Image Courtesy of: Arvind Balaraman, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recently I talked about some emotions you may feel when you start wearing a head cover in worship. Today, I want to unpack 1 Corinthians 11 verse by verse to bring to light why Christian head covering is for today.
To be clear, Christian head covering refers to the wearing of a cloth cover on the head of a woman during corporate worship. This post isn't meant to address every opinion, objection or variation of the belief of head covering. Rather, this post will only extrapolate the individual verses, or groups of verses, as the case may be, and hopefully shed some light on this often neglected portion of scripture.
1 Corinthians 11: 1--16
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
Here, Paul exhorts the Christians to follow his example because he is following the example of Christ. Because Paul's words are inspired by God, we can feel confident that following the example of Paul is like following the example of Christ.
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.
Paul is praising the recipients of this letter for holding fast to the tradition of head covering of which he had previously taught them about. This verse is in direct contrast to verse 17 of this same chapter, where Paul says that he does not praise the Corinthians for their treatment of the Lord's supper.
3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man and the head of Christ is God.
Verse 3 begins Paul's first rationale for the use of Christian head coverings. He starts his argument by appealing to the creation order--God is the head of Christ, Christi is the head of man, and man is the head of woman. Understanding this rationale is important because Paul is saying that the reason head covering is required is because the covering represents the creation order (God, Christ, man, then woman).
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.
This passage isn't just about women wearing a covering; it's also about a man NOT wearing a covering. When the verse says that a man dishonors his "head," what it's saying is that by a man covering his physical head during worship, such as with a hat, he dishonors his spiritual head, which is Christ (see verse 3).
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 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 did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
Here, Paul says that a woman should not pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, but that she should wear a cloth covering when doing these activities. He says that if she does so uncovered, she dishonors her spiritual "head", which is her husband.
Some argue that a woman's long hair is her covering, siting verse 15; this argument makes no sense in light of verse 6. If we were to plug "long hair" into verse six in place of "cover her head", we would see that it makes no sense that a woman's covering is long hair, and that instead Paul is speaking of a cloth covering: "For if a woman does not have long hair, she might s as well have her hair cut off, but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should have long hair." If a woman doesn't have long hair, then she can't have it cut off; it is already cut off!
10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.
Paul gives no other explanation here other than that we should have a symbol of authority on our heads because of the angels. While this verse seems somewhat incomplete on its' own, if you do a study of angels, you will see that angels are mentioned many times in the Bible, and clearly play an important role in their interactions with humans.
11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
Paul makes sure here to add the caveat that while man is the spiritual head of woman, man isn't independent of woman, nor is woman independent of man--both come from God, and both need each other. Neither gender is better or more important in God's sight.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
Paul uses the phrase, "Judge for yourselves" not because he wants us to actually judge for ourselves whether or not head covering is necessary. If that were the case, why bother making such a long-winded case for head covering in the first place only to say, "hey, it doesn't really matter though--you decide!". Rather, he is using the term rhetorically. He is appealing to nature. It's normal and natural for a woman to have long hair and a man to have short. In the same way, he's saying that it's normal and natural for a woman to show her submission to the creation order with a physical symbol upon her head in the form of a head covering. It's also normal and natural for a man to show his submission to his head, which is Christ by remaining uncovered in worship. The apostle's use of rhetorical questions like this is fairly common in scripture, so it is not unreasonable to assume Paul is using the statement in this way here.
16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.
Some interpret this to mean that if there is contention about this, then just don't practice it. However, that interpretation doesn't make sense because if the practice were optional, why would Paul give such a lengthy argument for its' use only to then end with, "but if others don't like it, don't do it"? Instead, this verse means that if anyone has a problem with the practice of head covering, just let them know that all the Christian churches practiced covering, and that there was no other alternative practice.