Man, As The Head Of Woman

April 19, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 12:29 pm   Category: Scriptures

Some people are offended by the sensibilities of two scriptures by Paul which seem to note a secondary status of women in relation to men. This is my attempt to analyze one these two scriptures.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

First of all, for context, Paul is here either exhorting women to cover their heads during religious practices or men not to cover their head during religious practices, or both. Some studies have focused on the less traditional idea that the main focus ought to be on the man not covering his head while praying, which was against Jewish tradition. Most however focus on the concept that a woman ought to cover her head, even though the church services at that time were in the home, which was a territory were it was culturally acceptable at the time for a woman to have her hair down. Paul’s reasoning here seems to be along the lines is that when a home is used for worship it should be treated as a public forum, where at the time it was considered flirtatious for a woman to flaunt her hair (and paradoxically, a sign of immorality to have short hair as a woman.)[1]

The concept here specifically in question is the usage of head in vs. 3:

11:3 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. [2]

So what is meant by “head” here. It is kephale in Greek, which denotes “the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively:–head” [3] Many claim it denotes a subordinate status for women in either the culture the bible was written in, or in the culture of God. They take head to mean “superior.” There is an alternative understanding however. One Author notes:

In the Greek language of NT times, “head” (kephale) did not necessarily serve as a metaphor for someone in a position of authority (as it normally does today). In ancient Greek thought, the heart, not the head, was considered to be the seat of a person’s reasoning and decision-making powers; the head was generally regarded as the source of life for the body. Such an understanding of the head metaphor is clear from the description of Christ as the source of life, health, and strength for his body, the church, in Colossians 2:19 and Ephesians 4:15 (just prior to where the husband is called the head of the wife) … The metaphorical meaning for “head” in this passage seems to be that of “source” or “origin”; this meaning still exists in modern English (we sometimes speak of the head of a river), though it was more common in ancient Greek. Christ is referred to as the head of the church in this sense in Colossians 1:18. [4]

This concept of the source of the woman being the man seems to garner support from directly from vs. 8 and 12 where “The woman is of the man.”, and is apparently meant to call upon the idea that Eve came from Adam’s Rib. This idea is not without it’s skeptics:

Any honest appraisal of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 will require both teacher and students to confront the patriarchal implications of verses 3 and 7-9. Such implications cannot be explained away by some technical move, such as translating kephale as “source,” rather than “head,” [meaning superiority] because the patriarchal assumptions are imbedded in the structure of Paul’s argument…[5]

So what Patriarchal Assumptions are imbedded in verses 7-9? The same author elsewhere notes:

In verses 7-9, however, Paul raises the theological stakes by introducing a new line of argument based on his reading of the Genesis creation story. A man should not cover his head because man is created as “the image and glory of God” (Gen 1:27), but woman is “the glory of man.” Here, regrettably, Paul gets himself into a theological quagmire. Genesis 1:27 explicitly says that humankind is created “in the image of God … male and female he created them.” Paul’s interpretation of the text, however, seems to depend on a tradition — perhaps based on Genesis 2:7 — that thinks of the male only as originally created in God’s image…[6]

My reading is somewhat different here.

7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.

This is easily the most problematic of the three verses. That being the case, I will develop thoughts on it more fully in a moment.

8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.

This verse supports the concept of “head” as source without any deeper analysis.

9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

The word here translated as “for” is dia, which Strong’s defines thus: “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act; through (in very wide applications, local, causal, or occasional)” Thus woman is only “for” the man in the causal sense, and not in some sense of subordinate ownership. If it wanted to imply woman was for the sake of man, it would probably have used huper, as it does in vs. 24-25 of the same chapter. In any case, this verse only further supports the idea of the head as the source, and not necessarily as the superior being.
Returning to the problems associated with verse 7, which in the NRSV is translated as “For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man.”, it may do well to associated this verse not with verses 8 and 9, as being associated with Adam and Eve and their biblical conception, but rather with verses 4-6, which emphasize instead the cultural believes of the local people at the time. 4-6 say that while typically a Jewish man would cover his head in prayer, Paul explains it is culturally inappropriate in Corinth. Further a Woman who prays without her head covered could be seen as immoral cultural based on the social norms. Perhaps Verse 7 is saying that in the cultural lense of the people of Corinth, the man is the reflection of Deity, and the Woman the reflection of the man. One reason to support this view is the chiastic structure of the text, which is as follows:

A__Introduction(2-3)- Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 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.
B___’woman,’ ‘uncovered,’ ‘to pray,’ ‘man,’ ‘glory’ (4-7)- Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 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. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
C____(8a) – For the man is not of the woman;
D______(8b) – but the woman of the man.
E________(9a) – Neither was the man created for the woman
F__________(9b) – but the woman for the man

x____________(10) For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

F’_________(11a) – Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman,
E’_______(11b) –neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
D’_____(12a) – For as the woman is of the man
C’___(12b) – even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of god.
B’__(13-15) ‘woman,’ ‘uncovered,’ ‘to pray,’ ‘man,’ ‘glory’ – Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
A’_(16) Conclusion – But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

If this Chiasmus holds true, then the real question of whether or not a woman is subordinate to man, under God, does not rest in verse 7 at all, but in verse 10. Due to the variety of opinion among scholars as to the meaning of verse 10, it is difficult to put forth only one opinion as to the meaning of the text.

Strong’s gives the Greek as follows

dia touto ofeilei h gunh exousian ecein epi thV kefalhV dia touV aggelouV


Through [dia] this [touto] owes/should [opheile] the [he] woman [gune] authority/power/liberty [exousian] to have [echein] on [epi] the [tes] head [kephales] because [dia] of the [tous] angels [aggelous].

Many different bibles have taken this data and translated it differently.

The NAB translates it as “a woman should have a sign of authority on her head”. Some view this sign of authority as the sign of man’s authority over the woman, but I do not believe this contextually makes any sense, as this sign allows the woman to pray and prophesy, exactly as the man is doing. I believe the veil here discussed is used as a symbol to remove any concept of superiority or subordination, as the sign of authority would demonstrate the equal status of the woman with the man in praying and speaking under inspiration.

The newly popular ESV follows the same reasoning, but contains an alternative reading of the term angels which is interesting to note. It notes that angels here may actually mean “messengers, that is, people sent to observe and report”. In other words, it is important for the members of the church to act within the social norms because people from the typical people of Corinth may be checking in on them.

The NRSV also follows this same reasoning, but also offers an alternative reading that the woman ought to have “freedom of choice regarding her head”. This goes back to the concept that the real emphasis in this scripture is that men should not wear head coverings in Church, while women are free to choose for themselves whether the should wear a head covering in church. For some reason, this concept reminds me of growing up Catholic and seeing all the women in their Easter hats or bonnets. This reading obviously does not put woman in a subordinate status to man.

To conclude I will paraphrase 10 and link it to verse 11 and 12. Women should wear the customary symbol (but are free not to), in order to denote they are equal in authority, independent of man. Nevertheless, neither is the husband without the wife, nor the wife without the husband, in the Lord. Also, As Eve came from Adam, now all men are born from women, but all are born of God.

And I would add, All were born and are reborn equal and free, through the atonement of Christ.

[1] for more information, see footnote 331
[2] unless otherwise noted, scriptures reference KJV throughout
[3] Strong’s
[4] Gender Equality and the Bible
[5] A reference guide to 1 Cor. 11
[6] ibid.
[7] This concept of the Chiasm loosely follows the one here.
[8] ESV available online here.


  1. Matt, I’m afraid you’re opening yourself up for a Snarker brown-nose award, but I did enjoy this post.

    Verse 16 “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God,” seems to add further weight to the passage being a response to cultural concerns.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — April 19, 2007 @ 2:39 pm

  2. BiV: I’d think I am more likely in the running for “delusions of grandeur” or the “If only I can make the word “head” sound as cool as Kevin Barney makes “Elkenah” sound.”

    In any case, I do have to note that Zelophad’s Daughters were the motivation behind studying this out. My lawyers will be contacting them about reimbursing me those 10 hours of my life.

    Anyway, glad you liked the post.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 19, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

  3. Matt,

    Nice job with the post. Unfortunately I am currently under a self-imposed ban on discussing any gender related issues. If you knew me, you would realize the wisdom in this.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 19, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  4. BIV,

    How does this post qualify him for a BN award? The BN award was granted to AML because he guest posted on FMH praising FMH and attacking FMH’s detractor:SnarkerNacle. Matt W. is a NCT perma, not a guest, he isnt praising NCT and attacking a detractor. Where is the brown-nosing?


    The reason this text is controversial is because it can be, and often is, read as a proof text for male dominance in ecclesiastical as well personal life. A common cross reference for v. 3 is Eph. 5:22-23, both of which are used in an attempt to justify male authoritarianism. The context and Paul’s logical rationale does not substantiate such usage of these passages.

    Why? First, Paul makes reference to the Genesis Creation account both in the present text (v. 11-12) and in the Eph. 5 account (cf. Eph 5:31). In doing so, Paul is making it perfectly clear that man and wife are to be completely united and equal as one body, cf. Gen. 2:23-24.

    Second, the discussion at hand, as well as that in Eph. 5:22-33, is clearly one addressing authority in the Church, or the Priesthood (see the IV/JST on 1 Cor. 14:34-35 which emends the “to speak…to speak” to “to rule…to rule” making it clear there was a problem of women attempting to usurp the Priesthood at the church in Corinth). The Priesthood is a ministry of service and sacrifice, not a ministry of authoritarianism and unrighteous dominion, cf. D&C 121:36-46. Note Paul uses the example of Christ in both the present text and in Eph. 5. He states the man is to be the head of the women even as Christ is the head of the man and the head of the Church. How was Christ the head of the Church? By serving it and laying his life down for it. Thus are the men to serve and lay their lives down for their wives and children. This is not advocating authoritarianism, it is attacking it.

    What then is Paul advocating? Paul is stating that within the Church women ought to wear a hat, and perhaps a veil as well, as a symbol of acknowledging the authority of the Priesthood of their husbands, cf. v. 10, owing to the apparent attempt to usurp the Pristhood by the women of the Corinthian church, noted above. Wearing such a symbol is to acknowledges that males minister in Priesthood and females do not. Is this discrimination? No more than is God granting women the right and responsibilities of motherhood. For as women are to provide a physical birth to children via motherhood so are men to provide a spiritual birth (cf. John 3) to their children via the Priesthood. Both the physical and spiritual births are essential to inherit the Celestial Kingdom, and thus are motherhood and the Priesthood complimentary in marriage in serving the children. Is one more important than the other? No, both are essential. Does one grant the right of one spouse to dominate the other? No. The man is to defer to the woman in laboring by the sweat of his brow to provide for the physical needs of the physical offspring the woman has borne. The woman is to defer to the man in matters regarding administering salvation, the spiritual birth, to the offspring via the Priesthood.

    Comment by Kurt — April 20, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  5. This is not advocating authoritarianism, it is attacking it.

    What is important is Paul’s conclusion, regarding what happens if people find his teaching a source of confusion or conflict:

    But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

    I enjoyed your post.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 20, 2007 @ 5:48 am

  6. Kurt, that is definitely one popular way to read the text, which I think I mentioned in my post. As I said there, I just don’t think it makes logical sense for the wife to wear something as a symbol of the exousian of her husband. I personally believe it is better understood as either her own exousian or God’s exousian given to her. I don’t think this means she has the priesthood. All we are talking about here is praying and inspired speaking (prophesying).

    I will grant you that Kevin Barney, in his footnotes of the NT (footnote 1 above), believes that the veil points to the spouses authority. My reading just doesn’t hold that view, nor does my current understanding of the Temple experience.

    Anyway, I am grateful for the alternative conception.

    I am hoping to deal with Ephesians 5 in another post. Originally, I had thought that perhaps I would write up both and try to submit the combined piece to dialogue, but then that delusion of grandeur faded away…

    Jacob J and Stephen M: thanks for reading. Verse 16 is interesting reading, and has it’s own set of interpretive debates that go with it. Perhaps I should have gotten into that in the post… THe popular reading, as I understand it, is that the church has no custom of being contentious. Another reading though is that if someone doesn’t like the above rules written about who does and does not wear hats, and is contentious about it, the above customs don’t exist. I favor the first reading, personally.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 20, 2007 @ 7:05 am

  7. Ok, just for completeness, I recently learned that doxa in vs. 7 most generally means “opinion, thought, or view”. (Thank you Connor and HP!) This has interesting implications.

    In the NT it seems to always be used as an indicator of good opinion, per Crosswalk.

    Crosswalk also shows “is” in verse 7 to be “Huparcho”, which can be to be, or to come forth, or to begin.

    So, again, just for completeness sake, we could read vs. 7 as:

    For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he comes forth from the likeness and good opinion of God: but the woman comes forth from the good opinion of the man.

    Anyone who wants to take a stab at the implications of that, may do as they please. I think it still can be interpreted just as I have above.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 20, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  8. Matt, I enjoyed this post. Thank you. If I could delurk long enough to ask for clarification . . .
    Can I use these same concepts to understand why women are temporarily asked to cover their faces in the temple? As a married 23-yr-old female, it’s the only portion of my experiences in the temple that I am struggling with. I don’t have problems with patriarchy or women’s roles in the church, but I also lack the Biblical perspective to make sense of all the symbolism, and this is one that I’ve really struggled with. I tried to find scriptural explanations but I think my interpretive skills are quite weak. When in the temple and I lower the veil and look around the room around me, my 21st century brain flashes to images of middle-eastern women and I have negative associations with that. So if anyone has any additional perspective, I would much appreciate it. I think the explanation above is a sound one for women’s positions and the meaning of covering their heads, and I’m just wondering if I can extrapolate to being asked to hide my face – i.e., head covering means covering the entire head.
    And how much of it is culturally-rooted vs priesthood protocol? I’m sorry if these questions are overly simple or were already addressed. Just trying to get it/
    Thank you.

    Comment by S.L. — April 21, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  9. S.L.- While I am not exactly sure, I would assume that when designing the Temple ceremony for our modern day, I would assume that Joseph Smith and any others involved in that process would have referred to the scriptures. The greatest explanation I’ve ever heard about the Temple clothing was from Russell M. Nelson at a Priesthood Leadership Meeting in Indianapolis on April 15, 2000. He explained that the Lord revealed to Joseph in D&C124 cs 26 that he needed to use his best effort to come with antiquities and with items that are knowledge from antiquities. Thus the temple clothing attempts to approximate the clothing in Exudos 28 and 29. Other chapters which discuss this clothing include Lev. 8 and a particular highlight is 2nd Samual 12 vs. 20.
    Personally, I think it wouldn’t be a stretch to relate 1 Cor. 11 to the concept you ask about in the Temple, but this is only my opinion. The first time I went through the temple, I went into the celestial room and began asking the temple worker there every question I could think of about the clothing I was wearing. The temple worker there very politely told me that he could not answer those questions in any official capacity, and that the Temple Presidency had asked him to not give his personal explanations of what some of the symbols within the temple ordinance meant, as they felt it might be confused as official by some. So again, I can only say that the above thoughts on 1 Cor. 11 are my own.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 21, 2007 @ 9:03 am

  10. S.L.–try searching the blogernacle for Julie Smiths take on the veiling of women in the Temple. It is probably at Times and Seasons, but I am not sure.

    Comment by a spectator — April 21, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  11. spectator, thanks for pointing this out. And I thought I was all original and brilliant… :)

    Comment by Matt W. — April 21, 2007 @ 6:30 pm

  12. Matt,

    Thank you for the first and only explanation of this passage that has EVER made sense to me. I enjoyed reading it and am glad to have found your blog.


    Comment by Mina — April 22, 2007 @ 7:25 am

  13. Matt, and spectator,

    Thank you so very much. I appreciate the replies and the insights.

    Comment by S.L. — April 22, 2007 @ 10:54 am

  14. Published too quickly –
    I found the discussion here and at TS extremely helpful. They are insights that I am at peace with; I can’t express how wonderful that is!

    Comment by S.L. — April 22, 2007 @ 11:07 am