1 Corinthians 11a
1 Corinthians 11:2-3… I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.
After lambasting the Corinthians for their immorality and immaturity in the previous chapters Paul now praises them in v. 2 because they “remembered” him and were keeping the “traditions” he had passed on to them. They remembered all that Paul had taught them theologically by recalling where they learned about Christ; they called to mind Paul as their spiritual father – the one who brought them to Christ. They were also keeping the “traditions” he had passed down to them. “Traditions” refers to his teachings that they were keeping. This is further indication that the Corinthians didn’t have a theological problem (one where they misunderstood God’s teachings), rather, they had a moral problem. They knew the Truth, but they were confused morally as to how their theology of God affected their lifestyles morally.
From v. 3 through the end of chapter 14 Paul addresses issues relating to public worship. The issue, in vv. 2-16, deals with authority in the church as it relates to men and women.
Paul calls attention in v. 3, as he sets the stage for his teaching about the roles of men and women in the church, to Jesus Christ who is the “head of every man.” The word for “head” in vv. 2-16 is used both metaphorically referring to the “leader; ruler; the one in authority” and also in a literal way to refer to the physical head on one’s body. When Paul says that Christ is the “head” of every man he is obviously referring to the fact that Christ is the authority and ruler over every man because he is the Creator of all things and the Savior of all men. Ephesians 5:22-23 says that Christ is the “head” of the church, and this is clearly a reference to his authority over the church. In a metaphorical way Jesus Christ is the head while all who profess their faith in Him make up the body. The “head” has authority over the body, both literally and figuratively.
The first phrase in v. 3 clearly teaches that Christ is the authority over every man. Then the second phrase states that “man is the head of a woman.” Though difficult teaching for the godless in the 21st century, God clearly teaches a distinction between the roles of men and women. In the same way that Jesus Christ is the undisputed authority over mankind along with His creation, the male is the authority over the female. It must be stated here, as the transition moves to the third phrase of the verse, that man’s authority over the woman does not mean that he is greater than she. For the third phrase says that “God is the head of Christ.” So in the same way that God the Father has authority over the Son of God, so too does the male have authority over the female. Now since the Father is not greater than the Son (both are God), the Son, however, is submissive to the Father, giving the Father authority over the Son (cf. John 14:28).
Food for Thought
Christ is the authority over the church and the home – over the entire world. We worship Him through obedience to His Word. Men, you are the authorities in the home and in the church, and if you allow women to lead in the home and/or the church, then take heed – YOU are given that authority. Women, if you have usurped the authority given to your husband in your home or if you are usurping authority in your church over a man, then take heed – God will not bless your disobedience. There is no distinction between male and female in relation to salvation (Galatians 3:28), for God saves both on the basis of His grace, but there are clear distinctions in their roles at home and in the church. Remember that God seeks those to worship Him in “spirit and truth.”
1 Corinthians 11:4-6… Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. 6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or be shaved, she should cover her head.
In keeping with the literal and metaphorical senses of the word “head” in the whole context of vv. 2-16, verse 4, in the first instance, speaks of the literal “head” of the man being covered (as with a shawl). In other words, for the man to wear a shawl or a hat during his prayer time or during a time in which he teaches others (prophesying) he would “disgrace” Christ who is his authority (“head”). The word for “disgrace” in the Bible refers to “dishonor” and to “shame.” Whereas prayer concerns a vertical relationship with God, prophesying concerns the horizontal relationship between men and women. For the man to do either with a shawl or hat over his head he would dishonor or disgrace his authority – Jesus Christ – his figurative head.
Verse 5 concerns the woman, and her command is the exact opposite of the man’s. It was disgraceful for her NOT to have a shawl covering her head while praying/prophesying. To have an uncovered literal head for the woman was to “disgrace” her husband who was (and is) her spiritual “head” (as Christ is the man’s spiritual authority). It seems clear that women were allowed to pray and prophesy from this passage, but as with the man, there were regulations concerning these two acts of obedience to God. Women could teach other women and share Christ with other men outside of the corporate gathering of believers, for this is the meaning of “to prophesy.” Her limitations of authority over men, however, were in the home and in the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:9-14). Paul adds that the disgrace a woman brings while praying/prophesying without a covering was the same as the disgrace a harlot brought to herself with her lifestyle, for they were notorious cutting and shaving their hair.
In verse 6 it becomes apparent that if a woman in that society took off her shawl to pray or prophesy she was one and the same as those women who shaved all their hair off – a clear reference to prostitutes and the strong feminist movement in the first century which attempted to thwart God’s plan of submission to male authority as given by God. Now Paul concludes that if a woman does find it disgraceful to be in the same category as that of a prostitute by taking off her shawl to pray or prophesy, then she should simply “cover her head” – she should wear the shawl and separate herself from any association with the rebellious harlots.
Food for Thought
First century customs are not always easy to piece together in the 21st century. Since the customs are not always clear we must see the distinction between form and function. Whether or not a man or woman wears a hat/shawl today while praying or teaching from the scripture is irrelevant because Paul clearly references a first century custom. The form of authority and submission in his day centered around head coverings, and Paul taught that distinctions between men and women must remain obvious (in this case long hair for women, hats, and shawls). The function, however, dealt with Christ’s authority over man and man’s authority over the woman. Today the form, or custom, concerns wedding rings and the taking of the man’s name in marriage. Women who wear short hair should also be mindful of keeping their distinction as females while not confusing their gender with men (and vice versa). The form is different today, but the function remains the same, namely, the God-ordained male authority over the woman.
1 Corinthians 11:7-10… For a man should not 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
The difficult and often detested passages that precede this one in vv. 7-10 are explained in these verses. But the explanation of male authority over the female is not normally accepted with open hearts and minds even by those who believe God’s Word is the final authority. Notwithstanding, the explanation is quite clear. The man is made in God’s image, for he was made to rule over God’s creation in the beginning (Gen. 1:26-27), and was given authority over that same creation. He is accountable to God alone and is in submission only to Him. He is the “image and glory of God” according to verse 7. Man is the one responsible for carrying out God’s plan on the earth as God’s vice-regent. The woman, however, is only said to be “the glory of man.” It is the woman’s God-ordained role to be her husband’s vice-regent. In Genesis 2:18ff. the woman was created to be the man’s “helpmate.” As such she is subservient to her husband because she was made for him. As verse 8 states, “Man did not come from woman, but woman came from man.” Man was made to carry out God’s purpose while the woman was created to be his helpmate in carrying out that purpose. The reference to creation in vv. 7-8 makes the teaching here timeless because of its reference to creation as opposed to cultural norms of that time. The fact that man was created before the woman and given God’s commission to rule over His creation attests to his responsibility to answer only to God. He is responsible for his wife.
Verse 9 says that the man wasn’t created for the woman. He was created to carry out God’s purpose on the earth. The fact that the woman was created to “help” the man reflects the original creation of her soul so as to help the man and be under his authority. In referencing the creation of man and woman Paul clearly has in mind to teach man’s submission to Christ and the woman’s submission to her head, namely her husband.
In light of the explanation of the Father’s authority over Christ, Christ’s authority over the man, and the man’s authority over the woman (“For this reason”) it was essential in Paul’s mind that the authority men had over their wives have an outward symbol. In the first century that outward symbol was a covering of the woman’s head while praying and prophesying. She was to wear this symbol of authority not only for other men and women to observe but also “because of the angels.” The angels of God are the most submissive of His creatures. They shouted for joy the day God created the world (Job 38:6-7), and they are all “ministering spirits sent to serve all those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). It is known from Ephesians 3:10 that God’s whole intent in the creation was to make His wisdom known to the angels. As such, it is clear that the angels watch over and observe God’s created order. It is because of these heavenly messengers and their observance of humans that female submission to men is essential.
Food for Thought
The Bible’s teaching is timeless. Just because the society we live in today rejects these truths as archaic and male chauvinistic doesn’t negate the teaching of the passage. Some wives have husbands who won’t lead while others have husbands who can’t lead because their wives won’t allow them. Remember that God’s ministering spirits (angels) are watching and so is God. Don’t allow the culture to dictate your submission to the Bible’s teachings. Let the Bible guide you, and know that male guidance really works when men submit to Christ as their “head.”
1 Corinthians 11:11-12…In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God.
Men and women are independent (literally “separate”) entities. Both can exist without one another as celibates. However, in the beginning God made it clear to Adam that he was alone and that it wasn’t good that he was alone. So God made a helper suitable for Adam. He made Eve, and He made her from Adam’s side. She was called “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” by Adam. He also called her “woman” because she came out of man. In some sense he gave her his name (he was “man” and called her “woman”). This was the original order of creation as taught in Gen. 1:26-2:25. God saw what He made, and He said it was “very good.”
Men and women are not, however, independent of one another “in the Lord,” and whether or not they are married makes little difference. Verse 11 says, “In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.” What this doesn’t mean is that every believing man and woman needs to be married (Paul already qualified that topic in 1 Cor. 7). What it does seem to teach is that as believers men and women are mutually dependent on each other. If they are married they are “one flesh” – a clear indicator that though they are different from one another, they are also mutually dependent on one another. The key phrase in the passage is “in the Lord.” When married couples come together “in the Lord” they come together in mutual interdependence. Both of them complement each other, and in doing so they bring glory to God. When one of them thinks of themselves as superior to the other, not only is God not glorified, but the marriage relationship is hindered. The fact that the woman is commanded to submissive to her husband does not in any way imply inferiority to the man. One of them has to lead the family, for there cannot be two who do so any more than there can be two who follow the other. And the one commanded to lead, provide, and protect the family is the man.
Verse 12 is, once again, Paul’s way of providing substance to his teaching because it shows that he isn’t just speaking his opinion. He is referencing the creation of man and woman from God’s Word. Paul frequently does this when teaching about the roles of men and women (cf. 1 Tim. 2:9-14; Eph. 5:22-33). It is clear from Genesis 1-2 that man was created by God from the dust of the earth. And from the man the woman was created, and each human being thereafter comes from the woman. But the final phrase, also a reference to the creation account, teaches that all things, specifically man and woman, come from God. Now if all things come from God, then all things have a purpose and a place. Man is not independent of woman, nor is woman independent of man. They are one “in the Lord” having their respective roles from the Lord.
Food for Thought
Those who are “in the Lord” are obviously Christians. Those who marry “in the Lord” are those who know that marriage is a Christian institution solely for believers. Marriage works beautifully within the confines of God’s pre-ordained plan for the union of a man and a woman. The main focus of marriage is Jesus Christ who is the “head” of the church and the “head” of every man “in the Lord.” Those who seek wisdom in their marriages need to go no further than Jesus Christ and His teachings. In His teachings man and woman are one, yet each one has a role. In the same way that in the church there are pastors/elders, helpers, prayer teams, etc. the family too is a hierarchy. No one person is greater than the other, but when husband and wife not only know their roles but obey them too, the marriage relationship not only grows, it thrives.
1 Corinthians 11:13-16… Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
Paul summarizes the whole matter of head coverings as they relate to authority in vv. 13-16. He steps outside of his own authority as an apostolic teacher and says, “Judge for yourselves… Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” He appeals to the common practice of his day and the apparent ridiculousness of a woman who would pray without a head covering. Though difficult to understand today, Paul’s rhetorical question shows how common and how understood the custom was for a woman to show her submission to her husband by wearing a head covering while praying. Then he takes the opposite side of the argument in verse 14 by saying, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace for him?” Again, this kind of rhetoric, which demands a “yes” response, is designed to show how common and customary it was in the first century church for a woman to wear her hair long with a cover while praying AND how customary it was for a man to wear his hair short. This was the accepted norm, but it also signified that men and women, though equal, had differing roles – roles that were manifested through head coverings and submission.
When v. 14 says that “nature” (“the way things are”) shows that it is “disgraceful” for a man to have long hair it teaches that disobedience to the custom (“nature”) was offensive and dishonorable because the custom attested to the teaching of male and female distinctions and male headship over the woman. For a man to wear his hair long (or a female to wear it short) was to blur the distinction between men and women – a distinction that God has always commanded to be recognizable (cf. Deut. 22:5 where men were never to wear a woman’s clothing and women were never to wear men’s clothing). To go against the accepted norm of the day in favor of one’s own fad was “disgraceful” – a word that signifies “vileness; shame.” The reason, once again, was that it showed rebellion towards the roles of submission and blurred the God-ordained distinction between male and female. And v. 15 clearly teaches that long hair was given to the woman for her “glory” – as a “covering.” It was natural then, as today, that women would wear their hair long as a show of femininity. For a man to do so was “disgraceful.” The mere fact that Nazirite vows (cf. Num. 6) for men kept them from cutting their hair shows that long hair for men was not the norm. The fact that the “woman’s hair was given to her as a covering” might refer to the fact that since by nature long hair was given to them as a covering, then that in itself points to their need to be covered while praying or prophesying.
In v. 16 Paul sums up… there were no other customs in the first century church for showing one’s submission. As such, for those who wanted to quarrel, they had no grounds.
Food for Thought
The line of sexual distinction between male/female is not to be blurred. God never intended for men to look and act like women (and vice versa). Long hair on a man is acceptable in some situations, but if long hair signifies femininity it is a disgrace. Equally, for men to shirk their God-given authority in the home and in the church is reprehensible. For women, short hair is acceptable today as long as they continue to maintain their femininity. At no time should a woman’s appearance or authority resemble a man’s. These are God’s words for us.
1. Some men don’t have authority in the home because they don’t want to lead.
2. Some men don’t have authority in the home because their wives won’t let them lead.
3. Some women have taken the authority from their husbands because they don’t trust their husband’s authority.
4. Some men allow their wives AND/OR their children to run the home.
5. The only way for men to lead their wives effectively is to submit to Christ who is our head. Women will follow willingly (so will our children).
6. Some men have the authority in their homes and the respect of their families, and they strive to be greater leaders.