1 Cor. 11:4-5 says, “Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved.”
In ancient Greek society it was the custom of men to keep their heads uncovered during worship. It was the custom of women to keep their heads covered to show reverence to God. But that custom is no longer observed.
Therefore, this verse does not say that a woman is not to cut her hair.
“It seems that the Corinthian slogan, “everything is permissible,” had been applied to meetings of the church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress. More importantly they seem to have rejected the concept of subordination within the church (and perhaps in society) and with it any cultural symbol (e.g., a head-covering) which might have been attached to it. According to Paul, for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation. She might as well shave her head, a sign of disgrace (Aristophanes Thesmophoriazysae, 837). In doing so, she dishonors herself and her spiritual head, the man.” 1
For a woman, in that cultural context, to remove her head covering was to suggest equality with men in the church. Now, we must be careful. We are not saying that women are not equal to men in privileges in the church since in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). However, in the area of church authority there is a distinction. God has set up the man as the head of the wife (Eph. 5:23), and women are not to be pastors and elders (Titus 1:5-6). This is an authority structure set up by God. So, the authority of God over men was very important, which is why men prayed without head coverings while women did. Why? Paul tells us in v. 7, “For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head.”
So, Paul is talking about authority. When we recognize the authority of God over us, we are subjecting ourselves to His authority. Likewise, women wearing the head-covering were publically demonstrating their subjection to the authority placed over them.
- 1. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.