Does 1 Corinthians 11 Require Women To Wear “Head Coverings”

Does 1 Corinthians 11 Require Women To Wear "Head Coverings"The title says it all: “Does 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 require women to wear “head coverings“.

Six pieces of context are required to fully understand this passage.  The Bible wasn’t written to modern audiences, though it was written for us in addition to its original recipients.  If we miss that, we often miss the intent of difficult passages.

Such is the case here.

We need to understand the context before we can understand the content.

Therefore, this article won’t be in the “proper order”, starting with the first verse and going through to the end.  That’s because there’s a lot of context on different parts of the passage that must come together to make the whole thing make sense.  Therefore, we’ll move in what might look like a haphazard manner.  However, there’s a clear purpose behind the order, with each bit of context laying the groundwork for the next.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a masterpiece of Biblical literature and we’ll hopefully see just how brilliant it is by the end. 🙂

Let’s begin.

Context First

As we saw in our article about the book of Revelation, proper context is crucial to understanding a passage. There are several elements of context we must look at before we can fully understand this passage.  We’ll look at each in turn, and they are:

  • Chiastic Literary Structure
  • The Greek Word “κατὰ” (kata)
  • The Greek words translated “covering” throughout the passage
  • The Greek word “ἀντί” (anti), translated “for” in verse 15
  • The cultural and historical context of the Isle of Lesbos
  • Words added by translators for ‘clarity’

Let’s begin.

 

Chiastic Literary Structure

A “chiasm” is a form of literary structure which was extremely popular in Biblical times, but is virtually unknown nowadays.  In a chiasm, the first point is related to the last point, the second point is related to the second-to-last-point, the third point is related to the third-to-last-point, etc.  In a chiasm, the focal point is the center or apex of the chiasm.

I know, it sounds complicated, here’s a super short example to make things clear.

Matthew 23:12:

  • whoever exalts himself
    • will be humbled; and
    • whoever humbles himself
  • will be exalted.

 

Notice the up > down structure, where the focus is on the center.  In this case, being humble.  Now, let’s look at a slightly longer, more complicated chiasm.

Amos 5:5

  • But do not resort to Bethel
    • And do not come to Gilgal,
      • Nor cross over to Beersheba;
    • For Gilgal will certainly go into captivity
  • And Bethel will come to trouble.

 

Notice the: up > up > center > down > down, symmetrical structure of the verse.  The first and last both mention Bethel, the second and second-to-last both mention Gilgal.  The center-point is about not crossing over into Beersheba and this is the focal point and most important part of the verse because it’s the center of the chiasm

Now let’s look at a multi-verse chiasm in Psalms.

I’ve taken Psalm 1 and divided it up as a chiasm to make the structure clear.  I’ve also added some words (in bold, underlined parenthesis) to make the parallelism clearer, color coded the different levels, and also bold and underlined some words to make it even more clear.

Let’s look.

Psalm 1 – Chiastic Structure

  • 1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
    • Nor stand in the path with sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
      • 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
      • 3 He (the righteous) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, 
        • Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
      • 4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
    • 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners (sit) in the assembly of the righteous.
  • 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.

 

Here’s a super quick breakdown of the chiastic structure.

  • The first and last verse in blue center on the idea of how we walk, especially righteously. (not walking “in the council of the wicked” and walking in “the way of the righteous”)
  • The second and second-to-last verses in purple focus on not standing or sitting with sinners.
  • The green parts have a contrast, showing what the righteous and the wicked are like.
  • The red center-point is the focus of the psalm, showing how the righteous will prosper.

 

Please notice how the chiasm is used for both parallel ideas (blue and purple) and also to contrast ideas (green).  This creates parallelism which helps with focus.  Notice the red center point – which is the apex and most important part – is about how the righteous won’t wither and will prosper.

Perhaps most importantly, the mirroring in a chiasm can be used to help understand difficult passages.

This is because the linked units (color coded above) are related to each other, and thus can be used to help understand each other if one part is unclear.

There are chiasms all over the Bible.  Many of the psalms are chiastic, many Bible passages are too, and even whole books are setup as a chiasm.

 

Why do we care about Chiasms?

We care because 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a chiasm.  It has that same symmetrical “rise and fall” structure where the center is the apex and focal point.  Lower down, we’ll look at it with the same indenting and color coding as our examples up above to make it clear.

However, we’re not ready to look at it yet.

There’s a lot more context needed before we can make sense of it.  For now, we’ll move on to the next bit of context needed to understand this passage.

 

The Greek word “κατὰ” (kata) in verse 4

Let’s look at verse 4 first.

1 Corinthians 11:4 (NASB)

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

 

The words highlighted in red are how the NASB and many other translations translate the Greek word “κατὰ” (kata) here.  It’s an extremely flexible word with a broader range of meanings that almost every other Greek word.  However, the primary sense is “down from”, which you can see in the lexicon quote below.

2596 katá (a preposition, governing two grammatical cases) – properly, “down from, i.e. from a higher to a lower plane, with special reference to the terminus (end-point)” (J. Thayer).

 

Now, “something on” is a rather loose translation.  Not a bad one per se, but very loose, probably because of the difficulty of translating this passage. Like we saw, it literally means “down from”.  Here’s the same verse in another translation that’s a little bit more literal/accurate.  Please note:  this translation italicizes words which were added by translators for clarity.

1 Corinthians 11:4 (BOS Bible)

4. Every man who is praying or prophesying while having something hanging down from his head dishonors his head.

 

Here’s the footnote for that verse

hanging down from” is the Greek word “κατὰ” (kata), often translated “on” here.  It primarily means “down” or “down from”, but it has many uses and one of the largest semantic ranges of any Greek word. Here it’s used in the sense of “hanging down from”, of which there are two main interpretations.  (1) Paul is referring to head coverings.  In Rabbinic custom, men wore a prayer shawl called a “Tallit”, which they would drape over their heads while they prayed out of reverence for God, to indicate they weren’t worthy to look on His face.  This shawl would thus “hang down” from their heads.  (2) The second view says Paul is referring to hair which is long enough to “hang down”.  This makes much more sense contextually because verses 2-16 have a chiastic structure, and verse 4’s counterpart in verse 14 is clearly referencing long hair on men.

 

This is our first clue about the verse.  Notice that it’s possible – even likely given the chiastic structure – that Paul wasn’t talking about wearing a hat or veil in this verse.  Notice too that the footnote correctly points out that the chiastic pair of verse 4 is verse 14.  So let’s look at verse 14

1 Corinthians 11:14 (NASB)

14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,

 

Remember how we said that a chiasm can be used to lend clarity by looking at the counterpart of the unclear verse?  This is a great example.  It doesn’t mean “absolutely for sure” that verse 4 is talking about hair which is long enough to “hang down” from the head.  However, it does give a strong indication that Paul was talking about long hair.  It’s not perfectly certain, but it’s a strong indication.

 

The Greek word for “covering” in verse 15

It’s a truism that something is always lost in translation.  This isn’t always the fault of the translators though, and is often simply because languages are different.  Very rarely will a word in one language have a perfect counterpart in another (it happens, but not usually).  Such is the case with this next verse we will look at.

1 Corinthians 11:15

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her long hair is given to her for a covering.

 

The word in red is the Greek word “περιβόλαιον” (peribolaion).  It means:

Definition: that which is thrown around, a covering
Usage: a wrapper, mantle, veil, cloak, covering.

 

Peribolaion (“covering” in verse 15) is the noun form of the Greek word “περιβάλλω” (periballó), which is a verb that means to “clothe yourself” (or myself, himself, themselves, etc.).

This is important!

In verse 15, Paul wasn’t talking about any just kind of covering; he was specifically talking about a cloth/fabric covering.

This gets even more interesting when you look at the words for “covering” elsewhere in the passage.

 

“Covering” elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 11

There are a few other words used for “covering” in this passage.  Fortunately, they all belong to the same “word family”.  That is, they all have the same basic meaning and thus can be treated as a unit.

  • There’s the adjective form “ἀκατακάλυπτος” (akatakaluptos), correctly translated “uncovered” and used in verses 5 and 13.
  • There’s the verb form “κατακαλύπτω” (katakaluptó) translated “cover” and used in verses 6 and 7.

 

The words are almost the same and come from the same root.  “Katakaluptó” comes from “κατὰ” (kata) and “καλύπτω” (kaluptó).  We’ve already looked at kata, but didn’t mention it can function as an intensifying prefix (one of its many functions).  More on that in a moment.

The Greek word kaluptó simply means to “cover” or to “conceal”.  For example, it’s used in Luke:

Luke 8:16 (NASB)

16 “Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light.

 

That’s kaluptó.

Now, the Greek word kata can be used as a prefix to intensify something.  For example, kaluptó means “to cover”, kata-kaluptó means to “fully cover”.  In the adjective form used in this verse, a negative prefix is added (like adding the letter “a” to the word “moral” to get the word “amoral”, which means “not moral”)  So in the adjective form, it is: a-kata-kaluptó, which means “not fully covered”, or possibly “fully uncovered”, in the sense of not being covered at all.

(Note: some lexicons will say katakaluptó means to “wear a veil”.  However, that’s not the primary meaning and is pulled from assumed context.  The best lexicons will correctly say it means “to cover”, and then mention a veil as one possibly type of covering.)

Notice that “peribolaion” (clothe myself) which is used in verse 15 is a different word – and from a different word family – than “katakaluptó” and “akatakaluptos”

 

This is vitally important!

 

It’s crucial to properly understanding the passage.

“Katakaluptó” and “akatakaluptos” mean “to cover” with anything.  Anything at all.  However, “peribolaion” specifically means to “cover” with some type of garment/cloth.

The difference is important.

Very important.

Unfortunately, most translations don’t render the difference properly, especially in verse 15.  I only know of one that does, but we’ll get there in a minute.  For now, let’s look at the next Greek word that will lend clarity to our discussion.

 

The Greek word “ἀντί” (anti), translated “for” in verse 15

Let’s look at verse 15 again.

1 Corinthians 11:15 (NASB)

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her long hair is given to her for a covering.

 

The word highlighted in red is the Greek word “ἀντί” (anti).  Here’s the definition from several different lexicons:

Definition: over against, opposite, instead of

 

473 antí (a preposition) – properly, opposite, corresponding to, off-setting (over-against); (figuratively) in place of,” i.e. what substitutes (serves as an equivalent, what is proportional).

 

over against, opposite, hence instead of, in comp. denotes contrast, requital, substitution, correspondence

 

2. indicating exchange, succession, for, instead of, in place of (something).

a. universally, instead of: ἀντί ἰχθύος ὄφιν, Luke 11:11; ἀντί περιβολαίου to serve as a covering, 1 Corinthians 11:15; ἀντί τοῦ λέγειν, James 4:15 (ἀντί τοῦ with the infinitive often in Greek writings (Winers Grammar, 329 (309); Buttmann, 263 (226))).

 

A primary particle; opposite, i.e. Instead or because of (rarely in addition to) — for, in the room of. Often used in composition to denote contrast, requital, substitution, correspondence, etc.

 

Hmm, it seems like translating it “for” is slightly misleading.  Now, I want to be clear that translating anti as “for” isn’t wrong in many cases.  For example, it’s used in Matthew 5:38 where Jesus is quoting the law which says “and eye for an eye”.  Our English word “for” can certainly have the same idea of substitution  but the way it’s translated in verse 15 doesn’t sound like that at all.

To be clear, “ἀντί” (anti) always means “in exchange for” or “instead of” (except when it’s used as a causative and means “because”), and you can double check that statement by looking at all 22 places anti is used in the Bible. In every single one, it’s either used for exchange/substitution (“in exchange for” or “instead of”) or as a causative (“because”).

There are no exception to this.

None.

Not even one.

So let’s look at verse 15 again with all the understanding we’ve accrued.

1 Corinthians 11:15 (NASB)

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her long hair is given to her instead of a cloth covering.

 

Boy, that makes a lot more sense doesn’t it?  However, as they say on TV: “But wait, there’s more!”  Seriously, there is.

A lot more.

 

Who is “the woman whose head is shaved?”

Verse 5 says this:

1 Corinthians 11:5 (NASB)

5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

 

So that verse begs the question: “who is the woman whose head is shaved?”  Without the answer to that question, the whole purpose of verses 5-6 – and consequently the whole passage – becomes very confusing.  But if you know who “the woman whose head is shaved” is, the whole passage – verses 2-16 – becomes much clearer.

Let’s look.

Not too far from Corinth in the Aegean Sea, there is an island named Lesbos. It has retained the name Lesbos from ancient times, and its name is believed to be the origin of our word “lesbian”.  A very famous lyrical poet from the 6th century BC was referred to as “Sappho of Lesbos“.  Her name (Sappho) is the root of our English word “sapphic”, which is an adjective referring to female homosexual acts.

So, guess what often happened there…

(And BTW, we have an article here on Berean Patriot about homosexuality and the Bible’s position on it.  Yes, we go every bit as deep in that article as in this one.)

Anyways…

Lucian, a Syrian satirist and rhetorician, wrote in his Dialogues of the Courtesans: section 5: Leaena and Clonarium:

(Note: in the quote below “Lesbian” means “from the isle of Lesbos”, not a female homosexual.  Also, Clonarium is speaking to a woman, Leaena.)

CLONARIUM: We’ve been hearing strange things about you Leaena. They say that Megilla, the rich Lesbian woman, is in love with you just like a man, that you live with each other, and do goodness knows what together…

…They say there are women like that in Lesbos, with faces like men, and unwilling to consort with men, but only with women, as though they themselves were men.

 

At one point, Clonarium asks Leaena to describe how Megilla made her first advances.

LEAENA: She herself and another rich woman, with the same accomplishments, Demonassa from Corinth were organizing a drinking party, and had taken me along to provide them with music.

Eventually Megilla, being now rather heated, pulled off her wig, which was very realistic and fitted very closely, and revealed the skin of her head which was shaved close, just as on the most energetic of athletes.

 

As you can see, some of the women from the Isle of Lesbos behaved as modern day lesbians.  Among their customs was shaving their hair off or cutting it short in attempt to look more like men.

This is a very important point: They weren’t behaving like women; they were behaving like men.

To again quote Dialogues of the Courtesans: section 5: Leaena and Clonarium: (this is Megilla the Lesbian speaking)

I was born a woman like the rest of you, but I have the mind and the desires and everything else of a man.”

 

Now here’s the crucial part: the women from the Isle of Lesbos refused ALL forms of male authority.

All.

Without exception.

They tried to act like men in everything, and part of that was refusing to be under any man’s authority.  As a symbolic rejection of male authority, these women would cut off their hair or shave their heads.

Starting to make sense?

Long hair is associated with being a woman in virtually every culture across the world.  Long, lustrous hair is one of the primary things that men find attractive in a woman.  Therefore, Lesbian women – both then and incidentally now too – tend to cut their hair off.  (A modern “pixie cut” is one such example)  This is very symbolic of the idea that the woman doesn’t want male authority because men love long hair (as a rule).

As we’ll see soon, Paul uses this as part of his argument in this passage.

There’s only two more bits of context we need before we can look at the whole passage in full.

 

Words added by translators for clarity

We need to look at the words that translators must add to make a passage make sense.  It’s not adding to the Bible; it’s part of translation.  Greek is a different language than ours and it’s actually more flexible than English in many ways.  Sometimes translators must add words in English to get across the ideas in Greek.

However, sometimes these additions go beyond translating the words, and veer into interpretation.

There is one place in this passage where almost every translation commits this translation ‘sin’.   It’s the apex of the chiasm, and thus the most important part of the passage: verse 10.  (We’ll look at the chiastic structure soon after we’ve looked at all the necessary context.)

It’s very important to note that the NASB italicizes words that were added by translators for clarity.  I’ve gone a step further and made them red so they’re impossible to miss.

1 Corinthians 11:10 (NASB)

10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

 

The phrase “a symbol of” isn’t in the Greek.  Go ahead and double check me in an interlinear Bible if you like.  It’s simply not there at all.  Nowhere.  The idea of a “head covering” isn’t contained anywhere in this verse.  There’s not even a hint of it in Greek.

None.

Now, there’s just one more piece of context that we need before we can look at the passage in full and understand it properly.

 

The Greek word translated “Ought” in Verse 10.

Fair warning, there are places where the Bible is very counter-cultural.  This is one of them.  That said, let’s look at the verse.

1 Corinthians 11:10 (NASB)

10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

 

The Greek word translated “ought” here is “ὀφείλω” (opheiló), and it means:

3784 opheílō (a primitive verb, NAS dictionary) – to owe, be indebted, i.e. obliged to rectify a debt (“ought”).

3784 /opheílō (“owe”) refers to being morally obligated (or legally required) to meet an obligation, i.e. to pay off a legitimate debt.

[3784 (opheílō) “originally belonged to the legal sphere; it expressed initially one’s legal and economic, and then later one’s moral, duties and responsibilities to the gods and to men, or to their sacrosanct regulations. . . . opheílō expresses human and ethical responsibility in the NT” (DNTT, 2, 662.663).]

 

Matthew uses this word of debt in the parable of the unrighteous servant in Matthew 18, verses 28, 30, and 34.  Now you may be wondering where this “moral obligation” comes from.  We’ll look at that in a moment.  It’s also worth noting that this same word is used in verse 7, where it says that man is “morally obligated” not to cover his head.  More on that in a bit.

For now, let’s finally look at this passage in full.

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – Putting it all together

I’ll now quote the entire passage with the chiastic structure indicated as in the examples above.  One thing to note, I won’t be using the NASB here because there’s another translation that captures this passage much better, given the context we discussed.

I’ve also added some note in (Bold Parenthesis) to make things clearer.

(Note: in the BOS Bible, the Greek word “Christos” (Christ) has been correctly translated as “the Anointed”, which is what the word means.  Most other translations don’t translate the word, and just leave it “Christ”.  For clarity and to not distract from the main point, I’ve changed it to “Christ” here, and throughout the rest of this article.)

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Chiastic Structure (BOS Bible)

  • 2. Now, I commend you because you did – and do – remember me in everything, and you hold tightly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3. And I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ.
    • 4. Every man who is praying or prophesying while having something (long Hair?) hanging down from his head dishonors his head. 5. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head. For she is one and the same with the woman who did – and does – shave her head. (The Lesbian women, who rejected male authority) 6. For if a woman won’t cover her head, let her also cut off her hair. But if it’s shameful for a woman to cut off her hair, or to be shaved, let her cover her head. 7. For indeed, man is morally obligated not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
      • 8. For man didn’t come from woman, but woman from man.
        • 9. For also, man wasn’t created for woman, but woman for man.
          • 10. Because of this, the woman is morally obligated to have authority on her head, because of the angels.
        • 11 Yet in the Lord, neither is woman separate from man, nor man separate from woman.
      • 12. For just as the woman came out of the man, so also the man is born through the woman; But everything comes from God.
    • 13. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for an uncovered woman to pray to God? 14. And doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it’s indeed a disgrace to him? 15. But if a woman has long hair, it’s a glory to her? For the long hair was – and is – given to her instead of a cloth covering.
  • 16. But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no other custom; nor do the churches of God.

 

Now, we’ll go through the passage, taking it one chunk at a time.

 

1 Corinthians 11:2-3 – the introductory verses

1 Corinthians 11:203 (BOS Bible)

2. Now, I commend you because you did – and do – remember me in everything, and you hold tightly to the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

3. And I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ.

 

Now, some say that “head” here should be understood as “source”, not in the sense of authority.  Since this is a contention of some, we’ll spend a little time debunking it.  First, let’s look at the Greek word, then we’ll look at usage, then we’ll look at a parallel passage.

 

The Greek word for “head”

It’s “κεφαλή” (kephalé), which truly does mean “head”, as in the part of a physical body that sits atop the neck.  However – just like in English today – it can metaphorically also mean a ruler or authority. (The “head” of a company/group/household etc.)  This is borne out by the word definitions and usage.

(Note: “met” in the definition below is short for “metaphorically”)

Definition: the head
Usage: (a) the head, (b) met: a corner stone, uniting two walls; head, ruler, lord.

 

κεφαλήκεφαλῆς, the Sept. for רֹאשׁthe head,

Metaphorically, anything supreme, chief, prominent; of persons, master, lordτίνος, of a husband in relation to his wife, 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23; of Christ, the lord of the husband, 1 Corinthians 11:3 (cf. Buttmann, 124f (109)); of the church, Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 2:19

 

Kephalé means “head”.  Some want to say in this passage it should be understood as “source”, but that does not work.  To show why, I’ll replace the word “head” with the word “source” in verse 3 and you’ll see how it falls apart quickly

1 Corinthians 11:3 (BOS Bible – Edited)

3. And I want you to know that Christ is the source of every man, and the man is the source of woman, and God is the source of Christ.

 

As you can see, “source” doesn’t work. 

Certainly Christ is the source of man because He created man.  You could say that man is the “source” of woman because God made woman from Adam’s rib.  It’s a stretch – a very long stretch – but not quite an impossible one.  But you can’t say that God (the Father) is the “source” of Christ.  It just doesn’t work, because that would make Jesus a created being, and thus not God.

The Bible is very clear that Jesus is God, and thus is uncreated and has no “source”.

So no, “source” doesn’t work.

 

Ephesians confirms this

Paul uses the same Greek word (kephalé = head) in Ephesians to talk about authority.

Ephesians 5:22-24 (BOS Bible – Edited)

22. Wives must submit themselves to their own husbands as they do to the Lord,

23. because the husband is head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church.  (He Himself being the body’s savior.)

24. But just as the church submits itself to Christ, in this way also, wives should submit themselves to their husbands in everything.

 

Here, the idea of being “the head” is clearly connected with authority/submission.  It’s connected in the same way in 1 Corinthians, and thus “authority” is clearly intended.  It’s even clearer later in our 1 Corinthians passage.

 

1 Corinthians 11:4-7 & 13-15 – the Theological verses

1 Corinthians 11:3 (BOS Bible)

4. Every man who is praying or prophesying while having something (long hair? as we’ve just seen) hanging down from his head dishonors his head.

5. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head.  For she is one and the same with the woman who did – and does – shave her head. (The Lesbian women, who we’ve already talked about)

6. For if a woman won’t cover her head, let her also cut off her hair. But if it’s shameful for a woman to cut off her hair, or to be shaved, let her cover her head.

7. For indeed, man is morally obligated not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

 

Now, these verses make a lot more sense when paired with their chiasmic mirror, so let’s get those verses in here too. Please notice the parallels and contrasts in the chiasm.

  • First part:
    • Long hair on men = disgrace/shame;
    • Short hair on women = disgrace/shame.
  • Second part:
    • Long hair on men = disgrace/shame,
    • Long hair on women = glory.

 

Now, let’s take a look at the second chunk.

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 (BOS Bible)

13. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for an uncovered woman to pray to God?

14. And doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it’s indeed a disgrace to him?

15. But if a woman has long hair, it’s a glory to her?  For the long hair was – and is – given to her instead of a cloth covering.

 

Since the whole passage is a chiasm, we can reasonably look at the first half in light of the second half. I don’t see anything about hats/veils here.  Nothing at all. 

It appears – especially given the context of the women from the Isle of Lesbos – that Paul is being clever.

That’s almost unfortunate.

Why?

Because Paul’s very clever 1st century (Greek) wordplay is lost on modern (English) audiences.  While it would’ve been very clear to 1st century readers, it’s lost on modern ones.

Here’s the point:

 

Paul is drawing an analogy about “long hair = under (male) authority” because the “covering” of hair is symbolic of the “covering” of male authority. 

 

Make sense?

His point at the center of the chiasm – which means it’s the most important part of the passage – is about authority, not “covering the head” with a bit of cloth.  Paul is using the women from the Isle of Lesbos as an example because they rejected male authority and symbolized this by cutting off their hair.

Let’s start by looking at verse 5.

1 Corinthians 11:5 (BOS Bible)

5. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered (by male authority) dishonors her head.  For she is one and the same with the woman who did – and does – shave her head. (The women of the Isle of Lesbos, who symbolized their rejection of male authority by cutting off their hair or shaving their heads)

 

Do you see the symbolism and parallel Paul is drawing here?

If a woman won’t be under male authority (she has her head “uncovered”) then she’s “one and the same with” the women of the Isle of Lesbos, who shaved their heads to show they rejected male authority.

That’s what verse 5 is talking about.

Verse 6 continues this theme, making the symbolism between long hair and being under male authority clearer.  We’ll look at it in two chunks.

1 Corinthians 11:6a (BOS Bible)

6a. For if a woman won’t cover her head, let her also cut off her hair.

 

Remember, Paul is using long hair as an analogue to, and symbol of male authority.  So Paul says that: If a woman won’t “cover her head” (be under male authority) let her also cut off her hair (the symbol of male authority).   He’s saying that if a woman won’t have the reality of being under male authority, why would she have the symbol of it?

Paul looks at it from the reverse angle in the second half of the verse.

1 Corinthians 11:6b (BOS Bible)

6b. But if it’s shameful for a woman to cut off her hair, or to be shaved, let her cover her head.

 

Again, long hair is symbolic of male authority.  So Paul says that since it’s shameful for a woman to cut off the symbol of male authority (long hair) then she should live up to the symbol and be under the reality of male authority.  If a woman accepts the symbol of male authority (long hair) then she should accept the reality of male authority by being under it.

Make sense?

Conversely, men aren’t supposed to be under authority the way women are.  So when a man has long hair, he’s wearing a symbol of being under authority the way a woman is.  That’s not what God intended.  He intended for men and women to be different.

That’s God’s design and intention.

That’s the point of verse 7

1 Corinthians 11:7 (BOS Bible)

7. For indeed, man is morally obligated not to cover his head since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

 

A man shouldn’t “cover his head”, either symbolically with long hair or in reality by being under authority the way a woman is.

In fact, man is “morally obligated” not to be under authority that way because that’s the role God gave to women, not men.  For a man to take up a woman’s role is directly contrary to the way God designed the world.

That’s sinful.

Man shows God’s glory by being in authority over woman the same way that Christ is in authority over man.  Woman shows God’s glory by being in submission to man the same way the church should be in submission to Christ. (That’s why Paul starts with the hierarchy of headship in verse 3: God > Christ > man > woman)

Again, the implication is that a woman should “cover her head” in male authority and symbolize this by having long hair.

Thus, a woman “dishonors her head” if she rejects her husband’s authority (or father’s if never married) and/or symbolizes a rejection of that authority by cutting off her hair.

If you are wondering why, Paul addresses that soon.

(And BTW, I’m sure God understands if a woman need chemotherapy or there’s another good medical reason her hair needs to be short temporarily.  Though in such cases I would advise a wig if possible to keep the symbolism intact. )

 

Paul’s clever wordplay

Notice Paul’s clever wordplay here.

The phrase “dishonors her head” could refer to the woman’s own head = herself.  That is, she dishonors herself by rejecting male authority and/or symbolizing a rejection of male authority by cutting off her hair.  But the phrase “dishonors her head” could also refer to her “authority head”, which is her husband (Or father if never married).  That is, she not only dishonors herself, but she also dishonors her husband (or father if never married) by rejecting his authority and/or symbolizing a rejection of his authority by cutting off her hair.

Clever, no?

The brilliance of Paul’s writing (and Jesus’ teaching too) is often lost in translation (which isn’t the translator’s fault).  Both Paul and Jesus frequently made use of these “double allusions”, where they used a word or phrase in two senses at the same time.  Unfortunately, other examples require a long explanation of Greek words to make sense, and we don’t have space for that here.

Anyway…

This clever double allusion is used twice.

Remember verse 4 says the man “dishonors his head” if he has “something hanging down from his head”.  That means a man who’s under authority the same way a woman is – and/or symbolizes being under that authority by having long hair – is not only dishonoring/shaming himself, he’s also dishonoring/shaming Jesus Christ Himself. (Who is the man’s “authority head”, as verse 3 says.)

Men, don’t be “under your wife’s authority” the way she’s supposed to be under yours.

If you allow her to be in authority over you like that, you are bringing dishonor and shame to God Himself.  Of course He doesn’t take kindly to that.

It’s a sin.

A most grievous sin.

Wives, don’t try to be your husband’s “head” the way he’s supposed to be yours.

This is also a grievous sin.

Doing this – wives being in authority over husbands – destroys God’s chosen picture for Christ’s relationship with the church: marriage.  Just like Ephesians says, wives must submit to their husbands in the same way that the church submits to Christ.  In doing that, the picture is complete.  In not doing that, the picture is ruined and you bring shame to God Himself.

(That’s a bad idea.)

Further, doing so has dire consequences for your family, your children, and society at large.  We look at this in detail in the first article in our marriage series, entitled: How Getting Marriage ‘Wrong’ Destroyed Every Great Civilization in World History.

Moving on…

 

The second half of the “theological” verses

We’ve already looked at verses 14-15, but verse 13 bears some more attention.

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 (BOS Bible)

13. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for an uncovered woman to pray to God?

14. And doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it’s indeed a disgrace to him?

15. But if a woman has long hair, it’s a glory to her?  For the long hair was – and is – given to her instead of a cloth covering.

 

The obvious question is: “what kind of covering are we talking about here?”  Are we talking about the “covering” of log hair or the “covering” of male authority?

The obvious answer is both.

“Covering” is used in both senses here because – as we’ve already seen – the Greek words for “covering” can mean any kind of covering (except in verse 15).  Paul uses them interchangeably throughout the passage because the one (long hair) symbolizes the other (male authority).

Now, verse 13 is a rhetorical question. 

Paul isn’t expecting an answer because the answer is supposed to be obvious. (Rather like asking “is water wet?”Phrased as a statement, Paul says: “it’s not proper for an uncovered woman to pray to God.”

No joke.

God is serious about women being under male authority.  (Her husband if married, father if never-married.)  According to God – who inspired Paul when He wrote this passage – it’s not even proper for a women to pray unless her head is “covered”, ostensibly by both male authority and long hair.

We’ll get a better understanding of how important this is to God in a bit.

(And again, I’m sure God would understand if there were some good medical reason for a woman to temporarily have short/shaved hair.)

 

1 Corinthians 11:8 & 12 – the “interdependence” verses

Again, we’ll look at these as a chiasmic pair.

1 Corinthians 11:8 & 12 (BOS Bible)

8. For man didn’t come from woman, but woman from man.

12. For just as the woman came out of the man, so also the man is born through the woman; But everything comes from God.

 

Notice the parallels here. The first half alludes to the fact that the original man (Adam) didn’t come from woman.  The second half completes the thought by reminding man that he is born through woman.  While there is authority between the genders, there’s also interdependence  just like in the Trinity.  To miss this, is to miss (part of) the glory of being a woman.

Don’t miss this.

Women bring glory to God by being under the authority of man the same way that Christ is under the authority of God.

That is a vital role God gave to women.

Don’t miss that.

Women are supposed to copy Christ’s submission to the Father, and thus bring God glory by this imitation.  But even as Christ submits to the Father in the Trinity, there is also interdependence and unity in the Trinity.  Likewise, even though man has authority over woman, he is also dependent on woman because he is born through a woman.

And of course, Paul makes it clear that while man and woman are interdependent, God isn’t dependent on either of them, but instead is the source of everything.

 

1 Corinthians 11:9 & 11 – the “why” verses

These two verses – especially verse 9 – provide the “why”; the reason for the crescendo and apex of the chiasm in verse 10.

1 Corinthians 11:9 & 11 (BOS Bible)

9. For also, man wasn’t created for woman, but woman for man.

11. Yet in the Lord, neither is woman separate from man, nor man separate from woman.

 

This is a good example of a contrasting chiasm.  Verse 9 says that woman was created for man, but then verse 11 tells men not to “get too big for their britches” because they aren’t separate from woman.  In effect saying, “Yes she was created for you, but you also need her.

We just looked at this in the previous chiasmic pair.

Verse 9 perfectly sets up verse 10 – the focus point of the whole passage – by providing a reason why.  Verse 11 switches tracks slightly after the apex.

Now, let’s look at that apex.

 

1 Corinthians 11:10 – the Apex, Crescendo, and focal point of the whole passage

Remember, the most important part of a chiasm is always the center.

As the center of the chiasm, this is Paul’s main point.  It’s what the passage builds up to and the most important point in the whole passage.  Again, that’s because it’s the center of the chiasm.  I’ve included verse 9 too so we can see the “why” next to the instruction.

Let’s look.

1 Corinthians 10 (BOS Bible)

9. For also, man wasn’t created for woman, but woman for man.

10. Because of this, the woman is morally obligated to have authority on her head, because of the angels

11. Yet in the Lord, neither is woman separate from man, nor man separate from woman.

 

Paul makes it 100% clear why women are “morally obligated” to have male authority over them: because woman was created for man.  Lest anyone forget the story, let’s look at it.

Genesis 2:18-22 (NASB)

18. Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

19. Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

20. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him

21. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.

22. The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

 

God created woman to help man, and ensure he wasn’t alone.

Therefore: “because of this, the woman is morally obligated to have authority on her head“.  That’s what Paul says.  This is the whole point and purpose of the passage.  As the apex of the chiasm, it’s the part that’s supposed to stay with you.  It’s arguably the whole reason Paul wrote the verses around it.

That’s how a chiasm works.

 

But what about the angels?

Many people are immediately confused by the phrase “because of the angels” at the end of verse 10.   I’ll copy/paste the BOS Bible footnote on it.

“because of the angels” These three Greek words (διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους) are among the most confusing, and therefore most commented on in the whole Bible.  The most common interpretations are: (1.) The early church believed that angels were present during their gatherings.  Thus this could be either an example for them showing the women were under authority, or because it was fitting because of the angelic presence. (2.)  Paul is using an analogy/example as a warning, and the angels referred to here are the fallen angels before they fell.  They fell because they rebelled by refusing to observe their place in God’s created order. (Jude 1:6)  This theory says Paul is saying women must observe their place in God’s order (under male authority) or else they are rebelling like the angels did. (3.)  This theory says “διὰ ” (dia, here translated “because of”) should be translated “through” which is another one of its primary meanings.  The idea is the authority is conveyed or applied through the angels somehow.  (4.)  This refers to head coverings, and that women should have their heads covered like the angels covered their faces in Isaiah 6:2.

(Emphasis added.)

 

Contextually speaking, explanation #2 makes the most sense.  I’m not saying that’s what it means “absolutely for certain”, but it makes the most sense in the context and fits with Paul’s point.  As we’ve already seen, wives being in authority over husbands brings dishonor/shame to God.

Further, intentionally not obeying a legitimate authority is rebellion, by definition.   God isn’t fond of rebellion.

1 Samuel 15:23 (NASB, this is Samuel rebuking King Saul)

For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”

 

This is what God thinks of divination/sorcery.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NASB)

10. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer,

11. or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.

12. For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 

 

And idolaters are in the same category as divination/sorcery.

Revelation 21:8 (NASB)

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

 

Rebellion is a serious sin.

Very serious.

 

1 Corinthians 11:16 – universal application

Just as the first part of the chiasm opens with some sweeping universal statements, the conclusion does too.

1 Corinthians 11:16 (BOS Bible)

But if anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no other custom; nor do the churches of God.

 

While the opening focused on them (the Corinthians) following the customs handed down.  The closing focuses on all believers following this custom.  While the opening showed the universality of God’s created order, the closing says none-too-subtly that only the churches who follow this custom are churches of God.

Emphasis on “of God”.

There’s a not-so-subtle point there that if you don’t have this custom (women being under male authority which is symbolized by having long hair, as the apex of the chiasm dictates) then it’s not a church of God.

Lest you think I’m making that up, let’s look at a parallel passage.

 

Church discipline for lack of submission? (Rebellion)

Just a few chapters later, Paul touches this topic (authority and submission between the sexes) again.

1 Corinthians 14:36- (BOS Bible)

34. The women must be silent in the church assemblies.  For it’s not allowed for them to speak, but they must submit themselves, just as the law also says.

35. But if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it’s shameful for a woman to speak in the church assembly.

36. Or did the word of God come from you?  Or did it only come to you?

37. If someone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, he must recognize that the things I write to you are the Lord’s command.

38. But if someone won’t know this, don’t know him.

 

Paul says that “But if someone won’t know this, don’t know him“.  The footnote on “don’t know him” in verse 38 is particularly illuminating…

The Greek word “ἀγνοέω” (agnoeó) is used twice in this verse; once in the indicative (factual declaration = “won’t know”) and once in the imperative (command = “don’t know him”).  It literally means to “not know” or to “be ignorant” and can refer to willful ignorance.  In this latter sense it carries the connotation of sinning.  In this view, the command to not know the man is likely pointing to church discipline because of his “willful ignorance”.

 

Again, “we have no other custom; nor do the churches of God“.  God seems very serious about this.  Again, a likely reason He is so serious about this is that marriage is the picture between Christ and the church.  If you change the authority dynamic, you change the picture and effectively destroy it, thus bringing dishonor/shame to God by violating His created order.

It’s also possible that God is so serious because of the consequences. If you want to know more about those consequences, I suggest you check out the article series on marriage right here on Berean Patriot.  The first article is entitled: How Getting Marriage ‘Wrong’ Destroyed Every Great Civilization in World History (and that title is underselling it slightly).

 

Conclusion

Quick recap.

1 Corinthians 11 has a chiastic structure, with verse 10 being the apex of the chiasm, and thus the central focus of the passage.  The Greek word “κατὰ” (kata) in verse 4 could refer to a “head covering”.  But given the chiastic structure and its mirror in verse 14, it more likely refers to long hair.  The word translated “covering” in verse 15 specifically refers to a cloth covering, and the Greek word in preceding it means “instead of”, not “for”.  So women have long hair “instead of a cloth covering”

Nearby to Corinth on the Isle of Lesbos were women who refused all male authority, and symbolized this by cutting of their hair or shaving their heads.  Once you eliminate the few words in verse 10 which translators added for ‘clarity’, the support for this passage being about a hat/veil/cloth “head covering” completely disappears.

Verse 15 makes this abundantly clear.

So no, Paul doesn’t say women need to wear a hat/veil/”head covering”. (Unless her father or husband says she must.)

Paul is drawing an analogy about “long hair = under male authority” because the “covering” of hair is symbolic of the “covering” of male authority. 

With a proper understanding, this passage says that:

  1. Women have are “morally obligated” to be under male authority because women were created for men. They’re also required to symbolize this by having long hair.
  2. Conversely, men are “morally obligated” to not “cover their head”, either symbolically by having long hair or in reality by being under authority the way a woman is supposed to be.

Part of the reason for this is that marriage is a picture of Christ and His church.  The church should submit to God in everything.  Likewise, wives should submit to their husbands in everything (as Ephesians 5 says).  Men imitate God and thus bring glory to Him by being in authority over their wife as Christ is in authority over the church.  Likewise, wives bring glory to God by submitting to their husbands the same way the church submits to Christ.

Yes it’s counter-cultural, but it’s also Biblical.

The Bible is so serious about this that it commands church discipline be practiced against those who “won’t know” this.  It also says that it’s not proper for an “uncovered” woman to pray to God.  Taking the broadest possible sense of the word “pray”, God says it’s not proper for a woman to even speak to Him without being “covered”.  (Because then she’s in rebellion.)

I realize this isn’t a popular idea.

I realize many people will hate it, but don’t hate the messenger.  I didn’t write 1 Corinthians, God did through Paul.  If you have a problem with its content, I suggest you take it up with the Almighty God and Creator of Heaven and Earth Himself…

But remember, He’s God and you’re not.

If you still think men having authority over women in marriage is a bad idea, then I would suggest you read my article series on marriage.  The first article is entitled: How Getting Marriage ‘Wrong’ Destroyed Every Great Civilization in World History.

Yes, it’s that serious.

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