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1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is a difficult passage to fully understand. One of the difficulties is Paul’s vocabulary. In this article, I discuss the adjective akatakalyptos which occurs in verses 5 and 13. I look at how this word was used in texts written roughly around the time Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.

This resource is a work in progress—I’ll add to it if and when I see the adjective used in other ancient texts—and for now, I’m not drawing firm conclusions on the word’s meaning.

Before I begin, note that apart from 1 Corinthians 11:15—”her hair is given as a covering (peribolaion)”—Paul does not specify what kind of covering(s) he is speaking about. A few English translations add the word “veil” to verse 10, but Paul did not use this word in 1 Corinthians 11 (cf. 2 Cor. 3:13–18).[1]


The adjective akatakalyptos (ἀκατακάλυπτος) occurs in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 13.

“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head akatakalyptō dishonours her head …” (1 Cor. 11:5)
“Judge among yourselves: Is it proper for an akatakalypton woman to pray to God?” (1 Cor. 11:13)

The etymology gives the sense of “uncovered” but its use in the context of heads, especially in Leviticus 13:45, suggests it might also mean having hair loose or unkempt. It is not a common word but here are three ancient texts where the adjective occurs.[2]

Leviticus 13:45 (LXX)

Akatakalyptos occurs once in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament): “The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and ‘his hair hanging loose’ …” (Leviticus 13:45 CSB): hē kephalē autou akatakalyptos. (Greek)

Akatakalytpos is usually translated here with the sense of having the hair unbound or unkempt, but some English translations translate it as “his head uncovered.” (Compare translations from the Hebrew of Leviticus 13:45 on Bible Gateway.)

Philo, Special Laws 3 §60

Commenting on the bitter water ordeal in Numbers 5:18, Philo used the same words as Paul used in 1 Corinthians 11:5a: akatakluptō tē kephalē.[3] A few sentences earlier, and using different vocabulary, Philo stated that a head covering is removed and the woman’s head is bared (§56). Perhaps he is saying in section 60, that the woman’s hair, after being uncovered, is then let down or loosened.[4]

Polybius, Histories 15.27.2

The adjective also occurs in Polybius’s Histories.

For they took Danaë, who was the latter’s mother-in‑law, from the temple of Demeter, and dragged her uncovered (akatakalyptos) through the middle of the town and committed her to prison, with the express object of exhibiting their hostility to him. Polybius, Histories 15.27.2.[5] (Greek)

There is no further context to tell us if Danaë’s hair was loosened, or if she was unveiled as the source I’ve quoted translates it. However, in all three of the texts, the rare word akatakalyptos is used in humiliating contexts. It represents the opposite of social respectability.


Katakalyptō: “To Cover”

The verb katakalyptō (κατακαλύπτω) is related to the adjective akatakalyptos (ἀκατακάλυπτος), but without the alpha prefix which is equivalent to the un– prefix in English.[6] Katakalyptō occurs three times in the NT, only in 1 Corinthians 11:6–7, where it means “covered.”

“For if a woman doesn’t cover her head, she should have her hair cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her head be covered. A man should not cover his head …” (1 Cor. 11:6–7a)

Katakalyptō occurs many more times in the Septuagint.[7] As just one example, the verb occurs in Genesis 38:15 LXX where Tamar dresses like a prostitute and “covered” (katekalypsato) her face with a veil. The related noun occurs in the Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 4.2.1 (23.1) where Hermas sees a young woman with her head covered (katakalypsis) with a turban.

Epiphanius (c. 310–403) seems to have understood the verb as referring to long hair rather than a veil or turban. In his critique of Manichaeism, he quotes 1 Corinthians 11:7, but where Paul used the verb katakalyptō, Epiphanius used komaō which means “have [long or uncut] hair.”

… the same apostle [Paul] says in another passage, “A man ought not ‘to have long hair’ (koman) forasmuch as he is the glory and image of God.”
Epiphanius, Panarion, “Against the Manicheans” 54.4.[8]

Epiphanius didn’t always get things right, however.[9]

Apokatalyptō: “To Uncover or Expose”

Looking at the verb apokatalyptō may shed light on the adjective akatakalyptos, despite the different prefixes. Apokatalyptō occurs many times in the Septuagint and New Testament with the sense of uncovering, exposing, or disclosing something that was covered, hidden, or unknown.

It is occasionally used in the context of women and veils as in Numbers 5:18, where the priest uncovers (apokalypsei) the head of the woman suspected of adultery. It also occurs in Susannah 32 (Theodotion recension), where scoundrels order that Susannah be uncovered (apokalyphthēnai) because she was covered, presumably with a veil (katakekalummenē).[10] (They wanted to look at her beauty.)

An unrelated word, a participle of the verb kataleipō, is used in Leviticus 10:6 LXX. This verb has a variety of meanings but probably had a sense of “leave down, let down” in Leviticus 10:6: “Do not let your hair hang down [or, be unkempt].”


It seems the adjective akatakalyptos used in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and 13 and the verb katakalyptō used in 1 Corinthians 11:6–7 usually meant “uncovered” and “covered,” yet may have sometimes referred to having hair unbound and bound. Jay E. Smith writes accordingly that “there is some evidence from the LXX that the ‘uncover-cover’ language of Paul refers respectively to letting the hair hang down and to putting it up.”[11]

While most New Testament scholars think Paul is speaking about veils in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, which Paul discourages for men but encourages for women who were praying and prophesying, a growing number of scholars suggest respectable hair lengths and hairstyles was Paul’s real concern.[12]


[1] Bruce W. Winters makes this comment about Paul’s unusual terminology in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.

Neither the usual term for a “veil” (προκάλυμμα) [or κάλυμμα] was chosen, nor the verb “I veil my head, I wrap up” (ἐγκαλύπτω), nor its antonym “I unveil” (ἐκκαλύπτω). Elsewhere in the New Testament when veiling is mentioned the verb used is καλύπτω. It is used twice metaphorically in 2 Corinthians 4:3 to denote the gospel “being veiled” from understanding (κεκαλυμμένον).
Winters, Roman Wives, Roman Widows (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 94.

Paul also uses the verb anakalyptō–ἀνακαλύπτω in 2 Corinthians 3:14 and 18 with the sense of “unveil, remove a covering.”

Winters notes that the kalypt– words in 1 Corinthians 11 have kata– prefixes and he asks a rhetorical question about the significance of this prefix. He doesn’t answer his question, however, and has chosen to translate akatakalyptō as “I unveil” and katakalyptō as “I veil.” Winters, Roman Wives, Roman Widows, 94.

[2] The LSJ entry on akatakalyptos–ἀκατακάλυπτος is here.

[3] A longer excerpt: τούτων δὲ προευτρεπισθέντων, ἡ μὲν ἡ μὲν ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ: “the woman is to come forward with her head uncovered …” Philo, “On the Special Laws,” Vol. 7, Loeb Classical Library, F.H. Colson (transl.) (1998), 513 (Source: Internet Archive) The translator has “her head uncovered” but it may mean “her hair unbound.”
The pertinent phrase in the LXX reads ἀποκαλύψει τὴν κεφαλὴν τῆς γυναικὸς (Source: Blue Letter Bible). The Hebrew behind these words may mean either “he will loosen the hair of the woman” or, more literally, “he will uncover the head of the woman.” (Compare translations of Numbers 5:18, from the Hebrew, on Bible Gateway.)

[4] Robert Alter comments on the Hebrew words in Numbers 5:18, וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ.

The Hebrew says literally ‘undo her head,’ a transparent metonymy. The loosening of the hair is an act of public shaming, so the woman in effect is exposed and vulnerable before she takes her oath and swallows the potion.
Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (United Kingdom, W.W. Norton, 2018), fn 18 (Google Books)

The Hebrew verb פָרַע-para used in Numbers 5:18 can mean “uncover” but idiomatically it can mean “unbind (hair).” (More on para here: Hair Lengths and Hairstyles in the Bible.)

[5] Polybius: The Histories, Volume IV, Loeb Classical Library, W.R. Paton (transl.) (1925), 533.

[6] The LSJ entry on katakalyptō–κατακαλύπτω is here.

[7] Gen. 38:15; Exod. 26:34; 29:22; Lev. 3:3; 3:14; 4:8; 7:3; 9:19; Num. 4:15; 22:5; 2 Chron. 18:29; Isa. 6:2; 11:9; 62:21; Jer. 46:8 (26:8 LXX); Jer. 51:42 (28:51 LXX) Jer. 51:51 (28:51 LXX); Ezek. 26:10; 26:19; 32:7; 38:9; Hab. 2:14. (Source: Blue Letter Bible)

[8] Epiphanius, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Books II and III (Sects 47-80, De Fide), Second Edition, translated by Frank Williams, Nag Hammadi Studies, 79 (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 279 (Source: Internet Archive)
Epiphanius quotes the same verse the same way again in his letter to John of Jerusalem. See footnote 40 in Allan Philip Brown II’s paper, Chrysostom & Epiphanius: Long Hair Prohibited as Covering in 1 Cor. 11:4, 7 presented at a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on November 16, 2011. (A pdf is here.)

[9] Epiphanius sometimes exaggerates the vices of the “heretics” he writes against. And in the Index Discipulorum, a list of apostles attributed to Epiphanius and dated to the 4th century—though it may be pseudonymous and date from the 9th century—the masculine names Junias and Priscas are used instead of the female names Junia and Prisca. (More on this in a footnote here.)

[10] Susannah 32 (Theodotion recension): οἱ δὲ παράνομοι ἐκέλευσαν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι αὐτήν ἦν γὰρ κατακεκαλυμμένη ὅπως ἐμπλησθῶσιν τοῦ κάλλους αὐτῆς.
Swete’s edition is a bit different: καὶ προσέταξαν οἱ παράνομοι ἀποκαλύψαι αὐτήν, ἵνα ἐμπλησθῶσιν κάλλους ἐπιθυμίας αὐτῆς. (Source: Scaife Viewer)

[11] Jay E. Smith, “1 Corinthians,” Darrell L. Bock (ed), The Bible Knowledge Word Study: Acts-Ephesians (Colorado Springs: Cook Communication Ministries, 2006), 280.

[12] Judith Gundry, Richard B. Hays, Philip B. Payne, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, and James B. Hurley, among others, believe Paul was talking about hairstyles or hair lengths, not veils.
Hays, First Corinthians (Interpretation; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1997, 2011), 182–190.
Payne, “Wild Hair and Gender Equality in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” Priscilla Papers 20.3 (Summer, 2006): 9–18. (Online: CBE International)
Murphy-O’Connor, “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42.4 (October 1980): 482–500.
Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock 2002), 184. (First published in 1981.)

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.

Judith Gundry writes,

In the light of Paul’s statements in 11:14–15 that the woman’s long hair is her glory and that it is given to her “for a covering” and that the man’s long hair is his shame, and in 11:4–5 that the Corinthian women and men “shame their head” by the practices here criticized, it is probably best to assume that covering the head here refers to hairstyles, since in a first-century Roman context there was no social shame associated with women’s not veiling or with men’s wearing a himation over the head. (fn. 1 p. 151)
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, Jostein Ädna, Scott J. Hafemann and Otfried Hofius (eds.) (Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997), 151–171.

© Margaret Mowczko 2023
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Image Credit

Photographs of a red-haired woman by Thiago Schlemper (cropped) via Pexels.

Explore More

1 Corinthians 11:2–16 in a Nutshell
Hair Lengths and Hairstyles in the Bible 
Philip Payne on Hairstyle vs. Head Coverings in Corinth
A Note on “Nature” and Hairstyles in 1 Cor. 11:14
Women’s Hair in Corinth and in Sydney
Head Coverings and 1 Corinthians 11:2–16
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
Jealousy and Bitter Water (Numbers 5:11–31)

16 thoughts on ““Uncover-Cover” Words in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16

  1. I get so frustrated with the idea that Paul is talking about hairstyle. It is so unlogical.

    Assume that «katakalyptō» should be translated as something «X», that perhaps isn’t «cover». Then «akatakalyptos» must be «unXed».

    What Paul then says about the «dos» and «don’ts» for women and men can be summed up like this:

    Do: X the head (verse 6)
    Don’t: unXed head (verses 5,13)
    Do: –
    Don’t: X the head (verse 7), also «have down his head» (verse 4)

    According to Payne, and probably others, this then means:
    Do: long hair bound up
    Don’t: long hair loosened
    Do: short hair
    Don’t: long hair loosened

    Now consider that:
    * What «X the head» means for the woman (long hair bound up) is quite different from the same for a man (long hair loosened).
    * I get the impression that Paul wants women and men to be opposites in some sense, both regarding their dos and their don’ts. But the don’ts turn out to be the same for women and for men (long hair loosened), despite being described as «unXed head» for women and «X the head» for men.

    To me, this feels like cars front-colliding inside my head. It just cannot be right.

    Contrast this with thinking that Paul is talking about covering the top and back of the head (not the face) with some kind of hood:
    Do: hooded
    Don’t: bareheaded
    Do: bareheaded
    Don’t: hooded

    * «X the head» means exactly the same for women and for men (hooded)
    * «unXed head» is exactly the opposite (bareheaded)

    It fits so much better! And «X» can now easily be «cover», there is no need to force a different meaning onto it, a meaning that goes against what seems the most obvious.

    It seems to me that Payne (and you) and others are blinded by at least two things:
    (1) Ideas about what was considered proper in public generally. This isn’t about what was proper in public generally, but about a very narrowly defined situation of either prophesying or praying (aloud, on behalf of the congregation) in christian meetings. It isn’t about preaching, or leading, or reading from the Scriptures, or about just being present in the meeting.
    (2) That Paul doesn’t use the word «kalumma», translated «veil». When Paul uses «kalumma» he talks about covering the face. Here he talks about covering the top and back of the head. Since my primary language is not english, I do perhaps not quite understand how the english word «veil» works. I get the impression that it is used equally for both situations. But the same is not therefore necessarily the case for «kalumma».

    1. Hello Knut, I wouldn’t say Payne, I, and others are blinded.

      I’ve seriously considered that Paul is speaking about head coverings, such as the toga pulled up over the head or a palla. But for several reasons, the hair length idea makes better sense, overall, to me. And Paul states that long or uncut hair is a woman’s covering.

      It’s not something I want to be pedantic about this, however, and I’m keepng my mind open.

      1. Sorry if I offended you, Marg. As I hope I have made clear before, I am all for your ministry.

        1. We’ve known each other a long time, Knut, and I value your comments and your support for my ministry. I wasn’t offended. It’s all good.

  2. Good information, Marg. Very helpful, very balanced, and commendably cautious – for now.

    1. Thanks, Ian.

  3. Thank you for another great contribution to my Biblical studies!

    1. I’m glad it’s useful to you, Louise.

  4. Great article Marg!!! Very Helpful as I will be teaching on this at some point. Whew! I Corinthians 11 make you study and work hard!

    1. Phew indeed! I think I’ve worked harder at trying to understand 1 Corinthians 11:2-16—understanding the words on the page, looking for hints of a backstory, working out Paul’s actual concern—than with figuring out these things in 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

  5. Thank you for sharing your work. I respect your approach to looking for the most likely translation. I also like the extensive footnotes.

  6. This is excellent. Thank you so much for your careful, methodical and comprehensive study!! It is just excellent. If anything ever brings to you the US, I would so love the chance to meet you! 🙂

  7. I remember reading once (possibly yours) that it could be something to do with the fact that Corinth was a port city and thus, you were either very rich or very not. So this issue could come down to things like being rich and having gold woven through it, or being a slave or prostitute that would have possibly had their hair shaved. Similar to how we often translate ‘modest’ to mean in dress styles, when the Greek may actually have meant more economic so early church members felt more equal (and possibly less distracted) while breaking bread together. For me, it almost helps 1 Tim 2:8-10 make sense in this way too. Am I totally off-base here? Thank you Marg for your work!

    1. Hello Ash, thanks for your comment.

      In most cities of the ancient world there were many who were very poor and a much smaller number who were very rich. Small business owners, such as vendors, and artisans, such as Paul (a tent-maker), could be in a middle strata.

      There is no evidence whatsoever that female prostitutes in Corinth had their heads shaved. Why would the “owners” of prostitutes want to make them look less attractive with shaved heads? On the contrary, some prostitutes (hetairai) had fancy hairdos.

      In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Gordon D. Fee writes, “It was commonly suggested that short hair or a shaved head was the mark of the Corinthian prostitutes (cf. e.g., Grosheide, 254). But there is no contemporary evidence to support this view. (It seems to be the case of one scholar’s guess becoming a second scholar’s footnote and a third scholar’s assumption.)”
      Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 511 fn. 80.

      Sandra Glahn writes more about the lack of evidence of bald prostitutes, here.
      I look at ancient evidence for sacred or ritual prostitution in Corinth, here.

      In 1 Timothy 2:9-10 Paul addresses the problem of rich women in Ephesus with fancy hairdos, and his solution did not involve women covering their hair. I’ve written about these verses and their cultural context, here.

      The problem in Corinthians 11:2-16 was the heads and/or hair of the men and women praying and prophesying, and in regard to the women, this problem is connected with the “messengers” (aggeloi), not, seemingly, with fellow Corinthian worshippers (1 Cor. 11:10).

  8. Thank you Marg for being a great mentor and forever student of the Scriptures. You have greatly helped In my journey to disentangling legalism around this passage.

    1. Thanks Anthony. I’ve enjoyed our online exchanges.

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