1 Corinthians 11:5
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.
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(5) But every woman that prayeth . . . From the hypothetical case of the man praying or preaching with covered head (which was mentioned first for the sake of introducing the antithesis), the Apostle comes now to the actual case of which he has to treat, viz., the woman uncovering her head. At first sight the permission here implied for a woman to pray and teach in public may seem at variance with the teaching in 1Corinthians 14:34, where she is commanded to observe silence, and the injunction in 1Timothy 2:12, that women should not “teach.” In these passages, however, it is the public meeting of the whole Church that is spoken of, and in such the women were to be silent—but the meetings spoken of here, though public as distinguished from the private devotions of individuals, were probably only smaller gatherings such as are indicated in Romans 14:5; Colossians 4:5; Philemon 1:2. It has been suggested by some writers that the command in 1Corinthians 14:34, does forbid the practice which is here assumed to be allowable only for the sake of argument; but surely St. Paul would not have occupied himself and his readers here with the elaborate, and merely forensic discussion of the conditions under which certain functions were to be performed which he was about subsequently to condemn, as not allowable under any restriction whatever?

Dishonoureth her head.—Both among Jews and Greeks the long tresses of a woman were her glory. Only in times of mourning (Deuteronomy 21:12), or when convicted of shameful sin, was a woman to have her hair cut short.

Here, again, the word “head” must be taken in its double significance. A woman with uncovered head dishonours that head itself by making it thus in the sight of others the type of a shame which is really not hers, and as her head typically is her husband, so she dishonours him also.

11:2-16 Here begin particulars respecting the public assemblies, ch. 1Co 14. In the abundance of spiritual gifts bestowed on the Corinthians, some abuses had crept in; but as Christ did the will, and sought the honour of God, so the Christian should avow his subjection to Christ, doing his will and seeking his glory. We should, even in our dress and habit, avoid every thing that may dishonour Christ. The woman was made subject to man, because made for his help and comfort. And she should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, which looked like a claim of being equal. She ought to have power, that is, a veil, on her head, because of the angels. Their presence should keep Christians from all that is wrong while in the worship of God. Nevertheless, the man and the woman were made for one another. They were to be mutual comforts and blessings, not one a slave, and the other a tyrant. God has so settled matters, both in the kingdom of providence and that of grace, that the authority and subjection of each party should be for mutual help and benefit. It was the common usage of the churches, for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was right that they should do so. The Christian religion sanctions national customs wherever these are not against the great principles of truth and holiness; affected singularities receive no countenance from any thing in the Bible.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. What was their precise office, and what was the nature of the public services in which they were engaged, is not however known. That they prayed is clear; and that they publicly expounded the will of God is apparent also; see the note on Acts 2:17. As the presumption is, however, that they were inspired, 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.

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. It may be further observed, however, that the fact that Paul here mentions the custom of women praying or speaking publicly in the church, does not prove that it was right or proper. His immediate object now was not to consider whether the practice was itself right, but to condemn the manner of its performance as a violation of all the proper rules of modesty and of subordination. On another occasion, in this very epistle, he fully condemns the practice in any form, and enjoins silence on the female members of the church in public; 1 Corinthians 14:34.

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 - Shows a lack of proper respect to man, to her husband, to her father, to the sex in general. The veil is a token of modesty and of subordinaion. It is regarded among Jews, and everywhere, as an emblem of her sense of inferiority of rank and station. It is the customary mark of her sex, and that by which she evinces her modesty and sense of subordination. To remove that, is to remove the appropriate mark of such subordination, and is a public act by which she thus shows dishonor to the man. And as it is proper that the grades and ranks of life should be recognized in a suitable manner, so it is improper that, even on pretence of religion, and of being engaged in the service of God, these marks should be laid aside.

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. It would indicate the same feeling, the same forgetfulness of the proper sense of subordination; and if that is laid aside, all the usual indications of modesty and subordination might be removed also. Not even under religious pretences, therefore, are the usual marks of sex, and of propriety of place and rank, to be laid aside. Due respect is to be shown, in dress, and speech, and deportment, to those whom God has placed above us; and neither in language, in attire nor in habit are we to depart from what all judge to he proprieties of life, or from what God has judged and ordained to be the proper indications of the regular gradations in society.

5. woman … prayeth … prophesieth—This instance of women speaking in public worship is an extraordinary case, and justified only by the miraculous gifts which such women possessed as their credentials; for instance, Anna the prophetess and Priscilla (so Ac 2:18). The ordinary rule to them is: silence in public (1Co 14:34, 35; 1Ti 2:11, 12). Mental receptivity and activity in family life are recognized in Christianity, as most accordant with the destiny of woman. This passage does not necessarily sanction women speaking in public, even though possessing miraculous gifts; but simply records what took place at Corinth, without expressing an opinion on it, reserving the censure of it till 1Co 14:34, 35. Even those women endowed with prophecy were designed to exercise their gift, rather in other times and places, than the public congregation.

dishonoureth … head—in that she acts against the divine ordinance and the modest propriety that becomes her: in putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man, which is her true "honor"; for through him it connects her with Christ, the head of the man. Moreover, as the head-covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (Ge 24:65), and conjugal chastity (Ge 20:16); so, to uncover the head indicated withdrawal from the power of the husband, whence a suspected wife had her head uncovered by the priest (Nu 5:18). Alford takes "her head" to be man, her symbolical, not her literal head; but as it is literal in the former clause, it must be so in the latter one.

all one as if … shaven—As woman's hair is given her by nature, as her covering (1Co 11:15), to cut it off like a man, all admit, would be indecorous: therefore, to put away the head-covering, too, like a man, would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering: she ought, therefore, to add the other (the wearing of a head-covering) to show that she does of her own will that which nature itself teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth: though the woman be forbidden to teach, and commanded to be in silence, 1 Timothy 2:12; yet that text must be understood of ordinary women, and in ordinary cases, not concerning such as prophesied from an extraordinary impulse or motion of the Spirit. We read of women prophetesses both in the Old and New Testament; such was Huldah in Josiah’s time, and Anna, of whom we read Luke 2:36; and we read that Philip

had four daughters that did prophesy, Acts 21:9.

With her head uncovered: the uncovered head here (as before) must signify not covered with some artificial covering, such as our quoifs, hats, hoods, or veils, &c., or with her own hair, not hanging loose, but artificially used so as to be a covering.

Dishonoureth her head; dishonoureth either her husband, who is her political or economical head, for by that habit she behaveth herself as if she were not one in subjection, and seemeth to usurp an undue authority over the man; or her natural head, it being in those places accounted an immodest thing for a woman to appear in public uncovered. It is observed of Rebekah, when she met Isaac, Genesis 24:65: She took a veil, and covered herself. For that is even all one as if she were shaven; for, saith the apostle, yourselves would judge it an uncomely thing for a woman to be shaven; now to pray or to prophesy with the head uncovered, is all one. This last clause will incline us to think, that by the uncovered head in this verse, is not only to be understood uncovered with some other covering besides her hair, but with her hair dishevelled, hanging loose at its length, for else it is not all one to have the head uncovered with a hat, or hood, or quoif, and to be shaven; for the apostle afterward saith, 1 Corinthians 11:15, her hair is given to her for a covering or a veil: so that possibly that which the apostle here reflecteth upon, is women’s coming into the public assemblies with their hair hanging loosely down, and not decently wound up so as to make a covering for the head; which, we are told, was the practice of those beastly she-priests of Bacchus, who, like frantic persons, performed those pretendedly religious rites with their hair so hanging loose, and were called manades, because they behaved themselves more like mad persons than such as were in the actual use of their reason: something like which, it is most probable, some women in the Christian church at Corinth affected, against which the apostle here argueth.

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth,.... Not that a woman was allowed to pray publicly in the congregation, and much less to preach or explain the word, for these things were not permitted them: see 1 Corinthians 14:34 but it designs any woman that joins in public worship with the minister in prayer, and attends on the hearing of the word preached, or sings the praises of God with the congregation, as we have seen, the word prophesying signifies,

with her head uncovered. It may seem strange from whom the Corinthian women should take up this custom, since the Jewish women were not allowed to go into the streets, or into any open and public place, unveiled (u). It was a Jewish law, that they should go out no where bare headed (w): yea, it was reckoned scandalous and ignominious to do so. Hence it is said, (x) , "that uncovering of the head is a reproach" to the daughters of Israel: and concerning the adulterous woman, it is represented as said by the priest (y),

"thou hast separated from the way of the daughters of Israel; for the way or custom of the daughters of Israel is , "to have their heads covered"; but thou hast gone "in the ways of the Gentiles", who walk with head bare.''

So that their it should seem that these Corinthians followed the examples of the Heathens: but then, though it might be the custom of some nations for women to go abroad bare headed; yet at their solemnities, where and when they were admitted, for they were not everywhere and always, they used to attend with their heads veiled and covered (z). Mr. Mede takes notice indeed of some Heathen priestesses, who used to perform their religious rites and sacrifices with open face, and their hair hanging down, and locks spreading, in imitation of whom these women at Corinth are thought to act. However, whoever behaved in this uncomely manner, whose example soever she followed, the apostle says,

dishonoureth her head; not her husband, who is her head in a figurative sense, and is dishonoured by her not being covered; as if she was not subject to him, or because more beautiful than he, and therefore shows herself; but her natural head, as appears from the reason given:

for that is even all one as if she were shaven; to be without a veil, or some sort of covering on her head, according to the custom of the country, is the same thing as if her head was shaved; and everyone knows how dishonourable and scandalous it is for a woman to have her head shaved; and if this is the same, then it is dishonourable and scandalous to her to be without covering in public worship. And this shows, that the natural head of the man is meant in the preceding verse, since the natural head of the woman is meant in this.

(u) Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, c. 24. sect. 12. (w) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 72. 1.((x) R. Sol. Jarchi in Numb. v. 19. (y) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 9. fol. 193. 2.((z) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 4. c. 17.

{4} But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: {5} for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

(4) And in like manner he concludes that women who show themselves in public and ecclesiastical assemblies without the sign and token of their subjection, that is to say, uncovered, shame themselves.

(5) The first argument taken from the common sense of man, for so much as nature teaches women that it is dishonest for them to go abroad bareheaded, seeing that they have given to them thick and long hair which they do so diligently trim and deck, that they can in no way abide to have it shaved.

1 Corinthians 11:5. A second inference of an opposite kind from 1 Corinthians 11:3, namely, with respect to the women.

Prayer and prophetic utterances in meetings on the part of the women are assumed here as allowed. In 1 Corinthians 14:34, on the contrary, silence is imposed upon them; comp also 1 Timothy 2:12, where they are forbidden to teach. This seeming contradiction between the passages disappears, however, if we take into account that in chap. 14 it is the public assembly of the congregation, the whole ἐκκλησία, that is spoken of (1 Corinthians 11:4-5; 1 Corinthians 11:12; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 11:26 ff., 1 Corinthians 11:33). There is no sign of such being the case in the passage before us. What the apostle therefore has in his eye here, where he does not forbid the ΠΡΟΣΕΎΧΕΣΘΑΙ Ἢ ΠΡΟΦΗΤΕΎΕΙΝ of the women, and at the same time cannot mean family worship simply (see on 1 Corinthians 11:4), must be smaller meetings for devotion in the congregation, more limited circles assembled for worship, such as fall under the category of a church in the house (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). Since the subject here discussed, as we may infer from its peculiar character, must have been brought under the notice of the apostle for his decision by the Corinthians themselves in their letter, his readers would understand both what kind of meetings were meant as those in which women might pray and speak as prophetesses, and also that the instruction now given was not abrogated again by the “taceat mulier in ecclesia.” The latter would, however, be the case, and the teaching of this passage would be aimless and groundless, if Paul were here only postponing for a little the prohibition in 1 Corinthians 14:34, in order, first of all, provisionally to censure and correct a mere external abuse in connection with a thing which was yet to be treated as wholly unallowable (against my own former view). It is perfectly arbitrary to say, with Grotius, that in 1 Corinthians 14:34 we must understand as an exception to the rule: “nisi speciale Dei mandatum habeant.”

ἀκατακαλύπτῳ] Polyb. xv. 27. 2. As to the dative, see Winer, p. 203 [E. T. 271].

ΤῊΝ ΚΕΦΑΛ. ΑὐΤῆς]—see the critical remarks—is, like Τ. ΚΕΦ. ΑὐΤΟῦ in 1 Corinthians 11:4, to be understood of the literal head. A woman when praying was to honour her head by having a sign upon it of the authority of her husband, which was done by having it covered; otherwise she dishonoured her head by dressing not like a married wife, from whose head-dress one can see that her husband is her head (lord), but like a loose woman, with whose shorn head the uncovered one is on a par.

ἓν γάρ ἐστι Κ.Τ.Λ[1762]] for she is nothing else, nothing better, than she who is shorn. As the long tresses of the head were counted a womanly adornment among Jews and Gentiles, so the hair shorn off was a sign either of mourning (Deuteronomy 21:12; Homer, Od. iv. 198, xxiv. 46; Eurip. Or. 458; Hermann, Privatalterth. § xxxix. 28) or of shamelessness (Elsner, Obss. p. 113), and was even the penalty of an adulteress (Wetstein in loc[1763]). What Paul means to say then is: a woman praying with uncovered head stands in the eye of public opinion, guided as it is by appearances, on just the same level with her who has the shorn hair of a courtesan.

ἓν κ. τὸ αὐτό] emphatic: unum idemque. See instances in Kypke, II. p. 220. The subject to this is πᾶσα γυνὴ κ.τ.λ[1764], not the appearing uncovered, so that strictly it ought to have been Τῷ ἘΞΥΡῆΣΘΑΙ (Billroth). And the neuter is used, because the subject is regarded as a general conception. Comp 1 Corinthians 3:8. Respecting the dative, see Kühner, II. p. 244; Krüger, § xlviii. 14. 9.

The form ΞΥΡΆΩ has less authority in Attic writers than ΞΥΡΈΩ. See Lobeck, a[1766] Phryn. p. 205.

[1762] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1763] n loc. refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1764] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[1766] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.


The evil, which Paul here rebukes with such sharpness and decision, must have broken out after the apostle had left Corinth; had he been present, he would not have allowed it to emerge. It arose probably from an unseemly extension of the principle of Christian liberty, occasioned by the fact of women partaking in the special gifts of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 11:4, and doubtless under the influence of the greater laxity of Hellenic ideas about female dress. The letter from the Corinthians, when referring to the way in which the apostle’s instructions were acted upon at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:2), must have contained an inquiry put to him upon this particular point (comp on 1 Corinthians 11:5). The fact that Paul makes no allusion to virgins here proves that they were not involved in the wrong practice, although Tertullian (de virginib. veland.) unwarrantably applies our passage to them also.

5. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth] This refers, of course, to the public assemblies of the Church, where the woman appears, not in her individual character, but as the member of a community. She must therefore perform her devotions in this latter character, and her attire must bear witness to the fact that she is subordinate to those of the other sex in whose presence she worships. Alone, of course, or in the presence of her own sex only, she has the same privilege of approaching God unveiled, that man has. Some difficulty has been raised about the words ‘or prophesieth.’ It has been thought that the woman was here permitted to prophesy, i.e. in smaller assemblies, and that the prohibitions in ch. 1 Corinthians 14:34, and 1 Timothy 2:12, referred to the more general gatherings of the Church. The subject is one of some difficulty (see Acts 2:18; Acts 21:9), but it is perhaps best, with De Wette and Calvin (who says, “Apostolum hic unum improbando alteram non probare”) to suppose that the Apostle blames only the praying in public with uncovered head, and reserves his blame of the prophesying for ch. 1 Corinthians 14:34. As for the prophetic gifts of the daughters of Philip the evangelist, Acts 21:9, they were probably reserved for assemblies of their own sex.

with her head uncovered] i.e. without the peplum or shawl, which (see Art. in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, and Dean Stanley’s note), used ordinarily as a covering for the body, was on public occasions thrown over the head also. In Oriental countries, however, the women wore, and still wear, a veil.

dishonoureth her head] “As the man honours his head by proclaiming his liberty, so the woman by acknowledging her subjection.”—Calvin. Cf. Numbers 5:18.

for that is even all one as if she were shaven] i.e. she might just as well be shaven, as appear in the public assemblies with her face entirely uncovered.

1 Corinthians 11:5. Πᾶσα δὲ γυνὴ, but every woman) δὲ, but, forms an epitasis [emphatic augmentation or addition]. In this whole passage the woman, especially the woman of Corinth, is principally admonished.—προσευχομένη ἢ προφητεύουσα, praying or prophesying) Therefore women are not altogether excluded from these duties; at least the Corinthian women did that, which, so far as it may be lawful, Paul at ch. 14. [34, 35] puts off, namely, to some suitable occasion distinct from the more solemn assembly.—ἀκατακαλύπτῳ, uncovered) nature demands a covering, but how far the forehead with the face, and the hinder part of the head, should be covered, is a matter left to the customs of the people. It is probable, that Jesus and His disciples had their heads covered according to the customs of the Israelites; whence the rule is not universal, and not more ancient than Paul. And there was παράδοσις, an ordinance, not a rule strictly so called, but a custom [institutum] eine Verordnung. A question arises here, what is to be thought concerning wigs? First, they do not seem to be considered as περιβόλαιον, or covering for the head, for they are an imitation of the hair, and where that is too thin, they supply the defect, and in the present day are sometimes quite necessary for the sake of health, and they no more veil the face, than every man’s own hair: and even if women were accustomed to wear wigs, they would not be considered as thereby sufficiently covered. Therefore the head of a man is scarcely more dishonoured by them, while he prays, than while he does not pray. The wig, however, especially one too long and bushy and having little resemblance to the natural hair, is in reality an adventitious thing, and originates in pride or at least in effeminacy either voluntary, or arising from a false necessity:—it was not so from the beginning, and it will not be so always. Paul, if we could now consult him, would, I believe, not compel those, who wear wigs to cast them off entirely; but he would teach those, at least, who have not begun to wear them, for ever to unlearn [avoid] them, as a thing unbecoming men, especially men engaging in prayer.—ἔστι, is) Such a woman does not differ from one, that has been shaved.

Verse 5. - Or prophesieth. Although St. Paul "thinks of one thing at a time," and is not here touching on the question whether women ought to teach in public, it appears from this expression that the rule which he lays down in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35, and 1 Timothy 2:12 was not meant to be absolute. See the case of Philip's daughters (Acts 21:9 and Acts 2:17). With her head uncovered. For a woman to do this in a public assembly was against the national custom of all ancient communities, and might lead to the gravest misconceptions. As a rule, modest women covered their heads with the peplum or with a veil when they worshipped or were in public. Christian women at Corinth must have caught something of the "inflation" which was characteristic of their Church before they could have acted with such reprehensible boldness as to adopt a custom identified with the character of immodest women. Dishonoureth her head. Calvin, with terse good sense, observes, "As the man honours his head by proclaiming his liberty, so the woman by acknowledging her subjection." 1 Corinthians 11:5Her head uncovered

Rev., unveiled. The Greek women rarely appeared in public, but lived in strict seclusion. Unmarried women never quitted their apartments, except on occasions of festal processions, either as spectators or participants. Even after marriage they were largely confined to the gynaeconitis or women's rooms. Thus Euripides: "As to that which brings the reproach of a bad reputation upon her who remains not at home, giving up the desire of this, I tarried in my dwelling" ("Troades," 649). And Menander: "The door of the court is the boundary fixed for the free woman." The head-dress of Greek women consisted of nets, hair-bags, or kerchiefs, sometimes covering the whole head. A shawl which enveloped the body was also often thrown over the head, especially at marriages or funerals. This costume the Corinthian women had disused in the christian assemblies, perhaps as an assertion of the abolition of sexual distinctions, and the spiritual equality of the woman with the man in the presence of Christ. This custom was discountenanced by Paul as striking at the divinely ordained subjection of the woman to the man. Among the Jews, in ancient times, both married and unmarried women appeared in public unveiled. The later Jewish authorities insisted on the use of the veil.

All one as if she were shaven

Which would be a sign either of grief or of disgrace. The cutting off of the hair is used by Isaiah as a figure of the entire destruction of a people by divine retribution. Isaiah 7:20 Among the Jews a woman convicted of adultery had her hair shorn, with the 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." According to Tacitus, among the Germans an adulteress was driven from her husband's house with her head shaved; and the Justinian code prescribed this penalty for an adulteress, whom, at the expiration of two years, her husband refused to receive again. Paul means that a woman praying or prophesying uncovered puts herself in public opinion on a level with a courtesan.

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