Understanding the “Head-Coverings” in 1 Corinthians 11

Are Christian women neglecting the command for head-coverings in church? Many are convinced that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches that women must wear garment head-coverings when practicing their faith around men. Yet, the text says that the covering is hair in verse 15, and the covering is not indicated to be a garment. The Greek text also confirms the covering to be hair as noted by James Coffman among other Greek linguists. A woman’s long hair “is given to her for a covering” (1 Cor. 11:15), and by not letting her hair down, this was the same as having her hair cropped or shaved. By not letting her hair be long, she was arranging her hair and claiming authority by social custom, and thus she dishonored the headship of God, Christ, and man. With hair being the glory of women, the Christian woman should let her hair hang down in subordinating to God’s headship and thereby glorified God, Christ, and man. The scriptures below will make these affirmations clear.

Remember that Christian women were instructed  in 1 Timothy 2:9-15 to be modest not adorning their hair with braided hair and with gold and pearls. The passage is clear that this behavior was immodest and insubordinate. By not letting the hair hang down, women would dishonor God’s headship. By braiding the hair up, women were or appeared to be in rebellion to subordinating to the birthright of men to lead and teach. Also, 1 Peter 3:1-6 applied this to a wife’s subordination to her husband where she was not to be insubordinate by arranging her hair and be adorned in gold. See, this was their custom and culture that powerful women of authority would dress as though higher than others even in pagan worship. Remember that women in this time led worship to Diana and Dionysus. The Diana temple contained vault safes (Morton, “Deceiving Winds”). Apparently, some Christian women still arranged and adorned their hair upon their heads rather than letting their long hair hang down showing the glory of God, Christ, and man (1 Cor. 11:15). The Spirit of Christ taught through the Apostles that a woman’s hair was to hang down in such a way that is modest and glorified herself, her husband, Christ, and God.

In 1 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul revealed God’s tradition for Christians to show cultural respect contrary to this ancient custom that was a rebellious and factious in promoting an authority over God’s headship. Likewise, Paul had previously addressed eating meat that may have been offered to idols and how a Christian may respond within a pagan culture (1 Cor. 10:24-33). The Apostle also taught that such social customs were not matters of contention (1 Cor. 11:16). Christians are to present themselves as humble and respectable to God by glorifying God first contrary to local practices of presenting social authorities. Today, long hair is still a woman’s glory from God despite that short hair shows no loyalty or claim to pagan or modern social authorities. A woman’s arrangement of hair today can still boast of wealth and power. Such must be avoided.

Consider what James Coffman had to say about a woman’s hair being her covering:

Verse 4
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.

Having his head covered…
Here is where the misunderstanding of this passage begins. This clause, as rendered in the popular versions, is commentary, not Bible. As Echols noted:

“Having his head covered” is a commentary, not a translation. Lenski translated the sense correctly: ‘having something down from his head.’ What the ‘something’ is is neither stated nor implied in 1 Corinthians 11:4.

The logical understanding of this would refer it to ‘long hair,’ being long enough to hang down from the head, as clearly indicated by the apostles’ words a moment later: ‘If a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him’ (1 Corinthians 11:14).

The ancients accepted Paul’s dictum on this and went so far as to define the length of hair that was considered an infraction of Paul’s words.

‘The hair of the head may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes … cropping is to be adopted … let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets.’

Significantly, the words ‘hang far down’ strongly resemble Paul’s words ‘having something down from his head.’ The above is from Clement of Alexandria and was written in the second century.

The notion that Paul in this place referred to the [Hebrew: tallith] (shawl), or [Greek: yarmelke] (skull cap) worn by Jewish worshipers is refuted by the fact that the Greek New Testament does not indicate in this verse an artificial covering of any kind. This does not mean, however, that Paul would have approved of the use of either in Christian worship. ‘For Paul such a covering probably symbolized that the Jewish male continued in spiritual darkness, from which Christians had been liberated.’ We may therefore interpret this verse as a simple admonition that it was a disgrace for any long-haired Christian male to participate in praying and prophesying; and this interpretation certainly harmonizes with verse 14. History has certainly vindicated this view; because universal human behavior has departed from it only in isolated instances and for relatively very short periods of time” (emp. added).

Referring to coverings in verse 5, Coffman wrote,

With her head unveiled…
The word here rendered ‘unveiled’ is [Greek: akatakaluptos]. ‘There is no intrinsic meaning in this word which suggests either the covering material or the object covered; it is simply a general word.‘ (See under 1 Corinthians 11:15.) Only in 1 Cor. 11:15 does Paul mention any kind of garment ([Greek: peribolaion]) and even there he stated that the woman’s hair took the place of it.’ [Katakaluptos] means covered completely. [Akatakaluptos] means not completely covered. Thus again, the passage falls short of mentioning any kind of garment. To suppose that Paul here meant ‘mantle’ or ‘veil’ or any such thing is to import into this text what is not in it. We have seen that he was speaking of ‘hair’ in 1 Cor. 11:4; and that is exactly what he is speaking of here. ‘Not completely covered’ would then refer to the disgraceful conduct of the Corinthian women in cropping their hair, after the manner of the notorious Corinthian prostitutes; which, if they did it, was exactly the same kind of disgrace as if they had shaved their heads. It is crystal clear that Paul is not speaking of any kind of garment; because he said in 1 Cor. 11:15, below, ‘For her hair is given her instead of a covering.’” (emp. added).

David Lipscomb addressed this very subject saying,

I understand that long hair serves as a veil or token of her subjection to authority; and if she has not long hair, she must cover her head when she approaches God in worship. I understand this to refer to her approach to God in private or in public assembly when others lead in worship. Many interpret this to mean that she is to do these things when she leads in public worship, but the Scripture says nothing of this” (Q & A, emp. added).

Within this previous context of hair being the “covering”, Lipscomb concluded this statement, “We understand verse 16 to say that the churches of God have no such custom as the women appearing in worship with uncovered or shorn heads.” The expectation was for women to have hanging hair in that society to show honor to the headship from Christ to God, man to Christ, and woman to man.

Still, some may ask about verses 5-6, which seem to imply that not having a garment for a covering is like a woman’s hair being cropped or shaved. Actually, these verses can be misinterpreted by readers to imply that a covering must be a garment when Paul specified that hanging hair is also a covering in verses 14-15. Let us not assume. A literal translation is,

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered [Gr. without hanging hair] dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered [without hanging hair], let her also be cropped. But if it is shameful for a woman to be cropped or shaved, let her be covered [with hanging hair]” (1 Cor. 11.5-6).”

Coffman said in agreement,

If Paul meant ‘hair,’ why did he use the word ‘covered’? The answer is that in the vocabulary of the Old Testament ‘to uncover the head’ was to shave off the hair. When Nadab and Abihu sinned (Leviticus 10:1ff), God commanded Aaron not to ‘uncover his head’ in mourning at their death; and this meant not to cut off his hair (the customary sign of mourning). Job shaved his head when he learned his children were dead (Job 1:20). Many examples of this usage could be cited” (emp. added).

“[I]f it is a shame to a woman to be cropped or shaven, let her be covered” clearly refers to a covering of hair as seen in 1 Corinthians 11:15, “And if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her long hair is given to her for a covering.

What about verse 10′s reference to angels saying, “because of the angels“? This is what can be known. Verse 10 is referring to authority, so looking to the context, see what is said about women having authority on her head toward God and man. The woman, who prophesies, receives revelation from God through angels to be able to prophesy (Heb. 2:2, Rev. 1:1) and the woman has her prayers delivered by angels (Rev. 8:3-4). This instruction has to do with the woman’s service in prayer and teaching before God. She is to apparently be serving with respect and modesty. Therefore, “every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor. 11:5). By not observing customs of respect, the Christian woman dishonors herself being that she is created to be the glory of man in addition to being created in God’s image. Remember verse 3, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” The woman is subordinating to the man by her modesty and covering. Her hair hanging down is her glory for she is the glory of man. This is how the Christian woman honors the headship of God, Christ, and man.

Again, I must say that if any are contentious about this, then we have no such custom (1 Cor. 10:16).

About Scott Shifferd Jr.

Minister, Dean Road church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of three. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
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490 Responses to Understanding the “Head-Coverings” in 1 Corinthians 11

  1. Jacop says:

    Scott, I looked up bterry.com and easily found the subject matter. If you know the verse then you’ll see it clearly.

  2. Mandy says:

    The essence of the confusion is very poor translation, usually by people who had absolutely no knowledge of the culture of the Old Testament, which is the root of the New Testament. Basically what Paul was saying was that it was a disgrace to come to a church meeting dressed and behaving in the ways of the heathen world. This not only disregards but renders powerless the spiritual structure that God has put in place for harmonious relations between the sexes, and effective worship and service in the Kingdom. Women are not inferior to men, in fact the opposite is true, which is why women consent to the role of honour for men in spiritual life. This is a well-known fact among the Jews. We need to pray that the original Aramaic texts of the New Testament will be found – we don’t have them, and consequently we don’t have the true meaning of many passages.

    • Michael R. Baggett says:

      God has given us everything we need that pertains to live and godliness through the knowledge of Him (Christ)….(II Pet. 1:3). God has given and preserved His word. What a sad state to live in believing we do not have the true word of God. Men and women are equal in importance, but serve different roles in the home, Church, and I am convinced, in society (1 Cor. 11:3,7-12; 14:33,34; 1 Tim. 2:9-15; Titus 2:4,5). God wants the man to act, behave and be responsible in the duties of a man; God wants the woman to act, behave and be responsible in the duties of a woman. Man was God’s first created human and is his glory, kind of like your first new car. The woman is the glory of the man and was created “for the man” (1 Cor. 11:7-9). I didn’t write that passage, the Holy Spirit did that. May we accept God’s word and conform to it as men and women who love and respect God and His word, whatever His word directs us to be as a man or woman (Rom. 12:1,2). God bless.

      • Mandy says:

        We don’t have the true Word of God in the New Testament, just many, many faulty translations arising out of the Greek version, which is wrongly believed by many to be the original, it is not – this is a well-known and proven fact among real Biblical scholars. For the lay among us, the Holy Spirit bears witness to all these errors in translation by revealing the True Word to those who are seeking … try this, you will see.

        • The Holy Spirit has revealed to me that Christ is infallible having given revelation through His Apostles and prophets, because what the Scriptures say, the Holy Spirit says (Eph. 3:3-5, 2 Pet. 1:3, Jude 3).

          What the Holy Spirit Says about Himself – Part 1 of The Holy Spirit Speaks
          http://godsbreath.net/2007/03/07/holy-spirit-speaks-pt1/

        • Are you saying that we cannot trust the Greek? Because the manuscripts are over 6,000, and the majority text agrees. Why not simply read the Greek?

        • “We don’t have the true Word of God in the New Testament, just many, many faulty translations arising out of the Greek version, which is wrongly believed by many to be the original, it is not – this is a well-known and proven fact among real Biblical scholars.”

          And yet God promises that we will always have His Word. Before the “real Biblical scholars” weighed in, what did believers use? Was God’s promise void for the hundreds of years before the “real Biblical scholars” showed up?

          • Mandy says:

            The point is that all of the many translations of the so-called original New Testament that are available today are faulty – and inconsistent – in many ways – this has been a proven fact over the past 2 000 years, there is much sound literature on the subject – much of it produced in the 1800s! This inconsistent state of Christianity, or rather Churchianity – denominationalism, and they come and go – through the ages more than proves the faultiness, with little consistency with the Old Testament, and great hatred for the Jews. On the other hand, the Old Testament in Hebrew is rock-solid because it is the original, and there is only one. In fact, the Jews go even further and consider only the Torah (Pentateuch) to be absolutely accurate because it was given directly by Elohim (note the plural = the Trinity!) on Mount Sinai. Every real Christian knows that true revelation of the Word comes by the Holy Spirit and is completely consistent with the Old Testament (Tanakh). In fact, through the Holy Spirit one can even find and grasp the real Gospel in the Tanakh. At the right time, either the original Aramaic texts of the New Testament will be found or the Holy Spirit will reveal to all through real Bible scholars the full true meaning of the New Testament – in the context of the Old Testament. Zechariah 8:23.

    • See, I agree with you until your last statement as though the New Testament was originally in Aramaic, but the early church writers say that only Matthew as also written in Aramaic. There is no reason to doubt the majority text of the Greek New Testament or the ancient Latin majority.

      • Mandy says:

        There is much documented evidence that the Greek New Testament is not the original. Ask the Lord wholeheartedly to lead you in this and you will make remarkable discoveries. I am currently involved in the publication in Jerusalem of a book written as far back as the 1800s on this very topic. You could start with Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian – reading prayerfully, you will have insights that will astound you. Perhaps the Lord will allow the original New Testament texts to come to light.

        • Michael R. Baggett says:

          And what would you expect from the original? God promised to preserve His and I believe Him.

        • I have read the early Christian writers extensively. No doubt we have the text and the doctrine. For instance, Irenaeus quoted large chunks of the Gospels and other Christian scriptures in 180 AD. He also quoted most of Acts. His quotes agree exactly with the 5th Byzantine texts like Alexandrinus and the majority of the Byzantine texts from the 7th c. forward. The Byzantine text does preserve the original. These facts came prayerfully for wisdom from God (Jas. 1:5).

          • Mandy says:

            No, it is not like that, the Holy Spirit leads His people to discover the truth through fallen human language. God actually uses this fallen language as a veil to prevent people who are not His from discovering and abusing the Power of Holy Truth. Along the lines of the Tower of Babel. There are levels of Revelation, just as there are a number of heavens. The more we mature in Him, the more the Holy Spirit reveals to us – eternally. Jesus the man didn’t speak Greek, He spoke Aramaic. There are many proofs for this. You will find them if you start to explore the literature prayerfully. That’s one of the ways we can know that the Greek texts are not the originals. Biblical sociolinguists can further prove this by faulty Greek terms used that do not carry the full contextual meaning of what Jesus said in the Aramaic. All the worldly texts were manipulated by men in line with supremacist world cultures – that’s why they are in accord, they were made so.

          • Wow. So, you can’t trust Jesus’ words or those of His Apostles? How can you test the spirit, who has told you these things? You have got to get back to Jesus Christ. Start with Him and His words for Him to lead you to the Truth. Otherwise, you are lost.

            Jesus did speak Greek like everyone else who spoke Greek and Aramaic then. The Old Testament was translated into Greek more than 3 centuries before Christ. See LXX. This was the trade language and language of theological treatise throughout the world. There is no veil in the Greek language. It is very precise. I read the Greek New Testament everyday along with numerous other works. We can test the definition of words and grammar extensively. Someone has really deceived you. The early Christian writers wrote in Greek. Even, Irenaeus noted that Matthew’s gospel was written in Greek like the rest of the Christian scriptures although he made a Hebrew copy too. See also Papias and Eusebius.

            Languages are not misogynistic, because the masculine pronouns are inclusive of both sexes giving the feminine pronouns its own unique feminine usage. Quite the contrary when the pagan worship to Diana and Dionysus were led by women.

            Sexism is an invented word from 1967 and a social construct used often to direct criticism toward God coming in the flesh as a man and having 12 males as His closest disciples. I am not overlooking the women either ( Lk 8).

        • I think this is strange that you would doubt whether we have Jesus’ original words. Having Jesus’ words, we know that He told His Apostles that He gave His words to them (John 17:8). Giving His words to them, He told them (and not us) that His Spirit would guide them into all Truth (John 16:13). We also know that those, who followed Christ, would follow His Apostles (John 15:20). Add to this that Jesus said that His words would never pass away (Matt. 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33).

          If we did not have the original, then how would we know anything for certain about the Holy Spirit and what Jesus said about the Spirit? How would we test the spirits by the Apostles’ doctrine for many false prophets have come into the world (1 John 4:1, 6)? How would we know what Jesus said and did not say? The distrust would be unending. Everyone, who claimed the Spirit, and contradicted each other would through all faith in Christ into a tailspin and ruin. Only remnants of neognosticism and philosophical theism would survive leaving the world in darkness.

          • Mandy says:

            See response above :)

          • Mandy says:

            Sorry but you are wrong – I suggest you pray about everything you believe with an open heart. I am bowing out of this now, it is between you and the Lord …

          • Michael R. Baggett says:

            Without the Bible, we would be totally lost. I believe the Bible. The Holy Spirit does not lead us outside of this spoken word (Eph. 3:2-5).

          • Mandy says:

            That is not correct either. Abraham didn’t have the Bible. At the time of Jesus there was no New Testament – nor any churches, for that matter, as a Jew He attended synagogue to fulfil the Law. Without the Father, Messiah and Holy Spirit we would be totally lost. I cannot comment any further. All the best.

          • Michael R. Baggett says:

            Mandy, God spoke to men in old time in various manners, including directly. Today, He speaks to us through His son, who speaks to us through this New Testament. God speaks to no man or woman directly today (Heb. 1:1,2; 2:1-4).

          • Thank you for your discussion.

          • Michael R. Baggett says:

            Yes, thank you, Mandy, and thank you Scott for your website where we can openly discuss all matters concerning God’s will for us. May we all keep seeking to do what God wills.

      • to Mandy,

        Again, you haven’t answered my objection to your claim that the NT is corrupted. God has promised that we will always have His Word. Your claims are basically calling God a liar.

        “In fact, through the Holy Spirit one can even find and grasp the real Gospel in the Tanakh. At the right time, either the original Aramaic texts of the New Testament will be found or the Holy Spirit will reveal to all through real Bible scholars the full true meaning of the New Testament – in the context of the Old Testament. Zechariah 8:23.”

        Just a clue: if you have a spirit that is telling you that presently we do not have God’s Word EXCEPT for the Tanakh, then that spirit is a counterfeit one. The Holy Spirit will NEVER say anything contrary to God’s Word. A spirit which tries to undermine God’s promise is not of God. It is a lying spirit, not holy. You need to rebuke it, not give heed to it.

        The Holy Spirit will testify of nothing except Jesus Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice. Your spirit’s desire to return to the Old Covenant (Testament) is proof it is counterfeit.

        There will be counterfeit Christs and spirits trying to lay the groundwork for a return to the Old Covenant. God will not honor anything that tramples on the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son.

        God has promised we will always have His Word. Given a choice between your spirit and God’s promise, the choice is clear.

        Yes, there are many corrupted new translations, but the NT has been remarkably well-preserved. Waiting for the “right time” when “the original Aramaic text of the NT will be found” is a set-up. A great many “texts” and “artifacts” which question the validity of God’s Word will be unearthed in the months/years to come.

        Tell your spirit “What’s new is not true. What’s true is not new.” See what it says.

        • Mandy says:

          No, that is absolutely not what I am saying – just pray about it all, you will see. Moving on now …

          • michael r. baggett says:

            Eithet wr believe God preserved His word as He said or we do not. I seeno gray area here.

          • Mandy says:

            Sorry, I cannot comment further.

          • Michael R. Baggett says:

            Without a standard [The Bible] there is no way we can agree. Further comments contrary to what the Bible says do not have a leg to stand on since they are comments that are pulled out of thin air and reflect personal opinion or feelings only. Mandy, I hope you will reconsider believing the Bible in the future. We all want to go to heaven. I do not question your sincerity. Come back again.

          • Mandy says:

            You are completely misunderstanding what I have been saying – that is the reason I do not wish to comment any further. I have been a Bible-based believer for many, many years … as I suggested, please pray about this and you will be amazed at the ranges of mountains to climb ahead of you. I am not taking any further comments.

  3. Michael R. Baggett says:

    Let’s get the head covering discussion going again. Here is one: History indicates there was a mixed culture in the church at Corinth made up of Romans, Jews and Greeks. Their backgrounds concerning the women wearing head covering was not the same. If this is true, and it appears to be the truth, this makes the argument that the head covering was just “Paul authorizing the use of an existing custom” one of the biggest lies ever set forth in the religious world; the other being that Jesus wore long hair.

  4. Phil says:

    The issue is not what the bible says but is what one understands the bible to say. The bible is a spiritual writing yet so few people approach it from a spiritual POV. Instead they apply literal and practical standards about how things are supposed to be look and be performed, including the head covering situation. These are physical things that do not make one spiritual but only make the form look spiritual. Satan wins when he gets us to focus on the outer effect and not the inner cause. Paul made a point by using circumcision as an example of this mindset. He said, “neither circumcision nor uncircumsion matters. What matters is a new creation. Is this principle not valid here in this discussion?

    • Michael R. Baggett says:

      It is all about what the Bible says and means (1 Pet. 4:11).

      • Phil says:

        Michael, how do you know your understanding of the scriptures is the correct one? How many religions have been created from the same bible scripture?

        • Michael R. Baggett says:

          By rightly dividing or handling aright the word of God, I have come to the correct conclusion (II Tim. 2:15). Jesus says we can know the truth (John 8:32). Paul the apostle says we can understand when we read (Eph. 4:3). John the apostle says these things are written so we can know we have eternal life (1st John 5:13). We know we live under the New Testament; so, we are not bound to the Jewish laws of the Old Testament (Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:11-16; Heb. 8:13). We understand that we are to follow the teaching of Christ and His Holy Spirit guided apostles (John 16:13; Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:2; 14:37; II Thess. 2:14-15). We understand that whatever was taught to one congregation by the apostles was taught to every congregation (1st Cor. 1:10; 4:16-17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33-34; 16:1-2). If we follow the commands, apostolic examples and necessary inferences (For example: Lord’s Supper each first day of the week–Acts 20:7); then, we can be the same church as the one Christ established in the New Testament.

          The head covering is a spiritual practice and not just a physical appearance based doctrine just like baptism is a spiritual practice. For example, baptism is for putting on Christ (Gal. 3:26-27), and for contacting spiritually speaking the cleansing-saving blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3,5). When the woman wears the head covering during worship, she shows her order in the headship (1st Cor. 11:3,5). Since she is the glory of the man, his glory is covered (1 Cor. 11:7). She shows her order in creation (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The angels observe the order of the worship to see if she is in order and wearing the head covering that is worn because of reasoned rooted in creation order (1 Cor. 11:10; 14:40). I would say there are plenty of spiritual implications in the woman wearing the head covering in worship, not the least being the glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7).

  5. Phil says:

    Is the head covering issue about the physical appearance toward God? Or is there a more spiritual message here?

    • Phil,

      Were you once enslaved to sin while searching for answers among the churches of Christ, but only when you found God’s forgiving grace and lived by it did you stop sinning? Did you stop living by the law but set your mind on the Spirit, and then you were released from the sin that enslaved you? Did God’s Spirit of grace release you from sin and law so that you lived being compelled by the love of Christ?

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