Do women need to cover their heads with a hat, or scarf, or veil when they go to church? In previous centuries, the answer to this question would have been “yes.” This answer was at least partly based on an interpretation of one passage of scripture, 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.
Below are a few notes on the topic of women and head-coverings in light of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16. But first, let me point out that Paul’s main concern in this passage was the appearance of heads of both men and women who were involved in the vocal ministries of praying and prophesying in church meetings. Strictly speaking, Paul’s words don’t apply to men or women who were not praying (speaking to God) or prophesying (speaking for God).
Fayum mummy portrait of a circa first-century Roman-Egyptian woman.
Social Customs of Head Coverings
Several scholars believe Paul was speaking about respectable, gender-appropriate hairstyles in this passage (cf. 1 Cor. 11:14–15). Others think Paul wanted women to cover their heads with a veil or palla, and he wanted men not to cover their heads. Either way, the key concern was respectability or reputation (Greek: doxa) according to the social norms of the day. (I’ve written about reputation and doxa in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 here.)
Hats or head-coverings on either men or women, as well as short or long hair on either men or women, have no real significance in modern societies today, but it was different in ancient Corinth. For example, some respectable Roman matrons (i.e. wives of free-born citizen husbands) covered their heads when they went out of doors in public to signify that they were unavailable and sexually chaste. Philo refers to a woman’s head-covering (toupikranon) as “the symbol of modesty” (to tēs aidous symbolon) (Philo, The Special Laws 3.56).
But these same women did not usually wear veils when they were with family and close friends in a domestic setting, a setting not unlike most first-century house church meetings. Lower-class women, on the other hand, were not permitted by law to wear veils.
The veil, especially the palla, was a status symbol in ancient Rome and in Roman colonies such as Corinth, and there were laws governing who could and could not wear it. (It’s unclear how closely these laws were followed.) Furthermore, it offered respectable matrons legal protection. Western-style societies have no such custom of veiling in public and no such delineation of class, and all men and women are potentially protected by law from sexual harassment and assault.
Head coverings today, such as hats or scarves, have none of the symbolism that head coverings had in ancient Corinth, and so there is no valid reason for modern western women to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy aloud in church gatherings. A few churches, however, want women to cover their head and they also prohibit them from speaking in gatherings. This was not Paul’s intent in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16.
A Symbol or Sign?
One factor to consider when interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is that there is no Greek word that means “sign” or “symbol” in 1 Corinthians 11:10. There is also no word that means “veil.” Several English translations, however, add these words. For example, the ESV has, “This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.” The RSV has, “That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.” The King James translates verse 10 more accurately as “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” (Italics added)
The Greek word exousia, which is translated as “authority” in the ESV and “power” in the KJV, can also mean “right” or “freedom.” 1 Corinthians 11:10 may mean that a woman has the right or the freedom over her own head; that is, she has the right to decide how to present her head while keeping in mind Paul’s concerns about reputation and the enigmatic angels. These “angels” may not have been divine messengers but human messengers who were reporting to others about the behaviour of the Corinthian Christians. (In this article, I argue that exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is a woman’s own power, or right, to exercise control over the appearance of her own head.)
What were the Corinthians up to?
We know that some men and women in Corinth were renouncing sex and marriage. This is the background for Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. 1 Tim. 4:3). This was not just an issue in first-century Corinth. There are several surviving documents that were written in the second century, and later, that reveal some Christians were renouncing sex and a few were even disguising visible distinctions of sex. For example, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla (c. 150), the heroine Thecla wants to cut her hair short. It’s not clear if she does cut her hair, but she does wear men’s clothing. In a later work, the Acts of Philip, a young unmarried woman named Charitine wears men’s clothing and follows Philip the apostle. It could be that some Christians in Corinth were wearing their hair in ways that disguised their sex: long hair on men, short hair on women. And Paul was not happy about it (cf. 1 Cor. 11:14–15).
Fresco of first-century Roman Woman from the Villa Arianna at Stabiae (near Pompeii). (Wikimedia)
Veils in the New Testament and in Ancient Christian Art
The only time the word “veil” (kalymma) appears in the Greek New Testament is in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: in 2 Corinthians 3:12–18. Paul ends this passage by saying, “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18a). So veils, either real or metaphorical, do not seem to have been a theological or spiritual necessity for women or men.
Nowhere in the New Testament does it plainly state that veils or head coverings are necessary for Christian women or men. Furthermore, cultural historian Dr Ally Kateusz has observed that in Christian art which dates before the time of Constantine, women are often depicted without head coverings. It’s only after Constantine (i.e. from around the mid-fourth century onwards) that head coverings for women become nearly universal.
Importantly, there are ancient statues, busts, reliefs, mosaics, frescoes, ceramics and coins which depict circa first-century respectable Roman women (who weren’t Christians) and many of these women do not wear a veil. And the statues where Roman women and men do wear veils depict these people as goddesses and gods (see here for an example) or as pagan priestesses and priests (see here).
The fact that it was customary for both men and women to cover their heads when praying and performing religious rites in paganism, and also Judaism, adds weight to the idea that Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 is hairstyles, not head coverings.
Reading 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 as a Chiasm
Another factor to keep in mind when interpreting 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and the issue of head coverings is that the passage is written as a chiasm. By using this literary device, Paul addresses many of the same ideas twice: in the first half and then again in the second half of the passage. So it’s vital to keep reading to the end and not stop halfway at verse 10. (More about 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 as a chiasm here.)
Furthermore, there seem to be two contexts in this passage. In the first half, Paul’s concern is social respectability according to the standards of the day, which was geared towards male honour. But in the second half, Paul’s concern is relationships among those who are “in the Lord” and where mutuality, rather than a hierarchy of honour, is the ideal. (More about the two contexts here.)
The only time the Greek noun for “covering” is stated in this passage is in verse 15, near the end of the second half. Here Paul writes, “Because her [long] hair is given to her in place of a covering.” It seems that, after all, women do not need any other covering other than their own hair, worn in a socially respectable style, when they are praying or prophesying in church. And today, in western culture, just about any hairstyle is socially acceptable.
This post just scratches the surface of what is a fascinating but tricky passage. There’s more about hairstyles and head-coverings in ancient Corinth here.
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Top “banner” picture is of a marble bust of Venus of Martres, first or second century, housed at the musée Saint-Raymond of Toulouse, inventory number Ra 52. (Source)
Postscript 1: A Personal Note
Head-coverings is something I personally agonised over for years as a teenager and young adult. I have always taken the Bible literally, that’s to say, I took the RSV literally, and the RSV contains this verse: “For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil” (1 Cor. 11:6 RSV). And this, “That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10 RSV). [There is no Greek word that means “veil” in these verses. But I didn’t know that then.]
It seemed pretty clear to me that Paul, and therefore God, wanted me to cover my head in church, but no one else was doing this and I couldn’t understand why. I even asked the Archbishop of Sydney (during a question time) why he thought women don’t need to cover their heads anymore, when they used to. He gave me a simplistic answer . . . something about culture. But I wasn’t satisfied.
Now I’m pretty much saying the same thing, “culture,” but I’m taking a bit more trouble to explain why “culture” (and reputations) was the reason for Paul’s words in 1 Cor 11:2–16 in the first century and why hairstyles (or head coverings) don’t matter now.
I still take the Bible literally. That’s to say, I take the Bible literally in its original languages and with some understanding of the backstory (context) and genre of various passages.
Postscript 2: Priestly Prostitutes in Corinth
The geographer Strabo is the source of the idea that prostitutes were associated with the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth. However, he was writing about a time that was a couple of centuries before Paul wrote First Corinthians. In the meantime, Greek Corinth had been razed by the Romans (in 146 BCE) and rebuilt a hundred years later (in 44 BCE) as a Roman colony. I’ve written more about the ancient evidence for prostitutes associated with Aphrodite’s temple in Corinth here. And I have a note about bald prostitutes here.
Postscript 3: Linus’s Decree about Veils
In the Book of Popes (Liber Pontificus), is a short biography of Linus who some believe was a bishop of Rome in the first century. In the biography is this statement about Linus, “He, by direction of the blessed Peter, decreed that a woman must veil her head to come into the church.” For a couple of reasons, I do not believe Linus made this decree or that Peter gave such a direction.
First, head coverings on Christian women became a universal practice sometime after the third or fourth centuries. Before then, there were no hard and fast rules about women covering their heads. And nowhere in the New Testament are women plainly told they must cover their heads. Peter says nothing of veils in any recorded dialogue in Acts or in the two letters that bear his name in the New Testament.
However, the biggest clue that this decree on women and veils did not originate with Linus, Peter, or any other first-century Christian, is the phrase, “come into a church.” This phrase doesn’t make sense in the context of first-century church life. At this time, most congregations used a home as a base for all kinds of meetings and activities. There were no church buildings at that time. Christians didn’t enter or come “into a church”―they were the church.
Unfortunately, people have made up all kinds of stories about Bible characters and I am certain the line about Linus was made up sometime after the third century. I’m by no means the only one who thinks this; the line is commonly regarded as apocryphal. For example, in his entry on Linus in the Catholic Encyclopedia, J.P. Kirsch remarks that “without doubt this decree is apocryphal …”
Linus’s decree simply doesn’t match with what we know about first or early-second-century Christianity. In short, the line about Linus relating a decree from Peter about head coverings is a fabrication. It’s not genuine. (I’ve written more about Linus’s decree for my Patreons.)
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
My personal favourite is “Man and Woman as the Image and Glory of God” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7), here.
An explanation of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:4, and sexual renunciation, is here.
An article that looks at “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is here.
An article that looks at what the Bible says about hair lengths is here.
62 thoughts on “Head Coverings and 1 Corinthians 11:2–16”
You have been so helpful for me. I was raised in a work based religion that held me down hard as a woman. Thank you for everything you’ve posted and the work involved to do it.
It’s wonderful to be free of the shackles and my journey has been sweeter because of you.
It always amazes me that me typing away here in Australia can have an effect on actual lives of people on the other side of the world. Words are powerful! I’m so happy that you have found freedom. It’s what Jesus and even Paul want for every believer.
U must wear a veil and a dress or skirt and blouse and not cut your hair if you are a lady
Hi, actually it has more to do with our huband’s authority than appearance. This is not a salvation issue so, if you don’t cover it is your choice. But if you feel convicted by the H.Spirit then do that.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is all about the appropriate appearance of the heads, or hair, of men and of women prophesying and praying. And appearance is tied positively to glory, or reputation, and negatively to disgrace and dishonour. More about glory in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here.
In some countries where head coverings have symbolic meaning, it might be important for women to wear them. But in most western-style countries, head coverings have no significance one way or the other. In Roman Corinth, head coverings had symbolic value, but Paul wasn’t fussed and said, “For her hair is given to her as a covering.”
I believe Paul’s real issue was hairstyles. He wanted the men to have short hair, which was the standard hairstyle for respectable Roman men (1 Cor. 11:14), and he wanted the women to wear their hair in a respectable fashion, long hair bound up (1 Cor. 11:15). He did not want women to have long unbound hair (or perhaps short hair).
The Greek adjective that is typically translated as “uncovered” in 1 Corinthians 11:5 & 13 may also refer to unbound hair (e.g., Lev. 13:45 ESV).
Authority is not the issue. Paul writes that men and women are mutually dependent on each other and that both sexes have God as their source. God is also the ultimate authority of both men and women.
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1 Cor. 11:11-12 NIV)
I would add, in most Western societies, a veil or similar head covering is looked at as odd or a symbol of oppression, except possibly as part of a wedding outfit. I don’t think that a woman wearing a head covering actually makes a husband seem respectable, instead, it makes him look like an ignorant or overbearing guy. I know it is popular in some religious groups, and while we can appreciate the idea of segregation for the purpose of honoring God, it doesn’t actually come across that way now.
Totally! I couldn’t agree more, Jenni.
We cannot conform the Word of God to our lifestyle. We conform to the Word!
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today & tomorrow.”
And we know also that the Word is Jesus.
PB, I completely agree that we are to conform to the teachings and principles contained in the Word of God. To do that, we need to understand what it meant when it was first written. In this case, we need to understand what Paul was saying to the Corinthians and why he said it? What was his intention? What was his reason?
I carefully look at Paul’s actual words in some of these articles. https://margmowczko.com/category/1-corinthians-11-2-16/ We are so blessed to still have his words today!
We also need to conform to Messiah Jesus who is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). This is the most thrilling part of being a follower of Jesus–that we become like him (Rom. 8:28-30). I quote Romans 8:29 on my About page: https://margmowczko.com/about/
1Cor11- Man is the HEAD of the woman is translated from kephale & also means origin. Supposedly the meaning authority was rare as the word archon or ro’sh. Check out Charles Trombley’s book WHO SAID WOMEN CAN’T TEACH? REAL EYE OPENER! He also refers to the halacha(oral law of the Jews) where whatever rabbis said when they were enslaved in Babylon became law. This was merely men’s opinions without enlightenment of the Holy Spirit who blamed Adam’s sin on Eve & invented THE TEN CURSES OF EVE. The rabbis said the woman’s head, face & eye should be covered. One said “Whatever comes out of a woman’s mouth is as a pitcher of filth.” Shows what they thought of women.
Hello Deb, I’ve written about the meaning of kephalē (“head”) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 in some depth here:
In the article, I mention the Greek word archōn (“leader, ruler, governor”) and the Hebrew word rosh (“head”) which can also mean “leader.”
Some rabbis said terrible things about women, but not all. Some have said positive things about women and Eve. See here. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/eve-midrash-and-aggadah
Firstly I will. Like to say The Word of God is Spiritual and If God don’t open your eyes of understanding you can not understand it because what I’m seeing is that all woman need to take good care of their self because the Bible make it clear that man is the head of woman which Christ is the head of man so think about it because God is Holy and you coming in the presence of God without Proper dress or Looking good you yourself will. Not feel good because if you remember when the children of Israel wash there clothes and their self to come close to the mountains God speak no one should touch the mountain because He is Holy God so u can see that With Grace of Jesus Christ we can now come close to the Presence of God so as yourself how do u want to go to the presence of God???
What about the men? Do they need to take good care of themselves and wear proper clothes because Christ is their head? Why make it about women? Paul addresses the men and the women who were praying and prophesying in the Corinthian churches. And he only mentions their hair and heads, not their clothes.
Marg, I’m enjoying your work and the important component of connecting the text to first century culture. Do you think it is possible that Paul was quoting and verifying what was written in the past (in verses 5-9), and then in verse 10, he justified why women should have the liberty to choose whatever they want to wear or not wear on their heads? Freedom to do as one pleases is a true sign of authority. Did Paul assume that his readers understood that he was quoting old rules and translators from a different culture sixteen hundred years later did not understand that? This is my own way of hearing it:
5 But (the tradition says) “ANY WOMAN WHO PRAYS OR PROPHESIES WITH THE HEAD NOT COVERED, SHE DISHONORS THE HEAD OF HER AND SHE BECOMES ONE AND THE SAME WITH ONE HAVING BEEN SHAVED. 6 THEREFORE, IF A WOMAN IS NOT BEING VEILED, LET EVEN HER HAIR BE CUT OFF. BUT SINCE IT IS DISHONORABLE TO A WOMAN TO SHEAR OR TO BE SHAVED, LET HER BE VEILED.” 7 Certainly, it’s true (the tradition says) a man does not need to cover the head, being a figure and representation (doxa) of God. Consequently, (the tradition says) the wife is the representation (doxa) of a husband. 8 It’s true, (the tradition says) a male does not exist coming from a female, but instead, a female exists coming from a male. 9 And of course, (the tradition says) a male was not created for the sake of the woman, but instead, a woman was created for the sake of the man.
10 Because of this, a woman needs to have liberty to do as she pleases upon the head for the sake of the emissaries.
In my view, Paul was clearly trying to eliminate old laws and regulations that diminished anyone, Jew or Greek, male or female, etc.
I think it’s possible that Paul is articulating or quoting Corinthian ideas in the first half of the chiasm and that he then reveals, from verse 11 onwards, his own thoughts beginning with “Nevertheless” or “Except that”:
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God . . .”
These words nicely balance 1 Corinthians 11:8-9. What verses 8 and 9 says is true, according to Genesis 2, but it’s not the whole story.
Another possibility is that Paul is drawing his audience in and, just when you expect him to say “men are in charge” or “so and so is the leader,” he says “God is in charge.” (My very loose paraphrase.)
Matthew Malcolm, an expert on 1 Corinthians, has written about this:
“Paul has a keen interest in setting up hierarchies of human honour, and then surprisingly subverting them by subjecting all humans to God. This happens at both the beginning and the end of the head-coverings discussion in chapter 11, as well as earlier on in chapter 3.”
I have a very short blog post about this here.
Also, I don’t believe doxa means reflection exactly, but “repute” or “reputation.” In the Roman world, a woman’s appearance and behaviour (she needed to appear to be chaste) directly affected the doxa (reputation) of the paterfamilias and of her husband, if she was married. On the other hand, the appearance and behaviour of men directly affected the doxa of their superior, and for a Christian, that is Jesus Christ. (If a man disgraced himself, it didn’t reflect on the women in his household; it generally didn’t affect their doxa.) (More on this here.)
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is notoriously difficult to understand, however, as we are not given the backstory. It’s a shame that many Christians in the past have confidently interpreted this passage, but have failed to understand what Paul was actually saying. And I’m still not sure what to do with verse 10.
I’ve been poring over this passage for weeks and even started studying NT Greek on my own, so I can understand it better. I also have come to the conclusion that the opinions in verses 4-6 are not Paul’s, but rather an opinion of one of the factions (and he already states in chapter 7, that he is addressing several things they wrote to him about).
I think this is plausible based on the beginning of verse 7 where Paul uses a Greek phrase construction “men…gar…” which sets up a concession/affirmation of what precedes, followed by a contrasting phrase, ie “I agree…but…” It doesn’t make sense for Paul to agree with himself, if indeed verses 4-6 are his words. It makes a lot more sense, if he’s addressing someone else’s opinion. Then he uses the order of creation to show that the interdependence of man and woman is the original design, rather than the hierarchy of the curse in Genesis 3.
It seems to me that he makes the argument in verses 8-10, that because the woman was the final creation, she should by rights have her own authority (instead of the more common view that her place in creation put her at the bottom of the totem pole).
Setting up verse 11 with “plen,” though, he negates the idea that order of creation, interpreted either way, has anything to do with authority. And it’s clear from his discussion of marriage in Chapter 7, that authority in marriage is a mutual authority shared by one flesh- not one ruling the other.
As to the angels in verse 10- I saw in your notes in another post the idea that it ties back to 1 Cor 6:3, and I agree, but I have a different idea how those relate. If woman was created for man’s benefit to share a mutual authority as the last of creation over the rest of creation, and all Christians will judge angels, then the reference to angels seems to say, that if a woman will have authority over angels, she should certainly have authority over herself.
A final thought- I don’t believe this passage has anything to do really with hair or head coverings. Verse 14 is inexplicably (to me) translated as a question, which completely changes its meaning. Some of the Greek manuscripts do have a question word (E) added before “oude,” but most do not. Even the manuscripts that don’t have an interrogative word added still translate it as a question (Does not even…?). But as you mentioned elsewhere, Nature doesn’t address hair length, and men can, indeed, naturally grow long hair, so your explanation was that the word used there must be referring to custom instead.
I believe that verse 14 is a statement, and I think it’s quite plausible to say so, since it doesn’t actually contain words that indicate it’s a question. I think that translation as a question has been forced on the text to make it match what translators assumed Paul was saying. But reading it as a statement it says, “Not even the Nature herself teaches you that a man indeed if he grows his hair, a dishonor to him it is, but a woman if she grows her hair a glory to her it is.” Further, the word “that” (hoti) in the sentence may be denoting a quote “A man…but a woman.” If so, I believe the statement that follows “For the hair instead of a covering has been given (many manuscripts don’t include “to her”), is Paul’s way of saying, “If God’s natural law doesn’t prohibit men from growing out their hair, and women growing hair isn’t a special quality of women, well, hair is just hair. God made it for a body covering, not a symbol.” And then he closes the argument by telling them that no such custom of veiling exists within the church. This jives a lot more with Galatians than other interpretations, and it makes a lot of sense within the context of a letter addressing various factions in Corinth adding things to the Gospel.
Lastly, as you have noted, this passage indicates women prayed and prophesied in gatherings, which would seem to contradict 1 Cor 14:34-35 and the statement that women should be silent. It doesn’t make sense if both of these passages are instructions from Paul, but it makes a lot of sense if 1 Cor 11:4-6 represents the opinion of one faction, and 1 Cor 14:34-35 represents a different faction in Corinth. 1 Cor 14:36-37 certainly seems to be a rebuke in response to verses 34-35. Something along the lines of “Does the word of God originate and go out from you? I already addressed women praying and prophesying in chap 11, and my discussion of spiritual gifts in chap 14 uses indefinite pronouns rather than masculine ones, so if it’s not clear by now that women are allowed to talk, who do you think you are?”
I don’t claim that I’ve got this completely right, but this is what seems to make the most sense in the context of other Scripture, including Paul’s other writings, and what I understand of the actual word choices and grammar. I’ve enjoyed reading many of your posts on this topic, and your insights have helped me study this passage.
A few quick thoughts.
I read verse 7 as having a men–de construction:
“for (men) on one hand . . . but (women) on the other hand . . .
The gar in verse 7 has the sense of “for” and is not part of a men–gar construction.
You may well be correct on this: “if a woman will have authority over angels, she should certainly have authority over herself.”
I think verse 14-15a makes good sense as a question. Verses 13 and 14-15a could both be questions. (Most questions in Greek do not contain interrogatives.) As you say, it makes a big difference if 14-15a is understood as a rhetorical question or a statement. Yours is an interesting idea.
I’m not sure why you think this passage is not about hair (or head coverings). Paul sure says a lot of things about the appearance of heads in this passage. What do you think it’s about?
I’ve divided your comment into paragraphs. Please, if you reply, divide your response into paragraphs. It’s very hard to read otherwise.
Thanks for your response!
You are correct about verse 7. It is “men-de.” Gar was a typo on my part, nevertheless, “men..de…” can have the effect I was talking about. I was referencing the Thayer Greek Lexicon which says: “those in which μέν has a concessive force, and δέ (or ἀλλά) introduces a restriction, correction, or amplification of what has been said in the former member, indeed … but, yet, on the other hand. Persons or things, or predications about either, are thus correlated:..” and places 1 Cor 11:7 in this category. My point being- Paul is ostensibly agreeing with them, but his argument will take a different direction than they expect, which is similar to your comment above about Paul subverting hierarchical structures.
I realized I wasn’t quite clear about my reasoning for believing verse 14-15a is a statement. Yes, questions can be formed in Greek without interrogatives, however, in the absence of interrogatives, we have to explore all the possible meanings of the sentence, and I believe the evidence points to it being a statement.
Because Paul was an educated man, and there is evidence that he understood Greek philosophy and sophism, I don’t think he would have used “the Nature” to mean anything other than natural law, as opposed to laws or customs of men. Elsewhere in his letters, he uses this word in different forms to describe things that pertain to the natural world, the innate nature of things (versus custom), and natural origin. In 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans he contrasts God’s grace, wisdom, and power with man-made laws, customs, and traditions.
So I don’t think Paul would use phusis to refer to cultural convention. This verse posed as a question has confused me since I was a little girl, because the Law of Moses doesn’t address the hair length of the general populace, and the Nazarites were specifically directed NOT to cut their hair. Different cultures throughout time and place have different hair lengths for the genders. I find no evidence that there is any inborn sense of propriety about hair lengths. In addition, men CAN naturally grow long hair. So I find no evidence that God’s natural law established at creation prohibits a man from growing long hair, nor that it is shameful to do so. All thoughts in that direction seem purely cultural.
Paul’s conclusion that he and the churches don’t have such a custom as veiling lead me to believe that he was not directing them to do so, nor do I think he would present a contradictory rhetorical question immediately before his conclusion, especially in a chiastic structure. All of this combined convinces me that it makes more sense as a statement.
I believe Paul is talking in terms of heads and head coverings metaphorically, because that was the language of this particular faction. If verses 4-6 do, in fact, represent the opinion of a faction, I believe Paul recognized the attempt to veil women for what it was- an attempt to subordinate them, which is something he generally addresses in 1 Cor 4:6 when he says their arguments and strife are causing them to puff themselves up over each other.
I’ve been reading Paul’s letters a lot recently, and since he often references creation and order of creation, it took me back to Genesis 1-2. I grew up being taught that God’s plan and structure for human relationships was found in Genesis 3. But when I went back and read it again, I realized that the model God gave for relationships is in the first 2 chapters.
Before the fall Adam and Eve were given the same commission with a mutual authority over the earth. As one flesh, there was no need for hierarchy between them. The one above them was God, and I believe that’s what Paul is getting at in this chapter. The curse divided their duties, divided their one flesh, and launched them into a power struggle.
I believe the curse was a precursor to the Law, because part of the serpent’s curse was that Jesus would crush him, and Galatians tells us that the Law is a curse to those trying to live by it, but that Jesus became the curse to break its power over us. So when Paul talks about grace and our freedom from the Law, he is talking about the reality that we are free from the Genesis curse. Our true standard for what God wants is found in Genesis 1-2 (and God’s natural law at creation), hence his discussion in Galatians about our equality before God as people free from the curse.
I think Paul is trying to correct a wrong view of women and their relationship to men. In a larger sense, I think he is directing them, as he does on many issues in this letter, to live as people NOT under the curse. For the man, this would be relinquishing rule over his wife to God.
Now, Paul writes before this about submitting our rights and freedom for the sake of others’ weakness, and for the sake of the Gospel, but I don’t think this is falling under that category. Everywhere in his letters where I see Paul recommending submission, it is not because of a God-ordained hierarchy. It seems to be advice on how to live as a person free from the curse amongst people who ARE living under the curse- because the crux of Adam and Eve’s sin is that they wanted to share in God’s knowledge and authority, and the curse is a cycle of dysfunctional power struggles.
In the case of a man and his wife, the curse causes him to try to rule her, and her sinful reaction to what she knows isn’t natural is rebellion. But choosing, for the sake of obedience to God, to willingly and freely place oneself under the one who is trying to rule diffuses the power struggle. A person who is free in Christ to yield to another cannot really be ruled. (1 Cor 7:21-23) And a person living under the curse who desires to rule and dominate can’t really impose their will on a person who chooses submission. Refusing to engage in the power struggle is a way to live with freedom in a cursed world.
One might argue that the veiling issue could be one of submission, but I think Paul is here encouraging all of them to not live under the conditions of the curse. And since in my reading about veils in the Roman world I’ve found that only certain women were even allowed to be veiled, I’m not convinced this was an issue of propriety that would fall under the category of stumbling-blocks.
Thank you for your thoughts and questions. I am challenged to keep studying.
I also believe Paul did not use phusis to refer to cultural convention but to nature. It seems he genuinely believed that men’s hair does not grow as long as women’s.
There are too many points in your comment for me to respond to in a forum such as this. But I wish you well.
Hi all, this is just a late message to Rema, I was just wondering is there a way I can contact you privately about this interpretation through an email? I noticed that you can’t really engage in private discussion as emails are not published to get into contact.
I too have come to very similar views as you write but you have come across something that I have not because I might lack the resources to find out/clarify, and wish to ask you about it. It is mostly to do with the (E) found in verse 14, among a few other areas among the passage.
Dear Marg also, sorry if this is somehow against the rules of discussion and if so, feel free to remove my post. I don’t really have anything to add other than I have come to a position is very similar to what Rema wrote, and was shocked to see someone else coming to similar conclusions since it is a minority viewpoint.
Hi az, I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to give your email to anyone. That would be a huge breach of trust.
KJV translators set a precedent for adding or leaving out the definite article “the” when translating. The practice continues rampant today. It’s there for a reason. There are additional possibilities to consider for verses 10-14.
authority = exousia: heavily translated as “authority” but Thayer defines as 1. power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases; leave or permission, 2. physical and mental power; the ability or strength with which one is endued, which he either possesses or exercises, 3. the power of authority (influence) and of right, 4. the power of rule or government, b. specifically, of the power of judicial decision.
in the Lord = en kurios – there is no definite article in this short phrase; kurios does not always refer to God or Jesus, but it also refers to a lord, master, leader, person in charge, person who makes decisions. I have translated it in these ways: in leadership, in a role of leadership, in decision-making. Look at ALL the NT verses that have blatantly assumed en kurios refers to Jesus or God and you’ll have lots of fun finding new meanings.
angels = angelos: other options are messengers, emissaries, ambassadors, or envoys who were sent to places where cultural norms suggested the uncovered head was a symbol of authority and the freedom to do as one pleased.
nature = phusis: usually over-simplified as nature, yet Thayer includes other explanations like “a mode of feeling and acting which by long habit has become nature.” In this context, “the nature” refers to things that have become the norm because it’s been a long term cultural practice for men to have long hair (think of Samson and Absalom and modern day pictures of Jesus).
So my interpretation is this:
10 Because of this, a woman needs to have liberty to do as she pleases upon the head for the sake of the emissaries. 11 Besides, no female exists without a male nor a man without a woman in decision-making. 12 Truly, just as a woman comes into being from out of a man, in the same way also, the man comes into being with the help of a woman; therefore, all come into being out of God. 13 Decide these things among yourselves. Is it fitting for an unveiled woman to be offering prayers to God? 14 Not even the culture itself teaches you that if a male lets the hair grow long, it is a dishonor to him.
My interpretation of these verses is quite close to yours, Paul.
Regarding the definite article for “woman”:
From a quick count, the Greek word for “woman” occurs 16 times in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 5 of these have the definite article, 11 are anarthrous.
For comparison, the Greek word for “man” occurs 14 times. 3 of these have the definite article, the rest are anarthrous, but 3 have the word for “every” as an adjective.
Hello from Colorado, USA! I have learned a great deal from your posts and I very much appreciate your wisdom and diligence! Do you think it’s possible that Paul is advising the married Christian women of Corinth to wear veils in public as a sign that they are under the protection of a husband, as in “not available?” Or perhaps even better, in covenant with a husband, as a wedding ring says today. Otherwise, this “religious woman” who speaks in public about her faith might be seen by the general public as comparable to the Greek temple prostitutes who shaved their heads. The same could be so in the advisement to women to keep their hair long. To a culture that may have tended to lump all religion together, veils and long hair could have been a sign that Christian women were NOT just like other “religious” women, i.e. temple prostitutes. In male-dominated Greek culture, perhaps Paul was encouraging Christian women to present themselves in a way that communicated that they were indeed chaste, under “authority” or “protection” for their own safety.
I don’t think Pauls’ words in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are about what Christian women wore in public; his words are specifically about the appearance of men’s and women’s heads when they prophesied and prayed in church meetings. Church meetings were not usually public. In fact, many first-century church meetings were held in private homes. How accessible these house church meetings were to people “off the street” is unclear.
The mention of temple prostitutes in Corinth by the geographer Strabo (8.6.20) refers to a time before the city was completely destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE and then later rebuilt as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. The accuracy, and precise meaning, of Strabo’s account is questioned by some scholars, but he doesn’t say that the courtesans (heitarai) were bald. (Heterai were expensive; they were not common or lower class prostitutes.)
There is absolutely no evidence that any prostitutes anywhere in the Roman world were bald. Rather, a Roman matron, who was supposed to be veiled in public, could be punished by having hair cut short if she committed adultery. This may explain the comment about shearing or cutting hair in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6.
Here’s what Gordon D. Fee has said about the bald prostitute idea:
“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.)”
The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 511 fn80.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians roughly two decades after Jesus’ death. At that time churches were not large. It’s hard to estimate a number, but I think it’s fair to say that all the Christina in Corinth knew each other very well. It would have been a close-knit group of brothers and sisters. People would have known who was married to who.
Also, slaves could not have legal marriages but some lived as couples, and slave women were not legally allowed to veil. Still, I’m pretty sure Paul would not have wanted any Christian brother hitting on a slave woman who was already in a relationship.
Another point to consider is that the church in Corinth seems to have met in homes, but also in larger gatherings when the “whole church” met. I can’t see that women would have covered their heads in the smaller meetings. They may have in the larger meetings. But we just don’t know. Also, since the veil was a status symbol–lower class women were not permitted to wear it–I can’t see that Paul would have insisted on it. On the other hand, Cynthia Westfall believes Paul does want all the women, even the slaves to wear a head covering. (A large percentage of the church at Corinth was made up of slaves and lower class people.)
But what do we do then with the verses where Paul plainly talks about hair? And why are we not talking just as much about Paul’s instructions to the men? Paul was concerned with both the appearance of men’s and of women’s heads/hair. Why is he concerned about this? And Paul does plainly say that a woman’s hair is given to her ‘in place’ or ‘instead’ (Greek: anti) of a covering.
I personally believe Paul is concerned about respectable hairstyles. To me, hairstyles makes better sense of most of the passage. Paul’s overriding concern was “reputation” and not giving the messengers something to to talk about.
Thanks, Marg – great write-up.
Thanks, Moyra. I’d love to pick your brains about head coverings in other cultures one day.
Hi Marg, I have a woman pastor, Christians are always trying to condemn me for it. I use your work to help me defend women pastors. I appreciate you so much.
Have you heard Dr. Michael Heiser’s breakdown of head coverings? He interprets 1 Cor 11 in light of Hippocratic medicine in the Greek culture. I was wanting know your thoughts of his interpretation.
Update: I have an article that now addresses this idea here: https://margmowczko.com/troy-martin-hair-testicle-1-cor-11-15/
Do you mean Michael Heiser’s writing and video based on Troy Martin’s papers? If so, yes.
I’ve also read both of Troy Martin’s papers and Mark Goodacre’s response. Mark Goodacre’s response is here: http://markgoodacre.org/peribolaionJBL.pdf
I’ve also read all of Galen’s two treatises on semen, plus pertinent passages in other ancient writings. But reject the idea that peribolaion means “testicle” (or genitals).
And seriously, how does this make any sense?:
“But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a ‘testicle’ (peribolaion)” (1 Cor. 11:15).
The etymology of peribolaion gives the sense “to throw around” and it typically refers to a garment that is thrown over or wrapped around, a garment such as a cloak or mantle. The word occurs in the New Testament twice, once in 1 Corinthians 11:15 and again in Hebrews 1:12. It also occurs in the Septuagint several times. Peribolaion is not an obscure word.
Perobolain is typically used in the Bible to mean a covering such as a mantle or cloak:
“mantle” (Hebrews 1:12); “mantle” Psalm 102:26 (LXX 102:26); “mantle” (Ezekiel 16:13); “coverings” (Ezekiel 27:7); “mantle” (Isaiah 59:17).
The palla, which Roman citizen women wore over their tunic, and pulled over their heads when they stepped outdoors, was a mantle.
It’s true that some ancient Greeks thought that hair was sexual in various ways. Some thought the brain was made of semen and that the brain was connected to hair, etc. How widely and strongly their ideas were held is hard to gauge. Also sexual doesn’t always mean erotic. Long unbound hair, however, was seen as potentially erotic. Long unbound hair was socially unacceptable for women (and men) except in a few situations (e.g., while mourning).
And the fact remains that most of the numerous depictions of respectable Roman women that date from roughly around the first century show them without any kind of substantial head covering. You can plainly see their hair tied up with bands and/or braids.
Also, while Paul directly links men’s short hair to nature (phusis), it is not clear that he uses nature to explain women’s long hair (1 Cor. 11:14-15).
But the overall concern is somewhat similar: women need to protect the reputation (doxa) of the man, their head, by having the appearance of modesty and chastity. I believe men and women protect the reputation of their respective heads by culturally appropriate hairstyles.
Further, while it is hard to pin down exactly what “angels” refers to, I suspect it simply refers to “messengers.” The same Greek word aggeloi is used in James 2:25 for “spies.”
This is how I see it, but I acknowledge it is a difficult passage to understand and I don’t want to be pedantic about my interpretation.
I think it is clear from the use of terms such as ‘honor’ and ‘shame’ that Paul was addressing a temporary cultural issue which arose and he is not prescribing a permanent practice. My take is that some spiritually astute women have started to remove their head coverings when they pray and prophecy to express the fact that they are exercising their own authority in Christ rather than being ‘under authority’. Whilst Paul may have been affirming of their motivation (verse 10- she must have her own authority on her head), he however disapproves of their method as it has the impact within the culture of the day of dishonoring their husband’s. Paul then enters into a discourse on what the eternal spiritual principles are that are at play and how those eternal principles can best be reflected in a culturally acceptable way. The women should continue to cover their heads so as to display honor to their husband’s in a culturally acceptable way, but their own authority is also to be affirmed – ‘for the angels’. The angels are not to be left in any doubt as to how they should respond to the prayers and prophetic declarations of the women because in Christ they are ‘in authority’ and not ‘under authority’.
You are such a breath of fresh air. You constantly bring me comfort and make sense of things that are confusing. We read the passages. We see what the church has done with them. And then we sit, bewildered, because we know in our bones that it isn’t correct–that there is a disconnect somewhere between the Bible and the church being missed by modern culture.
And you open up all the windows and make it clear. I lose weight mentally every time I read another of your articles. Thank you for being here.
Thanks, Amy. <3
Thank you for these thoughts. I think the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 has become hidden under a tangle of misunderstandings and mistranslations. In my recent book (Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, chapters 7-8) I show how what Paul says is actually a continuous, logical, connected argument. When we translate correctly and understand the flow of his argument, we can see that this passage is not about veils. Nor is it about men’s authority. Paul’s concern is that prayer and prophecy should be undertaken by men and women in a way that honours God, who is the source both of creation and of redemption.
Hi Andrew, it’s good to hear from you.
I love your new book and have been discussing it with others. I especially like your discussion on Genesis 1-3 and how you logically dismantle the ideas (suppositions) of Grudem and Ortlund.
Hi Marg! I have another very random question.
I was wondering what the standard of living for the typical person living in Ancient Rome was. Did the average person live in poverty? Or were most people able to work and have their needs met? How does the standard of living in Ancient Rome compare to a first world country we see today?
Hi Megan, most people were poor and lived hard lives. In Rome itself, poor people were given a dole of wheat each day. (This was replaced by bread in the 3rd century.) It’s hard to say how many people were destitute
The standard of living in the Greco-Roman world does not compare at all to modern living. The level of comfort, convenience, security, and health that many first-world people experience today is better than that experienced by the super-rich of antiquity.
Ok! I figured that was the case but I just wanted an expert’s opinion haha. Thank you so much!
No worries. 🙂
Hi Marg, thanks for this. I don’t know how easy an ask this is but can you provide some sources for:
“respectable Roman matrons (i.e. wives of free-born citizen husbands) covered their heads when they went out of doors in public to signify that they were unavailable and sexually chaste.”
Just a quick reply. Bruce Winter’s book Roman Wives, Roman Women is a great place to start. He discusses the laws and the customs evident in the literature of the day. But I think he overstates his case about the boldness of the “new Roman woman.” Also, he and I hold to different interpretations of 1 Cor 11:2-16.
Some scholars such as Mary Beard think that some less-bold first-century “new Roman women” were choosing not to veil outdoors even though it did offer them legal protection. There is very little evidence from art and from literature that women were covering their heads in the first century except on certain occasions: both men and women covered their heads when making sacrifices to the gods and when functioning as priests and priestesses.
Hi Marg: very impressive analysis. Paul begins 1 Corinthians 11 with “Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the tradition, just I delivered them to you,”
I believe Paul is talking about “tradition” or the culture of that day, rather than discussing doctrinal issues. If in-fact women were leading church worship just as men did, how would that square with 1 Timothy 2:12 “ But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over man, but to remain quiet.” Particularly when it comes to literal meaning of a passage and the principle of interpretation: When the apparent sense of a verse of scriptures makes sense, make no other sense.
Appreciate your insight. With great respect.
Hi Ghazi, Thanks for your comment.
Paul uses somewhat technical language in 1 Corinthians 11:2.
The word that Paul uses for “tradition,” paradosis, was used by Jews: “the paradosis of the elders” (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:5; cf. Matt 15:3; Mark 7:9, 13). And it was used by Christians to refer to apostolic teaching. Paradosis refers to the passing down of oral traditions and, later, written traditions (doctrines). See also Galatians 1:14, Colossians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
The verb katechō, used at the end on 1 Corinthians 11:2, is used a few times in the New Testament in the context of faithfully holding on to Christian doctrines and convictions. We get the word catechism from this verb. See also 1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, Hebrews 3:6 and Hebrews 10:23.
Neither 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 or 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is about leadership, and these verses don’t have a lot to say about leadership.
Women in Corinth
The Corinthian women who were praying and prophesying were not necessarily leading worship but were contributing and participating in worship just as their brothers did (cf. Col. 3:16).
However, it is not impossible that a few Corinthian women hosted and cared for congregations that met in their own homes and that they provided some direction in church meetings. Phoebe who lived in a port town of Corinth had a leading role in the church.
Women in Ephesus
I take 1 Timothy 2:11-15 literally; it is about a woman and a man. (This is not clear in some English translations.)
1 Timothy 2:11-15 is Paul’s advice to Timothy about an Ephesian woman who needed to learn and not teach. We know some people in Ephesus had wrong ideas about the Torah (“law”) which includes Genesis (1 Tim. 1:7). Paul may be correcting the woman’s false teaching in 1 Timothy 2:13-14 where he provides correct summaries of Genesis chapters 2 and 3.
This woman was also to stop domineering a man, probably her husband. Paul elaborates on this in 1 Timothy 2:15. I explain a possible backstory to 1 Timothy 2:15 here.
Also, the Greek word “quiet” (hesuchia) means “calmness” rather than “silence” (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:12). In early Jewish writings, the word is used of Abraham and of Esther, and the related verb is used of Mordecai. It has the sense of being at rest and is the opposite of creating a fuss and being a nuisance. See footnote 6 and the postscripts here.
1 Timothy 2:12 does not have an application for women (or men) who are able to teach correctly and who are not domineering.
There are a few indications that Priscilla and her husband Aquila were church leaders in Ephesus and also in Rome at some stage.
~ When Apollos was teaching in Ephesus, it was Priscilla, with her husband, who corrected his theology, and Apollos accepted their correction (Acts 18:24-26). No one else is mentioned as being involved. Correcting the doctrine of a visiting teacher is usually a role of overseers or elders.
~ When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy in Ephesus, he sent greetings to Timothy, to Priscilla and Aquila, and to the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:2; 4:19). No other Christians in Ephesus are greeted. Were these four named people the leaders of the Ephesian church?
~ In Paul’s list of greetings to members of the church at Rome given in the last chapter of Romans, a list that includes 28 individuals, Priscilla is listed first (Rom. 16:3-5). First! This seems to indicate that Priscilla was also a leader in the church at Rome.
You may be interested in my article The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women, here.
This is a very informative article. I’ve heard so many commentators assume that women being covered was a sign of their subjection, but I never knew there were class distinctions surrounding veils. However, I ran across some articles about 1 Corinthians that I have been thinking about, and I would really appreciate your thoughts on some of these claims. I ran across this review of the NET that made some interesting (and some odd) comments about Isaiah 19:16, the use of gender inclusive language (http://www.bible-researcher.com/inclusive.html), Isaiah 3:12, and especially 1 Corinthians 14 (http://www.bible-researcher.com/net.html), among other things. The two articles they linked about 1 Corinthians 14 and 11 have had me thinking. Some claims, like all speaking roles carrying authority and the idea that veils meant subjection, seem tenuous to me. But others, like Paul seeming to allow things then later saying they are wrong altogether (so that the prophecy being allowed is only a temporary concession), 1 Corinthians 11:17 representing a shift from private to public, and there being smaller and larger gathers that would have been thought of differently seem logical. His answers to Carson’s objections are also thought provoking. (He also links this article about the evaluation of prophecies that notes that the word “speak” is not modified and therefore generic, which seems to be against any limitation of the speech- http://www.bible-researcher.com/greenbury.pdf). The article on 1 Corinthians 11 also has some odd assertions and some valid points. I would greatly appreciate any thoughts you have on these articles and some of the points they raise. I apologize that this is so long; these passages in particular have confused and perplexed me for years. I felt like I was starting to understand them better, but these articles have made me rethink and I would value insight from someone who has studied more extensively than me. The one on 1 Corinthians 11 is http://www.bible-researcher.com/headcoverings.html and the one on 1 Corinthians 14 is http://www.bible-researcher.com/women-prophesying.html
I’m currently reading up for an article I’m going to write about how ancient Jewish writers understood the Greek word kephalē (“head”). (Paul was a Jew.) I will argue that they sometimes understood “head” as having the sense of “a person (or city) with preeminence” but not of “a person in authority.” So, 1 Corinthians 11:3 “head” is talking about levels of preeminence: the Messiah (Christ) has a higher status of honour than every man; man has a higher status of honour than woman; God has a higher status of honour than his Messiah.”
Honour-shame was a pervasive influence in first-century Greco-Roman society and underlies 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. I’ve written about this here. https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/
Importantly, even though kephalē can have a meaning or nuance of “a higher status of honour” we need to keep reading the Bible passages, and not stop at Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3 where Paul uses that metaphor. As I’ve said elsewhere, sometimes it looks as though Paul is setting up a hierarchy of human honour, but he then subverts it in following verses.
I’ve mentioned in previous articles that the Hebrew word for “head” (rosh) can mean “leader,” “chief,” or “person in authority.” But when rosh is translated in the Greek Septuagint with a meaning of “leader,” a word other than “head” (kephalē) is almost always used. This is because the Greek word for “head” does not usually mean “leader” in ancient texts including the Greek New Testament.
As well as evidence from the Septuagint, we see this understanding of rosh versus kephalē played out in other ways by ancient Jews.
The Hebrew title for a leader of a synagogue is rosh ha-keneset (rosh = “head”; ha’keneset = “the gathering).
The Greek title for a leader of a synagogue does not include the Greek word for “head” but a Greek word for “leader”: archisynagōgos (derived from archōn = “leader/ruler” + sunagōgē = “synagogue/gathering”).
“Chief priest” is rendered a few different ways in the Hebrew Bible, but in 2 Chronicles 19:11 “chief priest” includes the word for “head”: kohen ha’rosh (kohen = “priest”; ha’rosh = “the head”).
The Septuagint’s translation of 2 Chronicles 19:11 does not include the Greek word for “head” but a Greek word that means “leader/governor”: ho hiereus hēgoumenos (ho hiereus = “the priest”; hēgoumenos = “leader/governor”).
Furthermore, in the Greek New Testament, “chief priest” is typically rendered as archiereus (archōn = “leader/ruler” + hiereus = “priest”).
I appreciate your questions, Taylor. It’s your questions that have made me look harder at kephalē and
. I don’t have time to read the linked articles just now. I’m not sure when I will get to them. Perhaps on the weekend.
I look forward to reading your new article! I don’t think I’ve heard an article that specifically addresses how Jewish people thought of kephale. I do have a more specific question from rereading the articles. Could it be that being uncovered would still be a shame even if they were not praying or prophesying? Many commentaries sound like that, and Paul doesn’t repeat prophesy or prayer in verses 6-7. It sounds odd to me, but is it plausible from the Greek text that being uncovered without speaking would also be a shame? I’ve also noticed that commentators with the position in the articles say verses 17-18 form a contrast from not being together in verses 2-16 to being together in church in verses 17-18, so that it is implied the activities from verses 2-16 were before they came together; meaning meetings that count as church were not in view. How plausible is that idea? (Thank you for taking time to answer my questions, due to recent world events I’ve had a bit more time on my hands to read, which has contributed to my increased questions. I really do appreciate hearing others’ thoughts on these things, whenever it’s convenient for you.)
Hi Taylor, I briefly mention kephalē in Jewish writings in a couple of paragraphs in sections 1 and 2 of this article: https://margmowczko.com/head-kephale-does-not-mean-leader-1-corinthians-11_3/
I don’t believe 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about head-coverings but about hairstyles, and the context is every man and every woman praying and prophesying aloud in meetings.
The scenario of praying and prophesying men and women is stated in 1 Corinthians 11:4 & 5. (Verse 6 flows directly on from verse 5.) Paul has just written the phrase “prays or prophesies” twice. It is unnecessary, not to mention tedious and redundant, for Paul to repeat the idea of prophesying men and women yet again in verses 6 & 7. He’s just explicitly stated it; it’s already part of the picture. But a woman praying is mentioned again in verse 13. And the verses that follow verse 13 are about the hair of a woman praying. (Prophesying is implied in verse 13; Paul doesn’t have to mention it again.)
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 are not about Christian women or men in general. The praying and prophesying women and men needed to have a higher standard of social respectability.
If Joe Bloggs is sitting quietly in a meeting and is sporting an odd hairstyle, it is less likely to reflect badly on Jesus or the church than if a man is ministering, and is prominent in the meeting, and is wearing his hair in a socially unacceptable way. His long hair might cause gossip and bring shame and dishonour to Jesus and the fledgling church.
I am inclined to believe that the “angels/messengers,” or perhaps “spies,” (aggeloi) in verse 10 are people who might spread a bad report about the goings-on in Corinthian assemblies. Roman society was highly suspicious of new religious movements that might threaten social stability.
“It could be that the enigmatic verse, 1 Corinthians 11:10, which includes the phrase ‘because of the angels,’ is Paul wanting the women to exercise good judgement and have respectable hairstyles so that messengers (aggeloi) won’t spread damaging reports about the conduct of women in the church. [Note that there is no word for ‘head-covering/veil’ or for ‘symbol’ in the Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:10, and that aggeloi is used for ‘spies’ in James 2:25.]” From here: https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/
I’ve heard people say that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is about private prayer and prophesy and 11:17ff is about public meetings. But this idea doesn’t work. All meetings of believers, especially if there is praying and prophesying going on, is “church.” I think I’ve covered this enough in a previous reply to a similar, but not identical, question from you here: https://margmowczko.com/list-of-people-in-romans-16_1-16/#comment-32951
I had forgotten about my previous comment; thank you for linking it. I was rereading some of the article and realized the author depends on a hard distinction between public and private settings; church and the assembly being two different and distinct things; and the idea that “coverings” would carry over without the praying and prophesying. It seemed to rely on modern concepts of church to make distinctions that I’m not sure would have been realistic for the Corinthians. But I do have one last question. I noticed that in 1 Corinthians 11:17, the word “following” that is often added is not in the Greek. I found that a few commentators believe “this instruction” is referring back to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to make the point that they are actually together for the worse. This sounded plausible to me, but I don’t know Greek, and I was wondering if that sounded plausible to you? It probably doesn’t make a big difference, but it makes the section and transition sound smoother to me, and I was wondering if the idea had any credibility.
Also from the articles, the author points out that in Acts 21:5, the wives and children aren’t included with the disciples. I am a bit taken aback by that, since I know there were female disciples. Why do you think they were excluded in Acts 21:5?
Translators (interpreters) had to decide whether touto (“this”) refers back to the preceding passage, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, or to the following passage. I think it refers to the following passage. Because of the way touto functions in Greek, it is reasonable to add “following” in English translations of 1 Corinthians 11:17.
It would be hard to argue that wives and grown children were not also disciples in Acts 21:5. Often wives and children were subsumed by the senior male of the house who represented the household, but that doesn’t mean other members of the household were not also disciples. I don’t think the women and children were excluded. Rather, the point of Luke seems to be that even people who didn’t get out much (mothers with younger children perhaps) went outside of the city to the shore, which may have been a long walk, to say farewell to Paul.
That makes more sense than them being excluded; I appreciate the information. I also read your article about Tabitha and enjoyed it. I really am sorry to ask another question, but today I was reading Chrysostom’s homily on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, and noticed he said the custom in verse 16 is the custom of contentiousness. I found that some other commentators agreed. I had always believed it was about the custom of “coverings,” but now I’m slightly confused about whether Paul is talking about the Corinthians’ customs about hair, or their contentiousness? Or is it ambiguous?
The Greek of 1 Corinthians 11:16 can be read either way: (1) the custom was to do with hairstyles or head-covering, or (2) the custom was about not being contentious or argumentative. But I think Chrysostom is mistaken. I think the custom Paul refers to has to do with his discussion about respectable hairstyles for men and women who pray and prophesy in church gatherings.
The Jews would have easily understood Paul, in his mentioning of “POWER” on her head. To me it’s clear that Paul mentions power in that manner to stir up the Corinthians mind , or to give them some “Meat” as in before mentioned chapters Paul called them out for only being able to digest milk like newborn babes. To clarify….The “POWER” is a Reference to Samson, as he indeed had power on his head by his “HAIR”….Paul using Power to illustrate hair is definitely validating that cover and uncover was also hair, validating your point of “Chiasm”
.the Angels I believe ,at least in that verse, are simply men.
2 Samuel 14:17 Then thine handmaid said, The word of my lord the king shall now be comfortable: for as an angel of God, so is my lord the king to discern good and bad: therefore the Lord thy God will be with thee.
The Greek word in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is exousia, and it typically means right or authority. Exousia doesn’t refer to power in the sense of strength or might. It only means power in the sense of someone’s authority, right, or freedom to lawfully or rightfully do something.
Compare the KJV, CSB, and ISV translations of John 1:12 which contains the word exousia:
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power (exousia) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name …” KJV
“But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right (exousia) to be children of God, to those who believe in his name …” CSB
“However, to all who received him, those believing in his name, he gave authority (exousia) to become God’s children …” ISV
None of us has the strength, might or capability to become children of God, but God has given us this wonderful right.
Here you can see how (exousia) is used in the New Testament:
If someone has the authority, right, and freedom to engage in a certain course of action, they also have control over that action or attitude. I believe “control” may be the sense of exousia in 1 Corinthians 11:10.
Exousia has this sense in 1 Cortinthians 7:37:
“But he who stands firm in his heart (who is under no compulsion, but has control exousia over his own will) and has decided in his heart to keep her as his fiancee, will do well” CSB.
Samson’s power is consistently referred to with the Greek word ischus (“strength”) (Judges 16:5, 6, 9, 14, 15, 17, 19, 30 LXX); a related verb is used in Judges 16:28 LXX. The word exousia (“right, authority”) does not occur in Samson’s story. Samson’s strength was tied to his hair, but I actually doubt the women in the Corinthian church would have identified with him and his strength.
I agree that the aggeloi, messengers or spies, were probably men (as in James 2:25). However, some may also have been women.
I just found your very interesting web site and this fascinating article.
One thing I have been wondering about: why would Paul be so concerned about the appropriate hair style of men and women while praying or prophesying? He was not much concerned with other outward issues either but rather used to stress the inward qualities of a Christian and the invisible but very powerful realities of Christ and God’s kingdom.
Could it be possible this head covering or appearance of the head is meant to be symbolic after all? I find it hard to believe that the same Paul who told us that God’s kingdom is not about eating and drinking and who told us not to let anyone rob our freedom and not let anyone impose rules upon us, would devote so much space and so many letters on how our hair looks like when we pray in church.
Could it be possible Paul refers to the same “veil” or “covering” as Peter does 1 Peter 3 : 3-4 : “Let not yours be the [merely] external adorning – – – But let it be the inward adorning and beauty of the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit, which – – is very precious in the sight of God.” (I used the Amplified Bible but other translations look much the same). Curiously, Peter also refers to prayer when he tells the husbands to live considerately with their wives and honor them so that their prayers may not be hindered.
I do appreciate the idea of angels as human messengers or spies, however. It might have been even a safety issue, but if it was, why did he not tell it straight forward: “Men an women please, there might be spies in our midst, so be at your best behavior when you pray, and mind your hair…”.
At least for us, as Christian women in 2021, metaphorical application of these “hair style verses” make much more sense to me. I mean, if I lack the “incorruptible and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit”, God certainly knows that, no matter how long my hair is or how many scarves or veils I’m wearing, and I’ll not look “appropriate” in his eyes.
Hi Emmy, Here are a few thoughts.
~ Several times in his letters, including his letters to the Corinthians, Paul shows that he is concerned with how the fledgeling church and how new Christians looked to outsiders and non-believers such as the aggeloi in 1 Corinthians 11:10 and the unsaved husbands in 1 Peter 3:1-6. Paul is less concerned about externals within the body of Christ.
~ Unlike today, how people wore their hair and what they put on their heads was highly symbolic in the Greco-Roman world. It sent a message to others about the status, wealth (cf. 1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pet. 3:3), gender, ethnicity, and reputation of the person. However, the typical woman’s head-covering was not a symbol or sign of authority but a status symbol.
~ A veil or palla, usually only worn outside and in public places (not inside homes where many churches met) typically symbolised that a woman was a respectable Roman matron. (It was also worn by both Greco-Roman men and women when they prayed or worshipped a pagan deity or when they served as priests or priestesses.)
~ I can’t see that either Paul or Peter mentions veils or head-coverings when speaking to women about gender norms or decorum.
~ Peter explains what he means by “external adornment” (literally “the external“: there is no word in the Greek text that means “adornment,” it is added in English translations for clarity). Peter means braided hair, wearing gold jewellery, and wearing (decorative) clothing. Veils are not implied or hinted at here. Also, these words in 1 Peter are in the context of marriage, not church meetings! Paul wanted the married women to be respectable, exemplary wives (according to the standards of the day) to their unsaved husbands. (I’ve written about Peter’s words to wives and husbands here: https://margmowczko.com/category/equality-and-gender-issues/1-peter-31-7/
~ Interestingly, 1 Timothy 2:9 seems to assume that at least some Roman matrons in Ephesus weren’t covering their heads. Paul doesn’t tell the Ephesian women in 1 Timothy 2:9 to cover their hair even though this would have solved the problem of their fancy, braided hairdos by making them invisible or less noticeable. Why comment on hairstyles if they are covered and can’t be seen?
I’ve written about 1 Timothy 2:9 here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-instructions-for-modest-dress/
~ As I say in the article, there is no word that means veil or head-covering in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 2:11-16. Paul uses it, kalumma, only in 2 Corinthians 3:13-18 where he uses it 4 times. In fact, this is the only time the word for veil/head covering is used in the New Testament:
“13 We are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from gazing steadily until the end of the glory of what was being set aside, 14 but their minds were hardened. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ. 15 Yet still today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
~ There is more to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 than just “Corinthians behave yourself because people are watching.” Paul is also correcting faulty notions that some Corinthians had about gender. These false or faulty ideas were behind the “free” behaviour of some Corinthians and the restrictive attitudes of others. He is dealing with various, related issues which is one of the reasons this passage is hard to understand. I’ve written more about the social and theological situation behind 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 here:
~ One more quick comment: the three NT verses about women and clothing/hairstyles are about what is appropriate in the particular social or domestic settings that these verses are addressing. They are not about what clothing or hairstyles are appropriate in God’s eyes. However, God is concerned with how our appearance affects other people.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is a tricky passage. I hope this helps.
This passage came to mind again today, and I was thinking that perhaps this “issue” of women covering their heads was being used as a way to push certain people out of the meeting, or to create divisions of class? That seems to fit with the admonitions in the following verses, and really, the entire letter as it describes the freedom, equality, and personal responsibility of believers.
Some people who think Paul is actually asking for Corinthian women who were praying and prophesying to cover their heads, argue that this was to reduce distinctions of status among women as it was usually only respectable Roman matrons who covered their heads in public.
I’m not convinced that Paul is asking women to cover their heads. There is the possibility he is asking for respectable hairstyles for men and for women who were praying and prophesying.
I re-read my comment and see that it wasn’t very clear I was thinking that perhaps the covering issue was brought up possibly by certain church members as a way of making the meetings more homogeneous and comfortable for themselves, and Paul was saying that there is no distinction in the kingdom, everyone is welcome. Maybe
Thanks for your article, and I appreciate you mentioning that you struggled with this passage for a long time so it’s good to know you’re not trying to read your preferred interpretation into the passage. I also often struggle when reading this and have often wondered if I should cover my hair when praying in church. I grew up in the charismatic house church movement in the UK and at that time (late 80s/ early 90s) many women (including my Mum) in our meetings were covering their hair when they prayed out loud or shared a prophetic word. Some of them wore the scarf loosely around their shoulders and then would just put it on their head when they stood up to speak. I thought I’d mention this as your article mentioned churches where women are expected to cover their heads but are not allowed to speak. Also it was frowned upon for men to wear a hat, such as a cap, while praying. Now, having said that, most of these churches stopped that practice by the late ‘90s. Like you, I then asked church pastors why women weren’t covering anymore but got random and vague answers about it being cultural. I was told that we should just do the culturally equivalent thing now such as “wear a wedding ring” (which I know has nothing to do with heads!)
I then went through a brief phase of covering my head after reading articles linked to “the head covering movement” (they have a website with that name- not sure if you’ve seen it) that suggested it can’t be cultural because of Paul’s appeal to creation order and because of the reference to angels. However, I’m no longer wearing it but trying to be clear in my mind as to why I definitely don’t need to. Your article is helpful and I’ll try to read through some more of the resources you reference.
I wish you well with this, Hannah. It’s important to have a clear conscience on this. It took me years for me to have a clear conscience.