top of page

Head Coverings: For Whom?

1 Corinthians 11.2-16, which deals with the use of head coverings, is one of the most neglected passages in the New Testament. For one reason or another, many Christians dismiss the apostle’s remarks out of hand, convinced they are no longer relevant for our time.


Some ignore the passage due to its uniqueness. Indeed, this is the only place in the New Testament that ever discusses the issue. Perhaps it is not that important. But consider this. There is only one verse in the New Testament that addresses when to partake of the communion (the first day of the week, Acts 20.7; see "The Timing of the Communion" for further insight). Shall we dismiss that as unimportant too?


Furthermore, the teaching of this passage and the various arguments the apostle employs to substantiate it span fifteen verses — 226 words in the original language. By contrast, the deference of women in church is addressed in only seven verses in the New Testament — 100 words in the original language (1 Tim. 2.11-15; 1 Cor. 14.34-35). The Holy Spirit dedicates more than twice as much material to head coverings as he does to the deference of women in church (see "Womanhood" for a thorough treatment of that subject).


If those matters are essential — and they are — then surely it is wrong to ignore 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 purely due to its relative brevity or uniqueness.


In his booklet on this subject, Wayne Jackson conveys the spirit of reflection that ought to characterize us all in a study of this nature:

“We must not be deterred from an honest investigation of this theme by trite and flippant criticism which would dismiss it as a “hat hobby.” The pressure of the world, and that of our own brotherhood, is great. No one deliberately wants to be “different” simply for the sake of such; but truth is truth. May God help each of us strive for that” (Jackson, n.d., p. 21).

Therefore, let’s explore this matter with love, humility, and respect, with a firm desire to do “whatever” the Lord asks of us — even if it is something that seems unusual, embarrassing, or even disagreeable (cf. Mt. 16.19; 28.20; Jn. 15.14; 2 Cor. 10.5).


An Overview

In the passage, Paul argues that men “ought not to cover [their] head[s]” (i.e., wear hats or veils [1]) while “praying or prophesying,” whereas women “ought” to do the opposite (1 Cor. 11.7, 10). The broader context — from chapter eleven to chapter sixteen — deals with the spiritual activities of the assembled church (cf. 1 Cor. 11.16, 17, 18, 20, 33, 34; 14.5, 23, 28, 34-35; 16.2).


Another way to confirm this is by comparing 1 Cor. 11.2 with verse seventeen, in which the apostle juxtaposes his praise with his non-praise. In verse two, he wrote:


“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”


However, in verse seventeen:


“But [de — a transition of contrast] in giving you this charge, I praise you not, that you come together not for the better but for the worse.”


The way the apostle broaches these two subjects reveals that both matters pertained to their church gatherings. When Paul uses the plural pronoun “you” in these verses, he is addressing the church in their assembled capacity (“you remember…to you” [v. 2] and “you come together” (v. 17) — or, as he put it himself, the time when they "came together as a church" (v. 18). In other words, in one instance they were “coming together” and acting in a praiseworthy way; yet in another area, their gatherings were not praiseworthy. Jackson put it like this:

“The switch from praise to non-praise, within the same context, indicates that assembly matters are consistently discussed” (Jackson, n.d., p. 20).

Based on the language of 1 Corinthians 11, grammarian W. E. Vine remarks that the passage is an

“injunction forbidding women to be unveiled [and for men to be veiled, AP] in a church gathering” (Vine, 1985, p. 654).

The apostle does not address the use of head coverings outside the context of the assemblies of the church.


The Focus Of This Treatise

Many volumes have been written on this subject. As such, the arguments and counter-arguments employed and the angles from which to approach the matter at hand are so numerous they tend to strain conviction and promote ambivalence. So let us narrow our focus in this study.


The only question we are interested in exploring now is this: Were Paul’s remarks on head coverings meant to be limited to the church of Corinth, or did he apply them to every Christian for all time?


Several pieces of evidence in 1 Corinthians 11 indicate that Paul intended his remarks to be followed both universally (by every Christian in the world) and permanently [2]. Paul did not intend the passage to be limited to first-century Corinth.


Prayerfully consider the evidence with me.


“Keep The Traditions I Delivered”

First of all, Paul “praises” the brethren for “keeping the traditions” he had “delivered” to them (1 Cor. 11.2).


Both “traditions” (paradoseis) and “delivered” (paradidomi) denote a “handing down or over” (Abbott-Smith, p. 339). Sometimes a tradition comes from long-standing human practice (cf. Mk. 7.3), and sometimes a tradition derives from divine instruction (cf. 2 Th. 2.15; 3.6, 9).


In this case, Paul reveals that he is not discussing traditions that were “handed down” to the Corinthians by their culture. Rather, they came from him — “I delivered.” Grammarian Joseph Thayer notes that the plural “traditions” is used “of the particular injunctions of Paul's instruction” (Thayer, p. 481).


The Traditions

Significantly, Paul describes them as “the” traditions. He does not praise the Corinthians for keeping their traditions — i.e., those peculiar to Corinthian culture. Rather,

“the definite article used with the word here shows that these were of apostolic authority in general for all the churches” (Vine, 1961, p. 145).

Religious Traditions

What’s more, Paul limits the head covering observances to religious activities (1 Cor. 11.4-5). “Praying or prophesying” [3] describe

“two elements of worship which summarize the full complement of constituents (i.e., communication from God and to God)” (Jackson, 2019, p. 327).

This indicates that Paul is not dealing with a secular tradition derived from the local culture. Indeed, he does not address how Christians should wear or not wear head coverings in the street but in a religious environment — particularly while engaging in Christian activities.


Hence, there was a fixed set of religious practices handed down to “the churches of God” all over the world (v. 16). Paul “ordained” “the traditions” “everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4.17; 7.17). Indeed, this letter was addressed to “all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place” (1 Cor 1.2), not just the Corinthian congregation.


Countercultural Traditions

Furthermore, the head-covering practices Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11, in which men are to be uncovered while women are to be covered during such ecclesiastical activity, do not conform to any of the cultural conventions of that day.


For example, Jewish men covered their heads when they worshiped (cf. Ex. 28.40; 29.9). To this day, Jewish men wear either a tallith (shawl) or a yamaka when they pray, per Jewish custom.


Moreover, neither Greek men nor women covered when they worshiped. Philip Payne, discussing the artwork from the ancient Greeks, wrote:

“Greek women…including women in prayer, were usually depicted without a garment covering the head. It does not make sense that Paul would assert something was disgraceful that in their culture was not considered disgraceful. Concerning Greek customs A. Oepke observes: ‘It is quite wrong [to assert] that Greek women were under some kind of compulsion to wear a veil in public. Passages to the contrary are so numerous and unequivocal that they cannot be offset. Empresses and goddesses, even those who maintain their dignity, like Hera and Demeter, are portrayed without veils” (Payne, pp. 152-153).

Verena Zinserling’s Women In Greece and Rome provides copious photographs and illustrations of ancient artwork depicting women from the ancient world worshiping without covering their heads (see Zinserling). The scholarly Henry Alford noted:

“Among Greeks the habit was to offer worship with head uncovered. Reading for instance in Macrobius Ambosius' Saturnalia Convivia Bk. 1, 8, there the Greek manner of worship occurs with head uncovered” (Alford, p. 564).

Likewise, contrary to what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11, Roman men covered their heads while worshiping. The Roman poet Virgil remarked that Roman men “mantle” their heads “at an altar” with a “Phrygian” vestment (The Aeneid, Book 3.545; see also Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities 12.16.4). Historian Mary Beard, writing about the assassination of Tiberius Gracchus (c. 133 B.C.), noted that his assassin

“entered this deadly brawl having drawn his toga over his head, as Roman priests usually did when sacrificing animals to the gods. He was trying, presumably, to make the murder look like a religious act” (Beard, p. 224).

Hence, Paul’s remarks on head coverings in church

“were neither Jewish [nor Roman, AP], which required men to be veiled in prayer, nor Greek, by which men and women were alike unveiled. The Apostles’ instructions were ‘the commandment of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 14.37) and were for all the churches (vv. 33, 34)” (Vine, 1985, pp. 175-176).

The notion that Paul did not want the men of Corinth wearing a covering simply because the culture of that day regarded such as effeminate is erroneous, for it was quite common in the ancient world for men to cover their heads during worship rituals. When we study the Bible, we must avoid imposing notions that might be true in today’s culture upon the cultures of the biblical world.


Consequently, the tradition Paul describes — men uncovered, women covered — was neither Jewish, Greek, nor Roman. It was distinctly Christian — to be observed in the context of Christian gatherings. Besides,

“The Apostle makes no allusion to the customs of nations in the matter, nor is even mention of them relevant” (Alford, p. 568).

In short, Paul praises the brethren for “keeping (katecho—holding fast to) the traditions” he had “handed down” to them. What would be his reaction to those today who choose to let go of them?


“Every Man…Every Woman”

Second, Paul applies his remarks to “every man” (1 Cor. 11.4) and “every woman” (1 Cor. 11.5).


Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor. 11.4-5).


Is it possible Paul meant merely every Corinthian man and every Corinthian woman? Is he only dealing with a local practice, as many today assume?


Paul anticipates such a mistake, for he clarifies that


“the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man” (1 Cor. 11.3).


In this context, Paul is referring to “every man” whose “head” “is Christ” and “every woman” whose “head” “is man.” “Every man” and “every woman” denotes everyone universally.


Accordingly, if you are a man — and your “head” (i.e., spiritual authority) “is Christ” — then if you should have your physical “head covered” (i.e., with a hat or veil) during these ecclesiastical activities, Paul insists you “dishonor [your] head” (i.e. Christ, v. 3). For a man to wear a covering in such circumstances is to dishonor the authority of Christ (1 Cor. 11.4).


On the other hand, women have a different role. The contrasting conjunction in verse 5 — “but” — reveals

“that the obligation of the woman is precisely opposite that of man. What he is not to do, she must” (Jackson, n.d., p. 4).

Thus, Paul writes, if you are a woman — and your “head” “is man” — then if you should have your physical “head uncovered” (i.e., without a hat or veil) during such activities, then you “dishonor [your] head” (i.e., man). For a woman not to wear a covering in such circumstances is to dishonor the God-given authority of man (1 Cor. 11.5).


In short, Paul does not limit his remarks to the men and women of Corinth. On the contrary, unless it is now acceptable for men to dishonor the authority of Christ and for women to dishonor the headship of man, Paul’s remarks on head coverings are still applicable to “every man” whose spiritual “head” “is Christ” and “every woman” whose spiritual “head” “is man.” 


“Ought Not…Ought”

Third, the apostle insists


“a man indeed ought not to cover his head…” (1 Cor. 11.7),


whereas


“the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head” (1 Cor. 11.10) [4].


“Ought” (opheilo), when used literally, denotes that which one “owes” financially — a “debt” one is required to pay back (cf. Mt. 18.28; Lk. 7.41; 16.7; Phile. 18). By extension, NT authors often employ the term metaphorically, meaning “to be bound or obliged to do” (Abbott-Smith, p. 330). It thus stresses one’s “duty” (Lk. 17.10), to which one is morally “bound” (2 Th. 1.3; cf. Jn. 19.7; Rm. 15.27; 2 Cor. 12.14; 2 Th. 2:13; 1 Jn. 2.6; 4.11).


Bauer, Ardnt, and Gingrich note that in 1 Corinthians 11.7 and 10 it means “to be obligated,” underscoring something “one must” or “must not” do (Bauer, et al., p. 603).


For example, when Paul insists that


“husbands ought (opheilo) to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Eph. 5.28),


he was stressing the husband’s moral duty. “Ought” does not mean it was merely advisable or desirable (but still optional) for husbands to love their own wives. Rather, it is a sacred requirement.


Equally so, Paul insists that men must not cover their heads but instead must visibly display the headship role God has assigned to them. However, women must cover their heads “as the sign that her authority is derived from man” (Dummelow, p. 910).


Such is an apostolic “duty” given to lay stress on the respective God-given roles men and women are to assume “in church” (1 Cor. 14.34-35).


Transcultural Reasons

Next, several biblical practices are to be followed for reasons that transcend local cultures or circumstances.


For example, when Paul did “not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man” “in church” (1 Tim. 2.12; 1 Cor. 14.33-34), the inspired reasons for observing this practice had nothing to do with local conditions. Rather, he wrote:


“For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2.13).


He thus appeals to the order of creation — which is a universal fact that applies to every culture — as the reason for observing his instructions. Since the principle of creation is still applicable to our culture, and since that is the apostolic rationale for the quietness of women in church, then the quietness of women in church is still applicable in our time, regardless of what culture dictates.


With that in mind, Paul offers the same transcultural rationales for observing his head-covering traditions as he does with the role of women in church. Consider:


Image & Glory

First, Paul affirms that “a man” “must not” “cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11.7).


This fact applies to “every man” all across the globe, irrespective of time or circumstance. The inspired author does not say that “a man ought not to cover his head” since the local community would be offended if he did. On the contrary, if men are still “the image and glory of God” — and we are — then “since” that is so, we are still obliged to worship with head uncovered, for the apostolic rationale for keeping this practice transcends the proclivities of culture.


Incidentally, some, out of a desire to maintain the headship principle but not the head-covering practice, unwittingly twist the argument here. Paul does not argue that “since man is the image and glory of God,” he ought to maintain the headship role. Rather, he contends that “a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God.” In other words, it is not merely the headship of man that Paul bases upon the timeless truth that man is “the image and glory of God,” but the practice of men not covering their heads while participating in the prayers and teaching of the church.


Besides, is it possible to honor a biblical principle (e.g., the headship of man) by ignoring or changing the instructions it says “ought” to be done to honor it (e.g., head coverings)? Can women still honor the headship principle while ignoring the practice of remaining quiet and deferential in church (1 Tim. 2.11-14; 1 Cor. 14.33-34)? Can a man honor the headship principle while ignoring the instruction that he “ought to love his own wife as his own body” (Eph. 5.28)? Jackson puts it like this:

“May one uphold the “principle” of remembering the death of Christ by utilizing steak and coffee in the communion supper? There is no way to maintain the principle of obedience while one is disobeying God!” (Jackson, “Command or Culture,” 2019).

Not From Woman…From Man

Next, just as Paul appealed to the order of creation concerning the quietness of women in church — in which “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Tim. 2.13) — he does the same concerning head coverings. Indeed, the second rationale he offers as to why “a man ought not to cover his head” is this:


“For man is not from woman, but woman from man” (1 Cor. 11.8).


Again, this is a fact that applies to every culture in every age. To argue that Paul only wants the Corinthians to follow a local custom not only adds to the passage what is not there, but it disregards the transcultural reasons for keeping the practice he actually gives.


And consider this. If the quietness of women in church (per 1 Cor. 14.33-34 and 1 Tim. 2.11-14) should still be observed because Paul appeals to the order of creation as the rationale for keeping the practice — as faithful brethren still acknowledge — then head coverings (per 1 Cor. 11.2-16) stand or fall on the same reasoning. In both cases, Paul appeals to the order of creation for keeping the practice. And in both cases, our culture no longer observes or respects either the practice ([1] men leading, women following; [2] men uncovered, women covered) or the principle upon which these practices are based (i.e., the headship of man). Hence, either throw off the head coverings and the quietness of women in church or observe them both, for both are founded on the same principle and are rooted in the same transcultural rationale — that man came first, and then woman came from man (1 Tim. 2.13; 1 Cor. 11.8). Sadly, however, consistency is a rare gem.


Not Created For The Woman…But For The Man

Third, Paul also appeals to the purpose of creation. He wrote:


“Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11.9).


Paul is alluding to the fact that the woman was created as a “helper” suited “for the man” (Gen. 2.18). Once again, that applies to “every woman” in the world — for all time.


These three Pauline arguments as to why “a man ought not to cover his head” and “the woman ought to wear a symbol of authority on her head” take the matter beyond any conditions that may or may not have prevailed in the city of Corinth at the time. The Swiss theologian F. L. Godet (1812-1900) put it like this:

“Was this conviction solely a matter of time and place, so that it is possible to suppose, that if he lived now, and in the West, the apostle would express himself differently? This supposition is not admissible; for the reasons which he alleges are taken, not from contemporary usages, but from permanent facts, which will last as long as the present earthly economy. The physical constitution of woman (1 Cor. 11.13-15) is still the same as it was when Paul wrote, and will continue so until the renewing of all things. The history of creation, to which he appeals (1 Cor. 11.8-12), remains the principle of the social state now as in the time of the apostle; and the sublime analogies between the relation of God to Christ, Christ to man, and man to woman (1 Cor. 11.3), have not changed to this hour, so that it must be said either that the apostle was wholly wrong in his reasoning, or that his reasons, if they were true for his time, are still so for ours, and will be so to the end” (Godet, pp. 132-133).

In his book, Knowing Scripture, R. C. Sproul discussed this matter most trenchantly:

“It is one thing to seek a more lucid understanding of the biblical content by investigating the cultural situation of the first century; it is quite another to interpret the New Testament as if it were merely an echo of the first-century culture. To do so would be to fail to account for the serious conflict the church experienced as it confronted the first-century world. Christians were not thrown to the lions for their penchant for conformity. Some very subtle means of relativizing the text occur when we read into the text cultural considerations that ought not to be there.
For example, with respect to the hair-covering issue in Corinth, numerous commentators on the Epistle point out that the local sign of the prostitute in Corinth was the uncovered head. Therefore, the argument runs, the reason why Paul wanted women to cover their heads was to avoid a scandalous appearance of Christian women in the external guise of prostitutes. What is wrong with this kind of speculation? The basic problem here is that our reconstructed knowledge of first-century Corinth has led us to supply Paul with a rationale that is foreign to the one he gives himself. In a word, we are not only putting words into the apostle’s mouth, but we are ignoring words that are there. If Paul merely told women in Corinth to cover their heads and gave no rationale for such instruction, we would be strongly inclined to supply it via our cultural knowledge. In this case, however, Paul provides a rationale which is based on an appeal to creation, not to the custom of Corinthian harlots. We must be careful not to let our zeal for knowledge of the culture obscure what is actually said. To subordinate Paul’s stated reason to our speculatively conceived reason is to slander the apostle and turn exegesis into eisegesis. The creation ordinances are indicators of the transcultural principle. If any biblical principles transcend local customary limits, they are the appeals drawn from creation” (Sproul, p. 110).

Indeed, even if one were disposed to reject, ignore, or remain unconvinced as to Paul’s transcultural reasoning for keeping his head-covering practices, surely prudence, piety, and diffidence will lead a reasonable Christian to err on the side of the apostolic practice rather than on the side of modern culture. Sproul put it like this:

“What if, after careful consideration of a biblical mandate, we remain uncertain as to its character as principle or custom? If we must decide to treat it one way or the other but have no conclusive means to make the decision, what can we do? Here the biblical principle of humility can be helpful. The issue is simple. Would it be better to treat a possible custom as a principle and be guilty of being overscrupulous in our design to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a possible principle as a custom and be guilty of being unscrupulous in demoting a transcendent requirement of God to the level of a mere human convention? I hope the answer is obvious” (ibid., p. 111).

The Uniform Practice In The Churches

Finally, Paul lays down his apostolic authority and appeals to the example of all the churches. He wrote:


“If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11.16, ESV).


“Contentious” (philoneikos) is a compound word, referring to someone who is “fond” (philos) “of strife” (neikos) and is “eager to contend” (Thayer, p. 654) — a “quarrelsome” individual (Bauer, p. 868).


The term is not merely about someone who is adamant in contending for one point of view or another — for Paul himself was adamant in contending for the use (for women) and non-use (for men) of head coverings. It would make no sense for Paul to contend so vigorously that women must cover while men must not, only to conclude this entire section by saying: But we have no contention either way; each one may do whatever you want to do.


On the contrary, the apostle is referring to a potentially quarrelsome person who may want to contend against him on the subject. Jackson puts it like this:

“Should a critic argue against this apostolic case, he should recognize that he also stands in opposition to the churches of God generally. It was not a mere local problem or requirement” (Jackson, 2019, p. 327).

In the Expositor’s Greek Testament, G. G. Findlay notes that verse sixteen

“closes the discussion sharply, with its appeal to established Christian rule. If, after all that the Apostle has advanced in maintenance of the modest distinction between the sexes, anyone is still minded to debate, he must be put down by authority — that of Paul himself and his colleagues, supported by universal Christendom” (Findlay, p. 876).

In the immediate context, Paul had broached the opposite custom. He rhetorically asked the Corinthians:


“Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (1 Cor. 11.13).


He then closes this topic by affirming that neither he, his associates, nor any of the “churches of God” “had such a custom” (1 Cor. 11.16). In short, if someone were disposed to dispute Paul on this subject — either by suggesting that men may pray or prophesy with head covered or that women may pray or prophesy with head uncovered — such a quarreling antagonist has no support either from Paul or from the churches of God around the world, none of whom practice anything contrary to or different from what Paul has contended for in this letter.


McGarvey and Pendleton summarize the passage ably:

“Knowing the argumentative spirit of the Greeks, and being conscious that it was likely that some would even yet want to dispute the matter, despite his three reasons to the contrary, Paul takes it entirely out of the realm of discussion into that of precedent. The settled and established practice of the church had from the beginning followed the course outlined by Paul, which showed that other apostles besides himself had either established it by rule, or endorsed it in practice. In this appeal for uniformity Paul makes it clear that all churches should strive to make their practices uniform, not variant” (McGarvey, p. 112).

Conclusion

The church at Corinth was keeping the traditions Paul had handed down to them — including the head-covering practices. Paul “praises” them for continuing this practice in their gatherings.


However, there was something they needed to “know” as to why they should keep this apostolic tradition. Their problem wasn’t in practice but in knowledge (1 Cor. 11.3). Thus, this chapter contains reasons why men “ought not to cover” and women “ought to wear" a covering. W. E. Vine notes that “but I want you to know” (v. 3) suggests that

“what he was about to say was something additional to what he had delivered to them” (1961, pp. 145-146).

In short, Paul had handed the head-covering tradition down to them, which they were “keeping,” but he hadn’t given them the theology behind the practice, which he now does in this letter.


First, the head-covering traditions are done to honor the headship of man (1 Cor. 11.3).


Second, those who ignore the practice "dishonor" that principle and hence engage in that which is “shameful” (1 Cor. 11.4-6).


Third, he insists that men and women “ought” to observe the head-covering practices due to the nature of our creation as men and women (“image and glory of God” vs. “glory of man”), the order of our creation (man first, woman from man), and the purpose of our creation (“woman for the man”; 1 Cor. 11.7-10).


Fourth, all the apostles and churches are uniform on this issue, so that even if someone at Corinth happened to dispute Paul on this question, they would be alone in their quarrel (1 Cor. 11.16).


So are these matters still relevant to us today? I will leave it to you. Judge for yourself:


(1) The head-covering tradition did not come from the local culture but was “handed down” to them from an inspired apostle, who “praises” those who “hold fast to” it (1 Cor. 11.2) and "shames" those who don't (1 Cor. 11.4-6).


(2) That inspired apostle insists the practice is for “every man” whose head is Christ and “every woman” whose head is man (1 Cor. 11.3-6).


(3) He says it is a duty, which men and women “are bound” to observe (1 Cor. 11.7, 10).


(4) Like the role of women in church, Paul also ties the head-covering practices together with the facts of creation — which transcend the vicissitudes of culture, time, and circumstance (1 Cor. 11.7-10).


(5) And if these reasons aren’t convincing enough, Paul lays down the uniform precedent set by both his companions and “the churches of God” all around the world (1 Cor. 11.16).


Please reflect upon these points with humility and prayer.


 
End Notes

[1] Some suggest Paul is only requiring women to cover their heads with hair — i.e., to keep their hair long. Allegedly, “cover” does not refer to an artificial thing (like a hat or veil) but to the natural hair. Wayne Jackson provides a trenchant response to this senseless quibble:


“(a) If the hair is the covering of verses 3–13, no man with hair can acceptably worship God, for he must not be covered in such an activity.


(b) The woman who worships uncovered should "also” (to be consistent) be shorn (v. 6), i.e., cut off her hair. If she is uncovered, i.e., without hair, how can she be shorn?


(c) How can an uncovered woman (according to the argument, hairless) be “one and the same,” i.e., equal to, one who is shaven? That would be a most foolish statement.


(d) In verse six, the middle voice form, “let her cover herself,” indicates that the covering is one that she provides, whereas her hair “is given her” (passive voice) according to verse fifteen.


(e) As pointed out in the commentary portion, the noun peribolaion (verse 15) does not go with the verb katakalupto (verses 5, 6). Different coverings are clearly in the apostle’s mind.


(f) The covering worn during worship “corresponds to” (anti, verse 15) or “matches” that supplied by nature, thus, different veils are implied” (Jackson, n.d., p. 14).


[2] See “How To Establish Bible Authority” for a thorough treatment of whether a Bible command/statement is permanent or temporary.


[3] Some read more into the terms “praying or prophesying” than called for. The terms are not limited to the leaders of these two activities. On the contrary, these are


“the two exercises in which the churches engage in the assembly. All pray, or should pray; one leads, the others pray as sincerely as does the leader. The purpose is to show how the women should appear before God in the assembly, not that she should lead in the service” (Lipscomb and Shepherd, p. 163).


Indeed, the same apostle, just a few chapters later, prohibits women from leading prayers in church (1 Cor. 14.33-34). Yet, women are permitted to “pray” in church (as followers). “Praying” in 1 Corinthians 11.5, then, does not suggest a leadership role but a participant’s role.


Equally so, “prophesying” is not limited to miraculous revelation from a congregational leader. It simply means “to speak forth.” All men and women “speak forth” the word of God in the assembly, even though not all men and women lead the service. As Jackson points out:


“J. H. Thayer defines the word (prophesying, AP) in this way: “To teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort” (Thayer, p. 553). Paul himself declares that he who prophesies “speaks unto men edification, and exhortation, and consolation” (1 Cor. 14.3). In a sense, therefore, whenever one is teaching, admonishing, etc., he is prophesying. For example, when one sings, he is both teaching and admonishing (cf. Col. 3.16); hence, singing is a form of prophesying” (Jackson, n.d., p. 3).


Consequently, whether one is leading or following, all Christians today — men and women alike — engage in both prayer and prophesying (“speaking forth”) in church.


Besides, even if one were to refuse to believe that prophesying includes non-miraculous teaching (such as singing), the apostle insisted that his head-covering practices applied while “praying or prophesying.” Even if it is argued that we no longer “prophesy” today, since both men and women still pray in church (whether leading or following), the passage is still relevant to the modern church.


[4] In the original language, Paul insists that “the woman ought to have authority upon the head” (v. 10).


Bible writers frequently use the word “have” in the sense of “wearing” an item (Thayer, p. 266; cf. Mt. 3.4; 22.12; Mk. 11.13; Jn. 18.10; Rev. 9.8, 17). In this context, “authority” is a metonym for the covering. This is corroborated by the contrast Paul makes between man’s role in verse seven and woman’s role in verse ten. What the man “ought not” do — viz., “cover his head” (1 Cor. 11.7) — Paul conversely says the woman “ought” to do (v. 10). Hence, “have authority on the head” means to “wear a covering, which signifies authority, on the head.” Actually, several manuscripts of early translations (written in Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic), as well as several early church fathers, use the word “covering” in their editions of this passage instead of “authority.”


That said, if “authority” was original, then Paul refers either to man’s authority or woman’s authority. Some suggest “authority” (exousia) is never used in the sense of the authority to which one submits, but this assertion is specious (cf. Lk. 7.8; Mk. 13.34; Acts 26.10, 12; Lk. 4.5-6; 23.7; 1 Cor. 6.12; Rev. 13.2). When Saul of Tarsus “had authority” to arrest Christians, the term refers to his responsibility or subordination to the orders of the “chief priests” who were above him in rank (Acts 9.14). Indeed, that “authority” was signified by the “letters” or official documents from those in authority that Paul carried on his person (Acts 9.2; 22.5). This “sign of authority” indicated he was acting under the jurisdiction of the chief priests — not merely acting on his own authority.


Regardless, if the covering symbolizes the woman’s authority (which runs counter to Paul’s emphasis in the context on man’s authority [vv. 3, 7-9]), it would simply mean that women may only exercise the authority to pray or prophesy — not as leaders but as participants — in the “churches of God” (v. 16) when she wears the covering. Otherwise, such acts are rendered unauthorized.


Either way, when a woman willingly covers her head during these religious activities, she is humbly accepting and acknowledging the God-given “authority” structure — that she is not in authority but under the God-given authority of man.


Incidentally, some contend (see Moore) “ought to have authority on the head” means women should have the liberty to choose whether to cover their heads or not. The following points inveigh against that notion:


First, in the context, Paul has argued that if a man were to wear a covering and a woman were to go uncovered during these ecclesiastical activities, such would dishonor the headship principle (vv. 3-5) and be “shameful” (v. 6; aischros—used of that which is morally filthy or base [cf. Tit. 1.11; 1 Cor. 14.35; Eph. 5.12; Rm. 1.27]). Yet, the liberation view asserts that Paul has suddenly changed his mind: Women may choose to wear it or not as they please. Is it sensible to believe Paul would allow Christians to do that which he deems dishonorable to the headship principle and shameful/base?


Second, Paul argues that a "man ought not to cover his head" (v. 7). The counterpart to this is that a woman "ought" to cover hers (v. 10). Again, the use of the word “ought” indicates an obligation — not a liberty. If the phrase "ought to have authority" in verse ten suggests a woman should be allowed to choose, then doesn't the phrase "a man ought not" indicate that men do not have the right to choose? "Ought" a man "not" wear a covering (v. 7), whereas a woman "ought" to be able to choose one way or the other (v. 10)? Do women have more freedom than men in these matters? Where is man's "liberty" on the head covering issue?


Third, the liberation view renders the flow of Paul’s argument nonsensical. Paul has been arguing for the authority of man over woman — he is her “head” (1 Cor. 11.3) since he is “the image and glory of God” (having come from God directly), while she, having come from man, is man’s “glory” (1 Cor. 11.7-8); and woman was made for man’s sake, not the other way around (1 Cor. 11.9). The conclusion drawn from this premise — i.e., that man is the head of woman, for woman’s “nature is derived and auxiliary” (Findlay, p. 874) — is this: “For this reason the woman is bound to wear authority upon the head” (v. 10). If the liberation view is correct, he would be arguing: Man has authority over the woman; for this reason, woman should exercise authority over herself. In that case, the conclusion does not follow from the premise, and the whole argument becomes absurd.


Finally, the apostle does not bolster the woman’s role until verse eleven:


“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God” (1 Cor. 11.11-12).


“Nevertheless” (v. 11) marks a transition from discussing the importance of man to discussing the importance of woman. This indicates that Paul is still discussing the “authority” of man over the woman in verse ten, not woman’s authority over her own head. It is not until verse eleven that Paul insists that though woman is under man’s authority (vv. 3-10), she is by no means of inferior quality or worth, for both genders are mutually dependent upon one another (vv. 11-12). Indeed, though womankind came from a man, all other men, in turn, owe our existence in part to women (our mothers, grandmothers, etc.). Hence, the first woman came “out of” (ek—a singular act) man, but we men come “through” (dia—a repeated occurrence) women.


In short, the liberation view distorts Paul’s argument. It makes Paul allow that which he deems “dishonorable” and “shameful;” it makes him give liberty to women but not to men; it makes him reason fallaciously; and it throws Paul’s transition marker in verse eleven out of whack.


 
Resources
Abbott-Smith, George. A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: Scribner, 1922.

Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament, Vol. 2. Frankfurt, Germany: Verlag, 2023.

Autenrieth, Georg. A Homeric Dictionary for Schools and Colleges. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1891.

Bauer, Walter, William F. Ardnt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.

Dummelow, J. R. (ed.). A Commentary On The Holy Bible. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1915.

Findlay, G. G. The Expositor’s Testament: First Corinthians, W. Robertson Nicoll (ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.

Godet, Frederic Louis. Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Vol. II. United Kingdom: T. & T. Clark, 1893.

Jackson, Wayne. A Sign Of Authority. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications, n.d.

_____ A New Testament Commentary. Jackson, TN: Christian Courier Publications, 2019.

_____ "Command or Culture: Discerning the Difference." ChristianCourier.com. Access date: December 13, 2019. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1050-command-or-culture-discerning-the-difference

Liddell and Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889.

Lipscomb, David and J. W. Shepherd. First Corinthians. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1970.

McGarvey, J. W and Philip Y. Pendleton. Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing Co., 1916.

Moore, Kevin. We Have No Such Custom: A Critical Analysis of 1 Corinthians 11.2-16. Wanganui, New Zealand: Kevin L. Moore, 1998.

Payne, Philip Barton. Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2015.

Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

Thayer, J. H.  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.  New York: American Book Company, 1889.

Vine, W. E. First Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961.

_____ Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words.  Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985.

Zinserling, Verena. Women in Greece and Rome. New York: Abner Schram, 1972.

Comments


SYNOPSIS

Let Us Reason Online, a work of the "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16.16), is dedicated to upholding the Christian faith by exploring the study of biblical teaching, evidences, and ethics.

 

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss a spiritual matter privately, fill out the contact form.

Please consider supporting this work financially with a donation. The majority of items offered on this site are either free or available at cost. The continuation of this work, therefore, relies upon the generosity of churches and individuals like you.

bottom of page