1 Corinthians 11:1-16, King James Version
1Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
2Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. 13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16, New American Standard Bible
1Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
2Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
I hope you have read our text in both the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible. Now I want to give a short commentary on these verses. This will give us a survey of the subject. Many of the topics found in these verses are the subject of further study in chapters of this book. I will reprint each verse here and then comment on it. I am reprinting the verses because it is important that the TEXT govern our study. Let’s begin.
1Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. (KJV)
1Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (NASB)
This verse is a fitting close to the discussion of eating meat sacrificed to idols and it is a fitting introduction to Paul’s teaching concerning the wearing of the head covering. Both in the matter of eating meat sacrificed to ancestors or idols, and in covering or not covering the head when praying or prophesying, we should follow Paul because he was following Christ. Remember that Paul taught the same in every church. “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Corinthians 4:17)
2Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. (KJV)
2Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (NASB)
These “ordinances” or “traditions” are the inspired commandments which came from the apostles. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote,
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
These are not human traditions, but the practices commanded by the apostles which all the churches must keep. (1 Cor. 4:17).
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states on this word: “objectively, what is delivered, the substance of the teaching: so of Paul’s teaching, 2 Th. iii.6; in plur. of the particular injunctions of Paul’s instruction,1 Cor. xi. 2; 2 Th. ii. 15.”
Albert Barnes writes: “The word does not refer to any thing that had been delivered down from a former generation, or from former times, as the word ‘tradition’ now usually signifies; but it means that which had been delivered to them; i.e. by the apostles,” (Notes on 1 Cor. 11:2, p. 201)
3But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (KJV)
3But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. (NASB)
The main subject of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is the head covering. There are several reasons which Paul gives to prove that women are to cover their heads when praying or prophesying and men are not to cover their heads. The first is the order of headship given by God. The Divine order of headship is: God, Christ, man, woman.
It is well to observe that Paul talks about man in general and woman in general. It is not just that the husband is head of the wife, it is that man in general is head of woman in general. This teaching applies to married men and women, and to single men and women—to man and woman.
This makes the subject of the head covering of first importance. The head must be covered or not covered in order to show the proper relationship of Christ, man and woman.
McGarvey and Pendleton write: “Paul settles the humblest difficulties by appealing to the loftiest principles: thus he makes the headship of Christ over man the basis, or principle, on which he decides that the man has headship over the woman, and as we shall see further on, he makes the headship of the man over the woman the principle by which he determines the question as to whether men should worship with uncovered, and women with covered heads.” (The Standard Bible Commentary, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, p. 109)
John T. Lewis wrote: “I never preach on these verses, but what I try to impress upon the listeners, that if they fail to consider, or comprehend the relationship set forth in verse 3, they will never grasp Paul’s teaching on the following verses.” (Covered and Uncovered Heads, p. 27).
From the beginning man was made head of the woman. “For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:12) Adam named the animals and Adam named the one God created for him “woman”. Naming the animals and naming the woman showed that Adam was head over them. Woman was made to be a “helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
From the beginning, man has been the head of woman. Adam failed in his headship when he allowed Satan to tempt Eve and when he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil because she gave it to him. He should have been the leader, not the follower.
Therefore Adam sinned because he did not lead, and Eve sinned because she did lead. “It was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:13). If Adam was not deceived, then he ate the fruit simply because he was following Eve and was not willing to be separated from her. Physical death, woman’s pain in childbirth, man’s labour in order to eat—all these things have come because Adam failed to be the head that God wanted Him to be. Though Eve was the first to sin, the New Testament always refers to “Adam’s” sin. (Romans 5:12-14) He was responsible.
“The relationship set forth in 1 Cor. 11:3, is as unchangeable as the word of God, and will last until the end of time. The covering that symbolized woman’s subjection to man is to be worn when she prays in the assembly as long as this relationship exists!” (What Did Paul Teach in 1 Cor. 11:2-16?, William H. Lewis.)
4Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. (KJV)
4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. (NASB)
Commentators are divided as to what the phrase, “disgraces his head” means. Is his head his physical head, or is it his spiritual head, Christ? Since in the verse before this Paul sets forth the spiritual headship of God, Christ, man and woman, I am of the opinion that when a man prays with something on his head it is a disgrace, or dishonour, to Christ.
It is hard for me to understand how the physical head of a person can be disgraced or dishonoured. (Note: Oster argues that it is the physical head. See his comments on verse 5 in the appendix. He does not explain how one can dishonour one’s physical head). The head Paul is talking about is Christ.
Why is it that when a man prays with nothing on his head he shows that Christ is his head? It is because God has ordered that the headship of Christ over man is to be shown by the man praying or prophesying with his head uncovered. That is all I have to know, and it is all I do know.
In their Commentary on 1st Corinthians David Lipscomb and J. W. Shepherd write: “Every man, therefore, who in praying or prophesying covers his head, thereby acknowledges himself dependent on some earthly head other than his heavenly head, and thereby takes from the latter the honor which is due to him as the head of man.” (p. 163)
This was not so under the Old Testament Law. There was nothing which said a man had to pray or prophesy with his head uncovered. In fact, the high priests wore turbans and the priests wore caps (Exodus 28:4,37,40). Christ was not known at that time, and that was probably the reason why there was no command to honour Him by praying or prophesying with heads uncovered. This is a New Testament command to men. Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head dishonours his head (Christ).
Note, Paul does not say that this command is restricted to the church at Corinth. He bases the command on the fact of headship and says “every man”.
The phrase “praying or prophesying” occurs here and in verse five, while the word “pray” alone is in verse 13. Notice that Paul joins the two actions with the word “or”. This means that the requirement concerning the head covering applies to those doing both OR either one—either praying or prophesying. It is not necessary for a person to do both of those things before the head covering rules must be followed.
The phrase “praying or prophesying” will be examined in detail in another chapter.
5But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven (KJV)
5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. (NASB)
God’s order for the woman is the opposite from His order for the man. When she prays or prophesies she must cover her head. If she does not, she disgraces her head (man). This means that she must show her subjection to God’s arrangement of headship by covering her head while praying or prophesying. Her action in refusing to cover her head is a statement that she is equal in authority to man. In that case, she is the same as a woman who shaves her head like a man might do.
Paul does not say that the woman disgraces her husband. The teaching applies to all women, whether married or not, for it is God’s law that woman in general be subject to man in general. She shows this by covering her head when praying or prophesying.
E. P. Gould comments: “The long hair and the veil were both intended as a covering of the head, and as a sign of true womanliness, and of the right relation of woman to man; and hence the absence of one had the same significance as that of the other” (Commentary on 1st Corinthians. pg. 94).
6For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. (KJV)
6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. (NASB)
The word “also” shows that Paul is talking about two coverings—the veil and the hair. If she does not cover her head (with a veil), then she might just as well cut off her hair or shave her head. Let her head be in all respects like a man’s.
Lipscomb and Shepherd comment: “It is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven because it fashions her, to that extent, as a man, and it is God’s will, distinctly revealed in the Scriptures, to keep the sexes distinguishable. For a woman to remove her hair is in part to obliterate this outward distinction, and is therefore a trampling under foot God’s will. And as further defense of woman modesty and morality, God forbids the sexes wearing each other’s clothes: ‘A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah thy God.’ (Deut. 22:5)” (Commentary on 1st Corinthians by Lipscomb and Shepherd, pg. 164-165).
Albert Barnes writes: “Long hair is, by the custom of the times, and of nearly all countries, a mark of the sex, an ornament of the female, and judged to be beautiful and comely. To remove that is to appear, in this respect, like the other sex, and to lay aside the badge of her own. This, says Paul, all would judge to be improper. You yourselves would not allow it. And yet to lay aside the veil—the appropriate badge of the sex, and of her sense of subordination—would be an act of the same kind. It would indicate the same feeling, the same forgetfulness of the proper sense of subordination; and if that is laid aside, ALL the usual indications of modesty and subordination might be removed also. Not even under religious pretences, therefore, are the usual marks of sex, and of propriety of place and rank, to be laid aside. Due respect is to be shown, in dress, and speech, and deportment, to those whom God has placed above us; and neither in language, in attire, nor in habit are we to depart from what all judge to be proprieties of life, or from what God has judged and ordained to be the proper indications of the regular gradations in society” (Commentary on 1st Corinthians by Albert Barnes, pg. 203-204).
Barnes makes a proper distinction between “what all judge to be proprieties of life” and “what God has judged and ordained to be the proper indications of the regular gradations in society.” Paul was able to appeal to “what all judge to be proprieties of life” to reinforce God’s teaching that a woman is to be covered when praying or prophesying.
There are societies where women shave their heads without shame. In fact, modern American society promotes the shortest hair, including shaved heads, for women. This is part of the “unisex” trend, the deliberate attempt to blot out distinctions in dress and behaviour between the sexes. Paul would have a hard time making this argument today in American society. But it was a strong argument in the society of Paul’s time, and has been in most societies since then. It is a shame to women that they want to look like men today. That it is not shameful for a woman to have her hair shorn (“cut short”—Thayer) or to have her head shaved is an indictment on our society. It shows how godless we are becoming. (Read David W. Bercot’s sermon in which he connects the teachings against the head covering with the rise of the feminist movement.)
7For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. (KJV)
7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. (NASB)
Man is the image and glory of God, not because he is holy and pure, but because God gave him authority and dominion over all the animals and made him head over woman. Charles Hodge writes: “The only sense in which the man, in distinction from the woman, is the image of God, is that he represents the authority of God. He is invested with dominion.” (Commentary on 1st Corinthians pg. 209-210). Man must not cover his head (when praying or prophesying) because he is the image and glory of God.
Why? Because God says so. There was no Old Testament command for a man to put off his covering when praying or prophesying. There certainly was no custom among the unbelieving idolaters for a man to pray to God uncovered—they didn’t believe in God! David Oster (see appendix) gives many evidences to prove that Roman men worshiped their gods with heads covered. The reason man’s uncovered head shows that he is the image and glory of God is because God said so.
This point is important when considering whether the head covering command was simply the enforcement of local or universal custom of the time. Heathen custom was the opposite of what Paul here states, and nothing in the law of Moses said a man must have his head bare when praying or prophesying. It is God’s New Testament command.
8For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. (KJV)
8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; (NASB)
The fact that man is the image and glory of God and woman is the glory of man is shown by the way in which God made the two. God made man from the dust of the ground, then He made woman from Adam’s rib. (Genesis 2:7, 21-22) When Adam named her “woman” he said, “because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23) Paul uses this same reason to explain why he commanded “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submission. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:11-13) The woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man, and she is to cover her head when praying or prophesying, for the same reason—that man was first created, and then Eve.
9Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. (KJV)
9for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. (NASB)
Paul is still with the creation account. Not only was Adam formed first, but the woman was created to be a helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18), or as Paul puts it here, “for the man’s sake.” These two facts explain why woman is the glory of man. (v. 7)
10For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. (KJV)
10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (NASB)
This verse is the conclusion of what Paul has argued in verses 8 and 9. Because woman is the glory of man and was created for him, she is to have a (symbol of) authority on her head. This symbol of authority is the covering. It is the symbol that man is her head. (Other interpretations of this phrase have been made, but the majority of commentators agree that the “authority” on her head is the veil, which shows the authority of the man over the woman.)
Thus far the verse is easy to understand. However, the phrase, “because of the angels”, is not so easy. Interpreters have come up with different ideas. McGarvey writes: “To abandon this justifiable and well-established symbol of subordination would be a shock to the submissive and obedient spirit of the ministering angels (Isa. 6:2) who, though unseen, are always present with you in your places of worship (Matt. 18:10-31; Ps. 138:1; 1 Tim. 5:21; ch. 4:9; Eccles. 5:6)“. (Commentary on 1st Corinthians pp. 111-112). This seems to be the majority opinion. As Albert Barnes says, “ ‘A woman in the public assemblies, and in speaking in the presence of men, should wear a veil — the usual symbol of modesty and subordination — because the angels of God are witnesses of your public worship (Heb. 1:13), and because they know and appreciate the propriety in public assemblies.’ According to this, it would mean that the simple reason would be that the angels were witnesses of their worship and that they were the friends of propriety, due subordination, and order; and that they ought to observe these in all assemblies convened for the worship of God.” (pp. 205-206)
MacKnight gives a little different view: “…that remembering their first mother’s seduction by evil angels, they might be sensible of their own frailty, and behave with humility.” (Apostolical Apostles, p. 180)
Another reason this verse can be referring to evil angels is that they are being punished because they “did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode.” (Jude 6) Women are to keep their proper “domain” in order not to be punished as were the evil angels. This is the view of T. Doy Moyer in his article reproduced in the appendix.
One of the reasons given in I Corinthians 11 for women to wear the covering was “because of the angels” (v. 10). Since the covering was a sign of “authority” (i.e., it symbolizes the authority to which she submits), her not wearing one when praying or prophesying, indicated that she was stepping out of her required role. She needed to think of angels. This is not because they were looking down on her to see what she was doing. It seems more likely that this is referring to the “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode” (Jude 6). As a result, they were “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (cf. also 2 Pet. 2:4). In other words, he was telling the women to think about what happened to the angels who stepped out of their assigned positions before you think of removing the sign of authority which shows your submission. Keeping our proper places is essential according to the word of God.
The view that angels in the assembly might be tempted to lust by women who were unveiled is, to my mind, far-fetched and impossible.
But whichever interpretation might be right, Paul says that women are to have a symbol of authority on their heads “because of the angels,” NOT because of a custom of idol-worshiping people!
11Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. (KJV)
11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. (NASB)
12For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (KJV)
12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. (NASB)
These two verses guard against the possible interpretation that woman is inferior to man. Man is born of woman, and all things come from God. Man needs woman and woman needs man. Each has his or her own role, but both are equally precious and valuable in God’s sight. Thus a husband must “grant her (the wife) honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)
“Paul, in order to add balance to what was previously said, expresses the interdependence of man and woman ‘in the Lord’. Outside of the Lord, social convention will rarely realize the scriptural understanding of God’s design and the headship order, because His truths are spiritually discerned and thus foolishness to the natural man (1 Cor. 2:10-16). But ‘in the Lord’, where ‘Christ is all in all’, His lordship over each sets in order the interpersonal relationships of the members of the Body, causing them to function in their specific place harmoniously, bonding them together in love (Col. 3:15).” (Tom Shanks, p. 17)
It is not true that because one person is in command and another is under him, that the one under the commander is inferior to him. When I was in the army it was made clear to us that when we saluted an officer it was his office we were saluting, not the man. The enlisted man is not one bit inferior to the officer, but he has a different position. He must be in subjection to the officer.
The feminist movement has made a big mustake. They say that whenever a woman is not allowed to have the leading, commanding position, she is being treated as if she were inferior. That is not at all true.
This is best seen in the fact that Jesus is subject to His Heavenly Father. This does not make him inferior to the Father. He had, and has, all the attributes of God (Colossians 2:9). But there is a division of duties in the Godhead. The Father is the planner, the Son is the One who carries out the plan. There is complete harmony, and there is complete EQUALITY. They are ONE. Husband and wife are one when the man exercises his headship by leading the family as God would have it to go, and the wife works together with him to carry out God’s will. There is no inferiority at all.
A friend of mine wrote:
The fact that women serve God in a different role in the church is really to serve as a reminder to all mankind as to the seriousness of sin. 1 Tim 2:14. Sin was such a serious breach of man’s relationship with God that the first decree that woman would be in submission to man was a direct result of the first sin of woman. Submission of woman to man was to serve a purpose to remind history of the seriousness of sin, not an indication of the inferiority of woman to man in any moral or intellectual sense. It would therefore seem natural in any discussion of headship that an inspired writer would describe what, if any, outward manifestations (men and women doing something with the covering of their heads when worshipping or praying) of that relationship would be required. Headship and its various injunctions to women all are to serve as reminders to mankind of how significant it was to God of woman’s first breach of His holy nature by breaking His law for the first time.
13Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? (KJV)
13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (NASB)
This is not the first time Paul has used this expression. In 10:15 he writes, “I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say”. He follows this with some questions which answer themselves but require “judgment”. The spiritual man will agree with what Paul teaches. He will “judge rightly.”
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul uses the same approach. After he asks them to judge for themselves whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered, he asks the rhetorical question, “Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him; but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?” When we answer that question, we can judge correctly whether it is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.
“Paul challenges the believers to reflect deeply upon the truths and their application which he had conveyed to them. Based upon the important principles he had established, could it possibly be fitting for a woman to pray to God with an unveiled head? He knew what answer they could only but give, according to his teaching, which had full apostolic authority and was inspired by the Holy Spirit.” (Tom Shanks, p. 18)
When we judge, we must judge by God’s principles, not by the custom of our society or according to our desires. Paul is not telling us that we can judge any way we want to. He is impressing on us the importance of applying the principles he has given in these verses.
There is clear evidence that the culture in Rome and Corinth allowed women to worship heathen gods, even to lead the worship, with their heads uncovered.
“It used to be asserted by theologians that Paul was simply endorsing the unwritten law of Hellenic (Greek PKW) and Hellenistic feeling for what was proper. But this view is untenable. To be sure, the veil was not unknown in Greece. It was worn partly as adornment and partly on such special occasions as match-making and marriage…., and the worship of chthonic deities…. But it is quite wrong that Greek women were under some kind of compulsion to wear a veil in public…. The mysteries inscription of Andania, which gives an exact description of women taking part in the procession, makes no mention of the veil. Indeed, the cultic order of Lycosura seems to forbid it.” (G. Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, comments on the word “katakalupto”—“to cover”.)
Thus Paul was telling them, and us, to judge according to spiritual principles revealed by the Holy Spirit, not by the customs of the society we live in. When these principles are applied, we judge that it is not proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.
E. P. Gould writes: “Judge in yourselves. As we should say, for yourselves, instead of depending on the judgment of others. The preposition denotes the inwardness of the act. Is it comely, better, proper, befitting—that a woman pray unto God uncovered? The one to whom the prayer is addressed is named, in order to indicate the solemnity of the act. They were thus made to feel the incongruity of the custom. Paul had already made them see the unfitness of the unveiled head for woman, its immodesty and unwomanliness, and now, with that impression on their minds, asks if it is proper to pray to God in such unseemly fashion.” (American Commentary of the New Testament.)
14Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (KJV)
14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, (NASB)
Nature means the “natural” sense of what is right or wrong. This sense comes from what is learned from custom and the long experience of mankind.
Albert Barnes writes: “The word nature (phusis) denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. That which is universal we say is according to nature. It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among men. Thus we may say that nature demands that the sexes should wear different kinds of dress…. Such are in general the customs the world over; and if any reason is asked for numerous habits that exist in society, no better answer can be given than that nature, as arranged by God, has demanded it. The word in this place… refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right; a sense which is expressed extensively in all nations, showing what that sense is. No reason can be given, in the nature of things, why the woman should wear long hair and the man not; but the custom prevails extensively everywhere, and nature, in all nations has prompted to the same course.” (pg. 207-208)
So the natural sense of what is proper tells us that a man should not have long hair. This is not just custom—it is “nature”, something deeper than custom.
15But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. (KJV)
15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (NASB)
Long hair is a shame for a man, but a glory for a woman. This “natural” covering was given by God as an indication that it is proper for the woman to wear an artificial covering. Her long hair is a natural veil as well as her beautiful ornament. And since God has given her this covering, it is reasonable and proper for her to wear an artificial covering when praying or prophesying.
Paul mentions the length of hair in order to teach about the artificial covering, but what he says tells us that the length of hair is important. Men are to have “short” hair, and women are to have “long” hair. “Long” is not defined, so we have to apply it in our own culture. Certainly it means that men are to keep their hair shorter than women keep theirs, and that women should not cut their hair short like men do.
16But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (KJV)
16But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God. (NASB)
The King James Version is the literal translation, while the New American Standard is an attempt by the translators to give the sense without following the literal Greek words. What the NASB says is the exact truth, and we shall see that this is what the literal words mean when they say, “we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.“
Do not make the mustake which some have made. Do not conclude that Paul is here saying that it makes no difference whether women pray or prophesy with heads uncovered. Paul has given reason after reason for a woman to cover her head. He does not then say that it makes no difference!
The Williams translation says: “But if anyone is inclined to be contentious about it, I for my part prescribe no other practice than this, and neither do the churches of God.”
The Moffat translation says: “If anyone presumes to raise objections on this point, well, I acknowledge no other mode of worship, and neither do the churches of God.”
The Revised Standard Version translates: “If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.”
There are two possibilities as to what the custom was. It can be either, “we have no such custom as requiring our women to pray with heads covered,” or “we have no such custom as allowing our women to pray with heads uncovered.” Paul has made it clear that women DO have to cover their heads when they pray or prophesy. He is here reinforcing that rule by telling the Corinthians that all the churches of God have the same practice. “The churches of God” do not have the custom of allowing women to pray with heads uncovered.
Thus, Paul is showing that his commands to the Corinthians were the same as he taught in all the churches (1 Corinthians 4:17) and were followed by all the churches.
When you read the sermon by David Bercot (Chapter ) you will see that from New Testament times onward Christians in ALL the churches followed the practice of requiring women to be covered in worship. The practice of the early church (before A.D. 200) shows clearly that this WAS a practice of all the churches. Therefore Paul is saying in this verse that “we have no such custom as allowing women to pray with heads uncovered,” or as the NASB translates, “we have no other practice” than to require women to pray with heads covered.
Here are the comments of J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton: “Knowing the argumentative spirit of the Greeks, and being conscious that it was likely that some would even yet want to dispute the matter, despite his three reasons to the contrary, Paul takes it entirely out of the realm of discussion into that of precedent. The settled and established practice of the church had from the beginning followed the course outlined by Paul, which showed that other apostles beside himself had either established it by rule, or endorsed it in practice. In this appeal for uniformity Paul makes it clear that all churches should strive to make their practices uniform, not variant.” —The Standard Bible Commentary, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans, p. 113.
Some have said that the custom which Paul says the churches do not have is the practice of being contentious, or disputing. Godet writes, “I cannot understand how eminent critics, such as the old Greek expositors, then Calvin, deWette, Meyer, Kling, Reuss, Edwards, would imagine that the custom of which the apostle speaks is that of disputing! The love of disputation is a fault, a bad habit, but not a custom…. The only custom of which there can be any question here is that on which the whole passage has turned: women speaking without being veiled. Paul means that neither he, nor the Christians formed by him, nor in general any of the churches of God, either those which he has not founded or those properly his own, allow such procedure in their ecclesiastical usage; compare ch. 14:36-47, where the idea simply indicated here is developed”. (II:121-132)
Adam Clarke paraphrases the verse this way: “If any person sets himself up as a wrangler—puts himself forward as a defender of such points, that a woman may pray or teach with her head uncovered, and that a man may, without reproach, have long hair; let him know that we have no such custom as either, nor are they sanctioned by any of the Churches of God, whether among the Jews or the Gentiles.” (VI: 253-254)
G. G. Findlay writes: “Verse 16 closes the discussion sharply, with its appeal to established Christian rule. If, after all the apostle has advanced in maintenance of the modest distinction between the sexes, any one is still minded to debate, he must be put down by authority—that of Paul himself and his colleagues, supported by universal Christendom: cv. 14:33, 37 ff”. (The Expositors Greek Testament, Vol. 2, pg. 876).
“Not the custom of contentiousness, but that of women speaking unveiled. The testimonies of Tertullian and Chrysostom show that these injunctions of Paul prevailed in the churches. In the sculptures of the catacombs the women have a close-fitting head-dress, while the men have the hair short.” (Vincent’s Word Studies, III:248)
James MacKnight’s paraphrase is this: “Now if the false teacher resolves to be contentious, and maintain that it is allowable for women to pray and teach publicly in the church unveiled, We in Judea have no such custom, neither any of the churches of God.” (Apostolic Epistles, pg. 180)