Unveiling the Veil Subject (2 of 10)

If you haven’t yet, read the first post in the series:

Unveiling the Veil Subject (1 of 10)

Let’s wrestle with Question One: Is the head covering a physical thing or a metaphor?

An important question: Paul is either speaking of a physical item of clothing or he’s speaking symbolically or metaphorically.

Let’s read:

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. – 1 Corinthians 11:4‭-‬5 NASB

Did you pay attention to something he said?

“Every man who has something on his head …”

Of course, we can’t focus on the English word here because the original text was written in Greek but the sentence does make it difficult to assume it’s a metaphor. The words used are specific.

“Every man who has — something — on his head — …”

I think of the many other ways this could have been written if the head covering weren’t physical. Here are some examples:

  • Every man who takes cover
  • Every man who is hidden
  • Every man who is protected
  • Every man who is concealed
  • Every man who has something on him

Why the specificity of the “something” on the “head”? The way I see it, this “something” is very much a physical object that is only used on the head. It cannot be a metaphor for two reasons:

  1. Paul likens a woman who does not cover her head to one whose head is shaven. If the head covering were a metaphor, why is he so strict on it being applied exactly as he states it?Metaphors are comparisons we make between two objects or phrases that may share one or few characteristics but not all.If we run our test on general metaphors, their limitations become evident. The snow was a white blanket.
    We read that and we can understand how the snow can be seen as a white blanket while not actually being one but we would never try to convince someone that we were so cold, we went and hid under some snow.b. His heart was a cold iron.
    Heartlessness and harshness are often symbolised by the cold and steel but no doctor would be silly enough to think a man replaced his heart with a cold iron and lives on.If you apply the test to the head covering, no matter what you apply to it, its physicality remains viable.
  2. Paul uses the head covering to symbolise something else. Verse 10 says,

    Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head… – 1 Corinthians 11:10a NASB

    Therein lies our metaphor. The head covering, which is very much a physical object, acts as a symbol of authority, the metaphor.


4 thoughts on “Unveiling the Veil Subject (2 of 10)

  1. Hi Richard.

    In regards to the physicality of the covering the literal translation of the Greek is “having down from the head”. The word for “down” is the Greek preposition KATA which changes meaning depending on the declension of the following word (the Biblical Greek declensions are:- nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive & dative). The word after KATA is the Greek word for “head” and it is in the genitive. Grammatically then the word KATA can
    a. Have a spatial meaning:- i.e. hanging down from the head.
    b. Be a reference to some sort of opposition:- i.e. pressed down against the head
    c. Be a reference to a source:- i.e. being sourced from the head … namely hair.
    There are a few scholars who would say that Paul has “source” in mind and that hairstyles are in focus. The majority of commentators, and most grammatical experts, agree Paul is using the spatial sense – so a veil or covering of some kind. Very strong grammatical support for this view is found in Plutarch (Moralia 200F). Plutarch was a Greek writer, who lived from 45-120AD. In his writing he uses almost exactly the same phrase as Paul and, in that context, it is describing a toga covering the head of Scipio. So, grammatically, your point stands.

    However, I will give you a heads-up. You are going to run into a grammatical difficultly when you get to 1 Cor 11:10. While many English translations have the phrase “symbol of authority” or “sign of authority” the Greek word for “sign/symbol” is not in the Greek text – the text literally reads “Therefore she ought the woman authority to have over her head …”. So your conclusion that, “The head covering, which is very much a physical object, acts as a symbol of authority, the metaphor”, is not as simple as the English text makes it out to be. Indeed in every other verse where the exact Greek phrase occurs (cf. Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24; Revelation 11:6; 14:18; 16:9; 20:6) the context makes it clear that active authority (i.e. the power/right to exercise authority) not passive authority (coming under or submitting to the authority of another) is in view. If you want to pursue the idea that the physical object is referring to a metaphor in verse 10 then the metaphor is going to be something like “wearing the physical veil gives the prophesying/praying woman authority and control over her own head”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brother, thank you so much for taking the time in explaining and sharing your understanding of the passage. You’re absolutely right regarding the Greek word used for the veil. It does not mention “something” as does the English but the context gives way for us to assume it is something. Regarding the covering being her hair, I plan to address that in a later question as I mentioned in my introductory post for this series. Great points. As for the metaphor at the end of the post, my point was that if there is a metaphor at all, it isn’t the veil but what it synbolises. Also, I don’t think the physicality of the veil will make a difference whether the authority is exercised or that she is under authority. Perhaps I’ve missed your point here and I look forward to discussing that further with you over the coffee you promised me (or coke). I won’t go into the hair being the covering at this point but I will say, regarding what sort of authority is meant here, bear in mind the complete verse “…because of the angels.” Seems like an odd thing to say. Thank you, again.


      • “Also, I don’t think the physicality of the veil will make a difference whether the authority is exercised or that she is under authority. Perhaps I’ve missed your point”
        I agree … but obviously didn’t state it clearly enough. My point was more focused toward the actual meaning of the metaphor. Does the metaphor depict “being under the authority of” or “exercising some sort of authority”? This will no doubt be a question in a future blog.


    • Just to add, if you check the definitions of the Greek word used for authority, http//biblehub.com/greek/1849.htm, read definition 4 (the power of rule or government) and example d. A sign of the husband’s authority over his wife. This is something I’ll be addressing in part 6.


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