The Head Covering

I Corinthians 11:1-16


Verse 1 - Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.



Verse 2  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.



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.



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

What does the word “covered” mean?  Without going into any of the Greek words and their varied meanings, just reading from the English, which God has given to us uneducated people, it seems to me the word “covered” is referring not to hair, but to whatever the man would put on his head to shade himself from the sun, rain, wind, cold, so forth.

It seems to me that whatever this verse is talking about - whatever the covering is in this verse and in the next verse, will be what this entire series of verse (1-16) is about.

If the verse is speaking about the length of hair, the meaning must be that any man praying or prophesying with long hair, dishonoureth his head, his head being Jesus Christ. 

I think we must start out with one of two suppositions.  (1) We have two people standing, facing us.  One is a male, the other is a female.  Both of them have hair on their heads.  The male has short hair and the female has long hair.  (2) We have two people standing, facing us.   Neither of them have hair on their heads. 

I know some will think I have lost my marbles, but what other supposition is there?  If we are going to give an interpretation of this verse from scripture, what other proposition is there?  What is in your mind as to the appearance of the male and the female?  You do have some sort of idea in your mind as to the physical appearance of both male and female.  What is it?

Personally, it seems to be supposition number 1 is the correct one.  At least it is the normal one.  It is normal for a man to have short hair and it is normal for a woman to have long hair.  Therefore, in my mind, I picture these two people standing in front of me.  I can tell them apart by their hair.  One is a male, the other is a female.

The passage before us is speaking about keeping the ordinances, but especially about the order or “chain of command”.  Then God brings us to the place of discussing how this order is revealed in the physical bodies we presently possess.  I know some will mock anything spiritual that is revealed in the body, but how else can we show spirituality?  How can anybody see our faith without seeing the works we do in our bodies?

I think it is pretty obvious the passage is not speaking about a male and a female that are bald headed.  I think it is talking about a male and female that are easily recognizable by looking at their hair only.


Verse 5  But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

There has got to be a difference between the covering of the woman and the man.  The man is to pray and prophesy uncovered, but the woman is to pray and prophesy with her head covered.  The male and the female cannot be the same. 


Verse 6  For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

There are those who use supposition number 2, stating that the covering of the woman is her hair.  If that is so, what does this verse mean?  If the picture in your mind at the very beginning of this discussion is a male and female, both with shaved heads, that would be a shame.  If it is a shame for a women to be shaved, then she should have long hair. 

If a woman’s hair is her covering, this verse makes no sense at all.  If she is not covered, she is already shorn!  She does not have to be shorn. 


Verse 7  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

If the hair is the covering of a women, it is also the covering of a man.  Therefore when God put hair on a man’s head, he was wrong. 

If hair is the covering of a man, why didn’t God tell the man to shave his head.  Why did
God tell the man not to cover his head?


Verse 8  For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.



Verse 9  Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.



Verse 10  For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.



Verse 11  Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.



Verse 12  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.



Verse 13  Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?



Verse 14  Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?



Verse 15  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.



Verse 16  But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.




Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown:

3. The Corinthian women, on the ground of the abolition of distinction of sexes in Christ, claimed equality with the male sex, and, overstepping the bounds of propriety, came forward to pray and prophesy without the customary head-covering of females. The Gospel, doubtless, did raise women from the degradation in which they had been sunk, especially in the East. Yet, while on a level with males as to the offer of, and standing in grace (#Ga 3:28), their subjection in point of order, modesty,  and seemliness,  is to be maintained. Paul reproves here their unseemliness as to dress: in #1Co 14:34, as to the retiring modesty in public which becomes them. He grounds his reproof here on the subjection of woman to man in the order of creation.


the head—an appropriate expression, when he is about to treat of woman’s appropriate headdress in public.


of every man ... Christ—(#Eph 5:23).


of ... woman ... man— (#1Co 11:8 Ge 3:16 1Ti 2:11,12 1Pe 3:1,5,6).


head of Christ is God— (#1Co 3:23 15:27,28 Lu 3:22,38 Joh 14:28 20:17 Eph 3:9). "Jesus, therefore, must be of the same essence as God: for, since the man is the head of the woman, and since the head is of the same essence as the body, and God is the head of the Son, it follows the Son is of the same essence as the Father" [CHRYSOSTOM]. "The woman is of the essence of the man, and not made by the man; so, too, the Son is not made by the Father, but of the essence of the Father" [THEODORET, t. 3, p. 171].

4. praying—in public (#1Co 11:17).


prophesying—preaching in the Spirit (#1Co 12:10).


having—that is, if he were to have: a supposed case to illustrate the impropriety in the woman’s case. It was the Greek custom (and so that at Corinth) for men in worship to be uncovered; whereas the Jews wore the Talith,  or veil, to show reverence before God, and their unworthiness to look on Him (#Isa 6:2); however, MAIMONIDES [Mishna] excepts cases where (as in Greece) the custom of the place was different.


dishonoureth his head—not as ALFORD, "Christ" (#1Co 11:3); but literally, as "his head" is used in the beginning of the verse. He dishonoreth his head (the principal part of the body) by wearing a covering or veil, which is a mark of subjection, and which makes him look downwards instead of upwards to his Spiritual Head, Christ, to whom alone he owes subjection. Why, then, ought not man to wear the covering in token of his subjection to Christ, as the woman wears it in token of her subjection to man? "Because Christ is not seen: the man is seen; so the covering of him who is under Christ is not seen; of her who is under the man, is seen" [BENGEL]. (Compare #1Co 11:7).

5. woman ... prayeth ... prophesieth—This instance of women speaking in public worship is an extraordinary case, and justified only by the miraculous gifts which such women possessed as their credentials; for instance, Anna the prophetess and Priscilla (so #Ac 2:18). The ordinary rule to them is: silence in public (#1Co 14:34,35 1Ti 2:11,12). Mental receptivity and activity in family life are recognized in Christianity, as most accordant with the destiny of woman. This passage does not necessarily sanction women speaking in public, even though possessing miraculous gifts; but simply records what took place at Corinth, without expressing an opinion on it, reserving the censure of it till #1Co 14:34,35. Even those women endowed with prophecy were designed to exercise their gift, rather in other times and places, than the public congregation.


dishonoureth ... head—in that she acts against the divine ordinance and the modest propriety that becomes her: in putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man, which is her true "honor"; for through him it connects her with Christ, the head of the man. Moreover, as the head-covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (#Ge 24:65), and conjugal chastity (#Ge 20:16); so, to uncover the head indicated withdrawal from the power of the husband, whence a suspected wife had her head uncovered by the priest (#Nu 5:18). ALFORD takes "her head" to be man, her symbolical, not her literal head; but as it is literal in the former clause, it must be so in the latter one.


all one as if ... shaven—As woman’s hair is given her by nature, as her covering (#1Co 11:15), to cut it off like a man, all admit, would be indecorous: therefore, to put away the head-covering, too, like a man, would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering: she ought, therefore, to add the other (the wearing of a head-covering) to show that she does of her own will that which nature itself teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.

6. A woman would not like to be "shorn" or (what is worse) "shaven"; but if she chooses to be uncovered (unveiled) in front, let her be so also behind, that is, "shorn."


a shame—an unbecoming thing (compare #1Co 11:13-15). Thus the shaving of nuns is "a shame."

7-9. Argument, also, from man’s more immediate relation to God, and the woman’s to man.


he is ... image ... glory of God—being created in God’s "image," first and directly: the woman, subsequently,  and indirectly,  through the mediation of man. Man is the representative of God’s "glory" this ideal of man being realized most fully in the Son of man (#Ps 8:4,5; compare #2Co 8:23). Man is declared in Scripture to be both the "image," and in the "likeness," of God (compare #Jas 3:9). But "image" alone is applied to the Son of God (#Col 1:15; compare #Heb 1:3). "Express image," Greek, " the impress." The Divine Son is not merely "like" God, He is God of God, "being of one substance (essence) with the Father." [Nicene Creed].


woman ... glory of ... man—He does not say, also, "the image of the man." For the sexes differ: moreover, the woman is created in the image of God,  as well as the man (#Ge 1:26,27). But as the moon in relation to the sun (#Ge 37:9), so woman shines not so much with light direct from God, as with light derived from man, that is, in her order in creation;  not that she does not in grace come individually into direct communion with God; but even here much of her knowledge is mediately given her through man, on whom she is naturally dependent.

8. is of ... of—takes his being from ("out of") ... from: referring to woman’s original creation, "taken out of man" (compare #Ge 2:23). The woman was made by God mediately through the man, who was, as it were, a veil or medium placed between her and God, and therefore, should wear the veil or head-covering in public worship, in acknowledgement of this subordination to man in the order of creation. The man being made immediately by God as His glory, has no veil between himself and God [FABER STAPULENSIS in BENGEL].

e9. Neither—rather, "For also"; Another argument: The immediate object of woman’s creation. "The man was not created for the sake of the woman; but the woman for the sake of the man" (#Ge 2:18,21,22). Just as the Church, the bride, is made for Christ; and yet in both the natural and the spiritual creations, the bride, while made for the bridegroom, in fulfilling that end, attains her own true "glory," and brings "shame" and "dishonor" on herself by any departure from it (#1Co 11:4,6).

10. power on her head—the kerchief: French couvre chef, head-covering, the emblem of "power on her head"; the sign of her being under man’s power, and exercising delegated authority under him. Paul had before his mind the root-connection between the Hebrew terms for "veil" (radid), and "subjection" (radad).


because of the angels—who are present at our Christian assemblies (compare #Ps 138:1, "gods," that is, angels), and delight in the orderly subordination of the several ranks of God’s worshippers in their respective places, the outward demeanor and dress of the latter being indicative of that inward humility which angels know to be most pleasing to their common Lord (#1Co 4:9 Eph 3:10 Ec 5:6). HAMMOND quotes CHRYSOSTOM, "Thou standest with angels; thou singest with them; thou hymnest with them; and yet dost thou stand laughing?" BENGEL explains, "As the angels are in relation to God, so the woman is in relation to man. God’s face is uncovered; angels in His presence are veiled (#Isa 6:2). Man’s face is uncovered; woman in His presence is to be veiled. For her not to be so, would, by its indecorousness, offend the angels (#Mt 18:10,31). She, by her weakness, especially needs their ministry; she ought, therefore, to be the more careful not to offend them."

11. Yet neither sex is insulated and independent of the other in the Christian life [ALFORD]. The one needs the other in the sexual relation; and in respect to Christ ("in the Lord"), the man and the woman together (for neither can be dispensed with) realize the ideal of redeemed humanity represented by the bride, the Church.

12. As the woman was formed out of (from) the man, even so is man born by means of woman; but all things (including both man and woman) are from God as their source (#Ro 11:36 2Co 5:18). They depend mutually each on the other, and both on him.

13. Appeal to their own sense of decorum.


a woman ... unto God—By rejecting the emblem of subjection (the head-covering), she passes at one leap in praying publicly beyond both the man and angels [BENGEL].

14. The fact that nature has provided woman, and not man, with long hair, proves that man was designed to be uncovered, and woman covered. The Nazarite, however, wore long hair lawfully, as being part of a vow sanctioned by God (#Nu 6:5). Compare as to Absalom, #2Sa 14:26, and #Ac 18:18.

15. her hair ... for a covering—Not that she does not need additional covering. Nay, her long hair shows she ought to cover her head as much as possible. The will ought to accord with nature [BENGEL].

16. A summary close to the argument by appeal to the universal custom of the churches.


if any ... seem—The Greek also means "thinks"( fit) (compare #Mt 3:9). If any man chooses (still after all my arguments) to be contentious. If any be contentious and thinks himself right in being so. A reproof of the Corinthians’ self-sufficiency and disputatiousness (#1Co 1:20).


we—apostles: or we of the Jewish nation, from whom ye have received the Gospel, and whose usages in all that is good ye ought to follow: Jewish women veiled themselves when in public, according to TERTULLIAN [ESTIUS]. The former explanation is best, as the Jews are not referred to in the context: but he often refers to himself and his fellow apostles, by the expression, "we—us" (#1Co 4:9,10).


no such custom—as that of women praying uncovered. Not as CHRYSOSTOM, "that of being contentious." The Greek term implies a usage,  rather than a mental habit (#Joh 18:39). The usage of true "churches (plural: not, as Rome uses it, ‘the Church,’ as an abstract entity; but ‘the churches, ’ as a number of independent witnesses) of God" (the churches which God Himself recognizes), is a valid argument in the case of external rites,  especially, negatively,  for example, Such rites were not received among them, therefore, ought not to be admitted among us: but in questions of doctrine,  or the essentials of worship,  the argument is not valid [SCLATER] (#1Co 7:17 14:33).


neither—nor yet. Catholic usage is not an infallible test of truth,  but a general test of decency.