1 Corinthians 11:4-10
September 30, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:20 in the audio file.
Or, The Glory of Heads, Hoods, and Hairdos
We’re back to answer more of the questions I raised last Lord’s Day about worship, gender, head coverings, and glory. There is no more difficult passage to understand previous in 1 Corinthians, and yet this may be one of the most important and relevant sections for us today.
Paul praised the Corinthian believers for maintaining the traditions he had delivered to them (1 Corinthians 11:2). But which traditions? They had not been following his instructions/traditions regarding meat offered to idols (chapter 8), or about self-control (chapter 9), or about how to deal with obvious sin by a professing believer (chapter 5). Even in verses 17 through the rest of chapter 11 they weren’t doing what he had told them regarding the Lord’s Table. So his praise must be specific to this section about head coverings, and he follows up his commendation with some instruction so that they would know the reasons behind their behavior.
The reasons start with the nature of relationships in the world, including the Godhead. The head of every man is Christ. The head of every wife is her husband. The head of Christ is God, and this last relationship shows that willing submission is not a sign of inferior value. Though there is disagreement about what “head” means, I said I think it means authority, so that every man answers to Christ, every wife answers to her husband, and even Christ answers to His Father. Everyone has a head.
But what is the connection between the metaphorical heads in verse 3 and the physical heads in verses 4 and following? How does not having one’s physical head covered appropriately reflect one’s metaphorical head in one case, but having one’s physical head covered does reflect one’s metaphorical head in another case? Why is it dishonoring if a man does not uncover his head for sake of Christ, but a wife is dishonored if she does not cover her head for sake of her husband?
These and other questions are on the table for this section in verses 2-16. For this message we’ll see a focus on dishonor in verses 4-6 and on honor in verses 7-10.
The same scenario is described but one with a man and one with a woman/wife, and there is a clear way for both to do it dishonorably.
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.
What does prays or prophesies mean exactly? Where is it taking place, what context? What is the head covering? And what does it symbolize?
Praying we know about, though combined with prophesying it refers here to public praying. And chapters 12-14 have a good amount to say about prophesying. Prophesy is a spiritual gift, a gift that is more to be desired than speaking in tongues (14:4-5), and also not a gift for everyone (12:10). Prayer is not ever called a spiritual gift; prayer is the privilege and need for every Christian, even though it typically happens more in private than public.
The gift of prophesy could be understood as the same thing as teaching/exhortation, or it could be more narrowly understood as a speaking of new revelation during a time when God’s Word in the New Testament was not complete. Chapters 12-14 sound as if prophesying was a regular thing. Regardless, not all the members have the same gift, so every man who prays or prophesies could be any man but in particular a man who was speaking before others.
Were women also doing this? Paul says, every wife who prays or prophecies, and Paul does not give any indication that he switches contexts. It’s interesting that there were some women prophesying in Acts 21:9 (Philip’s four unmarried daughters), and it’s interesting that Joel 2:28-29 indicates that kind of thing would happen to sons and daughters. It’s also interesting that Paul explicitly forbids women from prophesying “in the churches,” in front of men, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, and also in 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Perhaps in 1 Corinthians 11 he has in mind women leading other women (Titus 2:2-5), since it’s not clear in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that everyone in the church is all together, as verse 17 describes. So there is a place to do it, and a proper way to do it.
Those who lead in speaking set an example, and in that way set an example for everyone to follow whether or not the followers speak in public. The men are to do so with heads uncovered and the women with their heads covered. There is to be a visible distinction.
Again, what is this covering, and where did the symbolism get its authority?
The covering is connected to hair, but I don’t believe that it is hair. I think it is a hood or a cowl or wrap of some kind rather than a haircut or hairdo. Here’s why.
From what I can tell in reading about Roman culture in the first century, a married woman went out in public with her head covered. Not with her full face covered like Muslim women we might see today, and a veil over her face, covering her mouth, would not be ideal for praying and prophesying, but a hood on her head identified her with a husband/head. A hood for a woman distinguished her respectability and her fidelity.
On the other side, men were seen wearing hoods in sacrifices to false gods. For example, there was a statue in Corinth of Augustus “with his togo pulled over his head in preparation to offer a libation…a propaganda piece intended to present the emperor as a pious Roman” (Garland). There is not evidence in “the OT, nor the LXX, nor Qumran, nor the Gospels, nor Philo, nor Josephus, nor even the Mishnah [commentary on the Law] that offers any evidence” that Jews covered their heads for liturgical reasons (Thiselton). There were times that Jewish men covered their heads, but it was not for prayer and prophecy.
So, the “tradition” that Paul delivered to the churches he planted was that men should not wear hoods because that would identify them with false gods rather than with Christ. A man should worship with uncovered head to distinguish his worship, otherwise he brings shame on his head, Christ. A woman/wife, on the other head, should cover her head because the cultural sign of submission was appropriate. Paul simultaneously contradicts one cultural symbol and affirms another in the church. Men dishonor Christ when they look like pagan worshippers, and women dishonor their husbands when they look like unattached/un-submissive women.
For a wife who did not wear the covering, it is the same as if her head were shaven. This is because her hair is a covering, as will be repeated in verse 15. But the natural covering that is her hair is analogous to a material covering that is on her head. The comparison doesn’t make sense if both sides of the comparison are about hair, as if Paul said, “If your hair isn’t long, it’s the same as if your hair isn’t long.”
Verse 6 explains more. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. Again, if her hair was already short, and that meant her head was uncovered, then how could she “uncover” her hair again? But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. The analogy still requires two separate, though obviously related, things. He isn’t saying, “Since she should have long hair, let her have long hair.” Instead he’s saying, “A head covering is appropriate just as long hair is appropriate.” He wants the Corinthians to see an uncovered head as shameful as a shaved head toward their husband.
It seems that some women were cutting their hair very short to make a point, giving up their submissive identity. Some commentators suggest that it was prostitutes who cut or shaved their hair, but it’s hard to imagine prostitutes working to make themselves less attractive. They had other ways to identify themselves, for example, by not wearing hoods. Those women who shaved their heads communicated “sexlessness” (Thiselton), a rejection of femininity.
The head covering was a cultural symbol of being under the authority of a head, as we’ll see again in verse 10. It was not primarily an issue of covering up beauty, as some interpret the passage. They claim that a woman with long hair who was praying or prophesying could cause some man other than her husband to think less worshipful thoughts. That’s always something that could happen, sure. But, there’s nothing in the paragraph about a third person’s lust, it’s about shame and glory of one’s head (Christ or husband). The head uncovered or covered was a way to reflect the head, not a way to make oneself less attractive.
A shaven head for a woman is shameful, as is praying or prophesying with her head uncovered. A hooded head for a man is shameful, as is long hair (which comes in verse 14).
How about for us? We are not living in the Roman Empire. In our culture men don’t wear hoods to offer sacrifices to pagan gods, so a preacher isn’t making a counter-cultural statement by not wearing a hood. And likewise, in our culture, a wife doesn’t wear a symbol of submission to her husband on her head. There isn’t anything in our 21st century Western culture to contradict or affirm related to our headgear in worship.
And also, a man today might not wear a hat to church, but that doesn’t mean that he understands the honor due to his head, Christ. So a woman/wife could wear a hood, or hat, but do it in a vain way, a self-righteous way, a judgmental way, and so be dishonoring her head/husband and also dishonoring the head of the Church, Christ.
What should we do? I don’t think this passage requires women in the church to wear head coverings, but I do think it requires all of us to think about our appearance as a reflection on submission to our head. As a footnote, if her head/husband wants her wife to dress like one of the skanky women, the head is out of his mind.
Verses 7-10 continue to give explanation, but the focus shifts to the positive, from shame to glory.
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God. This references Genesis 1 and 2, and man being made in the image and glory of God is not debated among us. But what does that image-bearing nature have to do with a hat?
Someone could argue that a man ought not to have long hair, because long hair would make him look like a woman, and God didn’t make man to be a woman. This is not far-fetched, because Paul will say it is a disgrace for man to have long hair in verse 14. But there he bases hair length on what “nature” teaches, not on a peculiar glory. And also, wouldn’t it have been easier for Paul just to say, “For a man ought not to have long hair”? (Though that still might make us ask how hair is related to the glory of God.)
In the hierarchy in verse 3, we see it played out: woman is the glory of man. This moves from the more particular husband/wife to the man/woman, but that corroborates the roles of husband and wife.
Woman is the glory of man, and there are two reasons in two verses. First, For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. This is an origin story. God made man from the dust, and, while God could have made a woman the same way, He chose instead to take part of the man to make the woman. “She is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” She reflects what she’s made of.
Second, Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. This is more than chronological, though it is that. It is according to God’s design. It was not good for the man to be alone, so God made Adam a help, meet or “suitable” for him. She was to be his partner (not his slave) in the dominion taking mandate.
And Paul brings it back to head coverings and gives his conclusion on the creational order of things. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head. She shows by the covering on her physical head, a symbol, that she is under authority of her figurative head. So the creational reality is reflected in the cultural custom, and that can be affirmed in the church. That’s also why we aren’t urging women to wear a hood, though they must not reject their head.
The final part of verse 10 is…special. She wears a head covering because of the angels. Paul clearly thinks that he didn’t need to say anything else for the Corinthians to know his meaning. It could be that angels are “messengers,” as in Revelation (2:1, 8, and so forth), so visiting prophets or overseers. But that is odd. It could be that angels are fallen angels and potentially attracted to long-haired women, similar to Genesis 6:2. But Paul never uses angelos for demons, especially not with a definite article (Garland). And why are they only watching when a woman prays or prophesies? Demons are foiled by hoods? It could be, and I’m happy with it, that angels are worshippers of God and know their place in the creation hierarchy. Women are likewise to demonstrate that they know their place.
There is more about the interdependency of men and women in the following verses, just as God and Christ are equal yet different. There is more about head coverings, about hairdos and hair length, and about what nature teaches as well in the rest of the paragraph.
But we have plenty to think about. Whether you agree (or incline toward contentiousness, ha!) about hair or hoods, there is a necessary reflection that takes place when we worship, and we should consider the reflection we give to our head. There are ways for a man to dishonor Christ, even with his head uncovered. There are ways for a woman to show her independence, and superiority, even with a hat on her head.
We live in a day when we almost only ask, “How does this make me look?” What is your identity? What is your identity, your glory, tied to? How you present yourself does show where you think your glory comes from.
When I was in college I worked in a paintbrush factory. I worked on different machines that took individual parts and assembled them together, by nail or crimping, and finished them, by trimming and stamping, to bring the different brushes to completion. It was helpful to see a finished product to know what we were working toward. Beloved, we know what you will be as a finished product. So let it be.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:47–49, ESV)