2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I handed them down to you. 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. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for it is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well cut her hair off. However, given that clearly it is disgraceful for a woman to shave her hair, she must surely cover her head. 7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman needs to have authority on her head because of the angels. (1Cor11:2-10)
Firstly, a brief comment on Paul’s opening commendation of the Corinthians for “holding firmly to the traditions, just as I handed them down to you”. Παραδόσεις should rightly be translated “traditions” (as in the NASB) since it relates to that which has been handed down. Elsewhere Paul writes “Stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (2Thes2:15 New King James Version). It must be remembered that the earliest Christians were not reliant upon biblical text but also verbal instruction which no doubt provided clarification on that text, not least the decidedly intricate teachings of the apostle Paul, which, even in apostolic times, Peter observed were being dangerously misinterpreted (2Pet3:15-16). That is why, given the fragmented state of the Church, the writings of the earliest Church Fathers are an important reference sauce, especially concerning vital issues such as the true nature of the Eucharist which we will come to later in this chapter (next post). That is surely more crucial than whether women should wear hats in Church which is the concern of the current passage., Nevertheless, Paul’s teaching here raises some intriguing issues upon which I shall now briefly comment.
The apostle sets out the divine order of things: “Christ is the head of every man” (v3), Note: “every man”, not just Christian men, for in that case He would equally be the head of every Christian woman, for in Christ there is no distinction between male and female (Gal3:28). No, this pertains to humanity as a whole: “For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; so man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (vv8-9). Likewise, Paul teaches that God is the head of Christ (v3). But that is in the same sense that man is the head of woman. Is a woman any less human than a man? The same applies to Christ and His Father. However, Paul routinely indicates by his language that there is a distinct order within the Godhead. And it does not just relate to the fact that the Word became flesh, i.e. that God’s only begotten Son became a man for humanity’s sake.
Carefully observe Paul’s words: “There is only one God and He is the Father FROM whom are all things, and we exist FOR Him, and there is one Lord who is Jesus Christ, BY whom are all things, and we exist THROUGH Him” (1Cor8:6). Paul always refers to Jesus as “Christ” which is not a surname but a title meaning the Anointed or Chosen One. Yet he also writes: “(Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn over every creature: For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and by Him all things consist” (Col1:15-17). So, regardless of the supreme monarchical status of the Father, one must surely bow down and worship His Son – and with disciple Thomas proclaim: “my Lord and my God” (Jn20:28).
Coming to women’s head coverings in public prayer and worship, there are various theories concerning what Paul is teaching here. But firstly, note how Paul describes man as the image and glory of God. This applies even to man in his fallen state, especially (but not exclusively – Gen9:6) in the case of one who is born again of the Spirit. But, says Paul, woman is the glory of man, for woman was created for man, not vice versa – therefore men’s heads should be uncovered whilst women need a covering. Clearly, the anatomical head is representative of being in charge, such as the head of a company or household or family. But the key issues in this passage pertain to authority and to angels. Paul understands in accordance with Jewish tradition that angels are invisibly present when the people of God meet to pray or worship.
Some believe Paul to be alluding back to the fallen watchers referred to in Genesis 6 and Jude 6 who “left their appointed place” to have illicit relations with women – that the attending angels might be tempted to stray once more at the sight of women with their heads uncovered. Surely it is the men in attendance, still in mortal flesh, who would be more likely to have a problem in that area than the sanctified spirits of angels. Then there are those who understand the head covering to pertain to the fact that woman were under the subjection of men represented by the fact that the latter may bare their heads. The problem there is that Paul is saying women need to RECEIVE authority or a symbol of authority and that it is because of the angels. A few posts ago I commented on Paul’s teaching that God’s elect were to judge the world and angels (1Cor6:3).
That may seem extraordinary to some, for currently humankind are to be considered a little lower than the angels (Heb2:7). After all, they were created first, they have heavenly bodies, they dwell in God’s immediate presence and minister to Him directly. But it is that extraordinary passage in Hebrews (2:5-10) that provides the clue to the solution. For it is not angels but mankind who shall rule the world to come (v5). Humanity’s destiny, in particular those chosen for Christ, is to rule with Christ through the ages.
Going back to Christ’s supremacy over the created order, that same writer to the Hebrews enquired: “To which of the angels did God ever say, “You are My Son, Today I have fathered You”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him and He will be a Son to Me”? (Heb1:5). And “To which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? (Heb1:13). But now I shall pose some further questions: To which of the angels did Jesus ever say: “I regard you as My own kith and kin” (cf. Mt12:50); “I who sanctify you and you who are being sanctified ARE ONE, therefore I am not ashamed to call you my brothers and sisters (Heb2:11). And to which of the angels has Christ ever said, “My Father has chosen you to become my corporate Bride through eternity” (cf. Rev19:7) or “you shall sit with Me on My throne (Rev3:21)? Need I go on?
It pertains to the fact that the Word of God has been incarnated as a Man, not an Angel. And if Jesus Christ has authority over the angels, then so shall those He regards as His corporate Bride who must surely share His domain. That applies to Christian women as much as to men, so given the current order of things in terms of the created order, marriage and the ordering of the Church, particularly as Paul has decreed these matters, men and women’s equal status in Christ needs to be manifested. That is not least, because of the angels – some of whom rebelled when they learnt of God’s plans for humanity’s apotheosis whilst the rest still desire to look into these matters (1Pet1:12). The supreme irony at Satan’s expense is that the rebellion he led and the damage he inflicted on the world has enabled humanity rather than the angels to be ideally prepared for future glory. Paul provides a hint to this mystery in Rom8:20-21; the writer to the Hebrews still more so in Heb2:10, whilst the matter is worked out in detail in “The Little Book of Providence”: free PDF HERE or purchase e-book or paperback from Amazon HERE
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Related post: The Kingdom inheritors