head covering


     The problems Paul dealt with in the early Corinthian assembly have been of great help in guiding us along the road to spiritual growth. Had this been a flawless group of believers, we would not have the benefit of two letters Paul had to write to correct some serious problems. Let’s examine in detail the first 16 verses of 1 Corinthians 11.

     Verse 1, "Be followers of me, even as I also am of the Messiah." Most Bible commentators and expositors say this verse belongs with the preceding chapter. However, this verse is good to set the stage for what Paul tells us in the following verses.

     Verse 2, "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances (traditions) as I delivered them to you." Paul begins by praising them for keeping him in mind and also for observing the traditions and various practices he had brought to their attention.

     Verse 3, "But I would have you know that the head of every man is Messiah; and the head of every woman is the man; and the head of Messiah is Yahweh." Many in the “women’s liberation” movement take exception to Paul’s writings because they interpret them as a “put down” of females. The Greek word "kephale" most likely means headship or ruler of superior authority. But it can also mean the source, as the source of a river. 1 Corinthians 11:12 suggests that Paul is thinking of Genesis 2, where man is said to be the source of woman. That may also be the point in 1 Corinthians 11:3. Headship and leadership, as exemplified by the Messiah, do not consist of authoritarian control. The husband’s headship is to be patterned after that of the Messiah.


    The basic question in the first 16 verses of 1 Corinthians 11 is whether a woman should be required to veil her head during public worship. In Jerusalem, women were always veiled in public. It has been suggested that the Jews of Corinth maintained Jewish practices in their synagogue worship.

     Verse 4, "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head." "Kephale" is the Greek word translated head. If we understand the meaning of head refers to the origin or source, and not to a ruler or chief, then we probably have a better grasp of Paul’s message. He says that for a man to pray with his head covered is to dishonor his head. One authority observes, “To anyone who has attended an orthodox Jewish service, this passage will be quite unintelligible. But in the first century, a Jewish man did not cover his head for prayer. That custom, originally a sign of sorrow, arose in the fourth century,” Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum N.T.

     Verse 5, "But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head; for that is even all one as if she were shaven." For a woman to pray or prophesy unveiled dishonors her head. She may as well have her hair shaved off, which was a commonly accepted sign of dishonor. If a woman discards the veil, she may as well discard that which nature has given her as well.

     So that we can arrive at the precise meaning of “head coverings,” we will be looking at a few examples of men who covered their heads. In 2 Samuel 15:30, King David is fleeing for his life from his son, Absalom, who had turned against him. And David went up by the Ascent of Mount Olivet and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot; and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.

     In Esther 6:12, we read that Haman hasted to his house mourning, having his head covered.

     Jeremiah wrote of the judgment that was coming upon Judah. Jeremiah 14:2-4, Judah mourns, and the gates thereof languish...they were ashamed and confounded and covered their heads...there was no rain in the earth, the plowmen were ashamed; they covered their heads.

     According to the Bible, we see that a man covered his head when he was in mourning.


    It is important that we comprehend the picture Yahweh is giving us. We see the high priest in Leviticus 21 continually holy before Yahweh. Verse 10 reads, "And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes." Notice in Acts 7:55-56, Stephen saw the heavens open and Yahweh with Yahshua standing at His right hand. Hebrews 3:1 refers to Yahshua as the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. Our High Priest has passed into the heavens and now we can come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). As High Priest, Yahshua has His head covered in token of His position to the Father.

     Paul is about to show us how the covered woman reflects the glory of the man. Verse 6, "For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered." This particular problem undoubtedly arose because some of the women members of the congregation appeared for public worship with their heads uncovered. It was a violation of the holy order to be bareheaded in worship.

     From the record of the women in the Old Testament, a veil was common attire while in public. When Rebekah saw Isaac coming towards her, she took her veil and covered herself (Genesis 24:65).

     The book of Ruth is a most inspiring account of the dedication of the Moabitess who became a part of the lineage of the Messiah. During her courtship with Boaz, Ruth is given six measures of barley. Boaz said, "Bring the veil that you have upon you, and hold it," (Ruth 3:15).

     In the Song of Solomon, we find the Shulamite woman wore a head covering or veil. Song of Solomon 5:7, "The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me."


     Verse 7, "For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of Yahweh; but the woman is the glory of the man." Again, Paul emphasizes that a man should not cover his head because he is the image and glory of Yahweh. The woman is to reflect the glory of the man and has her head covered, just as Yahshua in the heavens also has a covering to reflect the glory of the Father.

     Verses 8-9, "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man." Paul is teaching that the woman was created to be a helpmate for the man (Genesis 2:18). Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve was created from and for Adam; made to be his counterpart. The wife is to submit herself to the leadership of the husband as she submits herself to the Messiah. Yahweh made us male or female according to His will.

     Verses 10-11, "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels." This is one of the most difficult of passages to explain. Some think the word “power” ("exousia") is a mistranslation and should have been rendered veil. This would make perfect sense. The veil is indeed the sign of a woman’s authority. The wearing of the veil shows both the liberty and restraint belonging to the woman in Messiah.

     A key to the angels here might be found in Revelation 8:3. There the angel is given the task of offering incense with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne.

     Verse 12, "Nevertheless neither is man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in Yahweh. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of Yahweh." Neither the man nor the woman is complete alone. Yahweh has established order in His universe.

     Verse 13, "Judge in yourselves; is it comely that a woman pray unto Yahweh uncovered?" Paul asks whether it is at all proper that a woman pray to Yahweh with nothing on her head. The record of both Old and New Testaments clearly shows that respectable women habitually wore veils on their heads.

     Verse 14, "Does not even nature itself teach you, that if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him?" What might be “long” at that time, might be considered medium or shorter by some standards. Yet, the Bible is relative and we do not need a tape measure to establish righteousness.

     Verse 15, "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given for a covering." The understanding is that the woman’s hair would be longer than a man’s, and that long hair is natural—“a glory” for her. Some translations try to make this verse read that the natural hair of the woman is given her so that she does not have to wear anything on her head. But this misses the whole point of Paul’s presentation. Furthermore, the word translated “covering” in verse 15 is an entirely different word than in verses 4 and 6. Verses 4 and 6 use "katakalupto" (#2619 in Strong’s) which carries the meaning “to cover wholly or veil,” and is translated “cover” or “hide." In verse 15, Paul employs "peribolaion" (Strong’s #4018), which has the sense of something thrown around one, meaning mantle or veil and translated as "covering" or "vesture."

     Verse 16, "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the assemblies of Elohim." Paul summarizes his discussion by stating that if anyone presumes to be argumentative about the moral obligation of a woman to wear something on her head when engaged in prayer or worship in the Assembly, Paul has no allowance for such behavior. Neither, he says, do the congregations of Yahweh. There is simply no room for argument, according to Paul’s summation. A woman is expected to wear a head covering when she prays or prophesies.


    The American way has always been to take special pride in our work and accomplishments. We respect those who are able and adept at their jobs. The craftsman is held in high esteem because of the service and know-how he is able to deliver.

     Why should a woman feel she is a second-class citizen if she is abiding in the way of Yahweh, in the prestigious role He has chosen for her? She is, so to speak, the queen of the home. A wise husband will honor her as such. A wise wife will recognize the blessings of her position and cherish them.  There is no need to feel rebellious just because Yahweh’s Word tells her that she should wear a covering on her head. A sister in the faith gains respect by accepting her role and doing the very best she can in all phases of her activities.

     It is not our position or responsibility to try to “explain away” the plain statements of Scripture. When we accept our obligations and cheerfully obey Yahweh’s Word, we are storing riches in the Kingdom.

     Yahweh ordained the hierarchy on earth and patterned it after the heavenly. Each of us has a role to fill. Great blessings are the fruit of filling each role according to Yahweh’s desire.



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