1 Corinthians and Head Coverings—What Is Paul Really Saying Here?

1 Corinthians 11:1–16, On head coverings for men and women. In Hebraic biblical culture, it was common for a married (or betrothed) woman to wear a veil or head covering to indicate that she was taken sexually or belonged to a man, even as a wedding ring now publicly telegraphs this idea.

At the same time, the Bible nowhere forbids men from wearing hats. It was common in biblical times for men and women to wear head coverings to protect themselves from the weather, since many of their activities occurred outdoors. In fact, the Torah commands the Levites to wear head coverings (like turbans) while ministering in the tabernacle. The Levitical priesthood no longer exists, and the Melchizedek priesthood is now in operational and includes both male and female saints, so the Levitical dress requirements are no longer applicable. Whether a man wears a head covering now while ministering is a matter of personal choice, for the Bible neither commands or prohibits it. So why does Paul instruct women to wear a head covering while ministering?

Similarly, the Bible nowhere prohibits men from having long hair.  If this were true, then the Nazirites with the Torah-prescribed long hair would have been in violation of Elohim’s laws.

To properly understand Paul’s comments in this passage, we must understand some cultural and historical context. First, Corinth was an extremely libertine and licentious city sexually, since it housed a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility whose worship involved ritual or cultic prostitution and various sex acts. This was socially acceptable and even a social requirement, and a source of revenue for the temple. Second, the Torah and Hebraic biblical culture were very strict about maintaining the distinction between the genders. Any blurring of the lines was forbidden. This is why the Torah forbids crossdressing or one gender wearing the clothes pertaining to the other gender. These two contextual points must be considered when reading Paul’s instructions in this chapter. In other words, men were not to wear veils that covered their faces, while women were to either have long hair or to have head coverings as expressions of their feminity. A study of the Greek words in this chapter bear out this explanation.

With the cultural context in view, Paul was likely prescribing dictums for the Corinthians saints that would help to clearly maintain the distinctions between male and female in accordance with the Torah light and in light of the sexual immorality occurring in the city. For example, temple prostitutes would cross dress to snare people unwittingly into same sex liaisons.

There may be some other spiritual issues that Paul was addressing as well as Dr. Michael Heiser points out in his book, Reversing Hermon. There is historical evidence that the ancient Greek medical experts associated a woman’s hair with her genitalia and her ability to conceive children, and that her hair was viewed as the counterpart to a man’s testicles. At the same time, the Bible is very clear that genitalia is to be covered while one is ministering to Elohim (Exod 20:26; 28:42–43 cp. Isa 6:2), and bodily discharges that proceeded from that area of the human anatomy was considered unclean thus making one unacceptable to YHVH (Lev 15:2, 19; Ibid. page 133). Modesty and cleanliness were the operative issues here when coming into the presence of Elohim. As such, a woman wearing a head covering while engaged in ministry (praying and prophesying or preaching) in the congregation was an issue of modesty and propriety (Ibid. p 135). Heiser goes on to address the meaning of Paul’s curious statement in 1 Cor 11:10, that a woman’s head needs to be covered “because of the angels.” What on earth is Paul talking about here? What piece of information are we missing to help us to understand this enigmatic statement? Heiser explains,

Paul wanted women to have their heads covered as a sign that they were sexually taken, that they belonged to a man, their husbands. Why? Because of the angels. Apparently, Paul was concerned  that if women didn’t show this sign of sexual fidelity and “ownership,” a woman could be at risk of sexual violation by angels. After all, it happened before (Gen 6:1–4). Paul didn’t want to see such a violation of cosmic order happen again (Ibid. page 135).

Biblical author, Gary Wayne, in his book The Genesis 6 Conspiracy, approaches the issue of woman and head coverings from a slightly different angle, while at the same time keeping Heiser’s view in mind. He suggests that since in the context of women’s head coverings, Paul makes the point that the woman came from man and not man from woman (1 Cor 11:8–9), for this reason and because of the angels women need to have a sign of authority on her head (v. 10). “The New Testament is recognizing that without a seal of authority, women are fair game for angels, at least for the misguided fallen angels [or demons].” This was the opinion of the early church father Tertullianus (A.D. 160–230)  who instructed women  to wear veils not to entice the dark angels who loved women because of their beautiful hair (Ibid. p. 18). If this is correct, then a woman who wears a head covering will be less likely to suffer from spiritual demonic attacks that one who doesn’t.

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7 thoughts on “1 Corinthians and Head Coverings—What Is Paul Really Saying Here?

  1. Enigmatic, for sure. Strange and still lacking sense to me. Why would such a sexually violating angel be warded off by a head covering? If it is possible, maybe it is matter of the head – the mind – thoughts, cognitions – therefore psychological AND spiritual that a woman would be able to protect herself from this. If a woman knows she can be violated by such an angel, maybe she has the power to ward it off simply by mentally/psychologically closing herself off to such potential activity by choosing to and by her own outward act of putting on a head covering and keeping her head, her mind, “covered”, or better said, keeping herself set-apart to YHVH, and, if married, to her husband.

    Maybe, since, according to scripture, one can “resist the devil and he will flee”, and one can “keep your minds stayed on things above and you will not fulfill the deeds of the flesh”, then one can ward off, protect oneself from, block the evil works of the such angels. If so, then a woman (and a man, for that matter) should not just protect themselves and be set apart from such activity during their sleep when they could have a nocturnal sexual experience, but also when awake so they do not have thoughts, cognitions that, “privately”, “secretly” stray off the path of righteousness and into sexual immorality.

    But still, maybe it’s not only about matters of sexual fidelity, but so much more. Maybe it is also, ultimately, about submission to YHVH, maybe even as a married woman needs to submit to Him by trusting and obeying Him in voluntarily submitting herself to her husband as unto Him. Cannot such angels tempt mankind to not only sin and/or violate them sexually but also in matters of authority, and doesn’t a woman need to remind herself to be set-apart to YHVH and her husband, as well as to be a witness to others of her set-apartness while in public?

    And here’s another question. Whose authority is symbolized in the long hair and/or head covering? YHVH’s, the husband’s, and/or the wife’s over the angels?

    Also, why doesn’t a man need a symbol of authority?

    ” 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.”

    So many questions? Thanks for your thoughts, Natan.

    • Enigmatic is correct. As has been noted over the years, with the epistles, which are letters, we only have one half of the conversation. This means we’re missing much information. “Because of the angels” is an example of this. The common interpretations trying to explain this phrase don’t make sense. The best sense that I’ve heard that has biblical precedence, as much of a stretch as it may seem, is that somehow Paul had Gen 6:2 in mind when writing this. Despite the lack of popularity of the idea in the modern church, it was the prevailing view among the early church fathers until the time of Augustine and the Second Temple Jewish religious leaders and writers including those in Qumran that angels actually had relations with women in Gen 6:2. Peter and Jude seem to have had this mind when writing about it in 2 Pet 2:4 and Jude 6. What else are we to conclude without getting into wild speculations?

  2. Head covering as Paul explains is to offset cultural customs of the day among the Greek city states. Slaves and prostitutes had their heads shaved. The Romans would take both men and woman to have sexual acts. This was common among the troops and roman soldiers much like the enticing dress to provoke men in most cities. Their covering is just obvious which lack adequate covering. Streets in large cities are prey to this type of slavery. Male prostitutes were common among the Romans and all cultures. Archaeological sites discovered around the world in all cultures demonstrate this to be so. As for the angels mentioned they are two legged angels who minister in congregations. The book of Revelations clearly mentions who are the angels who minister in the Seven Churches of Asia. Revelation 1:20 The seven angels of the seven churches; Revelation 2:1 The angel of the church in Ephesus etc… Two legged angels have had sex with two legged women: Benny Hin, Jimmy, John F. Kennedy, Bobby K, Bill Clinton,… Thomas Jefferson, etc.

    • Your definition or explanation of “angels” makes the most sense of all things I’ve read pertaining to this article. Your entire explanation of slaves was spot on as well and the most logical.

  3. Regarding Jerry’s question as to why a “sexually violating angel [would] be warded off by a head covering,” I believe that they are not able to violate just anyone. They are still under laws and rules of God in the spirit world and can only act among men through means of permission, from God, of course, and from the humans involved (though there is obvious deception involved to get it). I see all the rituals of foreign religions as actually permission rituals for demonic entities to operate at individual and national levels.

    The head covering itself cannot protect a woman, but rather the type of woman who would respond in obedience is a woman who is rejecting the spirit of the age. Even a virgin who is not betrothed, can be protected by obedience to the Spirit of God and demonstrating culturally those things which show that she embraces modesty, and rejects sexual immorality, fornication, or even the appearance of such. The outward without the inward will not protect a woman, but the woman who embraces the Spirit of God internally will demonstrate it externally.

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