Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible

Verse 5 (1 Corinthians 11:5)

But every woman that prayeth, etc. - Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying, in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman. So that some women at least, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. And this kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel, Joel 2:28 , and referred to by Peter, Acts 2:17 . And had there not been such gifts bestowed on women, the prophecy could not have had its fulfillment. The only difference marked by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered, because he was the representative of Christ; the woman had hers covered, because she was placed by the order of God in a state of subjection to the man, and because it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. And if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonor her head - her husband. And she must appear like to those women who had their hair shorn off as the punishment of whoredom, or adultery.

Tacitus informs us, Germ. 19, that, considering the greatness of the population, adulteries were very rare among the Germans; and when any woman was found guilty she was punished in the following way: accisis crinibus, nudatam coram propinquis expellit domo maritus ; "having cut off her hair, and stripped her before her relatives, her husband turned her out of doors." And we know that the woman suspected of adultery was ordered by the law of Moses to be stripped of her veil, Numbers 5:18 . Women reduced to a state of servitude, or slavery, had their hair cut off: so we learn from Achilles Tatius. Clitophon says, concerning Leucippe, who was reduced to a state of slavery: πεπραται, δεδουλευκεν, γην εσκαψεν, σεσυληται της κεφαλης το καλλος, την κουραν ὁρᾳς· lib. viii. cap. 6, "she was sold for a slave, she dug in the ground, and her hair being shorn off, her head was deprived of its ornament," etc. It was also the custom among the Greeks to cut off their hair in time of mourning. See Euripides in Alcest., ver. 426. Admetus, ordering a common mourning for his wife Alcestis, says: πενθος γυναικος της δε κοινουσθαι λεγω, κουρᾳ ξυρηκει και μελαμπεπλῳ στολῃ· "I order a general mourning for this woman! let the hair be shorn off, and a black garment put on." Propriety and decency of conduct are the points which the apostle seems to have more especially in view. As a woman who dresses loosely or fantastically, even in the present day, is considered a disgrace to her husband, because suspected to be not very sound in her morals; so in those ancient times, a woman appearing without a veil would be considered in the same light.

- Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible