First Corinthians 11:3-16


It appears that some of the liberated Christian woman of Corinth had decided that their new position in Christ allowed them to cast of social norms such as wearing head coverings.  This would be typical of these woman who have already been addressed for being too holy for relations with their husbands.


Part One  -  First Corinthians 11:3-6



“The Head” of the body is understood in our modern world to be the center of our thinking and nervous system.  The metaphorical use of “the head” in our modern language then refers to the control facility or the leader.  This is not the case in the ancient world.   They did not understand the nervous system so the phrase “the head” would not have meant the top position, the leader, or the one in charge.  In the ancient world “head” was used to refer to the source of a river.  The head was the beginning.   In fact, “arche” or ‘beginning” is used interchangeably with “kephale” or “head” in some MSS.  An example is found in a passage about Zeus: “Zeus is the head, Zeus is the middle, in Zeus all is completed.”


Paul then is using “head” with the ancient understanding of “source” or “beginning” not the modern meaning as in the “Head of State.”


This verse is not talking about marriage for it says “every man” and not “husband” or “her man.”  This is talking generally about men and women’s relations. 


Also, Paul is not only talking about  married women but all women.  This is clear since Paul does not talk about wives having their heads covered but then mentioning a different standard for single women.


Christ or “christos”, “the anointed one” or Messiah, comes from God so it can be said “The head of Christ is God” or “The source of the Messiah is God.”



The men were not improperly wearing their hair, but the woman were.

The men are used as an example to contrast the woman.


Man is created in the image of God.  The face or head of a man is to reflect the glory of Christ.  To cover the head of a man is to cover the part that is to reflect Christ.



Paul does not forbid the practice of woman prophesying and praying but instead gives directions on how to do it.

Corinthian women were praying and prophesying in public worship and Paul does not condemn it.


The very fact that Paul is allowing prayer and prophesying by woman in the church in this verse indicates that we need more information concerning 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.


A Jewish woman would not appear outside the home with her head uncovered.  The husband could divorce her for it.


Woman of Tarsus always had their faces covered in public.


A woman with a shaved head was considered ugly by Jews.

A woman who committed adultery would be shaved and considered a prostitute.


Christianity is difficult enough to portray to the world without violating social standards and codes.



The verb phrase “does not cover her head” is present indicative middle  and is used to express a general principle.


If she won’t cover her head then cut off her hair.

When her hair is cut off it is a disgrace to her so if she wants to avoid disgrace, cover her head.

It is a disgrace not to cover her head and a disgrace to have her head shaved.

The Corinthian women understood the disgrace of having their heads shaved but they did not understand the shame of not covering their heads.


Part Two  -  First Corinthians 11:7-12



“Ought” means “one ought to, or one is obligated to.”  This word indicates it is the man’s moral obligation.


What is being considered here is woman’s relationship to man not woman’s relationship to God.  The idea is that man was originally created as the image of God.  Woman was created for man.  This is the focus.  This verse does not stress women’s standing before God and so Genesis 1:26, 27 is not stressed.


1 Timothy 2:11-13



  1. Woman from man
  2. Woman for man




This verse begins “kai gar” or “for even” or “yes, even”



For this reason” or “Precisely for this reason” indicates this is the reason for the heads being covered.  And that reason has just been stated:

  1. Man reflects God.
  2. Woman reflects man who is reflecting God.


authority” is “exouaia” and means “the right, the authority”  to perform.  So the woman has the right to pray or prophecy when she is in the right position in God’s and man’s social order.  If the woman is in rebellion she can not pray or prophesy.


“In Oriental lands the veil is the power and the honour and dignity of the woman.  With the veil on her head she can go anywhere in security and profound respect.  She is not seen; it is a mark of thoroughly bad manners to observe a veiled woman in the street.  She is alone.  The rest of the people around are no-existent to her, as she is to them.  She is supreme in the crowd . . . But without the veil the woman is a thing of nought, whom any one may insult . . . A woman’s authority and dignity vanish along with the all-covering veil that she discards. That is the Oriental view, which Paul learned at Tarsus.”   (The Land and the Book by Thomson)


Angels” were considered to be the keeps of universal order.  The angels would consider something out of line and needed to be corrected if a woman was praying with her head uncovered.  Paul again assumes his readers follow his logic.  It seems that an uncovered woman was a shock to the culture of men and also the standards of angels.


One other suggestion is that woman should cover themselves in worship because the angels cover themselves as in Isaiah 6:2.  Men are to stand face to face but woman like the angels should cover themselves.



However” is used as an adversative.  It modifies the sense of the discussion to emphasize what is essential as this part of the discussion closes.



The first woman came from Adam.
All men since have come from woman.

Ultimately, everyone comes from the Lord.


The point of 11:11, 12 is that there are some guidelines distinguishing men and women in social order but these guidelines do not nullify the fact that men and woman depend on each other or find their “source” or “head” in each other.


11:11, 12 are saying do not make more of this than is intended because both men and woman are dependent on God.


Men can not  look down on woman or think they can live independent of woman


Part Three  -  First Corinthians 11:13-16



Paul asks two questions in conclusion:

  1. 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 man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?


The second question is to help answer the first question by providing a counter illustration.


By divine order and natural occurrences the man is left unveiled because that is what God wanted.  Also, by divine order and natural occurrence a woman is naturally veiled because this is what God intended.


Notice Christianity stays in stride with what is natural and does not twist or suppress it.



“Contentious” or “philoneikos” means someone who loves strife.


In Greek, Rome and Jewish culture men wore their hair short and women wore it long.  The Catacombs show drawings of men with short hair.  Cultures may change and there are exceptions (the Spartans and some philosophers) but they always return to short hair for men.  Even the rock stars of the 70’s now have short hair.