What do I do with Paul's head coverings from 1st Corinthians 11?

Some more thoughts on the subject (just thinking, and there are so many responses, I just decided to put my thoughts here.): The thing with taking this passage at face value and assuming that this entire passage and all its details are universally applicable, is that when you get down to verse 14, taking Paul’s declaration that nature itself tells you that if a man has long hair it is dishonoring to him, taken at face value, conflicts with the Nazarite vows. And this, especially considering Paul supposedly took that vow, as we see in Acts 18. Does it say Paul took a Nazarite vow specifically? No, although we could probably assume that since his growth of hair was in connection with a vow. However, the point is, Paul had obviously allowed his hair to grow out due to a vow, and now he’s saying that long hair is dishonoring to a man’s head? So, either Paul is very confused, or we are confusing it by not recognizing that there was historical and cultural context here that maybe puts this passage at odds with making it universally applicable. Paul clearly was not referring to some absolute, universal principles here, because if he was, he never would have grown his hair out. It’s not about whether “God said it.” God did say it through Paul. It’s why God said it at that particular time and that particular place to that particular audience and what the intention was.

Hi Lindsay, Thanks for jumping in on this. You have some very helpful thoughts here and have some questions that I also have. I agree with you that we can’t know if Paul took a Nazirite vow in Acts 18:18. It seems possible to shave your head without first growing your hair long. It seems like a similar thing was happening in Acts 21:24 that has to do with purification in addition to just making a vow. Although if you read through Numbers 6 on Nazirite vows it is a fairly complex process that seems to be deeply linked to the temple sacrificial system in a way that would be hard to visualize Paul recommending. That being said, whether he did or didn’t, Numbers 6 still exists and 1 Cor 11 still exists and seem to be saying different things. Perhaps the long hair for men as a sign of separation in Numbers 6 is something that Paul would have seen as a bygone with the death and resurrection of Christ? (I have no idea). The other complication, since Paul seems to be making his case from creation order and nature, is that the only other place where Paul uses his “very nature of things argument” v14 is in Romans 1:26 when he is teaching about unnatural relationships between women. It would be interesting to know exactly what Paul uses as a baseline for ‘natural.’ My guess is that Paul isn’t confused, but is making a theologically based argument. It may be cultural, but that certainly isn’t at all clear from what he says. My only reason for commenting on this whole topic is to encourage us to not quickly move over difficult passages and in doing so miss out on something that God has for us to know about himself and each other. Thanks for join in on this conversation and helping us all wrestle with this very challenging passage.


Thanks for responding, Nathan! And thanks for jumping in, as well! Quickly, later on after I had posted, I had also thought about Paul’s definition or standard for natural, because it’s interesting to me that he says that nature teaches that men having long hair dishonors their heads…well, I would think if nature taught that, men’s hair would not grow at all if left alone. Kind of a funny quandary. I think maybe I’ll look up the Greek used for natural there and see if it’s any help. Thanks again, Nathan!


I come from an anabaptist church tradition that has always practiced the head covering. Although the church i currently attend is divided about the issue. It’s not something my church enforces. We are a church plant in LA and it’s kind of difficult to teach something that’s so countercultural and a belief that is held by such a minority of christians…On the other hand It seems most of Christianity is countercultural these days. Curious… Have you read what the ante-Nicene church father’s believed about the issue? I haven’t personally read the church fathers, but I’ve heard pastors quote from them about the issue. Apparently they believed the head covering should be worn. I suppose it’s possible to pick and choose from the church fathers to find beliefs about a lot of different things… BTW I love listening to think out loud. I listen to it while driving for my job in LA. It’s always a nice to hear christian perspectives on world issues.


Here’s a question for you. My wife and I disagree on this particular matter. Strangely enough (although maybe I’m not alone), it’s my wife insisting that she wear a head covering and me saying that this wasn’t a universal command to all (especially due to the lack of repeated commands on the subject in the NT).

So here’s my question, if she wears the head covering, is she honouring/dishonouring?

Since reading all the very long discussion on this topic I’m even starting to rethink my stance on the topic. Although for some reason on this particular issue I’ve always thought that it almost must come from some sort of cultural context. With other commands and topics, whether I “feel” like following a command or not, I can generally see the sense in it’s universality. With this one, I find it more difficult to come to a full grasp of why it would be universal (if, indeed, it is). I could get behind a command that asked women (or men for that matter) not to dress provocatively but to dress modestly… I can see the logic in that. But I almost feel like (and I know we don’t go by feelings because they can lead us astray… I say “feel like” because it’s like I know there’s a logic there, but can’t explain it)… but anyway, I feel like I can’t see that this could be universal because… well I can’t really explain it… but something doesn’t add up to me.

In that case… maybe I should just take it at face value.

I’M SO CONFUSED :slight_smile:

I’m going to stop writing before my brain fries.


Hey, Tim! @tsbehan, I think it is so confusing, because like Nathan @Nathan_Rittenhouse brought up, there is something Paul is rooting to creation and God’s design, which makes it universally applicable. However, we need to be discerning here, because what is rooted in God’s design and order can be kept as a universal principle while the expression of it may not. The part that is universal is that the “head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” That is universal and transcends cultural context. How that universal truth is expressed, however, is going to be different across time and cultures. These things are always problematic when we see a universally applicable truth and principle rooted in a passage with culturally prescribed ways of expressing that which is God’s design and order, because people have trouble discerning between the the truth principle and the expression thereof. Notice, Paul does not root the actual covering/uncovering of heads back to Adam and Eve, and I should think he would have had a lot of trouble doing so, because apparently it was not significant for Adam and Eve because it was not at all mentioned in Genesis (unlike the universal truth and principle, which IS mentioned and pointed to in Genesis), which gives us a pretty good clue that, while we should apply the universal truth principle, we should not be applying that particular expression from the cultural world of Paul universally.

The cultural dynamics at any given time affect the expression of universally applicable biblical truth. If we take a look at Paul’s world, women of high status left their hair uncovered out in public to flaunt the freedom they had (Roman women in that culture and time also tended to have more independence from their husbands), while men would put a part of their togas upon their heads to show their high status. However, it was well known that prostitutes, as well, left their “glory” uncovered in public. Other women would cover their heads in public but remain uncovered at home. (Capes et al. 179-180). So now enter Christianity and the fact that there were now public meetings in private homes where women who normally would cover their heads in public were probably leaving their heads uncovered at home or, at the very least, were divided in their opinions and actions regarding this. Furthermore, those women who would flaunt their independence and freedom by having their heads uncovered were sending a signal that is in direct conflict with Christianity, because as Paul says, “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” (1 Corinthians 11:8-12, NKJV).

The cultural expression of the universally applicable truth is here mixed with the actual universally applicable truth, which is what makes it so confusing when we don’t discern between the truth and the expression thereof, especially when we are unfamiliar with specific cultural practices would either express the universally applicable truth or contradict it. The letters were never written for the purpose of forming doctrine but, in fact, were written to prescribe practices that in time and culture would properly communicate God’s universal truths in regard to human beings, their relationships, and the gospel. And since they are letters, it is a fact that cultural practices that embrace and present certain perspectives in that place and time will be interwoven with those things that are truth and to be universally applied. If we wish to know which is which, it is absolutely necessary to look into the culture and to look at which parts are grounded in theological truth vs. the parts that are grounded in culturally birthed expressions of that truth.

Here is the reference from which I learned some of this information. It was one of my college texts and a good read:

Capes, David B., et al. Rediscovering Paul: An introduction to his world, letters, and theology. 2nd ed., InterVarsity Press, 2017, pp. 179-180.

What a great discussion - so many good points. One thing I have not seen mentioned yet is:
1Co 11:10 KJV 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power[G1849] on [her] head because of the angels.

I grew up when hats and dresses were considered normal for women (yes, more than a year or two ago :grinning:). Things changed and periodically He would bring this chapter to my attention. I went back and forth about it for years [decades?]. You know how you have read something “a million” times, and then He surprises you with new insight? In my experience, that is usually Him talking to me/us, His child. If we are uncertain, He often confirms His leading by a “witness of two or three” [Deu 19:15], which, in this case, He did. He brought a few things to my attention:

  1. He uses 2 explanatory phrases: ‘For this cause’ and ‘because of’ – this is a key verse answering the question ‘Why did He say this?’
  2. The explanation includes ‘because of the angels’ (not people/culture, etc.) and
  3. power[G1849] which in the Strong’s definition include: “1. Power of choice. 3. the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege) 4E. the sign of regal authority, a crown”
  • a word study on this can be very insightful. Some of the verses which use this word are
    Mat 7:29, Mat 8:9, Mat 9:6, 8, Mat 10:1
  1. Culturally, He brought the following questions to mind:
    How many thousands of years have women in multiple diverse cultures worn head coverings, or at least long hair?
    Could this be evidence of a common root/teaching/truth [similar to the roots of marriage?]

At this point, I ceased looking at cultural significance and proper exegesis.

To me, it has been helpful to notice that His Word speaks of various maturity of believers, from babes and sheep to friends, sons and daughters, and bride. The principle that our lessons change as we grow applies to spiritual maturity as well. 1Co 3:2, Heb 5:14 Just because I [am/am not[ to do/have something does not mean it is for all. Most often, it is only our Father Who knows the details of who He created us to be and the path He needs to take us on to get us there. If we remember these things in the non-essentials, we can be free to worship in

On a practical note, depending on the conversation, I reply “because of the angels” or as Nathan’s @Nathan_Rittenhouse grandmother.

Teaching is certainly an issue, but if you have studied and He is leading you to teach on this, He will also make a way. SOOO much of His Truth is multi-dimensional - Mercy and Justice, Servant and Leader, Spirit and Truth… Could it be that this is also multi-dimensional?

–What if this is also the demonstration of the freedom and power of choice He has given, which we did not formerly have, to choose to obey Him? Rom 6:16, 20, 22 (Except for one 10 day period each year, He has not placed me where other believers also cover - a great assignment for directly confronting the ‘fear of man’ in one’s life. :fearful:)
–What if this is also the sign of the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege) He has given as His Own precious treasure? [Exo 19:4-5]
–What if this is the crown He has given, the sign of regal authority, that He has granted as His daughter or bride? [1Co 6:2-3]

It has been said that one criminal was overheard speaking to a ‘partner in crime’ about a woman who wore a head covering, “Don’t touch her, she is HIS! She has power like my grandma!”
Could it be that is a meaning of this verse which has been overlooked?

Just some thoughts.


Hi, Sal. You make some really good points, and I had to think on them a bit. I think I would have to point out, though, the way I understand it, is that exegesis does actually mean looking into the cultural as well as historical background along with looking at the wording of the text and the near and far contexts of the passage. It would do violence to the text to not look at the cultural significance.

As far as pointing out that many cultures have had women covering their hair, I can see that, but many other cultures have not. Where the mention of the angels is concerned, we need to understand what that actually means before using it to ground something as universally applicable, which I don’t feel has been demonstrated here in the thread anywhere, and, in fact, I don’t know that there has been a lot that has been written on that anywhere. I think it is something worth looking into, though. In order to know whether or not God is really asking something of us, I would think we would have to first know what the intention of His Spirit was with anything in the letter before we can correctly discern that.

Reading the verse that says “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels,” I am not sure this is directly prescribing head coverings within the verse. Though the practice of the head covering or lack thereof was being discussed, this verse is going back to discussing the universally applicable truth principle–that women need to have power (or authority) on their head, which wouldn’t be referring to a head covering, as a head covering itself cannot actually be that power or authority. It can only express it, and the way power or authority is expressed in different cultures and times is different.

However, my opinion is that if someone feels convicted that she should wear a head covering, I nor anyone else should take issue with it, and she should do it to the glory of God, and if another feels convicted not to, then she should do it to the glory of God. If one who doesn’t wear one visits a church in which the women do wear them, then she should honor that so as not to cause anyone to stumble. I would never cast stones at anyone who decided to wear them simply because I don’t see the verses as saying that we need to. I think that line of thought has already been presented well here by a number of contributors to the thread :slight_smile: so I won’t add more to it.

Great points for conversation, though, and yeah, I don’t recall anyone else bringing up the part about the angels. I think maybe because that part is also a bit difficult to understand.

You bring so much to the table! Thanks for contributing. Just had a thought about your comment:

Could it be that part of the purpose of the vow was to humble/dishonor yourself and focus on honoring Him? If so, a man growing his hair might be consistent with the purpose of the vow.

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Hi Lindsay, just sharing the process and things He used in my life to confirm what He was asking me to do. Please forgive me, I did not mean to offend, just add another point of view.

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Sal, I’m laughing, because I saw the quote you took from one of my previous posts, and I had to think for a moment, because I didn’t know where it was coming from! It was so long ago that I wrote it, haha. I thought, “Did I write that?”

I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. I honestly have no recollection of anything in the Bible about why a man growing his hair out for the vow would be consistent with its purpose. It had to be consistent with it for some reason, obviously. Interesting question.

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No, please, no offense taken at all, and I’m sorry if it came across that way. I had come back to my post because I was going to edit something in it, and I saw your post and thought you brought up some really good points. As I thought about your points, those are just the thoughts I had about it. I enjoy the conversation :slight_smile:

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Just to clarify for all:

Just a phrase I used to state that the back and forth study, pondering, etc.about this one topic ended for me. The One Who knows us better than we know ourselves, had convinced me it was His will for me. Not trying to say that considering these things is wrong or not needed or I would not be here :smiley:


Here is a pod cast by Michael Hesier on the subject. Would be interested in your comments.

The covering of head by women in the place of worship is part of a culture in our place. That shows respect. That is a good system. I think that way, may be, because I am used to it.:slight_smile:

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If that is the case, then (if I am understanding you correctly) should women not cut their hair? I haven’t heard that take before, and I was just wondering where you are sourcing that from.
(Asking this as a woman with quite short hair.)