(i) The Veiling Of Women(11:2-16)

Map of Corinth / Map of Corinth's Location / Picture of the Temple of Apollo / Outline Chart/ Read The Letter

Read the Scripture passage first...


1 Cor 11:2-16

2Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

3But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

5But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

6For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.

7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

8For man is not from woman, but woman from man.

9Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

10For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

11Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.

12For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

13Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?

15But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.

16But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.


     (a) What The Problem Is...doing the detective work.

There are various certainties we can draw out of this passage..

(1) Women participated in PRAYER and PROPHECY in the Church service (v4-5 and 13) - this was a dramatic leap forward for women of that time (see this article on WOMAN).

(2) Some women in the Church were praying and prophesying WITHOUT A HEAD COVERING.

(3) This meant that the women were going against the prevailing CUSTOM which was to WEAR A VEIL.

All the evidence that we have suggests that respectable Greek and Jewish women wore a head covering in public. We must assume from 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that such "public" veiling was also the prevailing custom in the early Christian Churches. Since Corinth was a Roman colony the women would have followed their customs which were for women to wear veils in public that covered all their hair and the upper part of the body (not a hat or headscarf!).

Why were the women opposing the wearing of veils in the Church ? Click here for the answer.

(b) Paul's Answer To The Problem:

Paul answers the problem by using both THEOLOGY (eternal and unchangeable) and CULTURE (temporary and changeable). It is vitally importance to recognize which kind of answer he is giving as we go through this section because if we interpret the cultural as theological we may end up forcing a practice on women that is not intended for our society. In the following sections, say whether Paul is using Theology or Culture in his reasoning (click on the one you think)...

Chapter 11:3 - THEOLOGY or CULTURE ?

Chapter 11:4-6 - THEOLOGY or CULTURE ?

Chapter 11:7-12 - THEOLOGY or CULTURE ?

Chapter 11:13-15 - THEOLOGY or CULTURE ?

Chapter 11:16 - THEOLOGY or CULTURE ?

Now we must look individually at the theological and cultural reasoning that Paul gives to extract what he is actually saying and what we can apply for today...

(A) The Theological Argument.

In verse 3 the use of 'head' is in terms of 'spiritual authority'. Paul is stating the line of authority which obviously does not mean inequality for man and women as God is the head of Christ and they are equally God. Spiritually the role of man in a marital relationship (note the term for 'woman' is more correctly 'wife') is the 'head' - you could say the woman is the 'heart' (just as important as the head with a different function).

Read this article on the place of women in Biblical history.

To the right we see 1 Corinthians 11:3 in picture form.

Paul is showing that the women in Corinth were stopping blessing from flowing as they were perverting the God-given chain of authority by disobeying their husbands concerning wearing veils.


In verse seven, Paul states why women should continue the prevailing custom of veiling their head... ' but woman is the glory of man'. Or it could read 'the wife is the glory of her husband'. In other words, the woman brings glory to her husband by her submissive behaviour.

The women in Corinth were abusing their freedom in Christ and deliberately shaming their husbands by not wearing veils in Church gatherings. Paul uses this theological argument of giving glory by being in the right place of spiritual authority. The women in the Corinthian Church were stepping out of place and bringing shame, not glory.

Symbolically, the veil was showing that the wife came under the authority of the husband (or the unmarried daughter under the authority of their Father) - see verse 10. In modern cultures there are many symbolic ways the women can show they are submitting to their husbands depending on the culture they are in . The veil was the prevailing way in the time of the Corinthian Church that women showed their submission to their husbands. What would be such a 'symbol' in your culture ?

This 'symbol of authority' was 'because of the angels'. What does this mean ? See what Matthew Henry writes on this.

Verses 8-12 gives Paul's view on the male-female relationship. This is that woman was created 'for man' and not in order to be subject to him, but in order to 'complete' him. In the Lord man and women are interdependent (vv11-12) - both are equally dependent on God.

In Christ there is TOTAL EQUALITY between man and woman. However, on this earth at the moment, there is FUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIP between man and woman. Man's function is the love and care for the woman and the woman's function is to submit to and help the man. It must be understood that man is NOT SUPERIOR TO WOMAN! Woman's existence is explained as being 'FOR MAN'.

In summary, Theologically Paul says that the women are wrong in not wearing veils to Church as they are perverting God's chain of authority and shaming their husbands or fathers in the process. Women are not to use their freedom in Christ to opt out of their husband's authority of even that of other male leaders.


(B) The Cultural Argument.

Paul uses three cultural arguments as to why the women ought to continue being veiled ... what are they ?

(i) Verses 4-6 - The first cultural argument which may not mean much to us today is that if the women pray and prophecy in the church without their heads covered they are just as if they were shorn. What does this mean ?

At that time temple prostitutes were 'shorn' (shaved heads). The shame of the women in Church is liked to that of a prostitute! Quite a strong comparison that Paul uses !

(ii) Verses 13-15 - Next, Paul refers to the cultural taboo of men having long hair.

But how long is long ? Normally men may well have had shoulder length hair, the meaning of 'long' is like the women who wore their hair down to their waists. It is probable that the women were going one step further and not just doing away with their veils, but cutting their hair shorter like men. Paul says that in their culture this was a no-no as it means dishonour.

(iii) Verse 16 - Paul's last cultural argument is that there is no such custom among

the other churches in the area of not wearing veils in the Church assembly. The Corinthian Church would thus be setting itself up as an exclusive 'non-veil wearing sect' in their vicinity.

Does this mean that all women in church today have to wear veils on their heads ?

It is very important that Paul is putting forward timeless PRINCIPLES and not PRACTICES for us here. Obviously today we see not many churches having women wearing veils.

When would it be right today for women to wear veils in church ? Think about this then click here for the suggested answer.

When would it not be right for women today to wear veils or head coverings in church today ? Think about this and then click here for the suggested answer.

The main principle that we learn is that we should allow nothing to exist in the assembly that calls attention to man in the presence of God. The creature's 'glory' , whether it be fine clothes or with any kind of dress that 'stands out' has no place in the worship of God (this also applies to activities in the church).

Again, we see that, as a missions minded leader, Paul is wanting to see the church arranged in proper order so that it can function as the light to the world it is meant to be. If women are stepping outside their God-given place of authority to Church will lack the real authority Jesus is giving to reach out to all nations ('all authority has been given in heaven and on earth').

Think for a while what this means in the church you are attending before moving on to the next section.

Now you are reading to move onto the next problem Paul addresses concerning Church assembly - (ii) The Lord's Table.

Copyright 2000 Gibson Productions