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1 Cor 11:1-16 Heads and Coverings

Another set of verses that need to be looked at are 1 Cor 11:1-16,

1 Corinthians 11: 1-16: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the teachings, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of a wife, and God is the head of Christ. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For “if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn”. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or her head shaved, let her cover her head. For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of man! For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. For this reason the woman ought to have authority over her head: because of her angels. Moreover, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man through the woman; and all things originate from God. Among you choose yourselves. It is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. Nature itself does not teach you that if indeed a man has long hair that it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman wears her hair long it is a glory to her. For her hair is given to her for a covering. But if one thinks to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

What does this mean? Let’s take it piece by piece.

“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the teachings, just as I delivered them to you.”

The teachings here are the things that Paul had taught them, and they are still following his teachings that he gave them, and haven’t changed them. He praises them for this. As taught in the rest of the New Testament, included in these teachings was that women were to participate in the church, and were saved just like the men were, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. They were encouraged to use their spiritual gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit, and to pray and prophecy, just like the men. They were to be included in the church, and participate, and both converted Jewish women and converted Gentile women were in church together.

 

“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man,”

Here the word used as “man” in “Christ is the head of every man” is “andros”, which is exactly the same word used in James 1:20.
“For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God”.
It goes without saying that the anger of woman does not work the righteousness of God either.

Also this is the same word used in,
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Jn 1:12-13

Here, it is obvious that those who become born-again are not born again of the will of a man, nor the will of a woman, but only by the will of God. It is clear that this word “andros” can have the meaning of either gender; it can be all-gender-inclusive. This is confirmed in the Strong’s Concordance which reads used generically of a group of both men and women and the Thayer’s Lexicon, which reads when persons of either sex are included, but named after the more important.

The phrase “every man” is “pantos andros” in Greek. The word “pantos” means “all” or “any” or “every”. In this verse, both “andros” and “pantos” are in the singular case, not the plural. In English, the plural would read as “all men”, but this is not the case used. The case used is singular, and so a more correct reading would be “all man”. This means all mankind, or all humans.

Christians as a whole, male and female, each individually do have Christ as their head. As such, this verse states that Christ is the head of every Christian person, male and female. And this is true for every Christian, male and female, equally, for we each call Jesus Christ our personal Lord and Savior, and each of us individually were called by God, and convicted, and had to choose to take Jesus Christ as our personal individual Lord and Savior.

Jesus Christ is not the lord of Christian men only. Christian women should not see Jesus as their husband’s lord, as some people misread this verse, but rather each Christian woman, married or not, should see Jesus Christ as their personal and direct lord, for this is the truth the Bible teaches. (Even among non-Christians, the Bible teaches that eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… women included…. although this passage does seem to specifically be addressed not to non-Christians, but to Christians in this life who do accept Jesus Christ as their Lord.)

“and the husband is the head of a wife,”

In addition to this, the man is the head of the woman. The words here for man and woman in the Greek are usually translated as husband and wife, and should be in this passage as well. There is no precedent for translating the words here as “the man is head of a woman”, but there is precedent in Eph 5 for translating this as “the husband is head of a wife” as Eph 5:23 clearly states this. There is no other statement in the Bible which states that the head of every woman is a man, and in the case of widows and orphaned girls this would make no sense at all.

There is nothing so complicated about the dynamic described here, and there is no conflict that a wife has Christ as her head and a husband as her head. An employee in a company may have both a manager and a president over him, and both are his head in this sense, yet there is no conflict. The same is true here in that the head of every Christian wife is both a man, and is Jesus Christ.

“and God is the head of Christ.
This is an interesting statement, because Jesus Christ is God. Here, the meaning is that God the Father is the head of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. But at the same time, Christians know the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Godhead, or the Trinity, which contains that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, and are all God.
This raises the question as to what “head” actually means in this passage. Leaving aside assumptions in English usage, let’s look at the Greek and the context to make clear the meaning of this word “head”. How is God the Father the “head” of Christ, in the same way that a husband is the “head” of a wife, and Christ is the “head” of all Christians?

The word here for “head” is “kephale” in Greek. The same word “kephale” is used in all instances. It is used 76 times in the New Testament. It means the head of a body 60x. It refers to Jesus as the head or corner-stone (first stone of a building) 5x, and to the head of the table Jesus was laid on in the tomb (versus where His feet laid) 1x. Of the other 10x it is used, 4 are in this passage, 1x is of husbands in Eph 5, and the other 5x speak of Jesus Christ.

Taking these 5x speaking of Jesus in order, I have underlined the word in question, and also the word “body”. First in the letter to the Ephesians,
“And hath put all [things] under his feet, and gave him [to be] the head over all [things] to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” Eph 1:22-23

“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Eph 4:15-16

“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh..” Eph 5:23-31

In Ephesians, the analogy or metaphor is used that the church is the body of Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the head of that body. In all of the above references to Jesus, the usage of the word “kephale” is like that of a physical head of a physical body; the head versus all the other body parts.

Next, the letter to the Colossians,
“Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all [things] he might have the preeminence. For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fulness dwell.” Col 1:15-19

“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Col 2:9-17

In Colossians, the analogy is again used that the church is Jesus’ body, and Jesus is the head of that body.

The analogy is furthered and expanded, to show that because the church is Jesus’ body, that as when He was circumcised, and as He was buried, so are we, and as He rose from the dead, so shall we, and that as he triumphed over principalities and powers (evil spirits) that he also freed us from them as well, because “the (church, His) body is of Christ”, who is the head of His body. It is a great analogy explaining how, because we are now the body of Christ, the Bride of the Lamb who will be as one with Him, whose Spirit is in us, His righteousness can be counted to us, in all He has done in order to redeem us, and how His victory is being applied to include us. Praise the Lord!

Summarily, every time “head” is used in referencing to Jesus and the church, it is with the analogy that Jesus is the head in a body, which is His church. This apparently was an analogy that the early Christians heard Paul use often, and were acquainted with. Like Jesus often explained deeper concepts with parables, here Paul explains a deeper concept with an analogy, which is God-breathed.

Take note of Ephesians 5:23 again, For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”
In context, it becomes clear that the same analogy is used between the husband and wife, as between Jesus and the church, which is that of the head of a body. In this analogy, the wife is every part except for the head; she is the shoulders, the torso, the arms, and the legs, of the body. The husband is the head; the eyes, ears, hair, mouth and nose of the body. In this they are two in one flesh, one body, but the husband is the head, and she is all the rest of the body. They are meant to work together, like one person, in which the head is intent of the safety of the body, and moves as the body needs to care for itself, while the body generally does what the head wants it to do, as long as it is able. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at this verse in 1 Cor 11 again,

“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of all man, and the husband is the head of a wife, and God is the head of Christ.”

Jesus Christ and all believers, male and female, form a body, and Jesus Christ is the head of this body, while all believers make up the rest of the body. In the same analogy, the husband composes the head of a body, and his wife composes the rest of the body parts. In the same analogy, God is the head of Christ,
“For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. Col 2:9
We know God the Father is Spirit, for “God is Spirit, and thosewho worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:24) And we know that Jesus said, “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (John 24:39) And the Holy Spirit is spirit also. And so while God the Father is Spirit, without flesh and bone, in His Son Jesus Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

So in every instance in which “kephale” is used so far in 1 Cor 11, it is used in the figurative way of this analogy of a physical body: of a single body composed of the head, in contrast to the rest of the body parts.

a little history, a little culture

“Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.”
To understand this verse it is necessary to know the custom of a Jewish man’s head covering. Jewish men would put a head covering on their heads as part of Jewish custom, to show their shame before God, as a way to show they were pious. As Christians, we can stand before God without guilt or shame, for we have been reconciled to him through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross. Therefore it is a disgrace to Jesus for a man to continue to carry on the Jewish tradition of wearing a head covering to show his guilt before God. That is pretty easy to understand.

Men were not required to wear a head covering all the time in Jewish culture, but only while praying or prophesying, especially in the synagogue. The average Jewish man did not wear a head covering while fishing, or farming, or laboring, etc. However, it was a different situation entirely for Jewish women.

“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For “if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn”. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or her head shaved, let her cover her head.”
A Jewish woman wore a head covering similar to a Jewish man’s, whenever she was out and about, and while she went about her daily work. Based on what Paul says here, a married woman found out and about without a head covering was considered to be a disgrace. And based on what Paul says here, it seems part of the extra-biblical Jewish traditions which had developed included that a woman found out and about without her head covered could be forced to have her hair cut short or shaved off completely. This is fitting with the culture of the community, and the laws and practices of the Jewish Pharisees at that time.

At this time a tradition had developed because of the Jews twisting the verse in Num 5:18 that says “And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head…” which states that a woman whose husband felt jealous but had no proof of adultery was to take her to the priest, who performed a ceremony, which included the priest uncovering her head, and her drinking some dirty water. This was a solution for a spirit of jealousy coming on a husband. The Jews added to this verse, and developed a custom of Jewish women having their heads covered, which became part of their Oral Law, which Jesus call “the traditions of men”. Some of these traditions of men were later written down in such books as the Mishnah, the Talmud, etc.

The history of this Jewish custom included the right of a husband to divorce his wife for simply going out without wearing a covering on her head. And a divorce under these circumstances included that she forfeited all marital property (her Ketubah) if she was divorced from going out uncovered. (The Ketubah was a mandatory standard practice that was part of getting a marriage, essentially a mandatory prenuptial agreement, and encompassed the concepts of paying her dowry as well as today’s concepts of maintenance or alimony.)

”In Ketubot (72a) we read as follows:

These are to be divorced without receiving their Ketubah: A wife who transgresses the law of Moshe (Dat Moshe) of Jewish practice (Dat Yehudit). And what is [regarded as transgressing the] law of Moshe? Feeding her husband with untithed food, having intercourse with him during the period of her menstruation, not setting apart her dough offering (challah), or making vows and not fulfilling them.

And what is [regarded as transgressing] Jewish practice? Going out with uncovered head, spinning in the street, or conversing with every man.”

“The married woman who uncovers her hair is transgressing assorted laws besides those involving Dat Moshe and Dat Yehudit. A woman’s hair is to be considered a “form of nakedness”. Thus, one is forbidden to utter words of prayer or Torah study while facing it. It is also forbidden to stare (histaklut) at a woman’s erva (nakedness). Therefore, many authorities conclude that it is prohibited for a married woman to uncover her hair because she would be the transgressing the prohibition of lifnei iver (“not placing a stumbling block before a blind man” – referring to any action which leads another to sin). Also, there are authorities who see uncovered hair as a violation of the prohibition of “not going in their statutes” which refers to any non-Jewish custom adopted for reasons of immodesty. According to this analysis, since hair covering was at one time accepted by non-Jews, we must view the move away from this practice as one calculated to lesson the bounds of modesty and, therefore, a gentile practice which Jews may not imitate.“ - “The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair” by Rabbi Mayer Schiller

In this case, the Jewish traditions of men developed into the cultural view that only an immodest, lewd, adulterous woman went around with her head uncovered. This is why Paul says that a woman without a head covering disgraces her husband, though Paul is just making a statement of a cultural fact at the time. In saying, “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head” Paul was not himself stating this cultural view was correct (as we will see later) but just stating that this was a fact in the culture of the time. This view that a wife having her head uncovered meant she was an immodest woman later expanded into the husband being pressured or required to divorce his wife if she went out uncovered.

You have a man who, when a fly falls into his plate, takes [the fly], sucks on it, and then throws it away and eats what is on it. This is an evil man, who saw his wife go out with her hair uncovered; or go out with her sides revealed; or acting crudely with her male or female slaves; or spins in the market; or bathes and sports with any man; it is a mitzvah to divorce her.” – Tosefta Sotah 5:9 http://www.jhom.com/lifecycle/marriage/modest_wife.htm

The word “mitzvah” has the meaning of “A commandment of the Jewish law, The fulfillment of such a commandment,  A worthy deed“. In other words, a husband was considered to be obligated to divorce his wife for going about uncovered, or he himself would be considered an evil man by the community. As a wife going uncovered was considered a form of nakedness and lewd, a wife going out without a head covering was viewed the same as her being an adulterous immoral woman. This is why Paul states thatfor it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved”. From history, we know that a wife who went out with an uncovered head was viewed as being an immodest, lewd, adulterous woman, and that this was disgraceful in the Jewish culture of the time. Paul says that this disgrace is the same disgrace as a woman whose head has been shaved, so we know that having one’s head shaved is tied to a woman uncovering her head, and tied to the same disgrace of immodesty, sexual immorality, or adultery.

And so based on what Paul states, it seems that in that time and place, all that was needed for a woman to be accused of immodesty and to be divorced, was witnesses that she had been seen out and about without a head covering. This implied that she had been letting others “see her nakedness” by letting them see her hair, and implied she was an immodest, lewd, or adulterous woman. And based on what Paul states,“For ‘if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn’”, if her husband either accused or did divorce her for going out with her head uncovered, then the custom followed would be the violence of her forcibly having her hair cut or shaved off. This matches what history tells us, and of course was an unbiblical uninspired tradition of men, of terrorizing women that did not follow custom.

“Indeed, it was the custom in the case of a woman accused of adultery to have her hair “shorn or shaven”, at the same time using this formula, “Because thou hast departed from the manner of the daughters of Israel, who go with their head covered;… therefore that has befallen thee which thou hast chosen.”
-Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, by Alfred Edersheim pg. 154

At this time a divorce for a woman accused of adultery was handled by the Jewish priests, who it seems would use the above formula and cut off the woman’s hair. What may be a confusing point here is why a woman would be accused of adultery for going about with her head uncovered. But to reiterate, in this time the Jewish culture was such that a wife letting others see her hair was considered the same as her letting others see her “nakedness”. In itself having an uncovered head was viewed as a serious enough action for her to be divorced over this single issue. And it seems this perceived immodesty of uncovered head was understood as reasonable grounds by which a Jewish husband could accuse his wife of adultery, and seek a divorce on these grounds. And as we have seen Jewish husbands were encouraged to do so by the culture, so as to separate her disgraceful actions from himself, lest he be seen as an evil man to be looked down upon. However, an accusation of adultery without more solid proof automatically led into a ceremony conducted by the priests called Sotah. Before getting to that, it is important to note that it may have been that in order for a husband to get a divorce, in this time and place, he may have only been able to do so on the grounds of adultery or sexual immorality.

“In the Mishnaic period the theory of the law that the husband could divorce his wife at will was challenged by the school of Shammai. It interpreted the text of Deut. xxiv. 1 in such a manner as to reach the conclusion that the husband could not divorce his wife except for cause, and that the cause must be sexual immorality (Git. ix. 10; Yer. Soṭah i. 1, 16b). The school of Hillel, however, held that the husband need not assign any reason whatever; that any act on her part which displeased him entitled him to give her a bill of divorce (Giṭ.ib.). The opinion of the school of Hillel prevailed. Philo of Alexandria (“Of Special Laws Relating to Adultery,” etc., ch. v.; English ed., ii. 310, 311) and Josephus (“Ant.” iv. 8) held this opinion. Jesus seems to have held the view of the school of Shammai (Matt. xix. 3-9).

Although not overthrown, the ancient theory of the husband’s unrestricted right was still further modified by the Mishnah. To the two restrictions mentioned in Deuteronomy the Mishnah, adds three others… The Mishnah furthermore modified the right of the husband indirectly by making the divorce procedure difficult, and bristling with formalities in ordering, writing, attesting, and delivering the get. The matter required the assistance of one learned in the law (Ḳid. 6a), whose duty it became to attempt to reconcile the parties, unless sufficient reason appeared for the divorce.

Another check on the exercise of the theoretical right of the husband to divorce his wife was the law compelling him to pay her the dowry or the amount of her Ketubah…”
-The Jewish Encyclopedia, Divorce, Solomon Schechter  http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=398&letter=D

It seems that at this time the Jewish priests would not grant a divorce easily, making the divorce difficult, unless there was an accusation made of adultery. In order to get a divorce, without proof of adultery, an accusation had to be made of adultery, and the woman needed to be taken to the Jewish priests to carry out the ceremony called Sotah. This ceremony was loosely based on the Numbers 5 ceremony for what to do in the case of a jealous husband, but the Pharisees had modified it greatly and it’s purpose. By this time, it had become a ceremony not of dealing with a husband’s jealousy, but of accusing a wife of adultery, and was used for more easily divorcing a wife.

The practice that was in place at the time of Jesus and the apostles for a woman accused of adultery was this ceremony called Sotah; a Pharisaical ceremony that was a tradition of men. This ceremony was performed by the Jewish priests, and attempted to force a woman to confess to adultery. If a woman did confess to adultery, then her husband could easily divorce her.

The Mishnaic Tractate Sotah, which appears in the Order of Women (Nashim), between Tractates Nazir and Gittin, deals mainly with the trial by ordeal undergone in the Temple by a sotah, a woman whose husband suspected her of adultery…

… At the end of the tractate the Mishnah returns to the subject of the sotah, stating: “Since adulterers have proliferated,” the sotah ceremony has been abolished (9:9). Following that declaration, the tractate ends with a description of acts that were abolished during the Second Temple period and after its destruction.

The ceremony described in the Mishnah differs in several respects from that in the Pentateuch. The following are some examples of such differences.

  1. The rules of evidence: The scriptural ceremony is performed solely on the basis of the husband’s suspicions. The Mishnah, on the other hand, mentions an entire system of legal evidence—warnings and testimony—which are prerequisites for bringing the woman to the Temple.
  2. Increased severity in dealing with the sotah: The Torah describes only one act that may be interpreted as humiliating: unbinding the woman’s hair. The Mishnah develops the humiliation even further, adding the rending of the woman’s garments and inviting the public to witness the ceremony, stating explicitly that the goal of these acts is to “make her repulsive.”
  3. Measure for measure: The Mishnah adds commentary to the acts described above which presents them as punishment, measure for measure, for the erring wife. Thus, the woman who took off her clothes in order to sin is forcibly stripped in public.
  4. Confession: There is no attempt in the Torah to establish the woman’s guilt via the woman herself, since the ceremony is intended to do precisely that. In the Mishnah, there are attempts to make the woman confess voluntarily. If she does so, the ceremony is stopped immediately.
  5. Death and the postponement of punishment: While the Torah describes the results of the test, if the woman is guilty, as harm to her fertility, the Mishnah describes a theatrical death that occurs in the Temple before the onlookers. The Mishnah, however, immediately adds that if the woman has merit, the punishment may be delayed for a long time.

All these changes combine to depict the ceremony in the Mishnah as something closer to the punishment of an adulteress than a divine trial by ordeal. The laws of evidence transform the sotah from one who is merely suspected by her husband to one against whom there is solid evidence of immoral behavior (even if not of actual adultery). The increased severity of the treatment of the sotah even before the waters reveal her guilt includes various components that are more appropriate to a punitive ritual (such as the one presented in the punishment of the adulteress in Ezekiel 16, a verse of which is even explicitly quoted in the Mishnah, 1:6) than in a divine trial. The measure-for-measure principle underlying the Mishnaic commentary similarly depicts the ceremony as punishment rather than a test.
-  http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/sotah-tractate Sotah Tractate, by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia

In this ceremony the Priests would forcibly strip her topless to bare her breasts, inviting the public to attend and watch, to humiliate her. This had changed from the simple dignified ceremony prescribed by God in Numbers 5, to a perverted trial-by-fire that attempted to force a woman to confess to adultery, or else she would be publicly and forcibly stripped topless by male priests. She was also forced to drink not a glass of the dusty water, but forced to drink the water until She will not be done drinking until her face turns green and her eyes protrude and her veins become filled and they say ‘Take her out,’ so the enclosure does not become defiled.” (Mishnah, Nashim, Sotah 3) In other words, she was forced to drink until she had to pee so badly that they had to stop, or she would lose control and urinate, so then they took her away to urinate. These parts of the Sotah ceremony may have been abolished before the time of Jesus, or after, I do not know. As Paul does not mention it in the Bible, the stripped topless part of the ceremony may have been abolished by that time, or simply wasn’t in practice in Corinth.

It would make sense that Sotah is the same ceremony where a woman who went with her head uncovered would end up having her hair forcibly cut or shaved off. This shaving of the head seems to be an addition that was added at the time and place of Paul’s writing. It seems if a Jewish/Christian woman went with her head uncovered, then her husband would be obligated to divorce her by the Jewish community. Likely because of strict divorce requirements at the time making divorce difficult to obtain aside from an accusation of adultery and the Sotah ceremony, or just because going uncovered and suspicion of adultery were equated, her husband would need to put her through Sotah, even was expected to, in order to divorce her. And it makes sense that this ceremony could conclude with her hair being forcibly cut or shaven off. This practice of shaving the woman’s head as part of Sotah may have varied by region, but it seems likely that this was the practice of the Jewish priests and Pharisees in Corinth. In fact this Jewish practice seems to be what Paul is quoting when he says “For ‘if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn’”. And so if witnesses saw her out with her hair uncovered and reported this, that was likely all it took for events to conclude with Sotah happening to her. And whether her husband was Jewish, or a Jewish-Christian convert, there would be great pressure from the Jewish community for him to divorce her for being out with her hair uncovered. Otherwise he would be looked down upon by the Jewish community also. The Sotah ceremony that an accused wife had to undergo was not what God had prescribed in Numbers 5 to deal with jealousy, but had turned into trial-by-fire of public humiliation, and intended torture, with the goal of making her confess under duress to adultery, so a husband could have a divorce easily.

Considering that we know that the Jewish priests at the time were so malicious towards women so as to rip her clothes, strip her topless publicly to humiliate her, and force her to drink this dirty water until she would have to urinate… there is really no reason to doubt that the Jewish priests would have been capable of forcibly shaving or shearing off a woman’s hair. Considering how much violence had already been added to the Numbers 5 ceremony, and the twisting of the ceremony’s actual purpose (to deal with a husband’s jealousy) there is no reason to argue that this additional violence of cutting off the woman’s hair could not have been added to the Sotah ceremony. And again, at least one historian confirms this was the case,

“Indeed, it was the custom in the case of a woman accused of adultery to have her hair “shorn or shaven”, at the same time using this formula, “Because thou hast departed from the manner of the daughters of Israel, who go with their head covered;… therefore that has befallen thee which thou hast chosen.”
-Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, by Alfred Edersheim pg. 154

Additionally, this is in total keeping with the attitude of the Jewish priests about the Sotah ceremony as they performed it,

“…we are told that the accused wife (sotah) is treated “with the measure that she measured out.” Accordingly, ”She spread the sheet before him, therefore the priest takes her hat from her head and spreads it underfoot. She braided her hair for him, therefore the priest loosens it.”  Tosefta, Sotah 3″ “The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair” by Rabbi Mayer Schiller

It is easy to see with this attitude about the ceremony, how the ceremony may have been further amplified by the Jewish priests in Corinth, to the the effect of: “She let him see the nakedness of her hair, therefore the priests shaves or shears off her hair.” And in fact based on what Paul says, the Bible seems to confirm this is precisely the case of what was occurring at the time in Corinth; that during Sotah accused women were having their heads forcibly shaved at the hands of the Jewish priests.

And all this information about Sotah brings new meaning to Matt 1:19, of Mary the mother of Jesus,
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and did not want to expose her to public disgrace as an example, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
God chose a man to be step-father for Jesus who was righteous, which meant he would not force Mary to go through such a thing as Sotah. And as Mary had not been caught in adultery, this ceremony of Sotah is exactly the one Joseph would have taken Mary to the priests to undergo. Which tells you what God thought about this ceremony and tradition of evil men: it was evil, not righteous. God chose a righteous man to be the step-father for Jesus, the sort of man who would not make Mary go through this, even though he noticed she was pregnant and thought she must have committed adultery during the betrothal phase of their marriage. Yet Joseph wanted to go through a more difficult and likely costly “no-fault” divorce procedure, rather than force Mary to undergo the Sotah ceremony.

The converted Jewish woman lived in a culture in which she would bring disgrace on herself and her husband if she stopped wearing a head covering. The above is what we know from historians, and Paul states here in 1 Cor 11 that a married women had a high risk of having her head shaved or shorn as a repercussion of going uncovered, and that the disgrace of having the head shaved and being uncovered were equated. If she went uncovered, Paul implies she was quite possibly going to get shaved or shorn by the Jews, and would be seen as disgraceful and disgrace her husband, all confirming what the historians say about this.

In light of this historical information, these verses need to be understood in the context of Paul referencing Jewish customs, to the Jewish converts to Christianity. Paul is clearly referencing to well known customs and common events that happened at the time he wrote to the Corinthians. Where he says “For if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn”, Paul is actually quoting portions of the Jewish Oral Law held by the Pharisees, the traditions of men, that the Corinthian Jewish converts were already very familiar with. Paul is quoting this, not saying this himself, nor does God say this.

Think on this: it would make no sense if it is just a coincidence that Paul is summarizing or quoting the historically documented Jewish cultural practices of the time. This cannot be a coincidence. The reason this cannot be a coincidence is because this era of history, in which these practices were common as we know from historians, is the era Paul grew up in, living for many years as a Christian-persecuting Pharisaical Jew, before his conversion to Christianity. As such Paul was well familiar with the ‘traditions of men’ of the Pharisees. There really is not any wiggle room on this: Paul is not recommending “For if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn” but rather, Paul absolutely must be quoting a summary of what was already a common practice of the Jewish priests and Pharisees at the time. Neither is Paul stating that it is true that it should be disgraceful for a woman to have her head uncovered, but rather Paul absolutely must be stating what was a cultural fact among the Jews at the time.

The historical evidence given here clearly shows at the very least that a married Jewish woman, even converted to Christianity, could be accused of adultery, divorced and left with nothing, and undergo a humiliating tortuous public trial-by-fire, just for going out with her head uncovered. Keeping this in mind, it should make more sense when Paul in the Bible seems to add that she could have her hair forcibly shaved off for going out with her head uncovered. The Jewish priests and Pharisees had and enforced traditions of violence against women routinely, as an every day matter. Even if it may remain a little uncertain whether Sotah was the ceremony Paul was referring to, the historical evidence indicates this could have been, and this is possible, and is even likely. But even if Paul was not referring to Sotah in specific, it is completely in keeping with the practices of the Jewish priests at that time to do this sort of thing, to conduct a violent ceremony publicly against a woman who was accused of violating custom. There is also the possibility that in Corinth at this time the Jewish priests and Pharisees had developed their own custom of enforcing head coverings, by accusing any women of the Jewish community who were seen with their heads uncovered, and forcibly cutting their hair. It is also possible that Jewish priests and Pharisees were intentionally targeting women who were Jewish-Christian converts, on the basis of their Christianity, to persecute them and the church, and using head coverings as an excuse to do so.

But whatever the particulars, the evidence definitely weighs in favor that Paul was commenting on unbiblical traditions of the Jewish priests and Pharisees and Jewish culture at the time. It cannot be a coincidence how closely what Paul refers to matches what is known historically about the practices and culture of the Jews. And we can see that these Jewish practices were clearly unbiblical “traditions of men” not founded on scripture. As such we can know Paul was not prescribing these practices as correct for Christians!

Paul is advocating that the culturally Jewish women that had become Christian should remain covered if they want to avoid getting their hair forcibly cut by the Jewish priests. If they don’t want to get end up being violated, they should simply cover up to avoid this. (Though Paul may additionally be addressing a harsh reality, that if a Jewish Christian-converted woman does go uncovered, that the church cannot help by taking action to stop the ordeal she might have to go through.)

What is discussed here in particular is a woman “praying and prophesying”, which while sometimes was done in the privacy of a believer’s home, the church in those days also met out and about. It seems likely that Jewish women who were converts were encountering trouble if they uncovered their heads to pray and prophesy during worship services which were held in more public areas. Like the men, they also must have wanted to not symbolically show shame or guilt before God by wearing a covering, but rather uncover their heads to symbolize they had been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’s shed blood on the cross. But in a public area, Jews and Jewish authorities might be around, who could disrupt the Christian church meetings, and could start attacks against the Christian female Jewish converts if they had their heads uncovered.

Of course, this same problem did not apply to Gentile women. They were Romans in many cases, which had no such customs demanding women use head coverings. Many women did, but there was no law forcing such, nor punishment for not doing so.

Some detail can be found in “Life in the Roman World of Nero and St. Paul” by T. G. Tucker:
“The hair alone was subject to innumerable vagaries either of fashion or of individual taste. It might have a parting or no parting; it might be plaited over the head and fastened by jewelled tortoise-shell combs, or by pins of ivory, silver, or bronze with jewelled heads, as varied and ornamental as the modern hatpin; it might be carried to the back and rest in a knot on the neck, where it was bound with ribbons; it might be piled into a huge pyramid or “towers of many stories,” so that a woman often looked tall in front and appeared quite a different person at the back; it might be encased in a coloured cloth or in a net of gold thread, for which poorer people substituted a bladder. But in all cases it was preferred that the hair should be wavy, and this was a matter which was attended to by a special coiffeur kept among the slaves. “

Obviously in the Roman empire, women generally could wear their hair uncovered, and did so elaborately. And so in the Christian churches, there was a mixture of women, both Jewish and Gentile converts. The Gentile women were not under the same cultural traditions as the Jewish converts. For some instructions targeted to Gentile women, see 1Pet 3:3 “outward plaiting of the hair”, or 1 Tim 2:9 “broided hair”, admonishing women to adorn themselves with modesty, not elaborately styled hair, gold, pearls, and costly array. And please note, if the women being addressed had been being forced to wear head coverings, as a rule of the Christian church, no one would have been seeing their elaborately styled hair in the first place. As such giving these instructions would have been totally unnecessary. Obviously, if the Bible is taught consistently, looking at it as a whole and not verses in isolation,  it shows that Christian women were not being required by the church to wear head coverings as a practice of the church, as women are addressed in other sections about their publicly viewable elaborate hairstyles, of their publicly viewable hair.

In 1 Cor 11, Paul is addressing a mixed group of Christians, from both Jewish and Gentile cultures, looking for a solution to a difficult problem. As we continue, you will see Paul’s conclusion is clearly a radical departure from his Pharisaical background, as he advocates for women to be able to make their own choice on what to do, and gives the Corinthians a revolutionary final word on the matter.

“For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God.”
To the Jewish converts of this time, this was a strong statement against everything they had been raised to follow and believe as Jews. To Jewish men, wearing a head covering in worship was normal. But if they would accept it, they not longer should, because in Christ they were now free from the guilt before God that the head covering represented. As such, they should let go of this Jewish custom whose symbolism conflicted with their new-found Christianity, and worship to God with their heads uncovered. Additionally, Paul gives them the reason that they oughtn’t have their heads covered because they are the image and glory of God; a reason he uses leading into the next case he is going to make…

“But the woman is the glory of man! For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.”
Here Paul confronts the Corinthians with a similar line of reasoning, that as men should go uncovered because they are the image and glory of God, that the same reason should apply to women. He is drawing a consistent point of argument out for them.
Eve was made from Adam, and for his sake, and in this she was created as the glory of mankind. The word for glory here is “doxa”. It means glory, praise, honor, splendor, brightness, or magnificence. It is used to describe the bright light of the sun. The Greek here for “man” in “woman is the glory of man” is “andros” again, and Paul is saying that women are the glory of both genders of humanity. He is referencing back to the Creation account, in which the last creature God made was mankind, the pinnacle of God’s creation. And the woman was the last to be made, as God’s grand finale to the pinnacle of creation. What Paul is implying here is, that like men should be uncovered to show the image and glory of God, women are the glory of mankind, and should be uncovered to show the glory of mankind. (It is implied, in women being the glory of mankind, man who is the image and glory of God, it is implied that woman is also made in the image of God, as Genesis teaches. Nothing here denies that fact.)

“For this reason the woman ought to have authority over her head: because of her angels.”
Here we are told that a woman ought to have authority over her own bodily head. The word here is “exhousia” and it means “power of choice”. Paul is clearly stating here, making the case to the Corinthians, that a woman should have power of choice to do what she wants with her own head. The reason given is because of her angels. This references to the common belief, which is true because Jesus Himself said so, that we all have Holy angels assigned to us that are always in the presence of God the Father. This is said in Matt 18:10,
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

To read the Greek as “her angels” instead of the common “the angels” is a perfectly valid translation of the Greek. Here in 1 Cor 11:10 it reads “tous aggelous”. In Phil 3:21 it reads “tou dunasphai” which is translated “his ability” even though “tou” means “the”. This is because “tou” is sometimes possessive, and looks the same used possessively as non-possessively; the meaning has to be understood from context. An even better example is 1 Cor 15:25 “tous exphpous” which is translated as “his enemies”. In the same way “tous aggelous” should be translated “her angels” and not “the angels”.

Although I do not fully understand this, it is my understanding that just as Jesus said to not despise the children because of their angels, that women also should not be despised because of their angels. That men, women, and children all equally have angels is a representation of their equality before God. Surely a woman should have the right to choose what to wear on her own body, and it would be despising of women for the church to take a stance to force Gentile women into an unbiblical “tradition of men”, or force upon women one worldly custom over another, or just to force women to wear something on their body because they are women.

Speaking of the true author of the Bible, God knew very well that the Jewish converted women were following a custom which was a Jewish “tradition of men” as Jesus often disparaged. He would not force Gentile women to take up this ridiculous custom of the Jews. God also knew that if Jewish women were to adopt the custom of the Gentile women converts, in which pretty much anything went, that the Jewish converts would face persecution by the local Jews and Pharisees. As such, women were left to choose for themselves what they thought was best for them, taking into account their own situation and the potential ramifications. God here defended the right of women to make their own choice about this.

“Moreover, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man through the woman; and all things originate from God. Among you choose yourselves.”
Then, in continuing the list of reasons, Paul points out that men and women are interdependent, and equal, both coming from God. Then Paul tells the Corinthians to “krinate” (2919) this themselves. This word means to “resolve, have an opinion, select, choose, pick, or make a decision”. What Paul is saying is that the Corinthians need to decide, each woman for herself, and each couple for themselves, whether or not she should wear a covering.

“It is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. Nature itself does not teach you that if indeed a man has long hair that it is a dishonor to him. But if a woman wears her hair long it is a glory to her. For her hair is given to her for a covering. “
Since Paul has already heavily presented the arguments for why  Jewish converted women might be prudent to wear a covering in their culture, he balances here by simply stating as a fact that it is fine for a woman to pray to God uncovered. This is as relevant for women in their own homes, as well as for women at church or in public. Most Bible translations render this statement as a question, and often people take the answer as a rhetorical “no”. This is done by adding a question mark into a verse which in the Greek contains no such question mark. A rendering which is just as correct in Greek is
It is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. Paul was stating a fact, not asking a question.

He then makes the lovely statement that although there is nothing dishonoring about long hair on a man, that long hair on a woman is a glory to her. Her hair can be her covering, given by God. It is obvious that long hair on a man is not a dishonor to him. One need only think of Samson, and the Nazarenes in general, to see this. Most Bible translations render this “Does nature itself not teach you that if a man have long hair it is a dishonor to him?” Again, this is done by adding a question mark into a verse which in the Greek contains no such question mark. A rendering which is just as correct in Greek is Nature itself does not teach you that if indeed a man has long hair that it is a dishonor to him, and this actually makes more sense. By nature, God made us so hair just grows longer and longer, and it is NOT a dishonor to a man, nor a woman. Again, Paul was stating a fact, not asking a question. There is nothing wrong with a man having long hair. But still, long hair on a woman is a glory to her.

….”For her hair is given to her for a covering.

But if one thinks to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

Here, Paul gives any Jewish converts, who may be insisting on women wearing head coverings, a very strong statement of policy: he tells them that the churches of God have no other practice than for a woman’s hair to serve as her God-given covering. The church of God is stated to have no other practice but a woman’s hair being her head covering, if one is needed.  This is Paul’s final word on the matter, which at the time, looking at the historical context, was quite a revolutionary statement.

Next, he says if anyone is thinking to debate or argue, that they are being contentious. That is not a compliment. The word is “philoneikos” and it means “fond of strife” or “eager to contend”. So the conclusion here is that the matter is settled by his previous statement, that her hair is given to her for a covering. He makes it clear that it is those who do not try to require head coverings that would be right, and those who insist women need head coverings who would be contentious and fond of strife, and wrong.

how should it be understood?

I am going to paraphrase and give expanded meaning below, and summarized commentary, of how I think 1 Cor 11 should be understood.

[The Blue-Pink here represents either:
Blue- God the Father  /  Pink- Jesus Christ the Son
Blue - Jesus Christ  /  Pink - All Christians, The Church
Blue - a husband  /  Pink - a wife]

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the teachings, just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand several things:

1. Christ is the head of every Christian, who are His body, and the husband is the head of a wife, who is like his body, and God is the head of Christ, who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily.

2. Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head, Jesus. (You men who are Jewish converts need to change your custom if you are still doing this).

3. And, as to your problem there, I know every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying in public worship disgraces her husband, for in this culture it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved, (viewed in the Jewish culture as an adulteress), For in this Jewish culture they say “if a woman is not covered, let her be shorn”, and we can’t stop this attack from happening to her if she goes uncovered. But here is the solution: if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

3. For indeed a man ought not to have his head covered, and a reason for this is since he is the image and glory of God. (see 2 above) Moreover, the woman is the glory of mankind. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Mankind was the last of all that was created, the pinnacle of creation, and she was the finale, made to show the glory of men, being made from a man. Therefore, same as men shouldn’t have their heads covered, so as to show the glory of God, by the same reasoning women shouldn’t have to have their heads covered, to show the glory of mankind.

4. For this reason the woman ought to have the power of choice over her own head: because of her angels. Like the children, women’s angels continually see the face of God and are in His presence, so do not show you despise women by the way you treat them.  Do not think little of them or be mean to them, because like the children, they are important enough to God to each be represented by an angel in His presence.

6. Moreover, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. You are equal.

7. Among you choose yourselves. It is proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered. You women, you couples, can figure this out yourselves, but everyone, just know if a woman chooses to pray uncovered, it is fine.

8. For nature itself does not teach you that if indeed a man has long hair that it is a dishonor to him. But if a woman wears her hair long it is a glory to her. Because her hair is given to her for a covering.

She is fine just as God made her. If you have to feel she needs a head covering, then her hair is her covering, given by God. But if one thinks to be contentious, wants to cause strife and argue, know that we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.