The Covering of 1 Corinthians 11
8/1/93 4th Revision: 5/16/06
- Jeff Smelser
- Introduction to four interpretations
- man-made veil and binding today.
- Primary strength of this interpretation is its antiquity.
- However, many misunderstandings became widespread quite early.
- man-made covering, but only a local (Greek) custom
- context doesn't suggest custom, (11:16 doesn't), quite the
- historical evidence concerning the custom is doubtful at best
It used to be
asserted by theologians that Paul was simply endorsing the
unwritten law of hellenic and hellenistic feeling for what was
proper. But this view is untenable. To be sure, the veil was not
unknown in Greece. It was worn partly as adornment and partly on
such special occasions as match-making and marriage, mourning,
and the worship of chthonic deities (in the form of a garment
drawn over the head). But it is quite wrong that Greek women
were under some kind of compulsion to wear a veil in public.
TDNT, p. 562
assumes man-made veil
Veiling was customary among the Romans at sacrifices . . . .
but this did not apply to the Gks. In neither case was there any
distinction of sexes. Hence Paul was not thinking of these
customs. TDNT, p. 562, n. 2.
not applicable because pertained to spiritual gifts
long hair is the covering
- There is no reason to assume "praying" in 1 Cor. 11 is limited
to praying "with the Spirit"
The discussion in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
κάλυμμα (= veil, 2 Cor
3:13-16,4x) does not occur in 1 Corinthians 11, except as a variant
reading in the patristics and ancient versions
With the exception of verse 15, where some English versions
say "veil", "veiled", or "covered", there is either no word in the
original language, or, the word in the original language is a form
of the verb
"Uncovered" or "unveiled" represents the verbal adjective
- Paul's discussion rooted in divine order, not custom; 11:3
- compare 11:7
- has to do with the order of creation; 11:8-9
- as fundamental as the proper realm of angels; 11:10 (Jude 6 is
the appropriate cross reference, not Genesis 6)
- "long hair" is a woman's glory, given to her as a covering.
Given by whom?
- This should be the end of I,B (Custom) & I,C (Spiritual gifts)
- If "not covered," might as well be shorn or shaven 11:5-6
- Shorn is what has been done to a lamb
- Shaven is what a man has done to his face
- Taken at face value, the vocabulary of the text does not suggest a
- The noun
κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων
"having [something] down from his head"
- 1 Cor. 11:4
1 Cor. 11:5
ἀκατακαλύπτῳ τῇ κεφαλῇ "the head uncovered"
1 Cor. 11:6
εἰ γὰρ οὐ
κατακαλύπτεται γυνή, καὶ κειράσθω· εἰ δὲ αἰσχρὸν γυναικὶ
τὸ κείρασθαι ἢ ξυρᾶσθαι, κατακαλυπτέσθω.
"For if a woman is not covered, let her also be
shorn. But if being shorn or shaven is a shame to a woman,
let her be covered."
1 Cor. 11:7
ἀνὴρ μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ὀφείλει
κατακαλύπτεσθαι τὴν κεφαλήν
"For a man ought not
to cover the head"
1 Cor. 11:13
1 Cor. 11:15
meaning and use of
a verb meaning "cover, veil"
In the N.T., used only in 1 Corinthians 11, although
related words are used frequently.
The verb does not imply a "veil" (noun).
in English the verb "veil" does not necessarily imply a
garment worn as a headdress, i.e. a "veil"
(noun), but rather is readily used for covering anything
"veil, v.t.; ...1. to cover with or
as with a veil. 2. to conceal; to hide, mask, or
disguise." - Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary
The same is true of the Greek verb.
It was used with reference to the wearing of a veil,or some garment on the head or over the face in Gen.
38:15, Est. 6:12 ("mourning with his head covered"),
and Sus. 32 (Theod.)
In the LXX, it was more frequently used of covering
generally. (English excerpts are from the NAS translation of
the Hebrew scriptures except in cases where the LXX reading
is significantly different from the Hebrew. In those cases
an English translation of the LXX wording is provided as
Ex. 26:34 "and you shall cover with the curtain
the ark of the testimony in the Holy of Holies" (LXX
wording as translated by js)
Ex. 29:22 "the fat that covers the entrails"
Lev. 3:3 "the fat that covers the entrails"
Lev. 3:9 "the fat that covers the entrails"
Lev. 3:14 "the fat that covers the entrails" (Alexandrinus
Lev. 4:8 "the fat that covers the entrails"
Lev. 6:33 (7:3 in Hebrew text)"the fat that covers
Lev. 9:19 "the fat that covers over the entrails"
(LXX wording as translated by js)
Nu. 4:5 "they shall take down the veil of the screen and
cover the ark of the testimony with it"
Nu. 22:5 "a people came out of Egypt; behold, they
cover the surface of the land"
2 Chron. 18:29 "I will disguise myself"
Hab 2:14 "as water [knowledge of the glory of the Lord]
shall cover [peoples]" (LXX wording as translated
Is. 6:2 "Seraphim stood above Him, each having six
wings; with two he covered his face, and with two
he covered his feet."
Is. 11:9 "For the earth will be full of the knowledge of
the LORD as the waters cover the sea."
Is. 26:21 "And the earth will reveal her bloodshed, and
will no longer cover her slain."
Jer 26:8 (46:8 in Hebrew text) "I will rise and cover
Jer 28:42 (51:42 in Hebrew text) "The sea has come up
over Babylon; She has been engulfed with its
Jer. 28:51 (51:51 in Hebrew text) "Disgrace has
covered our faces"
Ez.26:10 "The dust raised by them will cover you"
Ez 26:19 "great waters will cover you"
Ez. 32:7 "And when I extinguish you, I will cover
Ez.38:9 "you will be like a cloud covering the
Dan. 12:9 "these words are concealed and sealed
In the Apocrypha: Si. 24:3 "[Wisdom] covered the
earth as a mist"
The context indicates that the covering is long hair. (Not simply hair, but long
(occurs 15 times in the N.T.)
The noun used in 1 Corinthians 11:15 is
is used twice, once in 11:14 and once in 11:15. These are the
only N.T. occurrences of either
- The usual word for hair is
long hair, let one's hair grow long") BDAG cites Herodotus
(5th century B.C.), Plutarch (1st-2nd century) and others to
the effect that "Greek men do not do this".
is used in the LXX in the following passages:
Lev. 19:27 "You shall not round off the side-growth
of your heads"
Num. 6:5 "He shall be holy, growing the long locks
of the hair of his head." (LXX wording as translated by
Job 1:20 "sheared the long hair of his head" (LXX
wording as translated by js)
Job 16:13 (16:12 In Hebrew text) "Taking me by the
hair he shook me" (LXX wording as translated by
Job 38:32 "drag out Hesperus by his hair" (LXX
wording as translated by Charles Thomson)
Ezek. 24:23 "And your hairs on your head" (LXX
wording as translated by js)
In uninspired writings: Da. Bel 35, Judith 13:7, 3 Macc.
1:18, 3 Macc. 4:6.
Objections to understanding long hair to be the covering
- OBJECTION: Vs. 5-6 are said to be nonsensical if hair is the
- This objection assumes "covering" is hair rather than
- Clearly, it is possible to have less than long hair even
though the hair is not so short as to be described as shorn or
- OBJECTION: Where it is said that a woman's hair "is given her
for a covering" (vs. 15) it is noted that the word translated
"covering" is not the same as that used earlier in the context. It
is supposed that Paul describes one kind of covering in verses 1-13,
and then refers to the hair as another kind of covering.
- The word translated "covering" in vs. 15 is the noun,
There has been no noun for covering used prior to vs. 15.
Other occurrences of this noun include:
- previously in the context, a verb meaning "to cover,
or veil" has been used.
- To insist that this verb implies a covering that is a
garment is contrary to its usage. See above, II,C,2,b,v.
is from the verb
περιβάλλω which is
a compound of
meaning "around"; compare perimeter, periscope, peridental,
βάλλω (verb meaning
"throw" or "cast").
is a garment such that might be thrown around the person, e.g.,
a wrap, cloak, robe, or mantle.
A woman's "hair is given here for a mantle" (ἀντὶ
is a preposition meaning "for" in the sense of "in place
of,""instead of." In his discussion of this preposition,
grammarian Nigel Turner translates the phrase in 1 Cor. 11:15
"instead of a wrap" and opines that the preposition
is here used "Clearly in a
substitutionary sense." A Grammar of New Testament Greek,
vol. 3, "Syntax", p. 258.
is the only word in the context which clearly suggests a
garment, and where it is used, it is said that the woman's "hair
is given here for a
- Ex. 22:27 LXX (22:26 in Hebrew text)
- Dt. 22:12 LXX
- Psalm 101:26 LXX (102:26 in Hebrew text), quoted in
OBJECTION: The text seems to imply that the covering can be
put on and taken off.
OBJECTION: Verse 16 is thought to indicate that Paul has been
discussing something that is merely custom. Moreover, because Paul
says, "we have no such custom, neither the churches of God," it is
supposed that the custom must have been merely a societal custom.
- Verse 5, if isolated from the context, does at first
reading appear to imply a covering that can be put on and
removed. However, given the weight of the evidence that the
covering described is the hair, it seems better to understand
the reference to praying and prophesying to be illustrative. A
woman ought to be covered, and of all occasions, this should
especially be clear when she is praying or prophesying.
- b. Compare 1 Tim. 2:9 where men are to lift up "holy hands."
That is not to say that their hands need only be holy when they
lift their hand in praise or prayer to God. But rather men who
pray ought to have holy hands.
alludes to the practice...of women praying uncovered."
That is, it was not the custom in the churches of God for women
to pray uncovered. Either of these views makes far more sense in
the context than the interpretation which has Paul saying that
it is not the custom of the churches of God for women to be
covered when praying.
- It makes no sense at all to suppose that, after arguing
from the relationship of God to Christ, Christ to man, and man
to woman, and from the order of creation, Paul would finally
dismiss the importance of the whole thing saying in essence, "if
you don't like what I've said, that's alright, because it's
really all just a man-made custom."
- Alford cites Chrysostom, as well as "the best modern
commentators" (Alford was a nineteenth century scholar) in
support of the view that when Paul said "we have no such
custom", he meant being contentious. Alford's own view is that