Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Headcoverings, Part 6: Is Long Hair the Covering?

Some have argued that a woman’s long hair is the headcovering that Paul is requiring in this text. The idea seems to come from verse 15 which says:

For her hair is given to her for a covering.
1 Corinthians 11:15 ESV
The argument goes then that Paul desires women to let their hair grow long so that they are clearly distinguished from men.

There are several problems with this interpretation though. First, contextually, it does not seem probable. In verse 4 Paul states that a man who prays with his head covered dishonors his head. That is (or would be under this interpretation), a man should not pray with long hair. While this could be possible, it seems unlikely to me.

The real problem with this interpretation is verse 6:

6a For if a woman will not cover her head,
6b then she should cut her hair short.
6c But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head,
6d let her cover her head.
Here we clearly see that the head covering that Paul is speaking of can not be long hair. Otherwise his argument would be meaningless. It simply makes no sense to say:

6a For if a woman will not wear her hair long
6b then she should cut her hair short
So what is Paul saying here? I’m going to venture that his reasoning is as follows. Man is the glory of God, so he should not cover his head. However, woman is the glory of man and her hair is her glory, therefore she should cover her glorious head. If a woman will not cover her head (exposing her own glory), then she should cut off her hair (her glory). That is, she should not be trying to display her own glory in the presence of men and angels since she is the glory of man.

Not a very modern interpretation, but it is the best I can figure out.

Here is a side question I have no good answer for yet. Besides the visible symbol of authority, what function does the headcovering play? I wonder if it isn’t somehow related to Christ’s relationship to his church. The church is under the authority of the Son. We have no direct access to the throne of God except through the Son. We can not call God our Father without having Christ as our head. He is our representative.

In a similar way, because of how God has set man in a representative position of authority over woman, it almost seems as if there is a similar concept at work here. Since God has placed man in a position of authority over woman, a woman has to show that she is in proper subjection to the God ordained authorities, and thus, properly represented.

Well, I’d have to give a lot more thought to that, but that’s kind of how my brain works.

More later.


Fr. Bill said...


Thanks for the series on headcoverings. I find nothing in it to correct. I would add a couple of ideas to provide further focus.

1. An abundance of literary, numismatic, statuary, and graphic arts (e.g. frescos) from that time make it clear that women covering themselves was not expected in either Greek or Roman cultures. On the other hand, it was a settled cultural feature of oriental, particularly Jewish, culture, from before that period until well into the second century. Tertullian remarks that Jewesses were immediately recognizable in North Africa by their custom of veiling.

The point: in Corinthin, Paul was imposing a cultural custom that was alien to Greco-Roman practice. This fact explodes the modern objection that headcovering isn't part of OUR culture, and so we shouldn't require it. It simply was not part of Corinthian culture either.

2. The key conceptual organizing principle in these verses is "glory." In the assembly, there are three glories manifest -- man (who is God's glory), woman (who is man's glory), and the woman's long hair (which is the woman's glory). As the purpose of the mixed assembly is to glorify God, it is appropriate for the man to be uncovered, and the woman to be covered. The woman's covering (whatever it is) covers TWO glories -- herself and her hair.

3. I concur that "because of the angels" refers to their invisible participation in Christian worship.

I develop these ideas here:


I note with some sadness that your work here seems to have garnered no comments. In my experience within various evangelical settings over the past 30 years, I'd say that 1 Corinthians 11 is one of the most ignored passages in the NT. And, many who do give it a serious looks react to what they find there as if Paul were asking women to put a freshly slaughtered chicken on their heads.

jt said...

Is your conclusion, then, that married women are biblically mandated to wear a head covering during prayer today? If so, is this a theoretical conclusion or one you put into practice in your own family? Does your wife wear a head covering? What about other women in your church?

Christopher said...


To be honest, I'm putting these thoughts to the side for the time being. Although I haven't found anything that convinces me otherwise, I'm holding off on acting on what I've seen, partly because the whole Evangelical church (not to mention the RC church) has moved in another direction. There may come a time where I just have to give up on hoping someone will be able to show that my conclusions are wrong. If and when that happens, I'll ask Les to cover her head.