Understanding the “Head-Coverings” in 1 Corinthians 11

Are Christian women neglecting the command for head-coverings in church? Many believe that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches that women must wear cloth coverings hanging down from their heads when practicing their faith around men. The interpretations of this passage vary among believers concerning whether the covering is spiritual, garment, or hair.

Some consider this section of Scripture as completely cultural and identify all parts as the custom of contention (1 Cor 11:16). However, Christians cannot avoid that the apostle Paul commanded that Christians must maintain traditions just as delivered to them (1 Cor 11:2). Does the apostle Paul mean that head-coverings are a part of maintaining traditions from God? Are head-coverings a custom according to 1 Corinthians 11:16?

Covering and Glory

Hair is the only covering that Paul specifically mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11. The text reveals, “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). Verses 6 and 7 use the Greek word katakalupto, which literally means “to cover downward” (Gingrich and Danker’s lexicon, BDAG). By a woman’s head being uncovered, this was the same personal shame as having her hair sheared or shaved (1 Cor 11:4–6). Starting from verse 4, this passage is about what will personally shame the woman’s head. Verse 5 indicates that a personal shame for a woman to shear or shave her head. As other scriptures explain, the woman who elaborately arranged her hair uncovered her head and disregarded her God-given glory and God’s headship. With long hair being a glory to the woman, the Scriptures teach that the Christian woman should cover her head by letting her hair down in subordination to God’s order of headship and thereby glorify God, Christ, and man (1 Cor 11:3–6). Furthermore, “woman is the glory of man” because man is the “glory of God” (1 Cor 11:7). God made each gender in His image and yet He has given each a different glory.

Humility, Modesty, and Hair

The woman who washed Jesus’s feet demonstrated how a woman letting her hair down was an act of humility (Luke 7:36–50; cf. Matt 28:9). Lazarus’s sister, Mary, demonstrated humility by wiping Jesus’s feet with hair and anointing Him with oil in preparation for His burial (John 12:1–8). In the Journal of Biblical Literature,Charles Cosgrove cited numerous ancient sources depicting how women let their hair down as an act of humility within the Greco-Roman and Jewish societies (Cosgrove, “A Woman’s Unbound Hair,” JBL 124 (2005): 675–92).

First Peter 3 and 1 Timothy 2 present how the Apostles instructed modesty and humility among women in 1 Corinthians 11. In 1 Peter 3:1–6, Peter also applied caution to the external decorating of hair and clothing where a woman’s adornment must exist within her heart. 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 braiding of hair appears to put up the hair against the head rather than hanging down from the head.

God also instructed the Christian women in 1 Timothy 2:9–10, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided [woven] hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” The apostle Paul described elaborately adorned hair as immodest, insubordinate, and not proper for a woman’s claim to godliness. The immodest women in the church at Corinth had either a cropped hairstyle that resembled men or were elaborately adorning their hair woven with gold and pearls demonstrating immodesty.

Headship and Head-Covering

By not letting their hair hang down, women dishonored God’s headship by dishonoring the man who is head of woman. This headship is not dominance of one over another, but like God’s headship is to Christ or Christ’s headship to man. Headship implied servant leadership (Mark 10:42–45). By elaborately braiding and adorning hair with gold and pearls, women behaved or appeared as wealthy and immodest and thus exercised authority over men. Thereby, they appear to reject the man’s God-given instruction to lead and teach because God created man first for this purpose (1 Tim 2:13–14; cf. 1 Cor 11:3, 7–9).

While culture is not an interpreter of Scripture, the pagan custom was for powerful women of authority to braid their hair with gold and pearls and dress as though higher than others. Pagan women in this time led worship to Diana and Dionysus, and thus women exercised power and influence through the cults (Bruce Morton, Deceiving Winds, Nashville: 21st Century Christian, 2009). Among the churches, some women arranged and adorned their hair with gold and pearls, and they did not let their long hair hang down to show the God-given glory of woman and the glory of man in woman (1 Cor 11:7, 15). By the Spirit of Christ, the Apostles taught that a woman’s hair was to demonstrate modesty and humility to glorify her, man, and God’s headship. However, the shame of a woman cutting her hair short was her personal shame. The Greek word kataischuno appears in verses 4 and 5, and this word specifically refers to a personal shame or humiliation among people. This word also appears in 1 Corinthians 11:22 where those who partook of the Lord’s Supper without waiting for other Christians were trying to humiliate and shame them (cf. 1 Cor 1:27).

Custom and Contention

If someone is contentious concerning the custom of women praying to God with heads uncovered, the apostle Paul affirmed that the churches of God have no such custom (1 Cor 11:13–16). Christians must avoid contention over customs and yet display Christian principles of modesty. The dress of Christians must present Christian humility and modesty. However, for many, the disagreement remains in interpretation. Was Paul saying that the churches have no such custom of the head-covering or no such custom of women praying while uncovered? One is permissive and the other is exclude women praying with their heads uncovered. Not matter the position, this is apparently a matter of modesty between men and woman under the headship of God and Christ.

Furthermore, the use of the word “proper” indicates the custom for which Paul is referring, which is whatever is modest and respects authority. In 1 Corinthians 11:13, Paul expressed, “for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (NSAB). In 1 Timothy 2:10, Paul revealed what is proper that Christian women are to adorn themselves with good works “as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” The translators interpret “proper” from the Greek word prepo meaning “becoming,” “appropriate,” or “fitting” (cf. Matt 3:15; Eph 5:3; Titus 2:1; Heb 2:10; 7:26). Therefore, these Christian women were to pray with their heads covered as is proper or fitting for demonstrating the headship that God established. In this setting, these Christian women were to allow their hair to hang down because long hair is a God-given covering and glory.

These Scriptures guide Christians to present God’s headship as God is head of Christ, Christ is head of man, and man is head of woman. Christians should remain considerate of demonstrating humility and modesty.

Coffman’s Commentary

Furthermore, consider the insight of James B. Coffman who comments upon a woman’s hair as 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)

However, 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 sheared 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:

Every woman praying or prophesying with head uncovered disgraces her head; for this is also one and the same as being shaved. For if the woman is not covered, she must also become sheared; and if this is a disgrace to the woman to become sheared or shaved, she must remain covered. (1 Cor 11:5–6)

Coffman agreed,

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” in verse 6 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.

Because of the Angels

What about verse 10’s reference to angels: “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 also 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.

About Scott J. Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
This entry was posted in Christian, Church of Christ and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

635 Responses to Understanding the “Head-Coverings” in 1 Corinthians 11

  1. Mr. Precious E. says:

    thank you very much for trying to explain this concept. but I want to ask, do you mean that every man in this world must have short hair in order to please his head (Christ) ? what of men who has long hair naturally, did Christ himself shaved his hair while ministering in the synagogue? is God so much interested in our hair, can a Christian be justified by customs and traditions?
    I’m a Nigerian and the atmospheric conditions here cannot allow me keep a long hair as man. that’s understandable. but if I see an American man with a long hair, has dat American man sin or dishonor Christ because of her natural hair? pls pls explain with clarity. thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christians are not justified by customs and traditions but by faith. However, verse 15 teaches that a man is naturally to have short hair. I find that this passage indicates that Jesus kept short hair and not that He shaved His head. The custom was praying with the head uncovered for which Christians are not to be contentious (1 Cor 11:16).

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  2. Kimberley says:

    Thank you .The word “cover” is used with a different meaning a few times. Using a Strong’s concordance, you will see that it is talking about hair. A woman’s covering is her long hair.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Baggett says:

      A woman’s natural every day covering is her long hair; the covering to be worn when praying or prophesying is a veil or artificial cloth. Simply read 1st Corinthians 11:5,6 and see how Paul compares the shame of not wearing a veil to a woman cutting her hair off short or shaving her head. The language used “theh same as” (depending on version) “as if” tells us this is a comparison. Also, the Greek words used in verses 4-10, 13 are different than the Greek word used in v. 15 for hair. The Greek word used in reference to long hair as a covering is a noun. The Greek word used to describe the covering to be worn when praying or prophesying is a verb. Verbs describe action, i.e. the action on putting on a veil or covering to pray or prophesy or the act of removing it when not praying or prophesying. Also, check the American Standard version of the Bible, The Revised Standard version, the New Revised Standard version of the Bible and they all say veil. Are we smarter than the translators? For 30 years as a gospel preacher I stood opposed to the covering on women in worship. I studied the text carefully after receiving several question about the matter. What I found in my study was eye-opening to say the least. I know that it is not the most popular position and I’m sure preachers have lost many meeting opportunities because of their belief, but I don’t care about popularity. I care only for the truth. The truth is very clear, but people have blinders on and do not want to see it. The covering for praying or prophesying is not hair only. Even if it was, it is evident that we would have another issue: Getting women to grow their hair out and getting away from these Tom Boy haircuts. Let me be clear: I believe a woman ought to cover her head in public worship per 1st Corinthains 11:5-10,13). I also believe a man ought to have short hair and a woman should wear long hair in accordance with nature which God has set in order and Paul has endorsed in his comparsion to the veil covering. (1st Corinthians 11:14,15). May we all open our eyes and stop looking for excuses to avoid and ignore obeying all that Christ has commanded in the New Covenant (1st Corinthians 11:2;-16; 14:37).

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  3. Tamala Dennis says:

    Some believe that a woman should not even trim their hair. No where does it say that. Define “long” hair anyhow. My hair has been long for years, but I do trim it. Jesus Christ is our covering and these scriptures were based on the church of Corinthians where you could tell them apart. Men were growing long hair and women were shaving their heads and they were all having orgies and sleeping with same sex…. this was why the apostle addressed that church. Really folks, quit taking things out of context.

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    • Long hair is hanging hair as the above scriptures indicate. If you think that I am decided or not about hair, I do not know. I do know that women with long hair are blessed by God.

      You make some assertions about the church at Corinth. However, these Christians appear to have repented from homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9–10). Yes, there was at least one among them who did fornicate (1 Cor 5). Furthermore, I do not read of their men having long hair. However, the women appear to have put their hair up or possibly cropped their hair.

      My objective was to provide the facts and you honestly consider and decide no matter the consequence of following God.

      Thank you for your comment.

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    • Michael Baggett says:

      With all respect, all you said is an assumption; no one knows why Paul wrote what he wrote other than he is discussing an ordinance (1 Cor. 11:2); this concerns headship; and this was a practice in all the churches (1 Cor. 11:16). The historians contradict themselves on the culture of Corinth at the time Paul wrote. Many commentators apply the culture to Corinth which was 100 years before Paul’s visit to try to get behind what Paul said and “get rid of it.” When Paul wrote, Corinth was a Roman Colony with Roman influence, mixed with some Jews and of course Gentiles from the area.

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  4. Goswell Wade says:

    In these times all we need to do is have our hearts mind and soul clean before God, because custom, tradition, and life style won’t be of any good. The bible says that Jesus is the only way, so we need to seek Him so we can honour God whole heartedly. It’s not of works or any thing else we can do to be save from the judgment to come, salvation is by faith through grace of God. Why I am saying this is because there is many women in this world that there hair does not grow out long to hang over there shoulders, and there are women’s that have cancer and they loose all there hair. So what shall we say about that? They cannot go before God to honour Him, or they are a shame to there husband? No I don’t believe that God looks at the heart then he wants your mind and your soul. That is why he send Jesus the only perfect One that could save us from our sins. Nothing else can save us. So let us set our minds on JESUS CHRIST.

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  5. Abiodun Sobowale says:

    God’s Word (principle) is not culture specific, it should be applicable to all cultures and peoples. Else, the bible would have to be rewritten to cater for our ever changing culture and believe system. So, what principle(s) is the Holy Spirit ,through Apostle Paul’s writing, trying to teach the church?
    In my opinion, there are two broad issues here:
    1. Authority or right to lead worship.
    2. Reflection of Glory

    A man is the head (In the order of things as set by God, the man is to provide spiritual leadership in the home) of the home, and the church is an aggregation of many homes. So when we come together to worship the man has the authority to lead and if for any reasons whatsoever a woman is to lead it must be with the consent (release of authority) of the man. The man is this case could be a father or an husband. It is the same for the man; when a man is to lead a (public) worship service, he must do it with the authority delegated to him by Christ. Everything must point back to Christ, it is about orderliness.

    A female can lead worship, even start a denomination, but it must be done under received/delegated authority and this authority must be from a man. Come to think of it, Christ is a man. The source of a woman’s authority to lead public worship must be traceable to a man.

    Women (and men) who lead in the things of God are expected to be model of appropriateness in their way of life and this includes their physical appearance. The question then is who defines propriety? This varies from society to society but one thing we must all agree on is that it must not be left to the “world”. Let us narrow this down to dressing including the covering of hair and i asked the following questions:
    Why was a woman given a longer hair than a man?
    Did Adam and Eve worship God with coverings on their head?
    Where did the culture of women covering their head and men wearing cap start from and what does it signify? Is it just a fashion thing?

    My opinion is this; a man’s glory is Christ and he must reflect this in worship by not covering his head with anything. The woman’s hair is her glory and this must be covered in worship so that the woman may not reflect her personal glory but the glory of Christ. This covering is achieved by using something suitable to cover the hair.

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