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The subject of head coverings came up in our family one day, and I wrote down what I believe Paul is addressing in this passage. I decided to share it with you. It’s a controversial subject, and one that many Christians have doubts about. If you’ve always had questions about this passage, I hope this will settle it for you.
Those who believe that Paul is teaching that Christian women should wear head coverings in this passage, are overlooking what should be the obvious, that Paul is making a distinction between a man and a woman—namely the proper hair length of a man and the proper hair length of a woman. If at first you’re not seeing it, keep studying it until you do.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16
(1 Cor 11:1-4) – 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. 11:2 I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 11:3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 11:4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head.
“his head covered”
Covered = the long hair of a woman
Paul is not referring to a hat (head covering). He’s referring to long hair—a man’s head being covered with long hair instead of short hair. In Paul’s mind, a man’s head that is covered is a head that has the long hair of a woman (vs. 14 confirms this interpretation).
Thus a woman’s head that is uncovered is a head that has the short hair of man (vs 15).
This interpretation will become more apparent as we move along.
(1 Cor 11:5) – 11:5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head.
Uncovered = the short hair of a man
Her head “uncovered” with short hair as man’s hair.
Having the short hair of a man is the equivalent of her head being “shaved.”
(1 Cor 11:6) – 11:6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head.
“if a woman will not cover her head” (with long hair)
In other words, Paul is talking about a woman who has the short hair of a man.
Paul is making the argument that if a woman is going to have short hair like a man, then she may as well “shave” her head (also vs. 5), because it’s the same difference. But since it’s also shameful for a woman to shave her head, let her have long hair as a woman, and so be covered (vs. 15 confirms this interpretation).
(1 Cor 11:7) – 11:7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man.
A man ought not “cover” his head with long hair, as a woman does.
(1 Cor 11:8-10) – 11:8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 11:9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 11:10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Whatever else Paul is talking about in these verses, it’s clear that this “symbol of authority” is referring to long hair.
(1 Cor 11:11-13) – 11:11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 11:12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God. 11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
It’s not proper for a woman to pray with her head “uncovered.” In other words, with the short hair of a man.
(1 Cor 11:14) – 11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him,
Verse 14 and 15 provide the understanding for this whole subject. Throughout this passage, Paul is contrasting the proper short hair of a man with the proper long hair of a woman. Man is not to have the long hair of a woman, and woman is not to have the short hair of a man.
(1 Cor 11:15) – 11:15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Paul plainly states that a woman’s “long hair” is her “covering,” thus providing the interpretation of this whole subject, along with verse 14.
(1 Cor 11:16) – 11:16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
While it seems clear that Paul is setting the standards for men and women in regard to hair length—particularly in the assembly of believers (“praying or “prophesies”), what’s not discussed is exact hair length. In other words, we don’t know what Paul considers to be short or what he considers to be long. However, he did provide us with a general guide:
(1 Cor 11:13-14) – 11:13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him,
Considering what “nature” teaches us and what’s considered “proper,” we’re to “judge for ourselves.” In a general sense, God has put it within us (“nature”) to know that it’s more appropriate for men to have short hair and more appropriate for women to have long hair. However, what’s considered short or long is determined, to some degree, by the culture in which we live. Our culture has a lot to do with how hair length is viewed.
It’s also a matter of personal conviction. How do we personally view what length is appropriate for men and what’s appropriate for women? We don’t all see hair length in the same way.
Since Paul left hair length rather open-ended, I believe we have a certain amount of freedom in determining what’s proper for men and what’s proper for women—especially as it relates to ourselves. Let’s just make sure we evaluate this honestly before God.
The key is balance. Avoid the extremes. “Balance” is a keyword that I personally live my life by. We’re to be sensible and reasonable and wise in all that we do. Keep this in mind when it comes to the subject of hair length.