Head Coverings – 1Corinthians 11:1-16
I wrote this to exercise my own thinking on 1Corinthians 11:1-16, and you have my admiration, if you attempt to read this.
Regardless of the position one takes on Gender Roles and the Women’s Role in the Church, 1Corinthians 11:1-16 is a difficult passage to understand or agree upon. Charitably, we should respect the position of anyone attempting to explain the passage, who loves the Church of Jesus Christ, and desires to explain and interpret the passage, with the desired goal “that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:17 NIV).
Agreeing that a cultural understanding of OT and NT settings is needed to better make sense of 1Corinthians 11:1-16, puts us in the position of “reading meaning into” the Scriptural text (eisegesis) based upon the understanding of others, e.g., explanations supported by scholarly research. “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8 KJV). This is in direct contrast to the more traditional approach of exegesis, which is “to draw out or explain” the meaning of a passage or verse based upon grammar, usage, and comparison to other passages. “What saith the scripture?” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 4:30 KJV).
May God grant understanding to all, but especially the teachers, concerning His Scriptures. “My brethren, be not many masters [Greek, didaskalos, teachers], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3:1 KJV). Understanding the graveness of the responsibility we have in attempting to explain any Scripture, we “would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret” (Daniel 2:18 KJV). May God make us a “worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2Timothy 2:15 NIV), especially when we teach the difference between what is only cultural and what is eternal.
Verse 1: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1Corinthians 11:1 NIV).
I do not think anyone is blaming Paul for the confusion surrounding this passage, which the NIV translators designate, Head Coverings. Paul is modeling discipleship, which depends upon the example and instruction of a mentor to replicate the teaching in novice disciples. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2Timothy 2:2 NIV). Our desire is to justify God by whatever interpretation we glean from the text. “Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: So that You may be proved right when You speak and prevail when You judge” (Romans 3:4 NIV).
Verse 2: “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (1Corinthians 11:2 NIV).
Traditions are good, only if they correctly understand and interpret the Word of God. A copy of a copy of a copy becomes degraded, even the Scriptures, unless there is Divine Intervention in the preservation of the text. “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89 NIV). And, You, better than the Enemy, understand the need to preserve, promote, and teach them. “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng” (Psalm 68:11 NIV).
Verse 3: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Corinthians 11:3 NIV).
Paul is teaching the Headship of Christ.
The head of the woman is the man (11:3).
The head of the man is Christ (11:3).
The head of Christ is God (11:3).
Christ was subject to the Father, because the “head of Christ is God” (1Corinthians 11:3 NIV). The implications of His Headship is the Church’s submission to Christ. And further, Christ is the head of the man, and “the head of the woman is man” (1Corinthians 11:3 NIV). However, this is only one of many such passages, which teach the Headship of Christ: (1) “And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23 NIV). (2) “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NIV). (3) “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:23 NIV). (4) “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18 NIV). (5) “And in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:10 NIV). (6) “They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Colossians 2:19 NIV).
Verse 4: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (1Corinthians 11:4 NIV).
Now, we are dealing with a verse, which demands “reading meaning into” the Scriptural text (eisegesis) based upon the understanding of others, e.g., explanations supported by scholarly research. Traditional commentators allude to Samson’s long hair and disobedience (Judges 13-16), and to Absalom’s long mane and rebellion (2Samuel 19:4). Commentators are to be praised for their desire to exegete the passage that the Church will respect and obey God’s Word, but as one commentator well said, “The passage is admittedly a difficult one.” Like Luther commenting on the Epistle of James, a “right strawy epistle”! Good company!
I have had no better success in making sense of 1Corinthians 11, until I read “Reversing Hermon” by Dr. Michael Heiser, to whom I had been previously introduced through his scholarly book, “Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible” (2015):
“WE ALL HAVE WATERSHED MOMENTS IN LIFE, CRITICAL TURNING POINTS where, from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same. One such moment in my own life—the catalyst behind this book—came on a Sunday morning in church while I was in graduate school. I was chatting with a friend who, like me, was working on a PhD in Hebrew studies, killing a few minutes before the service started. I don’t recall much of the conversation, though I’m sure it was something about Old Testament theology. But I’ll never forget how it ended. My friend handed me his Hebrew Bible, open to Psalm 82. He said simply, ‘Here, read that … look at it closely.’ The first verse hit me like a bolt of lightning: God [elohim] stands in the divine assembly; he administers judgment in the midst of the gods [elohim]. I’ve indicated the Hebrew wording that caught my eye and put my heart in my throat. The word elohim occurs twice in this short verse. Other than the covenant name, Yahweh, it’s the most common word in the Old Testament for God. And the first use of the word in this verse worked fine. But since I knew my Hebrew grammar, I saw immediately that the second instance needed to be translated as plural. There it was, plain as day: The God of the Old Testament was part of an assembly—a pantheon—of other gods.”
Proceeding with my narrative about how I found an unconventional but satisfying explanation of 1Corinthians 11:2-16, Dr. Heiser is a well known proponent of the Divine Council concept of Genesis 6:1-4, where Fallen Angels procreated with human females to produce Nephilim. Though this is an unconventional interpretation, it is not completely foreign to current, mainstream understanding.
I digress again to insert an excerpt from “The Book of Genesis: Ariel’s Bible Commentary: Exposition from a Messianic Jewish Perspective” (2008) by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum from Dallas Theological Seminary supporting Dr. Heiser’s Nephilim position:
“Genesis 6:2 records the actual intermarriage that occurred. The first statement, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, presents the crisis. The sons of God in Hebrew is bnei ha-Elohim. This term, in the Hebrew Bible, is always a reference to angels, both good and bad ones. Examples occur in Job 1:6 and 2:1, where Satan was among the sons of God, and in Job 38:7 where the sons of God were present at creation. The Septuagint uses the same term in Deuteronomy 32:8, where it refers to angels. A variation of this term is bnei eilim, which is usually translated as ‘the sons of the Mighty,’ a term also used of angels. Examples include: Psalm 29:1, the sons of the mighty or the sons of God; Psalm 89:6, the son of the mighty or the sons of God; and Psalm 82:6 uses a different variation, the sons of the Most High. Another form is the Aramaic bar Elohim, which means a son of God. So everywhere else this word is used, it is always in reference to angels, a point on which all expositors concur.”
Attempting to explain 1Corinthians 11, I now point to Dr. Heiser’s book, “Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ” (2017), where he specifically explains 1Corinthians 11:2-16 in Chapter 8, “The Sin of the Watchers and the Head Covering of 1 Corinthians 11.”
The logic of Dr. Heiser’s explanation of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 can be represented as:
First, Psalm 82 establishes the existence of a Divine Council of divine beings with Yahweh as the Most High Sovereign Creator of all the others — “God [Hebrew, elohim] presides in the great assembly; He renders judgment among the gods [Hebrew, elohim]” (Psalm 82:1 NIV).
Second, Genesis 6:1-4 attests the sexual misconduct of Fallen Angels with human women produced Nephilim, which can occur again — “and also afterward” (Genesis 6:4 NIV).
Third, Jesus’ explanation in the Gospels does not deny the angels’ capacity to assume a physical form and procreate, but their lack of necessity to do so in Heaven — “neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25).
Fourth, the miraculous incarnation of Christ in human flesh without the sexual involvement of the Most High with Mary — “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 NIV) — is the pattern Fallen Angels unsuccessfully replicate producing Nephilim.
Fifth, Paul is warning of another possible cosmic interference of Fallen Angels with human females. “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (1Corinthians 11:10 NIV). And, of course, our contemporary reaction is utter mystification to Paul’s statement.
Sixth, the Greek peribolaion or “covering” (1Corinthians 11:15 NIV, KJV) is full of sexual inference, which can be better understood from an extract from Dr. Heiser’s “Reversing Hermon”:
“Since peribolaion is contrasted with hair, which is part of the body, the physiological semantic domain of peribolaion in 1 Cor[inthians] 11: 15b becomes particularly relevant. Euripides (Herc fur 1269) uses peribolaion in reference to a body part. He casts Hercules as complaining, ‘After I received [my] bags of flesh, which are the outward signs of puberty, [I received] labors about which I [shall] undertake to say what is necessary.’… A dynamic translation of the first clause would be: ‘After I received my testicles (peribolaia), which are the outward signs of puberty.’ In this text from Euripides, the term peribolaion refers to a testicle.”
Seventh, cultural understanding of human hair as associated with genitalia is consistent with Greek medical understanding of Paul’s day. “We speak of what we know” (John 3:11 NIV), though humanly speaking, we only now “see through a glass, darkly” (1Corinthians 13:12 KJV), but eventually, we will look directly into the face of God. Likewise, Paul instructs women to cover their hair, when prophesying or praying, since his cultural understanding was her hair is part of the female genitalia. “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper [Greek, prepō, seemly, fitting, suitable, comely] for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (1Corinthians 11:13 NIV). I refer to excerpts from Dr. Heiser, who cites NT scholar Dr. Troy Martin, in “Reversing Hermon” for his research concerning Hippocrates (460-370 BC), the Father of Modern Medicine:
“Ancient medical conceptions confirm this association. Hippocratic authors hold that hair is hollow and grows primarily from either male or female reproductive fluid or semen flowing into it and congealing (Hippocrates, Nat puer 20)… Since hollow body parts create a vacuum and attract fluid, hair attracts semen…. Hair grows most prolifically from the head because the brain is the place where the semen is produced or at least stored (Hippocrates, Genit. I)… At puberty, secondary hair growth in the pubic area marks the movement of reproductive fluid from the brain to the rest of the body (Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20; Genit. I)… This conception of hair as part of the female genitalia explains the favorite Hippocratic test for sterility in women. A doctor places a scented suppository in a woman’s uterus and examines her mouth the next day to see if he can smell the scent of the suppository. If he smells the scent, he diagnoses her as fertile. If he does not smell the scent, he concludes she is sterile because the channels connecting her uterus to her head are blocked. The suction power of her hair cannot draw up the semen through the appropriate channels in her body. The male seed is therefore discharged rather than retained, and the woman cannot conceive.”
Eighth, Paul’s instructions concerning a woman’s head covering needs only be modified by a better, more correct cultural understanding of the propriety and modesty — “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (1Timothy 2:9 NIV) — of what properly constitutes covering the organs of the female reproductive system. “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (1Corinthians 11:13 NIV).
Verse 4 (Continued): “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (1Corinthians 11:4 NIV).
Tradition depicts man hat in hand showing respect for authority. This agrees with Paul’s instructions to the Roman Christians. “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1 NIV). “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (1Corinthians 11:4 NIV), but why? God’s honor is man’s submission, while dishonoring man’s head is God’s dishonor. In context, Paul further explains, “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (1Corinthians 11:7 NIV). The glory of God is man (1Corinthians 11:7). The glory of man is the woman (1Corinthians 11:7). The Psalmist explains man’s glory, “Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalms 8:5 ESV). Humanity was created a “little lower than the angels” (8:5 NIV). Human beings were crowned “with glory and honor” (8:5 NIV). And, truth be told, “Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1Timothy 2:13 NIV). Man covering his head, when praying or prophesying, is covering God’s glory, as if it was supposed to be reflected back to God. Man’s head is dishonored because God is dishonored.
Verse 5: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is the same as having her head shaved” (1Corinthians 11:5 NIV).
Why would a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonor her head?
Chuck Smith’s “Through the Bible Commentary” (2000) explains the verse:
“Now evidently, the women in Corinth were feeling that liberty that was theirs in Christ. ‘We are no longer under a yoke of bondage, for in Christ we are all one, neither male nor female, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free.’ So they were beginning to come without veils and it, no doubt, created some problems. Paul said that it was dishonoring to your husbands, because living there in Corinth they were living in the center of pagan licentiousness. The temple of Aphrodite was on the Acropolis above Corinth. The priestesses within the temple of Aphrodite, some one thousand of them, would nightly come down into the city of Corinth. They were prostitutes, and the temple was supported by their prostitution. And they could be recognized in that they didn’t wear veils. So the women in Corinth who were then beginning to feel liberty in Christ, not wanting to wear their veils, not being understood by the world, were opening themselves to be misidentified as a prostitute, and thus, dishonoring their husbands. So Paul is encouraging them to continue with the customs of wearing the veils there in Corinth.”
Verse 6: “For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head” (1Corinthians 11:6 NIV).
The disgrace of a shaved head for a woman might be better appreciated by any male contemporaries, who may recall the affront delivered to David’s emissaries, who were humiliated by Hanun king of the Ammonites, when they attempted to bring a message of comfort from David for their recently deceased king. Hanun accused them of being spies, “So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved them, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away. When someone came and told David about the men, he sent messengers to meet them, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back” (1Chronicles 19:4-5 NIV).
Verse 7: “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man” (1Corinthians 11:7 NIV).
Though this passage of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 is framed with cultural understanding difficult for modern minds to appreciate, none of the weight of Paul’s argument for women’s head coverings subtract from the message of removing every obstacle from the Gospel. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).
The Gospel restores the glory.
The glory of God is the man (1Corinthians 11:7).
The glory of the man is the woman (11:7).
Verse 8: “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man” (1Corinthians 11:8 NIV).
Paul is making a factual statement, which will stand the test of eternity. The only bias we honor are God’s opinions. Unlike a human despot, God is not arbitrary. Man may be uncomfortable with God’s opinions, but God will not deny Himself. “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19 NIV).
Verse 9: “Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1Corinthians 11:9 NIV).
Paul is teaching priority. Just as God and His kingdom are to be sought before man and his affairs, cultural relativism does not negate the principle of the priority of the woman for the man. The long abuse of women in the name of exercising that priority has brought great reproach on the cause of Christ. But, whenever we sin in the name of exercising our Christian Liberty, that does not make Christian Liberty false. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1 KJV).
Verse 10: “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (1Corinthians 11:10 NIV).
To summarize Dr. Michael Heiser — see verse 4 explanation above — about the angels: (1) Angels have previously misbehaved before the Flood by improperly procreating with the daughters of men (Genesis 6:4), and they misbehaved “afterwards” (6:4 NIV) with Goliath (1Samuel 17:4), and again with another giant with six fingers (2Samuel 21:20). (2) Paul’s real concern is that the misbehavior will occur again, during this Church Age, and finally again, like the days of Noah, prophesied to come (Matthew 24:37).
Verse 11: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1Corinthians 11:11 NIV).
A position to unite and throw off the shackles of domination must be tempered with the understanding, Are we becoming more like the world? Or, Is the world becoming more like the Church? If we are ‘ushering in the Millennium,’ then that light ahead may well be, the “path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18 KJV). But, if our sense of anticipation is honestly mistaken, then “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8 NIV). And, I direct this warning at myself, especially citing so many ‘explanations supported by scholarly research.’ May God have especial mercy on the teachers!
Verse 12: “For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God” (1Corinthians 11:12 NIV).
Paul’s words — only two chapters before the fabled language of the Love Chapter (1Corinthians 13) — came from the same apostle and same God. If Scripture is not self-contradictory, as some insist, “What meaneth this?” (Acts 2:12 KJV). “Woman came from man” (1Corinthians 11:12 NIV) means Paul agrees with God, Eve came out of Adam’s body. “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22 NIV). “Man is born of woman” (1Corinthians 11:12 NIV) means every human being is no longer a direct creation like Adam, a side creation like Eve, but a copy of a copy of a copy, united by: (1) A common God, i.e., “In the beginning God” (Genesis 1:1). (2) A common blessing, i.e., “Obey My voice, and I will be your God” (Jeremiah 7:23 KJV). (3) A common curse, i.e., “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17 NIV). (4) A common enemy, i.e., “Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NIV). “Everything comes from God” (1Corinthians 11:12 NIV) is loaded: (1) Everything ‘conspires’ for the good of the godly, i.e., “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). (2) Everything conspires for evil against us, when we think and behave without faith, i.e., “Everything is against me!” (Genesis 42:36 NIV).
Verse 13: “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered” (1Corinthians 11:13 NIV).
If Paul honestly thought the woman’s hair represented her sexuality, as Hippocrates thought, then no wonder Paul thought a woman should have her head covered when praying. But, angels having sex with human females? It is astounding how many ancient religions have some variations of gods or divine beings procreating with humans! The supernatural is the common language of contemporary entertainment. Why would we think it a hard thing, when the world already knows it? The Enemy has already thought about this for his end game with the Lord Jesus Christ. Could Antichrist be explained by any of this? “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12 KJV).
Verse 14: “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” (1Corinthians 11:14 KJV).
God bless all our brothers with long hair! Generation to generation will determine what long is. But, the point seems to be, Keep from confusing the male from the female. If God made a difference, respect it. “Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained” (1Samuel 2:30 NIV). Attempt to keep styles gender recognizable. In the plagues of the Book of Revelation, the Fifth Trumpet Judgment describes demonic locusts, “Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth” (Revelation 9:8 NIV). John’s observation that the locusts had the faces of men (9:7) but the hair of women (9:8) was designed to gives us a disconcerted sense of how the Wicked One conducts business. God, give our brothers and sisters a “conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16 NIV) about how we think, dress, and act.
Verse 15: “But that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering” (1Corinthians 11:15 NIV).
Surely, not all the sisters of the early church were well endowed with long, thick, flowing hair? Vails and head coverings leveled the playing field for potential mates. Consider that OT Jacob slept with a wife, whom he discovered to be only the sister of his promised bride — the morning after! He ended up the husband of both Rachel and Leah (Genesis 29). To complete our discussion of why the head covering? According to the medical understanding of Paul’s day (Hippocrates), just as the male had his own genitalia, part of the female’s genitalia was her hair! Covering it, especially when prophesying or praying, was appropriate. And, not simply because of lustful human males, but “because of the angels” (1Corinthians 11:10 NIV) — the ones who did not keep in their proper place. “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling — these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 1:6 NIV). Remember, the Greek word for “covering” is here peribolaion, which (loosely translated) Euripides described as the testicles of Hercules.
Verse 16: “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God” (1Corinthians 11:16 NIV).
What did Paul mean by “we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God” (11:16 NIV)? Did he mean, If you disagree, forget I even brought up the subject? Or, did he mean, We do not do it any other way — nor will you find it any other way in the churches of God? May God grant His Church understanding of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians! May we be one, as You are one (John 17:11,21,22).