"Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head."
-- 1 Corinthians 11:4 (KJV)

An article I was reading the other day does not consider the phrase, rendered "having his head covered" (or similar) in many popular translations, as being accurate.

I quote,

“Having his head covered” is a commentary, not a translation. Lenski translated the sense correctly: “having something down from his head.” What the “something” is is neither stated nor implied in 1 Corinthians 11:4.
-- Coffman's Commentary on the Bible (Studylight.org)

Is this conclusion justifiable from the original Greek text? Referencing the Greek word "kata" in Strong's concordance shows that this word, at least by itself, can have the meaning of something down from, etc.


5 Answers 5


I would not at all be surprised if what Paul intended was a bowed head indicating that the head must be above the man. However most of the context seems to refer to head covering so I can see why it is interpreted as having something on the head.

Barnes' Notes has these comments on 1 Cor 11:4:

Praying, or prophesying - Any person who engages in public acts in the worship of God, whether prayer, singing, or exhortation: for we learn, from the apostle himself, that προφητευειν, to prophesy, signifies to speak unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort, 1Co_14:3. And this comprehends all that we understand by exhortation, or even preaching.

Having his head covered - With his cap or turban on, dishonoreth his head; because the head being covered was a sign of subjection; and while he was employed in the public ministration of the word, he was to be considered as a representative of Christ, and on this account his being veiled or covered would be improper. This decision of the apostle was in point blank hostility to the canons of the Jews; for they would not suffer a man to pray unless he was veiled, for which they gave this reason. “He should veil himself to show that he is ashamed before God, and unworthy with open face to behold him.” See much in Lightfoot on this point.

The bolding is mine.


The Greek text is κατὰ κεφαλῆς ἔχων - kata kephalēs echōn. The literal meaning is something like "having down of head". This sounds somewhat non-sensical, but the phrase is apparently a well-known idiom meaning to have one's head covered (see, e.g, Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains).

Paul seems to have been alluding to a custom among pagan Greeks to put on some sort of head covering when prophesying.1 According to one Greek explanation from the 4th century, Paul was admonishing Christians who prophesied from imitating pagan customs while doing so:

Having anything on his head: He signifies that even though he pray with a bare head, yet if he has long hair, he is like one covered. For the hair is given for a covering.2

The idea is that it is superfluous to put on any kind of "headgear". This is reinforced a few verses later (v.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.

1. John Chrysostom, Homily XXVI on First Corinthians (tr. from the Greek)
2. Ibid.

  • What makes a particular Scripture "valid" or "invalid"?
    – user33515
    Dec 15, 2017 at 3:47
  • 1
    @user33514 Good question, and one might even go so far as to then ask, what makes a particular verse, "scripture?"
    – robin
    Dec 19, 2017 at 4:34

Just off the top of my head (no pun intended) I would say that a covering figuratively represents a barrier. In scripture God reveals his desire to commune with humanity in a very intimate and personal way (directly). In another passage of scripture Paul describes the hierarchy of nature by saying that the head of the woman is man and that the head of man is Christ and that the head of Christ is God (the Father).


"having something down from his head" is nonsense-speak, and is not a translation of κατα κεφαλης εχων. It would be as atrociously bad as translating Acts 9:31: "the church down all Judea and Galilee." Here κατα really means "across, over, in." Hence its usage "on" here in 1 Corinthians. It should be translated "with [his] head covered." κατα can be used in many senses, and "down" is an extremely rare one, and certainly not meant here. Jerome, fluent in Greek and Latin, translate it: "veláto cápite" (with [his] head covered) also. We get our word "veil" from this Latin word, incidentally.


According to https://studybible.info/strongs/G2596 "kata" means "according to"/ "against". While in English I can't think of one single word for this as it's almost an oxymoron, I believe a suitable English translation for "kata" could be "accordingly against."

It was the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 6's sermon to the disciples on the mount, where He said "do not worry about [...] what you will wear." Lord Jesus' Eternal Father gives us Jesus as our clothing. https://www.biblestudytools.com/matthew/passage/?q=matthew+6:25-34 So to understand Paul's meaning of 1 Cor 11:4-5, we need to understand that Paul is talking about Genesis 3's Adam and Eve, the seat of Abraham's faith (in his head), and again, what it means to be fed by and Clothed in Christ.
Paul’s Torah-related verses should comply with Christ’s own teachings.
Jesus taught the Apostles, as God commanded Adam to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If Adam’s head has ears, then his head has memories. The Apostles taught the church, as Adam taught Eve. When answering the snake, Eve surmised to neither eat nor touch the tree. The snake hid that truth-claim with its question and Eve’s answer was thus against that mysterious hiddenness.

Remember in Greek, the word for truth is "ἀλήθεια" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aletheia which is a compound "not concealment" or "not forgetfulness" , or for the truth of light "not oblivion."

in 1 Corinthians 11:4 So when Adam sinned, and fell, he acted/prophesied against that which his head has. Adam prophesied accordingly-against his head's having.
in 1 Corinthians 11:5 When Eve sinned and fell, though she answered, thus accordingly-against-hiddenness (katakalyptos) , she did/prophesied not + her own answer, (akatakalyptos).

Looking at the “Greek Concordance: κατὰ (kata),” https://biblehub.com/greek/kata_2596.htm , the Example of Luke 8:33, where Kata is used as a preposition regarding the topology of the hill-side. Well, running "accordingly against" the hillside is a much better topological description of running according to the land's contours, since if you went straight down, that would literally require a water-well as a passage. Similarly with Acts 9:31, were the church parishes in the regions of "Judea" and "Samaria," accordingly-against the actual regional-definitions? since they were building the Kingdom of God, and are worshipping the resurrected Lord Jesus whom the state crucified. You couldn't contradict "kata" with "across/over" as some intrinsic partner with the region: The church of the first century wasn't peaceably & tolerably a tax-exempt part of the cultural state, as it is today. Greco-Roman culture was male-dominated, and pertinently, held regional head-dress customs for married women and worshippers. Jerome translated the Latin Vulgate from Greek, in the midst of this cultural dread. If we look carefully, all translations of 1 Corinthians 11:4 which follow after Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation uses a verb “to veil” in “velato capite” (to veil the head.) But the Greek which is preserved from Paul’s own words doesn’t use the verb “to veil”. Checking Matthew 27:51 the Latin uses the noun word “velum” for veil. And the Greek uses “katapetasma” where "petasma" means "spreading out"

anyway, i think this was the original meaning of Paul, because his discourse on shaved heads in the subsequent verses, has to do with Aristotelian metaphysics' concept of "identity" and in today's philosophical terminology, the 'sortal-concept', where more similarities and less distinctions mean a closer shared identity. and the verse above (1 Corinthians 11:3) is also about the deity-of-prayers not being confused with a sortal-concept of the person-making-the-prayers. A praying woman can't confuse 'him' with herself, and a praying man can't confuse "Jesus of Nazareth' with himself. Nor can Lord Jesus ignore the full "God" (the good God, described by the doctrine of Trinity.)

check Matthew 9:29 excerpt "according to your faith, be it done unto you", by this version of kata "accordingly against your faith, be it done unto you". Lord Jesus was touching their eyes when He said that. https://biblehub.com/kjv/matthew/9.htm Peace of Christ.

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