1 Corinthians 11
1Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
2Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
In all things, as far as Paul imitates Christ, the believers were to imitate him. It is imperative that a shepherd not only teach the truth but live it. Paul then praises the Corinthians for keeping the traditions, one of which he says is the wearing of headcoverings during prophesy and prayer. Paul’s praising of them for keeping this tradition is to be contrasted with their failure to handle the Lord’s Supper properly, and in respect to that, Paul does not praise them but corrects them (v. 17, 22). It appears that they have kept the tradition of headcoverings well given that Paul says in verse 16 “if one is inclined to be contentious.” In other words, generally speaking, this is not a contentious church when it comes to this tradition. They are keeping it, but perhaps they don’t know fully why they are keeping it. Thus, Paul explains the reasons why this tradition should be carried on.
3But 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.
Paul gives some fundamental principles about God’s ordained hierarchy of authority. God is the head of Christ who is the head of man who is the head of woman. This doesn’t mean that the woman is any less valuable; it simply means that, in the marriage relationship, this authority structure must be honored. It does not mean that women should submit to every men at all times and in all places as if they are an inferior sex. They are simply a different sex, and in the home and to an extent in the church, there is a proper role for them to play as distinguished from the men. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 we learn that they are to keep silent in the church, implying that they are not to usurp the authority of the elders or teach the men (1 Timothy 2:12). We learn in Ephesians 5:23 that the husband is the head of the wife. This does not make her a doormat, but it simply means that where women long for affection and love, men need respect (Ephesians 5:33). This is simply how God wired us; men and women are different. Paul’s point is going to be that this difference must be honored in the church in this tradition which he is about to explain.
4Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.
5But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
6For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
From verse 4 and 5, we must notice several things. First, this tradition only applies during times of praying and prophesying. Prophesying was a specific gift, akin to the Old Testament gift and office of prophet. It was speaking forth the truth of God with the idea of having new revelation from God and the ability to reveal mysteries and foretell future events as God enabled. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 14 and what he says will one day cease in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Since we have the full revelation of God in His Word, this gift is no longer needed to give us the revelation of God (with the possible exception being in areas where the gospel message has yet to penetrate). Thus, in our time, we don’t have to worry about applying the principles regarding headcoverings to times of prophesying given that the gift is no longer in effect. Even during this time in which Paul writes, since women weren’t allowed to prophesy in the church assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), this would only have applied to the times outside of that context where God spoke prophetically through women. It would be reasonable to conclude, however, that when a man teaches the people of God from the Word of God that he should not have his head covered and that when a woman teaches the Word of God to other women that she should cover her head. This is because prophecy communicated God’s Word before it was written down, and now when the written Word is communicated, it is reasonable to suppose that there is a parallel intention of honoring the principles of subjection as symbolized by headcoverings. The second occasion for applying this tradition is during prayer. I don’t believe that Paul is saying that the headcovering should be worn every time a woman prays (for then she might as well wear it all the time as we are to pray without ceasing- 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Clearly, the teaching from this passage is not a requirement for women to cover their heads at all times and for men never to cover their heads. There are set times when this needs to happen, and they are during the preaching of the Word and during prayer, specifically when the church assembles itself together for worship. (Paul spends the rest of the chapter speaking of another corporate tradition, the Lord’s Supper, so it makes sense that he also has the corporate assembly in mind here.) There are times of prayer when the church is not gathered together that the woman does not need to cover her head or when a man might pray with a hat on, say if it is below zero outside. Thus, this command is not made to be fashioned into a legalistic ritual, but the intention is, under normal conditions and during the set time of corporate worship (traditionally Sunday mornings but could also include other organized church gatherings- the Spirit must lead, and grace must rule), that this principle of honoring the authority of God and the headship of man needs to be honored. The heart issue is always more important than a piece of fabric.
If women do not wear a headcovering and honor this tradition in these instances, they may as well have their head shaved. Women generally take pride in their hair, and longer hair tends to be a symbol of beauty and womanhood, no matter the culture or time (see v. 6). It is her glory, according to verse 15. Paul’s point is that wearing a headcovering is so important that going without one is akin to showing up in public with no hair, which would be a great shame to a woman. Some make the connection to various cult prostitutes who shaved their heads in their pagan worship and immorality, symbolizing radical feminism and rebellion. Regardless of the reason, if either one or the other or both, the command is that women honor the tradition.
7For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
8For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;
9for indeed man was not created for the woman's sake, but woman for the man's sake.
10Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
Man is the image of God, as is woman (Genesis 1:26), but only man is the glory of God. This doesn’t mean that women can’t be glorifying to God or that they cannot reflect His glory or house it with Christ in their hearts. It is simply that woman is the glory of man, and Paul is making the point of differentiating these two glories. He does this because man does not originate from woman but woman from man. He is referencing the creation account in which God created man first, and He then made woman from out of Adam by taking his rib. God had said that it was not good for Adam to be alone, so He made a helper fit for Him (Genesis 2:18). The woman was made for the sake of man because he needed her. He wasn’t made for her according to the creation account, though since she is a suitable helper, she was made for him. It is simply that God made man first and fashioned woman from man to be in the role of the one who is subject, respectful, and complementary. It is in the fact that woman was made for man as his helper that she is his glory, and it is because of this fact she is to have a symbol of authority on her head. Notice that the headcovering is not a symbol of weakness, lesser value, or cruel subjection. It is a symbol of authority because of the angels. The angels are not weak beings who have no value. They are extremely important, being ministering spirits of God and to man (Hebrews 1:14). They are also extremely powerful. Yet the angels understand their submission to the authority of Christ and the Father. They didn’t go along with Satan and those angels who fell with him because they honored God as the ultimate authority. They accepted their role and thereby found the greatest satisfaction and worth. In the same way, women are not inferior, but there is a spiritual hierarchy which must be respected. The angels do it, and for their sake, women should do it as well by submitting to God. In this particular instance, the woman honors God and the angels by submitting to her husband symbolically (and by obvious inference in her heart spiritually) by covering her head. This symbol of authority, the headcovering, is honoring to her husband, to the angels, and to God. It shows that she has accepted her role as God designed it. The word for authority here literally means “power of choice.” It is in her power to make the choice, and God’s will is that she would choose to submit and honor God and the angels by wearing the headcovering.
11However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.
12For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
Lest some of the men take the particulars of this teaching too far, Paul reminds them that there is an interdependence between man and woman. Eve originated from Adam, but the human race, men included, are born through the woman. Lest man become arrogant, he must remember that God’s plan also requires that he be born through the woman. He needs her, and she needs him. God made both because He loves both and values them both equally. They both ultimately originate from His mind, heart, and creative purpose.
13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
14Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,
15but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
Returning to his logic in verse six, having explained a related issue in the previous verses, Paul points to the natural way that man and woman grow their hair. From culture to culture, by and large, women have had longer hair than men. At times, men wore their hair what we might consider long, but women’s hair was generally even longer than this. The Nazirites such as Samson were required not to cut their hair, but this was an exception to the general population. Hence, this part of their vow set them apart. Absalom, the rebellious son of David, had long hair, but there is nothing in the Scripture to indicate that long hair (long being relative to the length of women’s hair) was standard practice, even though it may have been longer than the general hairstyle of men today in our culture. The images of Roman emperors reveal short hair, and certainly the citizens would have mimicked their emperors. The point is simply that even nature, something inherently within man and woman, tells us that men should have short hair and women should have long hair. This is one way to tell the difference between the sexes, and women do tend to view their hair as fundamental to their external beauty. Long hair on a man is a dishonor to him while long hair on a woman is her glory. This is in the Bible, and it is also written on our consciences. This is the natural and God-desired way of being. Simply put, God made us this way, and there is no reason to go against His design by choice.
God has given women long hair for a covering. The word for covering is important because it is different than the word Paul has been using for covering up to this point. Here he uses the word parabolaion which means “a covering thrown around,” which fits what hair does. Previously, speaking of the additional headcovering, he uses the word katakalupto, meaning “to veil or cover one’s self.” The clear message from the context and from the change in words used is that the covering of a woman’s hair is not the same as the covering that she is supposed to wear when she prays. Her hair is a glorious cover thrown around her head, but the headcovering to be worn while praying in the corporate assembly is to be a symbol of authority that spiritually covers her entire self. Physically, it only covers some part of her head, but spiritually it covers her entire being in reverence to God and out of respect for the angels.
16But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.
Paul is adamant that this tradition be upheld (and one could argue that he is also emphatic that the practice that women have longer hair while men have shorter hair be upheld) which is that men have their heads uncovered when they pray or teach God’s Word in the corporate assembly and women have their heads covered when they receive the teaching of the Word and pray during the corporate church assembly. If Paul was not speaking of an additional headcovering besides just the hair, reasoning backwards, men would have to shave their heads in order to comply with the commands in v. 4 because no other covering could be considered. Obviously, this is not what Paul is saying or what God is intending. There is a secondary headcovering that women need to wear at the described times in order to honor God. Paul is saying that upholding the tradition of headcoverings is the way that all of the churches of God are presently operating. This tradition is not a mere cultural anomaly in one province or city while it is absent in all others. In other words, Paul is not just making this command to Corinth or to his present generation. It is not a command for one culture and not for the rest of the church’s time on earth. According to Paul, if one is contentious about the matter, he must be told that there are no other options. Headcoverings are the God-honoring tradition that the church must keep at the proper times (prayer and when God’s Word is being taught) and in the proper way (the external action being accompanied by an internal heart submission).
The kind of veil that should be worn should not be a legalistic matter, where the church measures out certain requirements for length, width, composition, and so on. The material doesn’t matter as much as its purpose. However, the covering is not to be distracting, attention-getting, vain, or overly complex. It can be something that compliments the appearance of the woman but without drawing undue attention to the woman or to the object itself. I don’t believe that the headcovering is a veil that covers the entire face and head except for the eyes. This would be distracting, and it communicates that there is something wrong or evil about seeing a woman’s face, which there is not. She is the glory of man, and the physical glory of her face can be seen in addition to her spiritual glory of submission and holiness. Whether by wearing some kind of hat, a specially-designed piece of fabric, or something else, the point is that women honor God by keeping this tradition of covering their heads.
How important is this tradition? It is important enough that Paul nearly seamlessly goes on to speaking of another corporate tradition, namely, the Lord’s Supper, which is obviously very important.
17But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.
18For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.
19For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
20Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper,
21for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
22What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
Before giving instructions about the Lord’s Supper, Paul exhorts the believers at Corinth to get some things right. They need to get rid of the divisions and factions so that unity can be regained. Yet Paul thinks that the factions (defined as a sect within a group) are there to show who is truly of the Lord and faithful and who is not. When certain ones remain faithful despite the chaos and moral deterioration around them, it proves that they are of the light. The church as a whole, however, has people preoccupied with selfish agendas and power plays, trying to show themselves superior to others. Thus, they meet corporately not first and foremost to eat the Lord’s Supper but to eat their own suppers. They come hungry, and they casually perform the Lord’s Supper while eating their own food. This irreverence is even accompanied by the sin of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). Paul is appalled, for eating should be done at home, and drunkenness should never happen. This attitude is one that despises God and His church for which He died. Rather than remember the sacrifice of Christ in humility and thankfulness, they scorn it and Him. Their coming for gluttonous purposes also shames those who come hungry and in need because they are neglected. There is no way that Paul can praise them for this utter deterioration of corporate worship.
23For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
25In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
Paul heard from the Lord and had earlier on explained to the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper. They had not obeyed his teaching, and so he needed to give it again. On the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas, He gathered the disciples in the upper room and broke bread, thanking God and telling them that it is a symbol of how His body will be broken for them. He instituted the Lord’s Table so that we would remember His sacrifice for us and be grateful and introspective (v. 28). He also took the cup of wine and explained that it symbolized the pouring out of His blood for the church on the cross. His death also instituted a new covenant in which man could approach God directly (Hebrews 4:16) as a priest of God (1 Peter 2:5), becoming the temple of God himself (1 Corinthians 6:19), and being redeemed and forgiven of sin through faith in Christ’s work on the cross (Romans 3:24). The shedding of blood was required in order for the new covenant to be established (Hebrews 9:17-18). The church is to take time when it gathers to remember the Lord’s sacrifice by breaking bread and drinking of the cup. This serves to proclaim the fact that we are Christ’s and that Christ died for all men. We are to do this until He returns again. (see Matthew 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-26, Luke 22:17-20, and John 13:2 for the gospel accounts of Jesus’ institution of this ordinance)
27Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
28But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.
30For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
31But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
32But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
God takes His Son seriously because He loves Him dearly, and God will discipline those who take His Son’s body and blood lightly. The time at the Lord’s Table must be reverent, introspective, and focused rather than lackadaisical, careless, or combined with evil practices. To be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord is to profane the sacrifice of Christ by being irreverent in the time of remembering it. It is to mock Christ and God in a very serious way such that those who are not introspective prior to taking the bread and wine are subject to severe chastisement of the Lord such as illness or even death. The purpose of God’s judgment is so that we are refined and take Him seriously. God loves His children, and just as an earthly father disciplines those children whom he loves, so, too, does our Heavenly Father. The fact that we are disciplined demonstrates that we are indeed sons and daughters of God, but we shouldn’t want to bring His discipline upon ourselves, given that the consequences are severe. God desires His church to be pure, and imposing divine punishment for sin is one way to purify the church. This is all the more reason that we should judge the body rightly and confess any sin which the Spirit reveals to our hearts. We cannot spurn the Table of the Lord as if it is mere feasting time, an empty ritual, or a boring task. God takes it very seriously, and His children ought to as well.
33So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
34If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment The remaining matters I will arrange when I come.
The process of participating in the Lord’s Supper is a corporate thing where all gather and purpose to remember, reflect, and confess any outstanding sin. Once all are ready to participate, then the group can eat of the bread and drink of the cup. If any come hungry for a meal, they need to go home and eat. The Lord’s Table is not for feasting but for remembrance. The church should come together for worship, not to eat and drink judgment to itself. God sees all and knows all, and He desires His church to be holy and pure. The Table is a time to reflect and make sure that our hearts are right before God. The Corinthians apparently had some other questions regarding traditions or church practices, and Paul said that he would set those in order when he came personally to them.