1 Corinthians 11:14-16, A Woman’s Hair

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.  If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God.

//This is a topic that remains fascinating to me, because I grew up in a Christian sect that emphasized the importance of women not only keeping their hair long, but wearing it up, as a covering, instead of loose. Having been subjected to numerous arguments on both sides of the debate, I can hardly pretend there is an easy answer. This is a complex passage of scripture. Adding to the complexity are the traditions of Paul’s day, where attire and hair style demonstrated status, availability for marriage, and in the extreme, prostitution. Not, really, that much different from today! So I can weigh in with what the words of Paul feel like to me. Consider the verses that lead into this discussion to the Corinthians:

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 it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. –1 Corinthians 11:5-6

Paul hardly wanted women to use their public position in the church to advertise their availability, but it goes further than this. A woman’s dress and hair, when Christians gather, should reflect well on any position of authority she has been granted (women held leadership roles as well as men in Paul’s day). Therefore, when she prays or prophesies, she should be appropriately groomed according to the traditions of the day, showing respect for her role.

I don’t think Paul meant anything more general than this.

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2 Comments

  1. Hello, I would just like to say that I personally believe that Paul is quoting a faction of men who wrote him in verses 4-6, and that it is a faction of men who want women to be veiled while praying and prophesying. There are many clues in the passage which point to this, but I will give just a few here. One reason I know that verses 4-6 are quoted is because Paul’s rebuttal portion (verses 7-16) completely contradicts the quoted portion. For example, it is clear that the men who coined verses 5-6 wanted women to cover their long hair; however, Paul states that the long hair has been given instead of a covering. There are also other obvious contradictions between the quoted portion and rebuttal portion; however, this is not obvious to the average reader, because the translators have added words to the rebuttal portion in an attempt to get it to harmonize with the quoted portion.

    Furthermore, another reason I know that verses 4-6 are quoted is because I know that Jesus Christ is the image and glory of God. Indeed, Paul would not make the case for women to be veiled in verses 5-6, and then immediately afterwards (vs. 7), use Jesus Christ as a correlation as to why women should not be veiled. (In verse 7, Paul is referring to a man’s figurative head, not his literal head. See Paul’s model in verse 3.)

    So I do believe that Paul is making the case for women to be unveiled in 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16. Paul has sandwiched the men’s argument (vss. 4-6) in between his model (vs. 3) and rebuttal (vss. 7-16). If you want to see more on this, you can visit my website under the Scripture Studies section. Blessings

  2. Lee Harmon

    Very thoughtful comment, Kristen, thank you!!

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