THE HEAD COVERING OF 1 CORINTHIANS 11



WARNING!   The information provided here may knock some man-made traditions out from beneath your feet.  We should be the kind of Christian who cares less about man-made traditions, no matter who else may stick to them, and ensure that we obey what the Bible actually teaches and add nothing to it.  Often times we feel pressured to do certain things knowing they are not scriptural.  This must cease. Let us be believers who live by the Bible alone.  We should never preach something as biblical when we know that the Bible does not teach it.


Scriptures in the Old Testament Denoting the Covering

MF Blume

In light of various man-made thoughts about the head covering in 1 Corinthians 11, let us look to the rest of the Bible for references to the "covering" and thereby properly find the context of the issue and discover the true nature of the head covering.  Notice what a woman did in the Bible elsewhere whenever she "covered" her head.  Look at the weight of scriptural support.


Genesis 24:64-65 And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master:  therefore she took a vail , and covered herself .

Genesis 38:14 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail , and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Genesis 38:19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood .

[A Widow is a woman who no longer has a husband.  Notice that garments of widowhood were removed, and we read of this woman wearing a veil, thus denoting that veiling a woman's head signifies she is not a widow, but married and under the headship of a husband.  Also, note the use of the words, " covered her with a vail ."]

Song of Songs 5:7 The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me .



Now let us compare specific verses in the King James Version with the same verses in other versions of the Bible.
King James Version

Isaiah 47:1-3 Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks , make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.

Young's Literal Bible

Isaiah 47:1-3 Come down, and sit on the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, Sit on the earth, there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans, For no more do they cry to thee, `O tender and delicate one.'  Take millstones, and grind flour, Remove thy veil , draw up the skirt, Uncover the leg, pass over the floods. Revealed is thy nakedness, yea, seen is thy reproach, Vengeance I take, and I meet not a man.

[UNCOVERING the locks and UNCOVERING the thigh meant the same thing: REMOVE A MAN-MADE CLOTH.]

1890 Darby Translation

Isaiah 47:1-3 Come down and sit in the dust, virgin-daughter of Babylon! Sit on the ground, -- there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal; remove thy veil , lift up the train, uncover the leg, pass over rivers: thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will meet none to stay me. ...


KING JAMES VERSION

Isaiah 25:7 And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people , and the vail  that is spread over all nations .

Isaiah 30:1 Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering , but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:

Isaiah 28:20 For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it : and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it .

Exodus 22:26-27  If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only , it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.

Exodus 26:7  And thou shalt make curtains of goats' hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make.

Numbers 4:5  And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail , and cover the ark of testimony with it:

2 Samuel 17:19  And the woman took and spread a covering over the well's mouth , and spread ground corn thereon; and the thing was not known.

Job  26:6  Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering .

Complete a word search using a bible concordance for the word "covering," and note the overabundance of references that denote that the covering was indicative of a cloth wrapping material .  In one instance covering is used to perhaps denote a mustache to cover the leprous lip of a man:
Leviticus 13:45  And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip , and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.
With such overwhelming references to a material cloth wrapping used as a covering in the scriptures themselves, how is it that hair ever became noted to be the covering of 1 Corinthians 11? With all the Old Testament imagery in their minds as to what was the covering generally, the Corinthians would have read Paul's words, "Her hair is given to her for a covering," and thought that was quite novel. They never heard of the hair referred to as a covering. They only heard of the veil used as such. So to the Corinthians, Paul was saying that a proper veil ought to be worn by women, because even the presence of long hair is somehwat of a veil, and nature shows us that something over the head of a woman is suited to a woman.


 

The Head Covering Analysis of the usage of Vocabulary in 1 Corinthians 11:2-15


In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers to a COVERING other than HAIR.  This is obvious since Paul speaks in the sense of action when he says:
1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover [his] head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
How can this refer to hair if it is an action?: - " To cover," is an action.  The word cover  is a verb in this instance.  The problem arises in this verse because most people believe that keeping one's hair short is what "ought not to cover his head" means.  Yet keeping one's hair short is not an action.  Verse 7 tells us that the manner in which one does not cover his head is by not DOING something.   A man must not do a certain action.  He ought not to cover his head. It does not make any sense if the subject is short hair.

Suppose the issue is hair.  Let's read the verse in this manner, and compare it with the original verse below it:

 " For a man ought not to have long, uncut hair, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God. "
compare with...
1 Corinthians 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
 In our example above, try to reconcile the phrase, "ought not to have long, uncut hair,"  with the words, "ought not to cover his head."  If "Ought not to have long, uncut hair," is an action in the manner that "to cover" is an action , please tell me what action renders a man to have long hair?  What does a man physically do to have long hair?  If the issue is hair , and Paul were teaching men to have short hair, it would not be a matter of a man doing something , as Paul indicates, but it would be not doing something - namely, not cutting hair.  Yet, Paul does not speak in this manner.  He says a man ought not to cover - indicating that a man ought not do an action  which, by the way, a woman must do.

If Hair be the issue, let us now refer to the women's side of the coin. What action does a woman have to in order to have long hair?

If hair be the issue, a woman should not do a certain action - namely, she ought not to cut her hair.  But Paul indicates that a man must not do what a woman must do ,  and not a man must do what a woman must not do .   A man must not cover his head.  A woman must cover her head.  There is an action she must commit.  What action is there in letting  the hair grow longer?  There is no action.  It's the opposite of action.  She must leave the hair be  - do nothing to it.  No action.

 Some might say, "The action is cutting the hair."  However, Paul does not say a man ought  to do this action, he says, a man ought not   to do a certain action.  If hair be the issue, Paul would tell the men to do the action .  Therefore, cutting hair cannot be the issue at all.

 

THE RESTRICTION PAUL PLACES ON COVERING

And why does not Paul restrict covering the head to a woman's life, rather than during times of praying or prophesying only , as he should have done if he referred only to hair?
1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

If the subject is hair only, and "uncover" meant "to cut", Paul would have said:
" Every woman who uncovers her head, dishonoureth her head... ",
...and say nothing more, thus indicating a woman's whole life should be one of not cutting her hair.  No times are permitted to have short hair, therefore, no times are limited to having long hair.

That would include her whole lifetime.  Yet he only restricts it to praying and prophesying.  Today, the idea is that hair is the subject.  That being the case, they believe that whenever a woman EVER cuts her hair she dishonours her head.  Paul did not say anything like that.  He merely restricted it to praying or prophesying.

If one still maintains that Paul is referring to hair, then we can read it as follows:  "A woman must not cut her hair when she prays or prophesies, but she can cut it during any other time."  That would give indication that women can have short hair.  Or, read it another way: "A woman must not have cut hair when she prays, but she can have cut, short hair any other time."

It doesn't make sense any way you look at it if the issue is hair.

 

IS THE COVERING INTENDED FOR WOMEN WHO CUT THEIR HAIR?

Still, others read it even differently.

They look at the following verse and get a different picture from it altogether:

VERSE 6 - KING JAMES VERSION (AUTHORIZED VERSION) - "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. "
They believe the verse is saying, "If the woman be not veiled, let her also cut off her hair:  but if a woman is a shame and has shorn or shaven her head, let her be covered."

They think Paul said a woman should wear a man-made covering if she is a shame, and has already shaved her hair off.  In other words, she should wear a hat if she cuts her hair.

Notice, though, that Paul doesn't say, " If a woman is a shame ," as if she already cuts her hair.   He says, "If it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven..."  as if she has not nor ever will cut her hair.

Paul said that if a woman believes it is a shame to cut her hair off, and she therefore refuses to cut her hair off and keeps it long, she should also realize that she needs a man-made covering.

It's as if Paul said, "If you've made a stand saying that it's a shame and it's wrong to cut off your hair, as we all agree, then you had better also make a stand in the other area that people agree upon and cover your head with a veil."

With that in mind, look once again at the original words:

1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

1 Corinthians 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

Paul compares a shaven head to an unveiled head.  He is saying that it is a shame for a woman to cut or shave her hair off.  When women lose their hair and become bald, does it not seem a shame?  Many women wear wigs for this very reason.  But when men lose their hair, nothing is shameful.  Paul said that refusal to wear a veil was just as shameful as a woman's hair cut off or shaved off.
 

HOW LONG IS LONG?


We have heard the above question many, many times.  Yet, if we look at the covering as being uncut, long hair, we come across a problem.  Take a look at it:
1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.

1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with [her] head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

1 Corinthians 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

Here, in verse 5, Paul says that a woman who has UNCOVERED HER HEAD has fallen into the same category as having shaved off her hair.  We must understand that the archaic language in the last phrase of verse 5, "that is even all one as if,"  means in modern English, "that is the same thing as if."

In our modern speech, Paul said, "A woman who has her head uncovered dishonours her head;  for that is the same thing as if she was shaven."

Suppose that uncovering the head means cutting hair off in the least bit, or trimming hair, as many Pentecostals believe it to mean.  Verse 4 says a man must not cover his head.  It would mean that a man could have long hair that is merely trimmed.  And we do not have any evidence that a man must cut his hair every week or month.  What would be wrong with trimming it once a decade?  Its still cut.  If long, uncut hair is the covering, then a man can have long, cut hair, for he would not be covered, according to the view of some.

People may say, "No sir!  Verse 14 tells us that a man must not have long hair; even if it's trimmed!"

1 Corinthians 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?

1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

They say that a man who has long hair, but trims it, is a shame and it is still long hair, according to verse 14.  Yet, verse 15 uses the same terminology for a woman.  And if a man cannot have long, trimmed hair because it would be covering his head, then by the same token verse 14 would read, "a woman who has long hair and trims it, has hair which is a glory to her."  In fact, they say this verse proves a woman's long hair is the covering of verses 4-6!  That makes no sense at all.  It sounds as though long, trimmed hair is the covering, since a man should not wear such hair!  Therefore, a woman would be able to have long hair and trim it.  Remember, it uses the same term for a man's case in verse 14 as for a woman's in verse 15.

If people will disagree with this interpretation, and say the covering is long untrimmed hair, they are saying that "long hair" means one thing for a man but another thing for a woman.  Again, a contradiction!

People say, according to verses 5 and 6, that a woman who wears long hair, but cuts it in the least bit does not have long hair.  Yet a man who has long hair and cuts a small bit off does have long hair, according to verse 14.  They say it is short hair in God's eyes for a woman, but not for a man.  Inconsistency!  And, meanwhile, they connect verse 5 and 6 with verse 15 to prove that the covering in verse 5 and 6 is the hair according to verse 15.  If you propose that verse 14 and 15 teaches us that a man should not have long, trimmed hair, then you are contradicting yourself.

1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
1Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
1 Corinthians 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

1 Corinthians 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Long Hair alone, with no other description, is a woman's covering according to verse 15. Trimming it or not trimming it is not even an issue.  The point Paul made was that it simply must be long.

People ask us, "How long is long?"   And we respond according to our tradition, saying, "Long hair is uncut hair."  Yet we will not say that for a man's situation!

One person once said, "I would hate to go to the lumber yard with some of these people.  When the merchant asked how long of a piece of lumber do you want, they would reply, 'Just so long as it is uncut.' "

Oh, consistency, thou art a rare jewel!
 

THE TRUTH OF VERSES 14 & 15:

1 Corinthians 11:14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
1 Corinthians 11:15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
 In these verses Paul was relating us to another area of proof, this time from nature, to substantiate his claim that a woman is supposed to wear a man-made covering.  "Doth not even nature itself teach you."   Paul had just told the people that a woman should wear a veil because it's customary for a woman to not  have short hair, and its also customary to wear a veil.  If you're going to follow one custom, then follow the other, also.

If custom doesn't help you become convinced that a woman should wear a veil, then Paul appealed to the fact that a woman is not the head, but the man is the head of the woman.  Paul said that a man shouldn't wear a covering because he is the image of God.  The women couldn't go thinking that they can appear unveiled as men.  Women are not the image and glory of God.  They are the glory of the MAN.  Grace doesn't change that.  Though by grace  we are all on the same level, yet God still maintains a governmental structure where women do not usurp the authority of a man.  God made man the head of the woman.  And women must always indicate that aspect of their existence in the order of a church service.  Otherwise it would be most disgraceful in the eyes of the world and even the angels!

 Then, with headship of the man in mind, Paul uses the truth that a woman has power on her head because of the angels.  Angels rebelled and kicked against their headship.  They rebelled against the POWER of their head - GOD.  We will not make the error that one third of the angels made.

If these three do not convince you, then he uses nature to further give proof.  Since it is a shame for a man to have long, natural hair that covers his head, a man should not wear a veil either.  Just looking at a man in long hair proves a veiled man would also look shameful.  But not so with a woman!  A woman looks glorious in her long hair.  The Corinthians did not regard hair as a covering before.  To them, Paul's words would be a revelation.  To the Corinthians, it would be an eye-opener to realize that natural hair is another, natural covering, too.   Coverings were always considered to be veilings.  Paul noted there are more than one coverings.  And this is the reason Paul chose to use nature's covering to vindicate his assertion of the need for women to wear a man-made  covering.  A woman's long HAIR helps clarify how a veil certainly does look becoming to a woman when she prays or prophesies.

 The problem in Corinth was that the women wanted to be like the men, since they felt they were equal in church work with the men.  They were taking grace too far.  Although they kept their hair long, they felt the veil should be discarded since men do not wear one.  Paul, however,  told them if it was wrong for a woman to shave her head bald, with which all the women agreed, then the same general customs teach that it is also wrong for a woman to go unveiled.  That was Paul's first argument.

 

USING VERSES 14 & 15 ALONE TO PROVE HAIR IS THE ISSUE


In verses 14 and 15 we discover that hair is a covering, and not the covering that is at issue in this chapter.  This structure of grammar proves that the issue discussed is not hair. Hair is an example of a covering, helping Paul prove his point concerning the covering of the chapter.  Paul refers to hair as another covering besides the one discussed in verses 4 through to 6.  This infers there is more than one covering!

If you look at verses 14 and 15 alone and try to prove that the issue was truly hair alone, then notice the following deduction based on that premise:

Paul said that a man looks shameful in long hair.  Nothing is said about a man in short hair in verse 14.  Long hair is the subject.  Yet, a woman looks glorious in long hair.  Nothing, again, is said about a woman having short hair.  A person might conclude that a woman can therefore cut her hair short, for the  issue is not short hair, but a man with long hair.  Nothing is said about a woman with short hair.

This deduction is most incorrect, because Paul earlier indicated that it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven.

1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
1 Corinthians 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
The Bible teaches us that  long hair is to be accompanied with a man-made covering.

It isn't saying that cutting the hair a slight bit is the same as shaving it off.  It is saying that refusal to wear a man-made covering is the same as cutting the hair or shaving it off.

In the east, many of our foreign brethren understand the custom of the covering far better than North Americans influenced by denominational tradition and pride.  They continue to maintain that Paul insisted on a man-made covering.  After all, they live in the east, where the custom was stressed.  But remember, our Gospel came from the east also, and we must all obey the Gospel!

Many of these brethren have asserted that it is better for a woman to cut her hair off than to let her hair grow long and yet refuse a man made-covering!  And if verses 4-6 are indeed speaking about a man-made covering, then they are most correct!  A woman with long hair who does not wear a covering is the same  as one who cuts or shaves off her hair.

Still other people resort to using verse 16 to prove we need not bother with any covering at all if we find contentions against wearing the covering.

1 Corinthians 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
I feel that two different camps have erred on this interpretation.  Paul was not a legalist, as people accuse of as being if we preach that women should cover their heads. A legalist is one who commands this order in hopes that those who obey will be saved by their actions.  We are not saved by works.  We must make this very clear in our minds.  This issue is not a heaven or hell issue, unless a person simply flat-out refuses to obey anything God speaks about.  But even then, it is not the action refused, but the rebellion within.

Paul said that if the people would not follow and keep this order of the covering, then he would rather them not do it out of command, for he was not a legalist.  Had he made them do it without their approval, their actions would simply be nullified by their lack of inward consent.

I feel that to legislate how a man is to love his wife, and to write a manual on the methods of holding her hand and repeating these words, " I love you," in a cold, dead manner, would simply be unacceptable to that precious wife.  She wants real affection.  And the submission God is asking for in the heart of all believers is to be the reason women represent that with a head covering.  And if they intent is not there, but a flat-out refusal, how could making the woman wear a covering complement the spirit of submission she is supposed to honour?  It is rather silly to make a rebel symbolize submission.

So Paul's view is that if you refuse to submit and if it would take legalism to have you submit, we do not want legalism in any of our churches.

Oh, that we would obey the Word out of a heart-felt love, rather than a legalism based upon whether it will send us to hell or not!   Ho many standards of what we consider should be modest clothing would people drop in a moment if they realized these were not heaven or hell issues?  I dare say many would drop them.  What kind of heart would only do what is right in the eyes of God if the issue meant heaven or hell?  We should do what is right or wrong simply because of integrity and sincerity and love towards God to do His will.

CONCLUSION

Many have asked me whether I think this is for contemporary Christians, or not, assuming that perhaps Paul only spoke for the people of that ancient culture.  My personal opinion is, YES.  My wife wears a head covering today when she attends a public worship service.  Paul did not use the reason of contemporary culture and tradition.  He used the order of creation and the purpose of man and woman in light of man being God's glory and woman being man's glory.  I believe that in order to obey the Bible from the heart and to concern ourselves with what God thinks, and not what mankind wants to think , that if we see the issue of head covering in the scriptures to be describing the actual cloth wrapping material, then we ought to obey that scripture even today.

Since this is a female issue, and it denotes submission, it is not uncommon to see some women really rise up against this issue if they have a bit of rebellion in their hearts.  Some women do not understand these verses and have not had them taught to them.  For example, don't be too hasty to judge a woman with short hair if she has not been taught from the scriptures that the Word teaches that a woman ought to have long hair.  The same goes with the covering.  The scripture applies, "To whom much is given, much shall be required." (Luke 12:48). It is an issue of the heart.  Once we hear of truth and reject it simply because we do not personally like the idea of what the scripture teaches, then our hearts are rebellious.  But if we honestly cannot see a certain interpretation in scripture, and that is the reason we do not abide by a certain manner, then that is not rebellion, and is much different.  However, we must have the utmost of integrity and not fool ourselves.  Our flesh is very biased against anything that causes it to humble itself.  Flesh simply loves self-exaltation.  And also, do not take this issue and make it part of your life only to use it to show how much holier and better you are than others who do not do this.  That is even more wicked, in my mind, than not obeying scripture.

Some ask whether an actual cloth veil is necessary or simply a hat.  I believe the issue is not of how the covering is on the head, but simply that a covering be there.  So a hat is certainly acceptable.  I believe that the kind of covering is determined by the culture.

God bless you!