Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
I. Praises & Blessings (1 Cor. 11:2).
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
A. Their Diligent Remembrance (v. 2a).
B. Their Disciplined Remembrance (v. 2b).
The word for ordinances is paradosis, usually used in a negative sense in the New Testament. It is used of “traditions,” especially the traditions of the Jewish rabbis. The word is used here and in 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6, positively. It seems, when used in this way, to refer to church order and to the two specific ordinances the Lord did give to the church—baptism and the communion feast.
C. A Delivered Remembrance (v. 2c).
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
II. Protecting Biblical Partnerships (1 Cor. 11:3-6).
A. Delineation of Roles in Creation (v. 3).
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
This brings us back to basics. God is a God of order (1 Cor. 14:40), an order that reaches back into His own nature. He insists on order in the universe. Science is predicated on the fact that this universe is based on order. This order extends into human affairs, to government, to the home, to the church. In terms of human life the woman has a head, the man; the man has a head, Christ, who by virtue of the fact that He is God, absolutely and eternally, takes priority and preeminence over the headship vested in the man. The man is answerable for his actions, ultimately and inescapably, to Christ.
By the same token the woman is answerable to the man. This does not imply male superiority, nor does it imply female inferiority. It simply states it to be a fact that, in their respective roles in society, in the home, and in the church, this is God’s ordained order and state of affairs. No amount of argument is going to change it. All attempts to defy it can only lead to breakdown and chaos.
When a person purchases an appliance or a piece of equipment it normally comes with the manufacturer’s instructions and warranty. Usually the warranty is valid only so long as the instructions are heeded. The manufacturer knows the nature and complexity of the equipment better than anyone. Alter all, he designed and made it. If the instructions come with the warning, “Press button ‘A’ before you press button ‘B’ ” it is because of some basic requirement connected with the structure and nature of the machine. If a person reverses the order and insists on pressing button B before button A, and things go wrong, what can he expect? The instructions were clear and plain. Human life and society are far more complex than any man-made appliance. We would do well to heed the Maker’s instructions. He categorically states that the head of the man is Christ and that the head of the woman is the man. That is the way things are.
B. Dishonoring God-established Authorities (vv. 4-5).
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
C. Dissuading Shameful Associations (v. 6).
For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
Both Jewish and Greek women wore such a covering, according to Conzelmann. After sifting both the written and graphic sources, he concluded, “For a Jewess to go out with her head uncovered is a disgrace (3 Macc. 4:6) and grounds for divorce …; it can also be assumed that respectable Greek women wore a head covering in public.”11
Paul asserts that for a woman not to wear a covering would be as disgraceful as having her hair cut, a sign of a disgraced wife or mother. According to Tacitus the husband of an adulterous wife cut off her hair, stripped her naked, and drove her from her house; and according to Aristophanes the mother of unworthy children should have her hair shorn.12 In Judaism a woman going out in public without a head covering was considered so shameful that it was grounds for divorce without the husband being obligated to pay the ketubah.13 To appear at the public assembly, then, with inappropriate headdress would disgrace one’s head.
During the German occupation of France and other European countries during World War II, some women collaborated with the Germans and consorted with German soldiers and officials. After the war their fellow citizens showed their anger at such compromise by seizing the women and shaving off all their hair. They then became objects of public shame and disgrace. Paul uses a similar picture here to illustrate how strongly the Holy Spirit feels about the respective roles of men and women in the church.
III. Protecting Biblical Powers (1 Cor. 11:7-12).
Thus κεφαλή is a metaphorical equivalent of ἀρχή, “first,” “ruler.”
A. Due Honors (v. 7).
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
Paul adds the footnote that “the woman is the glory of the man.” He does not say that she is his “image and glory.” The image of Adam was borne by Seth, not Eve (Gen. 5:3). Paul does not deny that the woman also bears the image of God. On the contrary, he clearly implies that she does, by deliberately avoiding completing the parallel, by not saying that she is man’s image and glory. The woman, he implies, was just as much created in God’s image as Adam was. He thus endorses again the fundamental equality of the sexes.
B. Devoted Purposes (vv. 8-10).
For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
When God made man He made him to be ruled from his head When He made woman He made her to be ruled from her heart. The distinction is as real as the physical difference between men and women. The fact that man is made to be ruled from his head and woman to be ruled from her heart does not mean that women cannot think. We all know some women who can out-think some men. Nor does it mean that men cannot feel. We all know some men who can feel far more deeply than some women. Just the same, the basic fact remains. Men tend to be ruled from the head, women from the heart.
What Satan did in the temptation was to reverse God’s order. He first of all directed temptation to Eve’s head and engaged her in an intellectual discussion as to whether or not it was right to do something God said was wrong. Her attempts to fend him off were all too clumsy. Three times she misquoted the two verses which, for her, constituted the entire Word of God and which was her sole defense. He raised in her mind a doubt about God’s Word, followed it up with a denial, and ended with a delusion. He offered to set her free from the hampering restrictions imposed upon her by God’s Word and bestow upon her godlike status and power. This overwhelming appeal to her intellect and vanity was more than she could withstand. She was deceived and overthrown.
Then, reversing his tactics, Satan directed temptation to Adam’s heart. Indeed, he made no attempt, himself, to storm the citadel of Adam’s soul. He let Eve do that. When Adam saw Eve in her fallen condition he was overwhelmed. He loved her. He listened to her. He looked at her. He was not deceived. He knew what he was doing. It was “through one man’s disobedience” that sin entered (Rom. 5:12, 19). God does not attribute the Fall to Eve but to Adam, who was given the headship and the responsibility. Thus Adam was disobedient and Eve was deceived, all because the Evil One was able to twist God’s order.
Paul presents both the cosmic powers and angels as spectators of men’s actions (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9; Eph. 3:10; 1 Tim. 3:16). Synthesizing the best from the above interpretations, it may be concluded that the uncovered and therefore insubordinate woman would offend the angels because they are the custodians of the created order. Moreover, such insubordination would occur in the sight of those whom the saints will judge (1 Cor. 6:3), an unthinkable incongruity.
C. Dual Equalities (vv. 11-12).
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
the Lord Jesus accepted and promoted not the lower standard of the Mosaic law, given after man’s Fall, but the higher standard exhibited in the creation before the Fall (cf. Matt. 19:3–9). Whereas the Law assumed a lower social standing for women, the creation accounts assume their ontological equality. God created man as male and female in His image, according to Genesis 1:26–28, a text showing their complementary nature and inferring their ontological equality. Moreover, Adam, when presented with his wife, exclaimed, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23), a statement showing that he regarded her as his equal.
Then, too, Jesus had accorded women the same dignity He bestowed on men. In fact, He even commended Mary’s “manly” posture of sitting in the living room enjoying theological discourse over Martha’s “womanly” posture of taking care of the practical needs in the kitchen (Luke 10:38–42).
In addition, Paul explicitly states in his letter to the church at Galatia that men and women are spiritual equals as the children of God (Gal. 3:26–28). So then, if they are equal both in the old and new creation, why maintain a hypocritical symbol that masks the theological reality?
But even more significantly than any of the above considerations is the fact that God was pleased to give the Spirit’s gifts to the church without regard to sexual differences. Through Joel, God had predicted that in Israel’s future He would do just that: “I will pour out my spirit on all mankind, and your sons and daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28). Moreover, even as He was pleased to give His gifts to individual women in the old dispensation, such as Miriam (Exod. 15:20–21), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14–20), and Anna (Luke 2:36), in the new dispensation He gives gifts to all as He pleases (1 Cor. 12:7–11). Thus it may be assumed that some of the women at Corinth were indeed prophesying along with the men (cf. Acts 21:9).1 The old symbol of subordination surely seemed outmoded.
IV. Practicing Biblical Principles (1 Cor. 7:13-16).
A. Discerning the Principle (vv. 13-15).
Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
B. Dissuading Contentions (v. 16).
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
In the historical process of administering His church, however, God has been pleased with the completion of the canon of Scripture to withdraw the gift of prophecy. In the practice of the churches today the apostolic teaching has relevance directly only to prayer. In this writer’s judgment, however, it would be well for Christian women to wear head coverings at church meetings as a symbol of an abiding theological truth.