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Roman Introduction

Vestal Virgins

Emperor, Prefect and Bishop

Head Covering

Chapter VIII

Paul's Epistle

            In this section, please pay special attention to the words "cover" and "uncover". The Romans had the idea that the covering for the head was some human- made material put on one's head; "uncover" to remove that material. Did Paul use those words with the same meaning as the Romans did? Or did Paul mean "cover" and "uncover" with the sense of God-made material, that is, to cover with one’s own human hair, not in the Roman sense of piece of material,  but Jewish sense which refers to a person’s own hair?

            A few years before Paul wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, he was in Corinth for a year and a half. After he left Corinth, he went to Ephesus, where an incident of them speaking in tongues was recorded; (Acts 19:6). Paul explained this in his epistle, first Corinthians Chapter 14. Another incident occurred after he had left Corinth when he went to Cenchrea. There Paul did something drastic by shaving his head, for he was under a vow, Acts 18:18. How aware were the Corinthians of such Jewish customs? The Epistle, first Corinthians may not have had anything to do with the vow. But looking at the vow first, this passage did not use the word vow, but pray. James 5:15 reveals something interesting in this regard. It says: "The prayer [εὐχή́] of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven." This word εὐχή was translated as prayer in English translation. In most texts, this word εὐχή is translated as "vow." Of course we know a vow is a prayer.

            Here, Paul might be using the word “prayer” in generalizing and including the meaning of “vow,” which is the action he took.

            A person who takes a vow can be called a “votary”.  A votary may be a Nazirite, or a positive or negative vow taker--that is, he or she may either promise to do something or promise to refrain from doing something.  When a votary takes a vow, he cherishes his long hair during the duration of the vow, but now Paul calls having long hair a disgrace, a dishonor to his head. There seems to be a contradiction between a votary's action and Paul's statement. However, the contradiction disappears when we realize that taking a vow comes in two stages. First, during the duration of his vow of separation, no razor may be used on his head; he is to keep his hair long. When the period of separation is complete, he is to uncover or shave his head. Basically, Paul is talking about this second stage to explain to the Corinthians why he shaved his head

            Check the following words that show how God expressed his idea about the hair he created in Chapter 6 of the book of Numbers. Reading from Septuagint, LXX, the chapter explains men’s Nazarite vows.

Verse 5:           "cherishing the long hair of the head”

Verse 7:           "because the vow of God is upon him on his head”

Verse 18:         "shave the head of his consecration”

Verse 19:         "he has shaved off his holy hair” (actually “vow” instead of “hair,” in the original language)

            The story of Samson is another Old Testament example. Although not much explanation is given, somehow when God dealt with Samson, his anointing stayed with his long hair. As long as he had his long hair God’s power was with him. God never required of him to have anything else on his head.

            1 Corinthians 11:14 reads, "Every man that prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head." For many centuries men have had the practice of taking off their hats when they enter a church. Is this what Paul meant? Did Paul uncover his head by shaving after his vow?  The Bible does not indicate a man should remove his hat.

 Look at what Paul said about men and women separately. First, for men:

Verse 4:           ". . with his head covered  dishonors his head"

Verse 7:           "A man ought not cover his head"

Verse 14:         "if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him"

  In verse 4 and 7, he talked about "cover head." In verse 14, he talked about "long hair." 

 Now, for women;

Verse 5:           "her head uncovered dishonors her head"

Verse 6:           ". . . disgrace for woman to have her hair cut  . . covers her head"

Verse 15:         "If a woman has long hair it is her glory? For long hair is given  to her as a covering?"

            In verse 5 and 6, he talked about "head uncover" or "hair cut" as a dishonor or a disgrace.  Is Paul suggesting "head uncover" and "hair cut" are different actions but the same rephrased action?  If they are the same action, cutting the hair is the same as uncovering head, nothing else.

In reverse, “not cutting the hair” means “cover the head with hair”.

Verse 15 says, “For long hair is given to her as a covering"

This passage is also understood to explain headship of man. The book of Numbers Chapter 30 also explains about the headship of man between God and the woman when she takes a vow. When the daughter, or wife, takes a vow, her father or husband hears her vows, and her father should hold his peace with her or forbid her. It is a responsibility given to him for his daughter or wife. 

To summarize: The stola and palla (a shawl worn over the head) were Roman fashions for respectable women in the first Century. Prostitutes were not allowed to dress in this fashion, but were restricted to wearing only the dark toga. In the Greek city of Corinth, it’s likely that women followed the Roman custom of fashion. This was the situation in the time period which Paul lived and wrote.

            A reader might ask, how would we understand  I Cor. 11:6?

“if the woman is not veiled, she should shave off her hair.”

            As mentioned before, after Valentinian inserted the word ‘veil’ instead of  keeping the original word ‘power’ for over a thousand years from the pulpit, this word ‘veil’ tainted the whole passage leaving one to think anytime the word ‘cover’ appears the meaning should automatically be switched to ‘veil’.  

            It is not known what the Corinthians questions were but try to read the following passage without changing, in your head, the word from ‘cover’ to ‘veil.’ Additionally, it does not say, cover her hair but cover her head, scalp. 

NIV (New International Version) I Cor. 11:6 reads:

“If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.”

NIV I Cor. 11:15, Paul said:

“but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.” 

Paul never said anything about veil. Using manmade materials on women’s head was not Paul’s intention.


1          The early Roman Church, Tertullian, tried to Christianize Roman fashions by         trying   to make Paul’s epistle endorse wearing the palla as a Christian religious practice.

2          The early Roman Church, Ambrose, also tried to carry on the Vestal Virgin’s         Fillet as Consecrated Christian Virgin’s bridal veil.

3.        Mystery loving Valentinian’s insertion of word ‘veil’ instead of ‘power’ was carried on without being challenged through Middle Ages. 

Ambrose, bishop of Milan, even worked with three emperors in his life time. He carried the bridal veil tradition for consecrated Christian virgins like Vestal Virgins for fillets. He did not even mention anything about prayer veils.  Rather, he discouraged having curls and ornaments but encouraged natural long hair for a woman to cover her head.

What shall we say of those who consider it a sign of luxury to have in their service slaves wearing curls and ornaments, while they themselves have long beards and the slaves have streaming hair? It is to be expected that chastity will be lost where the distinction of the sexes is not observed, and where nature lays down definite instruction, as the Apostle says: ‘Does it become a woman to pray to God uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear his long hair is degrading; but for a woman to wear her hair long is a glory to her? Because her hair has been given her as a covering.’ You must thus answer those who make inquiries. Farewell, and love us as a son, because we as a parent love you.[1]

Now, after reading this far, readers might be convinced, woman’s hair is given to them as covering.

Then what was Paul’s intention by saying in chapter 11, verse 10?

            “The woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.“

According to the Numbers 6:7 regarding the law of the Nazirites:

             " the vow of God is upon him on his head”

Paul’s statement reminds us of how God dealt with our hair when we take the vow.

 Maybe the Corinthian’s were asking Paul after seeing him shave his head, what a woman should do in case of taking her vow.


[1] Mary Melchior Beyenka, Saint Ambrose Letters (Fathers of the Church, Inc 1954), p. 437




updated: 09/17/2016     Hit Counter