The Corinthians Ekklesia – Head Coverings Part 2

In our previous post from our long-standing series on the nature of Christian gatherings from the Book of Acts, which was a product of the general response to the pandemic lockdowns that resulted in church doors closing, we introduced a difficult passage that discusses the purpose and meaning of head coverings in the gatherings of believers for women who pray or prophesy. In that post we looked at the possible meanings for head, used throughout our passage, and laid out the general framework for our interpretation. While we have already seen that several passages in the Book of Acts provide a general pattern for the gatherings of believers, this passage from 1 Corinthians 11 begins a focused look on the expected practices within the assembly of believers. Below is the King James Version of the passage under consideration in this post. We chose to reference this version because it removes the interpretive decision of switching within the passage from man and woman to husband and wife, as the ESV and others do.
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
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.
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.
For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man.
Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.
12 For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
13 Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?
14 Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?
15 But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.
16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

1 Corinthians 11:4-16 KJV
As we enter into the heart of the teaching on head coverings, we ought to note the back and forth comparison and contrast between man and woman, indicating that there is indeed a clear distinction being made. So much for a proof text on blanket egalitarianism.

Along these lines, the first point to observe is that for man to pray or prophesy with his head covered is dishonoring to his own head. Contrasted with this, should a woman pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, she would dishonor her own head. Because of the nature of the activities, praying and prophesying, it is not difficult to conclude this occurs within the setting of a Christian gathering and not privately. Within this gathering these activities of praying and prophesying are central and will be taken up later in the letter. In engaging in these practices, we see a clear distinction between man, who’s head is to be uncovered, with woman, who’s head is to be covered. The former is in recognition of Christ, the latter is in recognition of man. In other words for man to pray or prophesy with his head uncovered honors Christ; while for woman to pray or prophesy with her head covered honors man. With this uncovering/covering it is clear that we are not talking about hair.

In verses 5b-6 above, we see the argument extending into sharp criticism, essentially saying, “If a woman would like to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, it’s like having her head shaved, so if she insists on uncovering, let her go ahead and shave her head.” The implication of this is very simple, if a woman will not honor man by the wearing of a head covering when praying or prophesying, then let her go ahead and reject the entire man/woman distinction and shave her head to be more manly. Again, if a woman will reject the pattern from nature (which is coming next in the argument), then let her reject all male/female distinctions and shave her head.

As the argument continues to develop, there is a more direct shift in verse 7 to the order of creation beginning with a reason why man should not pray/prophesy with his head covered: because he is the image and glory of God. Man was directly made in the image of God as His first created human. This is not to deny that woman was also created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), only that for the sake of this argument here, we are again focusing on headship as source, as noted in our last post. Woman is the glory of man, because, as verse 8 tells us, she was originally created from man (Gen. 2:18-25). The relationship of creation being described follows this logic: man should not pray/prophesy with his head covered because he was made in the image of God and is His glory (think excellence, majesty, or we might think of it as a crown/crowning achievement) while woman is not to pray/prophesy because she is man’s glory (again think majesty, crown). So while the popular interpretation of this passage might have us think in terms of hierarchy:

God–>Man–>Woman

God is actually describing it in terms of His glory:

God<–>Man<–>Woman

So far in this passage, several of the usual difficulties have been considered including the possible meanings of head, the male/female distinctions, and the ordered relationship from creation between, God, Man, and Woman. In the next post, we will look at the presence of a chiasm within this passage that helps further frame the discussion on the male/female relationship and the distinction from creation. This use of this literary device aids in a proper interpretation and subsequently an understanding on the importance and application of head coverings for women praying or prophesying within the assembly of gathered believers today.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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