The Head Covering
by Mitch Cervinka

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 says that a woman should keep her head covered, and that a man should not cover his head. What kind of covering is this talking about?  When was the woman to keep her head covered?  How does this command apply to Christian women today?

The Veil.

The Corinthian saints to whom Paul wrote had no doubt as to his meaning. In the Bible lands of that time, it was the custom for every woman to cover her head with a veil when she went out into public. This was the custom, not merely of Christians and Jews, but of all reputable women of that time. This practice has been preserved to our present day by the Muslims, but it dates far back into Old Testament times…

Genesis 24:64-65 - 64Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from the camel. 65She said to the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" And the servant said, "He is my master." Then she took her veil and covered herself.
When in public, a woman would use her veil to keep her hair concealed at all times. It often covered much of her forehead and neck as well. The veil typically had additional loose material which she would use at times to draw across her face, leaving only her eyes exposed. The veil thus served as an instrument of modesty and privacy for her.

While a man might also occasionally wear a veil (e.g. Exodus 34:33-35; 2 Corinthians 3:13), the veil was distinctive of women, in that they were rarely if ever seen in public unveiled. In the privacy of her own home, in the company of family members, household servants and close friends, a woman would typically remove her veil. But, like Rebekah in the passage above, when a stranger appeared, she would quickly replace her veil.

It was considered immodest, if not indecent, for a woman to appear in public unveiled. Prostitutes sometimes unveiled themselves publicly to entice men, but respectable women kept themselves veiled.

The word "Cover".

The Greek words used in 1 Corinthians 11:3-7 make it clear that the veil is what is intended…

1 Corinthians 11:3-7 - 3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered–it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
The Greek verb translated "cover" is katakalupto. The three occurrences of this word in the New Testament are in this passage (twice in verse 6 and once in verse 7).  The word for "uncovered" is virtually the same word only prefixed with a-, negating its meaning: akatakaluptos. This word occurs only twice in the New Testament, both times in this chapter (verses 5 and 13).
1 Corinthians 11:13 - 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon, page 412, defines katakalupto:
"active and passive of a young woman … covered or veiled to the forehead."
The word katakalupto comes from the root kalupto. Kalupto occurs 8 times in the New Testament:
Matthew 8:24 the ship was covered with the waves;
Matthew 10:26 there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed
Luke 8:16 No man, when he has lighted a lamp, covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed; but sets it on a lampstand
Luke 23:30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.
2 Corinthians 4:3 But if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are lost:
James 5:20 and shall hide a multitude of sins
1 Peter 4:8 for charity shall cover a multitude of sins.

In all these passages, it is evident that kalupto has the meaning to conceal, hide or engulf. Can it be said that a hat or scarf conceals the head, or hides the head?

According to Dana and Mantey (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 107), the prefix kata- modifies the root in the following way…

In composition: down. Rom. 1:18,  την αληθιαν ... κατεχοντων,  holding down (hindering) the truth.
At times it is emphatic; as Mt. 3:12,  το δε αχυρον κατακαυσει,  and he will burn completely the chaff.
Hence, adding the prefix kata- to the root kalupto results in one of the two meanings:
    1. To cover down, (or to conceal down).
    2. To cover completely, or to conceal completely.
Either way, the word is more descriptive of a veil, which drops down and conceals the head, than of a hat which leaves much of the head exposed.

The word katakalupto occurs also in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from the 3rd or 2nd century B.C.). It occurs, for example, in Isaiah 6:2:

Isaiah 6:2 - 2Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Here, the seraphim are said to cover (i.e. to veil or conceal) their faces and their feet.

There were some in ancient times who understood the covering to be the veil, for in certain versions dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, as well as some of the fathers*, the word exousian, translated "authority" in verse 10 is either replaced or accompanied by the word kalumma, which means "veil".

1 Corinthians 11:10 -10For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.
Kalumma is the word translated "veil" in 2 Corinthians 3:12-16, which speaks of the veil which Moses put on his face, and of the metaphorical veil which is on the hearts of those who trust in the Law for righteousness.
2 Corinthians 3:12-16 - 12Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

*Irenaeus(202 A.D.), Tertullian(220 A.D.), Jerome(420 A.D.), Augustine(430 A.D.) and Origen(254 A.D.). See the footnote on 1 Corinthians 11:10 in the UBS Greek New Testament, 3rd Ed.

The Priest's Turban.

The apostle tells us not only that women were to cover their heads, but also that men were not to cover theirs, and he gives the reason for this...

1 Corinthians 11:7 - For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
This helps to clarify the meaning of the head covering when we consider the following two facts ...
  1. The Law of Moses stipulated that the priests were to wear a turban or cap while ministering to the Lord. (Exodus 29:6; Leviticus 8:9; etc.)
  2. Paul's injunction that men are not to cover their heads is based on a changeless principle that reaches back to creation—namely, that man "... is the image and glory of God ...".
This means that Paul cannot be referring simply to a hat or scarf, for, if that is what he meant, then God was commanding the priests to violate this principle by having them wear a turban.

Remember that Paul did not use the normal Greek word for "cover", but an intensified form of that word. Had he simply meant that men should not wear a hat or shawl, then the word kalupto would have sufficed. By employing the word katakalupto, he emphasizes that something more than a hat is intended. He is not referring to merely covering the top of the head, but instead refers to covering the head entirely, so as to completely conceal the hair, and possibly also the face. The priest's turban did not conceal his hair or face, so it did not violate the principle that men should worship God with their heads uncovered.

Did Naked Eve wear a Head Covering?

Verses 8-13 of 1 Corinthians 11 make it clear that Paul's teaching dates back to the very creation of man and woman...

1 Corinthians 11:8-13 - 8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.  11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
Paul argues that Eve was created from Adam, not the other way around, and that she was created to be a suitable helper for him.  Man and woman were not co-created at the same instant of time.  Instead, there is a sequence—a chronological order, as well as an order in terms of purpose and design.  Adam was created first in time and design.  Eve was created afterward to provide Adam with companionship and assistance.  This priority and sequence were imposed by God Himself.

What was true of our first parents is designed to be a continuing pattern for all of their offspring—the wife is to be a companion and helper to her husband.  That is why Paul refers back to the origin of Adam and Eve in the context of 1 Corinthians 11.

Notice that these events pre-date the Fall of Adam and Eve and God's subsequent curse upon creation.  It was not simply because Eve was deceived into sinning that she was made subject to her husband, but because she was created from him (as a rib taken from his side) and for him (to be a suitable helper, that he might not be alone).

Genesis 2:18-24 - 18Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." 19Out 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. 20The 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. 21So 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.22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23The man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." 24For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
What, then, is the apostle teaching us?  Is he saying that the wearing of a veil dates back to the original creation of Eve?  Did Eve wear a veil prior to the Fall?  The next verse in Genesis answers this question.
Genesis 2:25 - 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
When Scripture says that Adam's wife was "naked", are we to suppose that she wore a veil on her head, and that the rest of her body was exposed?  The very thought is absurd!  Surely, the sense of Genesis 2:25 is that neither Adam nor Eve wore any clothes at all prior to the Fall—not even a covering on Eve's head.

What then is Paul's point?  His point is this:  The principle of male headship dates back to creation.  Eve was created from Adam and for Adam, to be a helper to him.  Although the wearing of the veil does not trace its origin to the creation of Eve, the principle of male headship does.  That is Paul's point, and it is essential that we recognize this point in order to properly understand 1 Corinthians 11.


Long hair is said, in verses 14 and 15, to be a disgrace to a man, but glory to a woman.

1 Corinthians 11:13-16 -13Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
Verse 15 states that long hair was given to the woman as a covering. Here, the Greek word is peribolaiou, which the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich lexicon defines as…
"a covering, wrap, cloak of an article of clothing."
This difference is not apparent in the English translations, which typically use the words cover and covering to render katakalupto and peribolaiou, respectively.

The fact that the Holy Spirit chose to use a different word implies that He did not mean that the hair is the covering of verses 5-6, but only that there is a parallel principle involved. Hair covers the head, as might a cloak or wrap. The veil was similar in that it covered the head, including the hair.

The apostle is not identifying long hair as the covering under discussion.  Rather, he is reminding us that God had made a distinction between the appearance of Adam and Eve—giving Eve long hair as a covering for her head, and giving Adam shorter hair (or baldness, in his older years), so that his head was exposed.  God did this to remind us that He designed men and women to have distinct, complementary roles in the family and in worship.

Even though the veil was an ordinance of human invention, it nevertheless echoed God's design of covering the woman's head, and was a cultural symbol intended to acknowledge the difference in roles between men and women.  When a woman in Paul's day threw aside her veil, her motive was to claim equality with men.  She was not merely rejecting the cultural tradition of the veil, but also the God-ordained gender distinctions it represented.

Paul argues that, if a woman exposes her hair in order to obtain the respect and authority reserved for a man, then she ought to fully uncover her head by getting a man's haircut. In our day of "unisex haircuts", such an idea may not sound too strange.

However, in Paul's day, it would have been very shameful for a woman to have such short hair…

1 Corinthians 11:6 - 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.
The man, on the other hand, was made for the Lord, and he is to keep his head uncovered that he might reflect the glory of his Lord.

The fact that long hair is a woman's glory, and that she was made for the man, suggests that, in the New Testament culture, she was to keep her hair covered for the sake of modesty, and to reserve her loveliness for her husband. Remember that it was considered shameful for a woman to expose her hair in public, and that modest women kept their hair covered.

Thus, when verses 5 and 6 speak of a woman's head being covered, the primary thought is that her hair should be concealed from view. This is why verses 5, 6, 14 and 15 have so much to say about the hair.

When was the head to be covered?

We should also observe that it was when she was praying or prophesying that a woman was to have her head covered…

1 Corinthians 11:4-5 - 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered–it is just as though her head were shaved.
In other words, the passage is not concerned with how a woman is attired while she is seated quietly in the assembly, but only when she is actively participating in the service, either by offering prayer, or by proclaiming the Word of God.

Why only then? … Scripture makes it clear that positions of authority in the church were reserved for men only. In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul gives some of the requirements for an overseer…

1 Timothy 3:2 - 2Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,
In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul wrote that women were not allowed to exercise authority over the men, nor even to teach men…
1 Timothy 2:11-12 - 11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
This passage suggests that a woman was never permitted to pray or prophesy in the church, but 1 Corinthians 11:5 suggests that she was permitted to pray and prophesy, provided she kept her head covered.

Perhaps this exception was granted even when Paul wrote 1 Timothy 2:12. However, the language of 1 Timothy 2:12 is so strong that it seems more likely that the exception was granted only during the early years of the church, and then later, by the time Paul had written 1 Timothy, a woman was no longer permitted to address the church, even with her head covered.

In either case, there is no basis in the passage for requiring a woman to have her head covered when sitting quietly in the assembly.

Equality and Authority.

It seems that there were women at Corinth who felt that their equality in Christ with the men (Galatians 3:28) granted them the liberty to remove their veils when praying or prophesying in the church. But this violated God's appointed principles of headship and authority…

1 Corinthians 11:8-12 - 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. 11In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
The equality we have in Christ does not contradict the principles of headship and authority. Men and women have been given complementary roles, not identical roles.  One supplies what is lacking in, or denied to, the other.

This is clear from verse 12—"woman came from man", but "man is born of woman".  This teaches an interdependence between men and women, while maintaining distinct roles.  Adam was created first, and Eve was made from Adam's rib and for Adam's benefit. Yet, subsequent generations of men are born of women.  Adam retains headship as being created first, while subsequent generations of men come into being through the agency of the mothers who bore them.

The woman is to be a helper to her husband, serving a submissive role, not a role of equal leadership and authority.  The wife must therefore respect her husband by submitting to his authority in the Lord.

Ephesians 5:22 - 22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
But the man also has a responsibility to show respect to his wife, by loving her and providing for her needs.
Ephesians 5:25-30 - 25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30because we are members of His body.
Biblical equality does not mean that both parties have identical privileges and responsibilities. Rather, it means that God has provided each with a set of privileges and responsibilities that balances and complements those of the other.

This does not mean that men will always have greater gifts or talents for leadership or teaching.  That is not the point.  The distinction in roles for men and women is based upon God's original design in creation—that Adam was created first, and that Eve was created from him to be his helper and companion so that he would not be alone.

We should remember that our Lord, while on earth, had far greater talents for leadership and justice than the Jewish and Roman leaders possessed.  Yet, He did not seek to overthrow their authority, but obediently submitted to it—recognizing that God had sovereignly placed these earthly rulers in their respective positions of authority.  When a talented woman submits to God's design of male leadership, she is following the example of our Lord and displaying to all that we must respect God's design and purpose.

Regardless of their giftedness or abilities, women are forbidden to teach men or to have authority over them.  A married woman is to respect the authority God has given to her husband.  An unmarried woman is to respect her father's authority.  Women in the church are to respect the authority of male leadership in the church.

A spiritually gifted woman may use her gifts to teach children (especially her own) or younger women.  However, no woman should consider herself qualified for such a teaching role if she rejects God's design for male headship.  In her own life and practice she must model to others the principles of submission to lawful authority.

A Christian woman should never use her God-given gifts to rebel against God's pattern of male headship, but instead should endeavor to fulfill her role as a helper and companion to her husband, to encourage him and to model the church's submission to Christ.

"To Cover", or "Not to Uncover"?

1 Corinthians 11:16 assures us that Paul's teaching is to be observed by all the churches...

1 Corinthians 11:16 -16But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Does this mean that all Christian women today are to wear a veil?  After all, Paul assures us that "we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God."  Surely, therefore, it must apply to all churches in all ages.

However, the crucial question is not whether Paul's teaching is for the obedience of all the churches, but precisely what is for their obedience.

Paul was opposing the egalitarian idea that, in Christ, men and women have identical roles and authority.  It was this egalitarian (feminist) concept that induced some women to depart from societal norms by removing their veils when they stood to pray or prophesy.

The question boils down to this:  Is Paul's admonition:

  1. a positive command that all women should wear a veil (regardless of societal norms), or
  2. a negative command forbidding women from removing their veil (which, in that society, all respectable women normally wore in public),
when ministering publicly in the church?

It is my conviction that Paul had the latter in mind.  Christian women should never reject societal symbols of submission and modesty—whatever those symbols happen to be in any given culture.  In Paul's day, the removal of the veil was a symbol of rebellion.  In our day, wearing an executive pant-suit or a unisex haircut could have the same implications.

The issue is not one of legalistic do's and don'ts, but of the motive of the heart, and of the message that is sent to the church and to the culture.  Paul is teaching women to avoid anything that would make them appear to side with those who reject God's ordained gender roles for men and women.

It is this principle that is to be applied to all the churches.

A Peculiar People?

Some would argue that Christian women should keep their heads covered as a witness to the society that we are different from the society.  And it is certainly true that those who cover their heads in modern society generally do appear peculiar.  But is Paul really telling Christian women that they need to dress in a way that appears peculiar to the society?

We must remember that it was not unusual, in the culture of that day, for a woman to cover her head in public.  A Christian woman who covered her head in Corinthian society would not have appeared "peculiar" because of her head being covered.  Instead, she would have fit right in with most of the non-Christian women of the day.  To say that Paul is teaching Christian women to dress in a way that sets them apart from non-Christians is to read modern culture into the Scriptures, and to overlook the customs of that day.

Christianity is not about eating special foods or wearing special clothes.  The Lord has not given us a physical uniform to wear.  He has not called us to wear Amish attire or Salvation Army uniforms.  Such outward substitutes for spirituality call to mind the Pharisees, whose religion was merely an outward show of pious ritual.

Any hypocrite can cover her head, but true Christianity is a matter of the heart.  Humility, compassion and love for Christ cannot be imitated very long by a hypocrite.  It is the fruit of the Spirit and love for the brothers that sets the Christian apart from the world.

Galatians 5:22-23 - 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

John 13:35 - 35By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Christians are to be a "peculiar people" in terms of their character—their devoted love for one another, their deep, adoring respect for the Lord, their uncompromising testimony for Christ, and their tender humility and compassion toward all men.

A Present-Day Covering?

There are those today who advocate that a woman should have her head covered in church.  In this section, we want to examine their practice in light of scripture to demonstrate that it does not measure up.

What kind of covering is appropriate?
Those today who advocate that a woman should have her head covered typically insist that every woman wear a scarf or a little "prayer hat" sitting on top of her head for the duration of the church service. But this is wholly unscriptural!

The Biblical word katakalupto means "to cover completely" or "to conceal." A scarf or a "prayer hat" does not conceal the head! It does not even conceal the hair.  If you can still see a woman's hair when she is wearing her "covering", then she is not covered in the way Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11.

It is even possible that Paul meant for a woman's face to be covered as well. When Moses put on a veil, he used it to veil his face so that the Israelites would not be blinded by the glorious light which shone from it. When Rebekah put on her veil in Genesis 24:65, it is likely that she covered her face, for fear that Isaac might not be pleased with her appearance. It is not uncommon, in countries where veils are worn, to use the veil to cover the face as well as the hair.

Nor is it enough to use a transparent veil, such as a thin, open gauze. The Biblical veil concealed the head. If Moses had used a transparent veil, the glory radiating from his face would still have shone through brightly. If Rebekah had used a transparent veil, Isaac would still have been able to study her face. A Biblical veil must be opaque; it must conceal from view.

If the modern-day advocates of head coverings are serious about applying 1 Corinthians 11, then they must use the kind of covering that is clearly intended by the passage. It is a mere human invention to adopt a mere partial or token covering, such as a scarf, a handkerchief or a doily. Let their women be adorned as the Muslim women, or else let them admit that the covering in 1 Corinthians 11 was a cultural instrument of that time and that our Lord did not intend this custom to be imported into our present situation.

When was it to be worn?
1 Corinthians 11 is concerned only with how a woman was attired "while praying or prophesying" (1 Corinthians 11:4-5).  This gives us no license to require quiet, submissive women to be veiled.

Some will ask: "Where would a woman who wished to pray or prophesy obtain such a veil if she did not wear it into the church?"  But this question misses the point that the apostle is making.  It was understood that, in Corinthian society, a woman would normally wear a veil to church.  That was the assumed cultural backdrop on which 1 Corinthians 11 is written.  Paul is not telling the women that they must wear a veil to church—he didn't have to.  That was their usual custom in that society.

Rather, he is telling the women that they must not remove their veils when standing to pray or prophesy.  They came into the church wearing veils simply because that was normal and expected in the culture in which they lived—not because God had commanded them to do this.  They removed their veils out of improper motives—they wished to appear equal with the men who engaged in public ministry.  This was the key issue underlying all the talk regarding the covering.

The fact that women were permitted to pray or prophesy in the church does not mean that they were granted equal authority with the men who prayed and prophesied.  The Biblical roles of male headship and female submission were to be observed especially when women stood to minister publicly.  That is why it was wrong for a woman to remove her veil when standing to publicly minister in the church.  By removing her veil, she was claiming an equality and authority that were not rightly hers—she was thereby rejecting God's design for men and women.

When was it instituted?
It is admitted by all that 1 Corinthians 11 is the only passage in Scripture that commands women to wear a head covering.  Naturally, God only has to say a thing once in order for it to be true and binding.  However, this still presents a problem if we claim that 1 Corinthians 11 is a positive command for Christian women to cover their heads.

The problem is this:  Paul speaks in verse 16 as though it was already the universal practice of all the churches for women to cover their heads.  Yet, this practice is nowhere commanded in Scripture prior to 1 Corinthians 11 which, at best, only affirms a practice that was already observed by all the churches.

Why, prior to 1 Corinthians 11, would the churches have been observing a practice that was never commanded in Scripture?  Moses gave no such command in the Law.  Christ gave no such teaching during His earthly ministry.  We have already seen that it could not have been a creation ordinance, for Eve was "naked" prior to the Fall—she did not have a veil on her head.

It is always risky to base doctrine upon a single passage of Scripture, especially if the passage is subject to another interpretation.  There is nothing about the "head covering" teaching that should belong distinctively to the New Covenant believer.  The principles of male headship go all the way back to creation, but the command for women to cover their heads does not.  When, therefore, was it instituted?

This may seem like an argument from silence.  However, God's people are not obligated to observe ordinances that are not spelled out in Scripture.  The Jews in Moses' day had a detailed set of laws to guide their obedience, yet a head covering for women was not included among them.  If this was not a requirement for Jewish women under the Mosaic Law, and if there is no new principle introduced under the New Covenant to justify adding it as an ordinance to be observed, then we conclude that God never gave such a command.

To understand 1 Corinthians 11 to be a positive command for Christian women to wear a covering on their heads is thus unfounded and mistaken.

The correct understanding takes into account that the wearing of a head covering was a cultural norm of that time and place, and that it carried with it the symbolism of female submission to lawful male authority.  The correct understanding will recognize that it was the principle of male headship, not the wearing of a veil, that dates back to the creation of Eve.  The correct understanding will acknowledge that the issue at stake was the tendency of certain women to remove their veils when publicly praying or prophesying.

When all these factors are considered, we see that the fundamental issue in 1 Corinthians 11 is that women in public ministry respect male headship, and likewise respect the cultural symbols of male headship—whatever those symbols may be in their particular culture.  This is what was already acknowledged by all the churches, and this is what dated all the way back to Genesis 2, when God created Eve to be a helper to Adam.


1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is the only passage of scripture which could be understood to teach that women today should keep their heads covered. We should be wary of a doctrine which is based on only a single passage of God's Word, since the passage may be subject to another interpretation which does not support the doctrine.

We must also be on guard against imposing unscriptural obligations upon the church of God, for this causes much damage to the church of God…

  1. It violates Christian liberty.
  2. It wounds the consciences both of those who do and of those who do not follow these practices.
  3. It encourages the saints to regard those who will not comply as disobedient sinners.
  4. It causes needless divisions and strife within the Body of Christ.
In Galatians 5:1, the Holy Spirit distinctly warns us…
Galatians 5:1 - 1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.


Here are the points we have gleaned concerning the head covering...

The Identity of the Covering.
  • The "covering" was a Muslim-style veil, which covered the entire head, allowing only the face to show.
  • It is possible that the woman's face was to be covered as well.  [Moses covered his face following his encounter with God.]
  • The "covering" cannot be merely a hat, for it is not proper for a man to cover his head. [But the Jewish priests were commanded to wear a turban while ministering to the Lord.]

A Creation Ordinance.
  • The veil was not a creation ordinance.  [Naked Eve did not wear a veil in Eden.]
  • Distinctive gender roles were the creation ordinance in view. [Eve was created from Adam and for Adam.]
  • God gave women long hair to underscore this distinction for all the generations to follow.

Applied only to Women in Public Ministry.
  • Women were required to be veiled only when they stood in the assembly to offer public prayer or to prophesy.
  • The passage does not require women to be covered when sitting quietly in the assembly.
  • Scripture does not permit women to publicly teach men nor to have authority over men.

Peculiar Attire?
  • The veil was not intended to set Christian women apart from society[Women in Corinthian society commonly wore a veil.]
  • Paul was not giving women a positive command to attire themselves in a way that would appear unusual in their society.
  • Paul was giving women a negative command—telling them not to reject a common societal symbol of male headship.
  • Paul's concern was the feminist motives of those women who threw off their veils when standing to pray or prophesy.

Application Today.
  • We apply the passage correctly when women acknowledge male headship in the church and in the home.
  • We apply the passage correctly when women honor their society's cultural symbols of male headship.
  • The apostle's teaching reflected the practice of all the churches.  Feminist overtures are not to be tolerated in any true church.
This controversial passage has a clear teaching if we will but examine it carefully, compare it with other relevant Scriptures, and ask the right questions.

We do not question the sincere motives of those who require women to wear some sort of covering on their heads.  However, we must object loudly when those requirements are found to be without scriptural support, and produce the harmful fruits that always accompany legalistic teaching—inflicting unjustified guilt and causing unnecessary divisions in the Body of Christ.

Other witnesses…

John Gill, Expositor (1 Corinthians 11)…
Ver. 6. For if the woman be not covered, &c.] That is, if her head is not covered with some sort of covering, as is the custom of the place where she lives,

let her also be shorn; let her hair be cut short; let her wear it as men do theirs; and let her see how she will look, and how she will like that, and how she will be looked upon, and liked by others; everybody will laugh at her, and she will be ashamed of herself:

but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven: as it is accounted in all civilized nations: the very Heathens speak of it as a thing abominable, and of which there should not be one single dreadful example: then let her be covered; with a veil, or any sort of covering in common use.

Ver. 10. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, &c.] The generality of interpreters, by power, understand the veil, or covering on the woman's head, as a sign of the man's power over her, and her subjection to him; which Dr. Hammond endeavours to confirm, by observing that the Hebrew word , which signifies a woman's veil, or hood, comes from a root which signifies power and dominion; but in that he is mistaken, for the word is derived not from , to rule, govern, or exercise power and authority, but from , to expand, stretch out, or draw over, as a woman's veil is drawn over her head and face. The Greek word  εξουσια  more properly signifies the power she had of putting on and off her covering as she pleased, according as times, places, and persons; made it necessary:

Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)…
The woman was made subject to man, because made for his help and comfort. And she should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, which looked like a claim of being equal. She ought to have "power," that is, a veil, on her head, because of the angels.

Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953, 1972), pp. 98-99
The veil was the distinctive female wearing apparel. All females, with the exception of maidservants and women in a low condition ot life, wore a veil. They would usually never lay it aside, except when they were in the presence of servants, or on rare occasions. This custom has prevailed among the Eastern women down to the modem era. When traveling, women may throw the veil over the back part of their head, but if they see a man approaching, they place it back in its original position. Thus Rebekah, when she saw Isaac approaching her camel caravan, covered her face with her veil (Gen. 24:64, 65). When women are at home they do not speak to a guest without being veiled and in the presence of maids. They do not enter the guest's chamber, but rather, standing at the door, they make it known to the servant what is wanted (See II Kings 4: 12, 13). It is well to remember that prostitutes went unveiled. Today, as in olden times, virgins and married women may be seen wearing veils in Bible lands.19 The old customs are not being observed strictly by some Moslem women, for they are now going unveiled.

Although it was the custom for women to wear a veil entirely covering their head, when they were in public, this custom was not always strictly enforced among the Hebrew women. They were allowed more liberty than the Arab women are allowed today. The Egyptians saw Sarah's face (Gen. 12: 14). While Hannah was praying, Eli "marked her mouth" (I Sam. 1:12). When a woman kept her veil down, it was forbidden for anyone to lift it, but she was free to do so if she chose. Jesus said, "Every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery already with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). All these Scriptures indicate that women sometimes exposed their faces to view. Young girls were more apt to be veiled than married women.


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