Have you ever wondered why Evangelical Christians who believe the Bible to be inerrant and authoritative do not require women to veil themselves in the Church? Is that not the clear meaning of 1 Corinthians 11, often interpreted as referring to the veiling of woman (e.g., ESV “if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short,” 1 Cor. 11:6)? Despite this common interpretation, most Evangelicals do not demand that woman in general or even wives veil themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with this conclusion! I don’t think the passage teaches that woman should be veiled; yet I think that the argument often used to reach that conclusion is dangerous. It is usually argued that this passage does indeed refer to veiling, yet Paul’s instruction is not a mandate for all cultures; he is addressing a specific problem in a specific circumstance with a universal principle. In this article, I want to argue that this passage does not teach woman should be veiled and that this conclusion is only justified if that is the teaching of the text. That is, I first want to show why the Evangelical dismissal of Paul’s teaching here is dangerous, and then argue briefly that Paul is instructing men and women to honour God’s created gender distinctions by maintaining the relative hair length God created men and women to display.

A Translation of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

1Now I commend you because you always remember me, and you hold fast the traditions just as I handed them down to you. 3But I desire you to know that Christ is the head1 of every man; the man is the head of a woman; and God is the head of Christ. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. 5But every woman who prays or prophesies with an uncovered head dishonors her head,2 for it is one and the same as being shaved. 6For if a woman will not be covered,3 then let her be sheared. But if it is dishonorable for a woman to be sheared or shaven,4 let her be covered. 7For, on the one hand, a man ought not cover his own head,5 being the image and glory of God. But on the other, the woman is the glory of man. 8For the man is not from the woman, but the woman from the man 9and because the man was not created on account of the woman but the woman on account of the man. 10For this reason, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority upon her head6—on account of the angels.

11However, woman is not independent of man nor is man independent of woman in the Lord. 12For as the woman came from the man, in this way also the man comes through the woman. And all things come from God. 13Judge this among yourselves; is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God uncovered? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that man, on the one hand, dishonors himself if he has long hair, 15but for a woman, having long hair is her glory?7 For long hair was given to her for a covering. 16If any thinks to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

Problems with the Usual Approach

Let us begin with the problems. In a nutshell, the normal Evangelical approach to this text dismisses the command (they suppose) Paul explicitly gives by appealing to cultural background. That is, though Paul says “do not,” they say something like, “it is okay to ‘do’ because Paul is addressing a unique 1st century problem—woman rejecting the standard cultural practice of veiling.”8 Assuming their interpretation is right—that Paul wants Christian woman to be veiled in church and in worship—I see two severe problems with this reasoning.

Problem 1: Whether or not their was a phenomenon in Corinth of woman breaking social norms by unveiling themselves—and even if Corinthians Christians were getting on board with this movement—Paul never addresses this. That is, Paul never says in 1 Corinthians that he wants women to veil themselves because they are breaking social norms by failing to do so. Though it is clear that there is a problem of woman in the Corinthian church not “covering” themselves, Paul never cites pagan conventions as the problem! The only reasons Paul gives are infractions of God’s norms not society’s norms.

They are breaking the “natural” order (1 Cor. 11:14-16; cf. Rom. 1:18-27); they are offending the angels (or “messengers”) (1 Cor. 11:10); they are neglecting to uphold the God-given symbol of authority appropriately acknowledging their relationship to their “man” (possibly husband) (1 Cor. 11:10); and for these reasons are bringing dishonor on themselves (1 Cor. 11:5). If we let the text speak for itself, instead of imposing unsubstantiated historical connections,9 we should conclude that woman are to cover themselves and men are not to have long hair because these features are a God ordained representation of their roles towards one another and toward God.

It is sometimes responded that Paul’s own explanation in 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 identifies social context as the reason for his commands. This is, however, not the natural meaning of his language. Blomberg suggests that Paul gives three reasons for his commands: 1) “Judge this among yourselves; is it appropriate…”; 2) “Does not even nature itself teach you…”; 3) “we have no such practice.” Blomberg then argues that reason #1 and #3 are evidently cultural [the “status quo”] and #2 also probably refers to ” a ‘long-established custom'” (Blomberg, First Corinthians, 213). The problem is this is not what Paul says. Paul does not say, “judges this on the basis of your cultural values.” Indeed, throughout the letter, Paul is urging the Corinthians not to conform themselves to the world around them but to the ways of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16; 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Those who Paul calls to “judge for themselves” are Christians who are commanded to express Scripture-defined judgment. This is affirmed in #3, for they are called to consider the practices of the churches: these are all communities shaped by the Gospel, whether originally Jew or Gentile, that Paul holds up as a standard. If these churches are anything like the communities described in the rest of the New Testament, they are not paragons of cultural conformity. In light of this, the significance of #2 is highlighted. “Nature” (φυσις, physis) in the New Testament always refers to what we would call “natural,” that which is rooted in God’s created order (or His own unchanging nature) (cf. Rom. 2:14, Rom. 2:27; Rom. 11:21, Rom. 11:24; Gal. 2:15, Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:3; James 3:7; 2 Pet. 1:4). Especially significant is Romans 1:26, where “nature” refers to God’s created order as an indicator of morally wrong behaviour. Thus, Paul calls the Christians to judge for themselves on the basis of Christian judgment acknowledging God’s created order and considering the example of the other churches. There is nothing in these verses that suggest Paul has cultural conformity in mind as he writes.

Problem 2: These Evangelical interpreters are assuming that the authority of the Biblical text is not what is says (i.e. do not pray or prophesy uncovered/with long hair) but a universal principle that is communicated through what is said. Though this is a common understanding of Biblical authority, the Bible never teaches it! When the Bible speaks of its authority, it says that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and useful” (2 Tim. 3:16)—all Scripture, not principles communicated through Scripture. It is clear that the Bible is not the thought of God communicated through words of man, but the very words of God as given to men.10 John Frame nails the problem when he writes:

What we must categorically reject, however, is some mysterious, intermediary thing called ‘the meaning’ that stands between the text and its application. Instead of increasing the objectivity of our knowledge, such an intermediary is a subjective construct that inevitably clouds our understanding of the text itself.11

If we take serious the inspiration of Scripture, we cannot settle for the view that Biblical authority lies in anything other than the text God has given us. If we are not able to dismiss Paul’s command as a culturally irrelevant instruction teaching a universal idea of not offending cultural norms (something which Paul often does), should Christian women veil themselves? I agree here with the contemporary Evangelical conclusion that they do not have to, but the reason they need not is because Paul never commands them to do so.

An Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

Let me explain. A careful reading of the text shows that veiling is never the issue: hair length is the issue. First, the instruction begins with a concern over hair: men, don’t pray and prophesy “with coming down from the head.” This could mean either, with a veil (cloth coming down and covering) or with long hair. There are several reasons for thinking that “long hair” is appropriate. First, the idea of a “veil” as a translation of Greek is not “coming down” but “covering.” The usual words for “veil” come from a root meaning “cover” (‌‌shared with the verb καλυπτω) not a root meaning “come down.” For this reason, “having down from the head” naturally refers to hair hanging down and not cloth coming down and so covering (a veil). Etymology is, however, not in itself a strong case, but the context indicates the same thing.

Second, when the verse concludes, the issue is definitely “long hair” (κομαω, komao). Lastly, nature clearly does not teach us that woman should be veiled (whether we consider “nature” as physical features or the created human conscience). But Paul explicitly says that nature teaches us that long hair is normal for woman and abnormal for men (1 Cor. 11:14-15). This is affirmed in most cultures, where it is more common for men to have short hair and women to have long (though this is not necessarily universal, ancient Sparta being an exception, this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that no human follows God’s intended norms perfectly, cf. Rom. 1:18ff).12 Lastly, the one time Paul identifies something as a “covering”(περιβολαιον, peribolaion), it is “long hair” (1 Cor. 11:15). That is, Paul explicitly says that God gave woman long hair as a covering. For these reasons, I think that Paul is giving instruction about hair length, not veiling.

But does this make Paul’s statement in v. 6 nonsensical? Here, Paul writes, “For it is one and the same as being shaved. 6For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be sheared. But if it is dishonorable for a woman to be sheared or shaven, let her be covered.” It is argued from these verses that being unveiled is like having “short hair” (ESV)—at which point you might as well go all the way and shave all the hair off. Yet, this text is not insurmountable for the interpretation I have offered. For one, the word I have translated “shaved” does not mean “short hair” any more than “sheared”: they are both often used to refer to hair shaved off. I think reading them synonymously makes sense in context. The sense would be this: being uncovered—i.e., having short hair—is “the same as being shaved.” Therefore, let someone uncovered—who has short hair—go all the way and be shaved completely! He brings both synonyms together in the conclusion not to refer to two different states (short hair and shaved) but to intensify the conclusion: being shaved is clearly dishonorable, so don’t do it! This use of redundancy is uncommon in English, but very common in the Bible.


1There has a been a great controversy over whether “head” here means, metaphorically, “source” or “authority.” There is one instance in non-Biblical Greek where the word may mean “source,” but the common metaphorical sense of the word in Koine Greek and especially in the Bible is “authority.” This sense is supported by context, especially 1 Cor. 11:10.

2Etymology is not a good guide for the meaning of Greek words, yet is it unintentional that the problem for men is “κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων” and for the woman “ἀκατακαλύπτῳ”? In the OT, κατακαλύπτω refers generally to the act of covering or being covered, including wearing a veil (Gen. 38:15). The cognate κατακάλυμμα refers to a covering, specifically a veil (suggesting that the “coming down” aspect of kata may at times be retained in the verb)(e.g., Ex. 40:21).

The one use of ἀκατακαλύπτῳ in the OT (Lev. 13:45) is used to translate two Hebrew words that mean “let the hair of his head hang loose” (ESV). Comparing the LXX and the MT, “ἡ κεφαλὴ αὐτοῦ ἀκατακάλυπτος” (his head uncovered) is the equivalent of וְרֹאשׁוֹ֙ יִהְיֶ֣ה פָר֔וּעַ (his head is unloosed). Here, then, ἀκατακάλυπτος refers to the unkempt state of the hair on his head. Though I am arguing that Paul has a different referent in mind for this word (not unkempt hair but unnaturally short hair), the LXX shows us that this word can legitimately refer to the state of ones hair. My interpretation of this evidence is that Paul uses ἀκατακαλύπτῳ to refer to the state of a woman’s hair, intentionally juxtaposing κατὰ κεφαλῆς with ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ.

3 “be covered” is a cognate of ἀκατακαλύπτῳ.

4 The words translated “sheared” and “shaven” are synonyms often used for shaving hair off.

5 This is κατακαλύπτω again. The initial state of “having down from the head” is now described as “being covered.”

6 Though these reading makes the best sense of the context (ESV, NET), it is possible that Paul intends “a woman is to have control over her head” (NIV), that is, they are to conduct themselves appropriately as it concerns the way they present their physical heads. This however, seems unlikely in light of the contextual emphasis on the authority structure signified by “head.”

7 Notice how again the issue of “covering” is one of hair. This is confirmed by the phrase “having long hair is her glory,” for “glory” is an antonym of “dishonor” that is the problem in the first paragraph.

8 Sometimes this gets really specific by appealing to a supposed women’s movement in Corinthian society scholars have dubbed “the new women in Corinth.” Many articles and books address this passage and its application, a good place to start for reasoning like this would be The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,  by Craig Keener; First Corinthians in the NICNT series, by Gordon Fee; 1 Corinthians in the NIVAC series, by Craig L. Blomberg. From a complementarian perspective, see the Thomas S. Schreiners “Head Coverings, Prophecies, and the Trinity” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, eds. John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

9 Cf. my analysis of the background for Colossians for a bit more on this problem, available at teleioteti.ca/technical-papers/

10 Cf. Scripture and Truth, ed. D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge.

11 Frame, Doctrine of Knowledge, 98.

12 Another exception that “proves the rule” would be the Nazarites in the OT. The fact that part of their unique calling was to have long hair shows that long hair on a man was actually an unprecedented thing, so much so that its presence indicated their special consecration (cf. Num. 6:5; Judg. 13:5, 1 Sam. 1:11).

9 thoughts on “Is a Covering Long Hair or Veil? Interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:1-16

  1. Hello J. Alexander. I agree with you that this passage is not saying that women should be veiled. But may I tell you how I believe this passage goes?

    First of all, I believe that Paul is actually quoting a faction of men from Corinth who wrote him in verses 4-6. Throughout Paul\’s first letter to the Corinthians Paul quotes the words of those who wrote him. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV says, 12\”Everything is permissible for me\”—but not everything is beneficial. \”Everything is permissible for me\”—but I will not be mastered by anything. The translators of the NIV believe that Paul is quoting the words \”Everything is permissible for me\” because they put them in quotation marks. If Paul had just said \”but not everything is beneficial\” then his readers would not have know what he was referring to. So I believe that Paul is quoting their words because he will use them to explain exactly why women are not to be veiled.

    It is also important to know that the men were making a literal head argument. They were saying 4\”Every man who has anything down over his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his [own] head. 5But every woman who has her head unveiled while praying or prophesying disgraces her [own] head…\’ We know that they were making a literal head argument because they compare a woman being unveiled to a woman whose head is shaved. If these were Paul\’s words, and he was saying that a woman disgraces her head, the man/husband, then he would have given a correlating example of how the woman would disgrace the man. He would have said something like, \”it is one and the same thing as correcting him in public.\” But the argument is how the woman is disgraced. Verse six even says, \”…but if it is disgraceful FOR A WOMAN to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, let her be veiled.\” The text does not say, \”…but if it is disgraceful TO THE MAN for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, let her be veiled.\” So a literal head argument is being made.

    It is also vital to know that Jesus Christ (not man) is the image and glory of God. The following Scriptures confirm this:

    4\”…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God\” (2 Cor. 4:4).

    15\”He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation\” (Col. 1:15).

    14\”And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…\” (John 1:14).

    3\”And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…\” (Heb. 1:3).

    23\”And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb\” (Rev. 21:23).

    Indeed, male and female are created in God\’s image, but ONLY Jesus Christ is the very image of God. This is why Jesus said to His disciple Philip, \”Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father…\” (John 14:9).

    So I believe that 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 consists of three parts. They are as follows:

    Verse 3: Paul\’s model where the figurative meaning of \”head\” is \”source/origin.\”
    Verses 4-6: Paul quotes a faction of men from Corinth who wrote him.
    Verses 7-16: Paul\’s rebuttal, where he refers back to his model.

    So what Paul is saying in verse seven is this: 7\”For a man indeed ought not to veil his head [Jesus Christ] because He is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man [so she ought not to be veiled either]. Paul is trying to get the men to understand that just as a man ought not to veil his head, Jesus Christ, because He is the image and glory of God, so also the man ought not to veil the woman because she is his glory.

    In verses 8-9, Paul goes on to give the reasons as to why a woman is a man\’s glory.

    In verse 10, Paul silences the pride of the men who wrote him.

    In verses 11-12, Paul says that God has purposefully designed it so that men and women have interdependent origins so that neither one would rule over the other and that neither one should boast.

    In verse 13, Paul continues to refute their argument by saying, 13\”Judge for yourselves that it is proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled. (Note: Bible translators have incorrectly made verse 13 into a question; it should remain a statement. The Greek word \”estin\” means \”it is\”.)

    In verses 14-15, Paul continues to refute their argument by saying 14\”Or not even nature itself teaches you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her because the long hair has been give instead of a covering.\” (Note: The disjunctive particle at the beginning of verse 14 does not mean \”does\”. Its true meaning is \”or, than, and, either\” with the most common meaning being \”or\”. Paul, again, is making a statement.)

    In verse 16, he concludes by telling the men that if they are inclined to be contentious, they have no such practice of requiring women to veil, nor have the people of God.

    So this is how I believe that 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 goes. Paul even says immediately following this passage that there are divisions and factions among them (1 Corinthians 11:17-19). He even defends women against a faction of men who wanted women to be silent in the churches (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). Paul was a big defender of women. He treated women as equals to men and said \”…there is neither male nor female in Christ\” (Gal. 3:28).

    Thanks for allowing me to share.

    1. Hi Kristen,
      Thanks for your response.

      I completely agree with you that Paul was a defender of women, but I would want to caution that we need to be careful in reading what we think of as “defending” men or women from our current culture into the Biblical worldview. For example, all the apostles and Jesus would be vehemently against the abuse of women, especially in the family (e.g. Eph 5:28-31). They would also not make marriage the absolute ideal, encouraging both women and men towards singleness if God enables them to do so; in this way, men and women are free to use their singleness for the glory of God (1 Cor 7:1-40). Women have a vital part of church life, as exemplified by Phoebe and Prisca, among others. In these ways, the Biblical view of men and women overlaps with some of what our culture has been saying. However, for those who are married, Paul and Peter both indicate that male and female relationships are intentionally structured by God to mirror the eternal reality of Christ’s relationship to his bride; there is asymmetry in male-female married relationships because God has intentionally structured marriage and created men and women to reflect the redemptive-historical reality of God’s pursuit of a people for himself. We see this in Ephesians 5:18-33, 2 Peter 3:1-22, Col 3:18-25, 1 Timothy 5:9-16, and Titus 2:3-5. This intentional asymmetry doesn’t reflect worth or value, as you observe, for in Christ we are equally saved and even all made “sons,” that is the inheritors of God’s promises (Gal 3:18ff; Rom 8:14-17). This asymmetry extends to the leadership of the local church, again as an image of the Christ-Church relationship (2 Timothy 2:12ff, 3:1ff).
      In these ways, the Bible’s asymmetry pushes against many of the assumptions of our culture about women, but it also does so about men. The passages in 1 Peter, Colossians, and Ephesians all address the sinful tendencies of men and push strongly against any sort of masculinity that abuses or neglects wives, children, or those weaker than oneself.
      With that background, I think that there are some problems with your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11. You are right to observe that the NIV and many commentators believe that there are certain parts of 1 Corinthians that represent quotations from the Corinthian’s letter to Paul. There are several difficulties for extending this to 1 Corinthians 11. First, this is not certain even for the earlier parts of the letter; Greek does not mark quotations in the way English does, so it can be difficult for an English speaker to detect one. However, to justify identifying a quote, there needs to be some evidence in the text itself. The instance in Chapter 7 is more clearly marked than in Chapter 6, but commentators observe the transition between 6:11 and 12 and the abrupt contrasts Paul draws, suggesting that two quotations make sense of Paul’s argument. This is not certain. There are no such markers in Chapter 11, not for 11:4-6, nor elsewhere. The text can be understood as a coherent argument by Paul, as I have shown above, so the burden of proof rests on the one wanting to show that these are quotations. There is simply not enough evidence to do so, so commentators and translators are right when they translate/interpret 11:4-6 as Paul’s words. To make your argument work, you would need to show from the text that these are indeed quotations from the Corinthians. Without that evidence, most of your argument is conjecture. As for what you say about humans/Christ as the image of God; the issue is more complex than you make it out to be. Humanity is truly the image and likeness of God in one sense, but Christ is in that same sense (as the new Adam) and in another sense, as the perfect Son of God. I think verse 3 is important because it shows that any sense of subordination rightly identified in the demarcation of male/female roles within marriage (as is, I believe rightly, usually identified as the case here) does not say anything more than that. Each male, in this case, a husband, is submitted to Christ and so cannot exercise free reign in any relationship. A married woman is likewise submitted to her husband’s leadership. Lest we think that this says anything negative about women, Christ himself is submitted to the Father. For κεφαλη, the evidence for source is scant, yet even if it could be produced (similar to the English, “head of the river”), it is rare in comparison to the well-established metaphor of the head as the leading component of the body and so the leadership of a metaphorical body, which fits with every metaphorical use of κεφαλη in the Bible. For these reasons, I still think the explanation I give above makes the best sense of the passage.

      Thanks for your comments, Kristen.
      In Christ,

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for your response.

    I do believe there is an abundance of evidence to support that verses 4-6 are quoted. As I stated previously, a literal head argument is being made in verses 4-6, not a figurative head argument. That is obvious just by reading the context. Also, there is no Scripture which states that a man is the image and glory of God. There is only Scripture which states that Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. So until someone can give me Scripture which states that a man is the image and glory of God, I will have to go by actual Scripture which states that Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God.

    Also, as I stated, the disjunctive particle at the beginning of verse 14 does not mean \”does\”. It appears 341 times in the New Testament and I have looked at every single Scripture which contains it, and the only time it is translated as \”does\” is right here in 1 Corinthians 11:14. Its most common meaning, by far, is \”or\”. Just because men translate it that way does not mean it is correct. You have to look at its true meaning.

    Also, the evidence for \”kephale\” meaning \”source\” is not scant. If you look at the passages which contain it, it clearly means \”source/origin/first/beginning\”, not \”leader/ruler chief/authority.\” For instance, Colossians 1:15-18 speaks of Christ being the firstborn of all creation. \”Firstborn\” means \”first in chronological order and arrangement\”. Christ is the first of all creation in chronological order and arrangement because all things were created by Him and He is before all things. So when it says He is also head of the body, the church, it means He is the \”source/origin/first/beginning\” of the church. And He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, meaning He is the first One to rise from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

    Furthermore, Jesus Christ made it very clear that One is our leader, Christ (Matt. 23:10). If Christ is our ONE leader, then a husband cannot be his wife\’s leader. I know you think that the Bible says that a man is his wife\’s leader, but I can assure you it does not. When Jesus said that He is our only leader, then He is our only leader. I believe that there are mistranslations in the Bible on the controversial passages that involve women and that is the reason these passages are confusing. But when these passages are correctly translated, they harmonize perfectly with God\’s Word. I have written a book showing how these passages harmonize perfectly with God\’s Word when they are correctly translated if you would like to take a look at it. It is called \”Woman the Glory of Man\”. But if not, we will just have to disagree on certain things. But I wish you well, my dear brother in Christ.


    1. Hi Kristen,

      Thanks again for your response.
      You claim that this is a “literal” head argument, but I don’t quite think that is what you mean. This is not clearly what the text nor you intend. A “literal” use of κεφαλη would mean that a man is the literal head of a woman, who would presumably be his body, and the same for Christ and a man, and God and Christ. “Source” is another (or at least supposed) metaphorical extension of this literal meaning, alongside “leader.” There are several articles that argue back and forth concerning the possible metaphorical meanings κεφαλη would have had at this time; there is scant evidence for “source.” You mention Colossians 1:15-18; here the text is not clear. If Christ were the first in chronological order, he would actually be a created being, as the Arians argued. Firstborn does not refer to chronology but preeminence, as is attested by the use of this term throughout Scripture (e.g. Heb 12:23). V. 18 is debatable, but head in its more regularly attested sense fits perfectly fine. The following phrase, “He is the beginning” is actually ambiguous”: αρχη could mean ruler. The problem with the “source” reading is that it doesn’t naturally fit with the word Κεφαλη; in what sense is the “head” the source of the body (for this is the literal meaning from which “source” is said to extend). In extra-Biblical Greek literature, Scholars can point only to a couple instances where “source” is meant, but these actually more likely mean “top” (which happens also to be the “source”). To get “source” out of these texts, they have to confuse sense with reference; just becuase the term refers to something we would call a source doesn’t mean that the word means “source” (this would be a lexical fallacy sometimes called illegitimate totality transfer combined with the fallacy of confusing sense with reference).
      As for “image and glory,” you are right that “image” and “glory” are used of Christ elsewhere, yet this does not mean that “man” or “woman” could be attributed with these terms. In the following verse, a “woman” or “wife” is said to be the glory of a “man” or “husband”; to the best of my knowledge, this is not stated elsewhere. However, the Bible often makes claims that are not made in those terms elsewhere; we accept all Scritpure as God-breathed (2 Tim 3:16, the only instance of this phrase) and so even one-off texts are important. I see no theological issue in the claim that a man is the “image and glory” of God, though I would of course differentiate that from how Christ is the perfect image and the perfect glory of God. The problem with your reading is also syntactical: the phrase reads “a man [masc] ought not to cover the head [fem], for he is [masc] the image and glory of God. “he is” translates the masculine participle ὑπάρχων, which can only refer to “man” (Ἀνὴρ). κεφαλη is feminine, so the phrase “being the image and glory of God” must describe the man, Ἀνὴρ, not the head, κεφαλη.
      As for ουδε in verse 14, you are not correct on its force. I would recommend consulting Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics and the standard scholarly lexicon, BDAG. ουδε is a compound of the negative particle ou and the conjunction δε. In this case, it is functioning as the introduction to a question that expects a positive response (as in the English question, “is it not clearly a frog?”). I have left the conjunction aspect untranslated because of English style: the force would be emphatic, “even,” or coordinating, “also/and,” in this case. So you could translate it, “Does not nature itself even teach you…?” or “Also, does not nature itself teach you…?”
      Matt 23:10 is a difficult passage for many reasons–as a Bible teacher, it offers immediate reasons for difficulty! However, whatever we do with this text, it is important to observe that none of the words Jesus uses mean “leader.” They all refer to some sort of teacher. The difficulties emerge because Jesus goes on to appoint teachers in his churches; I don’t think this is a contradiction because Jesus meaning in context is clear. Yet on the surface, it does appear to be a tension. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus through the Spirit appoints leaders and teachers over the people of God, elders/overseers/pastors/teachers (e.g. Eph 4; 1 Tim 3). These roles are essential to the life of God’s people, so clearly a leader-led relationship is compatible with the whole teaching of the Word of God.

      I think it is important for all of God’s people to read and study the Bible carefully, but it would be wise to be cautious with the Biblical languages. Greek and Hebrew are not simple. I have spent the last 11 years studying both languages and read them daily. Those who translate our Bibles have spent their entire lives studying these languages and rely on resources that, no matter how imperfect, have been developed by lifelong students of the languages. I do not know your own background with the languages (you could have studied them longer than I), but please be careful with phrases such as “correctly translated.” Translation is itself an incredibly complex task that involves not only incredibly knowledge of the source language (in this case Greek) but also the target language (English) and a nuanced understanding of the goals and limitations of translation. Presuming you have not studied Greek at length (feel free to correct me), I would recommend looking at my own books The Gift of Reading – Part 1 and Part 2 and the resources cited there and Greek for the Rest of Us (Zondervan) and D.A. Carsons’ Exegetical Fallacies or Moises Silva’s Biblical Word’s and Their Meaning.

      Thanks for your interaction Kristen. Know that though I disagree with you on this passage and certainly others, I wish you well and hope that God uses you mightily for His glory in whatever capacities He uses you to serve His people.
      You brother in Christ,

  3. I have a question and I am no where near a theologian. However, the subject of the text seems to be not just the issue of hair, but women preaching (prophesying) in this manner (without covering). Most people that study the bible understand that the Corinthian church has numerous problems that Paul had to correct. From your article, are you saying that they must have been cutting their hair and openly prophesying and therefore, Paul was correcting this? I find that implausible that he is correcting something that would not have been even socially done by 1st century women? But it just seems more plausible, that they might buck against, or not be properly careful about the custom of married women covering their heads in respect to their husbands. I do respect your knowledge; however, the idea that Paul is correcting them about cutting hair rather than respecting their god given heads (husbands) makes little sense to me.

    1. Dear Renee,

      In this article, I am mainly making a lexical/syntactical point that the reading “covering” doesn’t make as much sense as “long hair,” which is recognised by many commentators. Why Paul addresses the issue is a different matter. The fact that Paul begins the passage with the series of headships does orient the problem immediately to the husband-wife relationship (or male-female, see below), but the passage ends with a more general statement of the ordered creation (v. 14-16). These issues are not so different, for though not all people will be married and that is a good thing (1 Cor 7:6-9), the whole structure of male-female relationships is built on the structure of the first marriage, which itself is an image of the relationship of Christ and his Bride (e.g. Gen 2:18-25; 1 Cor 10:3; Eph 5:21-33; 2 Tim 2:8-15). Some commentators will read the entire section of 1 Corinthians 11 as concerning husbands and wives, the Greek word for woman being the same as that translated “wife.” However, I think that the husband-wife relationship exemplifies a bigger problem, which is demonstrated by the ambiguity of the use of man and woman in the passage: it doesn’t clearly always mean a married person. The chain of headship moves from God-Christ-man/husband-woman (or male-female); there are complexities in the first century understanding of family here, but the broad pattern is that we are all under an authority and it matters how we structure our lives towards that authority. If the passage was unambiguously about veiling, then we would conclude that the issue is women overturning the cultural practice designating their marital status. However, the Bible doesn’t ever require conformity to social customs of any age, though this is often of practical benefit to the church’s mission (1 Cor 9:19-23), and Paul’s explicit appeal is not to custom–which he could have easily done–but to nature, to God’s created order. That universal conclusion, coupled with the evidence for “long hair,” and the more general statements in vv. 7-12–which apply beyond merely the husband-wife relationship (cf. the ESV’s shift from “wife” to “woman”), all suggest that Paul is not primarily concerned with marriage nor with veiling. Thus, my conclusion is that marriage is an exxample of a broader problem of men and women disregarding their status of those in submission to proper authority, ultimately rooted in the headship of Christ (and he to God). The Corinthians are, as elsewhere in the Epistle, using their freedom from the OT Law to buck all constraints. Hair, therefore, becomes one issue within a broader problem: God has built gender differentiation into the very structure of creation (a theme evident throughout both testaments, e.g. Deut 22:5). For a man to buck God’s created order by imitating women in his hairstyle is not merely a stylistic preference but a rebuttal of God’s authority over him; the same applies to a woman. If either of them is to do so in the context of worship, the contradiction between the way they choose to have their appearance and their professed actions is apparent. Hair is thus, in this passage, the same issue as Deut 22:5, but one rooted not in culturally relative dress codes but in God’s own creation (though their will be a certain relativity in length from culture to culture). The issue is the consistency between worship and life in general: are both submitted to God? God’s concern for appearances is evident throughout the NT, especially in parallel contexts (e.g. 1 Pet 3:1-4; 1 Tim 2:8-10). If 1 Cor 11:3 intends “the head of a wife is her husband,” then in complement to the above argument, the wife and husband relationship coupled with “nature” in v. 14 draws us back to the original creation of man and woman in Genesis 1-2. However, I am not entirely convinced that it is best translated “wife/husband”; the NET translates this “the man is the head of a woman” (itself an ambiguous translation). The use of the definite article is odd (“the man”), yet I would expect ανηρ αυτης (her man) instead of “a woman” and “the man” if a marriage were intended. “The man” could refer to Adam, but it may just point back to “every man” in the previous clause. In either of the latter cases, we need to consider the broader picture of the Bible. In the Old Testament, not only was Adam the head of the entire creation–the covenant representative for God’s creation–but men were also the representatives of their family in the Covenant Community. Only men were circumcised (the mark of covenant participation) yet this did not exclude women from the community; instead, they were included as part of the family in which they belonged, whether under a father or with a husband (this arrangement is still found in cultures around the world). So it would not be wrong within the ancient worldview to say that every woman had a man as a head, a father, husband, or perhaps brother. On that reading, the above argument is strengthened: no longer is the husband-wife relationship an example of a broader issue, that issue of proper orientation to authority along the lines of God’s structuring of gender is directly addressed. The creation narrative is still invoked by the implicit or explicit reference to Adam with “ο ανηρ.” Thus, I don’t think it is an either or, “the idea that Paul is correcting them about cutting hair rather than respecting their god given heads (husbands).” It is indeed both, whether the God-given head is a husband or the respective male in that society, God is addressing their respect and honour of their heads through the specific issue of hair length, itself one issue on a broader map of God’s structuring of gender.

      In Christ,
      James Rutherford

  4. After studying this for weeks, looking at Anabaptist, Catholic and Orthodox commentary on veils, I find your post to make the most sense. Thank you!

  5. Hello I would like to ask what your opinion is on contemporary texts such as those by Tertulian where he mentions that the Corinthians veil their virgins as they understood the commands of the apostles or those mentions of veiling in the Didascalia Apostolorum. Are not these talking of a phisical veil?

    1. Hi Josh,
      Thanks for the question. First, neither of these texts are contemporary to Paul’s time. Tertullian was active more than 100 years later. Think of how much has changed in the last 100 years; culture and practice in the ancient and modern world are very fluid. The Didascalia Apostolorum was written even later.
      Second, their testimony itself is ambiguous. The section in Didascalia is short; Tertullian does argue for covering, yet sec. 8, for example, has hair in mind. Setting that aside, he is a Latin witness who would have limited knowledge of the Greek world and the Greek Scriptures: if the text conclusively means “veil” in the modern sense, perhaps this is because of a Latin translation of the Greek.
      Third, the bigger methodological issue here is the assumption that temporal proximity makes a source trustworthy. As a patristic scholar (a scholar of the early church), I have read brilliant and insightful exegesis of Scripture in the first 4 centuries of the church; I have also read really terrible eisegesis. The Biblical text, not the early church, must determine out interpretation. If you can show that 1st century Corinthian culture or the Corinthian church practised veiling (which there is evidence for), that still doesn’t mean that’s what this text is about. We need to let the Bible itself determine its meaning.

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