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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 11:4-6 Woman with her head uncovered

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, April 17, 2023

4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved.  6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and since it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

Jews and Romans had the practice of covering their heads when they prayed. Among the Jews, this covering was called the tallith. Roman slaves went bareheaded, but when they were set free, they wore a head covering with distinction. The Greeks had a different practice, which Paul describes here. Among Greeks like the Corinthians, the usual practice was for men to be bareheaded and for women to wear a covering of some kind. Paul uses the Greek practice to make a spiritual point about authority—an illustration he would not have been able to use with Jews or Romans.

Before he makes his application, he expresses what the Corinthians already knew about their custom. We should understand right away that the Greek custom was nothing more than that: a custom. It would and did change with time. But Paul used a temporary example to show what is permanent in God’s kingdom.

The custom was this:

  • A Greek man who prayed with this head covered was thought of as dishonoring his head. He was praying (or prophesying) as if he had given up his position as a man in God’s church and in God’s kingdom.
  • A Greek woman who prayed with her head uncovered was thought of as dishonoring her head. She would be praying, or attempting to pray, as if she had given up her role and position as a woman in God’s church and in God’s kingdom.

There is a long history in the church of assuming that Corinthian prostitutes shaved their heads. All of the evidence that has been discovered by research has shown that for the most part, this was not the case. Perhaps some prostitutes of the very lowest classes shaved their heads, or perhaps such women who happened to be prostitutes of the lower classes shaved their heads for another reason entirely, something that had nothing at all to do with their trade.

Therefore, when Paul says, “she should have her hair cut off,” he means that if a Christian woman is going to act in a way that is not feminine or womanly in worship (in this case, leaving her hair uncovered), then why cover her head at all and in any way? Why not just be bald on purpose, since she is behaving as if she is throwing away her role as a woman?

So, if it is shameful for a woman to act in a certain way in Corinth, and the women there do not violate the custom which is not even God’s will but something they impose on themselves by local tradition, shouldn’t women be even more willing to embrace the role God had in mind for them since Creation?

By dishonoring her head, a woman dishonored three heads: First, her own (for it should be kept covered). Second, her husband as head of their marriage (her covered head showed respect for his authority and position as her marital head). And third, her Lord Jesus, who is head of all. When we submit to those in authority over us in life out of love and submission to Christ, we show our faith, and in this way we lead others by example. A woman, therefore, becomes a leader of other women and girls by taking the lead in submission. She has the opportunity to be an excellent example for them. In Corinth, this included covering her head in worship.

This is as far as Paul goes in these verses. But we might also take the time to notice what the Law of Moses says: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear woman’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this” (Deuteronomy 22:5). The God-created differences between men and women are not to be disregarded. Sex with one’s own gender is forbidden throughout the Bible (Leviticus 18:22; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In Moses’ day this was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:13). Today God leaves the penalty up to governments under the Fourth Commandment, so that by the time Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted of sodomy in 1895, the penalty was two years hard labor in prison (although he was mostly granted solitary confinement instead). Today there is no longer any human penalty in most countries, but God says: “they have received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion” (Romans 1:27). This might be a reference to sexually transmitted infections or diseases, or that the impulses no longer become a choice but an uncontrollable habit leading to walking in an unrepentant sin and therefore eternal damnation, as with the men of Sodom (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 1:7). This does not mean that a woman in our present culture cannot wear jeans, or that a man in a Gaelic culture cannot wear a kilt for a ceremony. But to abandon the marks of one’s gender is as shameful as abandoning one’s gender. Therefore men and women should embrace and cherish the roles God has given to them. In whatever way a culture shows these things, men and women have the means to show their faith when others flaunt their unbelief.

Who can find a heroic wife?
She is far more precious than jewels.
Her husband’s heart trusts in her,
and he lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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