"...Let Her Be Veiled."
An Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:1—16
The purpose of this chapter will be to give a brief but thorough exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Realizing that the Holy Spirit's inspiration is upon the original Greek text, we will give as literal a translation as possible and concentrate on the specific meanings, grammatical constructions and tenses of the words. Words or phrases in parentheses are not in the original, but are needed to complete the translated thought.
It is important to keep in mind that in writing this epistle to the Corinthian Christians, Paul was speaking not only to them, but also to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord..." (ch. 1:2). With prophetic foresight, Paul was perhaps seeing that his letters, as statements of apostolic doctrine, were going to be widely circulated. All of his epistles had universally applicable messages even though he was also speaking to local needs and problems. With this in mind, we realize that his teaching concerning the veiling of women was not to a specific socio-cultural situation, but to all the churches everywhere, as 1 Cor. 11: 16 also clearly points out.
verse 1 "Imitators of me be, according as I also (am) of Christ."
Imitate (mimetes) - The English noun "mime" is derived from this Greek word and is in this case "used in the continuous tense, suggesting a constant habit or practice." (Vine's Expository Dictionary of the N.T.) In the same way that for Paul "to live is Christ", so we are to live out His life in our flesh. This is possible only as the old man is kept in death and He is released by the Holy Spirit through us. This is not cheap imitation, but the very life and power and will of Christ being the mover and doer in and through us (Ph.2:13). It is not a humanly manufactured replication we are called to, full of inevitable imperfections, but the manifestation of Him as He is now within us. (Related verses are 1 Cor.4:16; Ep.5:1; Heb.6:12; 1 Th.1:6, 2:14.) Would that we had more models of such deep Christlikeness about us!
verse 2 "And I praise you, brothers, that in all things you have remembered me, and according as I delivered to you, you hold fast the traditions."
The first thing that stands out in this verse is that he is addressing himself to the brothers, which underscores the fact of their headship and that it is to them primarily that he needs to clarify the subsequent principles. If there was a governmental equality among the men and women, he surely would have addressed the women. However, this isn't the case, so he speaks to the men, who needed to assume their God-given role of headship over the sisters. Even when there were many reasons to rebuke his brothers in the Lord, Paul was generous with words of praise and encouragement. His caring, father's heart sought to comfort and strengthen them even in the midst of admonishment. He deeply loved them, and that love always found a way to express itself. This is a good reminder to us in all our relationships in the body—agape love finds a way.
They held fast (katecho) to what he had delivered to them, which speaks of the degree of commitment they had to cling to and obey his teaching, lest they fall away and offend their dear Lord. (This is always a primary evidence of a faithful church, that they "continue steadfast in the apostles' doctrine..." Acts 2:42). We hold fast to what is precious to us. The teachings the Lord gives us are priceless and full of blessing as we obey them, because they serve to minister His life to us and thereby glorify Him. The word "traditions" paradosis literally means "a handing down or over", the substance here being the doctrines ("ordinances" KJV) and teachings he had previously given them in person. The purpose of apostolic doctrine is to serve as a vehicle for the Spirit and life of the Christ. It was to encapsulate the scriptural truth of who Jesus is, what He has done and is doing, and how to walk by the power of His resurrection life in this place of pilgrimage. The remainder of chapter 11 deals with two foundational teachings upon which they obviously needed further instruction—the woman's head veiling and the Lord's supper.
verse 3 "But I wish you to know, that the head of every man is the Christ, and the head of woman (is) man, and the head of Christ is God."
With this verse Paul begins to lay a deep foundation—that of the authoritative governmental relationships between God, Christ, man and woman. In dealing with individual and church problems, Paul had the spiritual discernment to see the importance of going to the root principles of the matter at hand. In this way he taught his fellow believers to build their faith and its practice on a solid basis and to avoid the sinking sand of situational ethics. The fire and wind could test the building of a person whose life was thus grounded and it would stand because it was secure upon God's impregnable Word. We are challenged to inspect the foundations we are upon, and if they are faulty, we must, with a holy zeal, clear the rubble and erect a building of God upon the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone." (Ep.2:20). Paul says that the head of every man is Christ, not just Christians—those who live under the lordship of Christ daily. In the grammatical structure of v.3, every woman is implied in the same sense. In creating and dying for all, all are sovereignly Christ's, but not practically, since God respects our free will and does not impose His lordship by force.
Man's headship over woman is a relationship for this age, and has its origin in the creation account itself. Man's headship is not just a result of the fall, but was established in the Garden of Eden in that she was created out of man and was a "helper comparable to him" (Gen.2: 18). Eve's sin in the Garden was in one sense her breaking this headship principle by disobeying God and enticing Adam. She thereby overstepped her place as helpmeet, and thus nullified her authority and influence. Man"s headship over woman is not abolished in the church, because it is an aspect of God's government in this world for the effectual achieving of His purposes.
However, in the spiritual realm "there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Ga.3:28) There is a spiritual equality between the sexes which will continue beyond this age in the full consummation of the kingdom of God after the administrative arrangement of this age has come to an end.
God is the head of Christ (1 Cor.3:23; John 14:28), in that He willingly subjected Himself in His mediatorial role for the salvation of mankind. This great truth is the rock bottom basis for all that follows in chapter 11. It is through just such a voluntary subjection that man and woman cover their glory, deal a death blow to the old nature, and are then able to reveal (the word means "uncover") the vibrant life of the Father. The teaching of the veiling (verses 1-16) speaks of the covering and crucifixion of self, while the teaching on the Lord's supper (verses 17-34) speaks of our remembrance of Jesus having done the same—His giving of Himself on the Cross for our sins. This was Jesus' way; if we would enter into His life, it is done only by the very same means.
verse 4 "Every man praying or prophesying having (a veil or something) on the head puts to shame his Head."
Again, the all inclusive term "every", and he speaks specifically of times of praying and declaring the Lord's Word. By Christ's propitiatory work, man can (and must) now approach God with uncovered head. The Jews of this era worshipped and prayed with a covering called a tallith on their heads. With the precious blood of Christ as our permanent and all-powerful covering, man can stand bareheaded in the presence of the Almighty. We can say with the Hebrew writer; "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus..." (Heb.10:19). Tertullian (153-222 A.D.) said, "We pray bareheaded because we blush not."
What is the relationship here between the headship order and praying/prophesying? That can only be understood in a figurative sense. Since man is called to reveal the glory of God, when he prays and prophesies in Christ's name he must do so with uncovered head (as a type of revealing Christ), else he manifests his own glory, thereby putting his head, Christ, to shame. So too the woman in the next verse if she, representing man in general, does not cover her head in praying and prophesying, it is a type of her revealing the carnal nature of her head, man, thus impairing her prayer in the name of Jesus. The ministry of Christ through us in praying and prophesying is released as we are obedient to the governmental arrangements He has established. They are the orderly boundaries within which we are to function in the church and before the world.
In 2 Cor.3: 13-16, Paul explains that those of the old covenant still have veiled hearts in reading the O.T., just as Moses was veiled to cover God's glory, but that "when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." Therefore, both literally and spiritually, Christian men no longer had to wear a veil as the Jews of the former covenant. We put our Head, Christ, to shame, if we cover what He has covered with His own blood and glory.
verse 5 "And every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled puts to shame her head, for it is one and the same thing with the one shaven."
Again the term "every" is used and it refers not to her own head which is being dishonored, but to her immediate spiritual head, man. As Watchman Nee has said; "Someday the whole world will know that Christ is the head of all men, for this is God's governmental decision. Today this is only known in the church; the world has no knowledge of it.... Likewise, God's appointment of man as head of woman is also known only in the church today. Do you get the point? Today the church alone knows that Christ is the head of man and that man is the head of woman." (Unfortunately, most churches today have completely lost the knowledge of these truths, and therefore women are in leadership and do not cover their heads in the literal or spiritual sense.) This dishonoring is not only the case within the marriage relationship, as to a husband, but to all men.
This statement concerning the praying and prophesying of women in public tempers the absoluteness of Paul's directives in chapter 14:34-35 and makes it clear that she could "speak forth publicly" (which is the literal meaning of the word (propheteia), but not in the assembly in such a way as to teach and have authority over man (1 Tim.3: 12; see also Acts 2:17:21:9). Prophecy is a public proclaiming, and clearly she is to prophesy at appropriate times. Among the Jews, an adulterous woman was to have her head shaved. "Among the Greeks, only the prostitutes, so numerous in Corinth, went about unveiled; slave women wore the shaven head—also a punishment of the adulterous." (Findlay). Although the cultural context could lead one to think that Paul's directives were meant to be merely a temporary social custom so the sisters would not be identified with the harlots of Corinth, one need only remember the foundational principles which undergird the practice of the woman's veiling and that it is upon these that it transcends social customs throughout the world in any nation or culture. A sister who prays or prophesies without a veil, then, is rejecting the authority of her head, man, by rejecting the sign of it, and in so doing is dishonoring God's governmental design and Word.
verse 6 "For if a woman be not veiled, let her also be sheared; but if (it is) shameful to a woman to be sheared or to be shaven, let her be veiled."
If a woman refused to wear the veil, she should also cut her hair short, a practice which would have been shameful in most cultures throughout most of history until now, when the natural sense of the distinction of the sexes has degenerated and unisexism has become vogue. Shear (kiero) is the word used in shearing sheep; thus it means to cut the hair very short. But since it is a shame for a woman to shave or cut her hair short, as it is her glory, and a badge of her femininity, then she should wear a veil. The word for veil is katakalupto,, which literally means "something hanging down which completely covers".
Why would Paul demand that if a woman refused to wear a veil she should then cut off all her hair? Plainly it is because her glory is to be covered, and if she rejects the veil, which serves that purpose, then her hair (glory) should be sheared off. A Christian woman then has the choice of wearing the veil or having her hair sheared like a sheep, which even today is not a popular hair style for women.
The word "also" in this verse shows without a doubt that a covering other than the hair is in view here, and excludes any possibility that he is implying that the long hair is given for her sole covering. If the hair is the only covering, and she refuses to have hair (!), how could she then still have her hair cut off! Those who hold this position—that the hair is the only covering, quickly get tangled in some verbal absurdities.
verse 7 "For man indeed ought not to have the head veiled, being the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
These words would have cut deeply to the Jews of the day, because of their religious practice of covering their heads in worship. Perhaps the Judiazers who plagued Paul wherever he went insisted on maintaining the use of the tallith. We must keep in mind that Paul himself had done so prior to his conversion, and no doubt had felt strongly about it. Now, in the liberty he had experienced in being a new creation in the image and glory of God, he teaches that the veil must not be worn by the man. When a Christian man abandons himself fully to his Head, the Lord Jesus, his own glory is covered in the process and Christ's glory is then revealed (uncovered= apokalupto). The working out of our salvation is this His-life-out-of-our-death principle. For as we put to death the flesh by the Spirit we are releasing the life and light of Christ through our mortal bodies, and are transformed into His image.
Man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man. Obviously Paul didn't consider, as many today, the Genesis account of the creation of woman to be a myth for children's story books. In originating from man, she represents God most fully as she functions in her place alongside of man, but under his authority, for she was created for man (Ge.2:20-23) and is his glory. This certainly doesn't mean that she is some sort of inferior species, but expresses that in this earthly dispensation, although she is his spiritual equal, she is yet called to be subject to man in regards to family, church and social relationships.
verse 8 "For man is not of woman, but woman (is) of man."
This verse refers again to Ge.2:21-22 as to the origin of woman. In being the last created being, one could say she is the crown and climax of God's creative work.
verse 9 "For man was not created on account of the woman, but woman on account of the man."
Again, according to the creation story, woman was created as a helper comparable to and corresponding to man. She was created to stand beside man, before God, and to be, in holy matrimony, in a one flesh relationship with one man. Ephesians 5 gives important insight into the kind of power the man is to have over the woman - it is the power of agape love. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it..." (Eph.5:25). This is a calling to self-sacrifice and ministry through the Word (verse 26) for her edification and sanctification (verse 27).
In the kingdom of God, and thus in the church, headship implies the kind of self-giving which Christ perfectly manifested for us. The type of headship which domineers and tyrannizes is of the spirit of this world. The submission (hupotasso - literally "to be arranged under") which the wife is to give her husband is like unto the kind that the church is to give Christ.
verse 10 "Because of this, the woman ought to have authority on her head—because of the angels."
The woman ought to have a veiling on because it functions to represent the subjection she shows to her authority, man, and ultimately to God. The veil is meant to represent the inner reality of her relationship with God and specifically with man as her head she has the continuous reminder of what her life should exemplify by it. Rebekah, when she was told that it was Isaac, her future husband, coming across the field to meet her, took a veil and covered herself. (Gen.24:64-65). The veiling simply serves to outwardly express the God-ordained fact that in this age woman is governmentally under man's headship and authority (Gen.3:16 "...he shall rule over you.").
One is challenged to think this somber thought—what if Christ had rejected the sign and reality of God's headship over Him—to refuse to drink that bitter cup, to not obey even the most seemingly insignificant of God's commands. We all know the tragic answer....
The phrase "because of the angels", or messengers, has caused much speculation. Most likely this refers to both good and bad angels (see ch.6:3). The Jews, and Tertullian, among others, saw it as a possible reference to Gen.6:1-2 where perhaps it was the angels who were tempted to doom by the beauty of the uncovered daughters of men. Oriental Jews believed that evil spirits delight in unveiled women and good angels avoid them so as not to be tempted. Certainly there is a measure of truth in much of this.
The simplest explanation is that angels, who themselves are veiled before the throne of the Almighty, and in a relationship of perfect and total submission to Him, are present at all times, and especially during worship, and are shocked at the impropriety of unveiled women in the assembly, who are to be veiled as a sign of their submission to their head (Lk.15:10; Ep.3:10; Heb. 1: 14; Ecc 1.5:4-6). It has become clear by experience to this writer and to many others that the veiled woman has great protection from the enemy if her heart is in the attitude of the submission which the veiling is symbolizing. Many have been the testimonies of women who were protected from lustful men because the conscience of such men were smitten through the presence of the veiling. We may not get a clear enough glimpse into the spiritual realms to fully understand just why this is so, but proof of this truth has been abundantly evidenced. When a person is in their God-given position and obedient to His Word, it is then that God can commit Himself to them. By this they have power with God, and thus against Satan.
Satan and his cohorts hate the head covering because of what it represents; it reminds them and puts them to shame because of their own rejection of God's headship. Faithful, veiled sisters also represent the church, which covers its glory, "...to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places." (Ep. 3:10). What a high calling the sisters have in exemplifying the submissive, obedient church as it reproves the fallen angels!
The faithful, veiled woman can exercise and unleash tremendous influence and power in heavenly places as she ministers in prayer and intercession before the Father. This groaning creation so badly needs the kind of church that such a sister represents, and the church likewise desperately needs such women as can truly minister in their God-ordained place of power.
verse 11 "However neither (is) man apart from woman, nor woman apart from man, in the Lord."
Paul, in order to add balance to what was previously said, expresses the interdependence of man and woman "in the Lord". Outside of the Lord, social convention will rarely realize the scriptural understanding of God's design and the headship order, because His truths are spiritually discerned and thus foolishness to the natural man (1 Cor.2:10-16). But "in the Lord", where "Christ is all in all", His lordship over each sets in order the interpersonal relationships of the members of the Body, causing them to function in their specific place harmoniously, bonding them together in love (Col.3:14).
verse 12 "For as the woman (is) of the man, so also the man (is) by (means of) the woman, but all things (are) of God."
Again, he stresses their interdependence and that man is born of woman, the case even of Jesus in His great condescension. But all things originate in God, for "...of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen." (Ro. 11:36).
verse 13 "Judge within yourselves—is it becoming for a woman to pray to God unveiled?"
Paul challenges the believers to reflect deeply upon the truths and their application which he had conveyed to them. Based upon the important principles he had established, could it possibly be fitting for a woman to pray to God with an unveiled head? He knew what answer they could only but give, according to his teaching, which had full apostolic authority and was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
We too are continually called to make judgments of spiritual significance for our own lives and the lives of others based upon our spiritual discernment of God's word and will. Such responsibility motivates us to seek Him, and in His word, and stirs us to maturity and further revelation in the Lord.
verse 14 "Or does not even nature itself teach you that if a man have long hair it is a dishonor to him."
The word "nature" here (phusis) would imply instinct, or a native sense of what is right, as in Ro. 2:14, and negatively as in Ro. 1:26. Dishonor (atimia) means just that—a disgrace, and it stands in contrast to "glory" in v. 15. Paul is saying that God's perspective on the matter is that long hair is a dishonor to man. Outward distinctions between the sexes is a scriptural injunction and the length of hair is meant to be a primary witness of it. Though the definition of "long" will vary among different cultures and times, a spiritually discerning person should be able to sense just where the line is for himself and those under his authority.
verse 15 "But if a woman have long hair, it is glory to her, for the long hair in behalf of a covering is given her."
The woman's long hair is one of her chief glories, a most beautiful expression of her femininity. As Daniel Kauffman has said, "The long hair is the sign of the natural relation which exists between men and women; the veiling is the sign of the spiritual relation which should exist between them as men and women in the Lord."
Much unnecessary confusion has originated in this verse, in that some conclude that this must mean the long hair is given instead of a veiling. However, the confusion ends when one goes to the original text. The Greek word here for "covering" is peribolaion, which literally means "something cast or thrown around". The only other place this word is used in the N.T. is in Heb. 1:12, where it says, "like a cloak (peribolaion) You will fold them up... . The verb form of the word (periballo), found about 23 times, almost always refers to being covered with a robe cast around oneself. This is a completely different word than katakalupto. which is the "veiling" mentioned in verses 5, 6, 7, & 13, and which again means "something covering completely and hanging down". The word translated "for" in the KJV, NKJV, etc. in the phrase "for a covering" is the Greek word "anti", which has a range of meanings, but the context clarifies its definition to be "in behalf of" or "to serve as"—this is verified by the best lexical authorities.
So what does this seemingly obscure statement mean? Paul is saying that the glory of woman, her long hair, is given to her to serve as a natural covering to be cast or wrapped around. A deep principle is again the root of this declaration—that the woman's glory is to be cast about or wrapped up and covered with a veil to represent the covering of her self life so that Christ can be manifested in her life. Thus the covering of her glory is a sign that stands as an exquisite reflection of one of the foundational principles of the Christian life—that as we by the Spirit die to self, thus covering our own glory, His life and light is uncovered (apokalupto) in and through us and manifested to scatter the darkness of this world.
verse 16 "But if anyone thinks to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the churches of God."
With full apostolic authority, Paul emphatically states that if anyone is contentious (philaneikos - to love strife) on this matter, they had no such practice in all the churches of God. What practice—veiling, or unveiling? One has to be amazed at the commentators who imply that Paul is in this one verse abolishing all that he has said in verses 1-15. The word translated "such" here is "toioutos", which simply means "such as", and not "other" as some translations misinterpret. It is soon obvious to anyone studying this passage that "such custom" is referring to and answering his question in verse 13, "Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with, her head uncovered?". In the Greek, the grammatical structure of this verse is such in case, number and gender to make it agree only with the pronoun "yourselves" in verse 13. Thus verses 14 and 15 are a parenthesis between verses 13 and 16, where he appeals to their native sense in the matter of hair length for each sex. Paul proclaims boldly that in every church the sisters wore the head veiling, and he flatly commands them to step in line with universal apostolic practice. Early church writings and pictures in the earliest Christian art in the catacombs of Rome give clear evidence that this was the case.
There can be no doubt that God expects and commands that every Christian woman wear the head veiling. Any church which claims to be biblical will recognize that the apostles' doctrine is essential to her realization, and that the veiling of women is an aspect of that doctrine. To say this is not to imply that the headship veiling is essential to one's salvation. It obviously is not to be equated in importance with such apostolic teachings as the incarnation, the atonement, etc. However, the veiled head is an important symbol instituted by God to express deeper spiritual principles, as is baptism and the Lord's supper.
We serve a God who for various reasons has put great emphasis upon symbols and their meaning. The O.T. is full of types and symbols which point to and prepare for the fuller revelation and reality of the new covenant. Circumcision was a sign of God's covenant with Abraham; baptism corresponds to it. The head veiling serves to remind us that even though we are in a new covenant and have entered into the boundless freedom of Christ, yet God's governmental distinctions which were established in the Garden are yet in force while this creation lasts.