1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

Observation

  • The Corinthians remembered Paul.
  • The Corinthians maintained the traditions as Paul taught them.
  • The head of every man is Christ.
  • The head of a wife is her husband.
  • The head of Christ is God.
  • Every man who prays with his head covered dishonors his head.
  • Every man who prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.
  • Every wife who prays with her head uncovered dishonors her head
  • Every wife who prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.
  • A wife praying or prophesying with her head uncovered is the same as do so with her head shaved.
  • If a wife will not cover her head then she should cut her hair short.
  • It is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair.
  • It is disgraceful for a wife to shave her head.
  • A man is the image and glory of God.
  • A woman is the glory of man.
  • Man was not made from woman.
  • Woman was made from man.
  • Man was not created for woman.
  • Woman was created for man.
  • A woman was made for man she ought to have a symbol of authority on her head because of the angels.
  • In the Lord a woman is not independent of man.
  • In the Lord a man is not independent of woman.
  • Man is born of woman.
  • All things are from God.
  • It is not proper of a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered.
  • Nature teaches long hair is a disgrace to a man.
  • Long hair is a woman’s glory.
  • A woman’s hair is given to her for a covering.
  • The church does not teach contentiousness.

Interpretation

I have struggled with understanding this passage for years. Every time I would seek counsel on it, the person I asked for help would blown it off with, “Paul is simply addressing a cultural issue. The wearing of hats and roles of the sexes no longer applies today.” WHY? If this is only addressing a cultural issue unique to the Corinthians at that time. Why did God include it in Holy Scripture? What is the universal truth to all people at all times?

After reading John Calvin’s commentary I finally found a coherent answer.

The key to understanding this passage lies in verse 2 and verse 16, that is, the two verses that bracket the passage. “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” And, “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” Paul is talking about traditions and how they apply within the church. The universal truth is how traditions and customs in our culture are used by the church. And we individually, or as a church, are not to be contentious and bucking the traditions of our culture.

Paul is addressing what decorum ought to be observed in sacred assemblies. How we dress and how we behave, show much about the honor we give a person, institution, or situation. Marines stand when the Marines hymn is played to honor their corps. Before a king or queen a man would remove his hat. In Japan, one bows in greeting one on a high social status.

After World War II and the defeat of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur’s motorcade traveled to meet the Emperor of Japan. The street was lined with Japanese soldiers. They turned their back as MacArthur’s motorcade passed. The general’s staff was incensed but MacArthur understood because he had lived in Japan before the war. The soldiers turned their back to honor MacArthur. They were not worthy to look on such a great man.

In December of 2014 the New York City police officers turn their back on the mayor of New York during a funeral of a slain police officer as a sign of disrespect. They felt the mayor had betrayed them. The same action, turning of backs, at two different times, in two different cultures, conveyed completely opposite meanings.

Paul blamed the Corinthians for many things which he spent the last 10 chapter covering. But he commends them keeping the form of worship he had prescribed. There is nothing inconsistent with Paul’s comment here. The Corinthians were guilty of many sins of various kinds, cheating, plundering, envy, quarreling, and fornication but they kept the public form of worship.

Paul says that the head of Christ is God. Is not Christ divine? Yes. But let us not also forget the duel nature of Christ. Christ is both fully God and fully man. Man is inferior to God. Is Christ inferior to God? Yes and No. Christ is inferior to the Father inasmuch as he assumes our nature. Christ is co-equal with Father in His divine nature.

Paul teaches in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why here is Paul making a distinction? This is totally a context issue. When he says that there is no difference between men and women, he is talking about Christ’s spiritual kingdom. In the same context Paul says there is no difference between bond and free. Here Paul is careful not to disturb the civil order.

Paul says men are to not cover their heads when praying or prophesying. Why? Man is subject to Christ and it is with this understanding that Christ holds the first place in government. Men showed respect and subjection by removing their hats or head covering. But Paul says women are to pray and prophesy with their heads covered. The way women showed they were under authority was by the covering of their heads. The same idea is being communicated with two different actions.

The apostle requires women to show their modesty, not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any dignified assembly. At this time and locale the women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads to show off their beauty. Paul, for good reason, set as the standard, modesty rather than vanity.

Paul says “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” This can be difficult to understand. How does nature teach this? Where does nature teach this? The answer comes in two areas. First, it comes in understanding the cultural context. Second it is in being consistent with Paul’s intent, again refer to verses 2 and 16.

Paul uses nature as what, at that time, was in common use by universal consent and custom, among the Greeks. That is what Paul means by, what is natural. It was not always considered a disgrace for men to have long hair. Historical records indicate that in all countries in ancient times, men wore long hair. It was not until later barbers began to be employed at Rome. It was just about that time Paul wrote this letter. The practice of having the hair cut had not yet come to all the providences of the Roman Empire. In fact, it would have been considered odd and uncouth for men, let along women to have short hair. But in Greece it was considered unbecoming for a man to allow his hair to grow long. Men, who did not cut their hair, were considered effeminate. Therefore, Paul calls nature a custom that had become established.

Paul is teaching that those who are obstinate, fond of quarreling and love being provocative should be restrained by authority. Being counter-cultural is not the call of the Church.

The church is to bring glory to God. The church is to honor Christ. The means by which this is done in large part is determined by culture. Just as turning backs on someone may be a sign of honor or disrespect depending on your cultural setting.

We are not to be provocative. We use our cultural setting to honor Christ so that others may see His glory. That is the universal truth to all people at all times.

An Application

The great battle today in the church is music wars, so called contemporary versus traditional. Music is the means to an end. It is a tool.

Whether we should have drums or an organ in the service is the wrong question. How does our culture glorify, honor and revere? That is a better question.

 

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