I. Head Coverings
Barnes’ Summary of Verses 1 to 15; Verse 16 from Calvin’s Commentary
…It seems probable that some of the women who, on pretense of being inspired, had prayed or prophesied in the Corinthian church, had cast off their veils after the manner of the pagan priestesses. This indecent and improper custom the apostle reproves. He observes, therefore, that the pre-eminence belongs to man over the woman, even as pre-eminence belonged to Christ over the man; that it was a dishonor to Christ when a man prayed or prophesied with his head covered, and in like manner it was regarded everywhere as dishonorable and improper for a woman to lay aside the appropriate symbol of her sex, and the emblem of subordination, and to be uncovered in the presence of the man (1 Corinthians 11:3-5); that if a woman was not veiled, if she laid aside the appropriate emblem of her sex and of her subordinate condition, she might as well part with her hair, which all knew would be dishonorable and improper (1 Corinthians 11:6); that the woman had been created for a subordinate station, and should observe it (1 Corinthians 11:7-9); that she should have [authority] on her head because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10); and yet, lest this should depress her, and seem to convey the idea of her utter inferiority and unimportance, he adds, that in the plan of salvation they are in many respects on an equality with the man, that the same plan was adapted to both, that the same blessings are appointed for both sexes, and the same high hopes are held out to both (1 Corinthians 11:11-12); and that nature on this subject was a good instructor, and showed that it was uncomely for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, that her hair had been given her for an ornament and for beauty, and that, as it would be as improper for her to remove her veil as to cut off her hair, nature itself required that this symbol of her subordination should be laid aside in public, (1 Corinthians 11:13-16)…
Verse 1: Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of the Messiah.
… This verse belongs to the previous chapter, and should not have been separated from it. It is the close of the discussion there…
Verse 2: Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
Now I praise you, brethren –
Paul always chose to commend Christians when it could be done, and never seemed to suppose that such praise would be injurious to them. See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:4-5. On this occasion he was the more ready to praise them as far as it could be done, because there were some things in regard to them in which he would have occasion to reprove them.
That ye remember me in all things –
That you are disposed to regard my authority and seek my direction in all matters pertaining to the good order of the church. There can be little doubt that they had consulted him in their letter (1 Corinthians 7:1) about the proper manner in which a woman ought to demean herself if she was called upon, under the influence of divine inspiration, to utter anything in public. The question seems to have been, whether, since she was inspired, it was proper for her to retain the marks of her inferiority of rank, and remain covered; or whether the fact of her inspiration did not release her from that obligation, and make it proper that she should lay aside her veil, and appear as public speakers did among people. To this the apostle refers, probably, in the phrase “all things,” that even in matters of this kind, pertaining to the good order of the church, they were disposed to regard his authority.
And keep the ordinances –
Margin, “Traditions” (τὰς παραδώσεις tas paradōseis)
The word does not refer to anything that had been delivered down from a former generation, or from former times, as the word “tradition” now usually signifies; but it means that which had been “delivered to them (παραδίδωμι paradidōmi); that is, by the apostles.” The apostles had “delivered” to them certain doctrines, or rules, respecting the good order and the government of the church; and they had in general observed them, and were disposed still to do it. For this disposition to regard his authority, and to keep what he had enjoined, he commends them. He proceeds to specify what would be proper in regard to the particular subject on which they had made inquiry.
Verse 3: But I would have you know, that the head of every man is the Messiah; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of the Messiah is God.
But I would have you know –
“I invite your attention particularly to the following considerations, in order to form a correct opinion on this subject.” Paul does not at once answer the inquiry, and determine what ought to be done; but he invites their attention to a series of remarks on the subject, which led them to draw the conclusion which he wished to establish. The phrase here is designed to call the attention to the subject, like that used so often in the New Testament, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
That the head –
The word “head,” in the Scriptures, is designed often to denote “master, ruler, chief.” The word ראשׁ ro’sh is often thus used in the Old Testament; see Numbers 17:3; Numbers 25:15; Deuteronomy 28:13, Deuteronomy 28:44; Judges 10:18; Judges 11:8, Judges 11:11; 1 Samuel 15:17; 2 Samuel 22:44. In the New Testament the word is used in the sense of Lord, ruler, chief, in Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 2:10. Here it means that Christ is the ruler, director, or Lord of the Christian man. This truth was to be regarded in all their feelings and arrangements, and was never to be forgotten. Every Christian should recollect the relation in which he stands to him, as one that is suited to produce the strictest decorum, and a steady sense of subordination.
Of every man –
Every Christian. All acknowledge Christ as their Ruler and Master. They are subject to him; and in all proper ways recognize their subordination to him.
And the head of the woman is the man –
The sense is, she is subordinate to him, and in all circumstances—in her demeanor, her dress, her conversation, in public and in the family circle—should recognize her subordination to him. The particular thing here referred to is, that if the woman publicly speaks in the Assembly—praying or prophesying—she should by no means lay aside the usual and proper symbol of her subordination. The danger was, that those who were under the influence of inspiration would regard themselves as freed from the necessity of recognizing that, and would lay aside the “veil,” the usual and appropriate symbol of their occupying a rank inferior to the man. This was often done in the temples of the pagan deities by the priestesses, and it would appear also that it had been done by Christian females in the churches.
And the head of Christ is God –
Christ, as Mediator, has consented to assume a subordinate rank, and to recognize God the Father as superior in office. Hence, he was obedient in all things as a Son; he submitted to the arrangement required in redemption; he always recognized his subordinate rank as Mediator, and always regarded God as the supreme Ruler, even in the matter of redemption. The sense is, that Christ, throughout his entire work, regarded himself as occupying a subordinate station to the Father; and that it was proper from his example to recognize the propriety of rank and station everywhere.
[Notice that Barnes used past tense language since he was a Trinitarian. However, the text has present tense. The Son of God is still subordinate to the Father, as evident in this passage, speaking of the Father: “And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).]
Verse 4: Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.
Verse 5: But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth –
In the Old Testament prophetesses are not unfrequently mentioned. Thus, Miriam is mentioned Exodus 15:20; Deborah Judges 4:4; Huldah 2 Kings 22:14; Noadiah Nehemiah 6:14. So also in the New Testament Anna is mentioned as a prophetess; Luke 2:36. That there were females in the early Christian church who corresponded to those known among the Jews in some measure as endowed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cannot be doubted … Their example is no warrant now for females to take part in the public services of worship, unless they also give evidence that they are under the influence of inspiration, and the more especially as the apostle Paul has expressly forbidden their becoming public teachers; 1 Timothy 2:12.
[In the Assembly, that is. Women can be pastors, evangelists, or Bible workers to those outside the Assembly, but they are not to teach men in the Assembly service since that would be exercising authority over them. Part of the importance of studying this subject of head coverings is to understand a woman’s role in the church, which was well understood in the days of widespread head coverings. It is remarkable that a woman’s role in church changed as head coverings were changing and being discarded. As the symbol left, the significance of what was symbolized left, thus God’s order, and spirituality departed from the church with it. Older women can teach and instruct younger women in the Assembly (see Titus 2:3-5), but she is not to usurp the teaching authority of men; doing so influences people to disregard also the headship of God and of the Messiah, with God’s order being broken.]
If it is now pled, from this example, that women should speak and pray in public, yet it should be just so far only as this example goes, and it should be only when they have the qualifications that the early “prophetesses” had in the Christian church. If there are any such; if any are directly inspired by God, there then will be an evident propriety that they should publicly proclaim the will, and not till then…
With her head uncovered –
That is, with the veil removed which she usually wore. It would seem from this that the women removed their veils, and wore their hair disheveled, when they pretended to be under the influence of divine inspiration. This was the case with the pagan priestesses; and in so doing, the Christian women imitated them. On this account, if on no other, Paul declares the impropriety of this conduct. It was, besides, a custom among ancient females, and one that was strictly enjoined by the traditional laws of the Jews, that a woman should not appear in public unless she were veiled. See this proved by Lightfoot in loco.
Dishonoureth her head
For that is even all one as if she were shaven –
As if her long hair, which nature teaches her she should wear for a veil (1 Corinthians 11:15, margin,) should be cut off. Long hair is, by the custom of the times, and of nearly all countries, a mark of the sex, an ornament of the female, and judged to be beautiful and comely. To remove that is to appear, in this respect, like the other sex, and to lay aside the badge of her own. This, says Paul, all would judge to be improper. You yourselves would not allow it. And yet to lay aside the veil—the appropriate badge of the sex, and of her sense of subordination—would be an act of the same kind…
Verse 6: 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.
For if the woman be not covered –
If her head be not covered with a veil.
Let her also be shorn –
Let her long hair be cut off. Let her lay aside all the usual and proper indications of her sex and rank in life. If it is done in one respect, it may with the same propriety be done in all.
But if it be a shame –
If custom, nature, and habit; if the common and usual feelings and views among people would pronounce this to be a shame, the other would be pronounced to be a shame also by the same custom and common sense of people.
Let her be covered –
With a veil. Let her wear the customary attire indicative of modesty and a sense of subordination. Let her not lay this aside even on any pretence of religion.
Verse 7: For a man indeed is not obligated to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of GOD: but the woman is the glory of the man;
For a man indeed is not obligated to cover his head –
That is, with a veil; or in public worship; when he approaches God, or when in His name he addresses his fellow man. It is not fit and proper that he should be covered. The reason why it is not proper, the apostle immediately states.
Forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God –
The phrase “the image of God” refers to the fact that man was made in the likeness of his Maker Genesis 1:27; and proves that, though fallen, there is a sense in which he is still the image of God. It is not because man is truly or pure, and thus resembles his Creator; but it evidently is because he was invested by his Maker with authority and dominion; he was superior to all other creatures; Genesis 1:28. This is still retained; and this the apostle evidently refers to in the passage before us, and this he says should be recognized and regarded. If he wore a veil or turban, it would be a mark of servitude or inferiority. It was therefore improper that he should appear in this manner; but he should be so clad as not to obscure or hide the great truth that he was the direct representative of God on the earth, and had a superiority to all other creatures.
And glory of God –
The word “glory” in the classic writers means:
(1) Opinion, sentiment, etc.;
(2) fame, reputation.
Here it means, as it often does, splendor, brightness, or that which stands forth to “represent” God, or by which the glory of God is known. Man was created first; he had dominion given him; by him, therefore, the divine authority and wisdom first shone forth; and this fact should be recognized in the due subordination of rank, and even in the apparel and attire which shall be worn. The impression of his rank and superiority should be everywhere retained.
But the woman is the glory of the man –
The honor, the ornament, etc. She was made for him; she was made after he was; she was taken from him, and was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.” All her comeliness, loveliness, and purity are therefore an expression of his honor and dignity, since all that comeliness and loveliness were made of him and for him. This, therefore, ought to be acknowledged by a suitable manner of attire; and in his presence this sense of her inferiority of rank and subordination should be acknowledged by the customary use of the veil. She should appear with the symbol of modesty and subjection, which are implied by the head being covered. This sense is distinctly expressed in the following verse.
[The whole passage has to do with headship/authority. Praying and prophesying in the Assembly carries authority with it. Women who had this authority to exercise over the men present still had to wear the symbol of authority on her head to veil the glory of man, since “the woman is the glory of man,” who is her head, or chief, represented by her physical head which she veils. Even with the gift of prophecy, the glory of man (humanity) is to be laid in the dust, so that God is glorified instead. But when man exercises authority unveiled, that means God is glorified, because his physical head represents His spiritual Head (the Messiah, and hence God, His Head).
It is shameful for the woman to unveil herself as to exalt humanity before God, or before man who represents God (except for her husband who alone may behold the beauteous glory belonging to him). She is to be veiled—not just her head, but her whole body; but the head is the most important symbolically, being where the mind and will are, and hence where submission and authority are both exercised.
But the “glory of God” is to be unveiled. What is the “glory of God“? Well, when Moses prayed, “show me Thy glory,” it passed before him, along with the proclamation:
“Jehovah, Jehovah Elohim: merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
Hence, the “glory of God” is His character. And what is it prophesied to do in the last days?
“I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with His glory” (Revelation 18:1).
This Angel represents the Lord Jehoshua, who says, “Come out of her, My people” (v. 4).
That is when God subdues the earth to Himself through man, through women. Man was originally told to populate and subdue the earth. It is all part of the great controversy—the Messiah and His Kingdom versus Satan and His kingdom, the battle between two world orders, one Messianic, one satanic. Woman is the help to the man for his glory, which ultimately is his dominion of the earth, but this glory can only be realized through her, who is to bear his children to populate the earth. Thus, his arousal from the beauteous glory of His unveiled wife is directly tied to the glory of His dominion of the earth through the children that come out of it who will accomplish the dominion. But this glory of dominion is for the greater purpose of the glory of His Head—that is, the glory of the Messiah‘s Kingdom, which consists of His people populating the earth in place of the kingdom of Satan which now occupies it. Satan seeks to either destroy children or win them over to himself at a young age, but eventually his occupation of the earth must end.
Why to men domineer and dictate over women? Why have some Jewish, Christian, and Muslim men abused their authority unto women? And why do other men do the opposite and not take up their God-given authority so that women feel they need to step in and lead? They don’t understand male headship. It has nothing to do with men being over women in and of itself. The foundational idea is man representing God on earth as the image and glory of God; and the glory of God is His character. “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Being a man is a high responsibility, especially if a man takes a leadership role, either ecclesiastically or civilly. He must always display the love of God in all of His dominion. He represents God on this earth because it goes back to men having dominion over the earth for the eventual purpose of the Messiah‘s Kingdom—the reason this earth and mankind was established to begin with. It is for this great purpose that women are to reverence men (including in wearing head coverings) and men to respect women, for she is the greatest being the servant of all above her (see Matt. 23:11).]
Verse 8: For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
For the man is not of the woman –
The man was not formed from the woman.
But the woman of the man –
From his side; Genesis 2:18, Genesis 2:22-23.
Verse 9: Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
This is a simple statement of what is expressed in Genesis. The woman was made for the comfort and happiness of the man. Not to be a slave, but a help-meet; not to be the minister of his pleasures, but to be his aid and comforter in life; not to be regarded as of inferior nature and rank, but to be his friend, to divide his sorrows, and to multiply and extend his joys; yet still to be in a station subordinate to him. He is to be the head: the ruler; the presider in the family circle; and she was created to aid him in his duties, to comfort him in his afflictions, to partake with him of his pleasures. Her rank is therefore honorable, though it is subordinate. It is, in some respects, the more honorable because it is subordinate and as her happiness is dependent on him, she has the higher claim to his protection and his tender care. The whole of Paul’s idea here is, that her situation and rank as subordinate should be recognized by her at all times, and that in his presence it was proper that she should wear the usual symbol of modesty and subordination, the veil.
[Paul repeats the same principle in 1 Timothy: “I will therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing; likewise also the women, in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety, that they should adorn themselves not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing piety) through good works. 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 in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (2:9-13). This has nothing to do with culture, nor even the fall, but the nature of creation. Headship was from the very beginning.
However, another layer of subjection was added after the fall: “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (v. 14). This is the reason for the shamefastness. The shame is in the her original sin of getting into conversation with the serpent, becoming deceived thereby, and then luring her husband into sin, passing it onto us all. We all bear corporate guilt as a result: “The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God. Jesus gave His life that He might unite the broken links to God. As related to the first Adam, men received from him nothing but guilt” (E.G. White, Letter 68, 1899).
The woman’s head covering shows the shame by covering herself, for nakedness is biblically a sign of shame. This acknowledges her shame—hence, shamefastness. The original sin can never be atoned. We all must face the penalty and die. Therefore, the shame is perpetual, and the head covering is a sign of us all that we are ashamed for falling as a human race. The glory of man (represented by woman) has become ‘ashes’ of desolation and ruin—which the same Greek word (aidos) for ‘shamefastness’ is translated to in the Old Testament. Ashes were used to represent bearing shame. But the West view shame and humility as weakness; it is bold and corrupt. We must not follow our culture, because since the French Revolution, it was designed to destroy us. Our only safety is in the Scriptures.
But wearing the symbol goes beyond just acknowledging our shame. Even more importantly, it is an acknowledgment of the covering of our shame. The righteousness of the Messiah is our covering. He is our Pesach (Covering) Lamb. And the outer veil that the woman is to wear thus represents the gospel—the mercy of God, in covering our sins. On the other hand, the man, not wearing the veil in the Assembly, represents the Law and the justice of God. When the body comes together in one place, then, the Law and the gospel are thus to be both displayed, with the male elders enforcing the righteousness, while the women display the mercy of God in covering our shame.]
Verse 10: therefore, the woman is obligated to have [a sign of] authority on her head, on account of the angels.
…The obvious interpretation would be, that a woman should have a veil on her head because of the angels who were supposed to be present, observing them in their public worship; and it is generally agreed that the word “[authority]” (ἐξουσίαν exousian) denotes a veil, or a covering for the head. But the word [authority] does not occur in this sense in any classic writer. Bretschneider understands it of a veil, as being a defense or guard to the face, lest it should be seen by others. Some have supposed that it was the name of a female ornament that was worn on the head, formed of braids of hair set with jewels. Most commentators agree that it means a “veil,” though some think (see Bloomfield) that it is called [authority] to denote the veil which was worn by married women, which indicated the superiority of the married woman to the maiden. But it is sufficient to say in reply to this, that the apostle is not referring to married women in contradistinction from those who are unmarried, but is showing that all women who prophecy or pray in public should be veiled. There can, perhaps, be no doubt that the word “[authority]” has reference to a veil, or to a covering for the head; but why it is called [authority] I confess I do not understand; and most of the comments on the word are, in my view, egregious trifling.
[It is odd that Barnes was so confused here. “Authority” simply is referring to the head covering as representing the authority that man has over her as her head.]
On account of the angels –
…The most natural interpretation seems to me to be this: “A woman in the public assemblies, and in speaking in the presence of people, should wear a veil—the usual symbol of modesty and subordination—because the angels of God are witnesses of your public worship Hebrews 1:13, and because they know and appreciate the propriety of subordination and order in public assemblies”…
[Perhaps Ellen White sheds some light here:
“In prayer we enter the audience chamber of the Most High; and we should come before Him with holy awe. The angels veil their faces in His presence. The cherubim and the bright and holy seraphim approach His throne with solemn reverence. How much more should we, finite, sinful beings, come in a reverent manner before the Lord, our Maker!” (Mount of Blessings, p. 106).
This passage is not so concerned with the headship of men over women, except in what that headship represents by man, unveiled, being the glory of God in representing Him, and the woman, veiled, representing the glory of man, veiled, so that God alone may be glorified, particularly in the setting of worship, which angels witness and assist in. Man alone—not women, not angels—can be unveiled before God, for he is the glory of God, hence representing Him before women and angels, and, through the Messiah, having the right to dominion, and hence rulership, over the earth. Also, we were created a little lower than the angels, so if they are to be respected in our assemblies, then the glory of man should indeed be veiled, especially in our fallen state, which should lead to shamefastness in the presence of unfallen angels. Yet, the symbology of male to female still applies. By the woman covering her head—the seat of decision-making power, or authority—with a head covering, she is symbolizing that she holds fast to the authority of her head—as in man—yielding to his decisions in civil, ecclesiastical, and home governments, conditional upon her obedience to her greater heads, the Messiah and God.]
Verse 11: Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
Lest the man should assume to himself too much superiority, and lest he should regard the woman as made solely for his pleasure, and should treat her as in all respects inferior, and withhold the respect that is due to her. The design of this verse and the following is to show, that the man and woman are united in the most tender interests; that the one cannot live comfortably without the other; that one is necessary to the happiness of the other; and that though the woman was formed from the man, yet it is also to be remembered that the man is descended from the woman. She should therefore be treated with proper respect, tenderness, and regard.
Neither is the man without the woman –
The man and the woman were formed for union and society. They are not in any respect independent of each other. One is necessary to the comfort of the other; and this fact should be recognized in all their contact.
In the Lord –
By the arrangements or direction of the Lord. It is the appointment and command of the Lord that they should be mutual helps, and should each regard and promote the welfare of the other.
Verse 12: For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
As the woman is of the man –
In the original creation, she was formed from the man.
So is the man also by the woman –
Is born of the woman, or descended from her. The sexes are dependent on each other, and should therefore cultivate an indissoluble union.
But all things of God –
All things were created and arranged by him. This expression seems designed to suppress any spirit of complaint or dissatisfaction with this arrangement; to make the woman contented in her subordinate station, and to make the man humble by the consideration that it is all owing to the appointment of God. The woman should therefore be contented, and the man should not assume any improper superiority, since the whole arrangement and appointment is of God.
Verse 13: Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
Judge in yourselves –
Or, “Judge among yourselves.” I appeal to you. I appeal to your natural sense of what is proper and right. Paul had used various arguments to show them the impropriety of their females speaking unveiled in public. He now appeals to their natural sense of what was decent and right, according to established and acknowledged customs and habits.
Is it comely –
Is it decent, or becoming? The Grecian women, except their priestesses, were accustomed to appear in public with a veil—Doddridge. Paul alludes to that established and proper habit, and asks whether it does not accord with their own views of propriety that women in Christian assemblies should also wear the same symbol of modesty.
[This verse is very important because it establishes the fact that it was commonly considered indecent for a woman to be in public without a head covering. We thus have evidence that the issue was that women were putting off their head covering to speak in the Assembly, making their heads uncovered; Paul was not urging them to put it on, since it would have already been on. Paul would not have made this question of appeal to them if it had not been the case that their own culture and senses were contrary to womens’ heads being uncovered.]
Verse 14: Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
Doth not even nature itself –
The word nature (φύσις phusis) denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. That which is universal we say is according to nature. It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among people. Thus, we may say that nature demands that the sexes should wear different kinds of dress; that nature demands that the female should be modest and retiring; that nature demands that the toils of the chase, of the field, of war—the duties of office, of government and of professional life, should be discharged by people. Such are in general the customs the world over; and if any reason is asked for numerous habits that exist in society, no better answer can be given than that nature, as arranged by God, has demanded it. The word in this place, therefore, does not mean the constitution of the sexes, as Locke, Whitby, and Pierce maintain; nor reason and experience, as Macknight supposes; nor simple use and custom, as Grotius, Rosenmuller, and most recent expositors suppose; but it refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right; a sense which is expressed extensively in all nations. showing what that sense is.
No reason can be given, in the nature of things, why the woman should wear long hair and the man not; but the custom prevails extensively everywhere, and nature, in all nations, has prompted to the same course. “Use is second nature;” but the usage in this case is not arbitrary, but is founded in an anterior universal sense of what is proper and right. A few, and only a few, have regarded it as comely for a man to wear his hair long. Aristotle tells us, indeed (Rhet. 1:—see Rosenmuller), that among the Lacedemonians, freemen wore their hair long. In the time of Homer, also, the Greeks were called by him καρηκομόωντες Ἀχαῖοι karēkomoōntes Achaioi, long-haired Greeks; and some of the Asiatic nations adopted the same custom. But the general habit among people has been different. Among the Hebrews, it was regarded as disgraceful to a man to wear his hair long, except he had a vow as a Nazarite, Numbers 6:1-5; Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17; 1 Samuel 1:11. Occasionally, for affectation or singularity, the hair was suffered to grow, as was the case with Absalom 2 Samuel 14:26; but the traditional law of the Jews on the subject was strict. The same rule existed among the Greeks; and it was regarded as disgraceful to wear long hair in the time of Aelian; Hist. lib. 9:c. 14. Eustath. on Hom. 2:v.
It is a shame unto him? –
It is improper and disgraceful. It is doing that which almost universal custom has said appropriately belongs to the female sex.
Verse 15: But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
It is a glory unto her –
It is an ornament, and adorning. The same instinctive promptings of nature which make it proper for a man to wear short hair, make it proper that the woman should suffer hers to grow long.
For a covering –
It is given to her as a sort of natural veil, and to indicate the propriety of her wearing a veil. It answered the purposes of a veil when it was allowed to grow long, and to spread over the shoulders and ever parts of the face, before the arts of dress were invented or needed. There may also be an allusion here to the fact that the hair of women naturally grows longer than that of men. See Rosenmuller. The value which eastern females put on their long hair may be learned from the fact that when Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt, was about to march against Seleucus Callinicus, his queen Berenice vowed, as the most precious sacrifice which she could make, to cut off and consecrate her hair if he returned in safety. “The eastern ladies,” says Harmer, “are remarkable for the length and the great number of the tresses of their hair. The men there, on the contrary, wear very little hair on their heads.” Lady M. W. Montague thus speaks concerning the hair of the women: “Their hair hangs at full length behind, divided into tresses, braided with pearl or riband, which is always in great quantity. I never saw in my life so many fine heads of hair. In one lady’s I have counted one hundred and ten of these tresses, all natural; but it must be owned that every kind of beauty is more common here than with us.” The men there, on the contrary, shave all the hair off their heads, excepting one lock; and those that wear hair are thought effeminate. Both these particulars are mentioned by Chardin, who says they are agreeable to the custom of the East: “the men are shaved; the women nourish their hair with great fondness, which they lengthen, by tresses and tufts of silk, down to the heels. The young men who wear their hair in the East are looked upon as effeminate and infamous.”
[The woman has two veils: her hair and her fabric covering. Could this be symbolic of the sanctuary which also has two veils, both an inner and an outer one? Only the outer one is to be displayed to the public. The inner one is only for her husband, for it is her glory—only to be displayed for her husband, that the marriage may be protected from adulteration from without; hence, the need for the outer veil. The inner veil, on the other hand, is to protect the marriage from within. That is, the woman’s head is to be veiled with her long hair, seen by her husband, showing that the husband is the head. If he does not stand as head of the home, protecting it as the house-band, the marriage and family will be adulterated from within, just as if the woman tries to usurp her position in the home, by bossing the husband or making major decisions without his approval.
In the heavenly sanctuary, the outer veil protected the sanctuary—which held the marriage covenant between God and Israel—from abomination from without. That is, only the Israelites, represented by the holy priesthood, were allowed the privileges of the covenant. The nations could not take part, as that would adulterate the covenant. As for the second veil, it protected the holy covenant from within. The high priest entering within once per year typified the final covering at the close of probation, which involves the true Israel of God having all of their sins permanently covered so that sin will not rise up a second time. Until that day, God, represented by His Ark and Shekinah glory, will remain veiled, even from His own people within the covenant, lest the covenant be adulterated with sin.
Also, the Spirit of the Messiah only shares His glory with one: His bride, the Assembly. The nations of the world cannot receive it, unless they are willing to become part of the glorious bride. These two truths are united, for the glory of God must be hidden from all of humanity, except from His Son, until “His wife hath made herself ready” for the “marriage of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7). But all the nations will have no part in the marriage, lest the marriage be adulterated.]
Verse 16: Now if anyone thinks to be contentious, we do not have such a habit, nor the assemblies of God.
[Barnes misidentifies the “habit” here; therefore, we quote from Calvin’s commentary, as follows:]
But if any man seem A contentious person is one whose humor inclines him to stir up disputes, and does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs — raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful—who do not yield to reasonings—who cannot endure that any one should be above them. Of this description, also, are those (ἀκοινώνητοι) would be singular persons who, from a foolish affectation, aim at some new and unusual way of acting. Such persons Paul does not reckon worthy of being replied to, inasmuch as contention is a pernicious thing, and ought, therefore, to be banished from the Churches. By this he teaches us, that those that are obstinate and fond of quarrelling, should rather be restrained by authority than confuted by lengthened disputations. For you will never have an end of contentions, if you are disposed to contend with a combative person until you have vanquished him; for though vanquished a hundred times, he would argue still. Let us therefore carefully mark this passage, that we may not allow ourselves to be carried away with needless disputations, provided at the same time we know how to distinguish contentious persons. For we must not always reckon as contentious the man who does not acquiesce in our decisions, or who ventures to contradict us; but when temper and obstinacy show themselves, let us then say with Paul, that contentions are at variance with the custom of the Church.
[Also, the apostles—the “we”—were men, whereas the “habit/custom” was the removal of the head covering, which concerned women, net men. And this verse begins a new subject: contention in general; see below what follows in Verses 17 to 19. Now, I will summarize the above commentary in my own words.]
Ten Reasons the Apostle Paul Gives for the Church Ordinance of the Women’s Head Covering
1 – Because it is an ordinance he has delivered to the church by his apostolic authority (v. 2).
2 – No head covering dishonors the woman’s head (v. 5).
3 – It is as shameful for her to go without a head covering as her hair being shaven (v. 6).
4 – The woman is the glory of man—to be veiled—who is the glory of God—to be unveiled.
5 – The woman came from man—originally from Adam’s rib—implying that she should be submissive and respectful to man by veiling herself (v. 8 ).
6 – The woman was created for the man, as his helper, implying, again, that she should be wearing the symbol of her submission to him, which is especially important in an ecclesiastical setting, in which the men lead and not the women (v. 9).
7 – “Because of the angels,” who are especially present at the Assembly meetings, bringing the presence of God, and who themselves veil (v. 10).
8 – It is not comely/seemly for a woman to go without a covering, especially when she prays to a higher power (v. 13).
9 – It is only natural for a woman to have long hair, which acts as her covering in the absence of a veil, like when she is at home (v. 14).
10 – If anyone thinks to bring contention over this issue, or any other, it is against the habit of the Assembly (v. 16).
A Very Important Testimony
The following is a testimony of perhaps the greatest revival of the 20th century, which involved practicing the head covering along with other reformatory principles of dress, though prayer was the main principle that brought on the revival, with the reforms being conditions of the revival. If you have not read it yet, we strongly urge you to read it.