A Study of 1st Corinthians 11:3-16
When reading Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, it is important to observe: to whom the Epistle was written — to those at Corinth “with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours”; by whom it was written— the Apostle Paul and “Sosthenes our brother.”
The Epistle was a reply to one already received — “now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me” (I Corinthians 7:1) — and finally, the purpose of the reply was “to set in order things that are wanting” (Titus 1:5) remembering, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40).
Bearing these points in mind we turn to 1st Corinthians 11 in which the apostle sets in order the principles of public worship and the administration of the Lord’s supper.
The former refers to the head and its covering; the latter to the bread and wine and the manner of order in the Lord’s supper. Since both are ordinances of the Lord’s house, the same attention is required to the one as to the other. The purpose of this treatise is confined to the first 16 verses of this chapter.
Paul has already emphasised in the previous chapter (I Corinthians 10:31): “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
The chief glory of God centres in Christ and His church, His bride, so that all our thoughts must proceed in this channel. The two lessons concern (a) headship and (b) glory, both in the church of God.
“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.”
(I Corinthians 12:3
In Ephesians 5:23-24: “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body (that is, the church). Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”
The Lord Jesus Himself sets the example in that He, in His humanity, acknowledges His Father to be over Him — “My Father is greater than I” because “the head of Christ is God,” that is, His Father. Jesus in His deity, as the Son of God, was equal with the Father in all things.
The marriage union is the closest bond on earth and is but a reflection of that indissoluble bond between Christ and His church. In Ephesians the headship of Christ is related corporally to the whole body of the Church; in Corinthians, it is related individually to the believer.
Clearly in headship there is a divine order and precedence and therefore this should be carefully observed. “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head” (Christ) (I Corinthians 11:4). For a man ought not to cover his head as “he is in the image and glory of God” (I Corinthians 11:7).
On the other hand, “but every woman that prayeth and prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoureth her head.” Praying and prophesying mean simply public worship. In the original Greek the word used for prophesying has no connection with preaching at all but rather that being filled with the Spirit enabling the worshippers to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).
“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.”
(I Corinthians 11:7)
If image is representation, then glory is manifestation. God’s authority (in His headship) must be unchallenged and His glory must not be hid. This is the twofold reason for the uncovered head of the man. The woman is not spoken of as the image of man, but as his glory.
Here it is not representation but manifestation. The glory of man must not be manifest in spiritual exercises; therefore that glory must be covered. No glory but God’s is to be seen in public and congregational worship.
“For this cause ought the woman to have power (a sign of submission to authority) on her head because of the angels.”
(I Corinthians 11:10)
Many views, some of them strange, have been expressed in an endeavour to interpret this verse. The most reasoned and biblical seems to be as follows:
“Note, it is not because of her husband or other men in the company but rather ‘because of the angels.’
Why is this?
Ephesians 3:10 gives a clue to the importance of angelic observation. God uses the church to teach them something of His manifold wisdom.
How can these spirit creatures learn the biblical significance of the Lordship of Christ, the place of the church and the individual believer?
Such things are a mystery to them. God shows them object lessons or symbols. When a woman comes into a gathering for spiritual exercise with her head covered, she becomes to the angels an object lesson of submission to divine headship.
What a rebuke she is to the wicked angels!
Their sin is that of rebelling against divine authority. What a delight to the obedient angels, as they see also the man’s head uncovered portraying the unshielded glory of God and His accepted authority!
However, there is an assurance in the eleventh verse that positionally ‘in the Lord’ there is no thought of priority because of sex.”
(The Head Covering: J. Boyd Nicholson).
Furthermore we have the words of Scripture (1 Peter 1:10-12): “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently…which things the angels desire to look into.”
Sometimes an extreme illustration brings the evil of a matter into focus. Supposing six men walked into a congregation and insisted on wearing their hats during worship.
Would not this cause consternation among the worshippers?
Is there any difference between this action and six women insisting on not wearing a covering?
The motive and reason is the same — rebellion against God’s order.
We have heard, of course, of the argument based on verse 15, “Her hair is given her for a covering,” that therefore a woman does not need to wear a hat or other covering.
Let us notice carefully verses 7 and 15: “The woman is the glory of man ; “Her hair is a glory to her”
God has given her in her long hair a natural covering in respect to the former; regarding the latter, her hair, being her glory, must be covered also in the house of God where only one glory is allowed — the glory of God.
In verse 6 we read: “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.”
This teaches us that if the woman does not cover her glory, then her glory must be removed; but the natural order clearly indicates the latter is not acceptable and therefore she must have her hair covered on the occasions of public worship.
“No flesh shall glory in His presence” — we see many fashion parades in churches and chapels here and there but, “the woman that feareth the Lord shall be praised” for the sobriety of her head covering.
This question is a debating point with many and particularly to those who are seeking an excuse for short or cut hair. We have one example in the Scriptures which may help with the length of a woman’s hair — the woman who washed the feet of Jesus on the threshold of Simon’s house and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Clearly her hair was of a good length. It is true that, as women grow older, their hair tends to get thinner and maybe shorter; and there are cases of illness and sickness which would have an effect on the length of the hair.
The Lord is not a hard taskmaster and the fear of the Lord which is given to all godly women should surely be a sober regulator as to what is right and wrong unless the conscience is seared or the soul unhealthy.
Where there is a real exercise of faith to do what is right in the Lord’s sight, it will not be long before the tender conscience will know whether there is a grieving of the Holy Spirit or not.
Verse 14 clearly shows that for a man to have long hair is contrary to the natural order because it would bring confusion between the sexes, long hair being the glory of the woman only.
Some may say they want to be like Christ and He had long hair.
How do they know that?
Where is the Scripture that speaks of the physical appearance of Christ?
From Isaiah 50:6 it appears that He had a beard: “I gave My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.”
There is a wonderful and beautiful description of Christ in Psalm 45, but this does not refer to His physical appearance.
Paintings of Christ are very far removed from the description given in Isaiah 52:14.
We are living in the perilous times of the end of the world when wickedness in its most brazen garb appears without shame and we have strong evidences that Satan is let loose and is come down in great wrath because he knoweth that his time is short.
In the Book of the Revelation, chapter 9, we have the hideous description of hordes coming up out of the bottomless pit, “their faces were as the faces of men, and they had hair as the hair of women.” Just as the Lord is transforming His saints into a moral and spiritual likeness to Christ, so the arch-enemy seeks to conform a multitude into a likeness which portrays a confusion of God’s natural order. Confusion of the sexes has always been a sign of depravity throughout the ages, calling forth God’s judgments.
What shall we say of today?
Whatever longer hair for men meant to earlier generations, we cannot but say in our day, speaking generally, it is the badge of rebellion, worn by those of the basest type.
It is true that some men with longer hair and some women with shorter hair have not had pointed out to them or realised both the importance and the significance of their hair style; so, unwittingly, they become object lessons for the adversary to use against the standards set in the Scriptures: “So-and-so does it so it is all right for you.”
A further quotation from J. Boyd Nicholson is illuminating:
“It was the custom of the Jewish men of that day (and today) to cover their heads in the synagogue. It was also the custom of the Greek women to enter the temple with their heads uncovered. But Paul says, ‘We have no such custom.’ The New Testament church was distinct from the heathen temple; consequently, it stood in contrast to social and religious custom of the day. Christians were to behave differently in these matters.”
What is the conclusion of the whole matter?
As few people today see that there is any significance (or reference to Christ) in the rearing of the tabernacle and the offering of the sacrifices in Old Testament times, so also many do not see the importance of our present subject in that it has a special reference to order and the glory of Christ in public worship.
The following points seem to be clear:
1. That a woman should have long hair because it is her glory given to her by God. To allow exceptions should be the result of rigorous investigation with particular attention to the spirit in which the request is made or the action is taken.
2. That since, in public worship, only the Lord’s glory should be seen, this glory of the woman must be covered.
3. That the man should have his head uncovered in worship and his hair should not be long.
4. All the foregoing draws attention to Christ’s authority in the church, not only as this is expressed in writing in the Holy Bible but as it is conveyed and confirmed by symbols in the worshippers.
5. As the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper, mentioned later in this chapter, set forth, not only the flesh and blood of Christ, but also the means of union to the subsistence of His body, the church — “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood dwelleth in Me and I in him” (John 6:56) — so the woman’s long hair and its covering has its importance, acknowledging Christ’s headship and authority and establishing the point “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” (I Corinthians 1:29).
By L.S.B. Hyde