On a Christian Woman’s Head-Covering

Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions (like a Christian woman covering her head in the presence of God), just as I delivered them to you.  But I want you to understand (Paul wants the believers to understand that there is a spiritual reason why the woman is to cover her head in the presence of God and that the tradition delivered to them is not simply a meaningless ritual imposed by custom or culture) that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.  Every man who has something on his (physical) head while praying or prophesying (i.e., while in direct contact with God the Father, in whose presence especially is all authority ordained by Him to be observed), disgraces his (spiritual) head (cf. Ex 34:34-35).  But every woman who has her (physical) head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her (spiritual) head (her husband or father, for she is showing contempt for the authority God has ordained over her); for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved (i.e., since nature itself has given the woman a covering of long hair, cf. vss. 14-15, by removing the material covering of her headpiece, it is the same as if she had removed the natural covering of her hair.  It is most interesting to note that exactly parallel to the growing rebellion of modern women to the God-ordained authority of men has been their increasingly shorter hair styles.)  For if a woman does not cover herself, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved (and Paul’s point is that it is disgraceful–let us consider how shameless our society has become in recent years to the end that what is disgraceful is now considered perfectly normal and even flaunted as fashionable), let her cover herself.  For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.  (For since Christ is the head of man and he is His glory, it is the duty of man to honor and give glory to his Head in the presence of God, and thus it would be improper for him to veil that glory in any way.  However, since man is the head of woman and she is his glory, she ought not to glorify her head in the presence of God–for only God is to receive the glory–and thus it is her duty to cover her head while praying or prophesying.  In so doing she is acknowledging the spiritual headship of her husband over her and not disgracing her head by acting as if that authority did not exist.)  For man is not from woman, but woman from man (and hence man is her head and she is the image and glory of man, just as the man is from God and is the image and glory of God); for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake (and so, again, man is her head and she is the image and glory of man just as man was created for the Lord’s sake and is the image and glory of God).  Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (those ministering spirits who are sent out from the presence of God to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation, Heb 1:14, i.e., for the sake of those who humbly submit themselves to the authority God has ordained.  Certainly Paul’s purpose in arguing as he does is not to demean women before men, but rather to simply assert her proper place in the order of God’s creation; thus he continues:)  However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman (in the same way that in the Godhead Christ is not independent of the Father nor the Father independent of Christ).  For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.  Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God uncovered?  Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?  For her hair is given to her for a covering.  But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.  (We should notice that Paul acknowledges that this practice was a point of contention even in his day.  In this passage he has sought to explain spiritually why the woman is to cover her head while praying or prophesying.  His final word, however—perhaps recognizing that the spiritual meaning would be hard for some to understand or accept—is to cut off any further argument and simply state that this is the way it is in the churches of God.)
1 Corinthians 11:2-16

I believe that the passage is quite clear that there is a spiritual reason and need for a woman to cover her head while praying or prophesying.  However, many questions naturally arise about how that should be put into practice, and I wish I could say with the same authority that I knew how, but I don’t.  Ultimately, I believe that must be left to the ladies as they are led by God’s Spirit.  I do have some additional thoughts though that I think are important:

It is clear that such practice could easily become a mere legalistic tradition; indeed, this seems to be the reason why some in Corinth were wanting to dispense with it and why Paul seeks to explain its spiritual significance.  Therefore, as with all Christian practice, if it is to be of effect in our Christian walk and retain its meaning and significance, it must arise from a sincere desire of the heart to please the Lord and not just conform to some teaching of men.  As I understand the passage, the significance of the Christian woman’s head-covering is a sign or symbol in the presence of God and His holy angels of her willing submission to her place in the creation order and to the authority God has ordained over her–something that the flesh of a carnal woman is unwilling to acknowledge since she is still under the curse that came upon women because of man’s fall into sin.  (See Genesis 3:16–“Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”; for what it means that her desire shall be for her husband, notice that in Gen 4:7 the same rare Hebrew word, used only 3 times, is used for the desire of sin to control Cain.)

Therefore, if a woman’s heart is not in submission to her place in the creation order or to the authority God has ordained over her, then in the eyes of God her head-covering is of no more spiritual effect than circumcision to one who claims to be a Jew but does not keep the law of God, or baptism to one who claims to be a Christian but does not follow Christ.  Many Muslim women wear a veil to cover their heads; however it is most often not because they love their husbands and are in submission to the authority God has ordained over them, but because they are forced to by a legalistic law.

Therefore, I believe that of first importance in putting into practice the teaching of this chapter it is necessary for women to prayerfully and by the power of the Holy Spirit bring their hearts into submission to that for which God has created them.  This is entirely contrary to today’s culture which for the past 40 years has been completely permeated with the worldly notions promoted by the women’s liberation movement.  However, I believe that in doing so the matter of how a woman should apply this teaching in her life will become a completely natural expression of her heart’s desire to please God, whereas otherwise it can only appear as a meaningless ritual that is completely unnatural to her flesh.  Then, instead of it being a sign of subjection to the lordship of a man who rules over her–as the world and her carnal flesh might see it–it will be a beautiful ornament of who she is in Christ, a reflection of her inner beauty that is holy and blameless and without spot or wrinkle (Eph 5:27), so that she can say with the bride, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10, the third and last occurrence of that same rare Hebrew word, and very significantly the only one where it is used positively.)  Do we understand that all of this is a picture of who we, the Church, are to become as the Bride of Christ?

It is clear then that women covering their heads while praying or prophesying is an ordinance that like baptism and the Lord’s Supper is meant to be an outward sign and symbol both to us and to the world of a deep spiritual truth in Christ.  It won’t save a person any more than will being baptized or taking communion.  However, for those who are saved God has ordained it to be observed along with the other ordinances in order to convey a central truth about the nature of our salvation.  In light of where the bankrupt teachings of the women’s liberation movement have led us in terms of the dissolution of the family and all of the societal woes accompanying it, I believe it is a truth the world needs to hear and we need to share.  May God help us to do so.

Question: Does the covering Paul have in mind mean the woman’s hair itself?

Answer: If the only covering Paul had in mind was the woman’s hair itself and the issue was one of women cutting their hair short, consider if his argument would then make sense:

Verse 4: “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head”: If the covering he has in mind for a woman is her hair, then such would have to be the same covering he has in mind for a man in this verse.  And yet if the entire concern had only to do with men not cutting their hair and women cutting theirs, why wouldn’t he just say so, as he does in verses 14-15?  I.e., why wouldn’t he just say that any man who prays or prophesies having long hair dishonors his head?  But as it is, it is clear that the concern has to do with a material covering of the head, a veil, which answers to the natural covering of the head, one’s hair.  Consider too that as part of the Nazirite vow men would grow their hair long and then cut off their hair and give the “glory” to God, a vow which Paul himself had evidently taken: see Acts 18:18, Num 6:18.

Verse 6: “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off.”  Consider that Paul’s words here would be entirely redundant and meaningless if the covering he has in mind is the woman’s hair itself:  “For if a woman does not have long hair because she has cut it off trying to be manly, let her also have her hair cut off.”  If the issue was one of women cutting off their hair, then Paul could not say, “let her also have her hair cut off”, because she would have already done so!

Here is a more in-depth study of the pertinent words in this passage that often cause confusion when translated into English:

1 Corinthians 11:2-16   2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.  3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.  4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head.  5 But every woman who has her head uncovered (avkataka,luptoj|, notice this word has the same root as that used in verses 6-7, but with the alpha-privative, which changes the meaning from covered/veiled to uncovered/unveiled) while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.  6 For if a woman does not cover (katakalu,ptw) her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover [katakalu,ptw “Let her be veiled (katakaluptesthô). Present middle imperative of old compound kata-kaluptô, here alone in N.T. Let her cover up herself with the veil (down, kata, the Greek says, the veil hanging down from the head).”] her head.  7 For a man ought not to have his head covered (katakalu,ptw), since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.  8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;  9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.  10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.  11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.  13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered (avkataka,luptoj|)?  14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,  15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering [avnti. peribo,laion, “For a covering (anti peribolaiou). Old word from periballô to fling around, as a mantle (Heb 1:12) or a covering or veil as here. It is not in the place of a veil, but answering to (anti, in the sense of anti in Joh 1:16), as a permanent endowment (dedotai, perfect passive indicative).”].  16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

The quoted material in the square brackets above comes from Robertson’s Word Pictures.  Here are the definitions listed for the two different words used for “cover/covering” in the above passage, as found in Friberg’s Greek Lexicon:

15066  katakalu,ptw (1) active cover, veil; (2) middle in the NT, of covering one’s head with a veil veil oneself, wear a veil  (This word is only used here in the NT, here are all the instances of this word in the Septuagint—the Greek version of the OT: Gen. 38:15; Exod. 26:34; 29:22; Lev. 3:3, 14; 4:8; 7:3; 9:19; Num. 4:5; 22:5; 2 Chr. 18:29; Sir. 24:3; Hab. 2:14; Isa. 6:2; 11:9; 26:21; Jer. 26:8; 28:42, 51; Ezek. 26:10, 19; 32:7; 38:9; Sut. 1:32; Dan. 12:9; 1 Co. 11:6f).

21502  peribo,laion, ou, to, from a basic meaning covering thrown around; (1) as an article of outer clothing mantle, cloak (HE 1.12); (2) as the effect of long hair covering (1C 11.15) (Here are all the instances of this word in the NT and in the Greek version of the OT: Exod. 22:26; Deut. 22:12; Jda. 8:26; Ps. 101:27; 103:6; Job 26:6; Isa. 50:3; 59:17; Jer. 15:12; Ezek. 16:13; 27:7; 1 Co. 11:15; Heb. 1:12)

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