Friday, October 10, 2008

A Question of Headcoverings - Part 2

The most recent post regarding headcoverings has garnered much interest, many comments and several e-mails. Thank you to all of you ladies who shared your thoughts! 

Through reading what was shared, there is an additional area that we would like to look at regarding this passage in 1 Corinthians 11 as well as the reason behind having any covering at all (whether it be long hair or a physical veil.)

The argument oft used against the long hair being the covering is verse 6 of chapter 11. In the NASB this verse reads “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.” 

The question that is then asked is: if hair is the covering, why would Paul say that a woman without her head covered (short hair) should have her hair cut off? Wouldn’t he then be saying “if her hair is cut short, than have it cut short”?

As before, it is found that the Greek texts (from which our English translations are translated) do much to bring understanding to this passage. We would like to share with you the key verses in this passage (1 Corinthians 11:5-6) in the literal translation from the Greek (taken from J. P. Green’s The Interlinear Bible):

But every woman praying or prophesying uncovered with the head, shames the head of herself, for one it is and the same with being shaved. For if is not covered a woman, also let her be shorn. But if shameful for a woman to be shorn or to be shaved, let her be covered.

(All of the Greek texts [the Novum Testamentum Graece text which is the foundation of many major Bible versions today; the Textus Receptus text which is the one we quoted above, and which is the foundation of the King James Version and the New King James Version; and the Majority Text.] read basically the same.)

In the verses quoted above, it mentions that an uncovered head while praying or prophesying is the same as being shaved and also that if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 

The Greek word from which “shorn” is translated is “keiro” (Strongs 2751) which means to shear as a sheep. 

The Greek word from which “shaved” is translated is “xurao” (Strongs 3587) which means to shear, shave with a razor; to get one’s self shaved. When a sheep is shaved, it is right down to the skin; in essence it is to be made bald, to be completely shaven. Being shaved with a razor also indicates complete baldness rather than simply short hair.

In looking at the words “keiro” and “xurao”, (the words that are in the Greek texts) and the meanings of these words, one can see that the translation in many of our English versions of the word “keiro” is not an accurate translation. They often read something like “have her hair cut off” (though the NASB reference Bible that we have also gives the literal rendering in the margin which reads “shear herself”). 

The King James Version gives an accurate translation of this verse that holds close to the Greek: “For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn”. Thus far, we see a difference between short hair and being shorn or shaven.

In the life of the apostle Paul, the difference between short hair and shaven is made clear also: Men were to have short hair according to 1 Corinthians 11; due to Paul’s Nazarite vow, he shaved his already short hair off. In Acts 18:18 – the Greek reads: "having shorn in Cenchrea the [his] head; for he had a vow.” 

The word shorn is translated from "keiro"—one of the same words used in 1 Corinthians 11. So Paul went from a position of short hair to being shaven/shorn. It is apparent that short hair and being shorn are physically two different things.

With an understanding of the words “shaved” and “shorn”; and if, as according to verse 15, the long hair and not a physical cloth veil is a woman’s covering, we find that the above quoted verses from the Greek are made clear:

But every woman praying or prophesying uncovered with the head [with short hair and not long], shames the head of herself, for one it is and the same with being shaved [shorn as a sheep; bald]. For if is not covered a woman [does not have long hair, but has short hair], also let her be shorn [shorn as a sheep; bald]. But if shameful for a woman to be shorn or to be shaved [bald], let her be covered [have long hair].”

As the “long hair instead of a veil has been given to her”, to pray unveiled or uncovered would be to pray with short hair (like a man's) instead of long . . . doing so shames the head of her.

But what is the purpose behind the headcovering (whether it is a physical cloth or long hair)? It is to show the attitude and condition of the heart . . . the beautiful quality and countenance of godly submission. 

As daughters or wives striving to serve and be obedient to the Lord, we must submit to our father’s or husband’s wishes and desires for us in this area (1 Timothy 2:11-14; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:5-6; Numbers 30:3-5). If our fathers or husbands do not desire us to, have not asked us to, and/or have not given permission to wear a physical cloth covering, for us to do so would be to violate the very reason for, or intent of, covering in the first place. 

And vice versa, if our fathers or husbands desire us to cover with a physical cloth veil, yet we insist that the long hair is the covering and follow this course, we are in rebellion and by our actions and heart, we would be denying the very purpose of covering.

As many have so wisely shared through comments and e-mails, submission is truly the heart of the matter. We can cover our heads with a cloth veil or long hair, but if it is against our father’s or husband’s desire, we are rebelling instead of submitting. And the Lord sees and knows . . . others may see the covering or long hair and think that we have submissive spirits, but “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

We encourage all of you ladies to ask your fathers or husbands what they would prefer or desire you to do. Do not force your opinions or beliefs upon him in an attempt to pressure him to let you do what you desire; but humbly ask, truly seeking to submit to and honor the one whom the Lord has placed as your head, as your authority, as your leader. 

For in this is the Lord glorified . . . as we follow the example of Sarah of old and adorn ourselves with submission, which is in part “the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4b).

-Posted by Sarah and Leah


  1. An interesting post, Sarah. You obviously put a lot of thought and study into your position on the subject. :D

    I have never actually attended a head-covering church, thought I have visited a church where all the woman wear hats during services (which is very interesting in itself!).

    And to clear up my earlier misunderstanding... I worked out that the reason I thought head covering was mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament was purely because I thought the first part of 1 Corinthians 11 was in another New Testament letter! I should learn not to comment on blogs when I'm sleepy and fuzzy-headed.

    Blessings in Christ,

  2. Thank you for commenting, Anna! We can well understand the little misunderstanding . . . we have done the same thing before. :) Thank you for explaining!

  3. Dear Sarah and Leah,
    Thank you so much for that post!

  4. You're welcome, Ashley! And thank you for the encouraging comment! :)

  5. Hmmm,
    I find it interesting that you do not mention anything about what the orginial Hebrew says.
    Did you know that the English translators, decided it was best to take the two words for covering, used in this text, and turn them into one word?
    Physical covering and natural covering.
    If they had been kept in their proper place, we would not have so much confusion over this text.

  6. Oops, I think I wrote "Hebrew" rather then "Greek".

  7. Thank you for your comment, Steve and Paula! We are working on a response and will have it posted as soon as we are able. Thank you for your patience! :)

  8. I apologize for the long delay in replying to your comment! I had written the below in response, but then the computer that it was saved on died, and we just recently were able to retract the files off of it. But at last it is here! And I hope that it helps to answer the thoughts that you presented. :)

    Thank you for your comment!

    There was no mention in this post of the differing Greek words for covering/covered/veil for several reasons. One, there was no intent of doing a complete exposition of this chapter, and also the differences in these Greek terms do not change the message that is being communicated by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. Yes, we could have penetrated Paul’s admonitions and instructions much deeper, but for reasons of length, this area was not addressed specifically. But it bears repeating, the context of the passage of Scripture in question, 1 Corinthians 11, was not changed by this omission in the series of posts on headcoverings.

    In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, there are five different Greek words that relate to either the covering or the woman’s hair (which is supported by the Textus Receptus, Majority Text, and Novum Testamentum Graece; which are from the original Greek manuscripts). The different words are as follows:

    Vs. 5 and 13 – akatakaluptos – not covered, unveiled

    Vs. 6 – katakalupto – to cover up, to veil, cover one’s self

    Vs. 15 – komao – to wear long hair, to let the hair grow

    Vs. 15 – kome – hair, head of hair

    Vs. 15 – peribolaion – thrown around, a wrapper 1. mantle 2. (as used in 1 Corinthians 11) – veil

    Let us consider the two that I believe you are referencing . . . Katakalupto (v 6) and Peribolaion (v 15). Yes, these are two different Greek words, and they are different in meaning and application. Katakalupto (a verb, not a physical entity) is the action of covering; while peribolaion (a noun, which is physical—a person, place, thing, or an idea) is in reference to the thing that is doing the covering. For example, this would be like saying “Cover your head with a covering.” Cover is the action of covering with a physical thing.

    In the Greek texts mentioned previously (as well as all of the major Bible versions: NKJV, KJV, NASB, etc.), there is nothing suggested of one covering being ‘natural’ and the other ‘physical.’ Neither do any of the definitions of the Greek words given in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, or The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament imply that one covering is a natural covering and the other physical. We need to be careful to not put into the text something that is not there, that is, reading our thoughts into Scripture.

    It is also important to recognize the differences between ‘natural’ and ‘physical’. Natural (in the way that I believe you are using it) is defined by Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as “Pertaining to nature; produced or effected by nature, or by the laws of growth, formation or motion impressed on beings by divine power.” While physical is defined by: “Pertaining to nature or natural productions, or to material things, as opposed to things moral or imaginary.” We see that the two are similar . . . something that is physical can well be something that is natural, and vice versa, something that is natural can be physical, too. And again, Scripture makes no distinction or implication in this chapter that one covering is natural and the other physical.

    If you have not already done so, I encourage you to also read part one of this series as it addresses different aspects of this topic than what this post did. Including briefly touching on the fact that the Greek texts read that the “long hair instead of a veil has been given to her”.

    I hope that what is shared here is a help to you, and that it addressed the concerns that you shared!