Messianic Apologetics
10 January, 2020

Headcovering Garments – FAQ

Do you believe it is acceptable for Messianic men to wear a kippah or yarmulke, when Paul says that it is a dishonor for men to have their heads covered? How do you interpret 1 Corinthians 11:4-16?

One of the most obvious elements of modern Jewish identity witnessed in the world today, is men wearing the kippah (or yarmulke) or skullcap. The idea behind wearing this small skullcap is that it shows submission to God. The term kippah is derived from the Hebrew verb kafar, meaning “to cover, to forgive, to expiate, to reconcile” (AMG).[1] The kippah is believed to be a “covering” which represents a man’s submission to God.

It is notable that the headcovering garment of a kippah is not a commandment of Scripture. This is a Jewish tradition that has developed over time. Alfred J. Kolatch explains this in The Jewish Book of Why:

“A yarmulke, called a kipa in Hebrew, is a skullcap worn by Jews. Some wear one at all times, others only during prayer and at mealtime.

“….The custom of covering the head received wide acceptance, but not by all. Historian Israel Abrahams points out that in the thirteenth century ‘boys in Germany and adults in France were called to the Tora in the synagogue bareheaded.’

“In the Middle Ages, French and Spanish rabbinical authorities regarded the practice of covering the head during prayer and when studying the Tora to be no more than mere custom. Some rabbis were known to pray bareheaded.

“Today, Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews believe that covering the head is an expression of yirat Shama’yim (‘fear of God’ or ‘reverence for God’)….”[2]

Wearing a kippah is quite commonplace throughout the diverse social strata of modern Israel. Jews of all types throughout the Diaspora commonly wear them as well, sometimes as a part of their everyday dress. While wearing a kippah is more frequently associated with Synagogue worship or personal prayers, wearing a kippah at the home dinner table of a Jewish family is also witnessed. It is quite commonplace to see a majority of men in today’s Messianic Jewish congregations wear kippahs in Shabbat worship. Various Messianic Jews also wear a kippah as a part of their normal, everyday dress.

It is not uncommon in many Messianic congregations to see non-Jewish men wear kippahs. This is largely so that they can respect the protocol of the assembly, as generally all men are expected to wear a kippah if they were to attend a service at any non-Messianic synagogue.

It is not difficult, though, to find a substantial amount of criticism, in some parts of the independent Messianic community on whether or not the kippah is something appropriate to wear. It is usually based on the Apostle Paul’s instructions witnessed in 1 Corinthians 11:4-16. As we will proceed to describe, there are some translation issues present in these verses in various English Bible versions, as well as some ancient background issues germane to First Century Corinth, which need to be seriously considered.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:4, pas anēr proseuchomenos ē prophēteuōn kata kephalēs, “Every man praying or prophesying, having something down from the head…” (my translation). Many versions add something like “with his head covered” (NIV) or “who has something on his head” (NASU), but does this really due justice to the clause kata kephalēs? Would it have really been disgraceful for a First Century Jewish man, or even a Greek or Roman man, to wear something on his head during a time of prayer or prophecy? No. Paul specifies later in 1 Corinthians 11:14 that there is something which could be down from a man’s head that would disgrace him: “if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him” (NASU). Long hair on a man hanging down, could have communicated something in Corinth that might not be very good for the Believers. At the very least, some males with long hair hanging down, from certain angles, could possibly be confused as being female. Philip B. Payne further describes,

“Something ‘down from’ ([kata] with the genitive, ‘lit. hanging down fr. the head,’ BDAG 511 A.1.a) or ‘over’ the head of men leading in worship was disgraceful. Paul does not in this verse identify what was down from the head, so any explanation, to be convincing, needs to cite evidence from this passage and its cultural context. What hanging down from a man’s head would be disgraceful for men leading worship in Corinth, a Greek city and a Roman colony? Many assume it is a toga (himation). It was not, however, disgraceful in the cultural context of Corinth or in Jewish culture for a man to drape a garment over his head. The capite velato custom of pulling a toga over one’s head in Roman religious contexts symbolized devotion and piety, not disgrace. Jewish custom and the Hebrew Scriptures also approved head-covering garments for men leading in worship[3]…Thankfully, Paul identifies in verse 15 what ‘hanging down from the head’ causes disgrace: ‘If a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him [1 Corinthians 11:14, NIV].’”[4]

Continuing in 1 Corinthians 11:5a, Paul issues instruction regarding pasa de gunē proseuchomenē ē prophēteuousa akatakaluptō tē kephalē, “every woman praying or prophesying, with the head uncovered…” (my translation) is to be regarded as having dishonored her head, being as though her head were shaved (1 Corinthians 11:5b). Having a shaved (Grk. verb xureō) head in ancient times, whether in Ancient Israel, Second Temple Judaism, or even Greco-Roman culture, was frequently a sign of mourning and/or humiliation. The challenge for interpreting a “head uncovered,” is that it is frequently read from the perspective of it meaning that a woman praying or prophesying must have some kind of a garment present. Is wearing a headcovering garment really the issue?

A significant usage of the adjective akatakaluptos in the Septuagint is Leviticus 13:45, speaking of “the leper who has the plague in him, his garments shall be torn, and his head shall be uncovered [akatakaluptos]” (LXE).[5] Akatakaluptos actually renders the Hebrew verb para, meaning “to let the hair on the head hang loosely” (HALOT),[6] as “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose [v’rosho yi’heyeh faru’a][7]…” (Leviticus 13:45, RSV).[8]

If this background is kept in view, than a Corinthian woman who had her head “uncovered,” is one who actually had her long hair hanging loose for all in the assembly to see. It is true that when modern readers encounter a term like “uncovered,” it is more natural for us to think that the Corinthian woman was to probably be wearing some sort of head garment. But wearing or not wearing a head garment would not have been as problematic as a female having loosed hair flowing freely. In a largely progressive and so-called “sexually liberated” city like First Century Corinth, a woman with free-flowing loose hair was anything but respectable. In fact, such a hairstyle would be like a prostitute advertising her wares! Payne details,

“Loosed hair was disgraceful (11:5) and symbolized sexual looseness in Roman, Greek, and Jewish culture….Loosed hair fits the cultural influence and specific practice of the Dionysiac cult, which was popular in Corinth and explains why women in Corinth might have let their hair down.”[9]

Contrary to women with “uncovered” heads—heads with hair freely flowing down—respectable women would have “covered heads” with their hair arranged in a kind of bun, something attested in the artwork of the broad First Century.[10] A Corinthian woman with an “uncovered” head meaning free-flowing long hair, hair that has not been arranged in a proper manner, makes sense of Paul’s prescription that such an “uncovered” woman’s hair be cut or shaved off—which was definitely a sign of dishonor (1 Corinthians 11:6). A proper recognition of the genders is in view here (1 Corinthians 11:7-8), including being aware of how at a previous time in Biblical history (e.g., Genesis 6:4) women may have been able to tempt the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).

Both man and woman—especially if they are married—are to understand that they are not independent of one another, with all originating from God (1 Corinthians 11:11-12). With the realization that “covered” and “uncovered” probably relates to hairstyles of hair pulled up versus free-flowing long hair, how does this change our reading of Paul’s further direction? When people would attend home gatherings of the Corinthians, including any visiting pagans, what impression would it give of the Messiah followers and the Lord Yeshua? As 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 details,

“Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered {meaning: with free-flowing long hair}? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a [mantle; Grk. peribolaion]. But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the [assemblies] of God” (NASU).

It is difficult at first for us to consider covered/uncovered to relate to hairstyles, which either communicated lewdness or promiscuity or just general disrespectfulness to wider society—but it is a much better way for us to understand the issues of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. The actual issue in Ancient Corinth regarding male and female heads that are “covered” and “uncovered” actually pertained to specific hairstyles. Men should not have long hair hanging down. Women should have their long hair put up, being “covered,” as being “uncovered” would mean letting the hair go. The association that such hairstyles would have, could not only communicate a degree of prostitution-promotion (female and male) to outsiders, but perhaps also associate the Corinthians as participating with local pagan religious activities. The Apostle Paul clearly did not want something like this communicated to outsiders in the gatherings and worship activities of the Messiah followers!

We have never seen the perspective of “covered” and “uncovered” relating to Ancient Corinthian hairstyles ever really considered in any sector of today’s Messianic movement. Many believe that “covered” and “uncovered” relates to head garments like the kippah/yarmulke, various uses of the tallit, or some kind of female head garment. While not all of these items as we know them were in use in the Biblical period, ultimately the issue of headcovering garments for men and women is one that is entirely traditional and cultural. It is something that all Messianic Believers need to be sensitive about in their halachah to be certain (like men wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall in Jerusalem), but headcovering garments are not the real issue of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. The main thrust of this part of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians pertains to how various grooming styles can damage the credibility of the faith community. In First Century Corinth, women who let their hair go “uncovered”—long and loose—were communicating something bad. Today, long hair on a woman (perhaps in a pony tail or other style) in some places might instead communicate conservativeness.[11] As far as shorter or longer degrees of hair length on a woman or man are concerned: they regard the general evaluation of their (Twenty-First Century [Western]) cultural context, and what may be considered respectable.

The editor has personally been in widescale favor of all Messianic men wearing a kippah/yarmulke during weekly Shabbat services and most especially during the high holy days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Likewise, all of those who also don a tallit for prayer and worship should not do so without a kippah/yarmulke. While it is a tradition, the wearing of the skullcap is nonetheless considered to be a sign of a man’s reverence for God in mainline Judaism. The protocol observed in a Messianic congregation should be similar to that in the Jewish Synagogue.[12]

At the same time, the wearing of the kippah cannot be construed as any kind of Biblically-prescribed commandment, nor something that should be forced upon anyone. Each person in the Messianic movement should be sensitive concerning the Jewish custom of wearing the kippah, especially considering how widespread it is. No non-Jewish Believer in the Messianic community should ever be caught trying to degrade the role that the kippah/yarmulke has played in many centuries of Jewish culture.


The conclusions drawn in from this brief examination of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, are reflected in the following author’s rendering, modified from the 1901 American Standard Version:

“[2] Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. [3] But I want you to understand that the head[13] of every man is Messiah, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Messiah is God[14]. [4] Every man praying or prophesying, having something down from the head[15], dishonors his head. [5] But every woman praying or prophesying, with the head uncovered[16], dishonors her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. [6] For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. [7] For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. [8] For man is not from woman, but woman from man; [9] for indeed man was not created for the woman, but woman for the man. [10] Therefore the woman ought to have authority upon her head, because of the angels. [11] However, neither is woman independent of man, nor man independent of woman, in the Lord. [12] For as the woman came from the man, so also the man has his birth by the woman; and all things are from God. [13] Judge for yourselves: is it proper that a woman pray to God uncovered? [14] Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, [15] but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her as a mantle[17]. [16] But if anyone intends to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor have the assemblies of God.”[18]


[1] Baker and Carpenter, 521.

[2] Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of Why (Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Publishers, 1981), pp 121-122.

Consult Ronald L. Eisenberg, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004), pp 374-377 for a summary of how the kippah and related headcovering garments, are employed in the mainline Jewish Synagogue.

[3] E.g., Exodus 28:4, 37, 39; 29:6; 39:28, 31; Leviticus 8:9; 16:4; Ezekiel 24:17; 44:18; Zechariah 3:5.

[4] Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), pp 141-142.

[5] NETS similarly has: “let his clothes the loosened and his head be uncovered [akatakaluptos].”

[6] HALOT, 2:970.

[7] “and-hair-of-him he-must-be being-unkempt” (John R. Kohlenberger III, trans., The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987], 304); Grk. LXX kai hē kephalē autou akatakaluptos; “and his head uncovered” (LXE).

[8] Payne, 167 further states,

“The only occurrence in the text Paul cited the most, the LXX [Septuagint], of ‘uncovered’ (11:5; [akatakaluptos] in Lev 13:45) translates [faru’a], from [p-r-a], which Hebrew scholars agree means ‘to let the hair on the head hang loosely.’ It is the earliest instance of the word ‘cover’ ([katakaluptos]) occurring with ‘head’ in the TLG database…‘Uncovered’ is explained twice in verses 5-6, using ‘for’ ([gar]). Both reasons explain the uncovering as equivalent to hair being clipped or shaved. This associates the covering as hair and fits most naturally if ‘uncovered’ refers to a woman with her hair let down.”

[9] Ibid., 166.

[10] “What about having one’s head ‘uncovered’ would cause shame to a woman leading in worship in the cultural setting of Corinth? The extensive evidence from portraiture, frescoes, sculptures, and vase paintings in Greek and Roman cities of Paul’s day almost universally depicts respectable women with their hair done up. Women in everyday public settings are not depicted with their hair hanging loose over their shoulders” (Ibid., 151).

[11] Indeed, in our family’s experience in the Messianic movement since 1995, most of the average men and women in our faith community have little problems as it concerns our proposed reading of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16. They tend to have hairstyles and a mode of dress which communicate a rather conservative demeanor to society at large, consistent with much of respectable Judaism and Christianity, not at all being associated with much popular culture.

[12] This section has embedded quotations from the author’s article “The Message of 1 Corinthians.”

[13] Grk. kephalē; or, “source.

[14] Grk. ho Theos; or “the Godhead.”

[15] Grk. pas anēr proseuchomenos ē prophēteuōn kata kephalēs.

[16] Grk. pasa de gunē proseuchomenē ē prophēteuousa akatakaluptō tē kephalē.

A significant usage of the adjective akatakaluptos in the Septuagint is Leviticus 13:45, speaking of “the leper who has the plague in him, his garments shall be torn, and his head shall be uncovered [akatakaluptos]” (LXE). Akatakaluptos actually renders the Hebrew verb para, meaning “to let the hair on the head hang loosely” (HALOT, 2:970), as “The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose [para]…” (Leviticus 13:45, RSV).

If this background is kept in view, than a Corinthian woman who had her head “uncovered,” is one who probably had her long hair hanging loose for all in the assembly to see.

[17] Grk. peribolaion; or “something to be arranged”; “‘that which is thrown around’: an article of apparel that covers much of the body, covering, wrap, cloak, robe” (BDAG, 800).

[18] This author’s rendering is likely to appear in a future volume of the for the Practical Messianic series, by Messianic Apologetics.