Articles headcovered

Published on September 25th, 2013 | by Rob Slane


Of Hats and Head Coverings (1 Corinthians 11:1-17)

I have a dream. It is set in the new Heavens and new Earth. There is a crowd of people. Lots of them. They are all gathered around haranguing someone. I know the idea of haranguing doesn’t sound like it has any place in the perfect eternity, but there it is, right in front of my eyes.

I move closer. I notice a man in the centre of the throng. He is not being hurt. In fact he has a smile on his face. Nobody is doing him any injury. No one is angry with him. The people around him are just asking him all sorts of questions and he is holding his hand up, signalling that he is waiting for some sort of order before he begins to answer them.

For some reason, though I’ve never actually seen him before, I instantly know the identity of the man at the centre of the throng. It is the Apostle Paul and he appears to be enjoying himself.

I zoom up even closer and now I can hear voices. “What did you mean by that?” says one of the crowd. “Why did you put it like that?” says another. Yet another, “Couldn’t you have made that part a bit clearer?”

Suddenly it all clicks. They are surrounding Paul to ask him what he really meant in 1 Corinthians 11:1-17 – the “hat passage” that is. Eager to hear his answer, I press on into the crowd, and I hear him open his mouth and begin, “No, what I really meant is…” But sadly, as so often happens in dreams, the Apostle Paul is no longer the Apostle Paul, but has suddenly morphed into someone else entirely. The crowd is gone. The New Heavens and New Earth have disappeared from view, and the opportunity to hear from the mouth of the man who wrote one of the most obscure passages in all Scripture has gone.

I awake with that deflated feeling that comes over you when you realise it was all a dream and the thing you wanted to hear you will never get to hear – at least not this side of death. And so with a sigh, I pick up my Bible and once again leaf through to that passage, reading it and re-reading it with a crumpled and confused expression on my face, trying as best I can to make sense of it.

I am familiar with three popular interpretations of this passage. One is the cultural view. It basically says that the commandment for women to wear a head covering was confined to the first century and the cultural expectations of the day. The second interpretation is that Paul is referring throughout the passage to hair. And the third opinion is the one that holds Paul’s command for a woman to be covered as something that applies as much now as it did then, so whenever a woman attends church she must wear some sort of hat or covering on her head.

I have to say I have never been fully persuaded by any of these arguments. The idea that Paul was urging the women in the Corinthian church to dress in this way because of something going on in the culture of the day seems to me to be most unlikely. It doesn’t sound very Pauline, does it? The hair argument doesn’t do it for me either. The idea that Paul would put forth a whole command about hair, but then wait until almost the very end of the passage before even dropping the word hair into the argument seems to me a strange and somewhat illogical way of making the point.

And I have never been convinced by the argument that the passage compels women in today’s church to wear something on their heads when they come to church. But I’ll come on to the reasons for that in a while.

I believe that there is another understanding of this passage, one which makes more logical sense of what Paul wrote. This is a minority view and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with this. In fact I don’t really expect anyone to agree with it. But I want to just kick it out there to try and generate some comment.

It may seem bizarre, but I believe that for a right understanding of this passage, we need to turn first to the Prophet Joel. That’s obvious surely, isn’t it? In the third chapter of his prophecy, he says the following:

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as he LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call” (Joel 2:28-32).

What on earth does this mean? Thankfully we have not been left on our own to speculate endlessly. In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter quotes this as finding its fulfilment in his day, beginning at the Day of Pentecost:

“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the Prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit. And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:14-21).

Now the first part of this is not too difficult for us. We can easily how the bits about prophesying found fulfilment at Pentecost. What is much more difficult for us is the rest of the oracle, about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.

Here, it is tempting to try and shove several thousand years in between the two parts. Unfortunately for that theory, the Apostle Peter simply doesn’t allow us to shove the thousands of years we would want to shove in there. He quotes not just the first part about prophesying, but also the second part about the cosmic signs, and he not only does so without a break between the two, he prefaces the statement by saying that the whole thing was finding its fulfilment in his day.

For those familiar with the preterist interpretation of Scripture, this presents no difficulties. In the Old Testament this kind of language is used time and time again to describe the end of a kingdom or nation. For example, in Isaiah 13 we find the following description of the impending destruction of Babylon:

“Behold the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (Isaiah 13:9-10).

That was the destruction of Babylon? The sun, moon and stars were darkened? According to Isaiah, yes it was. How about the destruction of Edom prophesied in Isaiah 34:

“For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter. Their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcases, and the mountains shall be melted with blood. And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:2-4).

The same kind of think can be found in Ezekiel’s prophetic oracle against Egypt (chapter 32) and Amos’s prophecy against the northern kingdom of Israel (chapter 8). The language of sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark is standard Scriptural language not for the literal sun, moon and stars falling or becoming dark, but for the collapse of a kingdom, its government and its leaders. This is what Joel was speaking of, and this is why neither he nor Peter allow for thousands of years between the start of the fulfilment of the prophesy and the end of it. Instead, both Joel and Peter are saying that the prophesy would start and end within a relatively short period of time.

Joel’s prophesy is not about Pentecost followed by a break of at least 2,000 years and then the end of time. Rather it is about the setting up of the New Covenant Church at Pentecost, and the next forty years – the church’s wilderness wanderings – until the winding up of the Old Covenant, culminating in the dreadful judgements – the great and notable Day of the Lord in AD 70 – when Old Covenant Israel would effectively be plunged into darkness.

Okay, I don’t suppose that everyone reading this is with me so far, and I guess that those who are might be wondering what this has all got to do with hats. To the first group, I ask you to tag along and suspend your disbelief for a while longer; to the second group, be patient, I’m getting to that.

So Joel prophesied that in this era – the 40 years from Pentecost to AD 70, there would be prophets. Not only this, but there would also be prophetesses. So if this interpretation of his vision is correct, you would expect to find prophetesses in this era.

It is not that there hadn’t been prophetesses before of course. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and  Noahdiah are all mentioned in the Old Testament as being prophetesses. Even in the New Testament, Anna is specifically mentioned as a prophetess (Luke 2:36).

The difference seems to be that between Pentecost and AD 70, there wouldn’t be the odd lone prophetess, but rather many of them would be raised up. This is hinted at in the book of Acts, where it says of Philip the Evangelist that he had “four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (Acts 21:9). The fact that there were four in just one family – the same number as those specifically mentioned throughout the entire Old Testament – seems to indicate very clearly that the gift of prophecy was no longer a rarity amongst women at that time.

Now if this interpretation of Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s Pentecost sermon is correct, what does it mean as regards the hats? What it means is that when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthian church, the gift of prophesying had been given to a good deal of women. And that almost certainly means that some of them were there in the congregation at Corinth.

Turning to the actual passage itself, one thing is very striking, especially given that some use the passage to insist that women ought to wear a hat or head-covering when they go to church. The fact is that this interpretation simply is not borne out by the passage. Whatever the passage is or isn’t speaking of, it does not state that women should wear a head covering when they go to church. It does not say that they should wear a head covering when they are in a worship service. What it actually says is that a woman should wear a head covering when she is doing one of two things: praying or prophesying.

I urge you to go and read the passage again. You will find that Paul says nothing of women needing to have their head covered when listening to the Word being preached. He says nothing of a woman covering her head when taking the Lord’s Supper. He says nothing of whether she needs to have her head covered when she sings. Rather he mentions two things, and they are very specific things.

This might seem like – pardon the pun – hair-splitting to those who advocate that women should wear a head-covering when they attend church. Yet one thing we know about Paul was that he was never careless in his choice of words. Therefore, the distinction is really rather important, chiefly for two reasons:

Firstly, if Paul had intended that all women wear a head covering when they attend church, why wouldn’t he have just said so? Why deliberately mention two very specific actions – praying and prophesying – if he had meant that they should wear a covering all the time during public worship?

Had he intended to mean that women should cover their heads when they attend church, what term could he have used? Fortunately we don’t need to speculate because he used just such a term earlier in the same epistle when he meant “attending church”. The phrase he uses is found in chapter 5, where he says in verse 4, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together…”. When ye are gathered together! Had he intended to signify that women need to have their heads covered when they come into the assembly, surely he would have used this phrase – or at least something very similar. But instead he chose to pick up on two particular actions, which should at least give us cause to wonder why he did this.

The second reason that this apparent nit-picking is very important is, I believe, because the key to the whole passage seems to lay exactly in the two specific actions he mentions.

Let’s take the easiest one of the two to begin with: prophesying. The Greek word is proph which literally means to publicly expound. In other words, what Paul has in mind is a woman who stands up and declares the Word of God to the congregation.

We must remember that this was a needful thing at this time. Most churches would have had little if any of the New Testament scriptures that we have, and so they therefore needed a more direct teaching from God. It seems that the raising up of prophets and prophetesses, foretold by Joel and confirmed by Peter at Pentecost, was for precisely this reason.

As an aside, there is therefore no cause for thinking that the role of the prophets or prophetesses went on beyond AD 70, or thereabouts. These were specially called people who played a needed role in the establishing of the church at that time, but once the canon of Scripture was completed, there was no longer any need for such people to be called by God to perform this office. The last Prophet had spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2) and God no longer needed to use men and women to give further revelation.

It is therefore extremely difficult for those who advocate the “wearing of head-coverings” to church to argue this from Paul’s command that “every woman who prophesies” should have her head covered. When do women ever prophesy (publicly expound) in today’s church? Okay they do so in the liberal churches, but then that’s a whole different issue for a different day. But for churches that hold to Paul’s teaching that ministers must be men, I fail to see how they can then insist on women wearing a head covering, since none of the women in such congregations ever “publicly expound”.

But what of the praying? This is far more difficult, because it could be argued that the praying he has in mind is referring to corporate praying. If this were the case, at best those who advocate head coverings in the church could argue that women should wear them whilst praying, but there is no warrant to insist on this at any other time during a worship service.

However, there are a few good reasons why the praying mentioned here is not simply congregational prayer – women listening and praying silently when their minister or another church member prays – but is actually when a woman literally stands up to vocally pray herself.

Firstly, in all other instances where Paul talks about praying in this letter to the Corinthians, it is always tied to the “sign gifts”. Nowhere in this epistle is the word used to mean someone “praying” in the sense of listening to the prayers of another and assenting to them. It is likely, therefore, that the praying mentioned in verse 5 is therefore connected with the “sign gifts” and the gift of prophesying, rather than silent prayer.

Secondly, the “praying and prophesying” seem very much to be connected and therefore part of the same package, being used in respect to both men (verse 4) and women (verse 5). It would be natural from the way these verses are phrased to assume that the two elements go hand in hand. Therefore, if the prophesying mentioned is specific to certain men and women of that time, isn’t it natural to assume that the praying is similarly specific to certain men and women of that time, and not just talking about all women praying silently?

Thirdly, there is nothing whatsoever in the Old Testament that required a woman to wear a head covering when praying silently in the congregation. For Paul to come along and liken a woman who prays silently in the congregation without a head covering to an immoral woman, asking whether it is “comely that she prays to God with her head uncovered” (verse 13), wouldn’t he need to have some basis in the Old Testament for making such a heavy charge?

Fourthly, when he addresses the men and women that pray and prophesy, he always does so in the singular: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 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 11:4-5).

However, three chapters later, when speaking about women in the churches, he does so in the plural sense: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Corinthians 14:34).

What this seems to suggest, is that the women he is addressing in 1 Corinthians 11 are not the entirety of women in the congregation. When he wants to address women in general, he does so by speaking of women in the plural sense. But he does not do this in 1 Corinthians 11, instead using the singular sense, which gives the impression that he is addressing a very specific and separate type of woman to the rest of the women in the congregation.

Finally, notice the contrast between the command in the 14th chapter and what is stated in the 11th chapter. In the 14th chapter he tells the women that they must be silent in the churches. This appears to be a total contradiction of what he had said three chapters earlier, where he spoke of a woman prophesying. It seems to me that the only plausible explanation of this is that the women addressed in chapter 11 are not the same as those addressed in chapter 14. Is it not more likely that in chapter 11 he is addressing the prophetesses, foretold by Joel, who vocally prayed and prophesied in the church, whereas in chapter 14, he is addressing the generality of women who had not been called to this office?

Without going verse by verse through the rest of the passage, I believe that this offers the most reasonable explanation for what is contained in the remainder of the passage. It explains why she needs to have “power” on her head – because she is doing something that for all intents and purposes appears to show her usurping the authority of her husband or father.

Imagine sitting in the church of Corinth at the time of Paul’s writing. In front of you sit Mr & Mrs Crispus. Mrs Crispus has been given the gift of prophesying and praying in tongues, but her husband has not been given these gifts. What might it sound like if she just gets up and prophesies (publicly expounds), but her husband is not able to because he does not have the gift? It would sound like she is in authority over him and not the other way around. The whole point of the covering – the veil – is therefore to show the rest of the congregation that although she has been given the gift – the temporary gift – she is still under the authority of her husband. In other words, the covering displays to all that what she is doing is in no way usurping his role.

This is also one further argument as to why the praying is not “ordinary” congregational praying. In a silent prayer situation, the woman is not actually doing something that looks like she might be usurping the authority of her husband or her father. She only needs the head covering in cases where she is doing something that ordinarily she would have no authority to do so. So if Philip the Evangelist is in a congregation with his four daughters, and his 16-year-old gets up and begins praying or prophesying to the assembled people, she needs a covering on her head in order to tell the congregation that her gift is temporary and that she still recognises her father as the authority over her. But if she merely sits and prays silently, she is not doing anything that might lead someone to believe that she is usurping his authority, and therefore she does not require the head covering.

I think that this may also help explain that oddest of verses, “For this cause ought the woman [again notice the singular sense] to have power on her head because of the angels” (verse 10). Why does she need to do this “because of the angels?” I think the most reasonable explanation can be found by comparing the passage with Psalm 8. In verse 3 of 1 Corinthians 11, it says that in terms of authority, the pecking order is God, Christ, Man, Woman. In Psalm 8, it says that man has been created a little lower than the angels (verse 5). Therefore, the point being made may well be that if a woman stands and prophesies or prays without some visible form of recognition that she is not usurping the authority of the man, what she is in effect doing is putting herself above man in the order of authority, and therefore on a par with those who were created a little higher than man: that is, angels.

Let me end by summarising the views given in this piece:

  • The prophet Joel foretold of a day when God would raise up people’s sons and daughters to prophesy
  • The Apostle Peter confirmed on the day of Pentecost that Joel’s prophesy was coming to pass
  • Joel’s prophesy stretches from the inauguration of the New Covenant church (Pentecost) to the destruction of the Old Covenant church (the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70)
  • Therefore, the period of prophets and prophetesses was for this 40 year period only – the church’s wilderness wanderings – and not beyond
  • There would therefore have been specially called prophetesses in the church at Corinth and other churches at that time and they would have stood up to pray and prophesy in the congregation
  • The passage in 1 Corinthians 11 does not say anything about a woman needing to wear a hat or head covering to church, to a service, in the Lord’s Supper, listening to the preaching, or singing
  • Rather, it speaks specifically of a woman wearing head covering when she does one of two things: praying and prophesying
  • Both the praying and the prophesying were “sign gifts” given to specially called women in the period of Joel’s prophesy
  • The reason a prophetess would need to wear a head covering was that unless there was some visible sign for all the congregation to see, it could well appear that she was usurping the authority of the man who had authority over her – either her husband or her father
  • The reason she needed to wear this “because of the angels” was because man has been created just beneath the angels. Therefore putting herself above the authority of the man effectively places herself on a par with the angels.



Print Friendly

About the Author

Rob Slane lives with his wife and five home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and a soon-to-be-released book, A Christian & an Unbeliever discuss Life, The Universe & Everything. He is a regular contributor of worldview pieces for Samaritan Ministries International and for the Canadian magazine, Reformed Perspective. He also blogs once or twice a week on cultural issues from a biblical perspective at

59 Responses to Of Hats and Head Coverings (1 Corinthians 11:1-17)

  1. Phillip Kayser says:

    Interesting and very well-written article, Rob. I have always been fascinated with the debate on this subject. I personally hold to the traditional interpretation, but recognize that even during the dominant period of that viewpoint there were men like Turretin whose exegesis led them to a different position. I can respect that. Let me suggest a couple of weaknesses that I see in your argument:
    1. You claim “He says nothing of a woman covering her head when taking the Lord’s Supper.” But the apostle Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Supper starts in chapter 10:1 and does not end until chapter 11:34. So the head covering passage is smack dab in the middle of discussions on how to properly partake of the Lord’s Supper. This connection is so tight on a number of exegetical levels (for example compare 11:2 with 11:23; etc) that the Scottish Reformation came up with a fifth position – that these commands only apply during the portions of the services where the church is covenanted with God in the Lord’s Table. Over time they recognized that that interpretation misses the fact that all of chapters 10-14 are dealing with the church gathered, but at least they recognized the integral connection between coverings, glory, and the Lord’s Table. All glory but God’s glory must be covered, and since the woman is the glory of man she should be covered with her hair, and since her hair is her own glory her hair should be covered with a fabric covering.
    2. You state, “Had he intended to signify that women need to have their heads covered when they come into the assembly, surely he would have used this phrase [“when ye are gathered together”] – or at least something very similar.” But if my first point is true, then the passage is indicating that Paul wants women to wear head coverings when two things are present: 1) “when you come together as a church” (11:17,18,20,33,34) and 2) when that coming together is to covenant together in the Lord’s Table (chapters 10-11), not just any picnic or other gathering.
    3. Drawing the implication from 11:5 that women did indeed pray and prophesy in church has two problems: First, it is not a logical necessity of the language. Consider this statement: “The woman who speeds through a red traffic light dishonors the police.” That is not giving permission to obey the speed limit through the red traffic light. In the same way, praying, prophesying, and going uncovered could all grammatically be prohibited, though the covering is the subject in view here and the praying and prophesying are forbidden in chapter 14. The second problem is that this interpretation puts chapter 11 into needless conflict with chapter 14, which completely rules out women prophesying. Indeed, evangelical commentator, Gordon Fee (who believes in women prophesying in church), shows how there is no getting around the absolute language of 14-34-35, so he just dismisses it as a non-Pauline interpolation. In light of these latter verses, I cannot imagine Mrs Crispus getting up and prophesying within church.
    4. You say, “Thirdly, there is nothing whatsoever in the Old Testament that required a woman to wear a head covering when praying silently in the congregation.” With you, I too believe that ethics should be rooted in the Old Testament, so that thought puzzled me years ago as well. That’s why I held to the long hair interpretation. But once I understood what the temple said about glory and representation, it all became clear. Just as one example – when the high priest went into the holy place to represent the people he wore a covering on his head and when he came out to represent God to the people, he was uncovered. Study the concepts of glory, covering, and representation there, and you can see how Paul could ground his discussion in just that one passage. But there are others. The concepts of shame for men being covered and shame for women being uncovered is also mentioned. This is already too long, but for an introduction, see the “Objections Answered” section of the following book –

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your article and it does give you a lot to think about. Thanks for the stimulating read.

    • Rob Slane says:


      Thank you for your helpful and gracious response. Within the circle of churches I am in, questioning the “women wearing head coverings in church” interpretation is viewed with a certain amount of contempt and opposing views are generally shouted down. So it is really refreshing to me that you, and one or two others, who hold to this view, have responded in extremely gracious and thoughtful ways, interacting with my objections to that view in reasoned and measured ways.

      I only wish the churches would treat all differences in such gracious ways.

      So thank you for this. I will consider carefully your comments (in ways which I wouldn’t have done had you just shouted me down) and ask God to guide me to the truth, one way or the other.



      • Rob Slane says:

        Sorry, I typed this on my phone and got a couple of things wrong. I did of course mean Phillip and Rob ;-).

  2. Michael Daniels says:

    Actually, I hold to a four view, That is, that Headcoverings is required inside of the church as much as outside of the church and that Paul was not instituting a new command but well taught through the Old Testament.. I might point out that your view has absolutely no historical support from the earliest days of the church to the end of the Puritan era. The earliest church held in total agreement that woman are required to wear headcoverings and not just in church but in all public places. The Reformers held to the same position. The Worship only view had a very small minority in the medieval time period and only grew really after the 1700s..

    • TIA says:

      If “women are required to wear headcoverings not just in church but in all public places”, wouldn’t that mean that men could not wear any headcovering (hats, etc.) not just in church but in all public places per 1 Cor. 11:4,7? The scope needs to be the same for both men and women.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Hi Rob, thanks for bringing up the topic and the invitation to dialogue. I thought about your points and wrote a (friendly) response to your article here:

    • Rob Slane says:


      Thank you so much for engaging on this topic. I just read your response and whilst – surprise, surprise – I differ with what you have written, I am thrilled by the way you have answered my points. There is so much mud-slinging around in the church today that I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to find someone venting their spleen at me for what I wrote. But your response is a fantastic example of how Christians can differ and yet remain gracious and cordial.

      I just want to pick up on two points you made. The first of these is in point number one, where you have critiqued my view that prophecy lasted for a period of 40 years saying that neither Joel nor Peter in Acts mention an end to the prophesying, and that if we take this view, we might also have to say that salvation also only had a 40 year window.

      I’ll take these two parts in reverse order. Does confining prophesying to a 40 year period mean we would have to do the same with salvation? I don’t think so. The passage in Joel regarding being saved comes after the sun becoming dark and the moon turning to blood part. I believe the fact that this comes after the judgment language is Joel’s way of saying that the church will supersede the Old Covenant as an ongoing and perpetual thing. In other words, the great and terrible day of The LORD is the clearing away of the Old Covenant, so that the New Covenant church – established at Pentecost – could fully become the Bride of Christ and the place where salvation is to be found for the rest of history.

      In support of the idea that prophesying, of the type envisaged by Joel, was only around for a relatively short period, Paul states in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians that prophecies “shall fail” along with “tongues” and “knowledge” (by which I take to mean new special revelation). These three things were clearly set to “fail”, “cease” and “vanish away” at the same time and since the tongues and special revelation both ceased by the close of the first century, I can’t see any other explanation than that prophesying ceased at the same time.

      If that is the case, given that Paul used the word “prophesying” when speaking about head coverings in chapter 11, if he then tells the Corinthians two chapters later that “prophesying” shall cease, and indeed it does a few decades later at the same time as tongues and knowledge, I cannot see how the instruction for head coverings whilst prophesying can possibly still apply.

      The second point I just wanted to mention is the one where you say that in arguing for the praying mentioned in the passage as being part of the sign gifts, I am expressing something quite new. No, it has been expressed before. Much of my thinking behind this article came from a piece written by James B Jordan, in which he takes this view. The article can be found here:

      I have posted this comment on your website just in case you didn’t see it here.

      Once again, thank you brother for responding in a most gracious way. I look forward to meeting you in the New Heavens & New Earth when we can both harangue Paul and find out who was right.



  4. J Brown says:

    Wow. A lot of energy expended here. And I always thought the Lord looked at the heart.

    • C. Frank Bernard says:

      One of the reasons for a wife to place a visible sign of authority on her head (her husband according to verse 3) is because of the watching angels (according to verse 10).

  5. Steve Perry says:

    Congratulations Frank. After 1900 years of the historical church getting it wrong, you get it right! Wow. All this time. Actually, you are preaching a very contentious homosexual type of worship. A man now wears a woman’s clothing in worship before our King. But you, as opposed to the entire historical church truly understand what the apostle Paul is teaching. Amazing pride and arrogance. I’ll bet you actually are the type of person who has caused a number of problems in you own congregation. I mean, with all this new spiritual insight, I’m sure there other area’s where you have become more enlightened than everyone else. If you are in any kind of reformed church, you should have been disciplined.

    • C. Frank Bernard says:

      There’s nothing homosexual about crowns. Crowns symbolize authority and so would fulfill verse 10: That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head [husband], because of the angels.

      My interpretation makes more sense of the husband and wife passages about authority and submission and how that affects apparel: 1 Peter 3:1-6 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15.

      Alas, if you wish to enlighten the elders of my church:

      • Steve Perry says:

        I’ll bet you are the only man to wear a covering. Look at me! Listen to me! Your teaching brings cross dressing right into God’s presence. And all the other families and people that have to put up with your fantastic exegesis (I should not even call it that), I”m sure, like the ministers, just don’t want to be absorbed in the countless of hours it would take to correct someone with such a disposition. But it’s all about your new revelation. You obviously are embarrassed by the entire historical churches teaching and practice. You need to stop defiling your congregations worship.

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          I get the impression that you think the covering must look like a woman’s veil or shawl.

        • Steve Perry says:

          Not for you Frank, you should wear a real crown. And are you telling me that your elders agree with you and that they are ok with you wearing a covering? If asked, are you ok with Frank wearing a hat or whatever you wear, would they say yes, we are ok with Frank wearing it?

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          Each elder may answer differently than yes or no. At least three options would help: commend, condone, condemn. They’re near center.

        • Steve Perry says:

          And so they pardon the offense. That’s only because as I stated before and are assuming, that they do not wish to be so distracted by your fanciful theology that takes away time from the godly parishioners. Which I why I don’t want to contact them, because it’s exactly what you want. Start more controversy so Frank is in the middle. Look at Frank. And Frank, I trust you really are doing what you believe the scriptures say. I hope you are not wearing some kind of false covering like a hat or something. I trust you are really wearing a crown to church. King Frank.

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls [i.e., authority symbols] or costly attire”

          “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the [costly] clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord [i.e., her king].”

  6. Lois says:

    Perhaps,with the head covering she is protecting herself from fallen angels?

  7. georgejones63 says:

    I don’t buy it. Doug Wilson’s explanation of the “hair interpretation” is compelling.

  8. TIA says:


    What about the second half of 1 Corinthians 11? Using similar reasoning, one could argue (and some do) that we should no longer celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is no longer any need to “proclaim the Lord’s death until He come”, since He “came” in the events surrounding the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.

    I’d be interested to hear your take on that, since many have pointed out that 1 Cor. 11-14 is a long connected passage. If the need for head coverings ended at A.D. 70, as you suggest, and the sign gifts ended at A.D. 70, as many believe, wouldn’t it logically follow that the Lord’s Supper should no longer be celebrated?

    For the record, I am part of a local assembly where the women do wear head coverings and we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. I’m simply asking some questions.

    The Lord’s Supper we celebrate is not a little 10-15 minute ceremony tacked onto the end of another service, but a separate meeting lasting over an hour in which any of the men are free to read a Scripture, pray, suggest a hymn to be sung, or make some comments in memory of the Lord. It was (and still is in some places) a common Middle Eastern custom for family and friends to gather together, usually on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, to share memories and remember that person. I believe many local churches have lost the significance of the Lord’s Supper by turning it into a formulaic ceremony.

    • Rob Slane says:

      Picture of rob slane


      Thanks for your thoughtful comments and your thought provoking question.

      I think the connection between the hat passage and the Lords Supper passage is not that they were confined to the first century, but that they were doing both of them wrong.

      That being said, why confine the first part to the first century and not the second?

      Chiefly for two reasons: firstly, The Lord’s Supper had been inaugurated by Jesus as a memorial and so it seems clear that this is a perpetual memorial, rather being somehow connected to the sign gifts and prophesying.

      Secondly, Paul tells us specifically in the same epistle that prophesying was a temporal thing, rather than a permanent thing. In chapter 13 he says, “but whether there be prophesies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” I think his basic premise here is that prophesying, speaking or praying in tongues and new knowledge being added, were all temporary and would end once the New Testament canon was complete.

      The same cannot be said of the Lord’s Supper which is an ongoing memorial given to the church by Christ. Whether the “coming” here means his coming in judgement on Jerusalem or the end of time is in some ways unimportant. Jesus, when he inaugurated the memorial, said, “this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sons”. In other words, whether you lived before his “coming in judgement” in AD 70 or after, if you are in the New Covenant, the Lord’s Supper must, by very definition, be for you. The same cannot be said for prophesying and praying in tongues which ceased back then, as Paul tells us.

      And incidentally, this further backs up the idea that there is no requirement today for women to wear a covering in church. Paul had specifically mentioned praying and prophesying as the two things a woman would need to wear a covering whilst doing, and then two chapters later he tells us that these things were temporary.

      I agree with your comments about the Lord’s Supper. It is far too often a formulaic experience mixed with morbid introspection, than the joyful memorial it was meant to be.

      Hope this answer helps.


  9. John McGrew says:

    Mr. Slane,
    ‘Your women’ could refer to wives, it seems that only virgins prophesied.
    John McGrew

  10. DustyFae says:

    I do not expect any one to understand this but as for head covering, “A wink from God”

  11. Mark says:

    Isaiah 6:2 “Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (NKJV). The argument “because of the angels” is saying that if it’s good enough for the angels, it should be good enough for the women. Also, keep in mind the walls of the tabernacle had cherubim designed into them, but these were covered from public view.

    In this particular post, I won’t take a stand on the passage overall, but I think this is the meaning of the “angels” phrase.

    • Genevieve121 says:

      That to me is a simpler and somewhat more straightforward interpretation of the “angels” line. Even though I can agree with most of what is said in the article, I don’t see how the first common interpretion is really contradicted, aka that it was mostly a reference to that particular time period and culture. So much of what he says pertains to that culture and does not apply as much anymore – including the example he gives about imagining sitting in a congregation in Corinth back in Paul’s day. In modern societies that are less rigid in their concepts of men and women’s roles – where it is now rare for either men or women to cover their heads – I just am not sure that the pertinence to our world, specifically with regard to our purposes as individuals, are fully answered in the article.

  12. Matthew Hoover says:

    Excellent article, Mr Slane.

    I’m almost persuaded of the artificial covering view, but two questions remain for me: why does Paul say that hair serves as a covering, and what exactly does “praying and prophesying” refer to? There’s some very helpful stuff here as regards the second question.

    As an aside, in the passage from Joel mentioned here, I think darkening of the heavenly lights refers to the armies which would swarm over Israel, like locusts blotting out the sun (Joel is all about locus plagues, after all). I think the other passages mentioned in relation refer to the image behind Joel’s prophecy. Of course, the reason for the armies is the destruction of the kingdom, so the end result is the same.

  13. Charlie says:

    I would recommend a careful reading of my writing here. Besides the obvious problems with a Postmillennial teaching, which is by no means supported by Scripture, the conclusions need a lot of work. My Blog on this subject is here: .

  14. Andrea Schwartz says:

    If this line of reasoning is true, then I guess we should not be dismayed if men begin to cover their heads in church since the time of prophesying is over.

  15. Todd Lewis says:


    A Group of Presbyterian Ministers from London during the time of the Westminster Assembly (1646)

    “Yet a word to the Female Sex only, who come into the Assembly with their hair the most part uncovered, short to shorn, to the shame of their Natures as afore-shew’d: as they may read [Num.5.18.], that that Woman that had her hair uncovered before the Lord, in the Assembly or Worship of God, were only such Women that their Husbands accused them for being dishonest, so were tried by the Law for Jealousie. Mr. Ains. in his Annotations on the words, Uncover the Woman’s head, note what the manner was, as the Hebrews write, that the Priest uncovered the Woman’s hair, and untied the locks of her head to make her unseemly; hence saith the Apostle, Is it comely for a woman to pray unto God with her head, to wit, her hair, uncovered [I Cor.11.13.]? …the name Vail, saith Mr. Ainsworth, on Song 5.7. hath its name in the original of spreading, as being spread over her head to cover her: such Vails were worn by Women, partly for ornament, as appeareth by Isai. 3.23. partly for modesty, and in sign of subjection to Men, especially their husbands, I Cor. 11.6,7,10.” (Thomas Wall – To Defend the Head from the Superfluity of Naughtiness,1688)”

    We see in Numbers 5:18 that the only women who’s heads were uncovered were those accused of adultery and being tested for their purity.

  16. jj1 says:

    1 Co 11:12-16 clearly states that women should have their heads covered while praying or prophesying. It also ranks among the most difficult of all passages in the NT. The intent of this article is not to give an exhaustive analysis of this passage, and so no attempt will be made to deal with every issue that surrounds this passage. Rather, this chapter will show whether or not Paul sees head covering as a normative church custom; or indeed, whether Paul sees this as a valid custom for any church, even for those of his own time.

    Interpreters of this passage have found themselves in one of two camps when deciding what relevance this passage has for the church today. On the one hand, there are those who see this passage as having relevance for churches in Paul’s day (though perhaps not all churches in Paul’s day) and either no relevance for today or a modified relevance for today. Those in this camp include Christian feminists who see absolutely nothing in this passage to speak to the church today, as well as traditionalists who see an abiding principle of headship and submission but no binding custom of head coverings for women. In the other camp are those who see not only headship of men and submission of women, but also a command from Paul that head coverings for women are to be a custom of church practice throughout the ages.

    Concerning the position of those in the first camp, it is unwise to explain away NT commands using the guise of cultural relativity. Cultural relativity is a very dubious principle upon which to operate. It can, in fact, be used to dismiss any or every part of the NT. Needless to say, we can’t have that!

    But even if one wanted to make an exception to the rule that commands in Scripture cannot be considered culturally relative, there still is no basis for doing so in this passage. There is absolutely nothing in this passage to suggest that Paul sees a cultural limitation to his injunction about head coverings. On the contrary, every reason Paul gives for his injunction is arguably timeless and universal in scope. His reasons include the chain of headship (God-Christ-man-woman, v 3), the priority of creation (vv 8-9), the angels (v 10), and nature itself (v 14). None of these things is temporary or culturally limited, but rather timeless, and indicate that Paul’s injunction must be seen as timeless. Moreover, Paul calls this practice a “custom” of the church (v 16), and a “tradition” which he has handed down and to which he expects churches to hold (v 2).

    Those of the second camp (i.e., those who see head coverings as a binding church practice) obviously enjoy the luxury of being able to argue the previous points. They also have the advantage of taking Paul’s words at face value and can apply the passage without compromising hermeneutic integrity. Theirs is the stronger position based upon the preponderance of evidence. However, four or five points of grammar in this passage force a look at a third position.

    Before positing the third position it will be necessary to look at several key elements of Paul’s argument in this passage. First, it is notable that Paul takes one tone from vv 3-10, but from vv 11-16 takes quite another tone. Verse 11 seems to be the pivot point of the two tones. The key phrase in v 11 is “In the Lord, however.” In the passage immediately preceding this phrase Paul makes several observations that, after v 11, he seems to balance. For instance, in vv 8-9 Paul seems to be arguing that man is completely independent of woman and, indeed, that woman is completely dependent on man (“for man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man”). Paul’s point seems to be two-fold: 1) man does not rely upon woman for his existence, and 2) woman does rely upon man for her existence, and, indeed, her existence is for the very purpose of benefiting man.

    Yet, beginning with v 11, Paul seems to add balance to what he said in vv 8-9. Paul argues in v 11 that, yes, while it is true woman is not independent of man, “in the Lord” neither is “man independent of woman.” The statement in vv 8-9 is true in itself, but does not go quite far enough. Man and woman are interdependent; neither one can claim independence. Paul expands upon this in v 12. In essence he says, yes, it is true that woman was made from man, but “also the man is born of the woman”–hence, interdependence, and hence, vv 8-9 are balanced by vv 11-12.

    One last balance seems to be between v 7 and v 12. In v 7 Paul seems to argue that man was made in the image of God but woman was not. Instead, she was made in the image of man. The phrase “image and glory” is what is technically referred to as a hendiadys (lit., “one through two”) and means simply that Paul uses two words to refer to one thing. So, when he says that man was created in the “image and glory of God” and that woman was created in the “glory of man,” he means the same thing in both instances (Paul uses only one word, “glory,” in the second phrase to represent the entire phrase “image and glory”). However, the idea that woman was made in the image of man (not untrue in itself, but misrepresentative of the fact that both man and woman were made in the image of God–see Ge 1:27) is balanced in v 12: “But everything comes from God.” If v 9 makes the point that woman has her source in man, v 12 places it in proper perspective by pointing out that “everything” (i.e., both man and woman) has it’s source in God.

    So, why does Paul make statements in vv 7-10 that he later must balance in vv 11-12? Before answering this question it will be necessary to reconstruct the occasion of Paul’s response in this section of his letter. The best starting point is in v 16. There Paul gives us a clue as to what is going on. He says, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.” It seems relatively clear from Paul’s words that someone (or, perhaps more likely, some group) was insisting that the church take a specific position on women’s head coverings. Most standard translations (including the NASB and the NIV) render Paul as saying, “we have no other practice. This would indicate that the “contentious” group was insisting that women should not wear head coverings. Paul then would be correcting this group by appealing to a universal church custom of head coverings for women. What is so surprising (and what is the very thing that caused me to rethink this passage) is that the Greek word translated “other” in v 16 (toioutos) never means “other” anywhere else; and, in fact, means only “such” (“we have no such custom”). Needless to say, this drastically changes the meaning of Paul’s words. If Paul is saying “we have no such custom of women wearing head coverings,” then obviously the “contentious” group was insisting that women should wear head coverings.

    Moreover, when viewed this way, it becomes increasingly clear why Paul would make several points before v 11 only to counter them after v 11. It also explains why at the beginning of this passage Paul praises the Corinthians for not giving in to the pressure of the contentious group but, instead, for “holding to the teachings just as I passed them on to you” (v 2).

    Based upon this information we may assume the following to be true of the Corinthian situation. The “contentious” group had been trying to get the rest of the Corinthians to adopt a custom of women covering their heads with some kind of garment when praying or prophesying. The Corinthians, uncertain as to what to do in this situation, include a section about this teaching in a general letter which they wrote to Paul (see 7:1 for evidence of this letter). In the letter they may have said something to this effect: “There are some Christians who have come to us and told us that we are supposed to have our women wear head garments during the meeting. We don’t recall you saying anything about this. So far we have not changed the way we have been doing things, but we would like to get your thoughts on this teaching.” To which Paul replies, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings just as I passed them on to you.” In other words, “I praise you for not changing the way I taught you to do things, especially in light of the fact that you were under pressure by this group to modify your meetings.”

    Paul then begins to outline in vv 3-10 the building blocks upon which those in the “contentious” group have built their teaching that women need to wear garments as head coverings. The important thing to remember here is that Paul does not disagree with the building blocks used by those in the “contentious” group to develop their theology of garments as head coverings. On the contrary, he agrees that a woman does indeed need a head covering when praying or prophesying. Everything that Paul says through v 10 is something that Paul firmly believes. He believes that woman was created in the image of man; he believes that woman is dependent on man and that man was created independent on woman–he believes all of this to be true. But he does not believe it to be the whole truth. Yes, woman was, in a sense, created in the image of man (v 7) (it was from Adam that Eve was created), but ultimately she, too, was created in the image of God (v 12). Yes, woman is dependent upon man for her initial existence (v 9), but so is man dependent upon woman for his further existence (vv 11-12).

    So, while Paul does not disagree with the theological foundation of those in the “contentious” group, neither does he think they have gone far enough in building their theology. At best they have a lopsided view of a woman’s status before God. Likewise, Paul does not disagree that, on the basis of male headship, women should have a “covering” on their heads when praying or prophesying. His disagreement is with the application of this principle (i.e., the type of covering).

    All through this passage (vv 3-10) Paul has been insisting that a woman must have a “covering” on her head. The Greek word he uses here is katakaluptos. Here he is in agreement with those of the “contentious” group. They, too, have been insisting that a woman have a covering on her head. But then Paul shifts his tone in v 11: “In the Lord, however,” and from that point on begins to explain how this principle correctly applies to the church.

    In vv 13-14 Paul asks the Corinthians two questions: 1) “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?”; 2) “Does not the very nature of things teach you that . . . if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” The two questions are to be answered as a set. The second question is intended to buttress the first. In other words, by answering the second question first, the answer to the first question should then be obvious. A wise sales manager might ask his sales team: “Is an increased sales effort something that we want to do away with” and then buttress that with: “Don’t we want to see an increase in our bonuses next month?” By answering the second question first (yes, we do want to see an increase in bonuses), the answer to the first question then becomes obvious (no, an increased sales effort is not something that we want to do away with).

    Paul uses the same reasoning here. To answer the second question first: yes, a woman’s long hair is her glory (that is, it keeps her from the “shame” of being uncovered). This makes the answer to the first question obvious: no, it is not proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.

    But here Paul is thinking about a specific kind of covering. Up until this verse Paul has consistently used the word katakaluptos (“covering”) to insist that a woman be covered while praying or prophesying. Paul agrees with the contentious group that a woman does need a covering. What he disagrees with is their application. The contentious group insisted that the covering be a garment (a veil or shawl), whereas Paul is arguing that, in the case of the church (“In the Lord, however,” v 11), the covering is the woman’s own hair. Long hair, Paul argues, is the glory of a woman (v 15). he further argues this point in the very next phrase: “For, long hair is given to her as a covering.” The word “as” here is anti, and means literally “instead of.” The word for “covering” in this verse is not the same as has been used by Paul up to this point. Everywhere else in this passage Paul has used katakaluptos, which is a very generic term for “covering.” Here Paul uses the word peribolaios, which means literally “that which is wrapped around [the head].”

    In other words, Paul is saying that, yes, women do need coverings (katakaluptos) on their heads when praying or prophesying. But, “in the Lord” that covering is not a peribolaios (cloth wrapped around the head) but rather the woman’s own long hair. In fact, “in the Lord” (i.e., in the church), long hair is given to a woman “instead of” (not “as”) “that which is wrapped around the head.” Women in the church have a ready-made covering and are therefore not necessarily in violation of the principles expressed in vv 3-10. Overall then, 1 Co 11:2-16 is a very liberating passage. In it, women are freed from the bondage of wearing religious head garb.

    On which side of this issue do I then fall? In practice I do not at all differ from those who see this passage as culturally relative and who therefore do not practice garment head coverings for women. Hermeneutically, I am more closely allied with those who see no cultural relativity in this passage and who believe Paul is here laying down a custom for the church of all ages and cultures. Although I disagree with it regarding the exegesis of this passage, this view is far more faithful to Paul’s intent than is the former view. Still, neither view seems to grapple with the literary structure of this passage (the point/counterpoint dialogue that pivots around v 11) or the points of grammar brought up in this chapter (the use of anti [“instead of”] in v 15, and the use of toioutos [“such”] in v 16). My reconstruction, though admittedly not without its own inherent weaknesses, goes much farther in unraveling a difficult passage about which there is much dispute. I hope that it will be of help to those who seek to follow apostolic tradition.

    • asimplelder says:

      A very, very, long comment. And at the end of it, all you’ve done is justify disobedience to 1 Cor. 14:34-35:

      “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

  17. Todd Lewis says:

    I have to admit this is some of the worst exegesis I have seen in a long time. Trying to sideline Paul’s commands for women and head coverings in 1st Corinthians 11:11-16 by claiming it was only for the period 40-70 AD I will admit is imaginative.

    What does Calvin say about head coverings?

    “So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature…Further, we know that the world takes everything to its own advantage. So, if one has liberty in lesser things, why not do the same with this the same way as with that? And in making such comparisons they will make such a mess that there will be utter chaos. So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, ‘Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?’ And then after that one will plead [for] something else; ‘Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?’ Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard” (Sermon on 1 Cor 11:2-3 in Men, Women and Order in the Church, trans Seth Skolnitsky, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, pp. 12-13).

    “St Paul now continues with the subject which he had begun: namely, that women must have the decency not to come to the public assembly with their heads uncovered; and that men must also be decently attired so that there be no beastly confusion. To confirm it, however, he adds a further reason. ‘Does not nature itself teach that if a woman have no head-covering, it is a shame to her?’ he says. One would surely say that a woman was mad, if she came without hair. When he says ‘her hair is for a covering,’ he does not mean that as long as a woman has hair, that should be enough for her. He rather teaches that our Lord is giving a directive that he desires to have observed and maintained. If a woman has long hair, this is equivalent to saying to her, ‘Use your head-covering, use your hat, use your hood; do not expose yourself in that way! Why? Even if you have no head-covering, nor hood, yet you also have something to conceal yourself. You see that it would not be fitting to go bare-headed; that is something against nature.’ This is how this passage of St. Paul’s must be understood” (Sermon on 1 Cor 11:11-16, op. cit. pp. 52-53).

    “4….Prophesying I take here to mean — declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers, (as afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14,) as praying means preparing a form of prayer, and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people — which is the part of the public teacher, for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public… 5. Every woman praying or prophesying… Here we have the second proposition — that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonour their head. For as the man honours his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection — involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1 Timothy 2:12.). It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophecy even with a covering upon her head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he here argues as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in chapter xiv.” (Calvin, Commentary on 1 Cor. 11:4-5).

    In his commentary on 1st Corinthians found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library we that Calvin views the reference to angels in 1st Corinthians 11:10 to refer to the Angels in heaven and their taking offense at the impropriety of the women in the church congregation.

    Because of the angels This passage is explained in various ways. As the Prophet Malachi 2:7 calls priests angels of God, some are of opinion that Paul speaks of them; but the ministers of the word have nowhere that term applied to them by itself — that is, without something being added; and the meaning would be too forced. I understand it, therefore, in its proper signification. But it is asked, why it is that he would have women have their heads covered because of the angels — for what has this to do with them? Some answer: “Because they are present on occasion of the prayers of believers, and on this account are spectators of unseemliness, should there be any on such occasions.” But what need is there for philosophizing with such refinement? We know that angels are in attendance, also, upon Christ as their head, and minister to him. When, therefore, women venture upon such liberties, as to usurp for themselves the token of authority, they make their baseness manifest to the angels. This, therefore, was said by way of amplifying, as if he had said, “If women uncover their heads, not only Christ, but all the angels too, will be witnesses of the outrage.” And this interpretation suits well with the Apostle’s design. He is treating here of different ranks. Now he says that, when women assume a higher place than becomes them, they gain this by it — that they discover their impudence in the view of the angels of heaven.

    Another complementary interpretation of “for the sake of the angels” is referring to fallen angels. We are told in Genesis 6:1-4 that the “sons of God” lusted after the “daughters of men” and in Jude 1:6 that certain angels left there proper abode. In the Old Testament the only other place the “sons of god” appear is in Job. Job 1:6 Job 2:1 and Job 38:7. In Job the “sons of god” clearly refer to angels, given the heavenly setting. Letting scripture interpret scripture it is clear that the “sons of god” in Genesis 6 are also angels. Genesis 6:1-4 and Jude 1:6 hint at a liaison between fallen angels and human women. In 1st Corinthians 11:10 we can easily see that the head covering is a protection against the concupiscence of fallen angels.

    Whether “for the angels” means not offending the sight of God’s good angels or arousing concupiscence in fallen angels or possibly both the notion that female prophets usurping their position in life to attain to angelic majesty thereby renders the passage null and void in the present day is very dubious.
    It goes without saying that Mr. Slane has no understanding of the 1st century world. No woman of respectability be she Pagan, Christian or Jewish would have gallivanting around town in broad daylight without a head covering. In pagan society a women could be divorced by her husband for dishonoring him in public. This dishonor amounted to her, by walking around bear headed, to be available to other men. In fact even as late as the 19th century no woman of any decency would appear in public without a hat.

    In trying to couple prayer with prophesying in order to place the context of the command solely in the first century a lot of ‘maybes’, ‘likes’ and ‘seems’ are used not the surest exegetical grounds for church life. I prefer the sound teachings of the church, both Catholic and Protestant, for the first 1800 years that women should cover their heads for the sake of decency. Not just for the first century and not just for prophesying. If we take prayer in 1st Corinthians 11:4 to refer to normal prayer than it would behoove a woman to be covered at all times since people are prone to pray at any time during the day.

    • C. Frank Bernard says:

      Calvin was embarrassingly wrong about head coverings. Here’s a couple more excerpts from “Men, Women and Order in the Church”:

      “So there is male, and there is female. I say this, because even though a man may not be married, he still has this privilege of nature: he is a ‘head’. Of whom? Of women, because we are not merely to examine one house, but the order that God has established in the world. In case of a widow, or of a young woman who has yet to marry, the subjection of which St. Paul is speaking still pertains to them. Why? Because it applies to the entire feminine sex, as I have said. From this we see the stupidity of some who have expounded this text of St. Paul as if it had pertained only to married women.” [pp. 26-27]

      Perhaps two of the greatest unintentional double entendres:

      “It is true that today men are as channels through which God causes his grace to stream down upon women. For, from where do industry and all the arts and sciences come? From where does *labor* come? From where do all the most excellent things and highly-esteemed things come? To be sure, it all comes from the men’s *side*.” [pg. 35]

  18. Paul says:

    I’ve been looking at this passage on and off for a while, and I must say this is the first explanation I’ve seen that makes a modicum of sense to me! I’ll be examining this concept further. Thank you for your insight!

  19. Alan Berry says:

    You said:
    “Finally, notice the contrast between the command in the 14th chapter and what is stated in the 11th chapter. In the 14th chapter he tells the women that they must be silent in the churches. This appears to be a total contradiction of what he had said three chapters earlier, where he spoke of a woman prophesying. It seems to me that the only plausible explanation of this is that the women addressed in chapter 11 are not the same as those addressed in chapter 14. Is it not more likely that in chapter 11 he is addressing the prophetesses, foretold by Joel, who vocally prayed and prophesied in the church, whereas in chapter 14, he is addressing the generality of women who had not been called to this office?”

    Consider that in chapter 14 the context of the ENTIRE chapter is speaking in tongues. Therefore, for women to keep silent – they were forbidden to speak in tongues. He is speaking to a different group of women!

    To keep silent (about tongues), because elsewhere women are commanded to teach (women), they would have to be able to talk!!

    After all in, Titus 2:3 The aged women likewise, … 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children…

    Isn’t it interesting that the language allows the use of hair, covering and did not use the term veil. Would that have simplified this passage!!?? I believe you are right about two types of women – praying publicly, and prophesying. Most churches that are against women speaking, are not against women singing. Those that require hats/veils require that of all women – what about a visitor, probably not saved, and didn’t come to pray or prophesy. They require hats/veils of them. Oh, in today’s culture, most churches that require hats, the women use little dollies that don’t cover anything.

    • asimplelder says:

      Alan, you say, “Consider that in chapter 14 the context of the ENTIRE chapter is speaking in tongues.”

      Would you consider v. 1, v. 3, v. 5, and vv. 29-32 part of that chapter?

  20. TIA says:


    If “angels” is read as “messengers” (which is its actual meaning, angel is simply a transliteration of the Greek word), that would also fit in with your reasoning. What would a traveling Christian (even someone delivering one of Paul’s letters) think if a women got up and started prophesying? The head covering would alert them that she is not a usurper, but is under authority.

    • C. Frank Bernard says:

      Especially if that head covering were not an inexpensive cloth on her own head, but rather an expensive crown that she placed on her hierarchical head, her husband. And it would compliment other passages that prohibit expensive apparel items to which only women cannot cover themselves: “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls [crown ingredients]” —1 Timothy 2:9

      • TIA says:

        Since you’re taking “head” figuratively for the woman, why not for the man? Why doesn’t the wife simply cover her husband’s feet with a napkin? Your determination of when head is literal and when it is figurative/hierarchical seems arbitrary.

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          Because Paul chose to use the word “head” legislatively—specifying who has headship—in its first, second, and third occurrences (1 Cor. 11:3), we should not presume that the section’s subsequent uses are never legislative. Rather, we should expect that most or at least many are legislative as well. (Similarly, there’s no reason for Paul to subsequently and exclusively use legislative phrases such as “the head of Christ” or “Christ’s head” rather than simply state “God”. To do so would only increase the number of heads and the burden to discern.) So when we see the phrase “her head” used 8 times in the next 9 verses, we should determine if each occurrence would better fit the whole of biblical data if interpreted in a legislative or headship meaning rather than a literal self-reference (i.e., the subordinate’s own hair-covered cranium). I think this section makes much more sense when “her head” is mostly understood legislatively (i.e., her husband’s not-as-glorious head of hair). And when so understood, Paul’s prolonged repetition of “her head” should help the wife to care not just for the appearance of her own head (and home and children, etc.), but also specifically of her husband’s head, since he too is “her head”, and so be led to add authoritative glory to it.

          I’m still not decided if Paul refers to the husband’s cranium or to Christ in the two occurrences of “head” in verse 4, but I long ago decided it doesn’t much matter since Paul counters with the more important/clear need for the wife to cover her husband’s cranium, and probably since SHE does it rather than he himself, it’s not dishonoring to anyone.

          There are eleven occurrences of “head” after Paul’s triple headship usage in verse 3. Only three are “his head” rather than “her head”, and two are in verse 4. Here are its options:
          Every man who prays or prophesies with…
          …his own head covered dishonors his own head.
          …his own head covered dishonors Christ.
          …his own head covered dishonors his own head and Christ.

          …Christ’s head covered dishonors his own head.
          …Christ’s head covered dishonors Christ.
          …Christ’s head covered dishonors his own head and Christ.

          Since Christ is in Heaven, probably crowned, surrounded by men with crowns, I’m guessing the second option. The dishonoring is probably due to crowning self rather than crowning another or receiving a crown.

          The other “his head” is in verse 7. I’m so sure it means only his own cranium that I translated it “his _own_ head”.

          I continue Paul’s headship usage to make sense of verses 5 through 16 and find support for the wife placing the symbol of authority on her husband’s cranium in Proverbs 4, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Peter 3. I find verse 4 puzzling, but its interpretive possibilities are of little affect and no negation, especially since verse 5 appears to introduce not just a contrast in the case of the woman, but a conflict that overrides, negates, or more than makes up for verse 4.

          Can you offer an understanding of verse 4 that negates treating the six occurrences of “her head” as her husband’s own head?

          I understand Paul to refer to the husband’s cranium when he wrote “her head” six out of eight times. Once in verse 5 and again in verse 6, “her head” refers to her own cranium…shaved to be the same as her man’s. When merely cutting hair short, Paul can and does refer to “her hair”, but for shaved—when the hair is gone—Paul refers to her head.

          Paul says if a wife won’t cover her head/husband, she should cut or shave off her hair glory. He doesn’t mention she should cover her glory with a fabric of some sort. We don’t need women to cover their heads as if they have too much glory, or as if their hair is rather shameful. Both Paul and Peter gave us nearly identically ordered lists of items she should not adorn herself with especially on her head because they would indicate authority rather than her precious submission. In other words, wives don’t need to cover their glorious covering of hair with anything…ranging from blackout cloth or see-through veils all the way to pearled golden crowns. That last one is obviously straight from Paul’s list of authority ingredients…ideal only for wives to gift their authoritative heads/husbands, or as Peter recommends, their lords. I’m not sorry that this does not mean a special robe or suits and ties fulfill verse 10.

          Interesting note regarding verse 10: “Some manuscripts of the ancient Coptic and Latin versions even have “headcovering” here instead of “authority,” and the verse is quoted “ought to have a covering on her head” by several patristic writers (Irenaeus, Origen, Chrysostom, Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine). Likewise, nearly all modern commentators. For example, A.T. Robertson: “He means semeion exousias (symbol of authority) by exousian, but it is the sign of authority of the man over the woman. The veil on the woman’s head is the symbol of the authority that the man with the uncovered head has over her. It is, as we see it, more a sign of subjection (hypotages, 1 Tim 2:10) than of authority (exousias)” —Word Pictures in the New Testament (1933), ad loc. Recently some egalitarian authors have tried to combat the “sexist” implications by arguing that ἐξουσίαν here refers to the woman’s own authority to prophesy (see W. Gerald Kendrick, “Authority, Women, and Angels: Translating 1 Corinthians 11:10,” The Bible Translator 46 [July 1995], p. 337). Taken by itself, in isolation from the context, Paul’s phrase “a woman should have authority on her head” would naturally be understood as referring to the woman’s own authority, permission, or liberty. So in a sense William Ramsay is right when he says, “[the idea] that the ‘authority’ which the woman wears on her head is the authority to which she is subject [is] a preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose.” (The Cities of St. Paul: Their Influences on his Life and Thought [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1907], p. 203.)” —

    • asimplelder says:

      But TIA, all a messenger could do is wonder at the impropriety of a woman P/P in Christian worship, as per 1 Cor. 14:34-35.

  21. DrewJ says:

    1 Corinthians 11:6,15
    “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. . . . But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

    I don’t see how God could possibly fault a woman with long hair for supposedly being “uncovered,” when he has already explicitly stated that she has a “covering.”

    • C. Frank Bernard says:

      “For if the woman be not covered” is not a very good translation; compare with others such as the ESV: “For if a wife will not cover her head” and so understand the verse as a future imperative rather than a passive indicative. And remember Paul in verse 3 wants us to understand how he’s primarily using “head” in this passage: as referring to the headship or hierarchical head. Therefore, “her head” is best understood as referring to her husband’s. His is the head that needs the symbol of _authority_ in verse 10.

      • asimplelder says:

        So Frank, how does a man “cover” Christ, his hierarchical head, in v. 4?

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          . Here are its options:
          Every man who prays or prophesies with…
          …his own head covered dishonors his own head.
          …his own head covered dishonors Christ.
          …his own head covered dishonors his own head and Christ.
          …Christ’s head covered dishonors his own head.
          …Christ’s head covered dishonors Christ.
          …Christ’s head covered dishonors his own head and Christ.

          Since Christ is in Heaven, probably crowned, surrounded by men with crowns, I’m guessing the second option. The dishonoring is probably due to crowning self rather than crowning another or receiving a crown.

          The other “his head” is in verse 7. I’m so sure it means only his own cranium that I translated it “his _own_ head”.

          I continue Paul’s headship usage to make sense of verses 5 through 16 and find support for the wife placing the symbol of authority on her husband’s cranium in Proverbs 4, 1 Timothy 2, and 1 Peter 3. I find verse 4 puzzling, but its interpretive possibilities are of little affect and no negation, especially since verse 5 appears to introduce not just a contrast in the case of the woman, but a conflict that overrides, negates, or more than makes up for verse 4.

        • asimplelder says:

          But ‘crowning self’ is never mentioned or implied. The shame mentioned is not shame before God but men (social shame) – see v. 6, 14, 15 – thus the shame also in v. 16 if a woman P/P during a worship service.

          Couple other problems:

          Your second option, “Since Christ is in Heaven, probably crowned, surrounded by men with crowns” rests on a far off context and requires the 24 elders be men, not at all certain.

          It also presupposes men on earth somehow take metaphorical crowns on and off their heads, something unknown in the NT.

          Paul’s greek leaves unstated what is on the man’s head, so that’s not the point. The point is having anything “down upon” (gk. kata) his head – could be a prayer shawl, a doily, whatever.

          Point is, it brings him shame – thus your choice one. Why? Both social shame – he looks effeminate, and his obligation to look like a man (and not a woman) as God created him – both are in v. 7.

          Just make the shift from spiritual headship in v. 3 in God, to both spiritual and physical headship in husband & wife in v. 4 and the transition from spiritual to physical isn’t so jarring.

    • TIA says:

      Christ’s glory is man. Man’s glory is woman. Woman’s glory is her hair. By covering her hair, a woman conceals both her glory, and her husband’s glory, so only Christ’s glory (the man) is seen.

      • C. Frank Bernard says:

        So you’re for women covering their glorious hair?

        • TIA says:

          Yes, in certain situations. At the meetings of the church, are we supposed to be looking at women’s glorious hair, glorious crowns on men’s heads, or should our attention perhaps be somewhere else?

        • C. Frank Bernard says:

          If that were true, she’d better cover all her hair. But it’s not true. Her hair is her covering that’s fitting for her: given naturally (by God via Adam), glorious (more so than man’s), but not authoritatively glorious (as with gold and pearls, etc). Her hair is glorious, but not overwhelmingly so, as was the case when Moses’s face shined very brightly.

        • asimplelder says:


          The only thing about hair is, well, the word for hair isn’t even used in the Greek text! (thrix)

          Why then do we think it is a big point in Paul’s point here?

          In the one verse that generates way too much heat without light, Paul uses two verbs that only talk about shaving off stuff – yes, he’s referring to hair, but that’s not his point. The shaving off is. He’s saying, “go ahead, P/P in the church service. Only first shave off… (hair).

          No woman will do that because it is so shameful. Beside, its disobedience (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

    • Wayne Arthur Blake says:

      Well said Drew….after wading through a lot of words on other posts. You hit it in simplicity.

  22. TIA says:

    Thanks Rob. As you say, the arguments for culture and hair are weak. I attend a local church where the women do wear head coverings, so you’ve certainly given me something to think about.

    Interestingly, the Bible actually says quite a lot about coverings. Consider the tabernacle itself as well as the coverings for the furniture. The seraphim covering their faces and feet. A quick search turned up over 200 references to “cover, covered, covering”.

  23. C. Frank Bernard says:

    “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls [crown ingredients]” —1 Timothy 2:9

    Head Covering Coronation: A symbol of authority a wife lays on her husband

    • TIA says:

      I read your article. It’s interesting, but gets the whole concept backwards. Is it the wife’s role to make her husband glorious, or the husband’s role to make his wife glorious? Or to put it in a different context, is it the church’s role to make Christ glorious, or Christ’s role to make the church glorious? Yes, the church brings glory to Christ, but that is because of what He has done for her, not because of what she does for Him (see Eph. 5:25-27). Similarly, the wife brings glory to her husband, but that is because of what he has done for her, not because of what she does for him.

      If “head” is figurative, referring to a woman’s husband, and not her literal, physical head, then why the crown or glorious headgear for her husband. Wouldn’t any covering on her husband suffice? Why not a glorious robe which he could wear?

      That kind of leads into another point. The whole idea of crowning men could easily degenerate into a contest to have the most glorious crown (as it does with women’s hats). What about poor believers? What are they supposed to do? Again, you’ve got the whole idea backwards. Christ is the one who graciously gives to us, not the other way around. Glorifying ourselves would steal from His glory.

      • C. Frank Bernard says:

        Glorifying can and should apply both ways. I address Paul’s reasoning that the wife should cover her husband with the symbol of authority (not him by himself).

        • Steve Perry says:

          Congratulations Frank. After 1900 years of the historical church getting it wrong, you get it right! Wow. All this time. Actually, you are preaching a very contentious homosexual type of worship. A man now wears a woman’s clothing in worship before our King. But you, as opposed to the entire historical church truly understand what the apostle Paul is teaching. Amazing pride and arrogance. I’ll bet you actually are the type of person who has caused a number of problems in you own congregation. I mean, with all this new spiritual insight, I’m sure there other area’s where you have become more enlightened than everyone else. If you are in any kind of reformed church, you should have been disciplined. – See more at:

Back to Top ↑