Declining Churches Searching for the Silver Bullet Pastor

  The problem of declining churches in America was nothing new when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March 2020. I tend to ignore 2020 through 2022 when measuring whether a church has declined. But let’s be honest: if you look back to March 2020 and compare your attendance and financial giving back then to that of today, in March 2024, and both are lower, on average, by more than a few percent, your church has declined. If you had a children’s ministry before the pandemic, and you now struggle to wrangle up more than a few kids on a typical Sunday, you have declined. Your church needs revitalization. Sure, there are other, less tangible measures of health. How are you doing evangelistically? Are you reaching your neighborhood with the gospel? Are you making disciples? Maybe your church has already taken proactive steps in the direction of revitalization. Perhaps you’ve already decided to make some hard decisions rather than kicking the can down the road. If so, good on you! Sadl

“Because of the Angels”: A Timeless Directive for Female Head Coverings in Church?

Among others, K. P. Yohannan argues that the final phrase in 1 Cor 11:10, “because of the angels,” makes the directive for women—married or unmarried—to wear head coverings while praying and prophesying a timeless and universal directive for the church. This paper will show that while 1 Cor 11 holds many timeless principles, nothing about Paul’s instruction on head coverings should be seen to apply outside of the immediate context of first-century Corinth.  The phrase, “because of the angels” makes Paul’s directive no less a matter of culture, a question specific to the first-century church at Corinth.

In arguing that the practice of women wearing head coverings in the assembled church, Yohannan states:

“When he talks about the head covering, however, there is no mention of anything remotely cultural.  Instead, Paul goes to lengths to describe its spiritual roots—the divinely ordained authority structure God established at the original creation and reaffirmed in the new creation of the Church.  Paul’s admonition for women to wear a head covering “because of the angels” removes any doubt that this teaching is universal and timeless.”[1]

 Yohannan’s argument sounds persuasive on the surface, but does it hold up to closer examination?  The only place in the Pauline corpus where the apostle provides instruction on head coverings is 1 Cor 11.  In fact, this is the only place in Scripture that contains such instructions for women’s head coverings in worship.  What’s more, as most commentators admit, Paul’s writings on head coverings seem difficult to interpret.  Most likely, the original recipients of the letter would have known precisely the circumstances to which the Apostle Paul referred.  The modern reader is left without such benefit, and good exegetical and hermeneutical principles must determine whether the limited evidence applies beyond first-century Corinth. 

Some readers likely find this instruction very confusing, and at some points may believe that Paul is contradicting himself in the same passage.  For instance, Paul says in 1 Cor 11:15 (ESV), “For her hair is given to her for a covering.”[2]  Does this mean that a woman’s long hair is a suitable head covering?  Modern-day head-covering proponents answer in the strongest negative terms, while many of those who argue against head coverings in a modern Western setting say this is exactly what it means—a woman’s long hair is her covering.  Likewise, commentators and translators remain divided as to whether the passage refers to wives in particular (as, for instance, the ESV translators hold), or to women in general.  This is because γυνη, which is translated as women in some contexts, is often translated as wives when used in conjunction with the word ανδρος (for man or men).  Therefore, ανδρος and γυνη, appearing separately are “man” and “woman,” while appearing together, they are often “husband” and “wife.”

To further complicate the exegetical difficulties in 1 Cor 11:10, translators differ widely on the proper translation of the phrase, “οφειλει η γυνη εξουσιαν εχειν επι της κεϕαλης.”  Rigidly translated, this is “ought the woman to have authority on the head.”  This has been variously rendered as “ought the woman to have power on her head” (KJV), or “ought to [or should] have a symbol of authority on her head” (CSB, ESV, NASB, and NKJV), “ought to have authority over her own head” (NIV).  As a functionally equivalent translation, the NLT renders the text as, “For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority.” Meanwhile, the TEV says, “On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband's authority.”  Each rendering could potentially support a different favorite theological viewpoint, including differing views on just who is exercising authority.[3] 

Of course, none of these would change the arguments of modern head-covering proponents that the practice remains normative for Christians of all times and cultures.  Still, all this, by way of introduction is to show that, as Fee says, 1 Cor 11:10 is unanimously considered, “one of the truly difficult texts in this letter.”[4]  Again, it is likely the church at Corinth had no question as to Paul’s meaning, even if it seems it was not long before those who lived outside of that context debated as to precisely what the apostle intended to communicate.

The Context

It is impossible to know exactly what occasioned Paul’s instruction on head coverings.  While many have seen this passage as an instruction on the clothing or hairstyles of women in church, Thiselton points out that Paul was addressing both women and men.  Thiselton notes that “(C)lothes and hair or beards play a role in a semiotic system which speak volumes about self-perceptions of gender identity, class identity, a sense of occasion, and respect or indifference toward the perception of others.”[5]  One’s attire and grooming were not merely a matter of personal preference but communicated deep symbolism.

It seems reasonable to assume, no matter which side of the modern head coverings issue the reader takes, that there was a cultural expectation that women of the first-century Corinthian church were expected to wear a head covering while praying and prophesying.  The Corinthians seem to have had a question as to whether this cultural practice translated into their (countercultural) Christian worship.  Since, in 1 Cor 11:2, Paul commends them for “maintain(ing) the traditions even as I delivered them unto you,” it also seems reasonable that the Corinthians had resisted any urge to depart from the women’s practice of wearing head coverings while praying and prophesying. 

Commentators nearly unanimously agree that, in addressing head coverings, Paul is concerned about a number of issues, including orderly worship, the creation order, submission to proper authority (especially to Christ), and—while less so for modern head covering proponents—cultural norms.  However, there is little agreement on what Paul means by “because of the angels.”  Indeed, Garland calls Paul’s reasoning “more complicated (than the reminder of a complicated passage), if not completely baffling.”[6]  DeBuhn laments, “most attempts to explain the ‘angels’ treat them as only loosely connected Paul’s argument…provid(ing) a license for speculation in support of the tendency of interpreters to gloss the text.”[7]  While DeBuhn’s complaints are not without merit, one can sympathize with any desire on the part of interpreters to move on quickly from this tricky phrase.

The Identity of the 1 Cor 11:10 Angels

Per Ciampa and Rosner, the possibilities behind Paul’s “because of the angels,” are myriad.  Angels in the Old Testament are seen as associated with creation, and with prophesying and praying, and worship. [8]  But who are the “angels” to whom Paul refers?  Are they members of the heavenly court?  Are they good angels or fallen angels?  Are they, in fact, human beings functioning as messengers (as the Greek αγγελοι allows)?  All of these possibilities have been tendered as solutions, with widely divergent explanations behind each reason.

The 1 Cor 11:10 Angels as Fallen Angels

Christian commentators as far back as Tertullian (c. 200 A.D.) have subscribed to the idea of veiling as protection against fallen angels, who lust after human women.[9]  Indeed, along with the Old Testament, ancient Jewish literature portrays angels’ interactions with women in varying ways.  It was a common Jewish understanding in the first century that the “sons of God,” mentioned in Genesis 6:2 are angels who had sexual intercourse with human women.  This was an understanding promoted by such Jewish literature as the Book of Enoch, where the “sons of God,” have lie with human women, producing giants as offspring.  If, as some think, Paul is concerned about women’s vulnerability to fallen angels, the instruction for them to remain covered presumably means fallen angels are less likely to lust after them.[10] 

However, Fee instantly dismisses the notion of Christian women wearing veils as protection against lustful, fallen angels, saying that it “assumes a kind of ‘veiling’ on the part of the women for which there is no first-century evidence.[11]  Garland also finds the fallen angels explanation unlikely.  First, he says, “Paul never uses the word ‘angels’ with the definite article to refer to bad angels, and good angels are not subject to sensual temptations.”  Second, Garland harbors strong doubts about whether the Corinthians would have been familiar with Jewish traditions about angels mating with human women.  Further, Garland wonders how, if fallen angels were intent on attacking or seducing women, a veil would have done much to protect them—this especially in light of a lack of evidence that a veil was understood as having this function. [12]   

Additionally, while Hellenistic traditions said that women were vulnerable to evil spirits while in an ecstatic state or trance, there is no evidence that a woman praying and prophesying is in any such condition. Piling on, if Paul is only specifically directing women to remain covered during worship, as 1 Cor 11 seems to say, Morris cannot see how the angels would be tempted only during worship.[13]  In all, we must agree with Hays, who opines, “(I)f Paul had intended to express this rather bizarre idea, he would have offered a somewhat fuller explanation.”[14]  It seems doubtful, then, that the angels in 1 Cor 11:10 are fallen angels intent on mating with human women.

Angels as Human Messengers

Another possibility is that the angels to whom Paul refers might actually be human beings.  Winter argues that the Greek αγγελοι in the instance of 1 Cor 11:10 would be better translated as “messengers.”  These messengers might have been messengers to other churches, but Winter believes they might have been individuals sent to spy or scout out the activities of the church at Corinth.  The spies’ preconceptions of the church at Corinth would have been governed by the prevailing cultural norms of the day.  To see women violating those cultural norms would have caused spies to return to those who sent them with an unfavorable report of the church.[15] 

Notably, however, Paul writes in 1 Cor 11:10 without qualifying what he means by angels.  As Blomberg writes, the entire New Testament consistently uses the unqualified term αννελοι to speak of non-humans, heavenly servants of God.  Thus, it the idea that here, in a noteworthy exception to that pattern, Paul speaks of human messengers, spies, church leaders—or even fallen angels—seems dubious at best. [16]

Jewish Traditions for the Angelic Worship of Man

Another possibility, put forth by Ciampa and Rosner, is a Jewish tradition that God directed the angels to worship Adam when he was created.   Perhaps, Ciampa and Rosner posit that Paul expected “them to understand that by covering the face of the glory of the man (i.e., by covering the woman's face) he hopes to avoid distracting angelic attention from the worship of God to the worship of man, just as he does not allow anyone but God to receive glory in the church's worship.”[17] 

But, as Ciampa and Rosner point out, the Scriptural evidence for this tradition is non-existent—this tradition sprang from outside of the Old Testament.  Further, there is no evidence that the Corinthians understood—or even heard of—this tradition.  It seems unlikely, then, that the angels to whom Paul refers are tempted to worship men.  However, one can cite numerous passages of the Bible that show angels as eager guardians of God’s glory (such as Isa 6:2, and Acts 12:3).  If man’s glory (i.e. the woman’s uncovered head) is shown, then this is a diverts attention from the glory of God to the glory of man—something that angels present in worship would not be able to abide.[18]

Pauline Angelology the Purpose of Angels in Christian Worship

A look at Paul’s angelology in a broader sense is necessary here.  Paul describes the apostles as a “spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men” (1 Cor 4:9).  Along with the rest of the created order, Christian behavior is on display for the angels to see.  Blomberg does not know whether Paul believes angels would be offended by women’s loosened hair, or if Paul thinks angels will intervene to punish disorderly behavior; the textual evidence is too scant.  However, one thing Blomberg feels safe in asserting is, “that the community ought to behave in a decorous manner because of the presence of these heavenly ‘dignitaries’ in their midst.”[19]

Per Blomberg, angels should be viewed as God’s servants, guardians of creation, and of the worship of God’s people.[20]  Throughout Scripture, in fact, angels appear concerned with the glory and honor of God.  When the offense is particularly appalling, several accounts in Scripture show, angelic protection of God’s honor extends to the point of intervening to stop an offense.  According to Ciampa and Rosner, Paul’s concern is probably not that the angels will be distracted by the unveiled woman.  Rather, the angels are concerned that—and deeply offended for God’s honor when—inappropriate attire or behavior will draw glory away from God and instead draw attention and honor to man during a time of worship.  If Paul believed, as a noteworthy Jewish tradition held, that angels were protectors of the creation order, then Paul may have desired to ensure that nothing about the church’s worship offended the angelic witnesses.[21]

According to Ryrie, Paul’s mention of angels places a particular emphasis on orderly worship.  Angels, according to the midrash with which Paul was familiar, angels were the mediators of the Law and the guardians of the creation order.  Throughout the Old Testament, Paul would have seen allusions to the desire of angels to look with interest at those things relating to salvation.  The angels would have desired to see the people of God show proper submission to Him, and women who showed submission that reflected the order of creation would have been a pleasing example of orderly worship. [22]

Ryrie writes that in the context of public worship, and of a universal reverence of God, “the axiom ‘as in heaven, so on earth’ should apply to the recognition of respect, reverence, and order which receives symbolic and semiotic expression in the ways indicated.” [23]  While Paul writes extensively on Christian liberty, he never claimed that personal autonomy and freedom were absolute or unqualified, especially,  “in the presence of the otherness of the other (created gender) and the heavenly hosts who perform their due roles and tasks.”[24]

Throughout Scripture, angels demonstrate perfect worship and a zealous concern for God’s honor. Angels cover their face in the presence of God (Isa 6:2), while they actively worship Him (Isa 6 and Rev 5).  Angels refuse to accept human worship (Rev 19:10).  One can hardly think of a greater violation of the created order than the men of Sodom who desired to commit homosexual rape, and more than that, to rape angels (Gen 19).  Because this kind of egregious violation of the creation order was seemingly rampant there, God destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Furthermore, an angel smote Herod for accepting human worship as a god (Acts 12).  

All alternatives considered, it seems probable that angels are present as witnesses and perhaps even, in a sense, as participants in Christian worship.  But more that, as beings designed, in large part, to worship God, the essential concern of angels is the protection of God’s honor and glory.  This student holds, then, that angels are the perfect example of worship in practice.  While angels are powerful beings in their own right, as are Christians indwelled with the Holy Spirit, they desire—and see to it, in some cases—that nothing detracts from the glory of God.  A person who would violate the cultural norm in the gathered worship assembly detracts from God’s glory in a very real sense.  Although we cannot say so with absolute confidence, it seems most likely to this student that Paul has in mind that Christian worship should follow the perfect example of the angels.

Applicability Today

To this point, head-covering advocates may well state that this paper has made their point for them.  If angels are present in modern worship, as they were in first-century worship, or if Christians are to emulate the angels, then one might argue that Paul’s direction for Corinthian women to wear head coverings when praying and prophesying is universal.  However, while the phrase “because of the angels” lends gravity to Paul’s larger principles—orderly worship, respect for cultural views of proper decorum, and submission to heavenly and earthly authority—there is nothing in the phrase that bolsters the case that head coverings for women are Paul’s universal directive for the church at all places and times.

Without hesitation, Paul elsewhere declares the spiritual equality of men and women (Gal 3:28).  However, throughout his letters, Paul remains clear that male and female roles are different.  Men are to act as leaders of the church and home.  Paul repeatedly makes the case for female submission to male leadership—and male love and sacrifice for women—as a model of Christ’s leadership of, and love for, the church.  He not only repeatedly teaches this principle, but Paul quite explicitly teaches the principle.  The same cannot be said for head coverings.

This paper has already delved into the exegetical difficulties of 1 Cor 11:2-16 in general, and 1 Cor 11:10 in particular.  If head coverings for women were as important as the principles behind them in the context that Paul directed for Corinthian, then Paul—and perhaps even the other apostles, or Christ himself—would have emphasized their importance.  Yet the gospels, the remainder of the Pauline corpus, and the rest of the New Testament are silent on the issue. 

Christians would demonstrate deep wisdom in hesitating to base a doctrine on one mention of a practice, especially a practice described in the context of a corrective letter to a dysfunctional church, such as 1 Corinthians.  There is a deep danger in grabbing an isolated, somewhat cryptic, and exegetically difficult passage and attempting to develop a doctrine.  Since it is nearly impossible to understand what this passage meant to the original audience, the modern reader is left with no choice but to impose his own meaning on the text—and error and heresy are the results. 

In fact, there are many examples of Pauline passages where the original recipients would presumably have known just what Paul was speaking to, while the modern reader is left baffled.  For instance, the original recipients knew precisely what practice Paul was referring to when he wrote in 1 Cor 15:29—a verse that mentions people being “baptized for the dead.”  Most modern Christians agree there are no examples of proxy baptism elsewhere in Scripture, and the wording seems to indicate Paul is referring to people other than Christians.  Most Christians would say that proxy baptisms for the dead are not a practice that is normative for the church.  However, some scholars have argued that the early church must have engaged in the practice.  Honest readers must admit that it cannot be known today, with absolute certainty what Paul was talking about. [25]

This is important because heterodox faiths, such as the Mormons, have adopted proxy baptisms for the dead—as part of Latter-day Saint temple rituals—as a central part of their theology.  This practice is based upon a faulty exegesis of 1 Cor 15:29, along with the teachings of early Mormon leaders.  This gives Latter-day Saints the (false) hope that there is an eternal future for the lost, who have another chance to accept the “gospel” after death.  Certainly, most scripturally-grounded evangelical Christians will reject out of hand the hermeneutical acrobatics of a heterodox faith they widely view as a cult.  However, groups like the Latter-day Saints are aggressive in their missionary efforts and teach this false hope to people to the unsaved.  As a result, people who have heard the Mormon “gospel,” might tend to reject the evangelical Christian who argues, with Heb 9:27, that after death, there are no second chances to escape judgment.

Further, it seems all too ironic that Paul, the messenger of grace throughout the New Testament—Paul, who adamantly opposed the “Jesus plus the Law” theology of the Judaizers—would suddenly turn, in this matter, into “Paul the Law-giver.”  There is no evidence that Paul added new rules and ordinances to the church, but there is strong scriptural evidence that Paul was extremely concerned to adapt to the accepted norms and context of the cultures to which he ministered (“To the Jews, I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews…” 1 Cor 9:20-22). 

For instance, Paul had Timothy circumcised because the two, along with Silas, were to minister among Jews (Acts 16:1-5).  Titus was never circumcised, however, the cultural context in which he ministered with Paul was different from Timothy's.  Paul so strongly opposed those Jews who insisted that new Gentile believers must observe the Mosaic Law that he went to Jerusalem to argue the case before the apostles (Acts 15).  Further, Paul’s overall argument in Romans 7 is on the inadequacy of the Law—its true function was a mirror to show man his own sinfulness—and that Christians are no more under the Law.  Given the balance of Paul’s teachings, it seems odd that he would add a “law” to the Christian assembly.  Moreover, while there is no evidence for a Paul who handed down numerous rules, there is plentiful evidence that he taught submission to authorities in the church, in the home, and in the secular government that surrounded the first-century church (e.g. 1 Tim 3, Rom 13:1, Titus 3:1,).

If angels are present in worship today—as seems entirely possible—they would certainly be heartened to see a church that demonstrates submission to Christ, and to God the Father.  Even in a church that practices male leadership—as this student holds the Scripture teaches—it seems difficult to imagine how women would demonstrate submission, how a woman would have a “symbol of authority on her head” by the use of a symbol that is, in modern Western culture, without meaning.  If, as this writer holds, the angels are the exemplars of proper worship, then the principle of submission to Christ and to appropriate church leadership, and the eschewing of personal glorification for the sake of God’s glory are just as applicable. 

What is clear from 1 Cor 11 is that head-covered women in Corinth were a demonstration of decorum, modesty, proper gender roles, and godly submission appropriate to the day.  It is altogether possible that a church could be filled with head-covered women and still demonstrate self-glorification, a lack of sensitivity to proper decorum, and a blatant disregard for the authority placed over it.  In other words, a church can obey the letter of the “rule” without ever heeding the spirit behind that practice.  If the church today wants to follow the example of angels—or, depending on one’s viewpoint, desires to keep from offending watching angels—it should seek to follow the principles of decorum and submission, as they are understood in the local cultural context, rather than tying their godliness to a piece of cloth on ladies’ heads.  This student has attended many churches in K. P. Yohannan’s native Indian state of Kerala.  There, the women wear a head covering in church—and this seems to be an expectation in Indian culture.  Unquestionably, women in Indian churches should wear a head covering.  In the West, where the head covering is not understood in those terms, there seems to be little sense in mandating the practice.


Myriad solutions to the phrase “because of the angels” in 1 Cor 11:10 have been proposed.  Despite this fact, the phrase is no better understood in modern exegesis than is the rest of the verse, or the entire passage from which it gains context.  It is simply impossible to know exactly what Paul meant by the phrase, even if his original recipients would have immediately understood.  Attempts to find normative practice from this passage should be avoided, considering the near certainty the interpreter will impose a modern understanding or personal preconception that is not what the passage meant to the original recipients.

Given all the available evidence, it seems most likely that in saying women should wear head coverings in worship, in part, “because of the angels,” Paul was attempting to communicate timeless principles, not a universal practice.  These principles include a proper reverence and sense of decorum in worship, the observance of a distinction between the roles of the genders, and submission of all Christians to the proper earthly and heavenly sources of authority.

[1] K. P. Yohannan, Head Coverings:  What the Bible Teaches about Head Coverings for Women (Thiruvala, Kerala, India:    Believers Church Publications, 2011), 24.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

[3] DeBuhn, among others, sees this passage as meaning that the woman must exercise authority over her own head, an idea that the KJV could support, but far removed from what many less formal translation equivalents show—a symbol of authority, particularly her husband’s.  Jason D. DeBuhn, “‘Because of the Angels’:  Unveiling Paul’s Anthropology in 1 Corinthians 11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 118. No. 2 (Summer 1999): 302, accessed August 8, 2017 at http://www.jstor/stable/3268008.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1987), 518.  Kindle.

[5] Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 800.  WORDsearch.

[6] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2003), 526.

[7] DeBuhn, 304.

[8] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 529.  WORDsearch.

[9] Tertullian, Virginibus Velandis, translated by Google Translator (c. 200), accessed on August 16, 2017 at

[10] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, Pillar New Testament Commentary – The First Letter to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 529.

[11] Fee, 521. 

[12] Garland, 527.

[13] Leon L. Morris, 1 Corinthians, Vol 7 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic, 1985):  153, Kindle.

[14] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, Hays, 2011), 188, Kindle.

[16] Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994), loc. 4578-80, Kindle.

[17] Ciampa and Rosner, 529.

[18] Ibid, 530.

[19] Blomberg, loc. 4578-80.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ciampa and Rosner, 530.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Thiselton, 840.

[25] Mark Taylor, 1 Corinthians, Vol. 28 of The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman, 2014), 392, WORDsearch.


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