What Paul said to the Corinthians

Note: all quotes below are from the New American Standard Bible version.

1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

In the above verse, Paul lays out the authority relationships between God the Father, Jesus Christ, man, and woman as the context for his teaching on the proper use of head coverings.

While it is certainly true that Jesus Christ is the head of all Christians, whether men or women, the practical outworking of his authority over the church happens through certain individuals who are tasked with exercising His authority over others.

Just as God the Father has entrusted Jesus Christ with the exercise of authority over the Church (though God the Father is the head over Christ as well as us all) so too the man has been entrusted to exercise authority over the woman.

The exercise of authority over another does not imply superiority on the part of the one wielding authority or inferiority on the part of the one submitting under that authority just as Jesus Christ is not inferior to God the Father.

The authority of Jesus Christ over us is a delegated authority from God the Father just as the authority of the man over the woman is a delegated authority from God the Father through Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 11:4

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head…For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

Every single English translation, without exception, starts out saying “Every man” or something to that affect (i.e. “A man…” instead of “Every man…”).

It would be incongruous to believe that single men can wear a head covering and not disgrace Jesus Christ as their head but that married men cannot do so without bringing open shame on their head.

Being married or not has no bearing on whether the wearing of a head covering dishonors Jesus Christ as the head of the man. What determines that is whether a head covering is on the head or not.

The instruction here therefore applies to…well…every man, whether married or not, or we twist “every man” to mean something other than…well…every man.

If a man has a covering on his head while praying or prophesying it disgraces his immediate head who is Jesus Christ. Conversely and in the same spirit of the instructions to the man but opposite the man in practice, if a woman does not wear a head covering when praying or prophesying it in turn disgraces her immediate head who is a man (or the male authority figure in her life).

The Greek word that is translated “disgraces” here is also translated as humiliated (Luke 13:17), disappointed (Romans 9:33), and shame (1 Corinthians 1:27).

To disgrace one’s head by wearing a head covering (for the man) and not wearing a head covering (for the woman) is to bring open humiliation and shame to one’s head of authority. It disgraces the one in authority in a public manner and is an act of rebellion to that authority and ultimately to God.

Note that the covering Paul speaks of is only to be worn or not worn when praying or prophesying. Apart from engaging in these two spiritual exercises there is liberty to do as one wishes with respect to wearing or not wearing a head covering.

Why does a man disgrace his head of authority when he covers his physical head while praying or prophesying? For (i.e. because) the man is created in the image and glory of God. God’s image as seen in the man and His glory are to be seen. Not hidden (symbolically) under a head covering of any sort. We are to highlight and respect the virtues of God seen in the man, openly and without shame.

On the other hand if a woman does not cover her head (out of respect for and recognition of the man as her immediate head of authority) it disgraces the man. It openly shames him. Why?

The text, as written, is not clear on the why of this. Only that it disgraces the man.

However the reason for the disgrace on the man is implied by the fact that the man, in his position within God’s order of authority does not cover his head. If a woman does not cover her head she usurps the man’s place in the order of authority and takes the place of the man as having Jesus Christ as her immediate head. That is not her place. Such a place immediately under Jesus Christ was given to the man.

If a woman does not recognize the role and place of the man in God’s order of authority it disgraces the man and brings him to open shame in a public way before man and angels. It brings discord into the Church and promotes self-rule by example as opposed to God rule (and the working out of His authority in the Church through the relationships he has designated to exercise authority through).

1 Corinthians 11:5-6

But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying…is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

If a woman will not cover her head when praying or prophesying then she should have the hair on her head completely shaved off. If that is too much of an embarrassment and a shame to her then she should cover her head.

1 Corinthians 11:7-10

…the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Just as the man is the glory of God so too the woman is the glory of the man.

The man glorifies God by virtue of the image of God to be found in the man. Man has been created in the image of God…having some measure of His characteristics within himself. One can see something of the magnificence and glory of God within the man just as someone can see something of an artist in that which he creates.

Likewise, since God created the woman from the man (out of his rib), something of the man’s characteristics can be observed in the woman. Not entirely mind you but enough to where the woman glorifies the man as the one from whom she was created.

The woman was created for the man. To meet needs or desires in his life. Not the other way around (though certainly the man can meet needs and desires in the woman but such is not the purpose for which men were created).

In view of that, the woman should have a symbol of authority on her head to acknowledge that she came from man. That man is her head of authority. She does not stand equal to man in authority but is rather under his authority just as man is under the immediate authority of Christ (I refer to the practical outworking of authority within the relationships referred to in these passages for to be sure we are all, both men and women, under the overall authority of Jesus Christ and of God the Father).

The woman covers her head not only to acknowledge the man as her immediate head but also “because of the angels”…

There is nothing in these passages which would clarify for us what Paul meant when he said “because of the angels”. All we know is that a head covering on the head of a woman affected the angels somehow and that because of that affect Paul wanted the Corinthian women to apply his teaching on head coverings.

Despite the text not clearly explaining why Paul said “because of the angels” there are some things we can deduce from what is written as to what Paul may have meant in the use of that phrase.

The essence of Paul’s instructions had to do with acknowledging publicly through the symbol of a head covering the proper order of God’s authority through the relationships involved. Namely God the Father, Jesus Christ, man, and woman.

We also know that Satan is a fallen angel whose sin was pride and rebellion against God’s authority. Wanting to exalt himself to the place of God.

Tie the two things that we know together and I believe it is biblically reasonable to say that the use of a head covering on a woman’s head during prayer and prophesying supports and upholds the order of authority in creation under God the Father. An order of authority that Satan and the angels that followed him rebelled against.

By putting on a head covering the woman declares that the order of authority she supports (God the Father, Jesus Christ, and man over her) is the correct order. An order that the angels should follow.

It exalts God as the ultimate authority to which both angels and men ought to be submissive.

Conversely, not putting on a head covering as a woman is to stand in the place of Satan and the fallen angels. A place of rebellion. Dishonoring and standing publicly (by the absence of the head covering symbol) against the proper order of authority.

Up to this point Paul has given us two reasons to apply his teaching on head coverings. One, that the proper use of a head covering on the head either honors or dishonors the head of the person applying his teaching. Secondly, in the case of a woman not wearing a head covering, that the angels are negatively affected by that (most likely in their seeing the woman act in rebellion to God’s order of authority…the very kind of rebellion Satan engaged in when he rebelled against God in the heavenlies).

I cover this more at length elsewhere in these notes but it is important to note here, if but in passing, that the two reasons so far given by Paul for the proper application of head coverings have nothing whatever to do with a public display of one’s married state. Some Christians use a reasoning that is not even mentioned in the text, that the head covering on the woman was a symbol of one’s availability as a potential wife and that as such it is simply irrelevant today, to completely ignore the continuing need to apply what Paul taught for the very reasons that he did give.

To ignore Paul’s reasons for the practice while siding with a reason that he didn’t even mention as a reason to ignore the practice as he taught it is to be disobedient to what is written based on nothing less than conjecture and presumption about what Paul must have really meant to say!

1 Corinthians 11:16

But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Some Bible’s, such as the King James, translate this verse as “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Aside from the King James, the ASV (American Standard Version), and the YLT (Young’s Literal Translation)…also translate the Greek to “no such custom”.

The Amplified Bible translates this verse as “Now if anyone is disposed to be argumentative and contentious about this, we hold to and recognize no other custom [in worship] than this, nor do the churches of God generally.” Among other versions that translate this verse in the sense of “no other custom” are the NIV (New International Version), the NLT (New Living Translation), and the NASB (New American Standard Version).

This is rather confusing since the meaning of no such custom is different from that of no other custom.

No such custom means that the churches of God had no custom of a kind previously mentioned in the text.

No other custom means that the churches of God had only the custom previously mentioned in the text.

No custom or only a custom like that mentioned in the text. What was this custom?

Paul’s teaching revolves around a custom or apostolic tradition of having women wear a head covering when praying and prophecying and the men doing so without any kind of covering on their head. The opposite of that custom would of course be where women prayed and prophecied with no covering and/or the men did so while wearing some kind of head covering.

Those are the only two possibilities for a custom as mentioned in the text.

Some Christians are of the opinion that the custom was being contentious but we will ignore this interpretation since the custom being referred to is one that people might have been contentious about applying and not contentiousness itself. In other words one cannot be said to be argumentative or contentious about…well…being argumentative and contentious. That makes no sense at all.

Let’s look at the verses immediately preceding this verse to see if we can gain some insight on what the custom referred to might have been.

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NASB)

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 (Amplified Bible)

Consider for yourselves; is it proper and decent [according to your customs] for a woman to offer prayer to God [publicly] with her head uncovered? Does not the native sense of propriety (experience, common sense, reason) itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is a dishonor [humiliating and degrading] to him, But if a woman has long hair, it is her ornament and glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

The practice being referenced by Paul in the verses immediately preceding vs 16 is the practice of a woman praying to God publicly with her head uncovered. He asks if such a practice (or custom) is proper with the question being asked in context and in such a way that a negative answer is the only answer that makes sense. Namely that it is not proper for a woman to pray with head uncovered.

That is the immediate context.

Keeping that context in mind I believe that the practice being referred to in verse 16 where Paul says (according to some translations) that “we have no such custom, neither the churches of God” is the practice of women praying to God publicly without a head covering.

That such a practice is simply not followed by any of the churches of God! None.

That what Paul has been teaching about the proper use of head coverings is a practice that is followed by all the churches of God who have no other practice!

In the broader context of what Paul has been teaching no other practice than what he has taught. In the more immediate context of no such practice, the practice of women praying with the head uncovered.

Take your pick as to which custom Paul was referring to in verse 16.

Either way what Paul said, that women should wear head coverings when praying or prophesying and men not, stands as what Christians in the Body ought to be doing.

No other interpretation makes sense in the context. It is beyond the bounds of reasonable biblical interpretation to embrace the belief that after spending the first fifteen verses laying out the proper use of head coverings that Paul would have concluded by saying something akin to “Oh…you can ignore what I just said in it’s entirety since…well…no one has such a practice anyway.”

Such an interpretation is complete nonsense and useful only to those who want to be contentious about what Paul taught as an excuse (though an invalid one at that) for being disobedient.

Paul’s point was that if anyone wanted to argue (or be contentious) about what he had been teaching, that all the churches practiced the proper use of head coverings as he had laid it out. As if to say that no such argument was acceptable or in line with God’s will.

Likewise today no argument against what Paul taught is acceptable or valid (at least I have not seen any). Most all arguments against Paul’s teaching today are based not on sound and correct biblical interpretation but rather on conjecture, assumption, and fanciful notions on what the text says or about what Paul actually meant to say (but did not say I should point out) with a view to allowing us to justify disobedience (in our own minds at least) to what Paul clearly taught.

Next -> Objections Answered

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