Folks, this is a fairy tale. Genesis does not say that a woman must have an authority over top of her to keep her safe as if she was created to be child-like and dependent. God did not tell Adam to rule over Eve to take control of her as her spiritual covering and God did not tell Eve to ask permission from Adam for all of her own decisions. God created both the male and the female to make godly decisions in ruling over His creation. That rulership was not created in the form of a hierarchy. God created two equals who were to rule together.
Complementarians will also state that Adam’s responsibility over Eve was shown when God came to Adam first after the fall happened. However there is no evidence at all by the words that God spoke to the man, that Adam would be held accountable for Eve’s actions. God only talked to Adam about what Adam did. God did not ask Adam to speak for Eve nor did God say that He held Adam accountable for Eve’s actions. In fact if God held Adam accountable for Eve’s sin, then God would not have approached Eve regarding her sin. Adam would have already answered for Eve if he was responsible for everything that she did.
So why did God approach Adam first? It isn’t rocket science to understand that Adam was both created first and had the most knowledge of God. We know that Adam was created first and we know that Paul tells us clearly that Adam was not deceived (1 Timothy 2:14). Why would God go to the second one created first? Why would He go first to the one who had less experience with God and who had been seriously deceived by the serpent? God’s principle is that to whomever He gives the most to, that person will have the most required from him/her. Adam was the most responsible for his own sin.
Luke 12:48 …From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
Adam as first created and the one who saw some of the creative acts of God would obviously be the first in line to be rquired to give an account of himself. But in no way was Adam required to give an account to God for his wife. The fact that God went to Adam first does not prove that Adam had authority over Eve or that he was responsible for her sin. To reason that way would be to seriously misrepresent the Word of God.
Ask a complementarian to explain the spiritual covering of Adam over Eve in the garden and they can only add to the text instead of pulling the teaching out of the text itself. This is always what happens with a myth.
In fact this teaching of a human needing to have a spiritual “covering” has done great harm to the body of Christ through the Shepherding movement that placed everyone under a spiritual “covering”. The man who was the “covering” was called a Shepherd and the ones who were covered by that Shepherd had to clear their every decision with him. While the movement may have started with sincere desires to protect the flock, when a mere sinful human is placed in a position of complete authority over others who must obey their every word, the stage is set for controlling and abusive behavior.
Jesus dealt with the foundation of the spiritual covering movement contrasting the worldly leadership pattern with body ministry.
Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.
Matthew 20:26 “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,
Matthew 20:27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; Matthew 20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
“Lording over” or “exercising authority” over others is not the way of the Master. Jesus said “It is not this way among you”. Jesus is not just condemning abusive leaders but the entire system itself. Power and authority from a top down hierarchical flow is the worldly way, while true leadership is a servanthood model based on bottom up support. Those who are the greatest, Jesus said, are to be at the bottom in a position of servanthood for the benefit of others.
In God’s kingdom, authority is based on godly character not on strength, position or rank. This is why we are all allowed to have the authority to use our gifts. Authority is in using what we have been given for the service of others (1 Peter 4:10, 11).
One of the flaws of the teaching about spiritual “covering” is that it makes the one under the covering weaker instead of stronger. We are all encouraged to grow up and to make our own decisions as we will all be ruling the world and the angels in the next life (Matthew 6:1-3). If we place ourselves under a “covering” we are relying on someone else’s wisdom instead of growing up to have our own maturity. This doesn’t mean that the wisdom of others isn’t important. We are all needed in the body of Christ and the wisdom and strength of others can really help us. However if we place ourselves under the umbrella of a “covering” and use that “covering” to make our decisions for us, we are opening ourselves up to be spiritually abused and spiritually immature. It is much easier to let someone else make all the decisions rather than go through the difficult steps to learn how to make wise decisions on our own. While children need a protector, adults should grow to the position of being able to think for themselves and be able to make wise and godly decisions on their own without having to seek approval for all that they do. Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14 is for all of us:
1 Corinthians 14:20 Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.
Some may ask, doesn’t the Bible say that the husband is to be the woman’s head? Doesn’t this mean that her husband is to have authority over her? The picture of the “head” is always an attachment and not an authority of one over the other. The “head” is not an office nor is it a position. It is a relationship. The head is a part of the body and the body is connected to the head. If the “head” meant a “boss” or a higher rank and authority over the wife, then the terminology of lordship authority would have been used. Instead the Bible uses terms for relationship not authority. It is always head “of” not head “over”.
Lastly, Jesus said that we are all brethren in Him and only one is to be our leader and that is the Lord Jesus.
Matthew 23:8 “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
Matthew 23:9 “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
Matthew 23:10 “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. Matthew 23:11 “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
In Jesus we have all the “covering” that we need. Does a woman need a human spiritual “covering” over her? No. Her place is to be in the body of Christ as a fully functioning body part without having to be led and controlled by a human “covering”.
Those who appoint themselves as a spiritual covering over their wives may be tempted to keep her under their own control instead of lifting her up to be a mature, functioning member of the body of Christ with full authority in her own gifts. Staying under a “covering” may be a comfortable place for a woman who has been taught to believe that she bears no responsibility whatsoever as long as she is obeying her “head”. However the Scriptures never offer such a teaching. All of us are responsible for our own actions and God shows this clearly in the way that he called both Adam and Eve to account for each of their personal actions.
It is time that we lay aside the fairy tales of a human spiritual “covering” and get down to our Father’s business of spreading the gospel to all of the world. In the kingdom every warrior counts and all of us are in the battle. We are to be mature, sound in judgment and practiced in wisdom and grace.