Are Christian women neglecting the command for head-coverings in church? Many believe that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches that women must wear garment head-coverings when practicing their faith around men. First Corinthians 11:3–16 does not establish a setting and the teaching thereof are applied to all parts of the Christian life (1 Tim 2:8–15, 1 Pet 3:1–6).
The text says, “But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering” (1 Cor 11:15). The covering is first hair in verse 15, and this covering is the glory of the woman. Her long hair is her beauty. A woman’s long hair is a glory given to her by God, and “woman is the glory of man” because man is the “glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7). If a woman lacked her God-given covering of long hair, then her only other covering is a garment like a shawl that hangs down.
How long is “long hair”? These Scriptures use the Greek word katakaluptos, which literally means “away from head” and describes hair “hanging from the head” as noted in commentary to follow. By a woman not letting her hair down, this was the same as having her hair cropped or shaved (1 Cor 11:5–6). As other Scriptures explain, the woman who elaborately arranges her hair rejects her God-given glory and God’s headship. With hair being the glory of women, the Christian woman should let her hair down in subordination to God’s order of headship and thereby glorify God, Christ, and man (1 Cor 11:3–6).
God instructed the Christian women in 1 Timothy 2:9–15 to dress modestly not adorning their hair with elaborately braiding hair with gold and pearls. Clearly, this behavior was immodest and insubordinate. By not letting the hair hang down, women dishonor God’s headship that man is head of woman. By elaborately braiding and adorning her hair, women were or appeared rebellious to man’s right of creation to lead and teach (1 Tim 2:13–14).
In 1 Peter 3:1-6, Peter also applied the decorating of hair to a wife’s insubordination to her husband. First Peter 3:3–4 explains, “Your adornment must not be merely external —braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (NASB).
The pagan custom was that powerful women of authority dress as though higher than others. Women in this time led worship to Diana and Dionysus where women could exercise power (Morton, “Deceiving Winds”). Apparently, some women arranged and adorned their hair with gold and pearls, and they did not let their long hair hang down showing the glory of woman 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, and God’s headship.
If someone is contentious rejecting this instruction, the Apostle Paul concluded that the churches of God have no such custom of women praying and prophesying with heads uncovered (1 Cor 11:16). Christians are to present themselves as humble and respectable to God by glorifying God first — although contrary to local practices for displaying authority.
Today, long hair is still a woman’s glory from God despite that short hair or arranged hair shows no loyalty or claim to pagan society. Yet, such hair whether short, elaborately arranged, or decorated with costly jewelry is a dishonor to the hair that God gave for a woman’s glory — her beauty. A woman’s long hair is her glory and should hang down. Such behavior is disrespectful to God and to the headship of men leading women through example and service.
Consider the commentary of James B. Coffman who explained a woman’s hair as her covering:
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 as 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 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. These verses seem to imply that not covering with a garment is like a woman’s hair being cropped or shaved. Paul is simply affirming that short hair and hair drawn up on the head is the same as a cropped or shaved head. 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)
“If 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“? Verse 10 is referring to authority. This scripture shows how women should have authority on her head. The woman, who prophesies, receives revelation from God through angels 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 serve with apparent respect and modesty. Therefore, “every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor 11:5).
By not covering her head, the Christian woman dishonors herself being that God created her as the glory of man and in the image of God. 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.