Headship and Head Coverings

An Examination of the Teaching of the Apostle Paul in
1 Corinthians 11:2-16  about Head Coverings in Public Worship

 

F. Wayne Mac Leod

 

Light To My Path Book Distribution
Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, CANADA B1V 1Y5

 

Headship and Head Coverings

Copyright © 2021 by F. Wayne Mac Leod

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Table of Contents

1 – Introduction

2 – God, Christ, Husband and Wife

3 – Men and Head Coverings

4 – Dishonouring Her Head

5 – The Glory of Man

6 – Interdependence

7 – What Nature Teaches

8 – The Practice of the Church

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Chapter 1 - Introduction

2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11)

In 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul addresses two problems in the church of Corinth. The first of these issues related to women wearing head coverings and the second to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Our concern in this study will be the first of these two issues.

Notice how Paul introduces his discussion in verse 2.

2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11)

The apostle begins with a commendation. His commendation was two-fold –the Corinthians remembered him in everything, and they had maintained the traditions he had delivered to them. Let’s take a moment to consider what Paul is telling the church in this verse.

First, the believers of Corinth remembered Paul in everything. The church of Corinth probably knew Paul better than other churches. Acts 18:11 tells us that the apostle ministered in this city for a year and a half. The Corinthians saw Paul live out his Christian life before them amidst tremendous obstacles.

Second, Paul spent a good deal of his time in Corinth teaching the Corinthian Christians. He instructed them in God's salvation and purpose for their lives, and the church was deeply indebted to Paul for this teaching. They did not forget his instructions.

Not only had the church of Corinth remembered Paul’s example and teaching, but they also maintained the traditions he had delivered to them. The word “maintained” in the Greek language means to “hold fast” or “to take possession of.” The idea is that the Corinthians understood the teaching of Paul and put it into practice. Paul’s use of the word “maintain” implies that the Corinthian believers were faithful to and persisted in his instructions. Paul was pleased about this.

Paul speaks here in 1 Corinthians 11:2 about “traditions.” Paul does not say anything further about these traditions except that he delivered them to the Corinthians. Notice, however, the words of Paul later on in this same chapter. Writing about the Lord’s Table in 1 Corinthians 11:23, the apostle said:

[23] For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, (1 Corinthians 11)

Paul uses the same terminology in 1 Corinthians 11:23. He “delivered” to the Corinthians the instructions of the Lord on the practice of the Lord’s Supper. This practice was not found in the Law of Moses but was taught by Jesus and delivered to the church through the apostles. This may very well be one of the “traditions” Paul refers to here in 1 Corinthians 11:2. It is not the only tradition he delivered, however, for he uses the plural when he speaks of “traditions.”

What is important for us to notice here is that while Paul commended the Corinthians for listening to him and following his teaching, some areas in their Christian life needed improvement. 1 Corinthians 11:3 begins with the word “but.” The implication here is that the Corinthians were weak in certain aspects of their walk with Christ. In the section that follows, Paul addresses how women were praying and prophesying in public worship and how the Corinthians observed the Lord’s Supper. In this study, we will only examine the first of these two matters—what Paul taught the Corinthians about how women were to pray and prophecy in public worship.

I confess that this topic is a difficult one to address in our day. Many of us live in a time and culture where men's and women's roles are no longer distinguishable. The grammar checker on my computer will caution me when it sees anything that is gender-specific in my writing. Culturally we are very cautious about distinguishing between the roles of males and females. Remember, however, that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is Paul’s counsel to the church of Corinth in a time when its women were facing this very same issue in their culture. When they came to church, women wanted to pray and prophesy like the men of the congregation. They didn’t see any difference in the roles of men and women in the service of Christ.

In this study, we will examine what Paul had to say to the Corinthians about the roles of men and women in the church. We will also seek to address how this passage applies to the church of our day.

 

For Prayer:

Father, we see how the apostle Paul commended the Corinthians for their obedience to the instructions he handed down. Thank you that you inspired the Scriptures, and they are our authority in faith and practice. We understand that there has been a deep struggle between Scripture and culture from the beginning of time. Corinth's culture in Paul’s day impacted the church and the way people thought. Lord, we recognize that there are times when we, too, have confused the teaching of our culture with the teaching of Scripture. I ask that you help us to make a clear distinction between the two. Help us to make Your Word our guide in life. Teach us not to be so influenced by our culture that we fail to be obedient to Your Word of Truth.

 

Chapter 2 - God, Christ, Husband and Wife

[3] But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11)

In the last verse, the apostle Paul commended the Corinthians because they had remembered him and the traditions he had delivered to them. Notice, however, that 1 Corinthians 11:3 starts with the word “but.” This simple word implies that while the Corinthians had remembered his teachings, they did not follow them perfectly. Paul must now explain the purpose of God more fully to them.

Paul begins in verse three by explaining the Biblical principle of headship. The word head, in the Greek language, refers to a ruler or lord. Notice how the apostle begins with the words, “I want you to understand.” In other words, he has something to teach the Corinthians that he wants them to put into practice. He expected that they would change their behaviour and attitudes when they understood what he had to say. Let’s summarize the teaching of Paul in verse 3.

 

The Head of Christ is God

Let’s begin with the apostle’s statement that the head of Christ is God. I want to look at this relationship first because it is an example of true headship. There are several points we need to make about the relationship between God and Christ.

First, while God the Father is the head of Christ, they are still equal in every respect. Listen to the words of Jesus when Philip asked Him to show them the Father:

[8]  Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14)

To see the Son of God was to see the Father. He was equal to the Father in every aspect and perfectly reflected His character.

The apostle Thomas questioned the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and told his brothers that he would not believe unless he could put his finger into the hole in His side. Listen to the conversation between Jesus and Thomas about this in John 20:

[27] Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [28] Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” [29] Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20)

When Thomas met the Lord Jesus after the resurrection, he finally believed and proclaimed that Jesus was no only his Lord but also his God. He bowed down that day to worship the Lord Jesus as his God. He understood that Jesus was as worthy of worship as the Father.

Consider the words of the apostle John about Jesus “the Word” in John 1:

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3]  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1)

John teaches that Jesus, the Word, was not only with God in the beginning, but He is God. Jesus is equal to God. He is worthy of our worship, and to worship Him is to worship the Father.

Second, while the Lord Jesus is equal to the Father, He has a unique identity as the Son. Jesus, the Son, walked on this earth. As he did, He prayed to the Father in heaven. On the cross, He asked the Father to receive His Spirit. Though one in personhood, the Father and the Son were unique identities.

Finally, notice that the role Jesus played was different from His Father’s. Jesus, submitting to the purpose of the Father, came to earth and laid down His life for our salvation. There was no clash between the will of the Father and the Son. They had one heart and mind. Jesus was not inferior to the Father because He submitted to His will. The heart serves the blood by pumping it through the entire body, but the heart is not inferior to the blood. Both are of equal importance to the body and must work in perfect harmony for its health. God is the head of Christ, but God is not greater than Christ—though they have unique identities and different roles.

Christ took the part of a servant to accomplish the purpose of the Father. While God, the Father, was the head, Jesus was the hands and feet. They worked together for our salvation and forgiveness. One was as important as the other.

 

The Head of a Wife is Her Husband

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the head of the wife is her husband. Let’s consider Paul’s teaching here in the context of what he said about Jesus and God the Father.  Just as God is the head of Christ, so the husband is to be the head of his wife. Just as God and Christ are equal, so the husband and wife are equal. The husband is not greater than the wife because he is head. Nor is the wife inferior because she is under his headship.

While the husband and wife are equal, they are, at the same time, unique in identities. There will be personality differences between husband and wife. They will need to learn to work in harmony despite these differences. True headship does not diminish these distinctions but embraces them for good.

Just as Jesus and God, the Father had different roles, so it is with the husband and wife. Paul reminds us that the difference is that God has chosen to make man the head.

If I were the head of a company, I would hire individuals based on their qualifications. This, however, is not how God works. The fact of the matter is that if God were to chose us based on our abilities, not one of us would ever be selected to serve Him. We are all sinners who fall short of God’s standard. We cannot do the work God asks us to in human strength and wisdom. I cannot save a single soul; this is the work of God’s Spirit. I can stand in front of a great crowd of people and preach, but unless God’s Spirit takes those words and applies them to the spirit of those who listen, my words will not bring any transformation.

God’s choice of man to be the head has nothing to do with his ability. Men are equally as incapable of pleasing God as women. Some commentators emphasize the differences between men and women to show that men are more capable leaders. This type of argument fails to recognize that the work of the kingdom of God is not dependant on human abilities. God is as capable of using a woman to be the head as a man. Any man who takes his role as head seriously needs to understand this.

According to Paul, God has chosen to give the position of headship to men. The temptation for men is to believe that something in them makes them better leaders, but we must reject this idea. We have all seen great female leaders in the secular world. We dare not take the credit for ourselves. Men are leaders because God has chosen them to be. God can use whomever He wishes to accomplish His work. You don’t have to be skilled, capable or experienced for God to use you. You just have to be obedient.

 

Christ is the Head of Man

The final point that Paul makes in this verse is that Christ is the head of man. The reality of this relationship has two implications.

First, the fact that Christ is the head of man gives man authority. He represents the Lord Jesus on this earth. As Christ’s representative, he takes his direction from Christ and has both the right and obligation to act on His behalf.

Second, because Christ is the head of man, he is accountable for his actions to Christ. He will stand before Christ to account for what he did with the authority and role given to him. When he acts selfishly or with pride in his heart, he dishonours his Lord. When he abuses his headship, he must answer to Christ.

The man must take as his example the relationship between God and Christ. Just as Christ submitted to His Father, so man must submit to Christ. He must be one with Christ in purpose. He must willingly die to himself to accomplish the will of Christ. He must demonstrate the heart of Christ in how he leads. He must crucify selfishness and pride for the glory of Christ. He must lead his wife, his family and his church with the attitude and heart of Christ, willing to lay everything down for the good of those he leads.

Paul told the Corinthians that God had a purpose for their church and family lives. God chose the husband to be the leader of his family. He gave man the responsibility to exercise headship in the church, and he must take this role seriously. The role of headship was given to man not because of his ability but because of God’s free choice. God has given man authority as head, but he is also accountable to God for this role. Women who accept this will help men be what God has called them to be.

 

For Prayer:

Lord Jesus, You have given us a wonderful example of headship in Your relationship with the Father. Though You were equal with the Father in every way, You humbled Yourself to die to fulfill the Father’s desire for our salvation.

You have chosen man to represent you as head of the church. Lord, help us as men to understand that being the head does not make us more important. Just as You are not inferior to the Father because He is Your head, neither is woman inferior to man simply because of the role You have given him. I ask Lord that You would help us understand the roles you have ordained for Your church. Teach us how to live in submission to You and your purpose.

 

Chapter 3 - Men and Head Coverings

[4] Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (1 Corinthians 11)

In verse three, the apostle Paul addressed the principle of headship in the church. This is the basis for his argument now in verse four. Paul told the Corinthians that a man who prophesied with his head covered dishonoured his head.

Notice two details in this verse. First, observe the words "every man." Second, take note of the phrase "prays or prophesies." These words tell us something about the context and the type of men Paul is speaking about in this verse.

The kind of men Paul addresses here in verse 4 are men who pray and prophesy. Writing to Timothy, the apostle had this to say about men:

[8] I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling (1 Timothy 2:8)

Paul wanted men to pray. There should be no exception to this for any Christian man. Every man who calls himself a believer in Jesus Christ should be in communion with his Lord. Paul speaks in verse 4 about Christian men who prayed and prophesied.

Notice also in this verse that Paul speaks about men praying and prophesying with their heads covered. While it was entirely acceptable for a man to cover his head in daily life, this was not the case for praying and prophesying. Paul told the Corinthians that a man who wore a covering while praying or prophesying dishonoured his head.

There is some debate over how to interpret the word "head" in this verse. The apostle uses the word in two different ways in 1 Corinthians 11. First, he speaks about covering one's head. The reference is clearly to the head on our shoulders. Second, Paul talks about the man being the woman's head, and Christ is the man's head. This use of the word refers to a position of leadership.

To what head is the apostle referring in verse 4? Is he saying that a man disgraces himself when he covers his head to pray or prophesy? Or is he saying that a man treats the Lord God, his head, with contempt by wearing a head covering when he prayed or prophesied? Ultimately, both of these answers may be correct. Let's take a moment now to consider how a head covering on a man brought dishonour?

In the book of Genesis, we read how God made woman as a helpmate. Paul made it quite clear in 1 Corinthians 11:3 that man was given the responsibility of headship. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, the Lord told Eve:

16 To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3)

Writing to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul said:

23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Saviour. (Ephesians 5)

What is clear from this is that the Lord God has given man a specific task. He is to be the leader in the church and family.

While both men and women represent the Lord God on this earth, God has chosen man to be the leader. God gives His authority to men as His representatives. We who have that authority must boldly represent our Lord. Adam Clarke has this to say about 1 Corinthians 11:4:

Having his head covered - With his cap or turban on, dishonoreth his head; because the head being covered was a sign of subjection; and while he was employed in the public ministration of the word, he was to be considered as a representative of Christ, and on this account his being veiled or covered would be improper.

Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke (CLARKE)"Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke." Marion, IA: Laridian, Inc., 2015.Electronic edition copyright © 2015 by Laridian, Inc., Marion, Iowa. All rights reserved.

Imagine that you were a king who sent a representative to another country to act on your behalf in an important decision. You brief your official on the matter and send him off. When he arrives, however, he does not have the courage to stand up to represent your interest, and so he returns home without achieving your objective. What are you to think of such a servant?

As representatives of Christ who exercise the role of head in the church and family, men are to take the authority given them and walk boldly in the will of God. They are not to be timid in this matter. To refuse to use the authority granted is to hinder the work of the kingdom.

A head covering represented a gentle and quiet spirit. This is not what God is asking from men. Listen to the words of the apostle Paul to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:13:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16)

Writing to Timothy, the apostle said:

[6] For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, [7] for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. [8] Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, [9]  who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2 Timothy 1)

Paul told his son in the faith that God had not given him a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-control. He encouraged him not to be ashamed but to suffer willingly for the gospel "by the power of God." In other words, Timothy was to put aside all timidity and act boldly, exercising the authority God had given him when he called him into ministry.

Can you imagine hiring a military commander who was too timid to command his men? Would you send him out into battle? If we are to be effective, we must take the authority given us seriously. Men who represent God must not be ashamed of the Lord they represent. They must boldly walk in the authority given them. They must not hold back. A great spiritual battle rages for our children. That same spiritual battle threatens to invade our churches. God is looking for men who will stand up to this enemy. He calls for bold men who will not shy away from their responsibility -- men who will represent His interests without compromise. He wants men who will shun fear and timidity and speak boldly as representatives of their God. This is not the time for cowardice and timidity.

Will you be that man today. Will you remove the veil and take your place as the leader of your family and church? Will you pick up your arms and push back the enemy that threatens the spiritual wellbeing of those you love?

When a man puts on the veil of timidity and fearfulness, he dishonours himself and his Lord. God has not given us this spirit of fear. He has not called us to sit back in submission and let others do the work. You are God's representative. Take your place as the head. As the apostle Paul said:

13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16)

 

For Prayer:

Father God, You have given an awesome responsibility to Christian men. You have called them to be the leaders of their family and church. Father, not all of them have stepped up to this responsibility. We pray that you would give them the courage and will to take their role seriously. We ask that you give us bold men who will walk in the authority given them, pushing back the evil forces threatening our families and church. We pray that these men would cast off timidity and take a firm stand. We pray that they would be the leaders you have called them to be.

 

Chapter 4 - Dishonouring Her Head

[5] but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. [6] For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. (1 Corinthians 11)

In the last verse, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians that it was a shame for a man to wear a head covering when he prayed and prophesied. Instead, God expected that he boldly represent Him as a leader in his family and church.

The apostle now speaks about women or the wives of these male leaders in the church. Paul's use of the Greek word for women here can refer either to a wife or a woman in general.

Notice the context of Paul's statements: "every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered." The apostle speaks of a very particular situation here. He refers to a woman who prays or prophesies. Prophecy was intended for the church's strengthening, encouragement, and comfort, but it would not accomplish these objectives if a woman who had a prophetic word did not share it with other believers. We understand from this that while it was permissible for women to pray and prophecy in the early church, they were to do so with their heads covered.

Paul told the Corinthians that when a woman prayed or prophesied in public, she dishonoured her head if she did not wear a head covering. The word "dishonour" in the Greek language refers to shame, disgrace or confusion.

In 2 Samuel 1, a messenger came to David and announced that Saul had died. When David inquired about how he knew this to be true, the messenger told him that Saul was severely wounded and asked him to take his life. The messenger informed David that he obeyed Saul and killed him personally. When David heard this, he sentenced the messenger to death, saying:

[16] And David said to him, "Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, 'I have killed the LORD's anointed.'” (2 Samuel 1)

Notice the phrase, “Your blood be on your head.” The idea here is that this man would bear the guilt and shame on his head for the disrespect he showed to the anointed king of Israel. Imagine a man carrying a heavy weight in a basket on his head. In this basket is the guilt and shame of his actions. He can not remove this basket from his head but must carry it wherever he goes. It would be visible to everyone who saw him. The apostle Paul told the church of Corinth that when a woman prayed and prophesied without covering her head, she was heaping shame, disgrace and confusion on her head.

Why did praying or prophesying without a headcover bring such disgrace, shame and confusion? The answer seems to lie in the roles God gave to men and women. In 1 Corinthians 11:4, Paul spoke about men who prayed and prophesied. Here he told the Corinthians that a man was not to cover his head. As Christ’s representative, he was to speak boldly and make courageous requests for the glory of God. Women were to respect the role God gave men. They were to honour men in that role. When the Spirit of God moved them to pray or prophesy, they were to do so in a way that continued to respect this God-ordained male leadership. When a woman took authority over the headship God had ordained, she brought shame and guilt on her head.

We need to understand the culture of Paul’s day. When the apostle wrote this letter, women wore veils as a symbol of submission and humility. The veil was a cultural symbol, understood and respected at that time. Commenting on this, the commentator, Matthew Henry says:

It was the common usage of the churches, for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was right that they should do so. The Christian religion sanctions national customs wherever these are not against the great principles of truth and holiness.

Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible.” Marion, IA: Laridian, Inc., 2020. Electronic edition copyright @2001 Laridian, Inc. All rights reserved.

It was not just Christian women who wore veils. Jewish women also had this practice, but so did the heathen nations around them. Matthew Henry tells us that the Christian church continued with this practice as a means of showing submission. It was something everyone understood.

Some time ago, I was to speak at a local church in Varanasi, India. When a pastor stood behind the pulpit to preach in that church, he would remove his shoes. This practice came from the story of Moses standing before the burning bush. God told him to remove his shoes because the place where he stood was holy ground. When a pastor removed his shoes before preaching, he reminded himself and the people that he was standing on holy ground as he preached. I have observed this practice different times since returning home.

People who see me remove my shoes while preaching at home, however, do not understand what I am doing. In fact, some people might completely misunderstand my intentions. In certain cultures, the removal of shoes might even be a sign of disrespect.

The people of Corinth understood the symbolism of the veil. Paul told them that if a woman did not wear a veil, it would be like she “cut her hair short” (1 Corinthians 11:6)

In many western cultures, women often cut their hair short. In fact, this has become big business. In these cultures, when a woman gets her hair cut, she is proud of how it looks. There is no public shame for a woman to cut her hair in these cultures. What Paul tells the Corinthians here, therefore, needs to be understood in the cultural context of Israel and the surrounding nations of that day.

We read in 1 Corinthians 11:15:

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Corinthians 11)

A Corinthian woman rejoiced in her long hair. She would not think of cutting it. To do so would bring shame and dishonour to her in those days.

In the Song of Solomon, we read the story of a young man who came to his lover’s room when she was in bed. He left when she refused to open the door for him. Thinking about what she had done, the young girl reconsidered, got out of bed and went out into the night seeking her lover. The city watchmen found her in the streets at night. Notice their response in Song of Solomon 5:

[7]  The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls. (Song of Solomon 5)

The city watchmen beat her and took away her veil. They showed her no respect. Finding a woman wandering the streets at night, they likely believed her to be an immoral woman. As a result, they beat her and removed her veil. The removal of her veil brought great shame to her.

If it was a shame for a woman of that day to remove her veil in public, why would she do so when she came to church to pray or prophesy? In the culture of that day, removing the veil to pray or prophesy was a bold statement. It failed to show modesty and humility and declared that she had the same authority as the men God had ordained as leaders.

In Numbers 16, we read how Korah and his followers approached Moses with a complaint about his leadership:

[2] And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. [3]  They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (Numbers 16)

Korah and his followers believed they had as much right to be leaders as Moses and Aaron. They resented the fact that they had to submit to them. Moses brought the matter to God. God responded in anger by opening up the ground to swallow Korah and his followers (Numbers 16:28-33).

A similar incident happened in Numbers 12 when Miriam and Aaron spoke out against Moses:

[2] And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. (Numbers 12)

God responded to these words that day by striking Miriam with leprosy (see Numbers 12:10-16). God judged her because she questioned the authority He had given to Moses.

When women removed their veils to pray and prophesy in Corinth, like Korah, Miriam and Aaron, they questioned the authority God had given the men of the church. This was serious enough for Paul to say that if a woman would not submit to the authority God had ordained, she was to have her head shaved. As we have already seen, shaving her head would bring her shame and disgrace in the community.

The challenge of these verses relates to how Paul’s teaching applies to the church today. Shaving a woman’s hair in western culture does not bring the shame it brought to the Corinthian women of Paul’s day. Women in many modern cultures do not see long hair as fashionable or convenient, nor do they wear veils. If anything, they perceive the veil as a symbol of oppression and male dominance.

How are we to address this matter of wearing a veil in a culture where the practice is not in everyday use, and in the modern mindset, no longer symbolizes what it did in Corinth. We have one of two options.

First, we can adopt the culture and understanding of Bible times. We can teach our young women that having short hair is a shame for them. We can instruct them to wear a veil or head-covering just as they did in New Testament times.

The second option is to apply the principle of Scripture but allow for diversity in expression. In other words, we must recognize that the principle being taught is more important than the symbol and that the symbol may differ from culture to culture or from one time to another.

This means that how I dress modestly as a believer in Saudi Arabia will differ from how I express that same modesty living in Canada. The type of music I use to worship the Lord in Myanmar will vary from what I use in the Philippines. How a woman expressed her gentle and humble spirit in Corinth in Paul’s day may not look like it does today.

Whether we adopt the New Testament practice of wearing a veil or not, the critical matter is the principle it teaches. We do not honour God if we embrace a tradition but do not accept the principle it represents. If a woman wears a veil but refuses to submit to God, she is guilty of an even greater sin than the one who does not because she declares herself to be submissive to God by her action but lives a lie. More than any other religious group in the New Testament, Jesus condemned the Pharisees because of their great hypocrisy. He preferred to dine with sinners than to enjoy the company of the Pharisee. I would dare to say that this same principle applies today. The Lord God would rather bless women who choose not to wear a veil but live in submission to him than those who wear a veil but live a lie.

Consider the words of Paul to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:9-11:

[9] likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, [10]  but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2)

Notice what Paul told Timothy here. He taught that women were to wear clothes that reflected their modesty and self-control. The Chrisitan did not seek to draw attention to herself. She was self-controlled, and the clothes she wore reflected her priorities in life. Her priorities were not to spend huge amounts of money on jewellery and costly garments but rather to minister to the needy. Her clothes reflected her heart and priorities.

The apostle Peter, speaking to the women of the church in his day, said:

[3:1] Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, [2] when they see your respectful and pure conduct. [3]  Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— [4] but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. [5] For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, [6] as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3)

Peter encouraged wives to be “subject” to their husbands and urged them not to make their hair, jewellery and clothes a priority. Instead, they were to adorn themselves with the beauty of a gentle, quiet and submissive spirit. According to the apostle, this attitude was precious to God. It was with this attitude that they were to cover themselves.

The veil of the New Testament period symbolized the “beauty of a gentle, quiet, and submissive spirit.” This, according to Peter, was pleasing to God. Every Christian woman was to adorn herself with this attitude. The veil was a reminder of the heart of God for the Christian woman. Her strength and beauty were in her submission to the purpose of God and her gentle Spirit. It was this attitude that God would powerfully use in her life. This spirit and would impact countless lives and bring them into the kingdom of God. This attitude would support the men of the church and enable them to be effective in the work God had called them to do as leaders facing the opposition of the enemy against their families and churches.

The Lord Jesus had this to say to the Pharisees:

[23]  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23)

Jesus does not condemn the Pharisee’s practice of giving a tithe but reminded them that showing justice, mercy, and faithfulness was of greater importance. The fact that they tithed so openly placed them under greater obligation. By their tithe, they declared themselves to be religious people. If they were going to make this public statement, they would need to live up to their profession. If a woman chooses to wear a veil, she places herself under an obligation to live up to what that veil represents.

I recognize that there will be differences of opinion on this matter of wearing head coverings. Some women will take 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 literally and wear a head-covering every time they go to church. Others may do so from time to time to remind themselves of their role in the body of Christ. Still, others will see the principle it represents to be what is important and focus on the heart's attitude. Each woman should decide this for herself, and we need to allow for differences of opinion on this matter as each woman seeks to understand God’s purpose. Whether a woman wears a physical covering or not, the principle of submission remains. The veil may or may not be cultural, but the principle it represents applies to all times and cultures –submission to God and a quiet and gentle spirit.

 

For Prayer:

Father God, we ask that you help us respect what Scripture teaches about the roles of men and women in the church. Father, we don’t pretend to understand why You have ordained things as you have, but we dare not be disobedient. Teach us to walk as you have called us to walk. I ask that we would respect the order that you have ordained for Your church. Thank you that you bless obedience.

We thank you for the role you have given to the women of the church. Help us never to underestimate the power of a gentle spirit. Gentleness, as a fruit of your Spirit, is a powerful tool in Your hands. I pray that you would use our churches' women to impact our community in ways that no man could ever influence. Thank you for the unique abilities you give each sex. I pray that we would recognize these differences and embrace them for the expansion of Your Kingdom and the glory of your name.

 

Chapter 5 - The Glory of Man

[7] For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. [8] For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. [9] Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. [10] That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (1 Corinthians 11)

The apostle begins in verse 7 by telling the Corinthians that a man should not cover his head. Again, the context here is praying and prophesying. The verse does not forbid a man from wearing a hat in general life. In this verse, the apostle tells men that they were to remove any head covering when they prayed or prophesied in a public gathering. While women were to wear a symbol of authority on their heads, men were not.

Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 11:7 to explain the reason for this. He told the Corinthians that man was the image and glory of God, but woman was the glory of man. Let’s take a moment to break this down.

There is no question that when God created male and female, He created both in His image. We read in Genesis 1:27:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1)

Genesis 1:27 makes a specific reference to the fact that God created male and female in His image. The word “image,” in the Greek language, refers to a representation or likeness. While sin has tarnished the image of God in us, both men and women reflect something of the character and attributes of God.

Speaking to Philip, who asked Jesus to show him the father, the Lord said:

9 “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’” (John 14)

Jesus told Philip that day that He was a perfect image of the Father. To know Christ was to know the Father. He perfectly demonstrated in word, deed and character the person of the Father. If you see what Jesus is like, you know what the Father is like also. This is the call of God to both men and women. We are to demonstrate the character of God in all we do. When the world sees us, they should have a better understanding of God and His person. Both men and women reflect this image.

The apostle Paul does not deny that woman was created in the image of God in verse 7. He does say, however, that while man was the glory of God, woman was the glory of man.

Paul's distinction between men and women in verse 7 is in the word “glory.” Man is the glory of God, according to Paul, while woman is the glory of man. Glory refers to the divine qualities of God. It is what separates Him from us as human beings. God reveals His glory in His power, authority, and presence. Paul appears to be saying that while both men and women bear the image of God, God has given man the specific responsibility, as a leader, to demonstrate the glory of His power, authority and presence in this world. He is accountable to God for this.

Just as God has called men to represent His glory on this earth, so He has called women to represent men in their glorious calling. They were not to take the role given to men but stand with them as helpmates and supporters.

Let me say here that this is not an easy task. As we bear the power, authority and presence of God in this dark world, there will be many obstacles. We will be rejected and persecuted. The battle before us is difficult. We push against demonic forces of evil. Many will be wounded in the process. Fatigue and discouragement will be our constant foe. Who will stand behind those wounded and battle-scarred warriors? God has uniquely gifted women for this role.

The apostle goes on to explain this distinction of roles more fully in verses 8 and 9 when he says:

[8] For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. [9] Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Corinthians 11)

What Paul expresses here is not a personal opinion or a cultural distinctive. By going back to creation, the apostle shows the Corinthians that God had a distinct purpose for man and woman from the very beginning of time.

Paul reminds the Corinthians in verse 8 that God made woman from man. He did not create man and woman in the same way. The Creator formed man from the dust of the earth. Woman was created from man’s rib.

In verse 9, Paul makes a second observation from creation. God did not create man for woman. He did, however, make woman for man. This principle is quite clear from Genesis 2:18:

[18] Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for  him.” (Genesis 2)

God made woman because it was not good for man to be alone. He needed a companion and helper. God created a woman to be the perfect companion and helper man required. According to Paul, God created man and woman differently for a reason. They would have different roles to play in the advancement of His kingdom on the earth.

God has incorporated some basic principles into the creation of the world. We ignore these principles to our detriment. Your car engine will not work as intended if you choose to put water in the tank because it is cheaper than gas. God created this world to function according to the principles He set in place. If we are going to accomplish the task He has given us to perform, we must not ignore these creation principles.

God created woman for man. Paul encouraged women to accept this and demonstrate their submission by wearing a symbol of authority on their heads.

[10] That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head (1 Corinthians 11)

A wife was to submit to the authority God gave her husband as the head of the family. Women in the church were to recognize that same authority in their assembly. God did not choose man because he was better equipped. Both men and women are unworthy and incapable without the work of God’s Spirit. God could have equally chosen women to be His official representative. Submission to the authority God established has nothing to do with one being better equipped or more suitable. It has everything to do with God’s choice and a willingness to accept what God has decreed.

Notice in verse 10 that Paul encouraged women to have a symbol of authority on their heads because of the angels. Over the years, there have been many interpretations of this phrase. The word “angel” could be translated as “a messenger.” Angels were God’s messengers to the earth. They came with God’s words. They represented God in the care of His people. They served the purpose of God on the earth. They were chosen and called by God for this task.

In Revelation 2-3, the apostle John addressed the seven churches of Asia. Each of the letters is addressed to the angel of the church. Most commentators agree that the angels of Revelation 2 and 3 were church leaders who acted as God’s servants and messengers.

Whether we see the word “angel” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 to refer to angels of heaven or the church leaders, the principle is the same. They were God’s chosen servants, who brought His word and carried His authority. Speaking directly to women, here, Paul challenges them to live in submission to this established authority. They were to respect the leaders God had set in place.

It would be easy for a woman to say, “I am under God alone. I don’t have to submit to God’s physical representatives on this earth.” This, however, is not possible. You cannot live in submission to God if you refuse to accept His earthly authority. Submission to God implies recognizing and accepting His purpose for the church and family.

I do not pretend to understand why God chose man to represent Him on this earth. Why did He create man first? Why did He not give this authority to woman instead of man? Why did He not make them both from the dust and call them both to this role? Why must one submit to another? To answer these questions would be like asking why God chose to reveal Himself to me and not my neighbour. Paul addressed this question in Romans 9 when he said:

[20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9)

Speaking through Jeremiah, the prophet, the Lord God said:

[5] Then the word of the LORD came to me: [6] “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18)

We are clay in the hands of the Master potter. He shapes and forms us for His purpose. There is great joy in walking in that purpose. While we may ask the question, “Why have you made me like this? Ultimately, the heavenly potter has the right to determine the use of each vessel He makes. Whether we are male or female, we are made from the same clay by the same Master. Our value is not in what our responsibilities are but in the fact that He made us male and female in His image.

 

For Prayer:

Father, thank you that you made us in your image. Teach us to reflect that image wherever we go. We also recognize, Lord, that you have a purpose for us as men and women. We pray that you would raise up a generation of men who will take their calling seriously and step out boldly to advance your kingdom. We also pray that you would help us to accept Your creation purpose. Teach us not to be so influenced by modern ideas that we fail to examine what we hear in light of Your purpose.

Father, our greatest desire is to do things Your way. We submit to Your great plan. We thank You for the privilege of serving You and recognize that this will require obedience and discipline on our part. Teach us to walk faithfully in Your purpose for our lives.

 

Chapter 6 - Interdependence

[11] Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; [12] for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. (1 Corinthians 11)

The apostle Paul teaches that God ordained different roles for men and women in the service of His kingdom on earth. Our earthly thinking leads us to believe that since man is the head and woman, the helpmate, then man must be more important. God does not think this way. Consider the words of Jesus:

[11]  The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23)

[48] and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.” (Luke 9)

Our value in God’s eyes is not based on the role we play. The lowly servant, who serves faithfully in the hidden place, is as valuable to God as the public leader. The poor widow who struggles to provide food for her children is as important to God as the millionaire. God does not assess an individual’s value based on his or her outward appearance, role in society or possessions. While this is our human tendency, it is not how God thinks.

In 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Paul speaks about the interdependence of men and women. In other words, they need each other to accomplish what God has called them to do on this earth.

The apostle begins verse 11 with the words, “nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman.” Independent can be translated “apart from, or separately from.” Woman is not separate from man “in the Lord.” What Paul is telling us here is that woman does not have a different standing before the Lord. Her salvation and relationship with God are equal to that of man. She and the role she plays are of equal value and significance in the work of the kingdom. Men and women are co-workers of equal worth before God. Anyone who thinks that man has more value because he is head is not thinking God’s thoughts and needs to repent. Writing to the Galatians, Paul would make this clear when he said:

[28]  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3)

Not only is woman not separate from man in the Lord, but Paul goes on to say that they need each other to fulfill the purpose of God. In the book of Genesis, when the Lord created man and woman, He told them to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). God created man and woman in such a way that they needed one another if they were going to fulfil this commission.

The words of Genesis 2:18 have often struck me:

[18] Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2)

Consider the context of this verse for a moment. God created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden. There man had wonderful communion with his Creator. At this point, there was no sin to separate them. This was heaven on earth. Yet, in this context, the Lord looked at man and realized that it was not good for him to be alone. The Lord, therefore, created a woman to be a companion. Even in paradise, man and woman needed each other. God created them with this need. They would have to learn to work together if they were going to accomplish God’s purpose of the earth.

In verse 12, Paul reminds the Corinthians how God created man and women to be dependant on each other from the beginning.

[12] for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.

God created man from the dust of the ground, but woman was made from man’s rib. God could have made her also from the dust, but He chose not to do so. He created the woman from man. She owes her existence to God as her Creator and man from whom she came.

While woman owes her existence to man, Paul went on in verse 12 to remind men that they also owed their existence to women. God created women in such a way that they can conceive and give birth to children.  Neither sex can lift itself above the other. They are mutually dependant on each other for life. One could not exist without the other.

Notice how Paul concludes in verse 12:

12 And all things are from God (1 Corinthians 11)

While men and women owe their existence to each other, neither would exist without God. Nor would the world in which they live. All things are from God. His wisdom created us, and His strength sustains us each day. Whether we are male or female, we owe everything to God. This puts things into perspective?

Can man boast because he is the head when he understands that everything he has and every gram of strength he uses to accomplish that task comes from God? Can he boast over a woman when he understands that he would not have a life without her? Can a woman lift herself above a man when she understands that she owes her existence to him and that God created her for him?

God created man and women to function as one unit. The roles may differ, but roles do not define our significance. No one is more important than the other. Each is absolutely dependant on God for all things. Together they advance the kingdom of God as He intended.

Verses 11-12 put Paul’s teaching into perspective. Paul does not belittle women here. He reminds us that there is neither male nor female in Christ—all have equal access to their Saviour and His blessing. Both are dependant on each other and on God for all things. The key to advancing the kingdom of God is learning to function as God intended and recognize that all we have and need must come from Him.

 

For Prayer:

Father God, we are amazed at the incredible wisdom You demonstrated in creation. We think of how You created the first man and woman. You did so by making women dependant on man for their existence, but then, giving women the capacity to conceive and bear children, you made man equally dependent on women for his life. Neither sex can lift itself above the other. Both are dependant on You for all things.

Forgive us for assuming that headship means greater importance. Your Word teaches that You do not see things in this light. Value and significance have nothing to do with position. Thank you that both men and women have equal access to You and Your blessing.

Teach us how You want us to work together as men and women for the sake of Your kingdom. You have made us mutually dependant on each other. Show us how we can strengthen, encourage and comfort each other in the work you have given us to do.

 

Chapter 7 - What Nature Teaches

13 Judge for yourselves; it is proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered. 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears 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. (1 Corinthians 11)

In verse thirteen, the apostle Paul called the Corinthians to judge for themselves in this matter of whether a woman should wear a head covering to prophesy or pray in public. They were to make this judgement based on both what he had taught them and what nature taught.

Paul’s focus in this portion of Scripture has been on God’s creation principles. He reminded the Corinthians that the Lord God created man to be His representative and woman to be his helpmate. It was important for Paul that the church submit to this creation purpose. If we want to experience the fullness of God’s blessing, we will need to walk as He intended.

Paul moves from what Scripture said about God’s purpose to what nature itself taught. If God created the world to function in a certain way, then there should be evidence of this in His creation. Paul challenged the Corinthians to examine nature to see if there was any evidence of whether a woman should wear a head covering and submit to man. In verse 14, the apostle makes the statement:

14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him (1 Corinthians 11)

This statement has perplexed commentators. How does nature teach that it is a disgrace for a man to have long hair? What happens with a man’s hair if we let nature take its course? A man’s hair will grow long naturally. If a man wants to wear short hair, he will have to battle nature to keep it that way! There will be many shaves and trips to the barber to cut off his ever-growing hair. Nature gives man long hair, just as it does women.

In the culture of Israel and Rome, it was common practice for men to have short hair. We have all seen the painting of Jesus with long flowing hair. History, however, would indicate that this was not what Jesus looked like. The earliest sketches of Jesus were of a man with short hair and a beard. In an article entitled, “What Did Jesus Really Look Like?” Joan Taylor of Kings College, London says:


If he had had even slightly long hair, we would expect some reaction. Jewish men who had unkempt beards and were slightly long-haired were immediately identifiable as men who had taken a Nazirite vow. This meant they would dedicate themselves to God for a period of time, not drink wine or cut their hair - and at the end of this period they would shave their heads in a special ceremony in the temple in Jerusalem (as described in Acts chapter 21, verse 24).

But Jesus did not keep a Nazirite vow, because he is often found drinking wine - his critics accuse him of drinking far, far too much of it (Matthew chapter 11, verse 19). If he had had long hair, and looked like a Nazirite, we would expect some comment on the discrepancy between how he appeared and what he was doing - the problem would be that he was drinking wine at all.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/magazine-35120965

While men wore short hair in Rome and Israel, women, on the other hand, delighted in their long hair and spend a lot of time caring for it. A quick internet search for ancient Roman hairstyles brings up the following:


Hair was a very erotic area of the female body for the Romans, and attractiveness of a woman was tied to the presentation of her hair. As a result, it was seen as appropriate for a woman to spend time on her hair in order to create a flattering appearance. Hairdressing and its necessary accompaniment, mirror gazing, were seen as distinctly feminine activities. Lengthy grooming sessions for women were tolerated, despite writers such as Tertullian and Pliny commenting on their abhorrence for time and energy women dedicate to their hair. However, the numerous depictions of women hairdressing and mirror-gazing in tomb reliefs and portraiture is a testament to how much hairdressing was seen as part of the female domain. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_hairstyles

What was true about women in Rome was also the case in Israel. Listen to the words of Peter to the Christian women of his day:

3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— (1 Peter 3)

Notice how Peter challenges Christian women to focus less on the braiding of their hair and more on the adorning of their character. There was something very natural about a woman spending time on her hair.

This brings us back to what the apostle Paul told the Corinthians. What does nature tell us about head coverings? In verse 15, Paul reminded the Corinthians that hair has been given to us as a covering:

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (1 Corinthians  11)

Our hair is a natural covering for our heads. That hair grows naturally on the heads of both sexes. How the sexes respond to and care for their hair, however, is very different. In Roman and Israelite culture, men cut off this covering while women encouraged it to grow.

Admittedly, not all cultures had the same practice. There were nations at that time where men allowed their hair to grow. The idea, however, of these long-haired pagan warriors, spending hours in front of a mirror styling their hair, would be very unnatural. It would be considered quite effeminate.

Generally, men do not have the same passion in the care for their hair as women do. According to Paul, a woman’s hair was her glory. It was also her covering (1 Corinthians 11:15). Nature teaches that women naturally take pride in their covering in a way that men do not. This seems to be a natural distinction between the sexes.

Paul tells the Corinthians here that if it is in a woman’s DNA to take pride in her covering, this is no coincidence. The God who created her made her with this general tendency. She wanted a covering on her head and naturally took pride in that covering. On the other hand, men are generally not as prone to this—they cut their hair, removing their covering.

Beyond this is the natural tendency for men to lose hair and go bald. This does not happen to women unless some disease has afflicted them. God created women to go through life, assured that they will always have a covering for their heads. Men, on the other hand, do not have this assurance.

Nature teaches that a woman not only has a head covering for life but generally finds herself delighting and caring for that head covering. Men do not commonly have this focus. They cut off their head covering, or it may be taken from them through baldness. The apostle reminds the Corinthians that God speaks through this natural tendency. According to Paul, God’s purpose for men and women was revealed in nature. The woman’s natural inclination to glory in her long hair proved that something in her desired a covering on her head.

 

For Prayer:

Father God, when You created men and women, You did not make them the same. While equal in every way, just as You and the Son are equal, You gave them different roles. You created women and men biologically different. You gifted them with different traits and tendencies designed to complement each other. We recognize that this world would be very different if there were only one sex. Each sex contributes to the well-being of this earth in different ways. We thank you for the wisdom that brought this into being. I ask Lord God that you would help us to walk in tune with your creation principles. In an age where we are diminishing the difference between the sexes, help us to embrace these differences, knowing that as we do so, we will experience the fullness our your purpose in us.

 

Chapter 8 - The Practice of the Church

16   If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11)

The apostle Paul concludes his comments on head coverings in verse 16. We have already seen how the apostle has argued his case from creation and nature. Here in this verse, he concludes with one final argument—and argument from tradition.

Notice how the apostle Paul begins the verse –“If anyone is inclined to be contentious.” This statement shows us that not everyone agreed with Paul’s teaching on this issue. Paul knew that this teaching was controversial in Corinth. It is equally so in our modern times. In many cultures of our day, there is a tendency to downplay the differences between the sexes. We refuse to accept the idea of gender-based roles in society. We find ourselves reacting negatively toward Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul understood this and concluded with a word to anyone who would be inclined to disagree with him.

The word “contentious” in the Greek language refers to someone fond of strife. This type of person was likely to be argumentative and refuse Paul’s teaching in this passage. To these people, the apostle has this to say:

16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11, NIV)

Notice how the New International Version of the English Bible translates this verse –“we have no other practice.” In other words, this is our tradition in Corinth and every other church.

Some commentators see Paul speaking in verse 16, not about head coverings and the role of women but about being contentious. In other words, they believe Paul was saying that contentiousness was not the practice of the church. It was not the custom of the church to encourage disputes.

Other commentators interpret verse 16 to refer to head coverings. In other words, the apostle, addressing those who disagreed with him, was saying something like this: “It is not the practice of the church for men to wear head coverings when praying and prophesying, but all our women cover their heads when they do so. This practice is firmly established in every church of God.”

Whether we accept the first or second view, the application is the same. Paul has explained his position on the role and responsibility of women and their submission to the leadership God has ordained in the church. This was the established practice and position of all the early churches of Paul’s day, and there was no room for argument on this matter.

When faced with a culture that believed something different from the church's established practice, the apostle did not back down. For Paul, society did not determine the beliefs and practices of the church. We need to understand what the apostle is saying here in light of what he told the Corinthians a few chapters earlier:

19  For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.   20   To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.   21  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.   22   To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.   23  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9)

Paul was not an inflexible traditionalist. He told the Corinthians that he was more than willing to adapt to the cultural practices of the Jews or Gentiles to win them to Christ. He became “all things to all people.” As any missionary has to do, Paul learned to adjust to the culture of the people to whom he had been called.

While Paul was willing to adjust to the cultural practices of the people to whom he was sent, some things were non-negotiable. He would not compromise in his theology or in any practice that God had ordained. For Paul, the roles of men and women were one of those issues that were not open for discussion. This principle was established by God from creation, and God required all believers to walk in submission to that purpose.

Paul would not give in to those who disagreed with him in this matter. “This is not our practice,” he told them. You don’t have to like something, nor do you have to understand it before you submit to it. The apostle left no option here. If you want to follow God and be in tune with His purpose, he told his readers, this is how it is.

It is easy to feel that Paul speaks only to women in this passage. Realize, however, that he equally addresses men by telling them that they were not to wear a head covering when they prayed or prophesied. In many cultures, turbans were a typical dress for men. Consider what the apostle Paul is saying to men in light of the regulations regarding the attire of an Old Testament priest:

6 And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. 7 You shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. (Exodus 29)

What was the responsibility of the priest in the Old Testament? He was to offer sacrifices, speak on behalf of the Lord, and pray for the people of Israel. God required that he do so with a turban on his head. In other words, he wore a head covering when he prayed and prophesied.

Paul is clear that his teaching about head coverings originated in God’s principles from creation. If this is the case, why would God require a turban for the Old Testament priests?

The book of Hebrews reminds us that after the death of the Lord Jesus, the way to the Most Holy Place was opened for all. With the work of Christ accomplished and the Spirit of God dwelling in His representatives, Jesus grants full authority to go in His name. We go now boldly with full authority to push back the forces of darkness and establish His kingdom.

Could it be that the Old Testament priests wore a turban to remind them of their inability without the work of the Messiah to accomplish the work of the kingdom? God allowed and even commanded Old Testament priests to pray, prophesy and sacrifice with their head covered even though Paul said it was a disgrace for them to do so. Their sacrifices were unable to bring ultimate forgiveness and restoration to a people lost in sin.

 

For years, the Old Testament priests ministered with heads covered. Despite the shame of their head-coverings, they prayed and prophesied with God’s approval. God looked past the shame of the priest’s head covering to the heart.

God is more concerned about the heart than the dress. God heard the prayers of a man who covered his head. He also attends to the sincere prayers of a woman who prays with her head uncovered.

Let me summarize Paul’s teaching in closing. First, God created men and women differently. He has a different role for them to play in the expansion of His kingdom. God has chosen that man represent Him as the head. Woman is to be his helpmate.

Second, as God’s representatives, men are to pray and prophesy with an “uncovered head.” That is to say, they are to do so with boldness and authority.

Third, as helpmates to men, women were to pray and prophesy in submission to the authority God had established in the church. In that day, the women of the church covered their heads to remind themselves and to demonstrate their willingness to serve with an attitude of submission.

Fourth, the attitude of the heart is more important than the symbol. A priest could walk in God’s authority even if his head were covered. A woman could serve with a submissive spirit even if her head were not covered. What pleases God is the attitude of the heart.

Finally, it is not helpful to force a position on anyone in the church. We need to allow the Spirit of God to convince and lead each individual into His purpose. Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul said:

1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5   One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. (Romans 14)

Paul told the Romans that there would be a difference of opinion on practices in the church. These practices would relate to what a believer could or could not eat, and what days were holy and what could be done on those days. Paul grants believers the freedom to vary in practice, understanding that not everyone is at the same place in their spiritual walk, and the Lord would continue to work in their lives and bring conviction.

I have prepared this study to help believers reflect on this difficult passage of Scripture. In some circles of the church, this passage has often been skipped over. All Scripture, however, has been inspired by God and given to the church for a reason. I trust that my simple effort here will be a tool the Spirit of God will use to bring greater understanding and harmony among believers and more clarity in individual lives as we seek to walk more fully in His purpose for us as members of the body of Christ.

 

For Prayer:

Lord God, I thank you that Paul sets an example for us here in this passage. While he was willing to adjust to the cultural practices of his day, he would not compromise the principles of your Word. I ask Lord that you would give us that perspective. Forgive us for the times we have allowed our society to define our doctrine and practices as a church. Teach us to look only to You and Your Word for our faith and practice.

Thank you Lord, that You are a God who looks beyond the externals to the attitude of our heart. You look beyond the head covering of the priests to their hearts. Teach us not to judge others by these externals. We recognize that we do not see the motives and intentions of their heart.

Teach us to remain firm in the principles You teach us about the role of men and women in the church. Give us men who will take their God-given authority seriously. We confess that there are men who wear a covering to their disgrace in the church –they do not stand up boldly or recognize their responsibility in their family and church. We realize that there are also women who are not wearing a covering, who have taken on roles that you have not ordained for them to take. Help us to understand your purpose and walk in it. Bless us as we align ourselves to that purpose.

 

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Light To My Path Book Distribution (LTMP) is a book writing and distribution ministry reaching out to needy Christian workers in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Many Christian workers in developing countries do not have the resources necessary to obtain Bible training or purchase Bible study materials for their ministries and personal encouragement. F. Wayne Mac Leod is a member of Action International Ministries and has been writing these books with a goal to distribute them freely or at cost price to needy pastors and Christian workers around the world.

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