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Head-coverings - 1 Cor.11 ?

What is Paul teaching here?

This has to be one of the number of passages in the writings of
Paul, that Peter said were "hard to understand." Paul was a every
scholastical fellow in the Word of God, very educated we might
say, and then again he was taught directly by Christ for two or
three years as he tells us in the book of Galatians.

I do believe that Dr. James B. Hurley has come as close to the
truth of the matter on this section of Paul, as anyone I have
ever read. So it is with pleasure I reproduce his writing on this
passage of Scripture from his book "Man and Woman in Biblical
Perspective" a book I highly recommend for all Christians to
read. It is an old book (1981) but your Public Library will
possibly have it or can get it for you via their inter-library
loans department. I will give you all of what he has written but
only on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.


We have seen the minimal role of women in the worship of Judaism
and the greatly enlarged role of women in Christian worship. In
this chapter we must ask further questions about the enlarged
role of Christian women. In the last, chapter we considered
distinctions between husband and wife in the marriage relation.
Does that distinction carry over to the public worship? If so, to
what degree? This problem confronted Pauline churches on a number
of occasions as they tried to work out the meaning of their faith
for conduct during worship. We shall consider two primary texts
in this chapter: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:33-36. The first of
these might have been considered in the previous chapter on
marital relationships but is better included here as it
specifically reflects upon the implications of the marital
relation for worship. First Timothy 2:13 might also be discussed
under the present heading, but will be deferred until our
discussion of church office.


We have already discussed the various factions which grew up at
Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul addresses a question about
hair and hair coverings raised in a communication from the
Corinthians. We do not have the letter from the Corinthians, but
we are able to discern much of its content from Paul's response.
As we study the passage we shall build up a picture of the
Corinthian question. Paul wrote, "I praise you for remembering me
in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed
them on to you. Now I want you to realize that the head of every
man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head
of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with a
covering [of long hair] dishonours his head. And every woman who
prays or prophesies with no covering [of hair] on her head,
dishonours her head - she is just like a 'shorn woman'. If a
woman has no covering [of long hair], let her clip it short. And
if it is shameful for her to have her hair clipped short or
shaved, let her be covered [by it]. A man ought not to have [long
hair as] a covering on his head, since he is the image and glory
of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man was
not taken out of the woman, but the woman out of the man; neither
was the man created for the sake of the woman, but the woman for
the sake of the man. For this reason a woman ought to have a sign
of authority on her head, because of the angels. In the Lord,
however, woman is not independent of man. For as woman was taken
out of man, so also the man is born of woman. And everything is
from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray
to God with her head not covered [by her hair]? Does not nature
itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to
him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? Her long hair
is given her instead of a veil. If anyone wants to be
argumentative about this, we have no such practice - nor do the
churches of God (1 Cor. 11:2-16, my own rendering).

Paul's response is complex and raises many different points. We
shall therefore have to look at a series of issues if we are to
derive maximum benefit from it. Patience must be exercised as we
consider each topic. It will be helpful to look back over the
biblical text as a whole whenever attention to detail begins to
to get out of focus.


Paul opens this discussion with a word of praise for his church.
It was very much his practice to offer positive words where he
could, a practice which was no doubt effective in showing his
concern. In this case it has a bit more importance than usual. He
praises the Corinthians for holding his teachings, and wishes to
build upon some of his teachings to persuade them to alter a
practice of theirs. All parties would have agreed that Christ is
the head of every man. It is not as clear what they would have
thought about the man as the head of the woman. Presumably they
would have had little problem with understanding God the Father
as head of Christ. From this series of 'headship' relations Paul
will draw conclusions about head coverings. It is necessary to
examine the meaning 'head' (kephale) in some detail.

In our day, the head is known to be the seat of thinking and the
'executive' of the body. In ancient times, however, this was not
the case. The head was merely the uppermost organ of the body.
Its uppermost position, however, led to its use to identify that
which is most visible, 'on top' 'at the beginning' or 'prior'.
In English we speak of the 'head' of a river to refer to its
point of origin. This was a typical usage of 'head' (kephale) in
classical Greek. By Paul's day, however, a change had occurred.
The Greek versions of the Bible used kephale (head) to translate
the Hebrew word r'osh, which also means 'head'. The Hebrew word,
however, was used to indicate one in a position of authority or
command as well as origin or 'priority'. In Paul's day,
therefore, the Greek word 'head' (kephale) could mean a physical
head, a person with authority, or the source of something. Head
(kephale) was used in first-century Greek as a synonym for the
more common words for 'ruler' (archon) and for 'source' (arche).

To say that a man is head of a woman may thus be to say that
they are intimately connected as parts of a single body, or to
say that he is her origin (i.e. her beginning is in him) or to
say that he is in a position of authority with respect to her.

(The following long paragraph is a foot note in Hurley's book on
the page I have reproduced. the flow of Hurley's writing should
be picked up AFTER this paragraph - Keith Hunt)

{S. Bedale's influential study, 'The Meaning of kephale in the
Pauline Epistles' ( Journal of Theological Studies, 5 (1954),
pp. 211-215), provides careful documentation of the meaning of
kephale. He suggests that the word should be understood as
'origin' in 1 Cor. 11. His conclusion is frequently cited by
persons who do not see 'authority' in Paul's use of 'head' in
thus passage. Indeed, some authors seem to imply that it is
ignorant to take 'head' as pointing to authority because it
really meant 'origin' to the first-century mind. In such cases
Bedale has either been misunderstood, cited at second hand, or
misused. He argued that Paul derived man's authority over woman
from the fact of his priority. Bedale may be allowed to speak for
himself. Having made the point that Paul saw man as kephale
(head) of the woman in the sense of being her arche (beginning,
i.e. the one from whom her being is taken), he goes on to say,
'in St. Paul's view, the female in consequence is "subordinate"
(cf. Eph. 5:23). But this principle of subordination ... rests
upon the order of creation.... That is to say, while the word
kephale (and arche also, for that matter) unquestionably carries
with it the idea of "authority", such authority in social
relationships derives from relative priority (causal rather than
merely temporal) in the order of being. St. Paul makes it plain,
of course (. . . Gal. iii:28), that he is here speaking of men
and women in their respective sexual differentiation and
function, not of their spiritual status or capacities' (pp. 214,
215; italics mine). It is obvious that Bedale offers no support
for the idea that kephale (head) does not imply authority if it
means 'origin' instead of 'head over'. As will be clear from the
ensuing discussion, I think 'head over' is the better translation
in 1 Cor. 11. What should be absolutely clear is that it is an
abuse of Bedale and his point to cite his article to disprove the
idea that authority is inherent in Paul's use of kephale (head)}.

These various meanings are, of course, not mutually exclusive. We
must therefore ask, on each occasion of its use, which sense of
'head' is intended. We must be prepared even to accept the
possibility or two or three meanings being applicable
Which meaning is to be preferred in 1 Corinthians 11:3? Until
recently, scholars were uniform in preferring 'head over' to
'origin of'. The question cannot, however, be solved by appeal to
numbers of authorities. Nor can it be solved by appeal to
lexicons. It must be answered from the context and from analogy
in other Pauline writings. The following considerations are

1)   Paul's use of head elsewhere. Our previous study in chapter
6 of Ephesians 5:23 and 1:22-23 showed that Paul used 'head' in
those passages to point to Christ and husbands as possessing
authority and as being ones to whom subjection is due. A second
meaning, head (Christ) united to a body (the church), is also
present in both texts. We have seen that in as much as all things
are said to be under Christ's feet and he is said to be
'appointed' or 'given to be' (edoken) head over all things for
the sake of his body the church (1:22-23), it is difficult to see
room for the 'source' concept to enter the discussion. Paul did
not say that Christ was given to be source of all things, but
ruler over them. Ephesians 1:22-23 builds from the body language
of head and feet to the idea of head as ruler.
A different direction can be discerned at Colossians 2:19 and
Ephesians 4:15. In these passages Paul builds from the body/head
imagery to the idea of Christ as the pattern (full-grown head)
into which his body, the church, is growing. To this he adds the
idea of Christ as the source of strength for its growth. The
concept of authority is not introduced in these two passages
using head (kephale) in the sense of source. In addition it
should be noted that neither passage makes use of marital imagery
alongside the head-as-source imagery.
'Head' (kephale) as 'authority' and 'source' may coalesce with
the idea of union as in Colossians 1:15-20, where Christ is the
source of all things, the head of his body and supreme over all
the things which he has created. As with the other head-as-source
passages, the marital imagery is not brought into play.
Interestingly 'headship' is not even used about the marital
relation in Colossians 3:18-19.
We conclude that Paul used head/body language to describe the
relation of Christ to his church. In Ephesians 1 and 5 'head'
meant 'head over'. In Colossians 1 and 2 and Ephesians 4 it was
related to bodily imagery and to the idea of 'source'. It is
significant that in those passages which clearly use 'head'
(kephale) to mean 'source' Paul does not introduce marital
imagery. In passages in which he does use 'head' as 'head over',
he uses the head language to illustrate the marital relationship.
We concluded that Paul's other usage of 'head' (kephale) would
favour the idea of 'head over' being present at 1 Corinthians 11
where marriage is being discussed.

2)   Paul's appeal to man as the 'origin' of woman in other
places. Paul does view the prior creation of Adam and the fact
that Eve was drawn from him as significant in the relation of men
and women. He mentions these facts in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 1
Corinthians 11:8. In these verses he does not say that Adam was
Eve's 'head' (kephale) or even her source (arche). Instead he
speaks of her coming 'out of' (ek) him or of his being 'formed
first'. Paul does not introduce 'head' language when he is
talking about origins.

3)   If 'head' means 'source' in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul's
parallelism is poor and he virtually teaches that God made
Christ. This is most clearly seen if we consider the implications
of the head-means-source view for each of the three relationships
a. Man/woman. (i) Adam is the source of Eve in that she was
physically taken out of him. (ii) She had no existence prior to
that time. (iii) Adam had no part in making her.
b. Christ/man. (i) Christ is not the source of Adam if by that we
mean that Adam was physically taken out of him. (ii) Adam did
come into existence through the creative work of Christ. In this
sense Christ is his 'source'.
c. God/Christ. In this case an effort to maintain parallelism
with other parts of the series leads to strange conclusions. (i)
Does Paul wish to say that Christ was physically created from a
piece taken out of God? (ii) Does he mean to indicate that Christ
did not exist before that time? (iii) Does he mean that God was
the Creator of Christ? These conclusions were specifically
rejected by the early church at the time of the Arian
controversy and are not compatible with other Pauline teaching.
There is no way to construct a satisfactory set of parallels if
we take 'head' to mean 'source' in 1 Corinthians 11:3.
If, on the other hand, 'head' means 'head over', a set of
parallels can be established:

a. Man/woman. In the home, the husband is the head over his
wife. In the church, the religious sphere, certain men act as
heads by being elders, teachers and leaders of the worship
(assuming that women elders and teachers are prohibited by 1
Timothy 2-3, which will be discussed later).

b. Christ/man. In the home, Christ is head over all husbands.
They are to model their behaviour after his. In the religious
sphere, Christ is the head over all elders and teachers.

c God/Christ. God the Son became man and acted on behalf of
Adam's race. As 'second Adam' (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45) he was obedient
to God's authority (headship), even to the point of death (Phil.
2:8). In his capacity as the second Adam, the head of a new
mankind, Christ will acknowledge God as 'head over' mankind by
handing over 'the kingdom to God after he has destroyed all
[other] dominion, authority and power' (1 Cor. 15:24).
This set of parallels, in contrast to the set assuming that
'head' (kephale) means 'source', is self-consistent and does not
do violence to either Pauline or other New Testament theology.
Head coverings were at issue in 1 Corinthians 11. In the first
century these were not understood as having anything to do with
woman's origin from man. They were signs of her relation to his
authority. This remains the case whether we conclude that Paul
was talking of veils or the length and style of a woman's hair.

Even the text of 1 Corinthians 11 makes it clear that the issue
under debate at Corinth was authority (verse 10). Reading 'head'
(kephale) as 'head over' in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is therefore more
consistent with the central problem at issue in the chapter.

The best conclusion seems to be that in 1 Corinthians 11:3 Paul
was teaching that a hierarchy of headship authority exists and
that it is ordered: God, Christ as second Adam, man, woman. Paul 
saw this as relevant to the question of head coverings.

Two further comments need to be made: (1) We have noted that, if
Paul taught that God is the origin of Christ, he taught what the
church has condemned as Arian Christology. It has been argued by
some that, if Paul taught that God is head over Christ, he taught
subordinationist Christology, which the church has also
condemned. This charge must be rejected because it is manifestly
Christ as head of mankind who is in view in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

The Corinthian letter itself teaches that it is precisely as such
that he will acknowledge the headship of God by handing over the
kingdom(1 Cor. 15:24).....
In theological jargon, the relation is economic, not ontological.
(2) As we noted above (note 1, p. 164), even if 'head' were taken
to mean 'source' in 1 Corinthians 11:3, the conclusion to be
reached is not that Paul did not teach subordination, but that he
did so by means of such an argument. Thus, although we think it
quite unlikely, the choice of 'source' as the meaning of 'head'
(kephale) in 1 Corinthians 11:3 does not shift the focus of the
chapter from the question of authority in the marriage relation.


Contemporary Christians have wrestled with the meaning of
obedience to Paul's requirement concerning women's heads. Older
translations have generally understood him to have meant veils,
and have therefore supplied the term in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul
does not in fact mention veils except in verse 15, where he says,
'Her long hair is given her for (anti, instead of) a veil.'
Lifted out of this chapter, this verse would be universally
rendered as teaching that long hair is given instead of or to
take the place of a veil. That is always the force of anti. 'For'
is an adequate translation, if it means '(as a substitute) for'.
Most Bible versions, convinced that Paul taught the necessity of
veiling, have supplied the word 'veil' earlier in the text and
allowed 'anti' to be translated by 'for' or 'as', implying that a
woman's long hair is given her as a veil and that it points to
the necessity of putting another veil on top of her hair, i.e.
that her 'natural' veil shows that she needs another one. It is
easy to understand the motivation for this; it seems unlikely
that Paul would argue strongly for the necessity of veils from
verse 2 to verse 14 and then insist that long hair is really
quite sufficient! A close examination of Paul's language suggests
another way of approaching the problem which does not require
weakening the force of 'anti.'

Throughout the earlier part of the passage, the words  usually 
translated 'covered with a veil' or 'veiled' are kata kephales
echon (11:4) and katakalyptos (11:6, 7, 13), literally 'having
upon the head' and 'covered'. The word usually translated
'uncovered' or 'unveiled' is akatakalyptos, which literally means
'uncovered'. None of (A more detailed development of the view
about to be presented can be found in J. Hurley, 'Did Paul
Require Veils or the Silence of Women? A Consideration of 1 Cor.
11:2-16 and 1 Cor. 14:33b-36', Westminster Theological Journal,
35 (1973), pp. 190-220. The exegesis of the passage in this book
is essentially similar, but has a few significant changes)
these words specifies what sort of covering is in view and it
perfectly reasonable to supply a general word such as 'veil'. As
we have seen, however, verse 15 casts doubt on the propriety of
this. Further reflection on verses 4-6 in the light of our
previous study of veiling customs and of a study of akatakalyptos
(uncovered) in the Greek Old Testament suggests a better

Our consideration of veiling customs and hair-styles in the Old
Testament and in Judaism noted that veiling was not practised as
a requirement in Old Testament Israel and that it is doubtful
that it was required by Jews at the time of Christ except perhaps
among the wealthy of the large cities. We also noted that hair
length and the way in which it was worn was of significant
importance. Greek, Roman and Jewish women grew their hair long
and wore it put up in various styles. In all three cultures long
hair flying loose, dishevelled hair or hair cut off was a sign
that its wearer was set off from the community.

One particular case of loosed hair is of importance to our
present question: the loosed hair of a suspected adulteress
undergoing the  'bitter-water' rite of Numbers 5:18. Her hair was
publicly loosed to mark her off as one suspected of being
'unclean' by virtue of adultery, of repudiating her relation to
her husband by giving herself physically to another man. If the
rite showed her to be innocent, her hair was once again put up.
This procedure was not assigned for a woman actually accused of
adultery. Such a woman was tried and either acquitted or executed
without undergoing the bitter-water rite. By the New Testament
period, however, the Jews could not execute and the punishment
for an adulteress was the shearing of her hair and expulsion from
the synagogue. 

It is against this background that Paul's words to the
Corinthians are best understood. The relevance of the
background can be seen from a look at Paul's discussion and his
particular word choice for 'uncovered'.

Let us consider first Paul's actual discussion. In verse 4 he
indicates that a man who prays or prophesies with long hair or a
veil on his head dishonours his head. Presumably, the second use
(See appendix for a fuller discussion of this point) of 'head'
means Christ and perhaps also the man's own self as well. How
does he dishonour Christ or himself? And how does an uncovered
woman dishonour her 'head' (presumably meaning her husband or men
generally and perhaps herself)? How also does her being
'uncovered' make her like a woman who has had her hair
clipped short or shaven off and bring her shame? Let us assume
for a moment that the covering (whatever it was) is a sign of the
authority of a man in relation to his wife (cf. 11:10). The
removal of the sign by the wife would then constitute a
repudiation of her husband's authority, of his 'headship'. If a
man's wife publicly repudiated his authority, it is easy to see
how this would dishonour him, her 'head'. It is not clear that
her action would dishonour or shame her. In our day it might even
make her a liberated heroine. 

Let us move on to consider the dishonour caused by a man with his
head covered. If a man, whose head is Christ, puts on his head
the sign of being under a man's authority, it is easy to see how
Christ is thereby dishonoured; one who should be under Christ
alone publicly announces that he is submissive to another 'head'.
While it is not likely that the Corinthian men were in fact
putting coverings on, it would seem quite likely that the
Corinthian women had concluded that, having been raised with
Christ (1 Cor. 4:8-10), their new position in Christ and their
resultant freedom to participate in the worship by prayer and
prophecy was incompatible with wearing a sign of submission to
their husbands!
Paul defends their right to pray and to prophesy, but does not
see it as doing away with the marital relation. The already
realized aspect of the kingdom leads to women's participation; it
does not do away with marital submission, but rather should
restore it to its proper form. Only at the resurrection will
marital patterns be done away completely (Mt. 22:30). The
Corinthians had not grasped the both/and of the present stage of
the kingdom.

How does all this relate to a woman without a covering being
shamed as a woman who is clipped or shorn? Paul's actual word    
choice helps us here. We have noted that he did not specify the
nature of the 'covering.' He spoke instead of 'having on the
head' and of being 'uncovered' (akatakalyptos). It is this word
which provides a help. The suspected adulteress of Numbers 5:18
was accused of repudiating her relation to her husband by giving
herself to another. As a sign of this, her hair, which was done
up on her head, was let loose. The Hebrew word which is used to
describe both the letting loose of the hair and being unveiled
(pr') is translated in the Greek Old Testament by akatakalyptos,
the word which Paul uses for 'uncovered'. Could it be that Paul
was not asking the Corinthian women to put on veils, but was
asking them to continue wearing their hair in the distinctive
fashion of women? Let us follow out the implications of this for
the passage and in particular for the shorn hair.
If the Corinthian women were 'letting their hair down to show
that marital patterns no longer applied, that they were no longer
subordinate to their husbands, the sign of their independence was
also the sign of a woman suspected of adultery. In Jewish
practice of the day, a woman convicted of such a charge had
her hair clipped short or shaved off and was put out of the
synagogue. The clipped or shaven hair thus became a highly
visible sign of her shame, rather like the famous 'scarlet
letter' of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Nester Prynne. We can now
understand Paul's remarks.

If a woman accuses herself by putting on herself the sign of a
suspected adulteress, of a woman who has repudiated her husband's
authority, she should go on to put on the sign of one who has
been convicted. Her long hair is thus itself the sign either of  
her dignity as a wife or of her shame. A review of the
translation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16....will show the
implications of this understanding for our text. 
This 'long-hair' view has been adopted as an alternative by the
NIV. We will discuss the implications of Paul's instructions for
our day at the end of our study of 1 Corinthians 11.



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