What Constitutes a Covering?
This subject comes logically after one decides that the woman must wear a covering in worship. Unfortunately, many have tried to prejudice people by saying that 1 Cor. 11 required women to wear a covering which covered the face, or which was big enough to hold a large amount of grain. I am afraid that these assertions have been made in order to make people recoil in amused disgust from the whole idea that a woman must wear a covering in worship. Such assertions do not help us to consider the issue with clear minds.
There is another consideration, too. It is possible that some women may consider something to be a covering which does not “cover”. This was so in the day of Tertullian. He wrote: “How severe a chastisement will they likewise deserve who during the psalms and at any mention of God remain uncovered. Even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness, they place a fringe, tuft, or any thread whatever on the crowns of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered.” However, this does not affect the truth taught by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. The inconsistency of some people should not cause us to reject what Paul says.
The Greek Words
First of all, let us find out what the two Greek words translated “cover” or “veil” in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 mean. There are two related words, kalupto and katakalupto. The first is not used in our passage, but is the root of the second. Katakalupto is used to refer to the covering which a woman must put on when praying or prophesying. A third word, peribolaion, is used in verse 15 to refer to a woman’s hair.
These are the definitions found in the Greek-English Lexicon by G. Abbott-Smith. Vine’s and Thayer agree with Abbott-Smith.
The first word is kalupto. “in cl(assical Greek), rare in prose, to cover. Luke 23:30 (“to the hills, ‘cover us.‘“); Luke 8:16 (“No one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container”); Matthew 8:24 (“the boat was covered with the waves”); metaphorically, to veil, conceal: Matthew 10:26 (“there is nothing covered that will not be revealed”); 2 Corinthians 4:3 (“and even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing”); of the forgiveness of sins: 1 Peter 4:8 (“love covers a multitude of sins”); James 5:20 (“and will cover a multitude of sins”);
I have given the definition of this word because katakalupto comes from it. Note: In AbbotSmith’s definition of kalupto he gives all the instances of its use in the New Testament.
The word katakalupto is used only here in the New Testament. It is found in 1 Corinthians 11:6 and 7, and it is found with the Greek “a” (which means “not”) attached to it in verses 5 and 13. Abbot-Smith defines it: “to cover up; to cover or veil oneself: 1 Corinthians 11:6, 7.” He defines akatakaluptos as “uncovered, unveiled: 1 Corinthians 11:5, 13.”
About 200 years before Jesus was born a number of learned Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek. This version of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint, and it was widely used in New Testament times. The words “kalupto” and “katakalupto” are found in the Septuagint, and their use may help us understand the meaning of katakalupto in 1 Corinthians 11. Here are two instances of its use. Numbers 22:5: “Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land.” Ezekiel 26:10: “Because of the multitude of his horses, the dust raised by them will cover you.”
The word kalupto is also used in the Septuagint. One place is Ezekiel 38:16: “You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud to cover the land.”
It appears, therefore, that the words are used interchangeably with no essential difference in their meanings. katakalupto means “to cover” or “to veil”.
The word translated “covering” in 1 Corinthians 11:15: (“her hair is given to her for a covering”) is peribolaion. Abbott-Smith defines this word as: “that which is thrown around, a covering; in NT, (a) a mantle: Ps 102:26 (“like clothing”), Isaiah 59:17 (“And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle”): (b) a veil: 1 Corinthians 11:15.”
I quote here from Margaret Short’s tract:
Paul uses “katakalupto” for “cover” all the way down to verse 15. Then when speaking of the long hair of women as a covering he uses a different word “peribolaion”. But if he is referring to the hair as a “covering” in the same sense as he spoke earlier, why does he not use the same word?
We conclude then that it is an artificial covering spoken of here. But what kind? Does the word “katakalupto” refer to a specific kind of covering? Some have argued from the etymology of the word that it refers specifically and exclusively to a full veil that will completely and opaquely cover the face and head. Consideration of the use of the word in other Greek writings, particularly the Septuagint, shows quite clearly that by the time of the New Testament the word had come to mean simply “cover” as we use the English word “cover”. It is, though, an intense form, indicating that the covering referred to would be a fairly full cover, thus ruling out a narrow head band (or similar item) as being a covering referred to here.
Head, not Face
Some contend that in order to comply with Paul’s command to cover the head, that the covering required would have to cover the face as well as the head. They often use the illustration of John the Baptist’s head which was brought on a platter to the daughter of Herodias (Matthew 14:6-12). What was on the platter included his face, therefore the covering for the head must include covering the face.
First of all, it appears that this argument is made to create prejudice. If it were true, it would not affect the teaching of the passage. The only thing the assertion does is make it appear that those who teach that a woman must cover her head are inconsistent. But even if that were true, it would not change the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11.
Jesus recognized a difference between the face and the head when He said in Matthew 6:17— “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face.” The word “head” is used the same way in 1 Corinthians 11. This is implied when the hair is said to be a covering. The hair does not cover the face. Tertullian (about A.D. 200) made this distinction when he wrote, “Arabia’s pagan females will be your judges. For they cover not only the head but the face also.” (See chapter What the Early Christians Believed About the Head Covering.) Note the distinction he made between head and face.
It might also be noted that if the face had to be covered in order for it to be a “head” covering, then a man might pray or prophesy with a veil on his head as long as it did not cover his face. Suppose a man were to appear like that in worship today! Would we let him preach? Adam Clarke commented on 1 Cor 11:7—“He should not wear his cap or turban in the public congregation.”
Cover, not Decorate
It seems that we Christians, in our less than perfect spirituality, try to stretch the limits of God’s word. When one teaches about modesty, the question of “how short may a skirt be?” will certainly be brought up, with the implication that if we cannot give the exact length, then any length the “Christian” may be comfortable with is OK. The same thing has happened with the head covering worn by women in worship.
In about the year 200 Tertullian wrote: “For some, with their turbans and woolen bands, do not veil their heads but bind them up.” “They were protected indeed in front, however they are bare where their head properly lies. Others are to a certain extent covered over the region of the brain with linen doilies of small dimensions which do not quite reach the ears. Let them know that the whole head constitutes the woman. Its limits and boundaries reach as far as the place where the robe begins. The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound.” He also wrote, “Even when about to spend time in prayer itself, with the utmost readiness, they place a fringe, tuft, or any thread whatever on the crowns of their heads, and suppose themselves to be covered.” (For these quotes see the chapter What the Early Christians Believed About the Head Covering.)
What Paul commands is a “covering”, not a “decoration”. Paul has not given the dimensions, nor the color, nor how opaque the covering must be. However I am persuaded that the spiritually minded person will not be trying to press the limits. She will be trying to truly cover her head.