Covering the Glory: The Woman and the Headcovering

     Ironically, it is not the Torah (Law) or the Old Testament that commands the wearing of the head covering but it is the Apostle Paul.  He writes a lengthy discourse in I Corinthians 11:1-15.  I would like to briefly discuss the points that Paul draws out.  He begins with the issue of authority.  Who has authority over whom?  This is the essence of the covering.    He writes, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.  But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same is if her head were shaved.”(1)  The covering of the head is an understanding of role. (2)  The Greek word used in all of these passages for “covering” is the Greek word katakalupw (Strong’s #2619)  its basic meaning is “to veil, to cover wholly and to cover up.” The Septuagint, (The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses this word in replace of the Hebrew hsk which also means to cover or hide.  See Isaiah 58:7) Thus, the covering being addressed here is a literal covering that symbolizes a recognition of both role and authority.  It is a symbol that a woman places on her head as an outward manifestation that she, like Christ, submits to her role.  This manifests Christ-likeness.  It is a sign that she understands her own glory, the glory of God, the glory of her husband, her role in the spiritual realm, and her selflessness in covering her own glory so the glory of others can be manifested.   This is a manifestation of Messiah.

     Verses 7-12 continue on this same theme.  “For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn.  But if it is a shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.  For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.  For man is not from woman, but woman from man.  Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.  For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.  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 from God. “

 These verses demonstrate our dependence upon one another and the nature of our interconnectedness.  The covering also represents this.  Shortly, Paul will bring up the subject of glory.  The Greek word us here is the word doxa.  Its basic meaning is a “reflection of the majesty of the divine Ruler/Creator.”  Paul explains that God’s majesty is reflected in man; man’s majesty is reflected in woman; and, as we will soon see, the majesty of woman is reflected in her hair.

     In verses 13 and 14, Paul sets up his closing arguments for the wearing of the head covering by representing an analogy from nature.  The Greek word that is often translated “long hair” is the Greek word “koma” and doesn’t necessarily address hair length.  The basic meaning to “make the hair ornamental or beautified.”  Paul is saying that, naturally, men don’t really invest in their hair the way women do.  Again, he is setting up his point that hair is a reflection of the woman’s majesty.  The verse reads,”Judge among yourselves.  Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?  Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has “beautified” hair it is a dishonor to him?  But if a woman has “beautified” hair, it is a glory to her.”

     Verse 15 may be the most controversial of the entire section.  The first part of the verse finished the thought that Paul has been developing.  It states, “But if a woman has beautified hair, it is a glory to her.”  This is a nice conclusion as to Paul’s thought on why the woman’s head should be literally covered.  However, the second part of the verse introduces an apparent contradiction.  “For her hair is given her for a covering.”  For many who read this verse, it seems to be saying that a woman’s hair has replaced the necessity of a literal covering.  There are two main reasons to disagree.

     The Greek of the verse reads, “oti h komh anti peribolaiou dedotai auth.” Roughly translated, “Because the ornamented hair has been given to her for a mantle.” While the English translations use the word “covering,” please note, the Greek has a completely different word.  It is the word peribalaiou which has the basic meaning “to wrap around, a wrapper, to throw around, a mantle” If the hair were to be the covering Paul is deeming necessary during prayer and worship, Paul would have used the word “katakalupa” from his previous verses but he does not do that.  Why?  It stands to reason that his intention is not to replace the literal covering but to close his argument for why the woman should cover her head from an argument based on nature (what is normally done and seen as right.)  This fits the context of all the verses leading up to it.  He is saying that by nature, the adoring of a woman’s hair has become her mantle.  This mantle has become her glory and this glory is what ought to be covered.  To say that the adorned hair is the new mantle is to take the verse out of its context.  The context is Paul’s rhetorical question, “Judge among yourselves, is it proper for a woman to pray with her head uncovered?”  The obvious answer to his question is no.  Why?  Because even in nature it is apparent that a woman’s glory is her adorned hair and it should be covered during times of worship so the glory of God is prevalent.  The very fact that the woman’s hair is a mantle, a beautiful garment given her by God, demonstrates that it ought to be covered.

     Secondly, we must examine the preposition that sits before the word covering.  It is the word “anti” and carries the basic meaning of “for” or “instead of.”  There are two basic ways to translate this word.  They either denote the exchange of one thing for another or the equivalence of one thing with another.  If it is used for exchange it is translated “instead of’ but if it is used as equivalence, it is translated “for.”  Hence, it is possible to translate this verse, “because her ornamented hair is given to her instead of a covering.’  In fact, when I first translated it, this was the translation I used.  What I found, was that the idea of exchange is never brought out in the context of the passage but the idea of equivalence is certainly present.  I wondered if any translators had ever introduced the idea of exchange here.   We live in a western centered mindset that is far removed culturally and otherwise from the time of Paul and the Corinthians.  If a translator could justify the exchange of the head covering for the hair in our society, I figured someone would’ve done it.  So, I began to search all the modern translations.  What did I find?  Absolutely no one introduced the idea of exchange here.  This tells me that as biblical scholars they recognized the content as equivalence and not exchange.  My list of translations includes the following”  KJV; NKJV; ESV; Holman; NASB; NIV; Amplified; the Greek Orthodox; Duey-Rheims (Latin vulgate); and the Aramiac Peshita.  None of these translations saw the idea of exchange in their translations.  In fact, the NIV carried the idea of equivalence so far that it translates the verse.”For her hair is given to her as a covering.”  The fact that equivalence with the covering fits the context demonstrates that the ornamented hair should be literally covered as it is a glory that is present and should submit to the glory of God.  To conclude the matter, a literal head covering is a biblical New Testament doctrine.

     To return to the original question, should one compromise their biblical conviction for the sake of witness?  I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer here but I’m inclined to disagree.  The wearing of a head covering by Rina and the girls, my beard and tassels, our genuine love for each other and for others may be the only Bible that many will read.  All of these demonstrate biblical and spiritual principles that speak about who are in Christ and what are various roles are.  As we live out our faith in what we do, what we say, how we dress, this is a witness.  I have actually witnessed God using Rina’s head covering to draw others to us and we’ve actually gotten the opportunity to share Jesus with many people who I don’t think we would have otherwise been able to.   It may seem somewhat peculiar to our western post 9/11 mindset but peculiarity from the world is called holiness by God. (I Peter 2:9) When we live out our biblical convictions we present holiness to the world and this is our witness.  “Here am I and the children whom the LORD has given me!  We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts who dwells in Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 8:18)





  1. 1.        There were two reasons to shave the head.  First, when one was a prisoner because they had not the right to display their own glory.  Secondly, is in mourning, when one is so distressed or sad that they wish not to have glory.

  2. 2.       Not to be used to degrade woman or place them as second class citizens beneath men, the passage clearly identifies both as having gifts and talents which should be exercised to glorify God.  I think it in error to use this passage to demonstrate that woman needs to be “lofrded over” by men.  This is just an unbiblical concept.