Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism


1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a difficult passage to understand and unpack. In this short article, I try to be as succinct as possible and give an overview of how I read it. I appreciate that my interpretation is different from common interpretations. I offer it as part of the ongoing discussion on this tricky passage.

It would be helpful to read this blog post with 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 open. You can read this passage on the Bible Gateway website here.

“Head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3

Paul’s concern in this passage is about socially respectable hairstyles, or head coverings, for the Corinthian men and women who were praying and prophesying aloud in church meetings. All of his statements in this passage must be understood with this overriding concern in mind.

Paul begins with a statement about status, or prominence, which he ties to the idea of origins or “firstness” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9).[1] I suggest the man and the woman in the second phrase refers to Adam and Eve.

“Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3 CEB cf 1 Cor. 8:6).

In English, the word “head” can sometimes mean “a person in authority over others,” but the Greek word that Paul used, kephalē (“head”), did not typically have this meaning in ancient Greek. 1 Corinthians 11:3 is not about authority, let alone a hierarchy of authority: Jesus and God are just as much, in every way, the authorities of women as they are of men.

In the first century, men had a higher level of honour and prominence than women. Furthermore, because of the honour-shame dynamic in the ancient world, a woman did not normally have her own honour. Rather, her honour was embedded in the honour of a male relative.[2] This dynamic is the backdrop to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

More about the Greek word kephalē (“head”) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 here.

Reputations in First-Century Corinth

Paul was concerned that inappropriate appearances of women who were praying and prophesying would reflect badly on their husbands or fathers (because that’s how society worked back then), and that inappropriate appearances of men who were praying and prophesying would reflect badly on Christ. And that ultimately God and his church would be dishonoured. (The word “God” is at the end of the statement in 1 Cor. 11:3 in the Greek and in an emphatic position. “God” is also at the very end of 1 Cor. 11:16 in the phrase “the churches of God.”)

1 Corinthians 11:4-7 is about what is on top of men’s and women’s heads (hairstyles or head coverings) while they engage in speaking ministries in church meetings, and this is connected negatively to shame and disgrace (kataischunō) and positively to glory (doxa). (Long hair on men and short or unbound hair on women was socially suspect in the Roman world.)[3]

The Greek word doxa is often translated as “glory” in the New Testament, but it can also have the sense of “repute.” I suggest the implication of 1 Corinthians 11:7, a verse that has been horribly handled in the past, is that the conduct of a Christian man affected the reputation and honour of God (i.e. God’s doxa). So Paul here reminds men that they are, or that they possess, the image of God in order to reinforce his point.

The conduct of a first-century Christian woman affected the reputation and honour of her husband or father (i.e. the man’s doxa). Paul does not bring up the fact that women are also the image of God because it doesn’t add anything to the point he is making in verse 7. There is no doubt, however, that women, as well as men, are God’s image-bearers. There are several verses in both the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament that state women, as well as men, bear the image and glory of God.

More about women and men being God’s image-bearers, and about doxa having the meaning of “repute, reputation” (in footnotes), here

The “Angels” in 1 Corinthians 11:10

I believe 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about reputation (doxa) and about not giving messengers a bad report to bring back to others who were curious about what was happening in Christian gatherings in Corinth. Paul cared about the reputation of the church in a world that was suspicious of new religious ideas and of behaviour that might threaten social stability. Later in 1 Corinthians, and in other letters too, he expresses similar concerns about reputation.[4]

Verse 10 is at the centre of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which is structured as a chiasm. Verse 10 is Paul’s main point. He wanted the ministering women to exercise good judgement and have respectable hairstyles or head coverings so that messengers wouldn’t spread damaging reports about the conduct of women in the church. (Note that Paul doesn’t say or hint that women shouldn’t be praying or prophesying.)

The Greek word for messengers in verse 10 is aggeloi. In some contexts, aggeloi are heavenly angels, but at other times, they are human messengers running an errand. The two spies in James 2:25, for example, are called aggeloi in the Greek New Testament. And I suggest the messengers in 1 Corinthians 11:10 were human messengers sent to investigate, spy on, the Christians (cf. Gal. 2:4).

More about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 being structured as a chiasm is here.

Mutuality for those “In the Lord”

In the first half of the chiasm, Paul presents his argument using a hierarchy of status or honour (based on “firstness”) that the first-century Corinthians could relate to. Paul wanted the Corinthians to heed this dynamic for the sake of outsiders, but he did not want them to take it too far.  So, in the second part of the chiasm, he provides correctives beginning with verses 11-12.

“In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8). For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God (cf. 1 Cor. 11:9).”

Outside of the church, there were hierarchies of status and honour. However, within the community of believers, among those “in the Lord,” the ideal is that there is equal honour.

“In the Lord,” men and women are mutually interdependent, and Paul points out that even though woman came from man (cf. Gen. 2:21-22), man also comes from woman (cf. Gen. 4:1 NIV). We’re even. Paul nullifies the significance of man being first and he focuses on God. God is the ultimate source of everything, including us. He is the ultimate “first” one. (Again, the word “God” is in an emphatic position at the very end of the statement in 1 Cor. 11:12.)[5]

More about the significance of the created order here.
More about the two social contexts of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.


There is no hierarchy between men and women who are “in the Lord.” Nevertheless, because of the messengers, and for the sake of reputations, Paul wanted the men and women who were praying and prophesying to have hairstyles or head coverings that were socially acceptable in first-century Corinthian society.[6] In a nutshell, this was Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

This is a snapshot of my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. I’ve written more here.
More about first-century customs of hairstyles and head coverings, here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are here.
All my “in a Nutshell” articles are here.
A Spanish translation of this article is here.

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[1] I like David deSilva’s observation of the sense of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11:3: “However, one chooses to translate kephalē (“head”) here, the firstness indicated by the term is difficult to avoid.”
David A. deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 231.

[2] David deSilva observes that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 “reflects the view that female honour is embedded in male honour …” Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity, 34.

[3] Hairstyles, rather than head coverings, may be the issue (cf. 1 Cor. 11:15). Or perhaps it was both. New Testament scholars such Judith Grundy, Philip B. Payne, and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor believe Paul was talking about hairstyles or hair lengths.
Craig L. Blomberg notes, “In verses 14–15 Paul is definitely talking about relative lengths of hair for men and women, so it is somewhat more natural to assume that he has been talking about hairstyles all along.” Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan ), 178.

[4] In 1 Corinthians 14:22-25, Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to minister in ways that won’t appear too weird to non-believers.
The appearance and behaviour of women was especially open to suspicion and censure in ancient cultures. Accordingly, Paul wanted the rich Ephesian women to dress with moderation (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Flouting the acceptable dress code would have raised questions of impropriety and even promiscuity. (See Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 208). Paul’s instructions to young widows in Ephesus, some of whom were idle and getting up to mischief, were in order “to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:14 NIV). His words about the socially respectable behaviours of young Cretan matrons were given “so that God’s word will not be slandered” by non-Christians, especially by opponents of the faith (Titus 2:5; cf. 2:8).
Paul wanted Christians to behave in such a way that they would not cause offence to Christians and non-Christians alike. He didn’t want the behaviour of the Corinthians to cause Jews, Greeks and even those within the church to stumble; he wanted them all to be saved (1 Cor. 10:31-33). In his letter to Titus, Paul encourages slaves to be trustworthy in their work “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Tit. 2: 10 NIV). And he wanted overseers to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7).

[5] The Greek word for “God” (theos) occurs at the very end of three sentences in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which is an emphatic position (1 Cor. 11:3, 12, 16). This highlights points in Paul’s arguments and his concern for God and his church. The Greek word for “God” also occurs in 1 Cor. 11:7 and 13 without emphasis.

[6] We need to be aware that our appearance and behaviour today aren’t unnecessarily inappropriate and problematic in our own cultures.

New Testament, apostle Paul and women, gender roles

33 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 11:2-16, in a Nutshell

  1. The basic interpretative problem here is that incorrect prior assumptions have been read into the passage, resulting in some inappropriate translation choices. This has obscured the true nature of the conduct that was causing concern to Paul, which was that both men and women in the Christian worship assembly were praying and prophesying with long hair hanging down. I fully agree with your main point that Paul was instructing those who led worship in these ways not to display a hairstyle which, in the cultural context at Corinth, was dishonourable. I also think you are probably right about the messengers.
    In your linked piece analysing 1 Cor 11:2-16 as a chiasm (Nov 20, 2012), you wrote “to date, there is no interpretation of this passage that makes sense of every verse in a cohesive manner”. However, once the translation issues are resolved, and we do Paul the honour of assuming that he is presenting a coherent, logical and consistent argument, I believe his meaning becomes clear. In my 2019 book (Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, IVP), building on work done by Hurley, Payne, Gill and others, I offered “an internally consistent interpretation, which takes account of every detail of Paul’s text, in which everything has its place in a connected train of reasoning and which sits comfortably with what he writes elsewhere.”
    Blessings to you, Marg.

    1. Hi Andrew, I believe the interpretation on this page does make sense of the entire passage. And the meanings I have applied to certain Greek words are meanings I have frequently found in my reading. They are also included in reputable lexicons, such as BDAG and TDNT. For example, BDAG and TDNT give “repute, reputation” as a meaning of doxa which they apply to 1 Corinthians 11:15. I also apply it to verse 7.

      My interpretation came about by sitting with the text for years and looking at it from many angles. I did not approach it with certain assumptions in mind. However, I have no problem that people may reject my interpretation. I present it here as part of an ongoing discussion on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and I expect I will tweak it in the future as I learn more. I appreciate your contributions to this ongoing dicussion.

      1. Hi Marg. The first sentence of my comment (“The basic interpretative problem here is that incorrect prior assumptions have been read into the passage, resulting in some inappropriate translation choices.”) was intended to refer to the general run of commentaries, not to your piece. Sorry I didn’t make that more clear.

    2. I reread your two excellent chapters on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 this morning, and we are in agreement, or near agreement, on numerous points.

      I do think hairstyles was most likely the issue, not head coverings, but I’m keeping my options open as to the reason behind the hairstyles. I am leaning towards sexual renunciation/ asceticism which is the backdrop to 1 Corinthians 7. https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-74-in-a-nutshell/

      I think some women were cutting their hair short a la Thecla and other early Christian women we know of (cf. 1 Cor. 11:6, 15).

      I love your book, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts

  2. I have to say, Marg, that I am somewhat sceptical to your ideas about this passage.

    It seems to me that Paul is talking about something that has specifically to do with praying and prophesying in christian meetings, and does not apply outside of that. And so, my foremost objection, both to your explanation and those of others, is that it does not explain why Paul’s words is about praying and prophesying only. I have yet to see an explanation that makes sense of this. All explanations I have seen about hairstyles and head coverings would apply much more widely, and yours do so as well.

    Also, that «aggeloi» shouldn’t be angels seems unlikely to me. Yes, other authors may use «aggelos» to mean human messengers or spies. But Paul does not. There are 13 other places where Paul uses some form of the word «aggelos», 2 of them in this letter. And as far as I can see, none of them are about human messengers. Mostly they are about heavenly angels, once (2 Cor 11:14) it is about an evil angel, and once (2 Cor 12:7) about something that may perhaps be understood as a demon.

    Here are some suggestions from me:

    (1) «Aggeloi» is truly about angels. As far as I have understood, angels were considered to have special roles with regard to prayer and prophesy, namely to bring the prayers up to God, and to bring the prophesies down from God. I think that is why they are present here.

    (2) The authority in verse 10 is authority over the angels, authority to command them to bring prayer up or to bring prophesy down.

    (3) While egalitarians have shown that «kephalē» isn’t about authority, complementarians have, I think, equally shown that it isn’t about «source» in any meaning. I would rather suggest that it here is about someone being represented. Who Jesus represents is God, who a man in the congregation represented was Jesus, and who a married woman represented in that culture was her husband.

    (4) The head covering isn’t hair, but some form of hood or shawl draped down the back of the head.

    (5) The symbolism of covering one’s head in a religious context was to step out of one’s usual role, and into some kind of priestly role.

    (6) Naturally therefore, a man shouldn’t step out of his role of representing Jesus. But a married woman, when praying and prophesying, should step out of her role as representing her husband. By covering her head to indicate that she does so, her alternate role of also representing Jesus becomes «visible upon her head». One might say that in prayer she takes on a role of representing the congregation; and in prophesy she takes on a role of representing the Holy Spirit. And these roles are eminently combinable with representing Jesus, but not with representing her husband.

    (7) With a woman’s alternate role of representing Jesus being «visible upon her head», it becomes visually clear that she, too, has the authority to command the angels to bring prayer up and prophesy down.

    1. Thanks for this Knut. The idea of representation is definitely one to keep in mind. Though, I would think that Christ represents God, rather than God represents Christ.

      In the Greco-Roman world both men and women, including priests and priestesses, covered their heads when praying and presenting offerings to pagan gods. So I’m not quite following your last few points.

      Anyway, as I said in the article, I appreciate that my interpretation is different from most common interpretations. And I expect people to have issues with it and even reject it. But it’s how I read the passage.

    2. Marg: Good for Mr Bartlett that you like his book. Maybe you should tell him? Mine has not been written yet.

      I am somewhat uncertain about how much I should say about my objections. I continue to be very positive in general to your excellent ministry. Thank you for carrying it on! In this case, however, I am left with a feeling that I didn’t quite get through to you with my main objection. It is this:

      The context Paul seems to be talking about is very narrow. It isn’t even about «speaking minstries» as you put it, but _solely_ about the two situations of either praying (aloud, on behalf of the congregation, as I understand it), or prophesying (still in the congregation). Yet, if he is talking about socially objectionable hairstyles, then such hairstyles are objectionable in a much wider context. They are not just objectionable when praying or prophesying, not just objectionable in any «speaking ministries», not just objectionable in a christian meeting, but outside that as well. When the corinthians left their christian meetings, their hair was not left behind. They were still keeping it on their heads.

      This, then, is a question that for me is left unanswered, both by your explanation and other explanations I have seen: If Paul is writing about objectionable hairstyles, or anything else that was objectionable in a wide context, why is he talking as if it only is a problem when praying or prophesying? Why mention praying and prophesying at all?

      1. Hi Knut, I truly have no problem if you have issues with my article. I expected more pushback from people. However, this article is a snapshot. In other articles I explain things further. For example, elsewhere I suggest that praying and prophesying may involve speaking to God and for God. And I’ve used the word “ministering” or something similar a couple of times in this article so that the focus isn’t too narrow.

        I think this much is clear: Paul was not addressing the decorum or appearances of all the Christians in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, just those who were praying and prophesying (however we want to take those words). It was these men and women in particular, who had the responsibility of not causing shame and disgrace.

        I hear what you are saying about “outside.” This is an important consideration. It could be that the Corinthian pray-ers and prophesiers were literally and metaphorically letting their hair down in meetings, whatever that actually looked like. The rest of 1 Corinthians 11 and also 1 Corinthians 14 strongly suggests the Corinthians were unruly when they got together, but it is the “ministers” who Paul is especially concerned with.

        Also, a minor point, citizen women may have veiled as soon as they went outside. Roman women usually didn’t veil indoors.

        Another factor is who the messengers were spying for. If they were reporting back to Roman officials or Jewish officials makes a difference.

        So there’s still lots in this tricky passage to think about, and I always appreciate your feeback.

        Andrew and I have had several conversations. He knows how I feel about his book: https://margmowczko.com/andrew-bartlett-men-and-women-in-christ/

        1. Mr Bartlett may know how you feel about his book, but you have placed your comment to him under your answer to me. I haven’t written any book.

          1. Ah, thanks for pointing that out to me, Knut. I’ve moved the comment to where it should be.

      2. Hi Knut,
        You raise an excellent question (“If Paul is writing about objectionable hairstyles, or anything else that was objectionable in a wide context, why is he talking as if it only is a problem when praying or prophesying? Why mention praying and prophesying at all?”).
        I don’t see Paul as writing about something that was objectionable in a wide context. We need to remember that the Christian assembly was in the grey area between private and public; in this context we can understand there being a concern about what was honourable behaviour for someone who visibly took a leading part, which did not apply to others present who did not take a visible leading part. He is concerned about a particular custom in the Corinthian church (women’s loosed hair or men’s long hair, while leading the assembly by praying or prophesying), which was apparently unique to Corinth.
        Some quick comments on your seven suggestions, with some page references to my book:
        (1) (p148-150) The Greek word means “messengers”, who could be either human or angelic. A reasonable case can be made for either here, though on balance human seems more likely.
        (2) (p123-124) Verse 10 does not mention authority over angels. It says the woman should have authority over (“exousian … epi”) her head. The Greek expression is the same as in Luke 10:19, where the 72 are given authority over (“exousian … epi”) the power of the enemy.
        (3) (p117-121, 155-157) Greek “kephale” as a metaphor for “source” is well attested. Interpretation of “head” in this passage as “source” is found in ancient commentators, including those whose native language was Greek.
        (4)-(7) (p127-138) There is no actual mention of a garment over the head anywhere in the passage. The only use of a term denoting a garment is in v15 (peribolaion), where the use is figurative, referring to the function of a woman’s hair. All veiling interpretations run into at least six problems of not fitting the actual flow of Paul’s argument and his exact words.

        1. @Andrew Bartlett: There is so much in what you say that I want to object to, but I guess I ought to read your book first. And that I cannot promise to do anytime soon – or ever. My capacity for reading – and for many other things as well – has gone down a lot in recent years.

          Still, in the highly unlikely case that I do, after all, read your book: Where can I write about all the things that are wrong with it?

          1. I don’t know the answer to your question, but I guess that, if you do read my book and write something, you could contact Marg and authorize her to send me your email address.
            I would certainly be interested in a detailed critique. So far, I have seen some positive reviews of my book, and some negative reviews which misrepresented what I wrote, but I haven’t seen any negative reviews which engage seriously with what I actually wrote.

  3. I’m trying not to have an opinion on anything that’s not referenced in the Nicene Creed.
    Perhaps, a better expression of that, is that I’m trying not to build a belief system on anything that’s not in the Nicene Creed.
    Thus, I find it aggravating that I’ve had people try to run my relationship with God and His church by hammering on the significance of these verses.
    Admittedly, it wasn’t the issue you address here, of men being the head of women, that I was clubbed with first. I was a soldier stationed in Germany in 1973 when I became a Christian, and that was a time in which the issue of long hair on men was a battleground in the American churches. I was SEVERELY chastised once, when I mentioned casually that when I got out of the Army, I would grow my hair longer. I didn’t care for that. Seemed to me that it was an example of someone trying to use a passage to enforce their own fashion sense.
    In fact, if I were to look at the Bible I used then, in the margins of this verse:
    “Does even nature itself not teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, ” (I Cor 11:14, NASB)
    I believe I would find this personal commentary: “No, it doesn’t.”
    Much, much later, in my role as a counselor, I had to deal with obnoxious men bullying their wives, and using these verses as a justification.
    It’s really NOT difficult theology to say: neither contemporary fashion nor obnoxious personalities ought ever be permitted to violate something as straightforward as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
    I’m going to go read the Nicen Creed again, and calm down.
    Peace be on your household.

    1. Hi Pat. As we know, in some cultures in Asia and North America, for example, respected men did, or do, have long hairstyles. Paul’s question reflects the culture of Roman Corinth, however, rather than the physiology of hair growth. Some believe that 1 Corinthians 11:14 is about long hair on men which was what some homosexuals in Corinth were sporting; Paul believed homosexuality was not natural. See, for example, Andrew Bartlett’s discussion on this in his book Men and Women in Christ, p.152-153, here.

      It’s a shame that people have had such strong views and made such strong statements, one way or the other, based on a passage that is difficult to understand. And it clearly has been misunderstood in the past in ways that disregard the broader teachings of the Bible. I don’t see a consensus being reached on the overall interpretation any time soon.

  4. If there is “headship” over the woman, it is only in marriage settings. Not every man is over any woman.

    1. Hi Shirley, Ephesians 5:22-33 is about wives and husbands, and only applies to marriage. Paul uses a head-body metaphor in this passage when he tells wives, “the husband is the head of his wife,” and when he tells the husbands “to love their wives as their own bodies.”
      One of Paul’s main concerns here was unity. I’ve written about this passage here: https://margmowczko.com/category/ephesians-5/

      1 Corinthians 11:2-16, however, is not primarily about marriage but about men and women who were ministering in Corinth. The senses or nuances of kephalē here are firstness and status, which Paul tempers in the second half of the passage.

  5. Thank you for your work, Marg! I found you and your wonderful writing five years ago when I was with a complementarian church and suffering from spiritual abuse. Your blog opened my eyes to another way and now I have so much more freedom in my faith.

    Anyway, this post was a great read. You are always incredibly thorough and respectful in how you present your interpretation. Keep up the good work!

    Peace and blessings to you and much love from one sister in Christ to another.

    1. Thanks for your lovely words of encouragement Shannon. <3

  6. Dear Marg,

    I found your insights and interpretations about these difficult Bible passages very interesting. Especially the idea of angels possibly being a spy in some context makes sense although I never have heard something like that before. It would explain why Paul devotes so much writing space and attention to something that affects mainly outward appearances. It all makes sense, however, if these angels were human messengers and potentially dangerous. Interpreted this way, one could call Paul’s veil instructions even a safety rule.

    On the other hand, what is the meaning of this passage for us today? Could there also be a timeless meaning besides Paul’s more practical considerations?

    Personally I believe that the veil — or the head covering or hairstyle or whatever it might have been — could be the same item that Apostle Peter calls the “adorning” that is not outward but “the hidden man of the heart” or “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3: 1-4). Every woman who prays or prophesies in a church does need this “invisible veil”, regardless of what she decides to do with her hair. Like Peter says, it is “in the sight of God of great price”, and people will notice it even though they can’t see it.

    1. Hi Emmy, I see it a little differently from you. The timeless message we can take from this passage is that Christians should not be unnecessarily controversial or offensive to broader society, as this will reflect badly on fellow believers, on Jesus Christ, and ultimately on God. This message is especially relevant today!

      The context or backstory to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and to 1 Peter 3:1-6 are different. Peter’s words were given to wives in Asia Minor who had non-believing Jewish or pagan husbands. Peter’s concern was evangelism; he wanted these husbands to be “won.” And he doesn’t mention a veil or any other kind of garment.

      Paul was concerned with the outward appearance of the men and women who were speaking in Corinthian assemblies.
      Peter’s concern was the inward attitude in wives who he implicitly advises not to speak.

      I’ve written about “gentleness” for the women and men who Peter addresses in his first letter: https://margmowczko.com/gentle-quiet-spirit-1-peter-3/

      I’m not following why the Corinthian women need any kind of veil, visible or invisible. Paul tells these prophesying/ praying women that their (long) hair is a covering (1 Cor. 11:15).

      One thing both passages (1 Cor. 11:2-16 and 1 Pet. 3:1-6) have in common is the idea that believers should behave themselves in a world that could be hostile to Christianity.

  7. Where does it say in the Bible that man (or woman) is the image of God? The Bible states in Genesis 1:27 that male and female are created IN God’s image. But only Jesus Christ IS the image of God. The following Scripture confirms this:

    “…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).

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

    Jesus Christ IS the [visible] image of [the invisible] God because He IS the Word made flesh (John 1:14). This is why Jesus said to His disciple Philip in John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father….” It also says in Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and that He is the exact representation of God’s nature. Male and female are not the exact representation of God’s nature. We are not the image of God. Created in His image? Yes. But the very image of God? No.

    I do agree with you that “kephale” in the Greek means “source/origin/first/beginning”. And Paul gave His model (v.3) with the “figurative” meaning of head because a faction of men had written to him (vv.4-6) who wanted women to be veiled while praying and prophesying. Notice these men made a “literal” head argument. They were saying that “Every woman who has her head unveiled while praying or prophesying disgraces her [own] head.” This is why they compare a woman praying and prophesying unveiled to a woman whose head is shaved. If these were Paul’s words, and he was saying that a woman who prays or prophesies unveiled disgraces her head, the man/husband, then wouldn’t he have given a correlating example of how she would disgrace her husband? Wouldn’t he say something like “It is one and the same thing as correcting him in public?” But no, verse six says, “…but if it is disgraceful FOR A WOMAN to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, let her be veiled.” It does not say “…but if it is disgraceful TO THE HUSBAND for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, let her be veiled.” So the men were making a literal head argument. This is why Paul gives his model (v. 3) with the figurative meaning of “head”.

    In verse 7, Paul starts his rebuttal to the men and writes, “For a man indeed ought not to veil his head, since He is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man.” 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. Then in verses 8-9 Paul goes on to give the reason as to why a woman is a man’s glory.

    Then in verse 13 Paul says to the men, “Judge for yourselves that it is proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled.”

    Paul then says in verses 14-15, “Or not even nature itself teaches you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her because the long hair has been given [to us all] instead of a covering. ” (Note: The disjunctive particle at the beginning of verse 14 does not means “does”. Its true meaning is “or, than, and, either”, with its most common meaning being “or”. Also, the pronoun “aute” (translated as “to her”) is not in the majority of ancient Greek manuscripts. Please see “The Woman’s Headcovering” by Michael Marlowe .)

    So Paul is saying that men can grow their hair long (it is not a dishonor to them) because God has allowed it through nature. If God did not want men to grow long hair then He would have disallowed it through nature just as He has disallowed women to grow mustaches or beards through nature. Paul is also saying that women can cut their hair short if they so choose because many women have unmanageable hair (thin, dry, frizzy) and it is not their glory. Indeed, God did not give women long hair for vain beauty purposes. God gave long hair to men and women so that they did not have to wear a head covering every time that they went outdoors as the hair is a natural protector from the sun or cold environments. But if men and women want to cut their hair off and wear some type of covering for protection, that is fine too.

    So Paul is refuting their argument. Also, most Bible translations add the word “kephale/head” five times where it does not appear in the Greek. But the word “kephale” should not be added because it only confuses Paul’s argument. Paul has made a very clear argument. He gives his model (v. 3), then quotes the words of the faction of men who wrote him (vv. 4-6), then he gives his rebuttal (vv. 7-16), where he refers back to his model.

    This is how I believe the passage goes. Thank you for allowing me to comment.

    1. Hi Kristen, I’m not suggesting that men and women (or male and female humans) are or possess (hyparchōn) God’s image, in exactly the same way as Jesus is God’s image. In fact, for us to be conformed into the image of Jesus requires us to be transformed (Rom. 8:29-30; 2 Cor. 3:18, etc). I’m content with what I’ve said on this in this shortish article and I don’t think I’ve overstated things.

      I have more about men and women as God’s image-bearers in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 here:

      My interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is quite different from yours, but I’ll make few comments in response to your points.

      ~ Many English translations have added the word “does” to render 1 Corinthians 11:14 as a question: “Does not …?” (“Does” doesn’t have anything to do with oude as such. And the definition you’ve given for oude are not quite right.)
      In 1 Corinthians 11:13, Paul tells the Corinthians to judge the matter among themselves and he poses questions for them to consider.

      ~ I think Paul was saying that short hair for Corinthian women and long hair for Corinthian men was unacceptable because of the message or ideology it conveyed. Paul was concerned about reputations in broader Roman Corinth. I don’t think Jewish customs, including Nazarite vows, were the primary issue.

      ~ 1 Corinthians 11:5a says, “Every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered/exposed disgraces her head.” 1 Corinthians 11:3 has already made the statement that the man is the woman’s head. So when a woman prays or prophesies with her actual head exposed in some way she disgraces her metaphorical head, her man.

      Paul then makes the comment that she is like (literally: “one and same as”) a woman who has had her hair cut short (literally: “the shorn one”). Cutting a woman’s hair short was a humiliating punishment given to citizen women who committed adultery. Paul thought some of the ministering women in Corinth appeared immoral, and therefore, disgraceful, and that this reflected on the man (or men) in their families.

      ~ I translate 1 Corinthians 11:6b as Paul saying, “But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut short or shorn off, let her be covered, (or, she should be covered).” (Aischron is the subject in the first part of this sentence.)

      ~ 1 Corinthians 11:14 is about woman (gynē). 1 Corinthians 11:13 is about man (anēr).
      It doesn’t really matter if the second feminine pronoun is omitted in 1 Corinthians 11:14, as in the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Majority Text (2005) and the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (2017). (In the other eight critical Greek texts I looked at, there are two feminine pronouns, but the Nestle-Aland text places the second one in brackets to indicate a degree of uncertainty.)

      ~ The NIV and CSB, as two examples, use the word “head” 14 times in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. “Head” is added at the end of verse 5, it is added three times in verse 6, and once in verse 13. I can’t see that this changes the meaning. All these verses are talking about a woman’s hair and covering. The KJV uses the word “head” 9 times which matches the Greek text.

      ~ This is Michael Marlowe’s actual comment about the second feminine pronoun in verse 14.

      “It is omitted by Papyrus 46, D, F, G, and also by the majority of later Greek manuscripts. [Ιt is also omitted in E and Ψ.] In C the pronoun comes before δέδοται rather than after it. The word may have been added by scribes to complete the sense, or simply by repetition of the αὐτῇ in the preceding clause. But it has good support in A, B, א, and the Latin and Syriac versions.”

      What this means is that the second pronoun occurs in four of six of our earliest surviving manuscripts, א, A, B, and C (200s-400s), but is omitted in the majority of later manuscripts. (The second pronoun also occurs in several medieval minuscule manuscripts such as 33, 81, 365, 2464, etc.) The Latin and Syriac translations which contain a second feminine pronoun also predate the later Greek manuscripts.

      ~ Paul does not mention God when discussing hair length, but nature (physis). Paul’s thought may have been that hairstyles which blurred the gender of the men and women were unnatural.

      Thayer has this: “nature, i. e. natural sense, native conviction or knowledge, as opposed to what is learned by instruction and accomplished by training or prescribed by law: ἡ φύσις (i. e. the native sense of propriety) διδάσκει τί, 1 Corinthians 11:14”

      Köster in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states that in 1 Corinthians 11:14 physis (“nature”) “is personified as the teacher of men [people]. Nevertheless, it simply represents the general order of nature and its only task is to remind us of what is seemly and becoming… nature bears witness to what is fitting in the matter of hairstyles… Hence the use of the absolute physis here can be understood as technical, but it is of no theological significance.” (TDNT 9.272-273)

      BDAG gives the sense of physis in 1 Corinthians 11:14 as “3. the regular or established order of things, nature.” And makes the comment, “physis as well as nomos prescribes long hair for women, short hair for men.”

  8. Hi Marg, In verse 7, Paul uses the word “hyparchon” which means “to have, possess, to be, exist”. So Paul is referring to “the image and glory of God being”. We must understand that Paul used very careful language here. If he were talking about a human man he could have easily said, “A man ought not to veil his head since he is created in the image of God.”

    Yes, many English translations have added the word “does” to verse 14, or they translate the disjunctive particle as “does”. But out of the 341 times that this disjunctive particle is used in the NT, it is translated as “does” only one time, right here in 1 Corinthians 11:14. Its most common meaning is “or”. So there is a major difference between the following sentences:

    “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?”

    “Or not even nature itself teaches you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her.”

    The first sentence is saying that nature teaches us that long hair is a dishonor to a man and a glory to women. And the second sentence is saying the opposite, that nature does not teach us this. But nature does NOT teach us this, as Paul says, because men’s and women’s hair, by nature, is the same. God even commanded that a man (or woman) taking a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, was to let the locks of hair on his head grow long (Num. 6:1-5). When the vow was completed, the Nazirite (both men and women) was to shave their head at the doorway of the tent of meeting (Num. 6:18). Certainly, Paul would not be concerned with any cultural message or ideology that long or short hair conveyed. Paul would only be concerned with what God deemed appropriate.

    Also, it does matter if the second pronoun is omitted in verse 14, because Paul is saying that God has given long hair to both men and women instead of a covering. If the pronoun is added, then it makes it sound as if God gave long hair to only women. But again, God gave long hair to both men and women. The Papyrus 46 is one of the oldest Greek manuscripts and is dated from c. 200. Only P52, P90, P98, and P64+67 predate it, and they do not contain 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. So the oldest Greek manuscript that contains 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is the Papyrus 46 where the pronoun “aute” is omitted. Certainly, the pronoun had been added by the fourth century as the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus attest to. But since the earliest known manuscript does not contain the word “aute” it is likely not original to Paul. It would be a total stretch to think that the pronoun was accidentally omitted, as 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is one of the most scrutinized passages in the Bible. It is much more probable that it was added later by scribes because of their own bias.

    Also, God is the One who has created and controls nature so Paul did not need to mention God directly when discussing hair length. Clearly God did not give women facial hair because He does not want women to have facial hair. But God gave long hair to men so it is fine, in God’s sight, if they choose to grow it long. Also, as I stated in my previous post, I believe that Paul is quoting a faction of men in verses 4-6 and that the men were making a literal head argument. They were saying that “Every man who has anything down over his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his [own] head.” “Anything” would include hair. This is why Paul includes the argument of hair to the men. Paul knows that men wore their hair either long or short (2 Samuel 14:25-26). So Paul is refuting their argument and is telling the men that nature does not teach you that if a man has long hair it is a dishonor to him.

    And finally, in verse 16, Paul makes it very clear that if one is inclined to be contentious, then they have no such practice, nor have the people of God. So this practice or custom is not a temporary or cultural one. The people of God have NO such practice. So it was not a practice then, and it is not a practice now. If the practice he was referring to was men having anything down over his head while praying or prophesying and women not veiling while praying or prophesying (or men having long hair and women having short hair, depending on your interpretation) then Paul says there is no such practice and men would always have to be uncovered, or have short hair, and women would always have to wear a veil, or have long hair. But I believe the contentious ones were a faction of men who wanted women to be veiled while praying or prophesying and that Paul is telling them that the people of God have no such practice of requiring women to veil their heads.

    1. Hi Kristin,

      Hyparchōn is a common Greek word and is often translated as “is.” It can be equivalent to the verb “to be.”

      In 1 Corinthians 11:7, hyparchōn is nominative masculine singular and grammatically agrees with anēr which is also nominative masculine singular: the two words hyparchōn and anēr “belong together.” 1 Corinthians 11:7 is correctly translated as “A man should not cover his head, since he is (or since he possesses) the image and glory of God.”

      Paul is definitely talking about a human man here. As an aside, Jesus is rarely referred to as an anēr in the New Testament; he is typically referred to as an anthrōpos. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 he is called Messiah/ Christ (twice) and Lord (once). He is never called anēr.


      English translations do not translate oude as “does.” (As I said in my previous reply, “does” is added to the verse so that it sounds like a question in English.) Oude is typically translated as “not,” or as “-n’t” in translations of 11:14 that use the abbreviated word “doesn’t.”

      Many Greek questions that expect a “yes” answer begin with ou (“no, not”). Oude (ou + de = “not even” or “and not”) can function similarly.

      Oude in 1 Corinthians 11:14 functions in much the same way as oude in Mark 12:10 and Luke 6:3 (“Have you not read …?”) and in Luke 23:40 (“Do you not fear God?”).

      Oude, rather than the more common ou (“no, not”), functions as an intensifier in questions:
      “Does not even nature itself teach us …”
      “Have you not even read …”
      “Do you not even fear God?”

      Also, oude is functioning as an adverb, not a “disjunctive particle,” in 1 Corinthians 11:14. And technically, here and elsewhere, it doesn’t mean “or,” even if it’s translated that way into English occasionally for reasons of style. Oude typically means “and not,” “neither,” or “not even.” Oude always has a negative sense. (There are other unrelated Greek words that simply mean “or” without a negative sense.)


      There are all kinds of minor errors in Greek manuscripts. Dittography (repeating a word that shouldn’t be repeated) and haplography (not repeating a word that should be repeated) are two of the most common scribal errors.

      P46 is the oldest surviving manuscript of Paul’s letters, but one manuscript is not compelling evidence when the next three oldest don’t contain the second pronoun. However, I’m not interested in advocating for or against the second pronoun as it makes little difference to the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:15.


      I agree with Köster that Paul is not making a theological argument in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15. These two verses follow Paul’s directive for the Corinthians to judge the matter for themselves (1 Cor. 11:13). Namely, the Corinthians are to judge whether it is appropriate for a woman to pray with her head or hair uncovered, knowing that Paul and his colleagues have no such custom and neither do the assemblies of God (1 Cor. 11:16). The focus is on the culturally appropriate appearance of woman in 11:13-16; man is mentioned in verse 14, in part, as a comparison.

      A minor point perhaps, there is no Greek word that means “anything” in 1 Corinthians 11:4.

      We have different methods and different ways of approaching the text and have arrived at two different interpretations. I’m happy to leave it at this.

  9. That’s fine. I just want to clarify one thing though because I don’t think you understood the point I was making. I’m not saying that Jesus is being referred to as “aner”. Paul is referring to a man as “aner”. I believe Paul is saying in verse 7 that a [human] man [aner] ought not to veil his head [Jesus Christ] because He [Jesus Christ] is the image and glory of God. Paul says in verse 3, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man…” In verse 7, it is the figurative use of “kephale” that is referring to Christ.

    1. Yes, I did misunderstood that point. Perhaps because it’s impossible to read it that way in the Greek. And also because I take kephalē in verse 7 to be a man’s literal head and assumed you did too. (I can’t see that Paul is speaking anywhere in this passage about covering or uncovering Jesus Christ.)

      Kephalē (“head”) is a feminine noun, and in 1 Corinthians 11:7 it’s in the accusative case. It cannot be the subject of hyparchōn which is masculine and in the nominative case. Anēr is both masculine and nominative in 1 Corinthians 11:7. (The grammar is straightforward and unmistakable.)

      Also, hyparchōn is a participle with the verbal sense of “being,” but is adequately translated as “since he is”: “A man should not cover his head, ‘since he is’ (hyparchōn) the image and glory of God.”
      “He” is not stated in the Greek but is implicit in the participle. “He” is anēr; “man” is the subject.

  10. Hi Marg,

    With all due respect, in verse 7, the noun Kephale will be both feminine and accusative regardless of whether it refers to a man’s literal or figurative head. And if you notice, in verse 3, Christos (Christ) is nominative masculine singular which grammatically agrees with hyparchon which is nominative masculine singular: the two words hyparchon and Christos belong together. The “He is” that possesses the image and glory of God is Christ.

    Also, as I stated in my first post, I believe that Paul is quoting a faction of men in 1 Corinthians 11:4-6. I believe it is a faction of men that wanted women to be veiled (or covered) while praying or prophesying. So Paul is using Jesus Christ as a CORRELATION as to why women should not be veiled. In verse 7, Paul is saying, “For a man indeed ought not to veil his [figurative] head, since He [Christ] is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man [so she ought not to be veiled either].” So Paul is connecting the two thoughts. In essence, he is saying, “You wouldn’t cover the image and glory of God, would you? Then don’t cover the woman because she is your glory.”

    1. Hi Kristen, Others also believe that Paul is quoting a faction in 1 Corinthians 11:2-10. I have no qualms about this. But some of your statements about the Greek grammar are not quite correct.

      Kephalē will always be feminine. As such, if there is a participle, etc, about it, it will also be feminine. I think we agree on this.

      In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Christos is masculine and nominative once, and then it is masculine and genitive once. In 11:2 it is also genitive. But this has no bearing whatsoever on the grammar of the sentence (a syntactic unit) in 1 Corinthians 11:7.

      In 1 Corinthians 11:7 anēr is nominative masculine and is the subject of hyparchōn which is nominative masculine. It really is that plain and simple in the Greek.

      As an aside, anēr, like Christos, is also nominative once and genitive once in 1 Corintians 11:3, and has no bearing on 11:7.

      I think we’ve exhausted this conversation.

  11. Marg, thank you so much for your insights on these texts. I am learning a lot! I am preparing a lesson to teach on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. One argument I have heard to solve the apparent contradiction with this text and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is that the praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11 is not in the worship assembly. Have you heard that argument? How would you respond? Thanks!

    1. Hi Randy, I have heard that argument. It doesn’t make sense. Why would Paul care about what men and women were doing with their hair/ heads if they were praying and prophesying privately where people cannot see or hear? Paul wanted the more prominent members of the Corinthian church, those praying and prophesying aloud in meetings, to look socially respectable. His concern in the first half of the passage was reputations in the broader community.

      There is no real contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. In chapter 11, Paul addresses the issue of the appearance of men and women who were praying and prophesying. In chapter 14, Paul addresses unruly speech and he silences men and women; three groups are silenced in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 using the same Greek verb. As well as silencing problem speech, this passage is bookended with encouragements for orderly, edifying speaking ministries without any suggestion some of these ministries are only for one sex or the other.

      I recently read Judith Gundry’s chapter on “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16” which was published in 1997. I wish I’d read it sooner. On page 152 of her chapter, Dr Gundry briefly describes Paul’s use of the creation story in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and the two social contexts that Paul applies them to. I think she’s spot on and has little to do with 1 Corinthians 14:26-40.

      … Paul has a complex view of creation with respect to gender, that he can read creation within a patriarchal framework as well as an egalitarian one. He appeals to creation to support instructions which presume a hierarchical relationship of man and woman as well as to undergird their new social equality in Christ without denying their difference. These contrasting readings or uses of creation come about through Paul’s theologizing from two contrasting social contexts. On the one hand, he has in view the Corinthians’ wider social context, a hierarchically-structured shame/honor society, and on the other hand, the cultic context of Corinthian worship that burst the patriarchal framework. The tension in Paul’s argument thus correlates with the tension in the Corinthians’ life setting. In dealing with this discrepant life setting he uses a theological method characterized by the interplay of culture, creation, and eschatological life in Christ as mutually interpretive loci of theological reflection. Creation is not univocal for Paul but can have different “meanings,” depending on the social location from which it is viewed and the interplay with other loci for theological reflection on gender.
      Judith M. Gundry-Volf, “Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: A Study in Paul’s Theological Method” in Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburtstag, editors: Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann und Otfried Hofius (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151-171, 152.

  12. Hi Marg,
    Thank you for your article and amazing work on this website. It has massively helped me in my journey to egalitarian theology.

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are about Lucy Peppiatt’s argument that portions of 1 Corinthians 11 (especially verses 7-9) represent thoughts of the Corinthians that Paul refutes.

    Thank you for your time!

    1. Hi Katherine, Thank you.

      The two sections of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (verses 2-10 and verses 11-16) seem to be saying different, even contrary, things, and scholars have come up with various ways of explaining this difference. I used to think, similarly to Lucy Peppiatt, that the first half contained the Corinthians’ thoughts that Paul then corrects. However, I no longer believe this. Rather, I read that passage as Paul addressing two different contexts.

      In the first half, Paul’s concern is the reputations of Christians in Roman Corinth where respectability, tied to gendered customs, was important. But Paul does not want the Christians to take this too far, especially the concept of unequal honour. So in the second half, he reminds the Corinthian Christians of their mutuality in the Lord. Within the church, Christians are equal.

      Judith Gundry explains the two different contexts, and Paul’s use of Genesis 2 in both sections, well: https://margmowczko.com/judith-gundry-1-corinthians-11_2-16/

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