The Covering of 1 Corinthians 11
- Jeff Smelser
8/1/93 4th Revision: 5/16/06

  1. Introduction to four interpretations

    1. man-made veil and binding today.
      1. Primary strength of this interpretation is its antiquity.
      2. However, many misunderstandings became widespread quite early.
    2. man-made covering, but only a local (Greek) custom
      1. context doesn't suggest custom, (11:16 doesn't), quite the contrary
      2. 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

        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.

      3. assumes man-made veil

    3. not applicable because pertained to spiritual gifts
      1. non-sequitur
      2. There is no reason to assume "praying" in 1 Cor. 11 is limited to praying "with the Spirit"
    4. long hair is the covering
  3. The discussion in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
    1. Paul's discussion rooted in divine order, not custom; 11:3
      1. compare 11:7
      2. has to do with the order of creation; 11:8-9
      3. as fundamental as the proper realm of angels; 11:10 (Jude 6 is the appropriate cross reference, not Genesis 6)
      4. "long hair" is a woman's glory, given to her as a covering. Given by whom?
      5. This should be the end of I,B (Custom) & I,C (Spiritual gifts) above.
    2. If "not covered," might as well be shorn or shaven 11:5-6
      1. Shorn is what has been done to a lamb
      2. Shaven is what a man has done to his face
    3. Taken at face value, the vocabulary of the text does not suggest a man-made covering.
      1. The noun 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
      2. 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 κατακαλύπτω. "Uncovered" or "unveiled" represents the verbal adjective ἀκατακαλύπτος.
        1. 1 Cor. 11:4 κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων "having [something] down from his head"

          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 ἀκατακάλυπτον "uncovered"

          1 Cor. 11:15 περιβολαίου "mantle"


        2. meaning and use of κατακαλύπτω
          1. κατακαλύπτω is a verb meaning "cover, veil"
          2. In the N.T., used only in 1 Corinthians 11, although related words are used frequently.

            α. καλύπτω
            β. ἀποκαλύπτω
            γ. ἀποκάλυψις
            δ. ἀνακαλύπτω

          3. The verb does not imply a "veil" (noun).
          4. α. 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 by anything.

            β. "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

            γ. The same is true of the Greek verb.

          5. 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.)
          6. 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 noted.)

            α. 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)

            β. Ex. 29:22 "the fat that covers the entrails"

            γ. Lev. 3:3 "the fat that covers the entrails"

            δ. Lev. 3:9 "the fat that covers the entrails"

            ε. Lev. 3:14 "the fat that covers the entrails" (Alexandrinus MS has καλύπτω)

            ζ. Lev. 4:8 "the fat that covers the entrails"

            η. Lev. 6:33 (7:3 in Hebrew text)"the fat that covers the entrails"

            θ. Lev. 9:19 "the fat that covers over the entrails" (LXX wording as translated by js)

            ι. Nu. 4:5 "they shall take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it"

            κ. Nu. 22:5 "a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land"

            λ. 2 Chron. 18:29 "I will disguise myself"

            μ. Hab 2:14 "as water [knowledge of the glory of the Lord] shall cover [peoples]" (LXX wording as translated by js)

            ν. Is. 6:2 "Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet."

            ξ. Is. 11:9 "For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

            ο. Is. 26:21 "And the earth will reveal her bloodshed, and will no longer cover her slain."

            π. Jer 26:8 (46:8 in Hebrew text) "I will rise and cover that land"

            ρ. Jer 28:42 (51:42 in Hebrew text) "The sea has come up over Babylon; She has been engulfed with its tumultuous waves."

            σ. Jer. 28:51 (51:51 in Hebrew text) "Disgrace has covered our faces"

            τ. Ez.26:10 "The dust raised by them will cover you"

            υ. Ez 26:19 "great waters will cover you"

            φ. Ez. 32:7 "And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens"

            χ. Ez.38:9 "you will be like a cloud covering the land"

            ψ. Dan. 12:9 "these words are concealed and sealed up"

            ω. In the Apocrypha: Si. 24:3 "[Wisdom] covered the earth as a mist"

    4. The context indicates that the covering is long hair. (Not simply hair, but long hair.)
      1. The usual word for hair is θρίξ (occurs 15 times in the N.T.)
      2. The noun used in 1 Corinthians 11:15 is κόμη. (The verb κομάω is used twice, once in 11:14 and once in 11:15. These are the only N.T. occurrences of either κόμη or κομάω.)
        1. On κομάω, ("wear 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".
        2. κόμη is used in the LXX in the following passages:
          1. Lev. 19:27 "You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads"
          2. Num. 6:5 "He shall be holy, growing the long locks of the hair of his head." (LXX wording as translated by js)
          3. Job 1:20 "sheared the long hair of his head" (LXX wording as translated by js)
          4. Job 16:13 (16:12 In Hebrew text) "Taking me by the hair he shook me" (LXX wording as translated by Charles Thomson)
          5. Job 38:32 "drag out Hesperus by his hair" (LXX wording as translated by Charles Thomson)
          6. Ezek. 24:23 "And your hairs on your head" (LXX wording as translated by js)
          7. Ezek. 44:20
          8. In uninspired writings: Da. Bel 35, Judith 13:7, 3 Macc. 1:18, 3 Macc. 4:6.

    5. Objections to understanding long hair to be the covering

      1. OBJECTION: Vs. 5-6 are said to be nonsensical if hair is the covering.

        1. This objection assumes "covering" is hair rather than long hair
        2. 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 shaven.

      2. 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.

        1. The word translated "covering" in vs. 15 is the noun, περιβόλαιον.
        2. There has been no noun for covering used prior to vs. 15.
          1. previously in the context, a verb meaning "to cover, or veil" has been used.
          2. To insist that this verb implies a covering that is a garment is contrary to its usage. See above, II,C,2,b,v.
        3. Other occurrences of this noun include:
          1. Ex. 22:27 LXX (22:26 in Hebrew text)
          2. Dt. 22:12 LXX
          3. Psalm 101:26 LXX (102:26 in Hebrew text), quoted in Hebrews 1:12
        4. περιβόλαιον is from the verb περιβάλλω which is a compound of περί (preposition meaning "around"; compare perimeter, periscope, peridental, perinatal) and βάλλω (verb meaning "throw" or "cast"). περιβόλαιον is a garment such that might be thrown around the person, e.g., a wrap, cloak, robe, or mantle.
        5. A woman's "hair is given here for a mantle" (ἀντὶ περιβολαίου). ἀντί 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 ἀντί is here used "Clearly in a substitutionary sense." A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 3, "Syntax", p. 258.
        6. περιβόλαιον 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 περιβολαίου."

      3. OBJECTION: The text seems to imply that the covering can be put on and taken off.

        1. 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.
        2. 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.
      4. 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.
        1. 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."
        2. 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 "the συνήθεια 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.