Some have been confused about whether women need to wear veils or hats to church services or while praying. An acquaintance once asked me to look into 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 regarding the subject of women wearing veils and local customs. This paper is intended as a brief, biblically-based, review of the subject, as well as hair.
1 Corinthians 11:2-16
As most of the confusion about this matter centers in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it is probably best to first list the NKJV translation of the passage:
2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 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. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
Reading this passage in NKJV English clearly shows that the context has to do with hair length and styles. Hair length is specifically referred to in verses 5, 14, and 15 and is clearly and directly mentioned. Although it may be inferred that verses 5 and 6 allows for the possible concept of veils, no veil is directly mentioned, nor does the context require that veils are alluded to. One simple truth is that a woman with short hair can be shorn and thus verse 6 does not require that a veil is being referred to. And verse 15 specifically states that a woman's long hair, not a veil, is given to her for a covering. Christian women should not have short masculine hair styles and Christian men should not have long feminine hairstyles.
And while long hair is encouraged for women, head coverings are not prohibited for them. And if a women is bald, that type of covering would possibly be required--but if she can have long hair, a veil is not required.
Of course, the New Testament was not written in English, as it was nearly exclusively written in Greek. It is my limited understanding that those who have a different interpretation than the Church of God has historically held are mainly basing it on how a certain Greek word, akatakaluptos, is translated. Akatakaluptos means uncovered or possibly unveiled and is only used in the Bible in verses 5 and 13 of I Corinthians 11. It apparently comes from the Greek words a (which is a negative participle), kata (which means according to, down, or against), and kalupto (which means cover up).
When Paul wanted to convey being unveiled (which he apparently did in II Corinthians 3:18), he used the Greek term anakalupto (combination of ana and kalupto), but this may have been referring to a masculine, not feminine, veil.
The Greek word for veil in the New Testament is kaluma, but it is only used in the Bible to refer to Moses' veil (II Corinthians 3:13-16). However, since the Hebrew words in the Old Testament for Moses' veil and a woman's veil are different, this does not appear to shed much light on this subject. However, what is clear is that there is no other Greek term used in the New Testament directly referring to a woman's veil (the only other term translated as veil in the New Testament has to do with a curtain). Thus it is not clear from the Greek that a woman's veil is being referred to in I Corinthians.
The Old Testament
There are no indications in the Old Testament that a woman should wear a veil to Church or when praying. In Genesis, when a veil is mentioned, it appears to be for the purposes of veiling oneself before certain men (24:65; 38:14,19).
In the Song of Solomon, two words are translated as veil--one that possibly appears to mean hair locks (4:1,3;6:7) and the other that apparently means veil (5:7). But in none of those verses does it mention praying, prophesying, or church attendance.
The only other verse in regarding a woman's veil in the Old Testament is Isaiah 47:2 where the 'virgin daughter of Babylon' (verse 1) is shamed (verse 3). The word translated as veil may mean 'locks' as that is how BibleSoft translates it. That would be consistent with Paul's comment that it is a shame for a woman to have short hair (1 Corinthians 11:6). Paul never said it was a shame to not wear a veil.
These verses in Genesis, Song of Solomon, and Isaiah appear to be the only verses in the Old Testament that a veil is mentioned (the other type of veil mentioned is a curtain-like object, which is a different Hebrew word, and it is never mentioned in the context of a woman's covering).
Each time a woman is mentioned in the Old Testament praying or prophesying, there is never a mention of a veil (i.e. 1 Samuel 1:10-13).
Furthermore, although the Bible mentions various aspects regarding holy convocations (i.e. Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 16) and the congregation of Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:1-8), the wearing of a veil for any woman is never even hinted.
Perhaps it should be mentioned in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 16:4-21 the high priest (who was always male) was told to pray and attend services while wearing head ware (see also Zechariah 3:5-7). Job wore a turban when he made judgments (Job 29:14). Ezekiel was told by God to prophesy while wearing a turban (Ezekiel 24:17-24).
But as the Apostle Paul wrote, there was a change in the administration of the priesthood after Jesus was resurrected (Hebrews 7:11-12), hence this would explain why true Christian leaders have short hair. Thus, in accordance the New Testament admonition that males NOT have their heads covered true Christian male leaders do not have long hair, nor do they wear headcoverings like hats, mitres, or veils when they publicly pray.
Paul and the New Testament
Paul, on at least one other occasion in the New Testament appeals to nature as proof of some doctrinal position: Romans 1:19-20, where Paul indicates that the natural creation should show people God's attributes and Romans 1:26-27, where Paul indicates it is natural for a man to have sexual relations with a woman, but not another man. On each occasion, it is to something natural that Paul is referring to. Since veils are not natural, a woman's hair length would seem to be the only logical reference to what nature is teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.
Notice also the following:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4).
The Book of Hebrews says to attend church services, and James seems to be warning against treating someone who attends services wearing something better than one who cannot afford such things-clothing was fairly expensive in those days.
3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-- 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. (1 Peter 3:3-5).
Peter seems to be warning about trying to make hair too fancy, if all women were required to wear veils, it would seem that he would have probably mentioned them there. Furthermore, since the women in former times were never commanded in the Old Testament to wear veils, this suggests that veils were never required.
With all these verses in mind, it does not make sense that Paul was installing a new rule about women wearing veils.
Many seem to believe that Linus of Rome first required that women should not attend church services without covering their heads. Here is a claims made by many Roman Catholics about him:
2. LINUS, ST. (67-76)...He made disposition for women to be admitted to the holy places and attend functions with their heads covered ...(Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 1).
Is that true?Here is some of what the Roman Catholic scholar J.P. Kirsch wrote in The Catholic Encyclopedia about Linus:
The "Liber Pontificalis" asserts that Linus's home was in Tuscany, and that his father's name was Herculanus; but we cannot discover the origin of this assertion. According to the same work on the popes, Linus is supposed to have issued a decree "in conformity with the ordinance of St. Peter", that women should have their heads covered in church. Without doubt this decree is apocryphal, and copied by the author of the "Liber Pontificalis" from the first Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians (11:5) and arbitrarily attributed to the first successor of the Apostle in Rome. (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).
In other words, Roman Catholic scholars admit that Linus did not do what the Vatican book says he did, and that this head covering statement was arbitrarily attributed to Linus. He did not make it.
In some parts of the world, woman traditionally wear head ware to church services. Unless they are intending to imitate some pagan custom, there is no verse in the Bible that prohibits them from doing so. If due to style, custom, necessity (sun/rain/cold), or tradition, a woman wants to wear appropriate head ware, this seems to be fine. It is also fine if she thinks she needs to as Paul wrote:
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Romans 15:1)
23 ... for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23).
However, should other women be required to do so who do not believe they should not?
No, as Paul also wrote:
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things…13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way. (Romans 14:1,13).
Wearing veils is a doubtful thing. There is no requirement in the Old Testament, nor any example, of any woman wearing a veil while praying, prophesying, or attending services. There are several examples of males in the Old Testament wearing head gear while praying, prophesying, and attending services--but not a single one for women.
The context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 in relationship to women is clearly hair. Hair is definitely and specifically mentioned. Although the Greek supports the concept that veils might be alluded to, this is only a possible allusion, not a clear requirement.
While Peter clearly taught, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), he also supported the concept that the leadership of the Church is authorized to clarify unclear matters (Acts 15:6-29).
Some have wondered if the Bible prohibits women from somehow braiding their hair. Here is what the old Radio Church of God published on this:
Peter wrote that women should not adorn themselves with plaited or braided hair, which, among the Greeks, was a custom in which costly jewelry and also wreaths were intertwined with the hair. The Bible prohibition of such a practice becomes plain when one considers that a woman's hair was given her to be a glory and an honor (I Cor. 11:15). The addition of costly or distracting and unnaturally bulky adornments took away from the natural and intended beauty God imparted to women. There is no scriptural prohibition against the use of a flower or other modest adornment worn in the hair. (Letter 902, 1960)
So, no, the Bible does not prohibit any hair braiding. The New Testament was warning about vanity promoting expensive appearance, not the wearing of a ring or simply braided hair.
More on that and women is in the article: Women and the New Testament Church.
Baldness and Long Hair
In modern times, there seems to be a resurgence in intentional baldness. By intentional, this mean shaving off all hair.
The Bible, of course, does not condemn natural baldness:
40 "As for the man whose hair has fallen from his head, he is bald, but he is clean. (Leviticus 13:40)
Yet, some wish to make themselves bald. This seems to be discouraged by the Bible:
27 You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19:27)
5 'They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh. (Leviticus 21:5)
The Bible does teach shaving of the head related to a Nazarene vow (Numbers 6:18; Acts 18:18), but the above seems to be related to the practice of various pagan priests to make themselves bald--though the Bible does not specify that.
Notice, also, something in Ezekiel:
15 "But the priests, the Levites, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer to Me the fat and the blood," says the Lord God. 16 "They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall come near My table to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge. 17 And it shall be, whenever they enter the gates of the inner court, that they shall put on linen garments; no wool shall come upon them while they minister within the gates of the inner court or within the house. 18 They shall have linen turbans on their heads and linen trousers on their bodies; they shall not clothe themselves with anything that causes sweat. 19 When they go out to the outer court, to the outer court to the people, they shall take off their garments in which they have ministered, leave them in the holy chambers, and put on other garments; and in their holy garments they shall not sanctify the people.
20 "They shall neither shave their heads, nor let their hair grow long, but they shall keep their hair well trimmed. (Ezekiel 44:15-21)
These are admonitions related to hair are that males should abide by now, and certainly females should not shave their heads bald.
It is my biblical understanding that a woman can be in the Church of God and wear a veil or other head covering as long as she is not trying to promote disputes over doubtful things. A woman can clearly be in the Church of God and not wear a veil or similar head covering. Even though some might conclude based on various interpretations of the Greek that veils may be the subject of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it is obvious when the entire Bible is reviewed that this is not the appropriate doctrinal interpretation.
The context of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is clearly hair, mainly related to women. Christian women should not have short masculine hair styles and Christian men should not have long feminine hairstyles.
There is simply insufficient scriptural justification to insist that women wear veils or similar head coverings to attend church services. Some may wish to believe otherwise, but that is not something they should be proclaiming. The scripture is simply not clear enough to require veils and the judgment of the Church on this matter should be sufficiently proper for those who accept Philadelphia era Church governance. Hopefully those who prefer to hold a different position on veils will understand that the Church's judgment on this matter is appropriate.
Thiel B. Veils and Other Coverings. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2004/2005/2006/2008/2012/2013/2014/2016 2020 / 2022 0818
Back to COGwriter home page