The Veil
1 Corinthians 11:3-16
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

St. Paul is now compelled to qualify the general commendation of ver. 2. He heard with surprise and vexation that women presumed to address the assembled Christians unveiled, to the scandal of all sober-minded Orientals and Greeks. It is a singular specimen of the strange matters that came before Paul for decision when the care of all the Churches lay upon him.


1. Throughout this letter Paul is correcting the hasty impressions which the new believers were receiving regarding their position as Christians. A flood of new ideas was suddenly poured in upon their minds, one of which was the equality of all before God and of a Saviour for all alike. There was neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, etc., now. And it dawned on the woman that she was neither man's toy nor slave, but that she had a life to frame for herself. She was not dependent on men for her Christian privileges; ought she not to show this by laying aside the veil, which was the acknowledged badge of dependence?

2. Among the Greeks it was the universal custom for the women to appear in public with the head covered, commonly with the corner of their shawl drawn over their head like a hood. It was the one significant rite in marriage that she assumed the veil in token that now her husband was her head. This covering could be dispensed with only in places where they were secluded from public view. It was therefore the badge which proclaimed that she who wore it was a private, not a public, person, finding her duties at home, not abroad. It was the man's place to serve the State or the public, the woman's place to serve the man.

II. THIS MOVEMENT OF THE CORINTHIAN WOMEN PAUL MEETS BY REMINDING THEM THAT PERSONAL EQUALITY IS PERFECTLY CONSISTENT WITH SOCIAL SUBORDINATION. The woman must not argue that because she is independent of her husband in the greater sphere she must also be independent of him in the less (ver. 3). This principle is of incalculable importance and very wide and constant application.

1. Whatever is meant by the natural equality of men, it cannot mean that none are to have authority over others. In order to the harmony of society there is a gradation of ranks; and social grievances result, not from the existence of social distinctions, but from their abuse. This gradation, then, involves Paul's inference (vers. 4, 5). The veil being the recognised badge of subordination, when a man appears veiled he would seem to acknowledge some one present and visible as his head, and would thus dishonour Christ, his true Head. A woman, on the other hand, appearing unveiled would seem to say that she acknowledges no visible human head, and thereby dishonours her head — i.e., her husband — and so doing, dishonours herself. She puts herself on the level of the woman with a shaven head, which both among Jews and Greeks was a brand of disgrace.

2. This subordination has its roots in nature (vers. 7, 8).

(1) Man is the glory of God because he is His image and is fitted to exhibit in actual life the excellences which make God worthy of our love and worship. But while man directly, woman indirectly, fulfils this purpose of God. She is God's glory by being man's glory. She exhibits God's excellences by creating and cherishing excellence in man (vers. 8, 9). The position assigned to woman as the glory of man is therefore far removed from the view which cyclically proclaims her man's mere convenience.

(2) That this is woman's normal sphere is indicated even by her unalterable physical characteristics. By nature woman is endowed with a symbol of modesty and retirement. The veil is merely the artificial continuation of her natural gift of hair. The long hair of the Greek fop or of the English cavalier was accepted by the people as an indication of effeminate and luxurious living. And nature, speaking through this visible sign of the woman's hair, tells her that her place is in the home, not in the city or the camp; in the attitude of free and loving subordination, not in the seat of authority and rule. In other respects also the physical constitution of woman points to a similar conclusion — e.g., her shorter stature and slighter frame, her higher pitch of voice, her more graceful form and movement. And similar indications are found in her mental peculiarities. She has the gifts which fit her for influencing individuals; man has those qualities which enable him to deal with persons in the mass. Not all women, of course, are of the distinctively womanly type. A Britomarte may arm herself and overthrow the strongest knights. A Joan of Arc may infuse into a nation her own warlike and patriotic ardour. In art, in literature, in science, feminine names may occupy some of the highest places. In our own day many careers have been opened to women from which they had hitherto been debarred. Conclusion: A woman is a woman still though she become a Christian; a subject must honour his king although by becoming a Christian he is himself in one aspect above all authority; a servant will show his Christianity, not by assuming an insolent familiarity with his Christian master, but by treating him with respectful fidelity. It forms a great part of our duty to accept our own place without envying others, and to do honour to those to whom honour is due.

(M. Dods, D.D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

WEB: But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.

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