(vs. 4-6, 14-15)
1 Corinthians 11:4-6
Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But 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. For 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.
1 Corinthians 11:14-15
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? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Is long hair the only covering?
Some brethren affirm that the ONLY COVERING Paul requires is long hair. They say that Paul is not referring to a covering which can be put on and taken off. He is referring ONLY to the covering of verse 15, which is long hair.
Two Greek words
Note first that Paul uses TWO Greek words to refer to the coverings. In every case, except for verse 15, he uses the verb katakalupto. However, when referring to the hair as a covering, he changes to an entirely different word, peribolaion. Knowing this fact may help us.
“The word translated ‘covering’ in verse 15 is peribolaion, which means ‘something cast around’, as opposed to the word translated covered, uncovered, etc. in the previous verses — katakalupto, which means ‘something which covers completely and hangs own’. Paul obviously used an entirely different word in verse 15 so as to not confuse the natural hair covering with the veiling.” — Tom Shank, “…let her be veiled.” pp 78, 79.
Verse 6—“let her also have her hair cut off.”
The word “also” in verse 6 shows that there are two coverings:
“For 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.”
I have checked a good number of commentaries on this point. Without exception they show that this verse makes it impossible for the hair to be the only covering.
Here are some samples of the remarks of these commentators:
For if the woman be not covered - If her head be not covered with a veil.
Let her also be shorn - Let her long hair be cut off. Let her lay aside all the usual and proper indications of her sex and rank in life. If it is done in one respect, it may with the same propriety be done in all.
But if it be a shame… - If custom, nature, and habit; if the common and usual feelings and views among people would pronounce this to be a shame, the other would be pronounced to be a shame also by the same custom and common sense of people.
Let her be covered - With a veil. Let her wear the customary attire indicative of modesty and a sense of subordination. Let her not lay this aside even on any pretence of religion.
– Albert Barnes
1 Corinthians 11:6
For if the woman be not covered – If she will not wear a veil in the public assemblies, let her be shorn – let her carry a public badge of infamy: but if it be a shame – if to be shorn or shaven would appear, as it must, a badge of infamy, then let her be covered – let her by all means wear a veil.
– Adam Clarke
All one as if she were shaven. For a woman’s head to be shaven was usually a sign of shamelessness (See Meyer). The uncovered head in an assembly was also unbecoming.
For if the woman be not covered. If she defies decorum by an uncovered head, let her go further, and be shaven.
– People’s New Testament
“Let’s take a closer look at v. 5:
but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head — it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.
“If the head being unveiled (uncovered) IS being shorn, then the analogy (“the same AS having her head shaved”) evaporates.
“The text as a whole has many difficulties, but in my mind this is not one of them: the text at vv. 4 and 5 is talking about veils or prayer coverings. These were common in antiquity, though the exact custom varied from place to place. In Roman society, the MEN wore the veil when they prayed! Here, though, in a society influenced by Greek culture, it was the women wearing the veil. To see anything other than a controversy about the veil is to miss what may be the only really clear thing about this passage!”
— Basil L. “Skip” Copeland, from MarksList,
6 March 95 — 22 March 95
The covering commanded is
“while praying or prophesying.”
The covering commanded is “while praying or prophesying”, not all the time. Long hair is not something which can be put on “while praying or prophesying” and then put off afterward. If Paul were saying that long hair is the only covering, he would not say “while praying or prophesying”.
If I say, “Be sure to wear clips on your trousers while riding your bicycle,” it is clear that I mean something which can be put on and taken off. Just so when Paul said, “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head” (v. 4), Paul is talking about something which can be put on and taken off. And when he writes, “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” (v. 5), the phrase “while praying or prophesying” indicates a covering which can be put on or taken off.
One and the same as:
Verse 5 says, “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.” Paul is making a parallel. If you are shameless enough to pray or prophesy with head uncovered, then you are acting the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
But if the ONLY covering is the hair, the woman whose head is uncovered IS the same as the woman whose head is shaved. She IS THAT WOMAN.
The reason why Paul writes about long hair is to reinforce what he is affirming about the head covering. In these verses he uses several arguments. One of these arguments is from a sense of what is proper from “nature”. The word “nature” means “by long practice, etc.” Paul uses what can be seen as proper (long hair) in distinguishing women from men to argue that women must cover their heads in worship to show the headship of men.
Paul is incidentally showing that long hair is for women and short hair is for men. That is not his main purpose, but we can get that lesson from what he writes.