The Ancient Faith
THE HEAD AND ITS COVERING
This study involves an exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. Before studying verse by verse, consider the following five points:
1) This passage is not merely a custom of the first century, nor is it a local custom peculiar to Corinth. It is assumed by many that Paul is regulating a custom already in practice. This is not true. Paul does not use argumentation that would indicate a first-century custom or a localized custom. He appeals to:
(a) the divine “chain of command” (v. 3);
(b) the principles of creation (vv. 7-9);
(c) the angels (v. 10);
(d) the law of nature (v. 14);
(e) the entire “apostolic college” (v. 16);
(f) the common practice of all the churches of Christ (v. 16).
2) This passage is not specifically discussing a worship service. This is almost universally assumed, but it cannot be proven. No worship service is mentioned. In verses 17-18, there is clearly a worship service in view because Paul writes of “coming together as the church,” but there is no such indication in verses 1-16.
Additionally, women may not “prophesy” in a worship assembly (14:34-35), but verses 1-16 speak of women praying or prophesying. Women, of course, pray silently in their own hearts during worship assemblies (cf. 1 Samuel 1:13; 1 Corinthians 14:28), but it is impossible for women to prophesy during such assemblies without violating the instructions to remain silent. Hence, these instructions for women to be covered apply when they pray anywhere – including worship assemblies – or when they prophesy in private capacities (cf. Acts 21:9). The point is, this passage includes the worship services of the church, but it is not restricted to just the worship services.
3) Hair is the only covering being required of Christian women in this chapter. The idea that an artificial covering is being required is erroneous as this study will point out.
4) These teachings did not expire with spiritual gifts. Though prophesying is mentioned, this does not necessarily imply spiritual gifts. Praying is also mentioned and praying is an activity of all Christians, not just a “gifted few.”
5) The covering for the woman is uncut hair, not simply hair alone, nor some subjective length that measures “long” by a tape measure. This too will be expounded upon during the course of this study. With these thoughts in mind, let us look at the verses in detail.
With these thoughts in mind, let us look at the verses in detail.
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Most feel this pertains to the previous chapter. The exhortation is to follow Paul’s example of foregoing liberties for the sake of the church.
“Now I praise you…” Here is an obvious contrast with verse 17 when Paul will write, “I praise you not.” Paul takes advantage of the opportunity to praise the brethren while he can.
“…that you remember me in all things…” That they remembered Paul is evidenced by the fact that they had written him when questions and problems arose. As one observed, “There seemed to be a disposition on their part to abide by his teaching. Otherwise, why would they have written to him?” (Appleberry, p. 202).
“…[You] keep the traditions as I delivered them to you.” The word “traditions” refers to things handed down from generation to generation. This generally refers to things not found written in the law (Shaw, p. 81).
The two words “you keep” come from a single Greek verb. The verb is either in the indicative or imperative mood. Both moods take the same Greek ending in the second person plural. If the mood is taken as indicative, then Paul is giving another reason for praising the brethren; that is, he praises them (a) because they remember him in all things, and (b) he praises them because they keep the traditions delivered to them. If the mood is taken as an imperative, then Paul is giving the brethren a command to keep; that is, he (a) praises them for remembering him, and (b) then commands them to keep the tradition just as they were delivered. The indicative mood seems to fit the context better.
“But I want you to know…” Here is the reason for keeping the traditions: because the ordinances delivered by Paul were based on divine authority.
“…the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” “Head” means “head of authority” (cf. Judges 11:11; 2 Samuel 22:44). The verse shows plainly that God submits to no one, Christ submits to God the Father (cf. John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28). Man must submit to the authority of Christ (Philippians 2:10-11). Finally, woman must submit to the authority of man (1 Corinthians 14:34-35). God is mentioned last in this verse so that it stays in our minds longer. If a man dishonors his head (of authority) he also dishonors all above his immediate head (i.e., God, also). If a woman dishonors her head (of authority), she also dishonors all above her immediate head (i.e., both Christ and God, for they placed the man over her). People cannot reject an authoritative figure without rejecting the One who placed that authority over them (Luke 10:16).
“Every man…” “Man” is from the Greek word aner rather than the more generic anthropos. It means man as opposed to woman. “Every” man means just that — all men, not just married men. Keep this point in mind when looking at verse 5.
“…praying or prophesying…” “Praying” here is the ordinary word for praying. Nothing necessarily implies an “inspired prayer.”
“Prophesying” means to “(a) proclaim a divine revelation, (b) prophetically reveal what is hidden, (c) foretell the future” (Arndt & Gingrich).
Though we do not often think about this, all aspects of “prophesying” still occur today.
(a) Men today still “proclaim the divine revelation” of God (the Scriptures). The difference is that men in the first century could “proclaim” without studying (cf. Matthew 10:19-20), whereas men today “proclaim” the same message naturally after studying.
(b) Men today still “reveal what is hidden,” but naturally after first studying the written Word.
(c) Men today still “foretell the future” when they preach about the second coming of Christ, the end of the world, and the Judgment Day.
Whereas first century “prophets” preached these things by direct inspiration, gospel preachers today proclaim the same message after much study in the written Word. Vine observes,
“In his measure the teacher has taken the place of the prophet, cp. the significant change in 2 Peter 2:1. The difference is that, whereas the message of the prophet was a direct revelation of the mind of God for the occasion, the message of the teacher is gathered from the completed revelation contained in the Scriptures.”
Notice that praying and prophesying are mentioned together in 1 Corinthians 11:4. Whatever interpretation is applied to one must be applied to the other. In times past, elaborate theories were constructed to explain why a woman needed to have her head covered while praying and why a man should not have his head covered. Somehow these theories never took into consideration the “prophesying” that is also mentioned in this verse.
“…having his head covered…” The Greek construction (kata kephales echon) is unique in relation to the man. This wording is not used of the woman — an important thing to remember. Echols observed correctly, “‘Having his head covered’ is a commentary, not a translation. Lenski translated the sense correctly: ‘having something down from his head.” (Echols, p. 2).
“…dishonors his head.” “Head” here refers to the man’s spiritual head — Christ (v. 3). If “something” hangs down from the man’s head, it shames Christ. What is this “something” that, if it hangs down from the head, brings shame to the man and his spiritual head? “Hair that keeps on growing” (v. 14). More on this later. When a man’s hair gets so long that it begins to “hang down from” his head, it is too long and shames both him and his spiritual head — Christ.
Does this instruction include artificial coverings? Is it wrong for a man to pray or teach with a hat on his head? No. While it may be culturally inappropriate in the United States for a man to have a hat on when praying, it is not scripturally wrong. The covering being discussed in this chapter is clearly the hair (v. 15).
Consider the apostle Paul. He often went into the synagogue — even in Corinth (Acts 18:4). It is common knowledge that in the synagogues Jewish men wore (wear) a skullcap or a “tallith.” Paul said, “To the Jew I became as a Jew that I might win the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20). This means that he conformed to Jewish customs, when possible, in order to have a converting influence upon the unbelieving Jews. The fact that the unbelieving Jewish leaders cheerfully and unhesitatingly called upon Paul to speak in the synagogue (Acts 13:15) points to the fact that He was conforming to the customs prevailing — including the skull cap.
Romans 14 applies here. The Jew should not be required to remove his skull cap because it does not matter. In fact, if he has doubts about it, he must keep wearing it (Romans 14:23). Furthermore, we have Bible examples of godly men praying and prophesying with artificial veils upon their heads, and there is nothing inherently disgraceful about it. Moses prophesied with a veil on his head (2 Corinthians 3:14). David prayed with his head covered (2 Samuel 15:30 ff). While “nature itself teaches” that a man growing “long hair” is a disgrace (1 Corinthians 11:14), neither “nature” nor revelation teaches that a man with a hat on his head dishonors Christ when prayer or prophesying occurs. There is nothing inherently shameful for a man to pray or prophesy with a literal hat on his head.
For emphasis sake, we remember “praying and prophesying” are mentioned together. Whatever is said about one must be said about the other. If it is a shame for a man to pray with a hat on his head, the most natural question arises, “May a man prophesy with a hat on his head?” In Russia, our brethren meet people on the street and speak about the Scriptures. No one feels the brethren should remove their hats when it is -20 degrees in order to discuss the Scriptures.
As a final comment on this verse, we merely observe that Paul is stating a fact of what constitutes shame and dishonor to the man and his head. How do we know it is shameful for a man to pray with hair long enough to hang down from his head? Because Paul is telling us in this passage it is a shame. no need to dig through all the artifacts of history to see if society in those days thought it was a shame. Paul declared that it was a shame — a flat decree.
“But every woman…” Every sister in Christ is included in this expression — not just married women. Just as every man is under the authority of Christ (married or unmarried), every woman is under the authority of man (married or unmarried). The idea of a woman being “independent of man” and without authority is clearly refuted in verse 11.
“…praying or prophesying…” As observed in the “preliminary remarks,” this does not necessarily imply a worship assembly. In all likelihood Paul mentions these two items for two reasons.
First, praying and prophesying are the times when the shame of an uncovered woman becomes the most outrageous and the most noticeable — when her “head” is most vulnerable to criticism and shame. Matthew 23 mentions “praying” and “prophesying” together, also, not because a worship service is occurring, but because sins were then most repulsive. The Pharisees “taught” others (23:2-4), but were not practicing what they preached. They were “praying” (23:14), but hypocritically. (cf. Matthew 5:19). When women reject God-given authority, their attempts to pray or teach others become the more repulsive. (cf. Titus 2:5).
Second, “praying,” in this passage, carries with it the idea of “leading” a prayer orally (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8). When a woman prays orally or prophesies, it carries with it the appearance of being a “leader” in spiritual matters. Thus she wears long hair (her natural veil) to demonstrate that, though she appears to be leading, she acknowledges that man is the true spiritual leader in these matters. Does this imply that there are times when a woman does not have to be covered? Does this necessarily imply a removable covering? No, a removable covering is not necessarily implied just because praying and prophesying are specified. By way of illustration, the Scripture says, “Despise not your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22). Does this mean we may despise our mother when she is young? Of course not. Again, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Does this mean we do not have to remember the Creator when we get old? Obviously not. Just because a passage mentions a specific time (“when she is old,” “in the days of your youth,” or “while praying or prophesying”), it does not necessarily mean this is the only time the instructions apply. Such “time” indicators may merely be pointing out occasions when certain instructions are most critical. In I Corinthians 11, the point would be that a woman needs to be covered at all times, but especially when praying or prophesying. The woman’s head (man, Christ and God) is shamed at any time she does not have her head properly covered, but especially when she is praying or prophesying.
“…with her head uncovered…” The word “uncovered” in the Greek (akatakaluptos) is used only here and in verse 13. This rare adjective is used only once in the Septuagint (Leviticus 13:45). Smyth describes it as an “adjective of one ending” (p. 86) — it looks masculine or neuter when declined, but it is actually a feminine adjective.
The woman of verse 5 is uncovered because of something she chose to do. In other words, this woman’s problem is not because she was not given a covering, for God gave her one (v. 15). Neither is her problem because her covering is inadequate, for had she cared for the covering given to her, it would have been adequate. Her problem is because of what she has done.
“…dishonors her head…” What covering will give glory to a woman and keep her from dishonoring her head? Is it some artificial veil? No, it is her hair which she keeps growing long (v. 15). She honors or dishonors her head because of something she does.
Some women do not understand these teachings and need to be taught. But some willfully disobey (cf. Luke 12:47-48). In either case, sin has occurred (cf. Leviticus 5:17-19); but in the latter case, the sin is willful, and the Scriptures abound with examples of the dire consequences of willful rebellion (cf. Numbers 12; Hebrews 10:26ff).
We are told here by Paul himself that a shaved head is a shame on a woman. There is no need to dig through all the artifacts of history to see if society in the first century thought it was a shame for women to have shorn or shaved heads. Paul declares the shame right here — a fiat decree. This settles the question.
“…for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” If a sister will not “fully cover” her head with the covering God has given her, she may as well shave her head — she would be no worse off. She has shamed her head of authority, and she might as well shame herself by shaving her head completely.
“For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn.” This is the first occurrence of the verb katakalupto. The three English words “is not covered” come from this one verb. Katakalupto is a compound word consisting of a prefix and verb (kata + kalupto). Katakalupto does not necessarily infçr an artificial veil, as some have argued in the past.1 This verb may imply a variety of coverings: God speaks of “fat that covers the inwards” (Exodus 29:22); “[Israel] covers the face of the earth” (Numbers 22:5); “waters cover the sea” (Habakuk 2:14) “with [two wings an angel] covered his face” (Isaiah 6:2); “shame covered our faces” (Jeremiah 51:51; 28:51 in Septuagint); “dust shall cover you” (Ezekial 26:10): “a cloud to cover the land” (Ezekial 38:9). All of these passages use the verb katakalupto in the Septuagint. Obviously, the type of covering (noun) does not indwell the verb.
To argue that katakalupto necessarily implies an artificial veil is to make the same mistake which some make in regard to the Greek verb psallo. Mechanical instrument advocates argue that psallo necessarily implies a stringed instrument because it means “to pluck” or “to twang.” However, the instrument being plucked must be named so that one knows what is being plucked. Robinson’s Lexicon points out that (a) hair, (b) bowstrings, (c) stringed musical instruments (1 Samuel 16:16), and (d) cords of the heart (Ephesians 5:19) were all “plucked.” The instrument does not indwell the word, but must be named in addition to the word.
To summarize, the Greek verb katakalupto means simply “to cover.” The covering (noun) must be specifically named. A specific covering does not indwell the word itself. Verse 15 clearly teaches that hair is the covering under consideration.
Because the preposition kata ordinarily means “down from,” many have concluded that Paul is speaking of a veil that “hangs down from the head.” The argument goes, “If this passage is speaking about an artificial veil, it would mean a veil that hangs down. A hat would not do. Likewise, if the hair is the covering, then it must be hair that hangs down. Wearing the hair up (e.g., in a bun) would not do.”
The problem with this argumentation is the assumption upon which it is built. The assumption is that, when the preposition kata is prefixed to a verb, the ordinary meaning of “down from” continues and attaches to the verb. Actually, kata only intensifies the verb rather than alter the meaning.
- “At times [kata] is emphatic; as Matthew 3:12, to de achuron katakausel, and he will burn completely the chaff” (Dana & Mantey, p. 107).1 See the Miller-Lindsey Debate. E. H. Miller argued that katakalupto necessarily implied the noun kalumma (an artificial veil).
• Nearly every preposition may be prefixed to a word and thus add a new idea to the word or modify or even intensify the meaning of that particular word. A very frequent use of prepositions is in composition with words for the purpose of expressing emphasis or intensity. Grammarians term this the “ ‘perfective’ use of the preposition” (ibid., p. 98).
• “There is still another very common use of the preposition in composition. It is that of a mere adverb and intensifies or completes the idea of the verb” (Robertson, p. 563).
• katakalupto— “to cover up (kata, intensive)” (Vine).
• katakalupto — “to completely cover” (Hickie, p. 97)
The intensifying effect of the preposition means simply that a woman must be completely covered by her hair. Having some hair is not enough. At best, “some” hair would partially cover the head of the woman. The Lord used a word meaning the head must be completely covered by the covering He has given. Hence, cutting the hair in the slightest would render the woman only partially covered at best — a violation of the command to be “completely covered.” Mark Bailey gave an excellent illustration of this very point: “If I were to cover my house with roofing and then remove or cut away a small amount of the covering — during the first rain, I would quickly understand that my house is not properly or ‘completely covered.’ Likewise, when women remove or cut away part of their covering (long hair), they are not properly or completely covered; therefore, they are considered ‘uncovered’ regardless of how much hair they may have left” (Bailey, p. 36).
“But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.” Was it shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved? Yes! Verse 5 has already told us it was! If someone argues, “But today it’s not really a shame for a woman to shave her head,” the reply must be, “Yes, it is a shame because verse 5 said so.”
“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head…” “Ought” signifies moral obligation. The man is morally obligated not to cover his head. These are not first-century customs of which Paul writes, but a higher law.
“…since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.” By looking ahead to the fifteenth verse, we see now three things that give glory:
(a) man is the glory of God,
(b) woman is the glory of man, and
(c) hair is the glory of woman.
God respects, cares for, and loves His glory (man). The man will be warned in verses 11—12 not to abuse his authority over the woman. She is his glory, and he must respect that and care for her. The woman, likewise, will be taught in verse 15 to care for her glory (her hair).
“For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was the man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” The very order of creation established the fact that man would be the head over the woman. She was to be his helper, hence subordinate in authority and different in function. The idea that man became the woman’s head when God cursed the woman in Genesis 3:16 is missing the point of the passage. Adam was Eve’s head before sin entered.
“For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head…” “For this reason” — a singular reason is being referenced. This looks back to verse 7. Because the woman is the “glory of the man,” she needs a “symbol of authority” upon her head.
“Symbol” is absent from the Greek, though thought by many to be “nessarily implied.”
The woman’s hair gives her authority to do what otherwise she may not do. She may not pray or teach without being fully covered by her hair.
“…because of the angels.” Here is an exhortation to remember what happened to the angels who refused submission to the authority of God (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). If the angels were punished for rebelling against divine authority we too should fear! (cf. 1 Timothy 3:6). “Because of the angels” should strike fear in the heart of every Christian woman. If God did not spare the angels who rebelled, He will certainly not spare mortals who rebel against their head of authority. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23).
“Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are of God” The reason man is the head of woman is because of a previous choice made by God, not because of an inherent superiority of the man. Let it be remembered, though, that Deity did make that choice. The Christian’s place is not to question choices of God but to respect and honor His decisions.
“Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” Based on what has just been stated in verses 2-12, Paul appeals to these brethren to pass a judgment on the matter. He has presented enough sound reasoning to convince the church of the need for men to cut their hair and women to wear their hair long.
“Is it proper?” is a rhetorical question and the answer is understood to be, “No, it is not proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.”
“Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?” “Nature” is the “natural sense, native conviction or knowledge, as opposed to what is learned by instruction and accomplished by training or prescribed by law” (mayer, p. 660). God placed within each of us the ability to know that a man should not have long hair, but that a woman should.
Because “nature” taught this, Paul could use it as an appeal to the Gentiles at Corinth as well as the Jews — because both Jews and Gentiles have the same “native instinct” of which Paul speaks.
When man refuses these instructions, it shames not only his head of authority (Christ—v. 4), but it shames the man personally.
“But if a woman has long hair…”
The Greek word to notice in this verse is the verb koma — present, active, subjunctive, third person, singular of komao. Though one word in Greek, it requires three or more words to translate into English—”has long hair.” It is defined as follows:
- Thayer: “to let the hair grow, have long hair” (p. 354).
- Souter: “I wear the hair long, I allow the hair to grow long” (j,. 137).
- Pickering: “to let the hair grow long, to abound with hair; to have long hair”
- Bullinger: “to let the hair grow long, wear long hair” (p. 349).
- Liddell & Scott: “to let the hair grow long.”
- Arndt & Gingrich: “to let one’s hair grow long” (p. 443).
- Rienecker: “to have long hair, to let one’s hair grow long” (p. 424).
- W. E. Vine: “to let the hair grow long, to wear long hair” (p. 189).
- Louw & Nida: “to wear long hair as part of one’s attire—’to have long hair, to appear with long hair, to wear long hair,’ . . .
In a number of languages it may be necessary to translate komaoas ‘to let one’s hair grow long’ or ‘not to cut one’s hair.” (p. 527).
Here are eight Lexicons that all use “grow” as part of the definition of komao. In addition, Louw & Nida say is means, “not to cut one’s hair.” Louw & Nida are regularly consulted by the United Bible Society for guidance.
The subjunctive mood is called a “potential” mood because the action only potential and not actually taking place. To illustrate:
- Indicative Moodwould say, “Jack sees Spot.” This is the “mood” of reality. The action is actually occurring and not just “potential.”
- Subjunctive Moodwould say, “If Jack sees Spot, he will kill him.” This is a “potential” mood. The action is not occurring yet. It may or may not occur. Everything depends on certain conditions being met.
- Imperative Moodwould say, “Kill Spot.” This is also a “potential” mood. The action is not yet occurring. It may or may not occur. This is the form which commands take, hence the name “imperative.”
Let us focus on the subjunctive mood for a moment. In the subjunctive mood, there are two possible tenses:
- Present tense:to stress continuous action.
- Aorist tense to indicate action without any reference to duration
Proof of the foregoing is easily found I wish to belabor this for a moment for there are many who doubt the validity of the “continuous action” in the subjunctive mood.
- Carroll D. Osburn: “In moods other than the indicative, such as the imperative, subjunctive, and infmitive, the aorist tense is normally used regardless of the type of action involved. However, when the writer wishes to call special attention to the continuity of an action, he uses the present tense of those moods” (p. 237).
- Dana & Mantey: “The progressive force of the present tense should always be considered as primary, especially with reference to the potential moods ...“(p. 181).
- J. Gresham Machen: “The distinction between the present and the aorist concerns merely the manner in which the action is regarded. The aorist junctive refers to the action without saying anything about its continuance or repetition, while the present subjunctive refers to it as continuing or as being repeated” (p. 131).
- Perschbacher: (under “Subjunctive Mood: Present Tense”) “The tense does not indicate the time of the action, past or present, but the kind of action. The aorist tense refers to punctiliar or undefined action, whereas the present tense refers to stative, durative, or repeated (iterative) action” (p. 340). (Under the “Imperative Mood: Present Tense”) “The present tense denotes progressive, iterative, or stative action, rather than temporal action” (p. 357).
- Robertson:(under the heading of “Subjunctive”) “The rarity of the prcsent subjunctive (and optative, of course) has already been commented upon. The aorist is used as a matter of course here unless durative action is to be expressed … The subjunctive is very common indeed but not in the present tense” (p. 889).
(Under “Imperative”) “The present imperative was found to be regulaly durative” (p. 890).
- Summers:“Except for some very rare occurrences in the perfect tense, the subjunctive mood is used only in the present and the aorist in New Testament Greek” (p. 105). “In previous study, it has been observed that two things are indicated in Greek tense: time of action and kind of action. Of these two only kind of action remains outside of the indicative mood. . . . The kind of action fmds its expression as linear in the present and punctiliar in the aorist” (p. l07).
- Williams: “The tenses of the subjunctive mood rarely have a temporal significance; it is rather their aspect that is significant, the present being used for continuous or repeated action or state, the aorist for a single act” (p. 100).
- Jackson: “The verb is present tense, middle voice, ‘let her keep on coving on herself”” (p. 3). “HAVE LONG HAIR” is from the Greek koma, ‘to let the hair grow, have long hair,’ The present tense indicates a continuous process. . . . Again, koma is used in the present tense suggesting ‘If a woman lets her hair keep growing long…” (p. 5).
- Crouch:Lexicographers do not delineate the meanings of verbs in all tenses and moods. They present the basic definition of the word and then show how it is used in various contexts. Thayer, Liddell, Gingrich, et al., define komao, “to have or wear long hair.” Some may respond, “The lexicographers only say that the hair must be long; they do not define komao “to continually grow long hair.” True. However, this is because the continuous action is emphasized by the tense and mood of the verb — it is not inherent in the verb’s basic definition. This is an important point. Many people unwittingly misuse and abuse Greek lexicons because (1) they do not know how to use them properly, or (2) they do not know how to apply a word’s basic definition to a specific context or grammatical construction. The later error is especially true in respect to Greek verbs.
To illustrate the foregoing, some Bible passages would be helpful. Each of the following passages use the present tense, subjunctive mood, and each of them are stressing continuous action: “Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them”— i.e., “you keep on doing to them” (Luke 6:31); “If we 1ive in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”—i.e., “let us keep on walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25); “I pray this, that your love may abound yet more and more”—i.e., “that your love may keep on abounding” (Philippians 1:9); “In order that we may live a quiet and peaceable life”—i.e., “that we may keep on living a quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:2); “I counsel you to put eye salve on your eyes in order that you may see”—i.e., “keep on seeing” (Revelation 3:18).
The point is, 1 Corinthians 11:15 is literally saying, “If a woman keep on growing her hair long, it is a glory to her.” She must “keep on” “continually doing this. She may not momentarily stop and get some of it cut off.
But the argument to “counteract” this goes as follows: “If continuous growth is part of the definition of komao, then it immediately becomes impossible for a man to obey God — for his hair is continually growing and he cannot stop it. Even after he dies, his hair will continue to grow for a while.” This argument does not “counteract” the fact that “continuous growth” is reqired for at least two reasons:
1) The Holy Spirit used a present tense verb in the subjunctive mood. All the Greek grammars write that the purpose of the present tense in the subjunctive mood is to stress and emphasize continuous action. (See the quotations above on verb tenses.) The objection is saying the text does not mean what it says. For this weighty reason alone, the objection fails to override the plain meaning of the text.
2) The objection being made is actually arguing from the standpoint of the perfect tense rather than present tense. Perfect tense means action that occurred in the past that carries abiding results. The argument says that in order to obey God, the man must stop his hair from growing completely — once for all with abiding results. But the verb is not perfect tense. The verb is present tense. Present tense tells a man not to “continuously allow his hair to keep on growing long.” He obeys this by getting regular haircuts.
To illustrate, suppose a father told his son, “I’m going out of town for two weeks. I want you to just let the grass grow while I’m gone.” But the son reasons similar to the objection above. He reasons with himself, “The grass is always growing. It is impossible to keep it from growing. Even if I mow the grass every day, it’s impossible to keep it from growing.” Will the son be obedient if he mows the grass every day? Of course not.
Look at Matthew 13:30. The landowner told his servants, “Let the tares and the wheat continue to grow together.” Suppose the servants reasoned like the objection above, “The wheat and the tares are always growing. It is a physical impossibility to keep them from growing. Even if we mow the field every day, they are still growing.” Will the servants be obeying their master if they attempt to mow the field — even once? Of course not.
Putting the facts of the case together, we can clearly see that the woman’s hair is to remain uncut:
1) The covering is the hair that grows long (v. 15).
2) This shows three possibilities:
(a) Hair that keeps growing long (v. 15)
(b) Hair that does not keep growing long, but is not shorn or shaved either (v. 6)
(c) Hair that is shorn or shaved off completely (v. 6)
Aaron Risener worded this well when he wrote:
It seems to me we can use this verse to prove the covering of verse 15 is uncut hair without ever grabbing a lexicon. Paul says, “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head” (1 Corinthians 11:6, NASB). Paul is speaking of a case where a woman is not covering her head, but she, at this point, is not shorn or shaved either (he says she might as well be, but she wasn’t … she was merely without a covering). That implies that the woman had something less than the covering, but something more than “shorn or shaven.” Since we know the covering is her hair (v. 15), Paul seems to be describing a situation common, unfortunately, to many of our sisters today: trimmed or shortened hair. She may not be shaven or shorn, but she’s not covered.
The conclusion we draw is the only logical conclusion: “Having long hair” means not to cut the hair at all.
The Nazarite Vow
The Nazarite vow cannot be ignored. “All the days of the vow of his seperation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the LORD, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow” (Numbers 6:5). Although the wording in the Septuagint is not identical to 1 Corinthians 11, the subject matter is too closely related to cast the passage aside completely. Both speak about the hair. Both say, “Let the hair grow long.” Notice the following translations of Numbers 6:5:
- NIV— “he must let the hair of his head grow long”
- NASV— “he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long”
- ASV— “he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow long”
- Hebrew—English Interlinear: “he shall allow the locks of the hair of his head to grow long”
To “let the hair grow long” is a Bible way of saying, “do not touch the hair with a razor.” Furthermore, the Hebrew word naziyr (translated Nazarite in Numbers 6) is an interesting word. In Leviticus 25:5, the vines were to grow “untended” (naziyr). That is, they were not to be pruned, trimmed, or cut, for every seventh year was to be a sabbatical year for the land. In the same chapter, verse 11 reiterates that the vines were to grow “untended” (naziyr), uncut, because every fiftieth year was a Jubilee and the land rested again. In Judges 13:5, Samson was to be a Nazarite (naziyr) from birth and that meant “no razor was to come upon his head.” In 1 Samuel 1:11, Samuel was to be a Nazarite from birth, and it specifically said, “No razor shall come upon his head.”
Josephus wrote in Greek. When commenting on Numbers 6:5, he used the word komao to accurately describe what the passage was teaching. Robinson’s Lexicon cites this example from Josephus: “Moreover, when any have made a sacred vow, I mean those that are called Nazarites, that suffer thcir hair to grow long (komao)…” (Antiquities, 4.4.4). The point is, komao can be used to describe the Nazarite who does not “touch his hair with a razor” but merely allows it to “keep on growing long” (komao). What, then, are we to conclude when we see the same wording in regard to the Christian woman? Is it not natural to conclude they are to allow their hair to “keep on growing” without cutting their hair?
Again, the Lord told the prophet, “They must not shave their heads or let their hair grow long, but they are to keep the hair of their heads trimmed” (Ezekiel 44:20, NIV). There are three hair lengths here:
(a) shaved hair,
(b) trimmed hair, and
(c) hair that grows long.
The point is plain enough. When God told people in the Old Testament to “let your hair grow,” He meant by that, “Do not touch your hair with a razor.” What, then, are we to conclude when we read the same wording in the New Testament? It seems reasonable to conclude that komao, in 1 Corinthians 11:15, means simply that a Christian woman is to “continue to let her hair grow long,” which is the usual way of saying, “Do not cut your hair.”
Komao is a verb. Verbs describe action. God is not so much concerned about something (noun) a woman possesses. He is concerned about what women do. When women “keep on letting their hair grow,” that is something they do. When God uses verbs, He is showing us that what women do is more important than what they possess (nouns). Thus, when a woman makes a confession or is baptized, if she allows her hair to “keep on growing,” it does not matter how much hair (noun) she possesses. God punished Samson for allowing his hair to be cut off (Judges. 16:19); but when he began to grow it again (Judges 16:22), God accepted him. God was more concerned with what Samson was doing (verb) than with what he was possessing (noun).
The English Bible may leave the impression that “long hair” is a woman’s gloiy — as though length were primary. But in the Greek, the glory is an astion performed by the woman (a verb)—she must do something to receive glory from God — she must “keep on growing her hair.” Her “hair is given to her for a covering” (v. 15). But she must do something with that hair — “keep on growing it.
“… it is a glory to her; for…” “For” (hoti) explains why hair is a glory for the woman — because it has been given to her by God. A “manmade” covering would not be a glory to a woman. Hair is a glory because it was madde and is given by God Himself.
“…her hair…” Note carefully, this did not say “long hair” is the woman’s covering — as if length were the important factor. Thayer correctly said, “the notion of length being only secondary and suggested” (p. 354) the Holy Spirit wanted to emphasize length as measured by a ruler, He could have used “makra thrix” or “makra kome.” Both of these expressions would properly have been translated “long (adjective) hair (noun)” with emphasis on the length of the hair. But what the Spirit could have said, He did not say. He did not use wording to emphasize length per se (adjectives), but rather words emphasizing action (verbs), and He used present tense verbs to emphasize continuous action.
The question before us is, “What sort of hair is a glory?” The Scriptures tell us the answer very plainly, “The covering is hair that continues to grow long.” This leaves no room for trimming, cutting, burning off, plucking out and/or other ways of removing the hair.
“…is given to her…” “Given” (dedotai) is a perfect, passive, indicative verb, meaning “it has been divinely given and remains given” by God to serve “instead of a covering” (anti peribolaiou). Paul will use various forms of this word indicating something that is “given by God.” The “traditions” which the Corinthians were to keep were “given” by Paul (11:2). The Spirit had “givin” gifts to various people (12:7—8). Jesus will “give” the kingdom back to the Father (15:24). God “gives” a body to each one as He pleases (15:38). God “gives” us victory (15:57). Other expressions are used to indicate the idea of something “given” by God. Paul would “give” instructions concerning the communion (11:17). Paul would “receive” from the Lord what he “delivered” to them (11:23). When we read that “hair is given,” it means that continully growing hair is “required” or “commanded” (cf. 14:37). God required long hair, but He did not command an artificial covering.
“…for…” “For” (anti) in this case is a preposition which means “instead of.” To illustrate the idea of substitution found within this preposition, notice the following passages taken from the Septuagint. In Genesis 22:13, Abraham offers a ram “instead of” (anti) Isaac. He substituted the ram for his son. The ram only was actually sacrificed — not both the son and the ram. In Genesis 44:33, Judah would stay in Egypt “instead of” (anti) Benjamin. Judah was not suggesting that both he and Benjamin together stay in Egypt, but that he would serve as a substitute for Benjamin and serve in Benjamin’s place. In Numbers 3:12, the Levites were taken “instead of” (anti) the firstborn. They took the place of the firstborn and served around the tabernacle of meeting. The Levites did not serve along with the firstborn, but they were substitutes for the firstborn. “These three sentences umnistakably deal with substitution” (Dana & Mantey, p. 100). The point is, continually growing hair is given to serve the purpose of a covering.
“…a covering.” “Covering” (peribolaion) is defined as “covering, wrap cloak, robe of an article of clothing” (Arndt & Gingrich). This refers to an artificial veil. The woman’s continually growing hair has been given to her (by God) to serve as a covering when praying or prophesying. The woman does not need an artificial veil when praying or prophesying because her hair was given by God to serve “in the place of” (anti) an artificial veil. The chapter never required a Christian woman to wear an artificial veil. All along, it envisioned hair as being a covering. But an action (verb) must be performed upon the hair for it to qualify as a covering that “fully covers” (kata + kalupto) the head. The action is to “let the hair keep on growing long.”
“But if anyone seems to be contentious…” “Contentious” (phiIoneikos) is literally “a lover of contention.” There are some brethren who are fond of contention. This verse tells us what to do with brethren like this. We need to remember this verse.
“…we have no such custom…” “We” refers to the apostolic college. Previously Paul wrote, “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).
Paul is not saying that all of the instructions of this passage should be “tossed to the wind” if someone is going to argue over them. The apostles never hinged their instructions on the likes and dislikes of anyone. To understand the point of verse 16, we need only to recall the custom the apostles taught and the customs they did not have. The custom taught by the apostles was women being covered with uncut hair when praying or prophesying. The custom they did not have was women with cut hair. Hence, “We have no such custom as women cutting their hair. If someone wants to be contentious, just remind them of this fact.” This should remind us of 14:3 8, “If anyone ignores this, ignore them.”
“…nor do the churches of God.” Paul wanted unity among the churches. He wrote “to the church of God which is at Corinth, … with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.., that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:2, l0) Again, “ For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (4:17). What Paul taught in chapter 11, he taught in every church he visited.
The Expositor’s Greek Testament summarized this final verse well: “If after all that the Apostle has advanced.., any one is still minded to debate, he must be put down by authority — that of Paul himself and his colleagues, supported by universal Christendom” (Findlay, 2:876).
Men are taught to show respect for their head of authority by keeping their physical head uncovered. Christian men may not wear hair that is long enough to hang down from their head (v. 4). However, men may wear an artificial covering when praying or prophesying — for the covering under consideration is the hair only. No artificial veil is ever considered. The Bible clearly says that hair is the covering, not an artificial veil.
Women, on the other hand, must show respect for their head of authoity by having their physical heads “completely covered” with hair that “keeps on growing long.” They may not cut their hair at all. However, they may wear their hair up in a bun — for the wording of the Greek points to “being covered completely.” The Greek does not require something that hangs down from the head of the woman. The following seven points should be remembered:
1. Women are specifically told to “keep on growing the hair long” (present tense).
2. “Let the hair grow long” is the Bible way of saying “do not touch the hair with a razor.”
3. Cut hair does not “fully cover” the woman (v. 6) (kata + kalupto).
4. Cut hair is a shame to the woman (v. 6).
5. Uncut hair is a sign of subjection (v. 10).
6. Uncut hair is a glory to the woman (v. 15).
7. Uncut hair has been divinely given (and remains thus) to serve the place of an artificial veil.
American Standard Version. Star Bible and Tract Publishers. 1929.
Applebury, T. R. Studies in First and Second Corinthians. College Press. 1979.
Arndt, W. F. and F. W. Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Chicago Press. 1957.
Bailey, Mark. Preachers’ Study Notes 1992. Christians’ Expositor Publications.
Bullinger, E. W. A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament. Zondervan. 1975.
Crouch, Jim. Personal letter to George Battey. September 18, 2000.
Dana, H. E. and Julius R. Mantey. A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. Macmillan Co. 1957.
Echols, Eldred and Al Horne. “Head-Covering of 1 Cor. 11, Prepared by the faculty and students of Southern Africa Bible School.” Unpublished manuscript. S.A.B.S 1968 Lectureship. 1972 printing.
Findlay, G. G. St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, via The Expositor’s Greek Testament. W. Robertson Nicoll editor. Hodder and Stoughton. Vol. 2. Nd.
Green, Jay P., Sr. general editor. Interlinear Bible: Hebrew/Greek/English. Baker, 1980.
Hickie, W. J. Greek-English Lexicon to the New Testament after the latest and best authorities. Macmillan. 1893.
Jackson, Wayne. A Sign of Authority. Courier Publications. Nd.
Liddell, H. G. and R. Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Logos Library System v2.0c.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies. 1989. Vol. 1.
Machen, J. Gresham. New Testament Greek for Beginners. Macmillan Co. 1951.
New American Standard Version. Thomas Nelson. 1977.
New International Version. Zondervan. 1978.
New King James Version. Thomas Nelson. 1988.
Osburn, Carroll D. “Interpreting Greek Syntax,” via Biblical Interpretation – Principles and Practice, Studies in Honor of Jack Pearl Lewis. Editors F. Furman Kearley, Edward P. Myers, and Timothy D. Hadley. Baker. 1986.
Perschbacher, Wesley J. New Testament Greek Syntax, An Illustrated Manual. Moody Press, Chicago, IL. 1955.
Pickering, John. A Comprehensive Lexicon of the Greek Language. Boston: Wilkins, Carter, and Company. 1847, c. 1851.
Rienecker, Fritz and Cleon Rogers. Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. Regency. 1980.
Risener, Aaron. Personal letter to George Battey. September 19, 2000.
Robertson, A. T. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research. Broadman Press, Nashville, TN. 1934.
Robinson, E. Robinson’s Greek – English Lexicon. 1850.
Septuagint with Apocrypha – Greek and English. Hendrickson. 1990.
Shaw, Thomas L. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Yesterday’s Treasures. 1988. Smyth, Herbert Weir. Greek Grammar. Harvard University Press. 1984.
Souter, Alexander. A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1960, c. 1916.
Summers, Ray. Essentials of New Testament Greek. Broadman Press. 1950.
Thayer, Joseph Henry. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Zondervan. 1974.
Vine, W. E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Revell. 1966.
Williams, Fredrick. Elementary Classical Greek. Revised edition, Southern Illinois University. 1991.
[This study is from the 2000 Preacher’s Study Notes]