1 Corinthians 11:2-16
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 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. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his 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. 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. 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. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it 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. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
This passage has been the source of much angry discussion and, sadly, tragic misuse over the generations. As a product of the 1960’s (and thus a daily dose of the feminist movement), I have heard some crazy things said about these words – on both sides. And in no way do I want to make it sound like I’ve got all the great answers here. I don’t. But I do believe we can bring some calm to these passages instead of vitriol.
From the outset it should be noted that Paul does not wish to set in concrete a rule about specific practices for all places and all times regarding head-coverings. (When he does state a universal and permanent rule for practice, he often refers to a direct command from God, as in 14:37, or to the teaching or practice “in every church” or “in all the churches,” as in 4:17; 7:17; 14:33.) Rather, he is establishing the universal and permanent principle that men and women at worship should conduct themselves modestly and sensibly (1 Tim 2:9; cf. 1 Pet 3:1–6), in keeping with whatever happen to be the customs of the time. The universal and binding principle of love finds expression today in different ways of showing consideration and courtesy to one another. Paul never conceives of the man’s authority in terms of a harsh subjugation of the woman to his will. The apostle is not granting to men the authority to wield autocratic power, but the responsibility for loving, self-sacrificing service.
Lockwood, G. J. ©2000. 1 Corinthians (p. 362). Saint Louis: CPH.
I will state from the outset that the problems we face with these kinds of passage are born not of their message but from the abuses that grow from them. Entire books have been written about the differences between men and women and how sometimes understanding the opposite sex can be a challenge. With that said, we must keep in mind that God set up a wonderful system. It’s not His fault that we broke it or abuse it. And I don’t just mean the fall into sin by Adam and Eve. Every day, men abuse their position as leaders. And every day women usurp the authority under which we have been placed. (I can see your red flags waving already.)
Every organization needs a leader or chaos ensues. “Leader” does not equal “superior”. That is a man-made invention. Leader simply means the one who gets to serve the most! This is the one who looks out for everyone else. This is the one responsible for the safety and provision of the rest. Their burden is heavy. And a wise leader knows how to listen to and take notes from his wife – because we have good ideas and see things in a different light. God has made us equal partners. But the buck must stop somewhere and it’s with the man.
I know this won’t be a popular post. I get it. Women have been the recipients of terrible treatment in the guise of following these words. And shame on those who have perpetrated that falsehood. But if you read the passage carefully (3But 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) you will find that even within the Trinity there is an “order”. Jesus Christ is submitted to the Father. And yet they are equal. If you can figure that one out, email me, because I would love to have that straight in my mind! Surely following the example of the Godhead shouldn’t be that painful.