Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
In last week’s study, we looked at the concluding part of learning from the mistakes of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land; considering an important learning point -avoiding false gods. We concluded by looking at Paul’s response based on two guiding principles in expressing one’s liberty of eating food sacrificed to idols; our actions in terms of our relationship to God and actions in terms of our relationship to men. In today’s study, we will be looking at what the Bible says about covering of the head in worship as it relates to the man and the woman in the honour of God.
DIVINE ORDER - (Verses 1-3)
"Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. 3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
Paul starts off this chapter as a continuation of chapter 10 with a very bold proclamation; one that only Jesus Christ had ever made! (Matt.4:19) His proclamation indicates he was confident that his motives were pure and that he was a true follower of Christ. You will recall from the concluding verses of Chapter 10 that Paul, talking about the abuse of one’s liberty used himself as an example that he did not only preach such doctrine, but lived the life! And as such, they should imitate him!
And then he proceeds to acknowledge the effort the Corinthian church has made in remembering and honouring him by keeping up the traditions of the faith he taught them. A method we see the Lord Jesus Christ use severally in the Book of Revelations (Rev. Chapters 2&3). This is important because when we reprove what is amiss in any, it is very prudent and fit to commend what is good in them; it will show that the reproof is not from ill-will, and a humour of censuring and finding fault; and it will therefore procure the more regard to it.
Having done all that, he then introduces the subject matter of disorders in the Corinthian church in relation to the misconduct of their women in the public assembly, who laid down their veils, the common token of subjection to their husbands in that part of the world. He did this by referring to the spiritual connotation of covering and not covering of hair. He was saying that head covering goes beyond fashion and culture! It is spiritual! “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” that everyone has a head! And that just as Christ acknowledges the pre-eminence of the Father and men acknowledge the pre-eminence of Christ over them, so women acknowledge the pre-eminence of men in the male-female relationship (or at least the husband-wife relationship). But prominence in a relationship does not imply superiority or inferiority; certainly, it does not carry that meaning in the relationship between the Father and the Son, and it should not mean that between men and women in the church.
HONOR YOUR HEAD – (Verses 4-5)
“4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonours his head. 5 But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven”.
Having set the foundation in verse 3, Paul proceeds to expound. An understanding of these four verses brings the entire 16 verses in focus. That Paul refers to the “head” here should not be misconstrued that it is separate from the “hair” as some have come to interpret it. (See verse 6)
The man praying or prophesying, having his head (hair inclusive) covered, dishonours his head – CHRIST. The Woman that prays or prophesies with her head (hair inclusive) uncovered dishonours her head – THE HUSBAND
Having said that; back in the era of the first century church, across Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures, the head-covering was a symbol of sexual purity. And for a married woman, it was a symbol of her loyalty to her husband, of her acceptance of his leadership in the relationship. It would be like the wedding bands that a man and a woman wear today. So, for a Christian woman in the church to appear in public without that covering, let alone to pray or to share the Word in worship, was both culturally offensive and from Paul’s perspective, confusing to nonbelievers who were trying to understand what this new community of faith stood for in terms of values and relationships. Paul’s point is this: In the culture of Corinth, it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so would be tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God’s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would go against socially accepted behaviour even though they were personally submissive.
Please note that the manner of doing a thing affects the morality of it. We must not only be concerned to do good, but that the good we do be well done. (Rom.14:6)
COVER OR SHAVE – (Verses 6-7)
“6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.”
Paul offers two options; cover your head or shave it! But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, (for her hair is her ornament and glory! Verse 15) she should cover her head.
BECAUSE OF THE ANGELS – (Verses 8-12)
“8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. 10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. 12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.”
Paul first addresses the possibility of the claim for “equal rights” in verses 8 & 9. Simply put, Adam was not created for Eve, but Eve was created for Adam – and this principle applies to every “Adam” and every “Eve” through history. Genesis 2:18 declares God’s intention in creating Eve: I will make him a helper comparable to him. Eve was created to be a helper to Adam, meaning that Adam was “head” over Eve, and she was called to share and help his vision and agenda. Genesis 2:22 says, He brought her to the man. Adam was not brought to Eve, but Eve was brought to Adam – her head. It is an idea offensive to the spirit of our age, but the Bible in this passage clearly teaches that (in the church and in the home) man was not made for the benefit of woman, but woman for the benefit of man.
In verse 10, Paul mentions that the woman “ought to have power on her head, because of the angels.” Power, that is, a veil, the token, not of her having the power or superiority, but being under the power of her husband, subjected to him. Rebekah, when she met Isaac, and was delivering herself into his possession, put on her veil, in token of her subjection, (Gen. 24:65).
The angels, though invisible, are fellow-worshippers with men in the Christian assemblies, and would therefore “see this indecency,” and liable to be offended by it. Also, the Jews believed that that good angels, being under the possibility of falling from the same cause as their evil brethren (Gen 6:4), fly away at once from the presence of unveiled women. So as not to offend the Angels, women ought to (must, should, have to) cover their heads.
COMMON SENSE? – (Verses 13-16)
“13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely (proper, right) that a woman pray unto God uncovered? 14 Doth not even nature (common sense) itself teach you, that, if a man has long hair, it is a shame unto him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. 16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Emphasis mine
Sentiments aside; Paul urges us (you and I who would one day judge Angels) to judge in ourselves. The Message version renders these verses thus: “Don’t you agree there is something naturally powerful in the symbolism—a woman, her beautiful hair reminiscent of angels, praying in adoration; a man, his head bared in reverence, praying in submission? I hope you’re not going to be argumentative about this. All God’s churches see it this way; I don’t want you standing out as an exception.”
It’s the same agelong argument! Paul knew this command would naturally be greeted with arguments as we have these days; so he appeals to our common sense, our good conscience not our “dogged” convictions!
Paul’s instruction to women about covering their heads is to demonstrate to the angels and celestial powers their submission to God’s appointed authority. Paul does not present head coverings as a matter of his opinion, but as an apostolic tradition. He does not describe this as a matter of Christian liberty, or as a personal conviction, but as a matter of obedience. (“Let her cover her head” in verse 6 is authoritative, buttressed by the “ought” of verse 10.) Paul mentions no other alternative symbol nor does he imply there may be some other way to symbolize submission to male headship. He also speaks of the head covering of women as the consistent practice of every church and not just that of the Corinthian church. He teaches us that in a marriage relationship, there is authority from Christ to husband, and from husband to wife. The authority of Christ is the authority of God. Any man who speaks with God or about God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of Christ, dishonours Christ. In the same way, a wife who speaks with God in a way that shows a lack of respect for the authority of her husband, dishonours her husband. Worse, she dishonours herself—an ugly sight, like a woman with her head shaved. This is basically the origin of these customs we have of women wearing head coverings in worship, while men take their hats off. By these symbolic acts, men and women, who far too often butt heads with each other, submit their “heads” to the Head: God.