1 Corinthians 11:7-16

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 11:7-16

For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.


I’m going to give myself a PG-13 rating for this post because of its extensive discussion about physiology and the reproductive process later on. In case that is confusing, read on.

Here Paul gives an explanation about head coverings rooted in his beliefs about nature and the concept of relational headship, for why men should have their head uncovered, while women should not. This passage is well known for being confusing, most notably on two points. First, Paul does not provide context when he refers to angels in verse 10. Second, the text appears to be self-contradictory (he argues for women to wear head coverings, and in verse 15 appears to say that hair is itself a covering.)

Immediately below are definitions for the two Greek works translated as a variant of “cover” in English. From Strong’s at BlueLetterBible:

covered = κατακαλύπτω katakalýptō, kat-ak-al-oop’-to; from G2596 and G2572; to cover wholly, i.e. veil:—cover, hide.

covering = περιβόλαιον peribólaion, per-ib-ol’-ah-yon; neuter of a presumed derivative of G4016; something thrown around one, i.e. a mantle, veil:—covering, vesture.

You’ll notice that the Greek root word for “cover” in verses 7 and 13 is different than the root word for covering used in verse 15. Let’s keep that in the back of our minds as we determine what Paul is teaching here and whether the fact that the two Greek words are different actually matters.

I also want define another word, from verse 10:

a symbol of authority = ἐξουσία exousía, ex-oo-see’-ah; from G1832 (in the sense of ability); privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence:—authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength.

We’ll start with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary and verse 7:

(7) For a man indeed.—In 1 Corinthians 11:4-7 the argument against the woman’s head being uncovered was based upon (a) the woman’s relation to man, and (b) the man’s relation to Christ in the Church. In the three following verses, 1 Corinthians 11:7-9, the ground of the argument is changed, and the same conclusion is arrived at from a review of (a) the woman’s relation to man, and (b) man’s relation to God in the physical Creation. The external form of this argument is the same as that adopted previously. The Apostle first states what the man must not do, and then conversely what the woman must do. The Apostle here takes up the order of creation mentioned in Genesis 1:2, and the argument runs thus:—Man was made in the image of God, and is the glory of God; but woman is the glory of the man (for woman was made out of man, and also man was not created for woman, but woman for—i.e., as a help-meet for—man). Therefore man, as a created being, according to the accepted order of creation, is the direct representative of God, and woman the direct representative of man (and only indirectly and through him of God). The spiritual equality of man and wife does not upset this relationship, and therefore an attempt to destroy the outward expression of it is to be condemned, as it would soon lead to an obliteration of the fact itself.It is to be remembered all through this passage (and it gives a further emphasis to the allusion to Adam and Eve) that St. Paul is only speaking of married women—it is most unlikely that any case had occurred of an unmarried woman attempting such an outrage upon social feeling and national custom. The Greek women when in public (except those of avowedly bad character) either wore a veil or drew the peplum, or shawl, over their heads.

Verses 8 and 9 continue to make the same point, drawing from the Creation account of Genesis Chapter 2. Man comes from God, and Woman comes from Man. Thus, man is the glory of God, and woman is the glory of man.

Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Paul’s argument here relates to order and authority. The metaphor he leans on in the chapter is anatomical. Lungs might be as important to the body as the head, but the head is ultimately how decisions are made and order is preserved. He is teaching here that when a man and woman become “one” that one of them has to be the head over the other to maintain proper order. Of course, a head is quite foolish if it makes decisions without consulting with the body or that are not beneficial to the body.

The discussion begins to grow strange in verse 10, though. We get a sense that perhaps Paul has some things in mind that are not self-evident to a modern reader. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

1 Corinthians 11:10Tohave power on her head. A great deal of irrelevant guesswork has been written on this verse. Under this head must be classed the idle attempts to twist the word exousia, power, or authority, into some other reading—an attempt which may be set aside, because it is not sanctioned by a single manuscript. We may also dismiss the futile efforts to make exousia have any other primary meaning than “authority.” The context shows that the word has here a secondary sense, and implies some kind of covering. The verse, therefore, points the same lessons as Genesis 24:64Genesis 24:65. This much may be regarded as certain, and this view is adopted by the steadfast good sense of our English translators, both in the Authorized and Revised Versions. The only question worth asking is why the word exousia had come at Corinth, or in the Corinthian Church, to be used for “a veil,” or “covering.” The simplest answer is that just as the word “kingdom” in Greek may be used for “a crown” (comp. regno as the name of the pope’s tiara), so “authority” may mean “asign of authority” (Revised Version), or “a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband”. The margin of the Revised Version, “authority over her head,” is a strange suggestion. Some have explained the word of her own true authority, which consists in accepting the rule of her husband; but it probably moans a sign of her husband’s authority over her. Similarly the traveller Chardin says that in Persia the women wear a veil, in sign that they are “under subjection.” If so, the best comment on the word may be found in the exquisite lines of Milton, which illustrate the passage in other ways also—”She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore…
As the vine curves her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received. “The fact that Callistratus twice uses exousia of “abundance of hair” is probably a mere coincidence, resembling the Irish expression “a power of hair.” Nor can there be any allusion to the isolated fact that Samson’s strength lay in his hair. The very brief comment of Luther sums up all the best of the many pages which have been written on the subject. He says that exousia means “the veil or covering, by which one may see that she is under her husband’s authority” (Genesis 3:16). 

Because of the angels. In this clause also we must set aside, as idle waste of time, the attempts to alter the text, or to twist the plain words into impossible meanings. The word “angels” cannot mean “Church officials,” or “holy men,” or “prophets,” or “delegates,” or “‘bridegroom’s men,” or anything but angels. Nor can the verse mean, as Bengel supposes, that women are to veil themselves because the angels do so (Isaiah 6:2), or because the angels approve of it. The only question is whether the allusion is to good or bad angels. In favour of the latter view is the universal tradition among the Jews that the angels fell by lust for mortal women, which was the Jewish way of interpreting Genesis 6:1Genesis 6:2. This is the view of Tertullian (‘De Virg. Vel.,’ 7) in writing on this subject. A woman, in the opinion and traditions of Oriental Jews, is liable to injury from the shedim, if she appears in public unveiled; and these evil spirits are supposed to delight in the appearance of unveiled women. The objection to this view, that angeloi alone is never used of evil but always of good angels, is not perhaps decisive (see 1 Corinthians 6:3). The verse may, however, mean (in accordance with the Jewish belief of those days) that good angels, being under the possibility of falling from the same cause as their evil brethren, fly away at once from the presence of unveiled women. Thus Khadijah tested that the visitant of her husband Mohammed really was the angel Gabriel, because he disappeared the moment she unveiled her head. On the whole, however, the meaning seems to be, out of respect and reverence for the holy angels, who are always invisibly present in the Christian assemblies.. “Reverence the angels” is St. Chrysostom’s remark.

There is a lot to take in here. The context here seems to be that wearing a veil is symbolically similar to the notion of wearing a wedding ring. “I am taken.” The somewhat offhanded comment “because of the angels” is interesting. The text of the comment touches on it generally.

The traditional view among Jews was and is that angels (often called the Sons of God – ben Elohim – or the Watches in extra-Biblical texts) saw human women and decided to take them and procreate with them. The offspring from these unions were the Nephilim giants. A constant thread throughout the Old Testament is God’s plan for the eradication of the Nephilim via the Great Flood, and then also after. From the time of Abraham through the time of David, we see stories of giants being eradicated.

So that’s the context here when Paul refers to the angels. Angels looking at women, and desiring them, was a disaster for the human race he did not want to replicate. He may have had in mind that he did not want women to be a temptation for holy angels, or he may have had in mind that women would be a temptation to fallen angels or demons. Either way, a purpose of the veil is to prevent Genesis 6 from happening again.

Genesis When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

We see similar accounts of this type of thing occurring in other Near Eastern religions as well as other Mediterranean religions. Hercules, for example, is a famous half human, half god hybrid, and would have been deemed by the Greeks a man of renown. But we digress.

Continuing with Ellicott in verse 11:

(11) Nevertheless . . .—Here follow words of caution, lest the previous express declaration of the subordination of woman to man might be exaggerated or perverted. This very subordination of one sex to the other implies a mutual connection, and not an isolation of each sex. The woman is not independent of, but dependent on the man “in the Lord,” i.e., in the Christian economy.

As the note here states, Paul does not view the authority of husband over wife as abusive or domineering. He is aware of the potential for the abuse of this idea, so he provides caution in verse 11, as well as explaining that there is some balance to this relationship. If man is the head over his wife, he is also *from* a woman, his mother. This is intended as an orderly system, not an abusive tyranny. Continuing into verse 12 with Ellicott:

(12) For as the woman is of the man.—An appeal to the original act of creation proves the truth of the previous statement of the interdependence of the sexes. If already (1 Corinthians 11:7) the fact of woman’s having been taken out of man was used as an argument to prove her subordination, there is now coupled with that fact of the origin of woman that other fact of the perpetual birth of man from woman, to show that there is a mutual relation. The first woman was made out of man; therefore woman is dependent on man. Every man has been born of a woman; therefore man is not independent of woman. In the Greek the word rendered “of” represents a finite act—the word rendered “by” a continued process.But all things of God.—Thus, as usual, St. Paul completes the thought by tracing all up to God. The mediate processes of their origin may differ, but the source of their being is common—they, and all beings, and all things, and the sequence of all things come of God. (See 1 Corinthians 8:6Romans 11:362 Corinthians 5:18.)

In verse 13, with this backdrop, we return to the topic of head coverings again, and there is some controversy here as to what Paul means. Paul asks rhetorically if it is proper for a woman to have her head uncovered. He then begins a discussion based on nature in verses 14 and 15. The Pulpit Commentaries provides a note which I do not find to be terribly helpful, but I will share it anyway:

1 Corinthians 11:14

Doth not even nature itself teach you? “Nature” here has much the lame sense as “instinct.”

“His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She, as a veil, down to the slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore.”(Milton, ‘Paradise Lost,’ 4:304.)

nature = φύσις phýsis, foo’-sis; from G5453; growth (by germination or expansion), i.e. (by implication) natural production (lineal descent); by extension, a genus or sort; figuratively, native disposition, constitution or usage:—(man-)kind, nature(-al).

disgrace = ἀτιμία atimía, at-ee-mee’-ah; from G820; infamy, i.e. (subjectively) comparative indignity, (objectively) disgrace:—dishonour, reproach, shame, vile.

The commentary above aligns “nature” with instinct. I think one could also read into the idea that Paul is making an appeal to his era’s version of science. Paul continues on to say that the opposite is true for women. From Ellicott:

(15) But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her.—We should follow the suggestions of Nature. If a woman has naturally long hair, which is given to her as a covering for her head, the covering of her head can be no shame to her; therefore let her wear a veil. “The will ought to correspond to Nature.”

Now I will remind you of what we mentioned at the beginning of the post. When Paul says here in verse 15 that a woman’s hair is given to her as a “covering” he abruptly uses a different Greek word than the one which has been translated covering to this point. This word choice is where the extremely weird, but clarifying, potential interpretation arrives.

As I brought up in the previous post, Dr. Michael Heiser’s podcast featured a 2004 scholarly article [<— at the link], published in The Journal of Biblical Literature by Dr. Troy W. Martin, titled “PAUL’S ARGUMENT FROM NATURE FOR THE VEIL IN 1 CORINTHIANS 11:13-15: A TESTICLE INSTEAD OF A HEAD COVERING.”

The short summary of the article (I recommend that you read it because it is fascinating) is that the Greek word περιβόλαιον peribólaion, translated by just about everyone as “covering” in verse 15, should instead be translated (or at least understood as) “testicle.”

Your first reaction is probably “uh, what?” but he provides a coherent explanation which makes sense. In the Greco-Roman world, 1) that word is also translated as testicle – and we know this from the huge volumes of Greek and Roman medial texts from the time period, and 2) hair – specifically the long hair of women – was viewed as a necessary element of human reproduction akin to genitalia in post-pubescent women. I will include a couple of relevant excerpts from Martin’s article here below:

While many features of this argument in 1 Cor 11:2-16 require explanation, the argument from nature in w. 13-15 is particularly problematic.5 The rationale for the natural shame of a man with long hair is obscure (w. 14-15a). Especially problematic is the statement that a woman’s long hair is given to her instead of a covering (άντι περιβολαίου) in v. 15b. As traditionally understood, this statement nullifies the previous argument that a woman should wear a covering since her long hair apparently serves that purpose. A satisfactory explanation of this argument from nature should resolve the apparent contradiction and enable this argument to support Pauls contention that women should wear the veil in public worship.

The term περιβόλαιον in v. 15b provides the key for explaining this argument from nature. This portion of the verse is usually translated, “For her hair is given to her instead of a covering (περιβολαίου).”


Since περιβόλαιον is contrasted with hair, which is part of the body, the
physiological semantic domain of περιβόλαιον in 1 Cor 11:15b becomes particularly relevant. Euripides (Here fur 1269) uses περιβόλαιον in reference to a
body part. He casts Hercules as complaining, “After I received [my] bags of
flesh, which are the outward signs of puberty, [I received] labors about which I
[shall] undertake to say what is necessary” (έπει δε σαρκός περιβόλαι’ έκτησάμην ήβώντα, μόχθους ους ετλην τί δει λέγειν). A dynamic translation of the
first clause would be: “After I received my testicles (περιβόλαια), which are the
outward signs of puberty.” In this text from Euripides, the term περιβόλαιον
refers to a testicle.7

Achilles Tatius (Leuc. Clit 1.15.2) plays on this meaning of περιβόλαιον in
his erotic description of a garden in which Clitophon seeks an amorous
encounter with Leucippe. Achilles Tatius describes the entwimngs of the flowers, embracings of the leaves, and intercourses of the fruits (ai των πετάλων
περιπλοκαί, των φύλλων περιβολαί, των καρπών συμπλοκαί). He portrays this
erotic garden by allusions to male and female sexual organs. The term
περιπλοκαί alludes to the female hair, the term περιβολαί to the testicles in
males, and the term συμπλοκαί to the mixing of male and female reproductive
fluid in the female. Achilles Tatiuss description of this garden associates female
hair and the testicle in males.8

Ancient medical conceptions confirm this association. Hippocratic authors hold that hair is hollow and grows primarily from either male or female reproductive fluid or semen flowing into it and congealing (Hippocrates, Nat puer 20).9 Since hollow body parts create a vacuum and attract fluid, hair attracts semen. Appropriately, the term κόμη refers not only to hair but also to the arms or suckers of the cuttlefish (see Maximus of Tyre, Phil 4.5). Hair grows most prolificacy from the head because the brain is the place where the semen is produced or at least stored (Hippocrates, Genit. I). 10
Hair grows only on the head of prepubescent humans because semen is stored in the brain and the channels of the body have not yet become large enough for reproductive fluid to travel throughout the body (Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20; Genit. 2). 11 At puberty, secondary hair growth in the pubic area marks the movement of
reproductive fluid from the brain to the rest of the body (Hippocrates, Nat.
puer. 20; Genit. I). 12 Women have less body hair not only because they have
less semen but also because their colder bodies do not froth the semen
throughout their bodies but reduce semen evaporation at the ends of their hair
(Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20).13

According to these medical authors, men have more hair because they
have more semen and their hotter bodies froth this semen more readily
throughout their whole bodies (Hippocrates, Nat. puer. 20). The nature (φύσις)
of men is to release or eject the semen.14 During intercourse, semen has to fill all the hollow hairs on its way from the male brain to the genital area (Aristotle,
Probi. 893b. 10-17). Thus, men have hair growth on their face, chest, and stomach. A man with hair on his back reverses the usual position of intercourse. A man with long hair retains much or all of his semen, and his long hollow hair draws the semen toward his head area but away from his genital area, where it should be ejected. Therefore, 1 Cor 11:14 correctly states that it is a shame for a man to have long hair since the male nature (φύσις) is to eject rather than retain semen.

If we assume that Paul has the same understanding of this topic, generally, as other educated Greek and Roman people at the time, then it stands to reason that the article above explains why he did not use the same Greek word for “covering” in verse 15 that he had used previously. His intention was to use a different word, with a different meaning, that his original readers would have understood. This article informs us generally why the entire ancient Greco-Roman world viewed veils as a necessary element for modesty, and why that view is no longer universally held. People thought a woman’s hair was genitalia. Paul thought covering ones genitalia in Church was obviously the right thing to do.

This brings up another question though. Is there a problem to be found in the fact that Paul teaches an adherence to modesty that is rooted in the incorrect science of his day? Should God have explained physiology to Paul, and then should Paul have passed that knowledge on to the Church? My fundamental problem with someone who would answer that question “yes” is that I do not know where or how one draws the line thereafter. Did a belief in Jesus necessitate that first century CHristians begin learning about quantum physics, too? We do not hold ourselves to that standard today. Righteousness and holiness are separate issues than accurate scientific knowledge. If the science says that a woman’s hair is her genitalia, then the proper course of action from the perspective of a righteous person is to cover up.

We can lean on the fundamental principles from earlier in this Epistle to address that argument, too. Even if Christian women knew that they had liberty to show their hair in public, the right action would be to continue wearing a veil, because not doing so would hinder their efforts to evangelize. They would shock and scandalize people if they displayed their hair. In that sense, the argument and issue parallels what we saw with the discussion of meat offered to idols. Freedom in that wa would not have been helpful.

I hope this brings some understanding to a confusing passage. In the next section, Paul will express anger at the Corinthians yet again, concerning the Lord’s Supper.