1 Corinthians 11:4-10

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

For man is not from woman, but woman from man.

Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.

10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

Nothing could be more contrary to the whole spirit of this dispensation than to use the casual mention of an ancient custom in a Greek city as fastening a legal and, so to speak, Levitical ceremonial upon Christians in all ages. The point is that “the head of the woman is the man.” It is the divine order. The angels know this. To them any inversion of that order would be disorder. In Corinth a shorn or “uncovered” head in the presence of men was a badge of harlotry, and a harlot is not only a woman who sells her body, but she is a woman who has thrown off the restraints of subordination — of the divine order. In a mixed assembly, therefore, a spiritually minded and Biblically taught Christian woman who speaks or prays would do so in a modest and womanly manner, keeping her place in the divine order. — Dr. C.I. Schofield as quoted in Laurin, pages 183-184.

The Spirit of God uses the natural (physical) head of man as the symbol of both headship and authority. Christ is the “head” of the man; therefore man is under the authority of Christ. Man is head of the woman; therefore woman, as the weaker vessel, is to be in subjection to her own husband. Christ is the authority, the final word as having to do with the Church, and a man who prays or prophesies with his head covered “dishonoreth his head.” This injunction was neither Jewish nor Greek, for in Paul’s day, Jewish men always covered their heads in the synagogue, and the Greeks, both men and women, were uncovered. — Greene, pages 351-352.

There was in the church at Corinth a lack of respect for God-given authority, especially as it concerned the headship of the man over the woman. They had sort of a “Women’s Lib” going there, and this evidenced itself by the repudiation of a custom — again, not a Scriptural law, but a significant custom still observed in some parts of the world today — that of the woman’s wearing a covering, or veil, on her head as a testimony to her subjection to her husband. — Stam, page 186-187

prays or prophesies (v.5) — Some commentaries say that this is not referring to church services because 1 Corinthians 14:34 says that women aren’t to speak in church. Others say 1 Corinthians 14:34 is only speaking of tongues and praying and prophesying in church by women is OK as long as they’re covered. I lean toward the first view.

Originally, in the Old Testament, Jewish worship decreed a head covering for men. That covering was a religious sign. It was a sign of sin, shame, and unworthiness in the presence of God, but the man of verse four is a Christian man. He is “in Christ” and his sin, shame and unworthiness are gone. Its legalism disappeared. Instead, there is a new spiritual order of life without the inhibitions and prohibitions of legal custom. 

As for the woman, her behavior is no more legalistic that is true of the man. She is not treated with a superstitious inferiority, but she is required to observe the dignity and propriety of a matrimonial sign to fit the conditions of the age in which she was then living. When the conditions ceased to exist, the sign ceased to be necessary. — Laurin, page 185.

Among the Greeks, women who wee morally clean and upright wore the veil, and only immoral women, those of ill repute, went unveiled. Therefore, every man who saw them knew what they were. The veil served two purposes: 1) It was a sign of inferiority. 2) It was a very great protection. Also, among the Greeks the slave women were shorn — their heads were shaved; and thus any woman seen with her head shaved was known to be a slave. (Deuteronomy 21:10-17). — Greene, page 353.

is not covered (v.6) — verb indicates a habitual behavior

image (v.7) = visible representation

glory (v.7) = manifestation of God’s greatness and majesty

woman is the glory of man (v.7) — adds dignity and completeness to him

woman for the man (v.9) — a help suited for (and from) him (Genesis 2:18)

because of the angels (v.10) — who learn of the wisdom of God by observing men (Ephesians 3:10).

From the quotes from commentaries I’ve included in this post, it’s clear that many aren’t quite sure what to make of this passage. That it represents the headship of Christ over the Church as demonstrated in the headship of a husband over his wife is pretty clear. But whether the specific sign of this headship — a head covering worn by a woman — is strictly cultural and, therefore, not necessary in this age is of some doubt. Women today dress far more immodestly than I’m guessing most women did in Corinth in Paul’s day, yet nobody is making this connection except to say that women should be on the modest end of the scale in any culture.

My guess is that this passage should be considered in light of culture, but also in light of its place in the transition from law to grace. Paul seems to be saying in verse 16 that this isn’t a law but a lesson. I think it might simply be a lesson on the position of Christ over the Church which Paul couches in terms understandable for the church in Corinth (made up of Jews and Greeks from differing cultures) and not applicable in a literal sense now that the transition period is complete. But I’m not entirely sure of that.

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