The Christian Veiling

by Leland M. Haines


"Now, I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (I Cor. 11:2)

Paul introduces his discussion on the Christian woman's veiling by praising the Corinthian Christians for their faithfulness in observing and practicing the "all things." These past instructions properly occurred when Paul was in Corinth "a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:1). In the discussion that follows, he will confirm what he had previously taught them; he is not introducing new doctrine.

Apparently Paul wrote to answer questions about the basis of the veiling. Undoubtedly most of the Corinthian church's sisters followed the correct practice of the veiling because of the opening remarks that they "remembered me in all things." This conclusion is also supported by this conciliatory opening that differs sharply from the next section's opening, where Paul wrote, "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse" (11:17).

Beginning with this conciliatory remark was an effective and proper method to introduce this subject because the Corinthians' faithfulness deserved praise. This set Paul's readers in a mood to learn more about the basis of the veiling.

The Greek word paradosis, translated ordinance in the King James Version and tradition in many new translations, is used in I Corinthians 11:2 and in II Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6. In each case Paul was referring to oral and written traditions that represent Christian doctrine as well as practical areas of Christian living. These traditions are expressions of God's will; they are inspired by God and are to be kept. Paul wrote in II Thessalonians 2:15: "Hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." By "traditions" Paul no doubt meant the whole body of teachings -- doctrinal and practical -- he had transmitted to them either verbally, during his missionary visit, or by letter. In the same letter Paul wrote, "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which ye received of us" (3:6). This shows Paul believed his teachings held high importance. In the Corinthian passage before us, he again stress this importance: "keep the ordinances." What other reasons do we need to keep the ordinances "delivered" to us from Christ through the apostles (I Cor. 11:23)?

The term traditions is used also in Matthew 15:2, 3, 66; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8; and I Peter 1:18. There "traditions" are man-made practices and teachings that nullify the Word of God and make it of no effect. They are "not after Christ" (Col. 2:8) and for this reason are condemned. This is not the type of tradition Paul is writing to the Corinthians about.

Concerning the word translated "tradition," H. S. Bender writes:

The sense of this English word is hardly fair to the Greek for we include a derogatory implication in the concept. A tradition to us is something scarcely reliable, a partly vague mythological affair. But this is not the Greek at all. Paradosis is simply something "given out" or "given over" by one to another for keeping. From the hands of the teacher or preacher it might be either simple facts, narrative or descriptive, or doctrines or usages. Here it is doubtless meant to include the sum total of Paul's instruction. [1]

In summary, the main point we learn from Paul in 11:2 is that the veiling was among the traditions or ordinances he praised the Corinthians for keeping.

"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God" (v. 3).

In v. 3 Paul gives the basis of the veiling ordinance. By the opening words, "I would have you know," he indicates he wants us to understand the principle of the divine order and to know God's plan for relationships within His family. The meaning behind this ordinance will be explained to the believers, as were all ordinances.

Before he declares the relationship of woman to man, Paul points to the relation man has to his Head, Christ. Man is not free to do as he pleases; he has a Head. Just as the human body is controlled by its head, man too is controlled by his Head, Christ.

Because Paul first stated that man is subject to a Head, women should not be surprised or feel inferior that "the head of woman is the man." Headship implies a leadership function and does not mean one person is inferior to another. Paul emphasized this twice in other epistles (Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-25).

The next statement, "the head of Christ is God," helps us understand the meaning of this relationship. The "headship" of man to woman is to reflect the headship of Christ to God. The order between God and Christ makes Christ no less God but shows that headship exists even on the divine level. Between God and Christ, God the Father takes the leadership and initiative roles.

We find an expression of this leadership role in Christ's experience in going to the cross. In Gethsemane Christ "went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Mt. 26:39). Christ the Son was submissive to the Father. The relation between man and woman is to be characterized by the woman voluntarily accepting man's leadership, so long as it does not violate the will of Christ. Woman should loving accept her place in the divine order and be as complete and joyous with man's headship as Christ is to God's headship. Just as Christ was highly exalted, the Christian woman will too be exated by her acceptance of the divine order.

In the divine order there is a unity in relationship in its gradual subordination: God - Christ - man - woman. The dependence and submission of the lower to the higher is one of lovingly yielding to the divinely appointed headship. This relation and trust, which is built upon love, will be carefully exercised in wisdom. It will also be directed toward the good of the next lower one. Thus the lower person should have no fear that he or she will be treated unfairly.

Peter also spoke of the proper relationship between man and woman. He wrote, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands" and "likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" (I Pet. 3:1, 7). Thus we see this relationship was not just a Pauline teaching.

"Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head" (vv. 4-5a).

After explaining the divine order, Paul clearly states what is physically upon a man's or woman's head is important because it reflects the divine order. Men should pray or prophesy (speaking "to exhortation, edification, and comfort," 14:3) with their heads uncovered, and women should have their heads covered (KJV) or veiled (ASV, RSV). To do otherwise shows disregard of the divine order and thus brings dishonor to one's head.

The Greek word translated "covered" is katakalupto. It is a compound word of kata meaning "down" and kalupto meaning "to cover up." This covering that hangs down is perhaps best described by the English word "veil."

When man wears a special covering such as the Jewish Tallith (prayer cap), he is telling others that has abdicated his place in the divine order to accept a lesser position. This brings dishonor to his Head, Christ, because it shows man's disregard for Christ's lordship by not accepting the place and purpose that has been given to man in creation. Since Paul is writing about praying or prophesying, which are spiritual exercises, man should not wear any special type of head covering carrying a spiritual significance.

God has established the veiling as an emblem of servitude. Thus it would be contrary to the divine principle of headship for man to wear one. This meaning of the veiling originates with God and not with society. In many cultures the veiling still has this meaning, even among non-Christians. As Wenger points out, these cultural practices only confirm the divine will and are not the source of the veiling's meaning. [2] Just because God's will and a cultural practice agree, it should not lessen our acceptance that the practice originates in the will of God.

The woman's veiling symbolizes her voluntary acceptance of her place in the divine order. When she "prayeth or prophesieth" with her head unveiled, she brings dishonor to her head, man. This occurs because she is indicating that she has stepped out from under his authority or leadership and is challenging his position in the divine order. Not to wear the veiling implies freedom from submission to man. For a woman to be bareheaded is to tell the world that she stands on equal ground with man in leadership responsibilities.

When a woman is unveiled during prayer or prophesying, she not only dishonors her own head, man, but also Christ. Christ is dishonored by her disobedience to God's headship plan. All who adopt their own plans in preference to the revelation given in the inspired Word bring dishonor to Christ by rejecting His Word and lordship.

Paul uses the same terms3/4praying and prophesying3/4to describe both man's and woman's area of activities. Paul does not modify them, for instance, by writing of "praying and prophesying in the church." Wherever these activities occur, man is to be unveiled and woman veiled.

From v. 5 it might seem at first that Paul allows women to pray or prophesy wherever they wish so long as they are properly veiled. But this is not the case; other instructions govern where women may prophesy. Paul wrote in the same letter, "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (I Cor. 14:34-35). In another letter Paul wrote similarly, "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be silent" (I Tim. 2:11-12). These two statements show that women are not to prophesy in church meetings. This should help us understand where woman is to wear the veil. It is to be worn wherever these activities occur, not just in church meetings. Of course, the Christian woman would naturally be veiled in church meetings, even though she would not prophesy there, since she could silently pray there.

In summary, both men and women are to live within the divine order God has established. This is not degrading to either but uplifting, since it is the will of God. Both will experience joy by living within God's plan, and many problems will be prevented in the home and society. And man and woman will bear witness to their desire to live within the divine order and under the lordship of Christ as they faithfully observe this ordinance.

"For that is even all one as if she were shaven. For 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" (vv. 5b-6).

Paul had just written, "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head." Next he said that if she rejects God's established veiling standard, she might just as well go the whole way and lose all her dignity through shaving her head, which would bring shame upon herself.

A woman has dignity when she accepts her place in God's established order. To pray or prophesy bareheaded causes her to lose this dignity and brings shame upon her. Bender stated: "Put to shame really means to disgrace - deprive of proper dignity and honor." [3] The shame she would bring upon herself is the same as if her head were "shaven." In other words, to be unveiled is as shameful an act as if she would cut off her hair and cleanly shave her head. What woman would not be ashamed of herself if she cut off her hair and shaved her head? Since no woman would want to appear with a shaven head, Paul says that she should be covered with a veiling.

Lenski writes:

Paul presents two alternatives regarding women to the Corinthians: either shorn or covered. Or, to carry it to its climax in both directions: either both covering and hair completely removed or a covering over the hair. The key to these alternatives is the conditional clause: "now if it is a shame for a women to have herself shorn or shaven." This condition of reality, which implies that it would certainly be a shame, expresses a universal feeling and conviction regarding women (with a corresponding conviction regarding men, v. 14). We may express it in this way: It is the intent of nature that women should wear long hair. Back of nature is the Creator. A beautiful head of hair is the natural crowd which God has given to a woman. Made for man, she is to be attractive to him, and one of her great attractions is her beautiful hair. Hence to discard it is shameful for her. . . . This matter of being merely uncovered is in reality only an inconsistency. She stops halfway. She only compromises. Halfway positions and compromises are untenable. Hence, let her carry out the idea of its legitimate and logical conclusion: "let her also have herself shorn" . . . it cannot be denied that leaving the head uncovered is a grave step in the wrong direction, the outrageous nature of which appears fully when it is carried to its consistent limit by discarding also the hair, having it shorn, or by going to the absolute limit in the wrong direction, having all of it shaved off with a razor - then let the women do the complete and consistent thing in the right direction: "let her have herself covered." Then there will be no question in regard to shame or honor in regard to her position as a woman having a man as her head according to the Creator's design. [4]

"For 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. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (vv. 7-9).

Having established the principle of divine order, and having stated the importance of the veiling in both man's and woman's lives, Paul next gives several statements that support what he has just written. He could have let the matter stand on his apostolic authority alone, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit he went on to further explain its basis.

The first of these statements points back to Creation. A man indeed ought not to cover his head since he heads the human race and has been created in the image and the glory of God. The Creation account tells us, "God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion . . . over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26). Man was created first, and woman was created as a helpmate for him (2:18-23). Man's being in the "image of God," among other things, means he is to master and subdue the earth. He is the controlling one, but he is not left alone in his task3/4he has a helpmate, woman.

Thus man might be considered God's vice regent in this world, the one who is to govern God's kingdom in His absence. In this he exhibits the image and glory of the Creator. As part of this, man was given certain spiritual responsibilities, spoken of here as praying and prophesying. When these are exercised, man should clearly show his headship over the creation. Therefore he should exercise these responsibilities without any sign of subjection such as a prayer cap or veiling.

The woman, however, was fashioned to be man's helper. She is the glory of man inasmuch as she makes his exalted position in creation manifest. When she accepts his leadership, she acknowledges his rightful place in the divine order. When Paul wrote of "the glory of man," he was speaking principally of man's headship position. Paul was not speaking about a spiritual relation; therefore, he did not use the term image. "Image" would have been unsuitable because it could give the impression that the divine image is not present in woman.

"For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" (v. 10).

This is one of the difficult verses in the New Testament, and there has been much comment about it. The first part of the verse is clear. "For this cause" refers back to the preceding facts surrounding the creation of man and woman. Because of the creation events, the woman should have "power" on her head. It is generally agreed that the word "power" when interpreted in the context of these verses can only mean the veiling of the head. The term translated "power" in the King James Version would perhaps be better rendered "authority." The veiling becomes a symbol of this authority, i.e., "a symbol of authority" (NASB), "sign of authority" (NIV). This translation avoids any connection with the idea that the veiling conveys some magical power on the user.

The difficult part of this verse is the ending phrase, which gives another reason for the veil3/4"because of the angels." There have been many suggestions as to what Paul meant here. To understand its meaning let us first look at these created beings, the angels. From the psalmist we learn that angels are special servants of God: "Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his pleasure" (Ps. 103:20-21). They are special ministers of the Lord and carry out His will. They were created in a slightly higher position than man: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? . . . Thou madest him a little lower than the angels" (Heb. 2:6-7; cf. v. 9).

The psalmist explains one of the angel's ministries: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Ps. 91:11-12). This function is emphasized by the author of Hebrews; when speaking of angels he writes, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). Part of this ministry involves being "guardians" over man (Mt. 18:10; Ac. 12:15), which makes them well aware of man's activities (I Cor. 4:9; I Tim. 5:21).

Understanding angels' ministries and their relation to believers, "because of angels" must imply that they are aware of a woman's attitude and whether she is in the proper order when praying and prophesying. Apparently she should not offend them by getting out of God's ordained order. Bender wrote, "From the context we are forced to the conclusion that Paul conceived of the angels as concerned in keeping the divine order of society intact and hence would be directly affected and concerned when a woman violated the order by appearing bareheaded. Let the women remember this when they contemplate such bold steps." [5]

As Shetler points out, the full significance of this phrase may not be understood by us, but it must be important for the Christian woman to wear the veiling because the angels are involved. [6]

"Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God" (vv. 11-12).

The preceding verses emphasize that the divine order calls for man to exercise a position of leadership and woman is to follow his leadership. Paul next cautions man that he should not interpret these principles in such a way that would mean the depreciation of woman. He opposes this on the grounds that both are dependent on each other in their spiritual lives as they are in their physical lives.

The relationship of man to woman is one of mutual dependence; they complement each other in their headship relationship. This means they exist together and neither one can stand alone. "In the Lord" can be understood more clearly if one looks at what Paul wrote about it elsewhere: "There is neither male or female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). There is no distinction when it comes to salvation and living the Christian life. Both have high value and are "one in Christ Jesus." The headship Paul discusses is about a difference in function of the two and not one of value. There is no superiority or inferiority of those in Christ. Although man and woman have distinctive and different responsibilities in the area of leadership, this must not become a competitive relationship. Rather, their relationship should be a complementary one.

Neither man nor woman can argue from nature her or his independence or try to lower the value of the other. The mere headship role of man or physical motherhood of woman should not become grounds for strife between the two. The origin of the woman and the fact that man is born of woman show that neither is independent of the other. When either begins to think too much of his importance, he should consider that "all things [are] of God." Both originate from God and whatever they are is not of themselves but because of their Creator's will and design.

If one keeps in mind Paul's meaning of headship, that it involves a functional difference and not a difference of value, there should be no danger that this teaching on divine order will be abused.

"Judge in yourselves; is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given her for a covering" (vv. 13-15).

Paul next appeals to his readers' own common sense to show that it is proper that a woman pray veiled. Does not God teach through His creation that a woman's head should be covered?

Nature teaches us that it is proper for woman to have long hair and man to have short hair. Man's hair rarely grows with such beauty as woman's, indicating there is a difference between the two concerning the covering of their heads. If woman by nature has such long hair, it would be "womanish" for a man to have long hair, and thus shameful for him to have it. Long hair is womanly since it is a natural constitution of her sex.

Woman conforms to her nature when she keeps her hair long. Long hair is a natural symbol of her position in the divine order and one of the most beautiful assets she has: "It is a glory to her." When women cut their hair to be fashionable, they lose this natural, beautiful symbol. They act contrary to feminine nature as given by God.

Many have tried to lessen the force of this teaching by asking, "What is meant by long hair?" The answer to this question should be simple for the Christian woman. If she has a question about how long is long, she should let the Father determine the length of her hair. When He determines the length we can surely say she has long hair.

John, in his gospel, writes about Mary anointing Jesus' feet and wiping them with her long hair (John 12:3). This gives us a glimpse of the hair length of one of Jesus' disciples. It was long enough to wipe Jesus' feet.

Miller wrote:

When God says long hair is a glory to a woman and shorn hair is a shame for her, why should any heart that loves Him seek to get as far away as possible from that which He calls a glory and try to get as close as possible to that which He calls a shame? When God calls a thing a shame, then we had better continue to do so also, even though our current sub-Christian society may drift far from His standard of what is shameful or glorious. [7]

The Christian woman should arrange her long hair in such a way that is consistent with her veiling and not display her feminine glory before men to attract them. Paul uses the word glory, not to infer that the Christian woman's hair should be shown off, but in the sense that it is a special part of her feminine endowment. The Christian woman also should not forget other scriptural teachings that her adornment should be an inner beauty, not one of outward show "with broided hair" or "outward adorning of plaiting the hair" (I Tim. 2:8-9; I Pet. 3:3-5). These Scriptures show that fancy hair arrangements have no place in the Christian's life.

Paul writes about the woman's long hair that "her hair is given for a covering." It is a natural covering indicating that she should be veiled. Some persons have suggested that the hair is given her to be "the covering," the only one required. It is true that her long hair is a natural covering, but she is to add a second covering, the veil. Paul is using her long hair as an illustration to support the idea that a veiling is needed. This can be seen when one examines the Greek words translated "covering." Paul uses two different words. The word translated "covering" in v. 15 is peribolaion, which is different than katakalupto used in vv. 4, 5, 6, and 7. This suggests there is a difference in the hair covering and the veiling. Peribolaion indicates "something thrown around one, i.e., a mantle, veil, covering, vesture." [8] This suggests how the hair, the natural covering, should be worn.

Common sense reasoning indicates that the hair is not the veiling Paul wrote about earlier. Verse 6 reads, "If a woman be not covered, let her also be shorn." If her hair is the covering, and she be not covered, she would have her hair removed and it would make no sense to talk about letting her be shorn. To be shorn would involve cutting the hair off a second time!

That the hair is not the covering (veiling) can be seen in v. 4, where Paul wrote about man having his head covered. Having it covered while praying or prophesying would involve putting on hair during those times and removing it at other times. This hardly makes sense if the hair is the covering. Who would advocate that man is to take his hair off during prayer or while prophesying? Paul is not teaching that men should be bald.

"But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God" (v. 16).

Paul closes his discussion on the divine order and the veiling by rebuking anyone who wishes to become contentious over the necessity of man's head being uncovered and woman's head being veiled. Those who remain deaf to the reasons given will have to be silenced by Paul's authority and general church practice: "We have no such custom, neither the church of God." All followed the practices Paul wrote of in this chapter. It was not just a local church practice at Corinth. It was a universal practice in the Church.

Men still universally pray and prophesy with uncovered heads in the churches. The teaching that woman should be veiled was also universally practiced until the twentieth century. This practice has a biblical basis and should be followed today by all Christian women.


At the beginning of I Corinthians, Paul appealed to the Corinthian Church in these words: "By the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1:10). He wanted the Corinthians to agree and have no dissension; they all were to understand the truth and stand united behind it. It was reported to him that there was quarreling among them, but apparently this did not involve the teaching on the headship veiling, for he commended them "that ye remembered me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (11:2). Paul's desire for unity was not just for the local church: he wanted unity throughout the Church. This unity existed in the Church on the veiling teaching. We know this from his comments at the end of his discussion. He disposed of those who wanted to be contentious about the veiling by appealing to the Church's united position on this teaching (I Cor. 11:6).

Today the situation is different. Even though the Protestant Church until the late 1800s and the Roman Catholic Church in general held to some aspects of this teaching until the 1970s, only a few churches remain faithful to this teaching today. Why has this change taken place? What reasons are given for rejecting a teaching so long held by the Church?

The reasons generally given against practicing the headship veiling teaching are that (1) it was a local and temporary practice, (2) it is a trivial matter, and (3) the hair is the covering.

The first reason is the one most frequently given. Erdman writes, "All will agree that most of the instruction which Paul gives concerns a custom of dress which was merely local and temporary." [9] This assertion is unacceptable for the following reasons:

1. Paul specifically stated in v. 16 that he and "the churches of God" observed these practices. This was not just a local dress custom, as Erdman states. It was taught throughout the Church. This conclusion is not based only on v. 16, but on other statements made in the letter. It is shown in Paul's statement to the Corinthians about why he sent Timothy to them. He sent him to "bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church" (4:17). It is shown in his writing on marriage when he wrote, "So ordain I in all churches" (7:17). What Paul taught the Corinthian believers was taught in all the churches.

Church history also shows that this teaching was widely practiced. Clement (153-217) of Alexandria and Tertullian (145-220) of northern Africa spoke of the veiling. Clement included teaching on the subject in his book Instruction. This guide taught on the meaning of the Christian life. Tertullian mentioned the veiling in several of his writings and wrote a thesis entitled "On the Veiling of Virgins," which dealt with the question of the veil applying to unmarried sisters. This issue arose because Paul used the Greek term gynee for the term women. Some questioned if gynee included the unmarried, but they did not question the veiling in general. (Today we accept gynee as meaning "any adult female [virgins are included]." [10] We have, therefore, very early evidence that Paul's teaching was followed not only in Corinth. The headship veiling was not just a local, temporary practice; it was universally practiced in the early Church. The writings of these early Church fathers also indicate their practice was different from that of the non-Christian society.

2. The bases for Paul's teachings are as binding today as they were two-thousand years ago. The relation within the divine order has not changed: it is still a disgrace for a woman to be shaven, the history of creation remains the same, the function of angels remains the same, and nature still shows that woman's long hair is a glorious aspect of her femininity. Since the bases of Paul's teaching all remain in effect today, why shouldn't Paul's conclusion that woman is to be veiled still be binding?

3. If the Corinthian women's hair and veiling was only a local and temporary issue, Paul used a completely different style of writing in this passage than he used elsewhere. When he taught that one's actions should be modified because of cultural considerations, he always explained these considerations. Examine, for instance, his teachings about meat and idols found in Romans 14 and in I Corinthians 8 and 10:14ff. He clearly taught what the Christian point of view was, and when and why cultural considerations should cause one to do otherwise.

4. Paul made no mention of the view of Corinthian society regarding prostitutes and the veiling in this passage. There is no evidence that their views influenced his writing. Lenski confirms this:

As far as prostitutes are concerned, all the evidence that has been discovered proves that only a few of the very lowest types had shorn or shaven heads. As a class these women endeavored to make themselves as attractive as possible and did their utmost to beautify their hair. We cannot, therefore, accept the idea that is advanced by not a few of the best commentators that in our passage Paul refers to the practice of the prostitutes and intends to tell the Corinthian women that, if they pray or prophesy with uncovered heads, they act the part of a lewd woman. [11]

As Shetler has pointed out, one would have expected Paul to make the following type of statement if the Corinthian culture was influencing this teaching: "For the present time I would have you women to be veiled and you men remain unveiled, so that your new-found freedom in Christ be not misunderstood. I do not want you brethren at Corinth to disregard your Corinthian husband-wife mores, so that through this the outside public will stumble at what they consider impropriety." [12]

5. Christ permanently established several ordinances in His Church. They are baptism, communion, feet washing, the woman's veiling, the holy kiss, anointing with oil, and marriage. Although these ordinances may have some things in common with Jewish or other cultural practices, Christ made them symbols of specific Christian truths. They are intended to symbolize these truths and keep them alive among God's people. They are new instructions and represent God's will for the Church.

6. The teaching on communion found in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is almost universally observed in the Church. On what grounds is this teaching accepted and the teaching on the veiling, found in the first part of the same chapter, rejected? Who gives one authority to reject any part of God's Word? True Christians will accept the whole Bible as the revelation of God.

7. We can see the importance Paul placed on this teaching when we examine his view on the preaching of the gospel. When he explained why he baptized only a few at Corinth, he said that he did so because some might think he baptized in his own name (I Cor. 1:15). He did not want this to happen because, as he wrote, "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (v. 17). He would not have brought the veiling teaching to this church if it was not an important part of the gospel. His concern that the gospel be preached with clarity was too great to risk confusing the gospel with the veiling teaching if it was not an important part of it.

In summary, we have strong evidence that the veiling was not just a local and temporary practice but a permanent one, to be followed in all churches throughout time.

The second argument against the practice of this teaching is that veiling is a trivial matter since only Paul wrote about it in one letter. This must be rejected because of the following reasons:

1. Paul's teaching in I Corinthians 11 is a part of God's Word. The Holy Spirit guided the New Testament writers: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Tim. 3:16). From this we can conclude that this portion of Scripture is profitable for all believers today.

Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was called by Christ to teach His will. Christ said, "[Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me; to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Ac. 9:15). Paul had authority to write for Christ, which is acknowledged in I Corinthians: "The things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (14:37).

2. It should not be necessary for God to tell His children more than once what His will is. A born-again person will listen the first time; he does not need to be told again and again. He will act in simple obedience because he has repented and has been born again to become a disciple of Christ. The disciple will not try to get around God's Word by proposing confusing interpretations or by asking questions that need answering before a passage can be accepted. How many times must a Christian be told before he will act? Once should be enough.

Why can't this teaching be accepted when taught only once in the Scripture? Most Christians are willing to accept the commandment to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when told only once. Why can't we accept this one?

3. God's commands are never trivial. They each represent a challenge to one's faith. When one disobeys, this shows lack of obedient faith.

4. The reason the headship veiling teaching is found only in I Corinthians is that the Holy Spirit guided only Paul to give an answer for a clearer understanding of this practice. We know, as mentioned above, it was taught and practiced in all the churches (I Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16).

5. The veiling speaks to a very important issue: the relation of men and women. Many problems in the family and society are caused by the divine headship order being ignored. God established the veiling to keep alive the proper order between man and woman. If this teaching was followed, God's order for men and women in the Church would not be ignored. This is not a trivial teaching but an important, serious one.

The third reason given by some for the Christian woman not to be veiled is that her hair is given as the covering, and no additional veiling is required. This objection has already been answered in Part II of this study, but it will be reemphasized here.

1. Paul uses two different terms for the word translated "covering" in the King James Version. In v. 15 where it is connected with the hair, he uses peribolaion. In vv. 4, 5, 6, and 7 it is katakalupto. This shows there is a difference between the hair covering and the veiling.

2. Plain reasoning tells us the hair is not the covering Paul wrote of vv. 4, 5, 6, and 7. Verse 6 reads, "If a woman be not covered, let her also be shorn." If her hair is the covering and she be not covered, she would already have her hair removed. It would make no sense to write about letting her be shorn. This would involve removing the hair twice!

3. In v. 4 Paul writes about man having his head covered. If the hair was the covering, this would involve taking off the hair during prayer or prophesying and putting it back on at other times. This is an absurdity!

Common sense shows that the hair is not the covering or veiling Paul is writing about to the Corinthians; he is writing about the veiling.

The veiling is an important Bible teaching that should be accepted in the Church today as an ordinance. We have seen that Scripture clearly teaches its practice. And it has the earmarks of an ordinance. The generally accepted earmarks of an ordinance are (1) there are definite words of institution, (2) it was given by divine authority by an apostle chosen by Jesus Christ, and (3) it requires a literal act to be practiced that has a spiritual significance. The teaching on the Christian woman's veiling possesses all of these.

Paul's concern for unity in the Church involved the veiling teaching. Christians today should heed his appeal to "speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you" (I Corinthians 1:10). Let us pray that all Christians will come to a greater knowledge of God's plan to keep the divine headship principle alive in the Church through a faithful observance of this ordinance.


We have seen that God has established that men are to pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered and women are to be veiled when praying and prophesying. In Part II of this study it was shown that this teaching is for the Church today. The questions now to be discussed are "How is this teaching to be applied?" and "When and where is it to be practiced?"

The Scriptural Form

First, in applying this Scripture, one must realize that the veiling is a symbol of a biblical, spiritual truth. Therefore, one should expect its physical makeup to convey a spiritual meaning. Many have suggested that an ordinary hat is an adequate "covering." But this cannot be accepted since ordinary hats are not intended to be symbols of Christian truths and thus do not convey the spiritual principles of divine order taught in this passage.

When other New Testament ordinances are considered, one can see that a special form of the covering is required, one that is worn only to fulfill the requirements of this passage. Just as baptism is not simply getting wet with water or communion is not just eating bread or drinking, so the covering is not just a physical covering. When one does a physical activity that is the same as that done in observing an ordinance, he is not necessarily observing the ordinance. The activity must be done specifically to show the ordinance's spiritual truths. Thus the "covering" must be something that is worn only for the purpose of being a symbol of woman's subordination to man. It must be designated for the purpose of showing the divine order. A protective covering or a stylish hat do not meet this requirement.

It is appropriate that the form of the veiling be defined by the church. As with the other Christian ordinances and teachings, the exact form of the veiling is not given in the Bible. But the Church can find some general guidelines on the form of the veiling in Paul's teaching on it. In vv. 4 and 5 Paul uses the Greek term katakalupto. This word, as stated earlier in this study, is a compound one, composed of kata, meaning "down," and of kalalupto, meaning "to cover up." This "hanging down" covering is perhaps best described in English by the word "veiling." From this one would expect the veiling to adequately cover the head.

The term veiling has been used throughout this study. It is a better term than the term covering. Its use helps to avoid the confusion in some minds that the hair or a hat will serve the purpose in this passage. It also has more of a symbolic religious connotation.

We can also get indications on the form of the veiling from Paul's statement that the "hair is given as a covering" (I Cor. 11:15). The natural hair covering is used to show the need for a veiling. These two forms of the "covering," the one natural and the other artificial, should cover the same area. The Greek term peribolaion, translated covering in v. 15, indicates that the hair is "something thrown around one, i. e., a mantle, veil, covering." This suggests the hair should be put on the head. If the veiling is to cover the same area, the Church should specify a veiling form that adequately covers the woman's hair and head.

The form of the veiling has been defined differently by different churches in different parts of the world. Historically there have been two general forms of the veiling, a long veil that hangs down over the shoulders [13] and a close fitting "cap" type.

The Amish, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, and Mennonites have historically had a thin white veiling that fitted closely to the head. I believe this is adequate. As Wenger wrote, "The American Mennonite Church sees no other satisfactory alternative than to retain the chaste and simple European veil as the most suitable application of the New Testament command for women to be veiled." [14] This veiling form has value because it has been the recognized veiling. But the change it has undergone in the last one hundred years needs to be reversed if it is to come closer to the biblical and early Church style. This change would require it to become larger, having very wide covering "strings" that hang down over the shoulders3/4in short, becoming a veiling.

I would think Christian women in these churches should want to accept this historical veiling. They should not make changes to forms that may be closer to their own liking, which in the end make their veiling symbols of disorder in the Church and of individuality instead of divine order. They should accept the Church's historical standard and not become contentious or rebellious over the details of the veiling form. We live in an age where everything is questioned, and each one does his own thing. But this is not the way Christians should act. They should "do all things without murmurings and disputing: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:14).

The Scripture Times

The second area we would like to address concerns when and where the veiling is to be worn. Paul wrote that the woman should be veiled when she prays or prophesies (I Cor. 11:4, 5, 13). From this some conclude that the veiling should be worn only in the church worship services. But the wearing of the veiling should not be limited to church worship services.

As Lenski wrote,

It is quite essential to note no modifier is attached to the participles to denote a place where these activities were exercised. So we on our part should not introduce one, either the same one for both the man and the woman, for instance, "worshiping and prophesying in church," or different ones, for the man "in the church" and for the woman "at home." But omitting reference to a place, Paul says this: "Wherever and whenever it is proper and right for a man or for a woman to pray or to prophesy, the difference of sex should be marked as I indicate." [15]

The woman, as the man, is to be always in a prayerful spirit. Jesus taught that "man ought always to pray, and not faint" (Luke 18:1). This is emphasized in the epistles: "Pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17) and "continuing instant in prayer" (Rom. 12:12). Prayer is to be a frequent activity and not one limited to church services. The veiling is not a "church veiling" but should be worn whenever the woman prays. The fact that this is to be a frequent activity suggests a continuous wearing of the veiling; otherwise, she would be constantly putting it on and taking it off.

Furthermore, doesn't the Christian woman prophesy more in her home and in other areas of everyday life than in public worship? According to the Scriptures, "the women [should] keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak" (I Cor. 14:34), and "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 silent" (I Tim. 2:11-12). The Christian woman should not prophesy in a public worship service.

We must not think, however, of prophesying as an event that occurs only in public worship services. In defining the term, Paul wrote, "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort" (I Cor. 14:3). There is nothing in this definition that would limit it to public worship services.

Lenski's writings help clarify when and where this prophesying is to occur.

An issue has been made of the point that Paul speaks of a woman as prophesying as though it were a matter of course that she should prophesy just as she also prays, and just as the man, too, prays just as she also prays and prophesies. Paul is said to contradict himself when he forbids woman to prophesy in 14:34-36. The matter becomes clear when we observe that from 11:17 onward until the end of chapter 14 Paul deals with the gatherings of the congregation for public assemblies. The transition is clearly marked: "when ye come together," i.e., for public worship, v. 20. In these public assemblies Paul forbids the woman, not only to prophesy, but to speak at all (14:14-36) and assigns the reason for this prohibition just as he does in I Timothy 2:11, etc.

It is evident, then, that women, too, were granted the gift of prophecy even as some still have this gift, namely, the ability to present and to properly apply the Word of God by teaching others. And they are to exercise this valuable gift in the ample opportunities that offer themselves. So Paul writes, "praying and prophesying with reference to the women just as he does with reference to the men. The public assemblies of the congregation are, however, not among these opportunities - note . . .in the assemblies," 14:34. At other places and at other times women are free to exercise their gift of prophecy . . . The teaching ability of Christian women today has a wide range of opportunity without in least the introducing itself into public congregational assemblies. [16]

The veiling is a symbol that constantly reminds the woman of the importance of God's order. Although Paul speaks only of wearing the veiling during times of praying and prophesying, it cannot be concluded that these are the only times to wear it. It is not to be quickly put on when these activities occur and then quickly removed when they are over. The Christian woman should be willing to give her witness that she is aware of her place in God's order, not only during the public worship services, but at all times. That witness is clearly needed in our society today.

The principles of this passage are not drawn out of a public worship context but rather out of a creation context. Woman's naturally long hair was given in creation as a witness too. Since they complement each other, it will appear they should be worn at the same time. Since the natural hair covering is worn continuously, the veiling should also be.

A Consistent Witness

The headship veiling and long hair are inseparable. For Christian women to wear a veiling on top of cut hair is inconsistent. Both speak to the same principle of divine order and cannot be separated. One can hardly bear a positive witness to the principle of divine order by wearing a veiling and at the same time by having short hair, which witnesses against it.

Another area of concern is the wearing of hats. It would be inconsistent for a woman to wear a veiling patterned according to God's will and a fashionable hat that is patterned by a sinful society along non-Christian standards. Christian women should wear headgear that follows Christian principles and that can be consistently worn with the veiling.

A Christian woman who wears a veiling should also be consistent in the area of dress. The veiling should be worn along with simple and modest dress as taught in the Bible (I Tim. 2:9ff.; I Pet. 3:1ff.). Notice that these Scriptures speak both about dress and woman's submissiveness, that is, her place in God's order. The I Timothy passage speaks to the reasons woman is to be submissive, and in doing so it points to the same creation account Paul used in the I Corinthians 11 passage. The I Peter passage also speaks to an area Paul raised in I Corinthians 11, that of hairstyle. Woman is not to outwardly adorn herself with fancy "braiding of the hair."

In practicing the wearing of the veiling, it should go without saying that there must be concerns about attitudes related to the divine order. This ordinance, as all ordinances, is only a symbol of a Christian truth. Its practice has no intrinsic merit. For the veiling to be a blessing, the Christian woman who follows its practice must also live within the divine order. It is always a must to keep the significance of divine order and veiling together. The veiling symbol is to keep alive the proper relationship between man and woman. There can be no special blessing accommodating obedience to the veiling practice unless the submissive attitude to which the veiling speaks is alive and visibly present with the person. The blessing will come to the Christian woman who possesses the inner attitude that corresponds to the spiritual meaning of the veiling. The woman who wears the veiling and inwardly rebels and is "bossy" will find it of little value unless she allows it to bring about a change in attitude in her life.

In closing, we all know that too often twentieth-century mans disregards God's order. If ever in the history of mankind witness to God's divine order was needed, it is today. The Christian woman can be an effective witness to society by wearing the headship veiling as a symbolic sign that she has accepted her rightful place in God's order and wishes to continue to do so. She should not fail to take advantage of this opportunity.

During the last one hundred years, there has been a dynamic shift in the relation of man and woman in society, and there is almost a complete disregard of the veiling practice in professed Christendom. No new biblical discoveries have brought about this change; it seems to be just a part of the general falling away that has occurred. The language of I Corinthians 11:2-16 is not hard to understand. Most Christians generally agree with what it teaches. Too many professing Christians just do not follow biblical teachings in everyday life. They consistently find easy ways to explain them away. This reflects the state of the Church today and its attitude toward the Word of God and the importance of "obedience of faith."

I believe many Christian women would be willing to wear the veiling as the symbol of their place in God's order, if there was a change in attitude toward the Word and the importance of discipleship and obedience was taught. Christian women need to hear a clear voice of certainty about Bible teachings in these days of uncertainty and skepticism. It is time for church leaders to change their wrong attitudes toward the Bible. This will result in a change in attitude toward the divine order and the veiling. These leaders are largely responsible for the failure of modern woman to accept her place in God's order and the general breakdown of the "Christian" home in America. Present-day Christianity has become a religion of convenience and American culture because the Church has taken a similar attitude toward other Bible teachings as it has toward I Corinthians 11:2-16.

Those Christians who follow the veiling teaching should be encouraged to remain faithful in their "obedience of faith" to Jesus Christ. Their witness to and acceptance of the divine order is needed in these last days. These should receive praise just as Paul praised the Corinthians: "I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (I Cor. 11:2). They will surely receive a blessing for remaining faithful.

1 H. S. Bender, "An Exegesis of I Cor. 11:1-16," an unpublished manuscript in the Mennonite Historical Library, Goshen College, Goshen, Ind., p. 5.
2 J. C. Wenger, The Prayer Veiling in Scripture and History, Scottdale, Penna.: Herald Press, 1964, p. 9.
3 Bender, p. 7.
4 R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretations of I and II Corinthians, Columbus, Ohio: Wartburg Press, 1946, pp.339, 440.
5 Bender, p. 14.
6 Sanford G. Shetler, Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, 55. A.D., Harrisonburg, Va.: Christian Light, p. 93.
7 Paul M. Miller, The Prayer Veiling, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, 1953, p. 11.
8 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: . . . Greek Dictionary, New York: Abingdon, p. 57.
9 Charles Erdman, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, p. 97.
10 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 168.
11 Lenski, p. 439.
12 Shetler, p. 80.
13 See Andre Grabar, Early Christian Art, New York: Odyssey Press, 1968. pp. 58, 68, 100, 119, 120, 210, 211.
15 Lenski, pp. 436, 437.
16 Lenski, pp. 436, 437.

from The Christian Veiling, © copyright 1996 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.


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June 22, 2000