What has been the predominate view on 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16?

Henry Alford (1810-1871)

“1 Corinthians 11: 2-16 – The law of subjection of the woman to the man (vv. 2-12), and the natural decency itself (vv. 13-16), teach that women should be veiled in public religious assemblies.
The women overstepped the bounds of their sex, in coming forward to pray and to prophesy in the assembled church with uncovered heads. Both of these the Apostle disapproved, as well as their coming forward to pray and prophesy, as their removing the veil. Here, however, he blames the latter practice only, and reserves the former till chapter 14:34.” (Alford’s Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids,MI: Guardian Press, 1976, pp. 562f.)
“The woman ought to have power (the sign of power or subjection; shewn by the context to mean a veil.”

William Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich

(The classic work, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, was published in 1957)

Under the Greek verb, katakalupto, the following translation is given for 1 Corinthians 11:6a: “cover oneself [with GLP] a veil.” 


“It is not becoming even in married women to uncover their hair, since the apostle commands women to keep their heads covered.” ~Augustine, Letter CCXL

John Bunyan (1628-1688)

“For this cause ought the woman to have power”, that is a covering, “on her head, because of the angels” 1 Corinthians 11:10…Methinks, holy and beloved sisters, you should be content to wear this power or badge…”~ John Bunyan (1628-1688)

John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin, from his three sermons from 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: “So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature. . . . So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, ‘Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach  also?’ And then after that one will plead [for] something else: ‘Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also [bare] this and [bare] that?’ Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard.”

b. “When he says ‘her hair is for a covering [1 Corinthians 11:15 GLP],’ he does not mean that as long as a woman has hair, that should be enough for her. He rather teaches that our Lord is giving a directive that He desires to have observed and maintained. If a woman has long hair, this is equivalent to saying to her, ‘Use your head covering, use your hat, use your hood; do not expose yourself in that way!”

 “But if any man seem”. A contentious person is one whose humor inclines him to stir up disputes, and does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs — raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful — who do not yield to reasonings — who cannot endure that any one should be above them… For we must not always reckon as contentious the man who does not acquiesce in our decisions, or who ventures to contradict us; but when temper and obstinacy show themselves, let us then say with Paul, that contentions are at variance with the custom of the Church (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:16).

John Calvin:  “So if women are thus permitted to have their heads uncovered and to show their hair, they will eventually be allowed to expose their entire breasts, and they will come to make their exhibitions as if it were a tavern show; they will become so brazen that modesty and shame will be no more; in short they will forget the duty of nature…Further, we know that the world takes everything to its own advantage. So, if one has liberty in lesser things, why not do the same with this the same way as with that? And in making such comparisons they will make such a mess that there will be utter chaos. So, when it is permissible for the women to uncover their heads, one will say, `Well, what harm in uncovering the stomach also?’ And then after that one will plead for something else; `Now if the women go bareheaded, why not also bare this and bare that?’ Then the men, for their part, will break loose too. In short, there will be no decency left, unless people contain themselves and respect what is proper and fitting, so as not to go headlong overboard”

Early Church Father Chrysostom (340-407 A.D.)

(Chrysostom was the great preacher of Antioch, from Homily XXVI On the Veiling of Women)

Chrysostom identifies the problem Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 as “Their women used to pray and prophesy unveiled and with their head bare.”

Especially to the point of a woman needing a separate head covering other  than her long hair (cf. 1Co 11:15) is the following remark: “‘ And if it be given her for a covering,’ say you, ‘wherefore need she add another covering?’ That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that thou oughtest to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, thine own part also, that thou mayest not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness, to buffet not only with us, but with nature also.”

Thou seest that some obeyed, whom he praises; and others disobeyed, whom he corrects by what comes afterwards, saying, “Now if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom.” (ver. 16.) For if after some had done well but others disobeyed, he had included all in his accusation, he would both have made the one sort bolder, and have caused the others to become more remiss.
It is then contentiousness to oppose these things, and not any exercise of reason. Notwithstanding, even thus it is a measured sort of rebuke which he adopts, to fill them the more with self-reproach; which in truth rendered his saying the more severe. “For we,” saith he, “have no such custom,” so as to contend and to strive and to oppose ourselves. And he stopped not even here, but also added, “neither the Churches of God;” signifying that they resist and oppose themselves to the whole world by not yielding.

Clement of Alexandria, 190 A.D.

“Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happens to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face. For this is the wish of the Word, since it is becoming for her to pray veiled.” [Clement, The Instructor 3.12]

John Cotton (1585-1652)

“How is the public worship of God to be ordered and administered in the church? All the members of the church being met together as one man (i) in the sight of God (ii) are to join together in holy duties with one accord (iii) the men with their heads uncovered, the women covered.”~John Cotton (1585-1652)

“For a woman to cover her head in time of public prayer, or prophesying, and for a man to uncover his head, the Apostle warranteth from both the light of nature, and the custome of the churches, 1 Cor. 11:4 to 16.”

Robert D. Culver

(Contributed “A Traditional View” to Women in Ministry Four Views which was published in 1989)
“God distinguishes sharply between the sexes as to appearance and activity in formal Christian assemblies. A man’s hair is to be short and his head uncovered by hat or shawl, while a woman’s hair is to be uncut and, in visible recognition of submission to God’s order, she is to wear an additional head covering in order to veil, not her face (as in Muslim practice), but some of the rest of her head.”

Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898)

Let us now look at these laws themselves; we shall find them peculiarly, even surprisingly, explicit. First, we have 1 Cor. 11:3–16, where the apostle discusses the relation and deportment of the sexes in the public Christian assemblages; and he assures the Corinthians, verses 2 and 16, that the rules he here announces were universally accepted by all the churches. The reader will not be wearied by details of exposition; a careful reading of the passage will give to him the best evidence for our interpretation, in its complete coherence and consistency.

Two principles, then, are laid down: first, verse 4, that the man should preach (or pray) in public with head uncovered, because he then stands forth as God’s herald and representative; and to assume at that time the emblem of subordination, a covered head, is a dishonor to the office and the God it represents; secondly, verses 5, 13, that, on the contrary, for a woman to appear or to perform any public religious function in the Christian assembly, unveiled, is a glaring impropriety, because it is contrary to the subordination of the position assigned her by her Maker, and to the modesty and reserve suitable to her sex; and even nature settles the point by giving her her long hair as her natural veil. Even as good taste and a natural sense of propriety would protest against a woman’s going in public shorn of that beautiful badge and adornment of her sex, like a rough soldier or a laborer, even so clearly does nature herself sustain God’s law in requiring the woman to appear always modestly covered in the sanctuary. The holy angels who are present as invisible spectators, hovering over the Christian assemblies, would be shocked by seeing women professing godliness publicly throw off this appropriate badge of their position (verse 10). The woman, then, has a right to the privileges of public worship and the sacraments; she may join audibly in the praises and prayers of the public assembly, where the usages of the body encourage responsive prayer; but she must always do this veiled or covered.

The apostle does not in this chapter pause to draw the deduction, that if every public herald of God must be unveiled, and the woman must never be unveiled in public, then she can never be a public herald. But let us wait. He has not done with these questions of order in public worship; he steadily continues the discussion of them through the fourteenth chapter, and he there at length reaches the conclusion he had been preparing, and in verses 34, 35, expressly prohibits women to preach publicly. “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak” (in that public place), “but to be in subordination, as also the law saith. And if they wish to learn something”—about some doctrine which they there hear discussed but do not comprehend—“let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for women to speak in church.” And in verse 37 he shuts up the whole discussion by declaring that if anybody pretends to have the Spirit, or the inspiration of prophecy, so as to be entitled to contest Paul’s rules, the rules are the commandments of the Lord (Christ), not Paul’s mere personal conclusions, so that to contest them on such pretensions of spiritual impulse is inevitably wrong and presumptuous. For the immutable Lord does not legislate in contradictory ways.

“Thus he who stands up in public as the herald and representative of heaven’s King must stand with uncovered head; the honour of the Sovereign for whom he speaks demands this. But no woman can present herself in public with uncovered head without sinning against nature and her sex. Hence no woman can be a public herald of Christ.”

H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey

(A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament was published in 1955)

a. These noted Greek grammarians translate a portion of 1 Corinthians 11:5 as follows: “Prophesying with the head unveiled.”

b. Again they translate 1 Corinthians 11:6,7 consistently with verse 5 above: “But if it is a shame to a woman to be shorn, let her be veiled. Now (gar) a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and glory of God.”

Scottish Divine David Dickson

If any perhaps should not bee moved by these Arguments, but should contend, the Apostle opposeth to their contentious Apologies, the received and established custome of the Jews, and the rest of the Churches: Other Churches have no such custome, that women should bee present at publick assemblies, with their heads uncovered, and the man with his head covered: Therefore your custome not agreeing with decency, either according to natural use, or of the Churches, is altogether unseemly (David Dickson’s Commentaries on the Epistles. Printed 1659. Chapter 11, Seventh Article Concerning Order and Decency).

James Durham

“It (the veil) hath a threefold use, 1) For decoration, as in Isaiah 3:23. 2) For a sign of modesty, pleaded for by the Apostle, 1Cor.11:6. 3) And mainly a sign of women’s subjection to their own husbands…” (Song of Solomon Commentary). ~James Durham (1622-1658)

Bartel Elshout

Paul reinforces this argument in verse 7 when he emphasizes that the man’s head may not be covered since he is ‘the image and glory of God’; that is, he is the divinely appointed representative and bearer of authority in the church. Since the woman is the glory of the man, that glory must be veiled, so that only God’s glory be visible in His house. Since that glory is symbolized by her long hair (v15), this glory must be veiled or covered in public worship. In public worship only God’s glory (reflected in the man) must be visible, and man’s glory (reflected in the woman) must be veiled. ~Bartel Elshout

The wearing of the female head-covering in public worship visibly reinforces God’s authority structure in the community of the church – a community that recognizes and submits to divine authority. Paul teaches us here that there is a divine hierarchy that must be observed. That hierarchy is as follows: God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. Or to put it this way, the divine order is God, Christ, the man, and then the woman. Paul tells us in verses 3 & 4 that if a man engages in public worship with his physical head covered (his hair is not the issue), he dishonours his spiritual head, Christ. In a sinful way he would be challenging God’s established hierarchy. ~Bartel Elshout

Paul is emphasizing that the woman’s position in God’s order of things, also in the church, is rooted in the order in which God created the man and the woman – and in His purpose in creating them in this order. God created the woman to be the man’s helpmeet (ie, a help suitable for him) and his ‘completer’. Therefore to allow women to have a position of equality in public worship is contrary to God’s creation ordinance. This challenge to God’s order cannot be permitted in the public activity of the church, for it defies God’s revealed will. Also in 1 Timothy 2:11-14 Paul uses the creation argument to establish this position when he writes, ‘Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression’. -Bartel Elshout

Andrew R. Fausset

1 Corinthians 11:10-power on her head–the kerchief: French couvre chef, head-covering, the emblem of “power on her head”; the sign of her being under man’s power, and exercising delegated authority under him. 

Fausset co-authored with David Brown and Robert Jamieson the work, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. b. “In putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man (which is her true ‘honor’), and of her connection with Christ, man’s Head. Moreover, the head covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (Gen. xxiv: 65), and chastity (Gen. xx: 16). By its unlawful excitement in assemblies is avoided, women not attracting attention. Scripture sanctions not the emancipation of woman from subjection: modesty is her true ornament. Man rules; woman ministers: the respective dress should accord. To uncover the head indicated withdrawal from the husband’s power; whence a suspected wife had her head uncovered by the priest (Num. v. 18). . . .…As woman’s hair is given by nature as her covering (v.15), to cut it off like a man would be palpably indecorous, therefore, to put away the head-covering like a man would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering, to show that she does of her own will that which nature teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.” ~ Andrew R. Fausset (1821-1910), the English one of the three collaborators of the familiar Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset & Brown

G. G. Findlay

(writing in the late 19th century)

“For a woman to discard the veil means to cast off masculine authority, which is a fixed part of the Divine order, like man’s subordination to Christ (3 f.).”37b. In 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 “the high doctrine just asserted applied to the matter of feminine attire. Since man is man has no head but Christ, before whom they worship in common, while woman has man to own for her head, he must not and she must be veiled. The regulation is not limited to those of either sex who ‘pray or prophesy’; but such activity called attention to the apparel, and doubtless it was amongst the more demonstrative women that the impropriety occurred; in the excitement of public speaking the shawl might unconsciously be thrown back.”38c. “And this ‘glory’ [that is the glory of the woman’s long hair in 1 Corinthians 11:15 GLP] is grounded upon her humility: ‘because her hair to serve as a hood (anti perilolaiou) has been given her not as a substitute for [the GLP] head-dress (this would be to stultify Paul’s contention), but in the nature of a covering, thus to match the veil.”

Susan Foh

(Contributed “A Male Leadership View” to Women in Ministry Four Views which was published in 1989)

“The reason for covering heads is directly connected with the head ship of the husband; the head is significant here. To suggest some other cultural expression, such as wedding bands to signify the wife’s submission to her husband, ignores this integral connection. . . . The discontinuance of coverings for women, by most denominations only in this century, was not done for theological reasons but for cultural reasons (hats went out of style and became too expensive).”

John Gill

That is, if anyone will not be satisfied with reasons given, for men’s praying and prophesying with their heads uncovered, and women’s praying and prophesying with their heads covered; but will go on to raise objections, and continue carping and cavilling, showing that they contend not for truth, but victory, can they but obtain it any way; for my part, as if the apostle should say, I shall not think it worth my while to continue the dispute any longer; enough has been said to satisfy any wise and good man, anyone that is serious, thoughtful, and modest; and shall only add,
we have no such custom, nor the churches of God; meaning, either that men should appear covered, and women uncovered in public service, and which should have some weight with all those that have any regard to churches and their examples; or that men should be indulged in a captious and contentious spirit.
We have no such custom, of woman’s praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered, or men’s praying or prophesying with their heads covered; or we have no such custom of contending these little frivolous things (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:16). John Gill

William Gouge (1575-1653)

“Heading 3. – Of an husbands superioritie over a wife, to be acknowledged by a wife. ….6. The very attire which nature and custome of all times and places have taught women to put on, confirmeth the same: as long haire, vailes, and other coverings over the head: and the former argument doth the Apostle himself use to this very purpose, 1 Cor. 11:7 & c. …’And if it (i.e. the hair – DS) be given her for a covering (vail), say you, wherefore need she add another covering (vail)? That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgement of her subjection’ (Chrysostom). ‘Of Domestical Duties’ by William Gouge, member of the Westminster Assembly.

William Greenhill

“They (the angels) reverence the greatness and majesty of Christ. Though they be high and glorious, yet they see so vast a distance between Christ and themselves, that they cover their faces, Isa. vi. And their bodies, here; they come not into his presence rudely, but with great respect and reverence. As God is to be had in reverence of all that are about him, Psalm 89:7, so Christ is reverenced of all the angels that are about him. Women are to be veiled in the assemblies, because of the angels, 1 Cor. 11:10, to show their reverence and subjection to them being present; and angels are covered, to show their reverence and subjection to Christ. It is an honour to the angels, that in reverence to them the women are to be veiled; and it is a great honour to Christ, that angels reverence and adore him.” Commentary on Ezekiel (Ch. 1:23), by William Greenhill, member of the Westminster Assembly.

Matthew Henry

(in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, published in 1706)

a. “The woman, on the other hand, who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head [1 Corinthians 11:5-6GLP], namely, the man, v.3. She appears in the dress of her superior, and throws off the token of her subjection. She might, with equal decency, cut her hair short, or cut it close, which was the custom of the man in that age. This would be in a manner to declare that she was desirous of changing sexes, a manifest affectation of that superiority which God had conferred on the other sex.”

b. “She ought to have power on her head, because of the angels [1 Corinthians 11:10]. Power, that is, a veil, the token, not of her having the power or superiority, but being under the power of her husband, subjected to him, and inferior to the other sex.”

c. “It was the common usage of the churches for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was manifestly decent that they should do so. Those must be very contentious indeed who would quarrel with this, or lay it aside” [1 Corinthians 11:16]. Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1706

Hippolytus, a leader in the church at Rome circa 200A.D.

He compiled a record of the various customs and practices in that church from the generations that preceded him. From his Apostolic Tradition:

And let all the women have their heads covered with an opaque cloth, not with a veil of thin linen, for this is not a true covering. (Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition)

Ezekiel Hopkins

“The apostle tells us (1 Corinthians 11:10) that the woman was ‘to have power on her head, because of the angels’. Which place, especially the latter clause of it, is diversely interpreted. But I think all agree in this, that this power which they were to have on their heads was a vail or covering, which at other times, but most especially in the congregation, women ought to wear on their heads…But the men were uncovered in their assemblies, as the apostle tells us (v. 4) to signify that they had nothing over them, but were superior to all visible creatures, and subject only to God.”~ Ezekiel Hopkins (1633-1690)

Irenaeus (120-202 A.D.)

a. Irenaeus translates 1 Corinthians 11:10 as follows: “A woman ought to have a veil [kalumma] upon her head, because of the angels.”5

b. This is significant in that Irenaeus apparently understood the “power” on a woman’s head in 1 Corinthians 11:10 to be a veil of some kind and not a woman’s hair. 

James Angell James

“If the veil were thrown aside, they might as well cut off their flowing hair, one of the woman’s distinctions from the man, the ornament, as well as the peculiarity of the sex. Constantly and completely Christianity is the parent of order, and the enemy of indecorum of every kind.

Why were not the women to lay aside their veils? Because it would be forgetting their subordination and dependence, and assuming an equal rank with man. This is the gist of the apostle’s reason. It was not merely indecorous, and contrary to modesty, but it was ambitious, and violating the order of heaven.” ~John Angel James

S. Lewis Johnson

“In the final analysis, the hat, or veil, is not the important thing, but the subordination for which it stands. The presence of both is the ideal.” ~S. Lewis Johnson, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1248

Benjamen Keach (1640-1704)

“The thing signified is sometimes put for the sign materially…1 Corinthians 11:10, ‘A woman ought to have power on her head,’ that is a garment signifying that she was under the power of her husband.”

John Knox (1505-1572)

a. “First, I say, the woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As saint Paule doth reason in these wordes: ‘Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therfore oght the woman to have a power upon her head,’ (that is, a coverture in signe of subjection).”15b. Knox quotes Chrysostom with wholehearted approval: “‘Even so, (saith he) oght man and woman to appeare before God, bearing the ensignes of the condition whiche they have received of him. Man hath received a certain glorie and dignitie above the woman; and therfore oght he to appeare before his high Majestie bearing the signe of his honour, havinge no coverture upon his heade, to witnesse that in earth man hath no head.’ Beware Chrysostome what thou saist! thou shalt be reputed a traytor if Englishe men heare thee, for they must have my Sovereine Lady and Maistresse [Queen Elizabeth–GLP]; and Scotland hath dronken also the enchantment and venom of Circes [the enchantress represented by Homer as turning the companions of Odysseus into swine by means of a magic drink–GLP], let it be so to their owne shame and confusion. He procedeth in these wordes, ‘But woman oght to be covered, to witnesse that in earth she had a head, that is man.’ Trewe it is, Chrysostome, woman is covered in both realmes, but it is not with the signe of subjection, but it is with the signe of superioritie, to witte, with the royal crowne.”

John Lightfoot

Therefore the Apostle requires the vailing of women in Religious worship, by the same notion and reason, as men veiled themselves, namely for reverence towards God. But certainly it may be required, whether he so much urgeth the vailing of women, as reproves the vailing of men. However, by this most fit argument, he well chastiseth the contrary custom, and foolishness of the men: as though he had said, do ye not consider, that the man is doxa theou the glory of God, but the woman is only doxa andros, the glory of the man; that the woman was made for man; that man is the head of the woman: and how ridiculous is it, that men should use a vail, when they pray, out of reverence and shame before God, and women not use it, whose glory is less?~ Commentary on First Corinthians (ch. 11:5), by John Lightfoot, member of the Westminster Assembly.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

But thus, you see, we argue with Scripture. Instead of taking its plain teaching, we say that times have changed—when it suits our thesis we say it is no longer relevant…The apostle tells them that that’s quite wrong; it’s not only wrong because a woman should have her head covered to show that she is under the authority of the man, but in addition to that he says that she should be covered because of the presence of the angels. ~ Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Benjamin Keach

“The thing signified is sometimes put for the sign materially… 1Cor.11:10, ‘A woman ought to have power on her head,’ that is a garment signifying that she was under the power of her husband.” Benjamin Keach (1640-1704)

Ligonier Ministries (1996)

“Our actions must conform to the principles that God has established…Do you disregard the exterior aspects of religion, saying the heart is all that matters? If so, confess your pride before God today.
Whenever we have a lesson from both the Scriptures and from nature, we are doubly bound to obey. We also must recognize that it is a rule rooted in nature, not custom.
If it is shameful for a woman to have her head shaved, then she must realize that it is just as shameful for her to enter public worship with her head uncovered. We must not confuse Paul’s use of hair as ‘nature’s covering’ and the covering he is exhorting women to wear in public worship.
Nowhere does (Paul) give cultural reasons for his teaching, i.e. abusive practices of a pagan society that placed prostitutes with shorn heads in the temple. Paul points back to God’s established order in nature. Whenever a teaching in Scripture refers to ‘creation ordinances’, that teaching is binding for all cultures in all ages…
The ‘rules of decorum’…regarding the worship of God are established by God Himself not by the whims of culture. It is proper for a woman to have a symbol of authority on her head…The necessity of the symbol remains fixed even as the authority of the man remains fixed.” (From ‘Table Talk’ Devotional Guide for June 17-24, 1996, pp. 36-43 – quoted by Sanseri op. cit. pp. 278f.)

Christopher Love

“Eighth, the angels are present with us, beholding us in our church assemblies when we come to worship before God. When you are in the worship and service of God, the angels are with you, beholding you, though you see them not. This is hinted at in 1 Cor. 11:10 ‘For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the angels.” Some refer these words to ministers, who are elsewhere called angels, but we may understand it of the angels themselves because they delight in the things of the gospel. Here the apostle speaks of women not coming into church without covering. Why? Because of the angels, not the ministers. It is meant of the angels of heaven, and therein the women are to take heed how they come into the church, because the angels are spectators and behold how you behave yourselves, they being fellow-worshippers of God with you in church assemblies. And this should make you take heed of your carriage; for although they do not know your hearts, yet they behold your carriage as you come into the presence of God.” A Treatise of the Angels by Christopher Love

Thomas Manton

“In the assembly you meet with angels and devils; angels observe your garb and carriage and devils tempt you. Therefore, be covered because of the angels. The practice of women (who come hither with a shameless impudence into the presence of God, men and angels) neither suits with modesty nor conveniency…(Such boldness) feeds your own pride, and provokes …others of your rank to imitate your vanity. Now we should rather please God than men; better never please men than offend God” Sermons on Titus 2:11-14, Complete Works, vol. 16, p. 138 of Thomas Manton

Dr. Carlton C. McLeod

“When we are faced with a counter-cultural passage, we are typically quick to say, “It no longer applies for the sake of cultural norms”

“Not coincidentally, the widespread jettisoning of the practice of headcovering can be traced to the mid-20th century right around the time of the rise of modern feminism,” Dr. Carlton C. McLeod

“To the people who say it no longer has any significance, we no longer know what it means, I say “Not true at all; we know exactly what it means which is why it’s hated.” -Dr. Carlton C. McLeod

Pastor Carlton McLeod-“The head covering symbolizes all that is strong and anointed about biblical womanhood. The head covering is gentle, feminine, meek, quiet, tender, and yet filled with the authority of the Sword of the Spirit. It is a powerful demonstration that the wearer, a daughter of Eve, refuses to follow the aforementioned in her independence and susceptibility to deception because she has been transformed by Jesus. The head covering is a subversive symbol in modern times that shouts loudly into the physical and spiritual world that Christ is King and His Word is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Consider how times have changed since the Western church rejected the head covering. Think about what has happened to marriage, home-making, the discipling of children, modesty, sexuality, submission, church roles, and meek and quiet spirits. Consider modern men as well, mostly passive, addicted to sports, and faltering in their discipleship and breadwinner duties. Yes, this sounds awfully old-fashioned; and no, the loss of the head covering didn’t cause all this. But its loss is symptomatic of a wider rejection of the Word of God.”

John Murray (1898-1975)

Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary
a. These excerpts are taken from a letter to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Australia) concerning the matter of women being veiled in worship.

b. “Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (Vss. 3b, vss 7ff), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising therefrom.”46

c. “I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (Vss 4 & 7) and enjoined for the woman (Vss 5,6,15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. In this connection it is not proper to interpret verse 15b as meaning that the hair was given the woman to take the place of the head covering in view of verses 5,6. The Greek of verse 15 is surely the Greek of equivalence as used quite often in the New Testament, and so the Greek can be rendered: “the hair is given her for a covering.” This is within the scope of the particular argument of verses 14,15 and does not interfere with the demand for the addtional covering contemplated in verses 5,6,13. Verses 14 and 15 adduce a consideration from the order of nature in support of that which is enjoined earlier in the passage but is not itself tantamount to it. In other words, the long hair is an indication from ‘nature’ of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required (Vss 5,6,13) is in line with what ‘nature’ teaches.”47

d. “On these grounds my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle’s words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church . . . .”48

“Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (vss. 3b, vss. 7ff.), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance.” ~John Murray

The covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6; for the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. ~John Murray

A.W. Pink

“Because the woman has not been given rule and headship her head must be covered, and covered with a double covering: first, the long hair that God has given her by nature, so that even when she is outside the church that covering shall indicate that she is not her own head, but that she is under the dominion of the head of her household: secondly, that when she comes into the house of God there must be the additional cover of the hat because she is also in subjection to her spiritual brethren to whom God has appointed rule.” ~Arthur W Pink (1886-1952)

What is so solemn in that sixth verse is the word “also.” I want you to notice that the Holy Spirit has there linked two things together. “If the woman be not covered let her also be shorn.”―In other words, God requires a double covering. He has given the woman the long hair to cover her head naturally, so that her head is covered when she is outside the church, to show that she is not her own ruler, her own head, but in subjection to the head of her household; but when she enters the house of God, another covering is required, to show that she is also in subjection to her spiritual head—those who have the rule in the house of God. ~ A. W. Pink

As far as my personal opinion is concerned, I have no hesitation in saying that in many things the woman is the superior of the man: in the finer sensibilities, in the nobler qualities that go to make up character, in patience and powers of endurance, in gentleness, in tenderness, in unselfishness, in ministering to the suffering, in love, the woman is the superior to man. But that is not what is under discussion here. What is under discussion here is the position that God has given unto each and how that position must be owned and acknowledged by the symbol that God has appointed—Because God has placed woman in the position of subordination her head must be covered. ~A.W. Pink

“Now God has appointed that because man is the head, because headship or dominion or rule has been delegated by God into the hands of man, God has ordained that that shall be symbolically shown forth when he enters the house of God. His head shall be uncovered; his head shall be revealed; his head shall be manifest because God has given to him the headship. But because God has not given headship to the woman, because he has placed her in subjection to man, therefore that must be symbolically shown forth by her having head covered, her head concealed, showing that she is not her own head, and her own ruler.” – A.W. Pink’s Studies in the Scriptures, 1926-27, volume 3, 257-263

Mathew Poole, Westminster Divine

We have no such custom, of woman’s praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered, or men’s praying or prophesying with their heads covered; (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:16).

Charles Ryrie

“Women should be veiled or covered in the meeting of the church, and the men should not. Paul’s reasons were based on theology (headship v.3), the order of creation (v.7-9), and the presence of angels in the meeting (v.10). None of these reasons was based on contemporary social custom.” – Charles Ryrie, The Ryrie Study Bible (1976), p. 303

“If angels desire to look into things pertaining to salvation, then they should see as they look at veiled women in the assembly of Christians the voluntary submission of a woman to her head. Thus the early church (for this was the custom of the churches generally) while offering religious equality in spiritual privilege insisted on showing in public worship the principle of subordination of women by their being veiled.”

Brian Schwertley

“Head coverings represent what God teaches about marriage. Therefore, we should not mock or hate this biblical practice, but embrace it wholeheartedly… Culture at the present time in America is becoming increasingly pagan, hedonistic and anti-Christian. Any biblical practice that sets God’s people apart from our culture and sets an example for it ought to be embraced by believers. We certainly do not act as a salt and light to our heathen culture when we reject biblical imperatives relating to covenant headship and instead imitate the world.” ~Head Coverings in Public Worship by Brian Schwertley

David Silversides

“The headcovering requirement is based on the order of creation. It has been argued that this means that the principle of male headship is permanent, but the particular application of it (i.e. headcovering) was cultural. There is no evidence in the passage for this. Indeed, the evidence is in the opposite direction.” ~David Silversides

“In so far as historic testimony is uniform, it is overwhelmingly in favour of the permanence of the requirement of women’s head-covering in congregational worship.”

“Female head-covering was the norm in the majority of churches for centuries. The comparatively recent change of this state of affairs is, we suspect, not due to greater exegetical insight or true scholarly advance, but concession to the spirit of the age in which we live.”

“It is certainly true that there has been an immense shift of opinion and practice in the last number of decades away from the once almost universal practice of women’s head-covering in public worship. Even the Church of England did not revoke the canon law requiring that women have their heads covered at Communion until 1942.”

“The cultural argument is asserted repeatedly, but seldom have we ever seen even an attempt to prove it, and when the attempt is made, it is invariably entirely dependent on alleged historical sources as to the practice of Corinthian society outside the passage itself. We should not be dependent on extra-biblical sources for our interpretation of a passage of Scripture that can make good sense without any external information being imported. This is all the more true when the argument of the passage depends on the created order.”

“That the covering in view is not simply a woman’s hair is equally clear. The passage becomes unbelievably tortuous if all the apostle intended was to teach about hair length. The term rendered ‘covering’ in verses 2-13 is ‘kalumma’. This term is used elsewhere in the New Testament of the veil covering Moses’ face in 2 Cor. 3:13-16, while the verb form is used in Matt. 8:24, Luke 8:16; 23:30 etc.

It also appears in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament from which the Apostles sometimes quote). It appears in Exodus 26:14, Num. 3:25, 4:8, 10, 11, 14 & 25 where it is rendered ‘covering’ in the AV. It is also found in Ex. 27:16 & 40:5 (translated ‘hanging’) and in Ex. 34:33-35 (translated ‘veil’) and in 1 Chron. 17:5 (translated ‘tabernacle’). The verb form is used in Gen. 9:23, 38:14-15, 2 Sam. 15:30 & Isaiah 47:2. It is not difficult to see that it refers to a fabric covering to be worn specifically in congregational worship as distinct from the constant covering of the woman’s hair. This is confirmed by the fact that the apostle, when he is referring to the hair in vs. 14-15, uses a different word, ‘peribolaion’ (‘something cast around’) from the kalumma to which he has referred in the previous verses.

The apostle indicates that the woman uncovering her head in worship, as with her removing her everyday covering by shaving her head, is a ‘shame’ (1 Cor. 11:6). The word rendered ‘shame’ is ‘aischron’ as when the apostle says, “it is a shame for women to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35) and “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret” (Eph. 5:12). In the latter reference the apostle has in view the immoralities of the pagan world, not some infringements of cultural practice or custom. The former reference indicates a permanent rule for the church in all ages; the silence of women. Likewise with the head-covering – it is required now as surely as when the inspired apostle wrote these words to the church in Corinth – “Let her be covered”. ~David Silversides

Seth Skolnitsky

“The particular practices Paul addresses are (1) head-covering and (2) hair-length. In recent treatments of the passage, it has become customary to effectively collapse these two topics. That is, when the hair itself is equated with the head-covering – and the subject of hair-length is (as is often the case) not addressed in any practical way – then the whole subject of the head-covering becomes moot. That is, the net effect is to ignore the apostolic legislation, which is, of course, to disregard the law of God. The view of Calvin, while very different from the approach under discussion, was certainly not novel in his day, or unusual for long years thereafter. That it strikes us very strange is a sad but eloquent commentary on how far we have moved from the heritage of the Reformers and their Puritan disciples.” (Translator’s Preface of Men, Women and Order in the Church – Three Sermons by John Calvin, Presbyterian Heritage Publications, Dallas, 1992, pp. 3f.)

R.C. Sproul

“Though the many authors differ on various issues associated with headcoverings, one important issue upon which they are all agreed is that Paul was not commanding the women in Corinth either to let their hair grow long so as to use their long hair as a headcovering in worship, or to neatly place their hair upon their heads as a headcovering in worship, but rather to place upon their heads a fabric headcovering when they worship before the Lord. This conclusion is reached by scholars from various denominational backgrounds, from different geographical locations, and from many periods of church history. The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church of Jesus Christ which is “the pillar and ground of the truth.””~ R. C. Sproul

“It is one thing to seek a more lucid understanding of the biblical content by investigating the cultural situation of the first century; it is quite another to interpret the New Testament as if it were merely an echo of the first-century culture. To do so would be to fail to account for the serious conflict the church experienced as it confronted the first-century world. Christians were not thrown to the lions for their penchant for conformity. Some very subtle means of relativizing the text occur when we read into the text cultural considerations that ought not to be there. For example, with respect to the hair-covering issue in Corinth, numerous commentators on the Epistle point out that the local sign of the prostitute in Corinth was the uncovered head. Therefore, the argument runs, the reason why Paul wanted women to cover their heads was to avoid a scandalous appearance of Christian women in the external guise of prostitutes. What is wrong with this kind of speculation? The basic problem here is that our reconstructed knowledge of first-century Corinth has led us to supply Paul with a rationale that is foreign to the one he gives himself. In a word, we are not only putting words into the apostle’s mouth, but we are ignoring words that are there. If Paul merely told women in Corinth to cover their heads and gave no rationale for such instruction, we would be strongly inclined to supply it via our cultural knowledge. In this case, however, Paul provides a rationale which is based on an appeal to creation, not to the custom of Corinthian harlots. We must be careful not to let our zeal for knowledge of the culture obscure what is actually said. To subordinate Paul’s stated reason to our speculatively conceived reason is to slander the apostle and turn exegesis into eisogesis. The creation ordinances are indicators of the transcultural principle. If any biblical principles transcend local customary limits, they are the appeals drawn from creation… What if, after careful consideration of a biblical mandate, we remain uncertain as to its character as principle or custom? If we must decide to treat it one way or the other but have no conclusive means to make the decision, what can we do? Here the biblical principle of humility can be helpful. The issue is simple. Would it be better to treat a possible custom as a principle and be guilty of being overscrupulous in our design to obey God? Or would it be better to treat a possible principle as a custom and be guilty of being unscrupulous in demoting a transcendent requirement of God to the level of a mere human convention? I hope the answer is obvious.” R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 110

“I am convinced that when Paul says the women are to cover their heads, he is basing that action on how God created male and female. It would seem to me, using a principle of interpretation of what we call hermeneutics, that if there ever an indication of a perpetual ordinance in the church, it is that which is based on an appeal to Creation. I’m persuaded that the principle of covering the head is still in effect because it was built into creation. And even though it’s not culturally accepted anymore in our society, I still believe it’s principle. I don’t think it matters one bit whether it’s a babushka, a veil, or a hat, but I think that the symbol should remain intact as a sign of our obedience to God.” R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, 48

Charles Spurgeon

“Do you think you and I have sufficiently considered that we are always looked upon by angels, and that they desire to learn by us the wisdom of God? The reason why our sisters appear in the House of God with their heads covered is ‘because of the angels’. The apostle says that a woman is to have a covering upon her head, because of the angels, since the angels are present in the assembly and they mark every act of indecorum, and therefore everything is to be conducted with decency and order in the presence of the angelic spirits.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

Tertullian (150-224 A.D.)

a. Tertullian addresses the practice of virgins of the church not being required to be veiled. His whole line of argument presupposes that it was the practice of his contemporaries to require those who were betrothed or married to be veiled, yet Tertullian argues very persuasively that there is no biblical reason to require one class of females (betrothed or married) to be veiled while not requiring another class of females (virgins) to be veiled.

b. “But that point which is promiscuously observed throughout the churches, whether virgins ought to be veiled or no, must be treated of. For they who allow to virgins immunity from headcovering, appear to rest on this; that the apostle has not defined ‘virgins’ by name, but ‘women,’ as ‘to be veiled;’ nor the sex generally, so as to say ‘females,’ but a class of the sex, by saying ‘women:’ for if he had named the sex by saying ‘females,’ he would have made his limit absolute for every woman; but while he names one class of the sex, he separates another class by being silent. For, they say, he might either have named ‘virgins’ specially; or generally, by a compendious term, ‘females.’”6

c. In commenting on 1 Corinthians 11:4,5, Tertullian notes, “Behold two diverse names, Man and Woman ‘every one’ in each case: two laws, mutually distinctive; on the one hand (a law) of veiling, on the other (a law) of baring.”

“Throughout Greece, and certain of its barbaric provinces, the majority of churches keep their virgins covered. In fact, this practice is followed in certain places beneath this African sky. So let no one ascribe this custom merely to the Gentile customs of the Greeks and barbarians.

Moreover, I will put forth as models those churches that were founded by either apostles or apostolic men. . . . The Corinthians themselves understood him to speak in this manner. For to this very day the Corinthians veil their virgins. What the apostles taught, the disciples of the apostles confirmed. [Tertullian, The Veiling of Virgins The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4 pp. 27-29,33]

William Tyndale

I answer, that Paul taught by mouth such things as he wrote in his epistles. And his traditions were the gospel of Christ, and honest manners and living, and such a good order as becometh the doctrine of Christ: as that a woman obey her husband, have her head covered, keep silence, and go womanly and christianly apparelled; that children and servants be in subjection: and that the young obey their elders; that no man eat but he that laboureth and worketh; and that men make an earnest thing of God’s word and of his holy sacraments; and to watch, fast, and pray, and such like as the scripture commandeth: which things he that would break were no Christian man. 

Bruce Waltke

“This writer concludes, then, that a woman who prays or prophesies in an assembly of believers should cover her head as a symbol of her submission to the absolute will of God who has ordered His universe according to His own good pleasure… Thus the face with which God chose to reveal Himself to the world is one that the world desperately needs to see, namely, a man who displays the image and glory of God through Christ, and a woman who, despite her ontological equality with the man, submits to him. In the historical process of administering His church, however, God has been pleased with the completion of the canon of Scripture to withdraw the gift of prophecy. In the practice of the churches today the apostolic teaching has relevance directly only to prayer. In this writer’s judgment, however, it would be well for Christian women to wear head coverings at church meetings as a symbol of an abiding theological truth.” – Bruce Waltke, “1 Corinthians 1:2-16: An Interpretation”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 1978

John Wesley

“Therefore if a woman is not covered — If she will throw off the badge of subjection, let her appear with her hair cut like a man’s. But if it be shameful far a woman to appear thus in public, especially in a religious assembly, let her, for the same reason, keep on her veil.” – John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible

“For a man indeed ought not to veil his head because he is the image and glory of God in the dominion he bears over the creation, representing the supreme dominion of God, which is his glory. But the woman is a matter of glory to the man, who has a becoming dominion over her. Therefore she ought not to appear except with her head veiled as a tacit acknowledgement of it.” – John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, 1 Corinthians 11:7

K.P. Yohannan

“Paul’s admonition for women to wear a head covering ‘because of the angels’ removes any doubt that this teaching is universal and timeless.”

The meaning of head-covering by Zac Poonen

There are at least three reasons given in the New Testament why a woman should cover her head when she prays or prophesies in the meetings of the church:

First: The Bible says, “A man should NOT cover his he…” – and the reason given is: … because he is the image and glory of God”. In contrast, we are told, “but the woman is the glory of man” (1 Cor.11:7). The glory of man must be covered in the church – and since woman is the glory of man, she testifies to this fact by covering her head. This is the plain and simple meaning of this verse.

Second: The Bible says, “A woman’s long hair is her glory” (1 Cor.11:15). The glory of the woman also must be covered in the church, just like the glory of man. And so she must cover her head which has the glory of her long hair. Almost all women are conscious that their long hair is a major part of what makes them look attractive – and that is why even among those women who do put a covering on their heads, most of them cover only a part of their hair!! If a woman does not want to cover her head, then the only alternative that the New Testament offers is to remove that glory, by shaving her head completely: “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 Cor.11:6).

Third: The Bible says: “Man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor.11:10). The head-covering symbolizes the fact that a woman accepts her God-appointed role as having been created “for man’s sake” as his helper and therefore her willingness to be submissive to male authority – whether as a wife to her husband, or as a daughter to her father, or as a sister in the church to the church-elders. It is significant that the disappearance of the head-covering from women in Western churches (on a large scale) coincided with the time that the movement for “Women’s Liberation” (a phrase used in a book in 1949) began to spread in Western countries – about 60 years ago. The “angels” mentioned in this verse could refer either to the fallen angels or to the angels in heaven. So it could either be a reminder to women to bear in mind that the fallen angels fell because they were not submissive to authority.

1 Corinthians 11:16 says that every church that is a church of God, will insist on this head covering for women when they pray or prophesy. The Holy Spirit recognized that 20 centuries later this would become a controversial issue; and so He made Paul to state (in this same verse) that if anyone was going to be argumentative about this matter, he would not argue with such a person. He would just allow that person to continue on in his/her disobedience and inconsistency.

H. A. Ironside on women’s subjection

“Bear in mind that Paul is not speaking here, as he does elsewhere, of a woman’s place in the new creation. In the new creation there are no distinctions: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” Galatians 3:28. We are all one in Christ. We were all sinners alike, we have all been redeemed alike, we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit alike, we have all been baptized into one body alike, and so all these distinctions vanish and we think of one another as members of Christ. But this does not alter the fact that we still have our place in nature and must maintain that place.
You will see how important this is if I illustrate it in this way: According to the Word of God I am a heavenly citizen. Suppose I say, “Inasmuch as I am a heavenly citizen, I have no responsibilities to any country here on earth,” I will soon have to reckon with the income tax collector and other authorities―and I shall have to learn by experience that I have responsibilities, I have earthly relationships that must be maintained. Just so, although there is neither male nor female in the new creation, yet we have our places to fill in nature and in the church… “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” Genesis 3:16―and that relationship still exists. “The head of the woman is the man.

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