* I have been teaching through 1 Corinthians and I came to this passage and have found almost every line difficult to interpret (especially since the interpretation of each line depends in many ways on the interpretation of the others). Below are my thoughts after a few days of thinking it through. I'd love some feedback if anyone has time.
I would consider this short section to be one of the most difficult passages in Scripture to understand and apply. It is not, however, unclear what Paul is instructing here, in my opinion. He gives a hierarchy of authority (God --> Christ --> Man/Husband --> Woman/Wife). He says that men SHOULD NOT have head coverings when they pray or prophecies or they would be dishonoring Christ. He says that women SHOULD have head coverings when they do the same or they would be dishonoring their husbands. The remainder of the passage gives reasons for these instructions.
Men SHOULD NOT wear head coverings because:
- It dishonors Christ (4)
- He is the image and glory of God (7)
- Long hair on a man (which is like a covering) disgraces him (14)
Women SHOULD wear head coverings because:
- It dishonors her head (her husband, 5 & 7b-9)
- Not wearing one is like having a shaved head which is a disgrace for a woman (5-6)
- Because of the angels (10)
- Nature (long hair on women) insists on the need for covering (15)
These reasons don't seem to be difficult to list, but some or all of them are difficult to understand. WHY would a man wearing a head covering dishonor Christ? Why does the fact that man is made in the image and glory of God dictate that he should uncover his head when praying and prophesying? Aren't women created in the image of God too? Is long hair on a man universally disgraceful? WHY is a woman not wearing a head covering dishonorable to her husband? Is a shaved head for a woman universally disgraceful? What do angels have to do with it? Don't men and women both have naturally long hair (unless the culture dictates that they keep it short)? It may be nearly impossible, in this case, for us to understand Paul's argument since we are removed by both time and space, chronology and culture.
But, it seems to me, there are three principles we can state with some degree of confidence:
1. This was not to be considered an essential issue of doctrine. Paul says that the Corinthians were 'holding to the teachings' (v. 2) even though they were apparently confused about this issue. The first point depends, to some degree, on the proper translation of the final verse of this section (v. 16). Modern translations state 'we have no OTHER practice' (CAPS mine) whereas the KJV states 'we have no SUCH custom' (CAPS mine). If the modern translations are correct in their rendering, then women wearing headcoverings was a universal practice in the early church. if the KJV rendering is accurate (As it seems to be in the Greek), then he may be saying this was simply a Corinthian cultural issue (but this seems to be at odds with the context). But even if the practice was universal in scope in Paul's day, that doesn't dictate that it was a moral principle rather than a cultural issue (it could have been the culture of th entire empire at that time).
2. It should be clear that this was not an issue of the equality of women to men, but an issue of the role distinctions between men/husbands and women/wives. After all, the passage says that the head of Christ is God, but the Father and Son are co-equal. Christ has voluntarily submitted Himself to the will of the leadership of the Father. And so wives are called to submit to their husband, not because the husband is superior, but because the husband is to be the spiritual leader of the family.
When we read the passage, from our cultural context, it seems to be AGAINST women's rights and equality. But we must keep in mind that in Paul's culture the passage may have been viewed more as restrained liberation. After all, the passage does indeed assume that women will be praying and prophesying (thus, not remaining absolutely silent) in public worship. But it argues for restraint in that they should only do so when covered, so as not to dishonor their husbands.
3. This brings us to our third point and that is the question of how much of this instruction is applicable to us today given that, in our culture, head-coverings are (by and large) not utilized? The issue in Corinth (And perhaps the entire empire), it seems, was that it was the cultural custom for men to uncover in public worship and women to cover in public worship (or public in general). Some of the Corinthians churches may have been interpreting Paul's teaching to mean that these cultural customs could be simply abandoned in Christ. Paul assures them that they are right to consider life from the 'In the Lord' perspective (v. 11), but challenges their apparent conclusion that being 'in the Lord' means an abandonment of cultural customs. Instead, Paul insisted that the custom fit well with the overall Christian worldview.
The question remains, however, as to how the passage applies to Western Christians today. Seemingly, in countries where women still wear head-coverings today, the application would be easier to make (Christian women would do well to go with the flow of that culture). But in the West, where dress is less symbolic, is there an application to this text? I don't think there are any direct paralels, but I do think we would be wise to remember the three key principles (type of dress is a secondary issue, role distinction should not be eliminated in Christian worship, we should not abandon cultural customs out of hand without thinking them through).
Given this overall discussion, I will now attempt (unsuccessfully) to answer the difficult questions listed above:
WHY would a man wearing a head covering dishonor Christ?
I think this was a cultural belief in the world at that time and Paul is not interested in combating the practice since it actually can be seen to fall in line with the idea that since Christ is the head of man, covering the head would be like covering Christ. But worship is supposed to glorify Christ and, thus, Christ should be exposed, not covered.
Why does the fact that man is made in the image and glory of God dictate that he should uncover his head when praying and prophesying?
I think this question is a parallel to the first question (see above).
Aren't women created in the image of God too?
Yes they are (see Genesis 1), but Genesis 2 is true as well and it declares that man was made first and woman from man. Thus, there is a sense in which woman comes from man (8) AND a sense in which man comes from woman (12). But in the most important sense, we all come from God (12b). Mankind (men and women) are created in the image of God, but within that equality there is role distinction.
Is long hair on a man universally disgraceful?
Seemingly not. Paul, at times, had long hair. Various cultures allow for long hair on men without it being considered disgraceful. Once again, this seems to be evidence that Paul's discussion is more cultural in nature than a eternal command.
WHY is a woman not wearing a head covering dishonorable to her husband?
In the cultural context, it seems that any married woman appearing in public or public worship would have brought shame upon her husband, for it was an honor shame culture and not wearing a covering may have been interpreted as almost an advertisement.
Is a shaved head for a woman universally disgraceful?
This also seems to be a cultural consideration, though longer hair on women does seem to be the majority cultural custom.
What do angels have to do with it?
Some speculate that this phrase means the women should be covered so they don't entice angels sexually with their beauty, but this seems to be quite a reach (after all, spiritual beings would seemingly not be hindered by physical clothing). More likely, angels were seen as very involved in order and worship and so the disorder caused by women not wearing head coverings in the 1st century would have been displeasing to them.
Don't men and women both have naturally long hair (unless the culture dictates that they keep it short)?
Yes, of course. This is another reason why I think there's more 'culture' here than eternal command.
So should/must women wear head-coverings in our culture?
I do not think it is a command. In our culture, to wear a head covering like those warn in Paul's day would actually draw attention to the woman, which was the opposite of the intention Paul had in mind in this passage. But I do think we should keep in mind the enduring reality that there should not be an elimination of role distinction in Christian worship.