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Q&A #132 - I Co 11:2-16 - Paul regarding women covering their heads

by Alexander Lehrman (edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer)

This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.


Alexander Lehrman is Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, University of Delaware. Some of his publications are listed at From time to time he will be a guest commentator for's request to Alexander Lehrman



Alexander, I would appreciate your critique of William P. Welty's "Rethinking the veil: another approach to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16" at There the author follows reasoning originally proposed by John Lightfoot and later by Katherine C. Bushnell that Paul in these verses was not arguing for women to have their heads covered but against men having their heads covered (with a tallith). He argues that according to the text women have the authority to decide for themselves.

The conclusions of Welty (with Lighfoot and Bushnell) provide the only explanation of which I am aware that avoids the conclusion that Paul became confusedly tangled in his own misplaced scriptural and cultural references, especially in 1Co 11:7-9,13-15. One might say the jury is out on Welty's conclusions, but since those conclusions are so little known, the "jury" of biblical scholars has not yet even heard the case.

Welty's grammatical constructions are plausible but may not be entirely in sync with all that Paul is saying. Though Welty makes it sound so simple, no scholars with whom I am familiar have adopted his reasoning.

Please share with us your conclusions from examining Welty's arguments from the standpoints of (1) Greek grammar and (2) context within that section of 1 Corinthians.


Alexander Lehrman



Commentary on I Cor. 11:3-16

by Alexander Lehrman, Ph.D. (

Thanks for your request. It gave me an opportunity to read Welty's excellent paper on I Cor. 11:3-16, reread Hays's sensitive interpretation, and attempt a close reading of my own. As far as I can tell, Welty is quite correct in treating verse 13 as an assertion, not a question (although that is not at all necessary: it may well be a rhetorical question). He is absolutely correct in interpreting verse 14 to mean "Nature itself does not teach you...," etc. The Greek verb komao does not mean "to have LONG hair," it means merely "to have hair (on one's head)." So the King James version represents a great distortion of the original, as does Waltke's interpretation. Most importantly, Welty's (i.e., Bushnell's) interpretation of verse 10 as something like "woman must have authority over her (own) head" is perfectly correct.

The discussion of akatakaluptos and anakekalummenos (p. 5) is a different matter. The problem is that these are formed from two different verbs: the first one from kata-kalupto 'cover (with downward movement)', such as the top of one's head, while the second one is from ana-kaluptomai 'uncover (one's face)'. The former requires the negative (privative) particle a- to negate the past participle kata-kaluptos 'covered', while the other, through the use of the prefix ana-, changes the meaning of kaluptomai 'cover oneself or one's face' to ana-kaluptomai 'uncover one's face'. The formations are entirely different, too: anakekalummenos is a perfect middle participle. Anyway, to make a long technical story short, there is no evidence for the meaning "with one's hair loosened" which Welty ascribes to akatakaluptos.

But that's just fine. I think Paul does talk about head-coverings for men and women. In the context of a few verses before Chapter 11--"Be without offense both to the Jews and to the Greeks and to the church of God," etc., Paul praises his addressees for remembering what he transmitted to them previously (11:2), and then he recapitulates what he transmitted to them (verses 3-9). But then he revises that, in light of what is true "in the Lord" (verse 11) and of the fact that "everything is from God" (verse 12, cf. also 10:31 " do everything to the glory of God"). And then comes the rest, with the gist that "the hair is given in place of a covering" to both men and women (verse 15; note that the KJV "her" in "is given her" is an addition, to be removed). In verse 16, I think what Paul is referring to when he says "we don't have such a custom," etc., is the liking to be contentious. This takes him to a discussion of "divisions" further on (verse 18 ff.).

This is my take on it, provisional as it must be. I always try to look at the context of the text in question, and pay close attention to the words and grammatical forms of the original (as per I Thess. 5:21 panta de dokimazete, to kalon katechete [but test all, hold to the good]).

See Alexander Lehrman's comments above in the context of the Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians at


Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer