Are the commandments concerning covering & uncovering the head for public assemblies only or in private as well?

I have read commentaries on these verses and most agree that these commandments concerning covering the head are only regarding public assemblies. I know context matters and we are to compare scripture to scripture but nothing makes me think that these commandments are for public assemblies only.

Paul only mentions public assemblies starting at verse 17.

1 Corinthians Chapter 11 AKJV

1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 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. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 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. 6 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. 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. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.

17 Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

Any information concerning what the Early Church thoughts were on the matter would be great.

Is there any information in the law or OT that regard the matter?

Should a man never cover his head? Should a woman always be covered?


7 Answers 7


A major theme of Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians was warning against backsliding into previous pagan ways.

Praying with one's head covered was apparently a pagan Greek custom. John Chrysostom, in his 4th century commentary on this verse, writes:

Having finished therefore all the discourses concerning all these things, he next proceeds also to another accusation. And what was this? Their women used both to pray and prophesy unveiled and with their head bare, (for then women also used to prophesy) but the men went so far as to wear long hair as having spent their time in philosophy, and covered their heads when praying and prophesying, each of which was a Grecian custom.1

A note to the above translation (from Greek) of Chrysostom's commentary in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers series reads:

To let the hair and beard grow was a token of devotion to any study; as Poetry, Hor. A.P.2 297; Philosophy, as it is told of Julian the Apostate that it was part of his affectation to let his hair and beard grow.3

1. Homily XXVI on 1st Corinthians (tr. from Greek, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Book 12)
2. Horace, Ars Poetica
3. Op. cit.


The admonition for a woman to have her head covered applies to private time also.

1Cor 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.

In our private prayer times, men are not present, but angels are there.

  • Do you believe that angels can listen to your private thoughts as you pray silently?
    – iconoclast
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:54

No law directly parallels these statements, and it should be remembered that the beginning of this chapter is speaking of headship, and in the case of that literal analogy, headship is represented by the head, particularly of a woman having long hair.

The only law of the OT that mentions a covering other than hair is in relationship to the priests which has no bearing on the common Israelite - Exo 28:40 And for Aaron's sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty.

However if this verse is speaking of hair and not a bonnet or hat like object, as seems to be indicated by the uncovering of the head in verse 5 -6, "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. 6 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.

Then this could most certainly be an allusion to Num 5:18- And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman's head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse:

This would explain why Paul says...' 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. ", as this would be the shame of a married woman to have a shaved or short hair cut on their head, as it would imply she had recently been suspended of adultry by her husband, thus making it the normative principle of God's Law for a godly woman to have long hair, making it not assumable to have been recently suspended of adultry by her jealous husband.

And importantly even if it is the normal custom of the Christian community for woman to have longer hair, how it applies to prayer and prophecy is the focus of the conversation, so concerning the whole mater with that focus Paul says: 1 Cor 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.


Yet the emphasis in these two phrases are not on the congregational prayers being spoken in a worship service, but on the fact that Christians pray and give thanks to God without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prophesying itself was done by multiple people, maybe at one time (1 Corinthians 14:23), which is why the Apostle wanted it more controlled (1 Corinthians 14:27). Thus the emphasis is not on the formal prayers being offered (Acts 12:5) , nor the prayers of hymns and other forms of praise (Colossians 1:3) but on the inward prayers of the individual, the groaning of our souls (Romans 8:26-27), so much so that Jesus declared that the Temple should be a house of prayer, for no article (in the Greek) is placed before “praying” in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 to distinguish one type of “praying” from another. To put this into perspective-a Church is a Church of prayer, and Hannah is a lesson of all of this in 1 Samuel 1:11-13. We are not to look only to the outward in these verses, but to the inward groans of our heart, for God’s people are a praying peopleT

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I disagree head coverings were for a limited time, a local custom...this doctrine was taught Paul by Jesus in his revelation, the same way he was taught about circumcision (Galatians 2:2), as 1 Corinthians 15:1-10 reads, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received. By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received…His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.” Paul uses the laws of nature as Scripture often does to teach higher truths so that the glory of Christ, His real presence rules the Church, especially as received in the Lord's Supper, and because of the incarnation, He was necessary to cover the glory of the woman in the New Testament so that the real presence, the glory of the Lord would shine forth.


Paul limits (in verse 16-“we have no such custom, neither the Churches of God.”) these traditions to a congregational issue and not a societal-cultural issue. The Corinthian Church has no custom of women not wearing head coverings….the women wore head coverings as a tradition before he wrote these words as verse 2 mentions (“now I praise you”), and it is for us today a written “tradition” having full apostolic authority behind it-so we must not confuse head coverings as a custom-it is not that; in fact, Paul disregards any “custom” of women of not wearing head coverings as being not worthy of further discussion. The whole context (verse 2 “Now I praise you, brethren…”) is defining their coming together as a Church as verse 17 elucidates “I praise you not, that ye come together…” Thus Paul is dealing with congregational (Church) issues in verses 2 through 16 and he is not looking around at what other assemblies are doing or what the prostitutes are doing, or any other “custom”.


“custom” must be seen for what it is, and “custom” is restricted in these verses to women not being covered and similar practices-period; “traditions” though have absolutely nothing to do with customs of the prostitutes, culture, or society. Paul never says we have a custom of women wearing head coverings because it is a “tradition” having full apostolic authority behind it. Custom means rebellious or argumentative in this context.

  • David thank you for your answers and I'm leaning towards agreeing with you after reading more commentaries on 1 Cor 11. Can you group your answers together in one post?
    – GFFG
    Apr 21, 2019 at 22:57

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