Women Who Pray or Prophesy: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16

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Preface by Joseph Tkach

The endnotes for this study are in a separate document. Click here to see that document in a new window.

One commentator wrote, “This passage is probably the most complex, controversial, and opaque of any text of comparable length in the New Testament.”[1] And he may well be right—but I observe that in our fellowship, we have had far less controversy about it.

In our fellowship, we have long agreed that women do not need to wear head coverings in church today—these specific instructions do not apply in our culture. Having “solved” that question, we felt little need to dig into the passage any deeper. In decades past, our main use of the passage was to say that men should have short hair and women should not (verses 14-15).

Recently, when we asked members to submit papers concerning the role of women in the church, few had anything to say about this passage. Almost no one disagreed with our previous conclusion about head coverings—nor did they disagree with the article we published in January 2001, which observed that the passage permitted women to speak in church.[2]

Nevertheless, this passage raises some important questions about how we interpret the Bible, and how to decide whether a particular command is based in culture, or in creation.[3] Actually, I get the feeling that our old decision about head coverings was based more on what made “sense” to us than it was based on a study of the text. We did not have a good explanation for why head coverings were obsolete but hair lengths were not. We were unwittingly basing our beliefs on assumptions that were rooted in modern culture.

The following paper discusses numerous questions about this passage, but it cannot answer them all—nor does it need to. However, it does try to answer some key questions for us concerning the role of women in the church today.

Joseph Tkach


In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul deals with several problems that the local church had. One of the issues he deals with is whether people should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy. Although he briefly addresses what men should do, most of his comments concern women.[4] We will survey the chapter and examine certain questions in greater detail.

Verse 1 says: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV throughout). This is Paul’s conclusion to his comments about meat in chapter 10—he encourages the Corinthians to do everything for the glory of God, to avoid causing offense, “even as I try to please everyone in every way” (10:33). In 11:1, he encourages them to follow this example. In chapter 11, too, he wants them to avoid causing unnecessary offense to the people around them.

Verse 2 says, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.” This may be a concluding comment for the previous topic, or it may be a general introduction to Paul’s next topic, but either way, this verse does not seem to help us much in understanding what Paul writes in verses 3-16.

Women need a head covering

The next verse begins with “now,” indicating that Paul is addressing a new topic: “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (v. 3). Paul is using “head” as a metaphor, but the meaning of this metaphor is debated. Traditional scholars say that Paul is using the word “head” (Greek kephalē) as a metaphor for authority: Christ has authority over the male, the male has authority over the female, and God has authority over Christ. Other scholars argue that the metaphor means “source”[5] or “preeminence.”[6] We will address this question in more detail later.

No matter what the meaning, the sequence of “heads” is odd, since it goes down at first, and then up: Christ, man, God.[7] Also, some scholars suggest that “woman” means “wife” in this passage, and the verse addresses relationships within marriage and not between males and females in general.[8]

Paul then moves from his general principle to a more specific application: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head” (v. 4). It is generally agreed that the second occurrence of “head” in this verse should be taken metaphorically: The covered man dishonors Christ.[9] Paul has begun the discussion by speaking metaphorically in verse 3 so he can use the metaphorical meaning in verse 4.

a Greek woman wearing a himation over her head

What does Paul mean by saying “with his head covered”? Literally, the Greek words mean something like “having down from the head.” Is Paul referring to a hat, a turban,[10] an Arabic kaffiyeh, a prayer shawl (such as those used by some Jewish men today when they pray[11]), or something else? In some pagan religious rites, Roman men covered their heads with part of their toga (see picture at right),[12] and that may be what Paul is referring to—but he does not explain why this custom was dishonorable.[13] Some symbolism was probably involved, but it is difficult for modern readers to know what it is.[14] It is especially difficult for us to know why a covering was considered dishonorable for a male but required for a female.[15]

Some scholars have suggested that the head covering is long hair pulled up and bound on the top of the head[16]; that when long hair was let down, it suggested rebellion or sexual availability.[17] Support for this is seen in verse 15, which says that a woman’s long hair is given to her instead of a veil.[18] However, it is difficult to make this interpretation work in verse 4: If a man had hair long enough to pull onto the top of the head, it seems that Paul would begin by saying that the long hair was disgraceful in itself—he would not start by criticizing an attempt to pull it up onto the top of the head.[19]

Also, if the hair is pulled up, it would seem inappropriate for the Greek phrase to use the word kata,meaning down. And it would be odd to say that if the hair hung down loose, it might as well be cut off (v. 6).[20]Schreiner writes, “The verb translated as ‘cover’ in the NIV (katakalypto) occurs three times in verses 6-7…most often refers to a covering of some kind.”[21] On the other hand, if the hair was covered, there would be little need to specify its length.

In verses 5-6, Paul writes, “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if[22] it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.” Again, it is not clear what type of head covering Paul is referring to—some say it is a woman’s long hair (cf. v. 15b); others say it is a shawl.[23]

Paul does not say why it is shameful, and scholars have suggested several possibilities. Garland lists these: “somehow blurs gender distinctions, is a symptom of disorderly behavior, has links to pagan cultic activity, disavows the authority of the husband or paterfamilias, or is a cultural sign of immodesty.”[24]

Paul apparently wrote this because some women in Corinth were breaking social custom and speaking without a head covering.[25] Why were they breaking social custom? Several reasons have been proposed: 1) They believed that gender-based restrictions did not apply in the church[26] or 2) They believed that when they were in church, they were no longer in public, but in a family, and women did not need to wear head coverings when in their own homes.[27] Craig Keener writes, “Paul calls on them to submit to the head coverings so as not to cause offense”—Paul does not want the women to bring shame on their husbands.[28] Others suggest that the women were copying practices found in some other religions.

Prophesying in public

Paul is saying that it is shameful for a woman to pray or prophesy with an uncovered head. We might ask three questions at this point: 1) What does it mean to prophesy? 2) Is this praying and prophesying done in public, or in private? 3) Should the church today require women to wear a head covering?[29]

To understand what Paul means by “prophesy,” we do not need to refer to Old Testament customs (which are of debatable significance), for Paul himself tells us what he understands the word to mean. In chapter 12, Paul lists prophecy as one of the gifts of the Spirit. In chapter 14, Paul describes what he means: “Everyone who prophesies speaks to men[30] for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort…. He who prophesies edifies the church” (14:3-4).

Throughout chapter 14, Paul contrasts tongues and prophesying, and he concludes, “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct [katecheō][31] others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:19). In this verse, he implies that someone who prophesies instructs the church. In verse 24 he says that if people are prophesying, an unbeliever can learn something: “He will be convinced by all that he is a sinner…. So he will fall down and worship God.” In verse 31 Paul says that people learn as a result of prophecy. Although prophecy is not exactly the same as teaching,[32] it has similar results.

According to Paul’s definition, prophesying helps people in the church learn.[33] In Corinth, the Holy Spirit was inspiring both men and women to speak edifying messages during worship services. If the words were inspired by God, then they had authority.[34]

Women were speaking in a church meeting—there would be little need for Paul to address proper attire for something done in private. Blomberg gives seven lines of evidence that indicate that the passage is about a public setting: 1) Verses 2 and 17 are paired in content, suggesting that a similar setting is in view throughout, 2) The concern for appearance suggests a public setting, 3) The best analogies about men covering their heads are in a setting of (pagan) worship, 4) Paul discusses spiritual gifts primarily in a church setting, 5) Women had little opportunity to minister to men in private, 6) The mention of angels in v. 10 makes sense in a worship setting, and 7) Verse 16 refers to the practice of other churches, which suggests a setting within church.[35] Thomas Schreiner gives four slightly different reasons: 1) The subsequent topics concern worship, 2) Prophecy is supposed to edify the community, 3) Meetings in a home would count as a church meeting, and 4) 1 Cor 14:34 is not intended to be a complete prohibition.[36] Paul had to address the issue in this letter because some Corinthian women had been speaking in church without a head covering.[37]

In some societies, a head covering is a sign of submission or modesty; in others (e.g., Saudi Arabia) even the king wears a head covering in public. No matter what the head coverings symbolized in Corinth, it is clear that they do not symbolize the same thing in all cultures, and we conclude that they are not required as a sign of submission for all Christian men and women in all regions and centuries. There seems to be a consensus[38] that Paul’s instruction here was based primarily on culture—he was applying a general principle to a specific situation, and although the principle is still valid, the specific application is not. But what is that “general principle”? Scholars debate whether it is to maintain a distinction in authority between males and females, to maintain a distinction in appearance between the sexes, or simply to avoid doing something the surrounding culture considered scandalous.

The glory of man

Paul now gives a reason for men to uncover their heads: “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man” (v. 7). Unfortunately, we do not understand Paul’s reasoning here. We note the following questions:

  •  If being in the image and glory of God means that a man should not cover his head, then this would apply to all situations, not just speaking in church. In other words, the reason given here proves more than Paul intended, and we cannot make the same argument today. We do not know why it would be inappropriate for “the image and glory of God” to wear a hat, whether on the job or in the church.

  • Further, we do not know what Paul means by woman being “the glory of man.”[39] Paul’s next verse says that the female came from the male, but the male’s role in her creation was totally unlike God’s role in the creation of the male. Is man the “pride and joy” of God, and woman the “pride and joy” of man? Perhaps that is what Paul means, but that would not explain why one must cover the head and the other must not. Blomberg notes that “in verses 14-15 ‘glory’ is the opposite of ‘disgrace,’ so in both places it probably carries the sense of ‘honor.’”[40]

  • Last, we note that women are also made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), a point that Paul did not mention. It seems clear that he is using the evidence from Genesis selectively, not in a comprehensive way. He is not trying to present a theology of gender behavior—he is simply dealing with one particular practice.[41] But it is not clear why he brought the word “image” into the argument at all.

In verses 8-9, Paul appears to explain the way in which woman is the glory of man: “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” The man was the source of the woman, and the woman was created for the man.[42] Is woman the glory of man because she came from man? If so, then all of creation, including the woman, would be the glory of God, for everything came from him. Paul seems to be reasoning on the basis of which sex was created first, but we do not understand how he goes from his reason to his conclusion. Moreover, in verses 11-12 Paul seems to modify the argument (just as he clarified his statement in 1 Cor 1:14[43]), perhaps because the evidence does not say as much as his first comment might imply.

In the next verse, Paul goes back to his main topic—the need for women to have a head covering. “For this reason [because woman was created from man and for man], and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (v. 10). Scholars do not know what the angels have to do with this subject. Paul is alluding to something, but we do not know what it is.[44]

The word “sign” in the last part of the verse is a traditional translation, and the traditional interpretation is that the covering is a sign that she is under authority, but the Greek literally says “the woman ought to have authority on her head.” In all other uses, exousia means having authority; it never means “a sign of being under authority.”[45] If we take the verse literally, it means that the head covering gives the woman authority to speak—that by putting on the appropriate attire, she is permitted to pray and prophesy.[46] Because she was created from and for the man, she needs this head covering to authorize her to speak in the worship assembly.[47] Another possible interpretation is that the phrase means “to have authority over”—that she is “to have control over her head” by wearing the customary covering.[48]

In verses 11-12, Paul appears to qualify or clarify[49] part of his previous argument: “In the Lord, 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. But everything comes from God.” Just as the original man was the source of the first woman, all subsequent men have come from women, and God is the source of everything. This verse seems to reduce the strength of the argument from priority or source.

Why does Paul say that this interdependence is “in the Lord”? Why does he begin the sentence with the contrastive word “however”? This seems to imply that aspects of the previous argument were not based “in the Lord.”[50] Belleville draws this conclusion: “In the final analysis, whatever meaning we attach to the man is ‘the head of the woman’ (1 Cor. 11:3), this state of affairs does not hold true ‘in the Lord.’ Mutual dependence is what should characterize life in community, for ‘in the Lord’ a ‘woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman’ (1 Cor. 11:11).”[51]

After this, Paul gives another reason for his instruction that women should wear a head covering when they speak in church: “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering” (vv. 13-15).

Paul apparently believes that he has given the Corinthians enough information to make the answer obvious. Even though Corinth was saturated with sin, he appeals to the Corinthians’ own sense of propriety, as if they would all sense the disgrace of a woman speaking without anything on her head.[52]

When Paul writes “the nature of things,” he uses the word physis, which usually referred to the way the physical and biological world was, but sometimes referred to social custom.[53] Paul apparently uses it in the latter meaning here, for biological facts do not teach people that long hair is a “disgrace” for one sex and a “glory” for the other.[54] Rather, our physiological nature teaches us that a man’s hair grows as much as a woman’s. The word “disgrace” indicates a social stigma and a cultural convention.[55] Paul is not trying to say that men who took a Nazirite vow were a disgrace—he was writing to the Corinthian situation and not trying to make a universal, timeless statement.[56]

Since Paul can appeal to the Corinthians’ own sense of what is proper and natural, it is apparent that he is asking for behavior in conformity to normal custom[57]—for women to have their heads covered while speaking in the church, and for men to avoid the custom that was appropriate to females. Although some of the Corinthian women had apparently concluded that the gospel freed them from gender-based restrictions, Paul says that they should conform to this particular custom.[58]

In verse 16, he gives one more reason: “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” None of the churches threw social custom to the wind and encouraged women to act like men, and vice versa, so the Corinthians should not, either. Garland writes, “His comment has the same force as that of Josephus’s conclusion to an argument: ‘None but the most contentious of critics, I imagine, could fail to be content with the arguments already adduced.’”[59]


Paul has given six reasons for women to wear a head covering:

  1. The head of the woman is man (v. 3).
  2. Speaking without a covering is as dishonorable as shaving the head (v. 5).
  3. Woman was made from and for man, so she should wear a head covering (v. 9).
  4. Because of the angels (v. 10).
  5. It is not socially proper for a woman to speak uncovered (v. 13).
  6. The church has no precedent for breaking this tradition (v. 16).

Today, we cannot confidently use any of these reasons. Even if we could agree about the meaning of “head,” we cannot explain why it has to be symbolized by a head covering in one case but the lack of a head covering in another case. In most modern societies, there is little or no stigma attached to women speaking without a head covering, and we cannot say that it is as shameful as shaving the head. Third, we cannot offer any reason why the priority of creation should be forever symbolized by a head covering. Fourth, the presence of angels in this list makes it obvious that we do not have a complete understanding of the context in which Paul was working. Fifth, what is “socially proper” is different today than in first-century Greece. And today, there are many precedents against this tradition.

Paul’s arguments do not make sense to us primarily because his reasons are based in beliefs found in first-century Corinth; they are not designed for cultures like ours that do not share those same beliefs.[60] Although Paul cites biblical evidence and angels, it appears that the real basis of his argument is cultural—he was explaining the attire that was appropriate for women and men in that culture. We further suspect that if Paul knew of a reason that would apply in all cultures and all ages, then he would have used it, rather than ending up with social custom and “we’ve never done it that way before.”[61]

The doctrinal review team concludes that women are permitted to speak in church without head coverings.[62] Paul apparently believed that men and women should respect social conventions about gender-specific attire.[63] Men should not try to look like women, nor should women try to look like men. God created male and female different, and he declared that to be good, but the Bible does not specify (nor will we) the characteristics of masculine and feminine attire. That changes from one nation to another, from one culture to another, and from one century to another. In Paul’s day, it meant that women should wear head coverings when speaking in public, but it does not mean that today.

In conjunction with this conclusion, we also make the following observations about the reasons that Paul offered:

  • Someone might argue that we should accept Paul’s arguments even though we do not understand them. Angels are the same today as when Paul wrote, so we should accept his argument as valid today, and women should be covered by cloth when they speak in church. We reject that approach to Scripture. Paul gave reasons for his directive; he did not demand obedience without understanding.

  • The fact that Paul’s arguments do not make sense to us is a hint that he was basing his arguments on cultural customs. Even in a city renowned for sin, he appeals to the readers’ sense of propriety and disgrace. His argument from “nature” in v. 14 is actually an argument from custom; the “glory” that Paul speaks of in v. 15 is also a cultural matter.

  • Whether Paul uses kephalē in the sense of authority, or to refer to source, either way, women are allowed to pray and prophesy in church. Whether she has a sign of authority on her head, or has a sign of being under authority (everyone is under some authority), the most significant part of this passage is that women do have the authority to speak spiritual words in public worship. This passage does not restrict her words in any way; it is only a matter of attire.

  • Paul is apparently applying a general principle to the situation in Corinth. However, from the passage, it is not clear what the principle is. Here are some possibilities:

o       All women are under the authority of all men, because woman was created from and for man. Women should therefore wear a symbol of submission, which in Corinth was a head covering, but in other cultures may be something else. However, this does not explain why it is wrong for men to wear a head covering, because they are also under authority. Nor do we believe that all women are under the authority of all men.

o       Married women are under the authority of their husbands, because woman was created from and for man. Therefore all women, married or not, should wear a symbol that they are submissive to that principle.[64] Again, this does not explain why it would be disgraceful for men under authority to wear a head covering, and it does not explain why Paul is concerned about head coverings only when people pray and prophesy. The head coverings apparently had significance in public worship, but not in a woman’s private relationship to God.

o       Men and women should dress in ways appropriate to their gender in that culture, and when they are speaking in public, they should not dress in such a way that distracts from the words they speak. This would explain why Paul is concerned about attire of both men and women when speaking.[65] We conclude that this suggestion has the most merit.

  •  Since we conclude that women do not have to wear head coverings in church today (a conclusion we have held for decades), we also conclude that Paul has alluded to evidence from Genesis to support a cultural custom. The fact that Paul is selective in his use of the evidence from Genesis shows that he is not starting with Genesis and trying to explain its application in Greco-Roman society. Rather, he is starting with a custom in his culture and trying to find as many lines of support as he can think of for the people he was writing to. Since he was a rabbi steeped in Scripture, he begins with an illustration from Scripture, but he later has to qualify it, and he gives several comments based on what society considers honorable or disgraceful.

The important point is that women are permitted to pray and prophesy in church. Women may speak about spiritual topics and instruct the church as God leads them. Even if we use the most restrictive meaning of prophecy,[66] and even if it rarely if ever happens today, the precedent is still set that God allows women to instruct and edify the church according to their gifts.

However, the mutual dependence of males and females does not mean that they must behave in identical ways. Paul made restrictions onhow women prophesied in church—he required them to wear attire appropriate to women. We uphold this principle today, acknowledging that in most nations today, this does not mean a headcovering, but means that women should not try to look like men. The authority of their words does not rest in external appearance, but in conformity with the gospel of God.

Appendix A: The meaning of kephalē

Garland writes: “Three views commend themselves. First, ‘head’ has been traditionally understood to designate hierarchy and to imply authoritative headship.”[67] In support of this view, Hurley writes, “The Greek versions of the Bible used kephalē (head) to translate the Hebrew word r’osh, which also means ‘head.’ The Hebrew word, however, was used to indicate one in a position of authority or command as well as origin or ‘priority.’”[68] Hurley argues that although kephalē may mean origin in some contexts (e.g., Col. 1:15-20), it does not mean that in marital contexts. “If ‘head’ means ‘source’ in 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul’s parallelism is poor and he virtually teaches that God made Christ.”[69] Blomberg agrees: “Its two main [metaphorical] meanings were either ‘source’ or ‘authority.’… The other passage in which Paul calls a man ‘head’ over a woman refers as well to wives’ subordination to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24), so ‘authority’ seems somewhat more likely here too.”[70] Egalitarian W. Larry Richards admits that although the meaning of “source” is attractive, Paul elsewhere uses kephalē “in the sense of authority, not source.”[71]

Part of the difficulty in the discussion is that commentators who support the meaning of “authority” generally conclude that the male has authority because he is the source of, or is prior to, the woman. “Source” and “authority” are related concepts, so “source” often makes sense. However, they argue that the primary connotation of kephalē is authority (the result) rather than source (the cause). Blomberg says that no one has shown that kephalē can mean source “without simultaneously implying some dimension of authority.”[72]

However, Perriman questions the logic, “The question of authority is irrelevant to a discussion of the proper manner in which men and women should pray and prophesy; nor is it a valid deduction from the idea that man has authority over the woman that she should veil herself in worship.”[73] It is not clear why the woman must honor the man by being covered, when the man has to do the exact opposite in order to honor Christ. The passage is not about authority per se, and although v. 10 uses the word “authority,” the meaning there is not clear.

The second suggestion is that kephalē means “source.” Mary Evans writes, “In Colossians 1:18 Christ is spoken of as ‘the head’ of the church in the context of his being before all things and the source of creation.”[74] However, “the ‘paucity of lexicographic evidence’—no Greek lexicon offers this as an option…makes this meaning for ‘head’ highly suspect…. Although the idea of source may fit the account of the woman’s creation from the man’s rib, it does not fit God as the source of Christ.”[75] Some egalitarians respond that God is indeed the source of Christ in his messianic role, and Paul is speaking only of a function, not the source of being.[76] They also point out that “source” is clearly part of the context (see vv. 8-9).

Garland agrees with Perriman in supporting a third view: “The best option understands kephalē to mean ‘that which is most prominent, foremost, uppermost, pre-eminent’ (Perriman 1994)…. The ‘head’ denotes one who is preeminent, and though it may result in authority and leadership, that is not its basic denotation. It is not linked to ideas of obedience or submission.”[77] But Blomberg notes, “It is unclear if an entity can be most or even more prominent without implying some functional superiority.”[78] Although Paul does give a requirement for men, the emphasis of this passage is to give a requirement for women, to stop women from doing something they had begun to do, and that requirement is based on the fact that the male is the kephalē of the female.

In short, it seems that most interpreters choose a meaning for kephalē based primarily on their beliefs about what other verses say about male authority. The interpreters are influenced by their own culture, either in assumptions about what it means to be a “head,” or in beliefs about what it means to be “equal.”

Appendix B: Head coverings in the Greco-Roman world

Craig Keener gives some detailed information about head coverings in the ancient world:

“The practice of women covering their heads in public may be related to the old Greek tradition that restricted women in many ways to the domestic sphere. In theory, at least, women in fourth century bce Athens could not go to the market and were not to be seen by men who were not their relatives…. This ideal seems to have continued to some degree in conservative parts of the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world [which would probably not include Corinth]….

“Roman women were, however, much less secluded, although some moralists wished them to be more secluded than they were. It was reported that in an earlier period a husband might have divorced his wife for going into public unveiled, or disciplined his wife or daughter for conversing publicly with another man…. Plutarch goes on to explain that a woman’s talk should also be kept private within the home…she ‘ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband.’… We cannot suppose that all levels of society hearkened to the moralists (the moralists themselves were well aware that this was the case)….

“Why would the Corinthian Christian women’s uncovered heads have caused offense? One recurrent suggestion is that an uncovered head was the traditional garb of prostitutes. Dress could indeed sometimes indicate that a woman was a prostitute…. But the evidence for head coveringsdistinguishing wives from prostitutes is slender…. Head coverings typified married women in general in Jewish [Judea], so that an uncovered head could indicate a virgin seeking a husband as easily as it could connote a prostitute….

“Others…have suggested instead that Paul may have been thinking of the ‘uncovered and disheveled heads’ of pagan prophetesses…. In most Greek religious activities women uncovered their heads, and this may be significant. But it is doubtful that Paul or the Corinthians would have thought specifically about pagan prophetesses’ hairstyles; such prophetesses…were generally secluded from public view….

“In general, Greek women were expected to participate in worship with their heads uncovered…. Men were also to worship bareheaded. In contrast, Roman women had to cover their heads when offering sacrifices…. Roman men would also pull the toga over their head at sacrifices. Corinth was a Roman ‘colony’ in Greece during this period….

“Covering one’s head was sometimes associated with mourning; the practice was a standard sign of grief, for both men and women…. During the funeral procession itself, Roman sons would cover their heads, while daughters would ‘go with uncovered heads and hair unbound.’…

“It is unlikely that most [Judean] Jews viewed the head covering as a symbol of women’s humiliation, but at the least a head covering was a necessary sign of public modesty for all [Judean] Jewish women who could afford it. One story tells of a woman so destitute that she could not afford a head covering, so she had to cover her head with her hair before going to speak with Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai…. A Jewish woman who ventured into public with her hair down and exposed to view, or who otherwise could be accused of flirtatious behavior, could be divorced…. Jewish teachers permitted loosing a woman’s hair only in the case of an adulterous woman, who was publicly shamed by exposure to the sight of men….

“Veiling customs varied geographically. Veiling seems to have prevailed in parts of the eastern Mediterranean…. Evidence for this custom in Greek life, however, is sparse….

“It is probable that some well-to-do women thought such restrictions on their public apparel ridiculous, especially if they were from parts of the Mediterranean world where head coverings were not considered necessary. But to other observers, these women’s uncovered heads connoted an invitation to lust. The issue in the Corinthian church may thus have been a clash of [class-related] cultural values concerning modesty, and Paul wants the more [wealthy] liberated elements within the church to care enough about their more conservative colleagues [the poor] not to offend them in this dramatic way…. Most women in Greco-Roman statues and other artwork from this period [generally the wealthy] have uncovered heads…. Nothing in 1 Cor. 11 suggests a practice that requires women’s heads to be covered all day long.”[79]

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