1 Corinthians 11: 5 - 16 – “Authority On Her Head”

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 24 May 2009


1. Keep being imitators of me just as I also am of Christ.

2. Now, I’m praising y’all because you have remembered all my traditions,
and just as I delivered to you, you are keeping them.

3. Yet I want y’all to know that Christ is the head of every man,
and the man is head of woman,
and God is the head of Christ.

4. Every man praying or prophesying while having [something] down on his head is dishonoring his head.

5. And every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled is dishonoring her head,

            for she is one and the same with the woman who has been shaved.

            6. For if a woman is not veiling herself, she should also try shearing herself,

                        but if/since it is dishonorable to a woman to shear herself or to be shaved, she must veil herself.

            7. For a man is not obligated to cover his head, existing as the image and glory of God,

                        but the woman is the glory of man.

            8. For it’s not man out of woman, but rather woman out of man!

            9. and also, man was not created on account of the woman, but rather woman on account of the man.

10. On account of this, the woman is obligated to have authority upon her head, on account of the angels.

11. However, woman is not independent from man, nor is man independent from woman in the Lord.

            12. For just as the woman is out of the man, so also the man comes through the woman,

                        yet all things come out from God.

13. Make a judgment among yourselves for yourselves:
Is it appropriate for an unveiled woman to be praying to God?

            14. Doesn’t nature herself teach y’all that there is dishonor for a man if he has long hair,

                        15. but if a woman has long hair, there is glory for her
                        because the long hair has been given behind a shawl?

16. Now if someone intends to be a lover of competition,
we ourselves do not have such a habit, and neither do the churches of God.


The cover story of the Spring 2009 issue of MS. Magazine opens, “Women's studies, as a distinct entity within U.S. higher education, made its debut in 1970 with the establishment of the first program at San Diego State University. Forty years later, there are more than 900 programs in the U.S., boasting well over 10,000 courses and an enrollment larger than that of any other interdisciplinary field.” (http://www.msmagazine.com/womensstudies/FourtyYears.asp) Yes, Kansas State has a women’s studies degree. A student in one of the  K-State Women’s Studies courses this Spring wrote of the class: “…Currently, we're discussing the different theories of environmentalism, including Ecofeminism, Deep Ecology, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice... Ecofeminism Relates and connects nature and women together through social and physical links and by male-dominated oppression… I agree with Ecofeminism in that much of our negative human actions are due to the patriachal oppression… Learning about these theories in class has exponentially increased my desire to perform activism and actually put these concepts into practice…” (http://womst480.blogspot.com/2009/05/getting-in-tune_06.html)


Is male domination of women really what’s wrong with the world? Do all school subjects really need to be re-interpreted in light of the independence of women? And for goodness sakes, why should women style their hair and dress differently from men? That’s what this next passage of scripture is about!

A)    In the last sermon, I tried not to get into the subject of headcoverings but instead to draw out Biblical principles regarding traditions, showing that some traditions are foolish  and destructive, but other traditions that come on good authority in conformance with God’s word and which contribute to order can be very good things. The important thing is not the outward practice of the tradition but rather your relationship with God and your understanding of the principles of His word.

B)    This week, I want to get into the verses that deal with the tradition of the headcoverings.

C)    Let me first review some points from last week:

1.      I believe that in 11:2 Paul is com­mending the Corinthian church for carrying on the traditions he instituted among them regarding Clothing and Communion, although there were shortcomings that needed to be addressed on both issues.

2.      The shortcoming regarding Clothing was that they were apparently practicing a tradition of headcovering without understanding the meaning behind it, so Paul writes that he wants them to “know/understand” why.

3.      The basic reason why, Paul says in v. 3 is the order that God created: God-Christ-Man-Woman, in that order. God instituted this system of hierarchy for a good purpose, to foster unity and order in the church.

4.      Covering or uncovering the literal head was a tradition designed to honor figurative heads – husband/father or Jesus Christ.

5.      Anyone who bases their interpretation and application of this passage upon what some commentator has to say about the meanings of cultural traditions in ancient Corinth is on a shaky foundation, because this information is from a fallable source outside the Bible and it’s easy to find another scholar who contradicts your favorite commentator. All we can say for sure is that scripture says:

(a)    “Every” man in Paul’s audience who was “praying or prophecying with something down on his head” was “dishonoring their head” (and I think Christ Jesus is “head” referred to here),

(b)   and “Every” woman in Paul’s audience who was “praying or prophesying unveiled” was “dishonoring their head” (and I think their husband or father is the “head” referred to here).

6.      Last week, I said that in accepting this doctrine, we must reject two extremes:

(a)    Egalitarianism which says that woman is free from man’s authority, and

(b)   Male chauvinism that says men are better than women somehow.

Verses 6-12 refute both of these extremes of autonomous feminism and male chauvinism:

II – Five Reasons why women should have authority on their heads (contra feminism) vs.6-10

A)    If you have any standard translation except for the NIV, you’ll see that the word “For” is the first word in verses 6, 7, and 8, and in the NASB, v. 9 also starts with the word “For.” These four “for’s” parallel the Greek word for “for” in verses 6,7,8,&9, and I believe they form the first four reasons Paul gives for why women should not pray or prophecy unveiled.

B)    First: It is as embarrassing as a bald head (vs. 5-6)

1.      Paul equates the status of a woman who prays or prophecies unveiled with the status of a woman who had been shaved (v.5)

2.      What is the status of a person who had been shaved bald in the Bible?

(a)    In the Bible, shaving had to do with putting away part of your life; it was an outward indication of an inward sense of loss.

(b)   In Leviticus 13 and 14, a leper who was wanting to leave behind his leprosy would shave his whole body.

(c)    In Num. 6, a Nazarite who had let his hair grow long would shave to end his time of dedication to God, offering the hair to God as a symbol of offering those years of his life to God and starting anew as a non-Nazarite.

(d)   A foreign virgin who was to marry an Israelite man was to be shaved to mourn for the loss of her former life and start a new life as an Israelite.

(e)    In 2 Sam 10 (cf. 1 Chron. 19), enemies humiliated David’s soldiers by shaving half their beards off.

(f)    In the prophets, shaving is directly associated with mourning for the dead (Jer. 16:6) and mourning over losses suffered when God punished you (Jer. 48:37; Isa 7:20, Micah 1:16). In Jeremiah 41, after the Chaldean army had conquered Jerusalem, 80 Jewish men shaved their heads to mourn the fact that their homeland had been destroyed.

(g)   In the Law of Moses (Lev. 21) and in Ezekiel’s (44:20) prophecy concerning the reconstruction after the exile, priests were given specific instructions about how they could wear their hair. They were not allowed to let it grow long, and they weren’t allowed to shave their hair either; they were to keep their hair nicely trimmed. Why? Because shaving meant grieving over the consequences of God’s punishment for sin – sickness, war, slavery, and death! Such was not to be in view in God’s temple, because God’s temple was intended to reflect heaven. (Heb. 9:23)

3.      The wording is odd here, but it appears to me that Paul is saying, “if it doesn’t bother you women to pray or prophecy unveiled, consider how you would feel if you were to go all the way and shave your head bald. If that would be embarrassing to you, then take that feeling of embarrassment and apply it to praying and prophecying unveiled, and your feelings about this will then become properly aligned and you will veil yourself for the right reason, because it would be shameful/disgraceful/embarrassing not to.

4.      Ahh, but what if you would not feel embarrassed to give yourself a buzzcut like a sheared sheep or shave your head bald, what then? Does that mean I don’t have to wear a veil while praying or prophecying if I don’t feel like it?

(a)    First off, in Greek, a writer can indicate what he thinks the answer to a question is in a conditional clause. In this case Paul used what is called a 1st class conditional syntactical structure, (ei plus a verb in the indicative mood) indicating that Paul considered it to be true that it would be shameful for a woman to give herself a buzzcut or shave her head.

(b)   Secondly, there is no conditional clause in v. 7 where it says a man ought not to cover his head. It would be inconsistent for Paul to make the practice obligatory for men but optional for women (only if it’s embarrassing to them). I think God is seeking to help women by involving their feelings on the issue, while helping men by appealing to their sense of authority.

(c)    Finally, we could take this out of the theoretical zone and ask you, How would you feel if I were to whip out a razor and offer for any of the ladies to come forward and get a free buzzcut? Would you come?

·         Summary: So Paul’s first reason is that not covering your head is as embarrassing as having a bald head. The second is:

C)    Second Reason: Woman is the glory of man (v.7)

1.      v.7 begins by saying that man “is the image and glory of God.” That’s what the Bible says:

(a)    Gen 1:27 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

(b)   Gen 5:1 “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (cf. Gen 9:6 and James 3:9).

2.      The tradition of men uncovering their head as a sign of respect still survives to this day in our country. When we pray to God, we men take off our hats. Some men tip their hats to greet a lady, or in England, men take off their hat before the king (Ever read the Dr. Seuss book about Bartholemew Cubbins who kept trying to take his hats off in the presence of the king?)

3.      “but woman is the glory of man”

(a)    Women are different from men.

(b)   Does not mean woman is not created in the image of God? No, the image of God includes both man and woman.

(c)    Prov. 12:4 – a woman is a crown to her husband  (“my better half”)

(d)   Men generally find women’s bodies to be glorious. Woman was the crown of God’s creation after God had “practiced” on man. And because of that, men generally find women’s bodies rather distracting to their attention. In worship, it would be better for women to dress in such a way as to help everyone in the room focus on the glory of God rather than dressing in such a way as to draw the attention of everyone in the room to look at you.

·         Paul’s second reason that males should not while women should cover their head while praying or prophecying is for the sake of modesty and not drawing men’s attention to their own glory.

D)    Third Reason: Derivative nature of the first woman – from man’s side (v.8)

1.      Paul appeals to the creation of man and woman here in v.8 “It wasn’t man out of woman, but rather woman out of man.”

2.      The first woman, Eve, was made out of a rib that God had pulled from Adam’s ribcage.
(Gen 2) Adam said, “This is bone of my bone.”

3.      Woman is derivatively from man, and thus there is an order to creation which must be preserved in our customs.

E)    Fourth: Teleological distinction: Woman as helper for man (v.9)

1.      Mary Pride points out in her book The Way Home that “Wifeliness… has two components: long-term commitment and daily self-sacrifice. But “me” marriage reflects the feminist value of self-fulfillment… John and Letha Scanzoni, two [self-proclaimed] ‘biblical feminists,’ present this model in their sociology text, Men, Women, and Change. Here is how it works: ‘In an equal-partner marriage, both spouses are equally committed to their respective careers, and each one’s occupation is considered as important at that of the other… egalitarian sex-role norms prescribe that a woman should have autonomy and should find her fulfillment in her own achievement endeavours rather than through second-hand enjoyment of her husband’s success. Under these egalitarian sex-role norms, a woman should be free to pursue her own interests without subordination to those of her husband and children.’”

2.      In Genesis 2, God said “I will make a helper corresponding to the man [Adam].”

3.      The first woman, therefore was not created for her own self-fulfillment. She was made to be a helper for her husband.

4.      Wives and daughters, are you organizing your life as a helper to your husbands or father?
Or are you organizing your life around manipulating him to do what you want?
You were created to help him fulfill his God-given vision in life, not him for your purposes.

F)     Fifth reason: “because of the angels” (v.6)

1.      Angels are able to see what we are doing:

(a)    4:9b “we [apostles] have been made a spectacle unto the world, both to angels and men.”

(b)   1 Tim. 5:21 “I charge you in the sight of God, and Christ Jesus, and the elect angels, that you observe these things...”

(c)    1 Pet. 1:12 “It was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they [the prophets of old] minister these things, which now have been announced unto you through them that preached the gospel unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angel desire to look into.”

(d)   Eph 3:10 “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places” (See also Heb 12:22; Psalm 138:1 and Eccl 5:6)

2.      Some of those angels have rebelled against the authority of God. So when a woman submits to the authority of her husband (or a daughter to the authority of her father), it makes a statement to the angels, encouraging the righteous angels in their submission to God and condemning the unclean spirits for their own rebellion to God’s authority.

3.      Women, what does your life tell the angels?

4.      Interesting that none of the five reasons appeal to the local culture: most appeal to creation thousands of years before them (before even the fall of mankind into sin), and this 5th point appeals beyond the world of men to the world of angels; it’s not an order imposed by and for men.

III – Three reasons against male chauvinism (vs. 11-12)

A)    Nicholas Chauvin was a French soldier who remained loyal to Napoleon despite being wounded on 17 occasions. Post-revolutionary Frenchmen considered this kind of loyalty to be fanatical and turned his name into an epithet for anyone who was unreasonable in his devotion to a cause. Somehow along the line chauvinism also got applied to men who thought male-ness was better than female-ness. Lest the Corinthians or anyone else follow the information from verses 6-10 to an extreme and conclude that women were somehow intrinsically bad or inferior, Paul gives three plugs for women here in verses 11-12.

B)    First: The sexes are not independent (v.11)

1.      This means that homosexual unions of two men or two women trying to live independently of the other gender are violating God’s design. They still haven’t figured out a way to have children without a member of the opposite sex, although they’re trying hard to do it with their own bone marrow and such.

2.      God said in Genesis 2 that it was “not good for the man [Adam] to be alone,” so God created the woman Eve, and it was God’s intention for men and women to stick together and not live independently of each other.

3.      Women should not be despised; they should be welcomed into our lives, men, and treated as a precious gift from God.

4.      Men, do the comments you make about your wife and daughters indicate that you value them?

C)    Second: Every man is indebted to his mother (v.12)

1.      Sure, the first woman came from the first man’s rib, but don’t make too much of that, men, because every man after Adam came “through” (Greek=dia) a woman (the NIV & ESV “born” is added interpretively).

2.      That’s hard work carrying a baby, giving birth, and nurturing a little one. We’re all indebted to women, and nobody should take their crucial role for granted.

D)    Third: Man did not earn the place of headship; God ordained it (end of v.12)

1.      “all things come out of God” - God created everything

2.      God gave man his place of leadership. Therefore man has no right to put on airs of superiority; we men only have a duty to fulfill the purpose of the God who made us and commissioned us to do His will.

SUMMARY: So in affirming the headship of husbands, we are not going to the opposite extreme of denigrating women as long as we are recognizing that “all things are from God” and we are walking “in the Lord.”

IV – Four Considerations as you form your own judgment

A)    What does “Cover” mean? Word study on katakaluptw:

1.      This word appears in v. 5 “every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered” v.6a “if a woman is not covering herself” and 6b “let her be covered

2.      Is found nowhere else in N.T. but is in the Greek O.T., generally meaning to hide identity.

(a)    Gen. 38:15 - When Tamar covered her face, Judah assumed she was a prostitute.
(This contradicts some commentators’ claims that being uncovered meant you were a prostitute, although this was a different time and place.)

(b)   Katakaluptw is also used in 2 Chron 18:28 to speak of  king who disguised himself.

(c)    The ark of the covenant was “covered” in Ex. 26:34 and Num 4:5 with a “veil.”

(d)   The fat that “covers” the inner parts of an animal was removed and offered to God as  a burnt offering (Ex. 29:22, Lev 3, 4:8, 7:3; 9:19).

(e)    The leper was to keep his head “un-covered,” perhaps so he couldn’t hide the fact that he was sick and infect others? (Lev. 13:45)

(f)    When Balack complained to Balaam about all the Israelites camping nearby, he said that they “covered” the face of the earth (Num 22:5, cf. Ezek. 38:9).

(g)   Then there’s the seraphim in Isa 6:2 who “covered” their faces and feet with their wings before God’s presence.

(h)   There are other uses, such as being “covered” with disgrace in Jer 51:51 when the Chaldeans conquered Jerusalem, being “covered” with dust from invader’s horses (Ezek 26:10), and God “covering” the heavens with a veil so that the light of the sun and moon would be hidden (32:7).

(i)     The phrase containing katakaluptw most commonly used in the O.T. is the simile “as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9, Jer 46:8, Jer 51:42; Hab. 2:14, Ezek. 26:19).

(j)     In every case, the covering was not partial but complete.

B)    Hair

1.      In v. 14-15, there is an interesting argument from nature, which goes like this:

(a)    Nature teaches us that long hair is dishonorable for a man, but glorious for a woman
(the rhetorical form of the question expects a positive answer – ATR)

(b)   Hair is a kind of covering.

(c)    Therefore nature itself teaches us of the need for a woman to cover her head while praying.

2.      We can all think of exceptions, of course, of men who are proud of their long hair and of women who aren’t ashamed of their short hair. However, the natural principle Paul states is true for the MOST part.

(a)    For instance, how many presidents of the United States had long hair?

(b)   On the other hand: How many advertisements made to sell things to men (not to women, but to men) have women with short hair in them? As a general rule, very few. Advertisers know that they will sell more product using female models with long hair.

(c)    In fact, we noticed that even on magazine covers at one store last week, the number of women with long hair was at about 80%, which seems to me much higher than the hair styles of the general population of women in the U.S.

(d)   How often do men (again, not women, but men) encourage women to wear their hair shorter? We noticed when my daughters got their hair cut short last month, no guys complimented them on their haircuts, although most of the women told them they looked cute.

3.      The principle is that there are natural tendencies already towards the covering of the woman’s head. However, this does not mean that no other covering is needed:

(a)    In v. 15, it says that hair is given to her for a covering, not the covering.

(b)   To say that since hair is a covering for the head, therefore no other covering is called for would be like saying that once you have pubic hair, you don’t need to wear clothes.

(c)    The word “covering” in v.15 is a different word from the word for covering used in verses 5-6. The word here in v.15 is “peribolaiou” meaning “of a wrap/mantle/shawl.”

(d)   The word translated “for” (or in the NIV “as”) in the phrase “for a covering/as a covering” is not the standard Greek word for “for” or “as.” It is the word “anti,” such as we use in the words “ante-chamber” (a room behind another room) “ante-deluvian” (before the flood) “ante-meridian” (before midday, or a.m.) and  “ante-cedent” (that which comes before). This verse could just as accurately be translated, “the long hair has been given behind a shawl.”

(e)    Whether this verse is speaking literally of hair sitting behind a shawl or figuratively of hair answering to the concept of a covering, consider this: If a covering of the head answers to long hair or is arranged such that long hair is behind it, would not this shawl need to cover the area of the head around which long hair would naturally lie? (Tertullian)

C)    What does history tell us? Veiling has been a norm among women of God during all times.

1.      Genesis 24 tells us that Rebecca veiled her face when she encountered Isaac for the first time.

2.      During the time of Moses, if a woman was tried in the temple before God, the priest was instructed to remove her veil. So it would be safe to assume that women back then in the Old Testament church wore a covering over their head. (Numbers 5:18)

3.      In the Song of Solomon, which would be the 900’s B.C., the woman wore a veil to go out of her house (5:7), and two hundred years later in Isaiah (3:17), he also describes veils that the women were accustomed to wearing.

4.      Ancient art and writings from the first century onward show the veiling of Christian women to be a norm: You see it in the catacomb art in Rome dating back to 100 AD, in the writings of church fathers like Clement of Alexandria in the second century, Tertullian from the third century, Chrysostom, a Greek-speaking pastor in Turkey in the fourth century, Jerome and Augustine in the 5th century, who claimed that not only did the Corinthian church apply this passage by veiling the women, but that the practice was also common throughout Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Africa.

5.      It was common for women to cover their heads in the middle ages, and it was also common in the reformed cities of Europe in the 17 and 18th centuries. John Calvin heartily fought against giving ground in this area, arguing in one of his sermons, “If women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibition as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more…” (Quoted from Beth Skolnitzsky, Men, Women, and Order in the Church)

6.      The wearing of veils was common in America in its early years. Hats replaced shawls in the late 1800’s, and in the mid 1900’s women forgot why they were wearing hats in the first place and quit wearing them altogether. Here in our own country, then, is an illustration of the very issue that Paul is addressing: A meaningful tradition that is in danger of being abandoned because there is no understanding of the reasoning behind it.

D)    What if I disagree? Contentiousness

1.      This section of scripture closes out with another curious statement. “If someone  intends to be contentious, we ourselves do not have such a custom, neither do the churches of God.”

2.      What custom do Paul and the apostles and the other churches not have?

(a)    Several other commentators I read stated that the practice Paul and the churches don’t have is the habit of a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered. (Vincent, JFB, Shank, Morris) This would make sense and would refer to a clear phrase three verses before. To remove the intervening text, the sense is, “Judge for yourselves, is it proper for a woman to pray unveiled? We don’t do it, and the churches of God don’t either. So follow my example as I follow Christ.”

(b)   However, I think that the habit that Paul and the churches don’t have is the habit of being contentious or loving strife. I have Chrysostom and Calvin on my side in this, as well as pastor Ratliffe from the E. Free church!

3.      Traditions, including habits of dress can become very hot matters of debate. Christians are all over the map when it comes to interpreting and applying this passage of scripture in particular. We must be careful not to allow the practice of any tradition, as meaningful as it may be, to erupt into a competition between different groups in the church.

(a)    I’m not going to bring my razor and try to shave every woman that doesn’t wear a hat next week.

(b)   I don’t expect you to get offended at my position and quit coming to church.

(c)    We can debate about it in appropriate ways, but when the rubber meets the road, we need to love each other and not fight.

(d)   This may be the last I bring up the subject of headcoverings. The decision of how to respond to what I’ve presented is now up to you. But I tell you what, I will counsel you women in your marriages to be submissive to your husband, and I will counsel you husbands to lead out in your homes. You can count on hearing that again because that is the heart of the matter.



Extra Quote

Tertullian On the Veiling of Virgins. Although I question the wisdom of some of his arguments, I agree with his thesis. Listen to his appeal written in 204 A.D.: “If modesty, if bashfulness, if contempt of glory, and if anxiousness to please God alone are good things, let women who are ‘scandalized’ by such good learn to acknowledge their own evil… The very concupiscence of non-concealment is not modest: it experiences somewhat which is no mark of a virgin, the study of pleasing… men. Let her strive as much as you please with an honest mind; she must necessarily be imperiled by the public exhibition of herself while she is penetrated by the gaze of untrustworthy and multitudinous eyes… thus the sense of shame wears away… Pure virginity fears nothing more than itself… It betakes itself for refuge to the veil of the head as to a helmet, as to a shield, to protect its glory against the blows of temptations, against the dam of scandals, against suspicions and whispers and emulation; against envy also…. I pray you, be you mother, sister, or virgin daughter…veil your head… for your sons sakes…. for your bretheren’s sakes… for your fathers’ sakes. All ages are imperiled in your person. Put on the panoply of modesty; surround yourself with the stockade of bashfulness; rear a rampart for your sex...”