Heads and Coverings: Observations (Part 2)

In my previous post I shared some observations about 1 Corinthians 11:3–16, which speaks of women praying and prophesying in the church. After asking the Spirit for insight, observation is the first step in Bible study. Here are some observations sometimes missing in the discussion: 

• According to Paul, women could prophesy in the church. And the end result of prophecy was the learning and encouragement of the Body (14:31). So it was assumed in Paul’s day that everyone could learn spiritual truth from a woman. Even if one believes the gift of prophecy has ceased today, one’s reasoning behind women’s silence in the church today cannot be “grounded in creation” or “grounded in creation order” because Paul would not have allowed women’s speaking in his day if such were the case. That is, if women’s silence was established at creation for all time, silence would have been required in every generation. In fact the opposite is true. Women have prophesied in the past (Exo. 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Isa. 8:3; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17–18; 1 Cor. 11:4) and women will prophesy as a sign of the Spirit in the future (Joel 2:28–29). 

• Paul ranks the gifts in this order: “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (12:28). In our passage we see women exercising spiritual gifts in that second category, a category more foundational for the church even than teaching.   

• The passage is not just about women’s head coverings. Paul addresses equally practices relating to both women’s hair and men’s hair (11:4, 7, 14). In fact, Paul begins by addressing the men’s hair practices. 

• The word “veil” does not appear anywhere in the text. 

• Paul does emphasize that woman came from man and not vice versa, and he also says she was made for man. But then he adds a “however”: Woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman” (v. 12). Paul is emphasizing interdependence in this passage. He is concerned not only about woman’s independence but also about man’s.  

• The word for “sign of” does not appear in the text. That is, a translation that says a woman (wife?) “has a sign of authority on her head” is an interpretation. The text actually says the woman (wife?) “has authority” on her head. Every other time Paul says someone “has authority” (I count six uses of this form in 1 Corinthians alone), he refers to someone actually possessing authority. And if she has authority on something, she does not have submission under the same thing (authority and submission being opposites). And understanding Paul as meaning to say the woman actually possesses authority makes better sense of the phrase that immediately follows. He adds “however”—a warning. Then he tacks on a reminder that woman is not independent of man. This suggests that the authority on her head gives her a degree of independence that she must temper.  

 Again, to put the discussion in a greater context, after discussing all this Paul shows his readers a more excellent way: the way of love (1 Cor. 13). Even if they have all gifts of prophecy, he says, if they lack love they are nothing. Nada. Zilch. This is the number one observation often missing in discussions about whether we should tell women using words to equip others that they should hold back or go for it. Against love, Paul later told the Galatians, there is no law. 

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • JenniferSuggah

    Hi Sandra! Thank you so much

    Hi Sandra!

    Thank you so much for your blog and the way you serve Christ through the gifts He has given you! When I read this passage in 1 Cor this morning, it bothered me immediately, or more specifically two verses bothered me, the first being v7  "a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man" and the second being v 15 "if a woman has long hair, it is her glory". Why would Paul in verse 7 make this distinction? What does being the glory of man vs the glory of God entail? And is verse 15 contextual? Because I don't like to think of my hair as my "glory", that feels all kinds of strange. Anyway if you have any illumination on this subject, that would be much appreciated. 🙂


  • Sandra Glahn

    Hair, Glory, Imagebearing

    Genesis 1 teaches clearly that both man and woman are made in the image of God. So we begin with the understanding that Paul is not in any way suggesting woman is not in the image of God. But he’s not teaching here the nature of humanity. He is addressing some practices in church and the glory/shame associated with them. With this in mind we read “For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God” (v 7).

    Paul begins by addressing men’s hair coverings, and he is not talking about yarmulkes. In fact, he does not mention veils or cloth coverings anywhere. He says it is shameful for a man to have “down from the head” hair, which translators generally render “covering.” Wearing hair down this way may be the source of the expression, “let his hair down” or “let her hair down.”

    Go to Wikipedia and type in “Dionysus” if you want to see a photo of the kind of pretty (we might say “girly”) men’s hair he probably had in mind.  (Dionysus worship was popular in Corinth.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionysus

    Upon learning that in the future state there will be no marriage, new believers coming out of Dionysus worship likely arrived at the gathered assembly prepared to worship with “down from the head” hair, emphasizing their freedom in Christ, making a symbolic statement about the future unmarried state.  But men wearing hair down this way could also suggest, “I like boys,” while wives wearing hair down this way would say, “I’m unmarried and available.” In doing so the men would shame their maker (who made them to “like” women) and the wives would be shaming their husbands (the Western equivalent = leaving your wedding ring at home).

    This would explain, then, why Paul would say, “But the woman is the glory of the man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man.” A man who appears to be trolling for boys in church gets reminded that woman, not man, is the glory of man.

    Paul goes on to ask later, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him?”

    The answer is yes and no. Men who made Nazarite vows (think Samson) wore long hair, and it was not considered a disgrace. Yet a certain kind of long hair, the kind of long hair I think Paul has in mind, would have been a different matter altogether!

    Paul then says, “But if a woman has long hair, it is her glory.  

    The same kind of hair that looks beautiful on a woman would be disgraceful for a man.  Wearing it down communicates two completely different things, depending on whether the wearer is a man or a woman. 

  • Kristen Dugas

    Hi Sandra, I would just like

    Hi Sandra,

    I would just like to say that I believe the 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16 passage goes very differently from what is typically taught.  This is because I believe that Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God, NOT man.  I believe that Paul is using Jesus Christ as a correlation as to why women should not be veiled.  If you would like to see more on this interpretation, you can visit my website at http://www.womanthegloryofman.com  


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