The point here is to distinguish between the two sexes in the corporate worship environment, not in order to denigrate either sex, but rather with a view to honouring both, and in turn giving glory to God.
A Modern English Translation
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” -1 Corinthians 11:2-16 NIV
These are some of the most abused lines of New Covenant Scripture. There are many reasons for that; the male desire for supremacy (a desire to resist the female counter-desire to overthrow male authority [Gen. 3:16]), an inability to understand Jewish and Greco-Roman contextual social constructs, a misinterpretation of the Greek text, and of course the agendas of interpreters.
I have witnessed first-hand the manipulative folly of the male superiority espoused by certain faith community leaders, often based on this text, and in turn the overreaction of female members of the body of believers. In addition and due to the resurgence of Messianic Judaism, a number of Christian and Hebrew Roots leaders criticize the wearing of kippot (plural of the Hebrew kippah, a Jewish head covering for males a.k.a yarmulke [Yiddish]) due to their misunderstanding of the Greek text and the Hebrew parallelism utilized by Rav Shaul Hashaliach (Paul the Apostle [Sent one]), a self-confessed Pharisee (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5), and tallit (prayer shawl) wearer. A custom developed long before the first century C.E. I say this because there is a great deal of evidence supporting the first century Jewish practice of head covering in both public and private worship, and it continued to be the practice of Messiah following Jews in the years pursuant to their transformation in Yeshua. Head coverings have also been adopted into ancient branches of Gentile Christianity, giving clear historical evidence of the fact that early believers did not understand Rav Shaul’s (Paul’s) words (1 Cor. 11:2-16) to be an admonishment against male Jewish worshippers wearing head coverings.
This said, here is my translation of the same Greek text of Rav Shaul’s letter to the believers in Corinth. I have relied more heavily on dynamic equivalence in this case because formal equivalence lacks the ability to properly convey the idiomatic concepts present in the text.
Author’s Translation of Greek Text
“2 Now I commend you brothers and sisters, because you have remembered everything, both individually and collectively, which I taught you and you keep the traditions according to the way I gifted them to you. 3 But I want you to see that the origin of humanity is the Messiah, and the origin of woman is man, and the origin of the Messiah is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies having something (hair ref. v.14-15) hanging down over his head brings shame to his head, 5 but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, hair pulled up, brings shame to her head — there is no difference between her and a woman who has had her head shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, has her hair pulled up, let her also have her hair cut short; but if it is shameful for a woman to wear her hair cut short or to have her head shaved, then let her be covered, her hair hanging down. 7 For a man indeed should not have his head covered, hair hanging down, because he is the image and glory of God, and the woman is the glory of humanity. 8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man;9 and indeed man was not created for the woman but woman for the man. 10 For this reason a woman should exhibit privilege, power, authority upon herself, her head, because of the angels, divine messengers.11 Nevertheless, a man is not independent, separated from a woman nor is a woman independent of a man; 12 for as the woman was made from the man, so also the man is now born because of the woman. But everything is from God. 13 Decide for yourselves: is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God when she is uncovered, hair pulled up? 14 Doesn’t the way things grow (the nature of things) teach you that a man who wears his hair long (in an effeminate way) shames himself? 15 But a woman who wears her hair long brings glory upon herself, because her hair has been given to her as a covering. 16 However, if strife exists because of this, the fact remains that we have no such custom, nor do those called out who are of the God.” -1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (Author’s Translation)
I will begin by stating my conclusion. Then I’ll proceed by giving a concise interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
I believe this passage is best summed up by the scholar Kenneth E. Bailey when He writes, “It is clear that the issue is gender distinctions, not gender subordination.” This of course only solves one of the two misunderstandings I’ve already mentioned.
The issue regarding “head covering,” is best explained as a misinterpretation of the Greek word katakaluptō, which is from the root kata literally meaning, “having down” or “hanging down”, and in the context of this Scripture passage, refers to hair, as shown by verses.14 & 15 of 1 Corinthians 11. It does not refer to hats or other types of independent head coverings.
This of course makes sense, given that Shaul (Paul), a tallit donning Jew of the first century C.E. was not known for blatant hypocrisy. Like most first century Jews Paul donned a tallit in prayer. Add to this the fact that God required the priests of Israel to cover their heads with a turban (Shemot/Exodus 28:4, 39; 39:28; Vayikra/Leviticus 16:4) and we have substantial evidence for refuting a contrary interpretation. After all, spiritually speaking, in Messiah every believer is welcomed as a priest under the High Priesthood of Yeshua:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you might declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful, glorious, all existing light. “ -1 Peter 2:9 (Author’s translation)
Now that I have given you part of the finished jigsaw puzzle, let’s look at the pieces.
A Concise Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
2 Now I commend you brothers and sisters, because you have remembered everything, both individually and collectively, which I taught you and you keep the traditions according to the way I gifted them to you.
When Shaul says that the Corinthian body of believers (church) has kept, “the traditions just as I gifted them to you,” he is drawing on a principle of Torah, the idea of passing on sound doctrine and religious practices to others. He is also emulating (or, more likely given the time of his writing these words, the rabbis are emulating him) a similar practice within rabbinic Judaism where the Mishnaic and Talmudic traditions are intended to pass on a halakhah (the way we walk), a best practice in faith, a relevant cultural interpretation of Biblical text with a theologically practiced result. The importance of this as a foundation to what follows cannot be overstated. Shaul is about to present a halakhic precedent, one that his disciples in Corinth (be they Jew or Gentile) are expected to honour and pass on, that is, they are to practice these things in their particular social cultural context. This context of course applies to all the churches of the region as attested to by verse 16. However, we must not confuse first century Greco-Roman context with the cultural context of the present. The Biblical principles apply but the contextual halakhah (faith practice) may not.
3 But I want you to see that the origin of humanity is the Messiah, and the origin of woman is man, and the origin of the Messiah is God.
The Greek kephalē translated as “head” in this verse, can also be translated as “Origin, beginning, source,” and is essentially equivalent to the Hebrew Rosh, as in Rosh Hashanah (the beginning or origin of the year). In addition, the Greek words pas “every” and anēr “man” can together be translated as “mankind” or “humanity” as in the Hebrew adam. In light of this I prefer the following translation:
“But I want you to understand that the origin of mankind is Messiah, and the origin of woman is man, and the origin of Messiah is God.”
Having been directed to the creation story as a foundation from which we glean greater context, we understand that this means mankind originates from God through Messiah and woman originates from man in the order of the creative process. This does not denote subjugation, it is simply ordinal (the order of things). The last created is not least. In fact Shaul goes on to say in verse 7, that the “woman” is “the glory of humanity.”
If the superiority of the first things created were being addressed Shaul (Paul) would say (according to the creation narrative order of events), “The animals are the head of man and man is the head of woman.” (The Genesis 1 account shows clearly that animals were created prior to human beings) This is clearly not what is intended. He is simply showing that there is order to creation and that unlike the animals with whom we are not intrinsically related, men and women are not only ordered one after the other but also together after God. This is the foundation for what Shaul is about to say concerning public worship.
4 Every man who prays or prophesies having something (hair ref. v. 14-15) hanging down over his head brings shame to his head,
As I stated in the introduction, the Greek word katakaluptō, which is from the root kata literally meaning “having down” or “hanging down”, in the context of this Scripture passage, refers to hair, as shown by verses 14 & 15 of 1 Corinthians 11. It does not refer to hats or other types of head coverings. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the TaNaKh [OT]) uses the same Greek term (akatakaluptos) in the negative sense to show the retraction of hair, when translating the Hebrew parua (Lev. 13:45). Where katakalupto means “hang down” akatakaluptos means “pull up”.
Shaul also uses Hebraic parallelism throughout this teaching. This is a rabbinical style of teaching that in some of its elements mirrors Hebrew poetry with the repetition of ideas using different or similar terms in order to emphasis a singular idea or concept. One of the examples of this can be seen by comparing verses 4 and 14. In light of these facts I prefer the following translation of verse 4.
“Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair hanging down from his head, dishonours his head.”
It is believed that long hair worn in an effeminate way among Greco-Romans of Corinth at this time in history (obviously this does not apply to the Nazarite vow for Jews ref. Num. 6:5-7) was an indication of a homosexual lifestyle associated with various forms of pagan temple prostitution. Therefore, in order to convey the contextual cultural idiom we may read the text to mean:
“Every man who dishonors his gender publicly while praying or prophesying, also dishonours Messiah.”
This text does not, as some have said, rebuke Jewish men for wearing kippot or tallitot in worship. As stated previously, if that had been Shaul’s meaning it would have been a gross hypocrisy on Shaul’s part. Given that both tallitot and kippot were worn by Jewish believers of the first century C.E. Paul included.
The claim by some Messianic, Hebrew Roots, and Christian theologians that kippot were not customary prior to the writing of the Shulchan Arukh in the 16th century, is easily refuted by older texts citing first century instances of head covering among Jewish worshippers.
Speaking of a grieving Jew of the first century C.E. Nakdimon Ben Gurion (Nicodemus Ben Gorion) is quoted as saying, "that he went into the shul grieved, and, ‘veiled/covered himself’, and stood in prayer… he went into the sanctuary and "veiled" himself, and stood and prayed;''*
-Nakdimon Ben Gurion (Nicodemus ben Gorion) [the Nicodemus of John’s Gospel 3:1-9, 7:50, 19:39] as quoted in the Talmud Babvliy, Taanit, fol. 20. 1.
*This having been said long after the death resurrection and ascension of the King Messiah Yeshua. In other words, the Jewish practise of wearing tallitot continued to be part of the practise of Messianic Jews following the ascension of Messiah.
Jewish worship tradition in the first century required male worshippers to have their heads covered. Shaul (Paul) continued to practice a form of Pharisaic Judaism submitted to and illuminated by the King Messiah Yeshua. Paul says, “I am a Pharisee”, and not “I was a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6).
"a man might not stand and pray, neither with his girdle on, nor with his head uncovered; nor with his feet uncovered.'' -Maimon. Hilch. Tephilla, c. 5. sect. 5.
The TaNaKh (OT) itself is clearly the inspiration for the Jewish worship practice of head covering and the donning of tallitot, especially in grief:
“And David went up by the ascent of the mount of Olives, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.” -2 Samuel 15:30 KJV*
*See also 2 Samuel 19:4
It is worth noting further that even if the text of 1 Corinthians 11 refers to some sort of head covering, it does not refer to the head coverings of Jews, which were God honouring (Shemot/Exodus 28:4, 39; 39:28; Vayikra/Leviticus 16:4; 2 Sam. 15:30; 19:4), but to the specific head coverings used by pagan worshippers in honour of Greek and Roman deities ref. Macrob Saturnal. l. 3. c. 6. Alex. ab. Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 14. & 19. & 22. However, this is unlikely and is simply a polemic against the misinterpretation that sees the present text as referring to independent head coverings, it does not.
5 but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered, hair pulled up, brings shame to her head — there is no difference between her and a woman who has had her head shaved.
This verse is the juxtaposition to the previous one. The Greek akatakaluptos is the counter point to the Greek katakaluptō. If katakalupto means “having down” or “Hanging down” then akatakaluptos the counter term should be rendered “having up,” or “Held up” rather than “uncovered”, which is an unnatural translation at best.
Therefore, where the long hair of a man “hanging down” makes him look like a woman and thus despises his true identity, the long hair of a woman having been “pulled up” or “held up” causes a woman to look like a man and therefore covers her God given glory—that is her long hair (v. 15), a sign of her femaleness, which gives honour to her gender. Thus, the statement “there is no difference between her and a woman who has had her head shaved.” Because with her hair pulled up she appears to be male, just as a woman with a shaved head appears to be male. Appearance is what is being alluded to here from the beginning. Paul has stated clearly in verse 3 “I want you to see”. The Greek eido concerning understanding gleaned from sight.
Again, we observe this retrospectively using the cultural context of the time to understand what the first readers would have gleaned from the text. Obviously, neither long hair on men or short hair on women are considered to be inappropriate in our current western cultural style and context. The point here is to distinguish between the two sexes in the corporate worship environment, not in order to denigrate either sex, but rather with a view to honouring both, and in turn giving glory to God.
In our time this carries an implicit admonishment against the enabling of gender dysphoria, now mislabelled “gender identity” by those who promote the subjective morality of modern western society.
Based on the present Scripture (and numerous others) believers are not to enable or encourage members of either sex to entertain the false idea that their gender identity is premised on how they feel or think about themselves. Gender is clearly defined in Scripture as being confined to two categories, male and female (Gen. 1:27). Even where there are exceptions with regard to hermaphroditism, or where men have been castrated etc. The acceptance of the hermaphrodite or eunuch is an exception and not the rule (Matt. 19:12). Modern science agrees that gender is clearly defined in terms of XX chromosomes, female and XY chromosomes, male (https://www.livescience.com/27248-chromosomes.html).
6 For if a woman is not covered, has her hair pulled up, let her also have her hair cut short; but if it is shameful for a woman to wear her hair cut short or to have her head shaved, then let her be covered, her hair hanging down.
This verse affirms and strengthens the message of verse 5. A shaved head was a sign of shame in both the Jewish and Greek social, cultural and religious contexts of the time. (Some scholars also cite the possibility that certain female temple prostitutes were recognized by their shaved heads). In addition it gives a woman the appearance of maleness in that cultural setting. Thus, in the first century cultural context as it applies to the believers at Corinth, the text “if a woman is not covered, has her hair pulled up,” means, if she looks like a man, she might as well shave her head.
7 For a man indeed should not have his head covered, hair hanging down, because he is the image and glory of God, and the woman is the glory of humanity.
“Men should not wear their hair in an effeminate way when prophesying, because it makes men look like women and causes people to think they're practising a sexually immoral lifestyle. This takes everybody’s eyes off God, thus defiling the worship gathering. Which is sad, because as a community you’re supposed to represent the glory of God’s creation and give glory back to Him. On the other hand (a Jewish mode of speech), women should show that they’re the glory of humanity, (which is what I was getting at with my earlier reference to the creative order of the Genesis account), by letting their hair hang down, as a sign, and the glory of their femaleness.”
8 For man was not made from woman, but woman from man;
“For man didn’t originate from woman, but woman originated from man (because man was lonely and needed some help, a nezer, Hebrew, meaning a powerful helper.)”
9 and indeed man was not created for the woman but woman for the man.
The Greek dia, translated “for” here, can also be rendered as “because of.” This changes the reading of verse 9 somewhat:
“Neither was man created because of woman, but woman because of man (because he was lonely).”
10 For this reason a woman should exhibit privilege, power, authority upon herself, her head, because of the angels, divine messengers.
“For this reason a woman should have authority over her head, because of the angels.”
What is that authority? It is the sign of her glory in the created order as previously alluded to by Shaul (v.7). The sign of that authority hangs over her head, it is her hair.
The reference to angels is another reference to creation, which after all, is Shaul’s founding premise for this halakhic teaching. The angels are thought to have been created prior to human beings, this being inferred in the Bereshit/Genesis text by the compound plurality of the Hebrew Elohim.
A Rabbinic tradition (Yalkut Shimoni) claims that the angels witnessed the creation of the world. Thus the angels witnessed humanity’s crowning glory and the clear distinction between genders. Humanity’s worship of God as a relational response to Him was witnessed by angels in the beginning and continues to be witnessed by angels, l’olam va’ed—perpetually forever.
Even the angelic beings “cover” themselves in worship of God.
“Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.” -Isaiah 6:2 (Author’s translation)
11 Nevertheless, a man is not independent, separated from a woman nor is a woman independent of a man;
Put simply, we need each other.
Rabbi Simlai “said to (his students), 'At first Adam was created from dust and Chavah (Eve) from Adam; but from now on it will be "in our image, after our likeness" (Bereishit [Gen.] 1:26); not man without woman, and not woman without man, and neither of them without the Sh'khinah (the feminine light presence).' "
-Genesis Rabbah 8:9.
12 for as the woman was made from the man, so also the man is now born because of the woman. But everything is from God.
We rely on each other to act in the gender roles we’ve been given and all this brings Glory to God and reminds us that He is the Creator and Originator of all things.
13 Decide for yourselves: is it appropriate for a woman to pray to God when she is uncovered, hair pulled up? 14 Doesn’t the way things grow (the nature of things) teach you that a man who wears his hair long (in an effeminate way) shames himself? 15 But a woman who wears her hair long brings glory upon herself, because her hair has been given to her as a covering.
These verses draw together all the previous strands (pun intended), giving definition to the covering terms of the former verses. Here Shaul sums up by saying:
“We all know that it’s degrading for a woman of Corinth to have her head shaved, and it’s taken for granted that a Corinthian man with long hair is defiling his male identity. From a Biblical perspective, a woman’s long hair reminds us that she is the glory of humanity because God gave it to her to accentuate her gender when He created her. Additionally, God created her due to man’s loneliness.”
16 However, if strife exists because of this, the fact remains that we have no such custom, nor do those called out who are of the God.
From the beginning of this portion of Scripture Rav Shaul has been speaking regarding Messianic Jewish traditions passed on to the community of believers in Corinth. He begins by saying, “Now I commend you brothers and sisters, because you have remembered everything, both individually and collectively, which I taught you and you keep the traditions according to the way I gifted them to you.” (v.2).
To paraphrase, Paul is saying, “If you’re going to argue with this it will fall on deaf ears, because as a community of faith (ecclesia) we just won’t accept the misrepresentation of the genders in corporate worship.”
To sum up, we are to honour one another in our unique gender identities and roles, realising that we are reliant on one another. We are to refrain from manipulating our appearance in a way that contradicts or misrepresents our God established gender. We are to practise our faith in corporate worship in such a way as to protect other members of the faith community from being distracted by us, when the primary objective of our worship gatherings is to focus on God in Messiah, in familial connection with each other. We have as our example, the created order itself which came into being through the Davar[H]/Logos[G] Word, Essence, Substance of God Himself, Who is Yeshua the King Messiah, Imanu-El[H] God with us, a Jewish man.
© 2021 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.