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1 Corinthians 11:5

ESV but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
NIV But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
NASB But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
CSB Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved.
NLT But a woman dishonors her head if she prays or prophesies without a covering on her head, for this is the same as shaving her head.
KJV But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
NKJV But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

What does 1 Corinthians 11:5 mean?

Paul has established that every person has a spiritual or metaphorical "head." Christ is the head of men. Husbands are the head of their wives. God is the head of Christ. Paul has written, in the context of the believers of Corinth, for a man to pray or prophesy in church services with his head covered brings shame to his spiritual head, Christ.

Now Paul turns to the point of his correction in this section. He states flatly that for a woman to pray or prophesy in church with her own head uncovered brings shame or dishonor on her metaphorical head: her husband—or to man, in general, depending on the translation. We see from this that women praying and prophesy was an accepted part of Corinthian church services. Paul has no objection to that. Instead, he objects to the practice of women doing so with uncovered heads.

Scholars differ on what it means for a woman's head to be uncovered in this context. Some believe Paul is referring to women with short or messy hair, or with their hair let down instead of put up in some way. Others, more convincingly, believe Paul is describing the traditional head covering worn by most women in that culture when out in public. In keeping with Paul's earlier concern about sending confusing signals to non-believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 8:7–13).

Historical records reveal important context for Paul's concern. Jewish, Greek, and Roman women of that era normally wore head coverings of one kind or another. These may have been hoods formed from a woman's robe or separate veils. Prostitutes and women engaged in worship of pagan gods would sometimes remove head coverings as an overt statement that they were sexually available. So, in Corinth, a woman's uncovered head could be considered a sexually suggestive form of dress.

Based on these words from Paul, Christian women in Corinth had begun to remove their head coverings during church services. The text does not say why. Perhaps they saw their freedom in Christ as liberation from cultural norms. Perhaps they felt the meetings in the house churches were not really in public. It might have been a deliberate signal that they rejected what they saw as oppressive expectations. Whatever their reason, Paul calls out the practice as wrong.

More specifically, he says that praying or prophesying with an uncovered head brings shame on a woman's metaphorical head, likely meaning her husband, father, or the male head of her household. Paul takes it further, comparing it to the shame of having her head shaved in public. Looking again to history, we see women caught in adultery or punished for other reasons sometimes having their heads shaved. The intent was to humiliate and mark them out for shame. Paul compares that state to the shame these Christian women bring on their husbands by having their heads uncovered. No matter how sincere their motives, that choice signified something deeply inappropriate to the larger culture.
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