The Symbolism of Hair in the Structure of Divine Authority

The Symbolism of Hair in the Structure of Divine Authority
By: Daniel L. Segraves

The eleventh chapter of I Corinthians presents two major topics which may, at first glance, seem unrelated. But upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that the teaching concerning head covering and the Lord’s Supper contain at least one common theme. Each teaching is concerned with symbols which are divinely appointed to represent a holy reality.

In the first section of the chapter (verses 3-16), the length of one’s hair symbolizes and represents his relationship to God and to the immediate authority God has placed over him.

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 (I Corinthians 11:7).

Without here entering into a discussion of what is meant by the phrase “cover his head,” it is noted that this prohibition is based on the fact that the man is the image and glory of God. Although the issue is not addressed in this verse, the implication is that a woman ought to cover her head, for she is the glory of the man.

Whatever is meant by covering the head, its basis is in the divine reality that man is the image and glory of God, while woman is the glory of man. The woman is not said to be the image of man; she too is the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But she is the glory of man. (See Proverbs 12:4.)

The woman is to complete and complement the man (Genesis 2:18). God, in a sovereign choice, determined that a woman’s long hair would be a glory to her and a sign of her submission to her husband (I Corinthians 11:10, 15). The long hair is not itself submission; it is a symbol of submission. The man’s uncovered head is not itself submission; it is a symbol of his submission to Christ.

In like manner, I Corinthians 11:17-34 introduces a new set of symbols.  Here, the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper represent, or symbolize, the body and blood of our Lord (I Corinthians 11:23-25). The bread is not the flesh of Christ; it symbolizes the flesh of Christ. The fruit of the vine is not the blood of Christ; it symbolizes the blood of Christ.

Can we, since these are but symbols, disregard or treat lightly the bread and the cup? No, for to disregard the symbol is to disregard the thing symbolized. Paul addressed this issue when he said, “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).

The key word here is unworthily. This does not address the personal worthiness of the one partaking of the Lord’s Supper; it addresses the manner in which he partakes of it. One who partakes of the Lord’s Supper unworthily partakes of it irreverently That is, he does not give due regard to the sacredness of the moment. If one, in partaking of the Lord’s Supper, does not give the bread and cup the reverence due them as symbols of the body and blood of our Lord, he shall “be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.”

Similarly, though the length of one’s hair is but a symbol of a spiritual reality, to disregard or cast away the symbol is to directly attack that which is represented by the symbol.

Why did God judge Moses so severely for smiting the rock in the wilderness after having been commanded to speak to it? Had He not previously commanded him to smite it? Water was provided by smiting the rock the first time (Exodus 17:6). But on the second occurrence God commanded Moses to speak to the rock (Numbers 20:7-11). Water did come forth when Moses disobediently smote the rock, but God reproved him and prevented Moses from entering the promised land.

The apparent reason for the severity of the judgment of God is that the rock was a symbol of a far greater reality to come. “That Rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4). When Moses was first commanded to smite the rock, it evidently typified the smiting of Christ at His crucifixion, a smiting which produced a river of living water. But it was in the divine plan of God for the Rock, Christ, to be smitten but once. There was no provision for a second Calvary. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The plan of God provided for one smiting. From that time forward, men would receive of the Living Water by speaking to the Rock, or by calling on the Name of the Lord. When Moses disobediently smote the rock the second time, he broke the divine typology predetermined by God. The rock itself was only a symbol, but to break the symbol was to attack that which was symbolized.

In a consideration of I Corinthians 11:3-16, several clear truths are noted which should be considered before proceeding to those which are thought by some to be more obscure:

1 . A man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (verse 4).

2. A woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. This dishonor is equivalent to the dishonor which would occur if she were shaven (verse 5).

3. For a woman to be uncovered is the moral equivalent to being shorn. It is equally a shame for her to be shorn, shaven, or uncovered (verse6).

4. In as much as a man is the image and glory of God, he should not cover his head. It is implied, however, that since the woman is the glory of man, she should cover her head (verse 7).

5. In the beginning, the man was not made for the woman, nor was he made of the woman. The woman, however, was created for the man and of the man (verses 8-9).

6. The matter of the woman’s covering is so significant that the angelic realm takes notice of it (verse 10).

  1. After having said all the previous, it must be admitted that following the initial creative act, the man is now by the woman, even as the woman is of the man (verses 11-12).

    8. The Corinthians clearly understood that it was uncomely, or inappropriate, for a woman to pray uncovered (verse 13).

  2. Nature taught the Corinthians that long hair is a shame to a man (verse 14).

    10. Long hair is a glory to a woman. It is given her for a covering (verse 16).

    11. Those who may be contentious are assured that the church has no other custom than that just described by Paul (verse 16).

    It would be correct to sum up the above as follows: While it is a dishonor for a man to pray or prophesy with a covered head, it is a dishonor for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered. Not only would this be a dishonor, it would be a shame. Long hair for a man is shameful; for a woman it is a glory.

    To the above many Bible believers will agree. The disagreement on this passage centers on the following questions:

  3. What is the covering of verses 4-7?

    2. What does it mean to be “shorn”?

    3. How long must one’s hair be to fit the Biblical definition of long”?

    In response to the first point of disagreement, Bruce K. Waltke sees a garment veil in verses 5 and 6. He says, [I]t seems probable to suppose that some of the individualistic Corinthians were proposing that their women throw off their traditional veils which symbolized their subordination to the men.1

    Waltke further quotes Morna Hooker, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University: “According to Jewish custom a bride went bareheaded until her marriage, as a symbol of her freedom; when married, she wore a veil as a sign that she was under the authority of her husband.”2

    It should be noted, however, that Paul does not address husbands and wives in I Corinthians 11; he addresses men and women. Thus an unmarried Jewish girl who followed Jewish custom by remaining bareheaded would dishonor her head if she, as a Christian convert, prayed or prophesied. This view would also be questionable in that the Jewish male wears a skull cap when praying. It is doubtful that Jewish custom, whatever it may have been, had any bearing on the situation among the Christians at Corinth. This is seen further in that Waltke quotes Jeremias as he describes this Jewish veil: “Her face was hidden by an arrangement of two head veils, a headband on the forehead with bands to the chin, and a hairnet with ribbons and knots, so that her features could not be recognized.”3

    Though Waltke concludes, “[I]t would be well for Christian women to wear head coverings at church meetings as a symbol of an abiding theological truth,”4 he does not suggest that such head coverings fit the description given by Jeremias!

    It is, however, by no means agreed that a garment veil is in view in verses 5 and 6. William J. Martin points out:

    Several indications show beyond reasonable doubt that Paul is using the term “covered” to refer to long hair. First, he uses it in contradistinction to the state of the man who is debarred from “having the (hair) hanging down” (verse 4). To make the wearing of a head-covering the opposite of short hair would be a false antithesis. It would have been pharisaical casuistry, and sheer quibbling to say that wearing a head-covering compensated for being shorn. To annul the state of being shorn you must be the opposite. To be transparently honest Paul would have had to say there is only one way, one simple, plain, unambiguous, right way to efface the shame of being shorn and that is to have long hair; and that is surely what Paul is saying. Second, nowhere in the passage is any word ever used for a material veil or head-dress.

Third, as the forms of the verb KaTaKaAUttTw (to cover) found here (verses 6 and 7) are not construed with an indirect object, it is best to take them as passive. Fourth, in v. 15 Paul states unequivocally that a woman’s long hair takes the place of an item of dress. Besides, one would expect Paul to use some more explicit term for “unveiled.”5

Martin has given four salient points as to why the verses in question must be speaking of long hair, not of a garment veil. His first point hinges on the Greek words “KaTaKeOaAns”. The preposition ‘Kata’ a is apparently in the ablative case and signifies “down from.” For this reason Martin translates the phrase “KaTa KeoaAns Exwv” as “having the (hair) hanging down.” He supplies the word “hair,” believing it is

Martin’s second point is that no word is used in the passage of a material veil or head-dress. The efforts of some to find a garment veil in the passage are ill-conceived. For example, a pamphlet entitled The Significance of the Christian Woman’s Veiling states:

The word cover, as employed in verses 4-7, is derived from the Greek Katakalupto and means veil.” . The word translated covering in verse 15 is not Katakalupto, as in the earlier verses, but Peribolaion. If in
God’s reckoning the hair is the veiling, we could rightfully expect this statement to read thus: “Her hair is given her for a Katakalupto” (veil).6

Assertions such as these reveal a lack of familiarity with the Greek language. Katakalupto does not mean “veil.” It is formed of two words, kata, a preposition meaning “down from” or “down upon,” and kalupto, a verb meaning “to cover, hide, or conceal.” The Greek of verses 4-7 indicates that the woman is to be covered; with what it does not say. It is erroneous to read into this passage a demand for a garment veil.The passage above quoted suggests that, had God meant to indicate that the woman’s hair was her covering, verse 15 could be expected to read, “Her hair is given her for a Katakalupto.” This is again flawed by a lack of awareness of elementary distinctions in the Greek language. Katakalupto is an adjective; peribolaion is a noun. They cannot be interchanged. Katakalupto modifies the noun (verse 6); peribolaidn is
the object of the preposition (verse 15).

I quote now from an unpublished pamphlet on the subject given me by a minister friend. Neither author nor publisher are mentioned, and I have corrected grammatical errors for the sake of clarity:

The word “covering” in verse 15 comes from the Greek word Peribolaion, which means “something covering the body or thrown around anyone.” This covering is different from the covering of verse 5. By nature a woman has a covering over her head (hair); it’s her glory from God. This is why she should not cut it. But Paul is speaking about nature, that the woman has a natural covering, but must put on a covering to show her place of subjection. Otherwise verses 5 and 6 would contradict themselves.

These statements are rife with error and misunderstanding. There is no Greek word for “covering” in verse 5. The word is uncovered. Covering is a noun; covered is an adjective. The anonymous author says a woman must “put on a covering.” This is not, however, found in verses 5 and
6. These verses imply that she must be covered (adjective). If she has her natural covering of hair (verse 15), she need not put on anything; she is covered. If she does not have her natural covering (noun) of hair, she can cover herself with an artificial covering if she wishes, but she is still in shame, for it is a shame for her to have her hair shorn (cut).

Martin is correct; a material or garment veil is seen nowhere in the Greek of the passage. It is found only in a misunderstanding of the distinction between nouns and adjectives and a lack of knowledge of the
Greek language.

Martin’s third point is that the verb KaTaKaAuTTw) (verses 6 and 7) has no indirect object and that it is therefore better to understand it as passive. In other words, it does not speak of that with which the women is covered, but of the fact that she is covered. This is a valid point and should be well considered.

The fourth point given by Martin is that “Paul states unequivocally that a woman’s long hair takes the place of an item of dress.” This point is crucial to the passage. If this is not admitted, sound exegesis demands that we admit that the passage never defines a covering with which a woman can be covered. Martin’s point is based on Paul’s statement “for her hair is given her for a covering” (verse 15).  The English word “for” is translated from the Greek word anti, a preposition which means “against” or “instead of.” Clearly, a woman’s hair is given her for, against, or instead of, a covering. In other words, her long hair serves as her covering. The Greek word peribolaion, here translated “covering,” is the only such noun in the passage. Thus, a woman’s long hair is the only actual covering mentioned in the entire passage.

The second point of disagreement in this passage centers on the meaning of the word “shorn.” This is the past participle of the word “shear,” and it is translated from the Greek word keiro, which means “to shear,” or, in the middle voice, as here, “to have one’s hair cut.”7

To demand that “shorn” mean “closely cropped” is in error. The word is a simple Greek word which describes the use of shears for the purpose of cutting, without specifying how much. It means, as Gingrich points out, “to have one’s hair cut.”

This point ties in perfectly with the answer to the third question:”How long must one’s hair be to fit the Biblical definition of ‘long?'” The discussion here must center on the meaning of the Greek words Koua (a verb) and Koun (a noun).

Koua is translated “have long hair” both in verses 14 and 15.  According to Gingrich, the word means, “wear long hair, let one’s hair grow long.” Thayer renders it, “to let the hair grow, have long hair.” Obviously, one cannot allow hair to grow and cut it, at the same time.

Koun (a noun) is the word translated “hair” in the phrase “for her hair is given her for a covering” (verse 15). Paul Ferguson, M. Div. (Ph.D. candidate) reports, “According to the passages cited by Bauer and Moulton and Miligan’s Vocabulary of [the] Greek New Testament kome is uncut hair. The passages cited by these works where this word occurs in Greek literature demand a meaning ‘uncut hair! ” Ferguson goes on to point out that the word kome is used to describe the Nazarites, who were forbidden to cut their hair.8

Long hair is hair which has not been shorn, or cut; it has been allowed to grow. It obviously does not speak of specific length, or it would be necessary for Paul to specify that length to insure conformity.  Such an artificial measurement would, without doubt, exclude some women from the privilege of ever having long hair, since due to physical and hereditary factors the length of women’s uncut hair varies greatly.  The only way all women could be assured of being able to fulfill the admonition to be covered with long hair is if the definition of long is “uncut.”

What if a woman has already cut her hair? Martin responds to this problem:

It would be unthinkable that among Paul’s many converts there were not women of the “shorn woman” class. What then was to be done about their inability to conform with the requirement of having long hair? Were they to be excluded until such time as nature would remedy their lack?  Certainly not. It would have been monstrous to exclude any believer from the immediate enjoyment of the privileges of church fellowship…The problem of such converts could be the situation dealt with here, in what is, in all probability, a parenthesis. This (verse 6). . .”For if a woman is not covered (has not long hair), then let her remain cropped (for the time being; Keipa’ow aoristimperative with cessative force, referring to a particular situation), but since it is a shame for a woman to be cropped or shorn let her become ‘covered’ ” (i.e. let her hair grow again; KaTaKaAuttTeoOw [present imperative for non-terminative, inchoative action]).9

If a woman has previously cut her hair, but has now surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, she is not to be excluded from fellowship. Rather, she is to be accepted even while she allows her hair to grow.

In part, Martin summarizes woman’s expected response in this way:

(a) she should comply-otherwise she would dishonour her Head (verse 5);

(b) she could comply-far from making any impossible demands on her, by conforming she avoids bringing shame on her womanhood (verse 6);

(c) she would comply-because it would be nonnatural not to (verse 13 ff.)10

I Corinthians 11:3-16 deals with the clear symbolism in which the length of one’s hair represents his relationship to God’s divine structure of authority. A material headdress is not in view in the Greek text, although it is possible that propriety in Corinth at the time demanded that modest women wear a veil. Paul carefully avoided, however, including any words which could have been construed as demanding garment veils on Christian women of all eras. As a Christian woman allows her hair to grow, uncut, she fulfills the symbolism addressed in the passage. As she has an inner heart to submit to her husband or father, she fulfills the reality.


1. Bruce K. Waltke, “I Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation,” Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 135, Number 537 (January-March 1978): 46.

2. Ibid., p. 50.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid., p. 57.

5. W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin, ed., Apostolic Historyand the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 233.

6. Merle Ruth, The Significance of the Christian Woman’s Veiling (Millersburg, OH: Calvary Publications, Inc., n.d.), pp. 8, 13.

7. F. Wilbur Gingrich, Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 114.

8. Paul Ferguson, “New Light From the Greek Text of I Corinthians 11,” Real Truth Journal (1975).

9. Gasque and Martin, Apostolic History, pp. 238-239.

10. Ibid., p. 239.

By G. E. Switzer

The author has done an excellent study, and his footnotes can be used
for further study on this subject by anyone who is interested.

Daniel Segraves correctly emphasizes that hair is the symbol of submission to authority, which is very important. He has explained what the “covering” on a woman really is and also he has showed in detail the meaning of cut and uncut hair on women. Altogether, for the time allotted, he did very well. For more detailed discussion, the student is referred to his excellent book on the subject, Women’s Hair: The Long and Short of It.

The following are some of the weaker points in the discussion on I Corinthians 11, points that should have been covered in more detail. First, there should be a treatment of the length of hair on Christian men, since the subject is symbolism of the hair in the structure of divine order. Women are under the authority of their husbands (not just any man) and men are under the authority of Christ, although we sometimes emphasize the former and deemphasize the latter. Paul said that a man should not pray or prophesy with his head covered. If hair on the women is short-meaning cut at any point away from its natural length, then what is considered long hair for a man? Is it simply cut short at some point, or is it to be cut above the collar and ears? We need to teach the men as well as the women, for we both are under an authority (Romans 13:1).

Second, more attention could have been given to the teaching of nature (I Corinthians 11:14). So many people seem to have a good opinion as to what Paul meant here. It could mean that nature as well as Scripture teaches us to maintain separate identities for the male and the female.

Third, more attention could have been given to I Corinthians 11:16, which says, “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Many questions arise and many interpretations are given concerning the phrases, “to be contentious” and “no such custom.”

This symposium can help us obtain a more accurate knowledge of these subjects in light of the fact that charismatic churches are growing by thousands. Entering into our churches are new converts who are educated and who want explanations. The day of ruling with an iron fist or thinking “the door swings both ways,” which used to be popular among some ministers, is over.

A new thought has arisen out of churches which favor women cutting their hair. They say all preachers have a ” soapbox” to preach on, which is simply their personal convictions, and one of the Apostle
Paul’s soapbox sermons was women’s hair. In other words, Paul was only expressing his personal convictions and not the will of God on this subject. This erroneous view is very alarming because it encourages people to believe and teach that the Bible is not really the Word of God. That is dangerous! Oneness believers who accept that false idea usually end up sooner or later in trinity churches, for when they begin to view one part of the Word as unimportant, it is easy for them to develop the same attitude towards another part of the Word.

In closing, the author is to be thanked for his excellent presentation. G. E. Switzer is pastor of the Apostolic Church of Belleville,

By Paul C. Leaman

The author has covered his subject in a clear and concise manner. It is essential that the subject of this paper be kept before our people in this day, when it is being ignored and looked down upon by most denominational churches. Even some pastors in our movement have ignored this teaching. We must constantly keep it before our people because, first, it is the Word of God, and, second, “All scripture is [still) given by inspiration of God, and is [still] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (11 Timothy 3:16-17).

The author has been quite thorough in his coverage of the subject, using a number of references and footnotes. In particular, he deals with three areas from which disagreement or questions often arise: (1) What is the covering? (2) What does it mean for hair to be shorn? (3) How long does a man’s hair have to be to fit the definition of “long”? That is, how long is long? The author has answered these questions

The Scripture teaches that for a woman “long” means uncut. If it is shorter than God intended it to be, it is short, and this paper shows that to be true. As the author mentioned, I Corinthians 11:3-16 deals with the clear symbolism of how the length of one’s hair represents one’s relationship to the divine structure of authority.

There are several areas that could have been covered somewhat more thoroughly in the paper. Although these points have been covered in the author’s book, Women’s Hair-The Long and Short of It, many people will read this paper who have not read the book.

One of these areas is found in I Corinthians 11:10: “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” Angels are even involved in this. Lucifer was cast out of heaven
because iniquity was found in him (Ezekiel 28:15), and iniquity is rebellion against divine authority. Many angels were involved in that rebellion. Angels are also involved in the answering of prayer today.
When the angels look upon a woman who has cut her hair, a woman whose
hair is shorter than the Lord intended for her hair to be, they turn aside from her because they detect a spirit of rebellion there. If a woman cuts her hair, that is the sign of rebellion as far as the angels are concerned, and she does it before God and all of the angels.

When a lady cuts her hair, it may be well concealed. Whether man detects it or not, the Lord does. The Scriptures state, “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13). When a woman attempts to conceal her cut hair, hypocrisy is involved in addition to rebellion because she endeavors to cover her sin and act as though everything is normal. But everything is not normal when a person disregards and disobeys God’s Word.

The Spanish Bible states that the hair is given in the place of a veil.  Some people in Latin America teach that it is necessary to have another covering on the head in addition to the hair, but this is not what the Scripture teaches.

The hair plays a very important part in revealing either our submission or our rebellion to God. In this regard, we need to hear something about the men. I Corinthians 11:14 states, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?” The Scriptures teach that it is just as wrong for a man to have long hair as it is for a woman to have short hair. The same Scripture deals with it. If we disregard the Word of God, we cannot expect to enjoy the fullness of His blessings upon our lives.

The author is to be commended for this paper. For the most part he has dealt with the subject verythoroughly. Through this symposium, may the Lord stir up our pure minds by way of remembrance.

Paul C. Leaman is pastor of the United Pentecostal Church of Saginaw, Michigan.

Daniel L. Segraves is the Executive Vice-President and Chairman of the Department of Theology of Christian Life College, Stockton, California.  He was formerly a pastor in Illinois and Director of Promotions and Publications for the General Sunday School Division. He is a graduate of Christian Life College, Gateway College of Evangelism (B. A.), and Freedom University (B. C. E., M. C. E., and D. Min.), and is now working toward an Ed. D. degree from California Coast University. He has written five books as well as numerous articles and lessons.

The Above Material Was Published In A Paper Given At The 1988 Oneness Symposium At St. Louis, Mo, By Daniel L. Segraves, Pp. 315-336. This Material May Be Used For Study And Research Purposes Only.