I Corinthians 11:1–16. Hair Coverings in Church.

Key Notes: Two views of the text. The meaning of "head". Distractions in church. Hierarchy in nature and in the Trinity. The risk of abuse.

This section is the beginning of the fourth block of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians. In the first four chapters, he addressed the issue of division and authority in the church. In chapters 5–7 he discussed sexual problems such as incest, adultery, homosexuality, and prostitution. In chapters 8–10 Paul answered a question raised by the Corinthians on whether it was permissible to eat in an idol temple and he established three rules for doubtful practice. In chapters 11–14 he is concerned with order in the church. He will mention women’s head-dress,  disorder in the Lord’s Supper, priority in spiritual gifts, and speaking in tongues.

This lesson on women’s head-dress was originally done in debate format, with a woman giving a women's version of the topic and a man taking a man's approach. She chose not to deal with the text, but speak of the woman’s role in Christian ministry, using herself as an illustration. She said Christ is the head, the source from which she derives her authority. She described a church she attended in which there was a lack of  worship-leader. She filled the role and was happy and supported in the ministry until challenged by men in the congregation who complained that it was impossible for them to worship in this setting. They had usurped the pastor’s role, but she decided to leave rather than cause division.

She pointed out that women were praying and prophesying in the ICor.11 passage. Prophecy is public exposition. She listed other NT references of women prophesying:

Anna was a prophetess. Lk.2:36
Peter quoted Joel 2:28--“…and your sons and your daughter shall prophesy, yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy.” (Acts.2:17–18)
“And he (Philip, one of the seven deacons) had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts :21:9)
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them; if prophecy in proportion to our faith." (Rom.12:6)

There were also several OT prophetesses:
            Miriam Ex.15:20
            Deborah Judg.4:4
            Huldah IIChron.34:22
There was even a false prophetess. Neh.6:14

The man approached the material differently.

ICor.11:1–16 is given special attention because it has been exhaustively studied over the last 40 years during  the re-emergence of the feminist movement. The suffragette movement of the nineteenth century was given a boost by the First World War in which women were called upon to do work previously done by men. Women’s right to vote was a constitutional amendment in 1919. The sexual revolution of the ’60’s, coming on the heels of WWII, has pushed the feminist agenda. It  has greatly changed the fabric of society. As in all revolutions, there are gains and loses but in general, revolutions destroy the thing they try to create—usually freedom.

11:2 Overall, the Corinthians held to Paul’s traditions. But the Corinthian conduct of worship was faulty.
11:3 “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband and the head of Christ is God." Paul is emphatic, suggesting that the Corinthians did not understand this point.
“ I want you to understand” is well said, because many people reject this idea out of hand, not because the head of Christ is God, or the head of the man is Christ, but because the head of the woman is her husband.

Research since 1960 has focused on the word “head” (Gr.”kephale”), from which we get the English word "'cephalic'. The related Latin word is “caput”, from which we get capital and capitol). It has been argued that "kephale" means source, not leader. There is evidence that  it means both.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (G.Bromiley; Eerdmans;’64) speaks first of the classical Greek tradition. "Kephale" means:

point, top, end, points of departure, mouth or source of a river
what is permanent, outstanding, determinative.
the person; a man’s life. “Your blood be on your own heads.” (Acts.18:6)

In the Greek OT (LXX), the word is interpreted as head, limit, point, top; ruler, leader; head (vs. tail).

It is used as a metaphor for a ruler a dozen times in OT.
Jephthah. Judg.11:11; also 10:18, 11:8,9
David. IISam.22:44; Psa.18:43
All the leaders of the tribes. IK.8:1
Syria and Ephraim. Isa.7:8,9
The elder and the honored man. Isa.9:14–16
Head of the nations. Jer.31:7
Zion’s enemy. Lam.1:5

  1. In NT, “kephale’ implies one who stands over another in the sense of being the ground of his being”. (Kittel, p.679). That also sounds more like source than leader. However, note the NT usage of the word.

“...head over all things for the church....” (Eph.1:22) indicates leader.
 “We are to grow up in every into Him who is the head, into Christ from Whom the whole body…makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love.” (Eph.4:15) suggests  source.
 “For the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the Head of the Church, His body and is Himself its Savior.” (Eph.5:23) indicates leader.
 “He is the Head of the body, the Church.” (Col. 1:18) indicates leader.
“You have come to fullness of life in Him who is the Head of all rule and authority.” (Col.2:10) indicates leader.
 “…not holding fast to the Head.” (Col.2:19) suggests source.
The Dragon of Rev. 12:3 has seven heads with seven crowns representing authority and power. Jesus has many crowns on His Head in Rev.19:11,12.

The Bible uses the word “head” most often as simple anatomy. But it also uses the “head” as a metaphor for leader in both OT and NT.

11:4–6 Women do prophesy or pray, but should have the head covered. A man who prays or prophesies with something down over his head dishonors his head. Slaves were shaven. Prostitutes did not wear a head-cover. Men were not to wear a head cover. [Jewish men do, but we do not know how far back the custom goes.]

11:7 Men are not to wear a head covering as the image and glory of God.
The woman is the glory of man, her husband. [She exhibits her glory for him at home, not in church.]

11:8–12 The relationship of man and woman is complex. Woman was made for man and came from man (Eve from the side of Adam). Paul is not taking the relationship of man and woman from Gen. 3, after the Fall, when sin was in the world, but from Gen.2, when there was still innocence. Hence the subordination of women is not a penalty for sin. But neither man or woman is independent of the other. Man is born of woman, [and we all owe a great debt to our mothers who risked their lives to bring us into the world.] Ultimately all things come from God.

Verse 10 is a puzzle.” A woman ought to have her authority on her head” probably means “By covering her head the woman secures her own place of dignity and authority. “ (The Message of Corinthians. D.Prior; IVP;’85; p.183.)
“…because of the angels” adds to the mystery. One idea is that angels are observing worship. There is an allusion in  IPeter 1:12: “...who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.”

11:14–16 Lastly Paul appeals to custom: long hair is degrading to a man whereas a woman’s long hair is her pride.

Paul’s message is simple. Women’s hair should be covered in church. In many cultures, traditional Greek and Moslem society, or 17th century Europe, women wore head coverings in public. Women’s hair was (and is) often very beautiful and exhibiting it in public can have sexual overtones (“...letting her hair down.”). The simplest explanation of the passage is that newly converted Christian women of Corinth were exercising their liberty. Women’s hair, only recently displayed in public, would be a distraction in Corinthian worship. It would call to mind the prostitute. For a while, the red dress had a similar connotation in this country. Changing the customs should not be the focus of worship. Women’s hair has been seen in this Country since pioneer days except among Puritans, Amish, Mennonites and old Catholics. Consequently, we do not usually react to women’s hair in church. [But beautiful long hair can kill the sermon. It is also a breathtaking feature of modern advertising.] If  all the women suddenly came to church veiled, that would be a distraction! Halter tops, short skirts and spike heels, on the other hand, are a distraction in our churches. So we honor the concept, although the customs have changed.

However, Paul gives only passing reference to custom. His point is mainly theological. He puts men, women, Christ and God in a hierarchy. One commentary said it is not hierarchical but relational. It is a hierarchical relationship! Paul makes four points:
*The head of the wife is her husband; the head of the husband is Christ.
*The man is the image and glory of God. The woman is the glory of man.
*Woman was created for man and from man.
*But man is born of woman. Both are interdependent. (God created them both, and in His Image.)

It is very difficult for moderns to accept Paul’s teaching. “Paul got some of his theology wrong,.” someone said in the class. The egalitarian model (equal rights for husbands and wives) has overridden the complementarian model (different roles and responsibilities for husbands and wives.)  Most preachers avoid this text either because they do not agree with it or they fear the reaction of their congregation. Paul’s teaching is based on the concept of hierarchy which is built into the Trinity.

The hierarchy of the Trinity is rather clear in Scripture. There are three Persons, but one Essence.
*Christ is sent by the Father. (Jn.17:25)  He keeps the Father’s commandments and abides in His love. (Jn.15:10). He is subordinate to the Father.
*But Jesus also said “I and the Father are One.” (Jn.10:30). “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn.14:9)
*The Spirit proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son. (Jn.15:26). “He [The Spirit] will not speak on His own authority but whatever He hears He will speak….”  “He will glorify Me (Christ). ” (Jn.16:13–14) . The Holy Spirit is subordinate to Christ.

The hierarchy of the Trinity works in perfect harmony and love. There is no rivalry. They are almost always listed in order--Father, Son, and  Holy Spirit. Subordination is not inferiority. I think the economic relationship  of the Trinity is revealed to us in order for us to learn from it. God is not called “The Father” and Jesus is not called “The Son” for nothing. Christ is subordinate to the Father. This is not only true in His earthly life, but is an eternal reality. (ICor.15:28). A woman being subordinate to her husband must never be an occasion for oppression or abuse. It should be a beautiful thing. Nothing about subordination in the Trinity would suggest less than beauty and blessing to us.

The systematic abuse of women in various societies—Hindu, (suttee, dowry murders) and Moslem (honor killings), or Chinese (exposure or abortion of female babies) in particular—is forbidden in Christian circles.

P.S. Subordinationism is a heresy when the Christ is made inferior to the Father and the Holy Spirit is made inferior to Him..

P.P.S. If we were to dress for church thoughtfully and women were to wear a shawl, it would create a climate of holiness before God that we have not observed in many years. Shall we try it?