In 1 Cor 11:10, Paul writes regarding head coverings and headship:

That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (ESV)

I don't mean to get too deeply into a discussion of head coverings here; what interests me particularly is this curious phrase "because of the angels." It seems to come out of nowhere, and the reference is quite lost on me. What is this all about?

  • If it is truth that Paul speak about woman hair as covering then it is not other way to man but to have shave his had because God sad that is shame to man pray with cover on his head?
    – user2267
    Commented May 16, 2013 at 13:07
  • Simple answer, at those times people believed that Angels lived in you hair especially on your head!!!
    – Enoch
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 12:40
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    I notice you quote the ESV and that it has "wife" instead of "woman". It should be noted that the same word could have been translated "woman". I'm not saying which is correct, I'm only pointing out the translation choice made as it will probably affect interpretation.
    – user10231
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 11:42

4 Answers 4


History of Interpretation

  1. άγγελοι in the human sense of "messenger." Some contextual support (10:32, 14:23) to view these "messengers" as outsiders or envoys from other churches. Essentially Paul is hoping to ensure that the Corinthian church does not embarrass themselves.
  2. The angels are "guardians of the created order." Paul seems to be drawing on the creation tradition in establishing a cosmic hierarchy and uses angels as the final justification for this hierarchy. He relies on Jewish tradition to solidify this connection (specifically Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen 1:26 which perceives angels as the agents by which God effected creation ... "let us" is then these angels speaking).
  3. As Mike mentioned (corroborated by Fitzmyer) that this is dealing with angels' presence in the congregation of the community. Fitzmyer was instrumental in identifying an earlier, similar belief articulated in Qumran (the War Scroll, and the Community Scroll). Extending this, angelic worship (that is, the type of worship performed by angels) is a most exemplary form of worship and worthy of imitation. Paul is relying on this perspective to reinforce the directives he's given as a means of working toward worshiping as the angels do.
  4. These are actually "bad" angels that Paul has in view. This is based on a Graeco-Roman culture in which the female head (and hair) could be viewed as displays of sexuality (and availability). The head covering was a means of maintaining order and reducing potential for lust/sexual angst within the male population (akin to forbidding micro mini skirts in church now). The "bad" angels were angels who fell because they had sex with the beautiful daughters of men. As such, Paul is enjoining this upon them for their own protection from these angels.


  1. Viewing these άγγελοι as human "messengers" is extremely weak and finds no real support in the Pauline (or even deutero-Pauline) corpus. It's primary attestation is found in the Gospels. Additionally, the worship context is strained if 10:32 and 14:23 are used as support.
  2. There is little early, or even rabbinic Jewish tradition that actually insist on such an angelic role in creation.
  3. In their scope, the Qumran documents do not have women as full participants in worship. As such, this explanation relies entirely on analogy and does not help to account for the actual mandate of head covering itself (and that the head covering is of women).
  4. It either assumes too much "vulnerability" within the women of the congregation, or too much aggression ("availability") by the women.

A Possible Solution

The head coverings protect a cosmic order by creating boundaries between distinct, yet sometimes overlapping, spheres more clearly. These spheres are both spiritual (presence of angels), and social (contemporary social context) in nature.

Paul, drawing upon the cosmic order imagery in "headship," invokes angelic justification for the sake of reinforcing the integrity of this order as a means of the spiritual and social realms interacting in propriety.

Stuckenbruck, Loren T. "Why Should Women Cover Their Heads Because of Angels? (1 Corinthians 11:10)", Stone-Campbell Journal 4 (Spring, 2001): 205-234.

  • I really appreciated this post, although I didn't follow the last paragraph at all... could you clarify your hypothesis?
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 16:34
  • Apologies. This was adapted from an article that I read in a journal and I'm still wrapping my own head around it. I will cite appropriately.
    – swasheck
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 17:13

I have teased my mind over this one a few times and what I eventually concluded is that it simply means that angels are actually in attendance when we meet for church worship and they witness any sort of church disorder.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (NIV Hebrews 1:14)

I think the idea is that because the angels are attending our service it should be seen more like a serious worship as though we were in heaven before the Lords throne and any sort of disorderly behavior is totally unbecoming ‘because of the angels’ who are also taking part. Of course one might say who cares about the angels, Jesus himself is attending our service! Yes, but it might be more embarrassing for us when we realize these heavenly creatures never are disorderly before God, and they are like us just creatures. They are described as winds of fire because they so quickly follow into line and accomplish the will of God in perfect order. We must look like silly beings to them fighting over meaningless things right in front of the throne of heaven.

They seem to be with us and maintain order among us as our guardians:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!” (NIV Revelation 22:8-9)


It seems that the principle is timeless. That is, the head-covering (hair) for women is a timeless principle in all ages and in all places, since angels have co-existed with man since man was created. In fact, angels preexisted man.

The Hebrew Bible (Job 38:7) indicates that the "sons of God" rejoiced at the creation of the world. These "sons" were angels (please click here), and therefore they preexisted man on the earth. If we recognize that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was Satan (Rev 12:9 and Rev 20:2), then angels were aware and observed Adam and the woman (Eve) in the Garden of Eden; in fact, cherubim were posted to guard the Garden of Eden so that no one could return there after Adam's disobedience (Gen 3:24). According to the Christian New Testament, angels today observe the behavior of men on earth (1 Cor 4:9; Eph 3:10; 1 Tim 3:16; and 1 Pet 1:12).

Thus angels have been aware of the creative order; that is, the man (male) was created before the woman (1 Cor 11:8-9). Before the introduction of sin into the world, the man (male) was the representative of God's authority on earth. The Lord God "crowned" him with God's authority of rulership on the earth (Ps 8:5-6). These verses in the Psalms indicate that the "head" of the man is therefore "crowned" with the glory of authority. (Incidentally and very interestingly, these same verses indicate that man was created lower than the angels --please compare Hebrews 2:7-8-- that is, the angels precede man in the creative order.) Then woman was created after the man as his "help meet" (Gen 2:18, KJV). Thus her head was not "crowned" with authority, but with the glory of the beauty of her hair (1 Cor 11:15).

God's glory is his authority (1 Chr 29:11). Man (or the male) reflects that glory as the authority of God on the earth. His head is therefore not to be "covered" with the glory of beautiful hair in the fashion of a woman (1 Cor 11:14). Although woman is "one flesh" with man (Gen 2:23), her glory on the other hand is her beauty, and therefore her head is covered with hair (or a wig, which is the alternative head-covering for a woman). She is not the glory of God (authority), but the glory of man (beauty). Otherwise a woman without hair is shamed. If a woman insists on bucking the creative order (and she happens to have long hair), then she might as well as shave her head (1 Cor 11:5), because bucking the creative order is shameful. Likewise as just mentioned, a male with long hair is shameful (to which Paul invokes "nature" as testimony in 1 Cor 11:14).

In other words, the angels have recognized the creative order between God and man, since they existed before man. (Thus man was created lower than the angels, which the angels also recognize.) Therefore the biblical principle of the created order (man, then woman) is not restricted to any cultural or era of time... but is timeless to the present day. That is, the angels also recognize God's creative order between man and the woman in creation, and the place of man, who is created lower than the angels. Man and woman are "one flesh," but the one who reflects the authority of God is man, and the one who reflects the glory of man is the woman (and not vice-versa).

Thus the principle of the "creative orders" of God are as timeless as the angels -- thus Paul mentions "because of the angels."

For an amplified discussion of the "created orders," please click here.

  • 2
    Hi Joseph and welcome to the site. Could I persuade you to fill in this answer a little bit? For instance, do you have a commentary you could point to? Also, does this imply that angels have long hair and/or gender? Little edits like that could make this a more persuasive answer. Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 1:42
  • Hi, Jon. I do not think angels have "gender" (Matt 22:30), although they may appear to be men (Gen 19:5), or women (Rev 9:8). I have no commentaries to which I could point you, other than the Bible.
    – Joseph
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 17:08
  • 2
    Somehow I do not find that exegetically convincing.
    – Kazark
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 21:27
  • It's not an exegetical explanation.
    – Joseph
    Commented Dec 19, 2012 at 23:00
  • A quick comment on "then she might as well as shave her head", within the Greek, the context seems to show more that when the Authority gets shaved from the man, its similar in disgrace to a woman forced to shave her head. Just a perception on concept vs. construction.
    – Decrypted
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 1:34

Closely Related: Was Adam present when the serpent was talking with Eve?

1. Question Restatement:

What does “because of the angels” refer to in 1 Cor 11:10?

2. Answer - Analogies of Why Accountability is Necessary :

There are actually several analogies of contention and betrayal in this passage: A.) Disputes within the Church; B.) Betrayal of the Angels; C.) Adultery from Numbers 5; D.) and Judas' Betrayal.

Paul's analogies seem to argue that even the most well-intentioned advocates must submit to authorities, if even Eve herself - and the Angels - made mistakes.

2.1. Context - The Failure of the Angels:

In Scripture, when the Angels fell - the angels betrayed their role to advocate for mankind, (See Jude, Genesis 6:1-4, Enoch 7).

In the texts, when the angels fell, it was necessary for power/authority to be held over them, for accountability.

2.2. Context - Eve's Failure:

NASB, 1 Timothy 2:14 - And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.

2.3. Context - Analogy and Reference to the Cup of Betrayal in Numbers 5 :

NASB, Numbers 5:18-19 - 18 The priest shall then have the woman stand before the Lord and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the *grain offering**** of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the ***water of bitterness* that brings a curse.

Note: The Bread / Cup Analogy, and 1 Corinthian 11's "Communion" context, and Judas' betrayal.

NASB, Numbers 5:19 - The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse;

2.4. Context - Reliance on Authorities to Prevent and Resolve Disputes:

NASB, 1 Corinthias 11:3-4 - 3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ ...

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:10 - ... 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a [symbol] of authority on her head - BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS.

Note: "Symbol" is not represented in the Greek text.

2.5. Context - Contention Within the Church:

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:16 - But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:18 - For, in the first place, when you come together [p]as a church, I hear that [q]divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.

Note: Jude seems more explicit of contention as betrayal, (going after each other's flesh). See Jude 7 - What Does "Strange Flesh" Mean?

2.6. Context - Judas' Betrayal:

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:23 - For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;

NASB, 1 Corinthians 11:29 - For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not JUDGE the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

Note: Translators wrongfully use "Discern, (i.e., subjectivity)" and "Judge, (i.e., objectivity)" interchangeably. See NKJV Translation of 1 Corinthians 11:29 "... not discerning the [Lord’s] body" - which wrongfully raises the issue of "transubstantiation".

3. Metaphors of "Covenant Authority":

In this context, "cover", "hair", and "head" are clear metaphors regarding "authority":

Men are not "literally" the heads of women, nor could Christ literally be the "head" of a man ...

Without question, "Authority" in 1 Corinthians 11:10, Interlinear denotes a "governing authority, (ἐξουσία)".

However: Given the context - and at the very least - "Authority" is also referring to "Covenant Authority":

  • Specifically: The authority to protect rights attributed as a result of a marriage covenant, (Numbers 5, et al);
  • And Generally: the authority to maintain a covenant relationship, to resolve disputes - in marriage, members of the Church, and even between God, Christ, and mankind, (1 Corinthians 11).

4. Personal Amplified Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11, (Greek Interlinear)

Note 1: Personal amplified translation, as requested. Note 2: Have taken a lot of liberty to interpret Man and Woman as husband and wife, following Numbers 5.

1 Corinthians 11:3 - Further, I need you to know, that because Christ is the head, (the authority over), every husband, so also is the husband the head, (the authority over) his wife, and so also is God the head, (the authority over), Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:4 - Every husband who gives thanks, or prophesies, according to some head, some authority, he has over him - exposes and shames himself, and the proper authority over him - Christ.

Note: It seems as though Paul uses "Head over" as metaphorical, and then uses the term literally, when shaming oneself. This interpretation suggests that Paul is intentionally employing equivocation, (parisology): equating shaming oneself with shaming the proper authority over oneself.

1 Corinthians 11:5 - Also, every wife who gives thanks or prophesies, but who freely betrays the authority over herself, her husband - is one and the same as one who exposes and shames themselves.

1 Corinthians 11:7 - Practically and in truth - a husband is not obligated to cover his head - the authority of Christ over him - which is in principle the very reflection and glory of God; and also a wife, has no obligation to cover her head - the authority of her husband over her - which is in principle the very reflection and glory of Christ.

Note: Probably the biggest objection to this interpretation, is in verse 7. In this verse, it seems more plausible that the heavy reliance on parallel and elliptical constructions in the Greek - should be understood consistently - and the "lack of obligation" should be expanded to include both men and women.

1 Corinthians 11:8-9 - ... For it is not man that followed after, or is of woman, but woman who followed after, and is of man; 9. For a husband was not shaped for the sake of a woman's vulnerability, but woman who was shaped for the sake of man's vulnerability.

*Vulnerability - In the garden, God recognized Adam's need, declaring: "it is not good for man to be alone ..."

1 Corinthians 11:10 - Because of this, (woman having being shaped in view of man's vulnerability), it is a necessary obligation for the woman to have an authority over her own head, over herself, just as it is necessary even for the angels to be held accountable, who betrayed mankind, having shamed themselves, betraying the vulnerability of the ones they were sent to protect.

  • I appreciate your understanding of the Greek, would it Be possible if you could do a personal translation of 1 Cor 11:10, perhaps doubling it with an overly defined translation? Also thanks for the reference to Numbers 5, it seems also a connection can Be found in Numbers 30.
    – Decrypted
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 1:27
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    @Decrypted - A.) Because you asked for an amplified interpretation - I took quite a few liberties to emphasize the parallel between: Angels -> Mankind; Mankind -> God; Wives -> Husbands; B.) Because this is interpretative, it is obviously nowhere near perfect; but I will certainly fix anything pointed out. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 3:01
  • Is it possible to explain the type of authority?
    – Decrypted
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 3:59
  • 1
    @Decrypted - I tried adding clarification on the "Type of Authority". I pointed to the lexicon, but noted how I interpret it as "Covenant Authority". I hope this helps. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 3:39

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