Question: What is the meaning of I Corinthians 11:1-16?
Answer: I will not here insert the full text of this passage for the sake of space; but I will suggest that each reader open your Bible to this place and read the entire passage for the purpose of obtaining good, clear knowledge of what it says before reading these comments. However, I will be inserting key and guiding verses as I proceed to construct my comments.
First, we must realize and recognize that there were a number of irregularities both in their collective worship and also in their personal and private lives in this church at Corinth. The reason for this was that it was a brand-new church, freshly converted from heathenism and a number of their heathen customs and practices were still with them. Much of this First Corinthian epistle is an endeavor by the apostle Paul to correct these abuses and clear them up on these things. This passage is no exception to this and falls in this category. One will have little difficulty in discerning the difference in the tenor between the first and second Corinthian epistles. The first is full of reproofs, admonitions, etc., while the second has numbers of endearing, encouraging and commendatory statements because they had given heed to the admonitions of the first and cleared themselves. See II Corinthians 7:8-13.
Now to proceed with a discussion of the passage in question. I Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” This is a basic foundation verse because it establishes the chain of authority which is basic throughout this passage. The order is God, Christ, Man, Woman. But the relationship between the man and the woman in their order of authority needs to be qualified a little, I think. And the reason I do think this is found in verse 10 where it says a woman should have “…power on her head…” and the margin here says “A covering is sign she is under the power of her husband.” This makes it clear to me that the overall teaching in the Scriptures is in reference to the husband and his wife. I do not subscribe to the idea of the general inferiority of women as such, to men as such. I see that the only man my wife is to be subject to is myself. Oh, of course, I concede in this that a woman in a church congregation is to be subject to her pastor whether that pastor be a man or a woman; and the same with her boss if she is a working woman; and the same with magistrates and rulers. But in all such cases this woman is to be subject to this man, not as an inferior woman subjecting to a superior man, but for the position that man holds. And those subjections are limited and qualified.
Then verse 4 enters into the realm of spiritual worship and religious service. This verse says if a man prays or prophesies with his head covered it dishonors his head. According to verse 3, his head is Christ. There is clearly something dishonoring to Christ for a man to cover his head. Verse 7 says he is the image and glory of God. He is to reflect that glory by having his head uncovered. Then verse 5 says that if a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered it dishonors her head. Her head is the man (her husband according to verse 10 with marginal reading.) Verses 5 and 6 state that for a woman to have her head uncovered is all the same as if she were shorn or shaven which would identify her with the lewd, immoral women which would dishonor her husband.
It was customary practice among these Gentile people from time immemorial for their women to wear veils for head covering when in public. Paul seems to be finding it necessary here to be doing some adjusting to their custom (to them who were without the law, he became without law; and he became all things to all men that he might by all means save some I Corinthians 9:21-22) as he did on different occasions in order to gain them. And verses 4 and 7 perhaps refer to the covering of the head with veils. This was necessary, under the circumstances, because of the deep-rooted traditional practice of this among these people, for they would be very reluctant to accept the gospel without this. However, Paul goes right ahead to set forth the gospel standard on this point. He says in verse 15, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering (Margin: “veil”). Then it is evident here that the New Testament standard for New Testament saints is long hair which God has given her for her head covering (veil).
Verses 8 and 9 and 11 and 12 simply refer to the creation of the male and female and how the chain of authority was established. The man was created first; then the woman was taken from the man and brought to him for his wife. But ever since that first pair, every man of the race has been conceived in the womb of a woman and has come forth from her and the same is true of every woman. Neither men nor women could ever have been here except by the union of a man and a woman who were here before them, so there is absolutely no room for boasting of either of them over the other.
Now returning to verse 10 a little. Verse 9 says the woman was created for the man and verse 10 says that because of this she should have power on her head (Margin: A covering is sign that she is under the power of her husband). Verse 15 declares this God-given covering to be the woman’s long hair. And the standard for godly women in the Church of God in this New Testament age is declared to be long hair which they wear as a sign of subjection to their husbands, which is another God-given requirement for godly women in this New Testament age.
The phrase “Because of the angels” in verse 10; I don’t know if I can make any good commentary on that. I will give the best that occurs to me at this time. Hebrews 12:22 says that when we come to Mount Sion (the New Testament Church of God) we come “…to an innumerable company of angels.” Hebrews 1:14 says concerning the angels that they are all …ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation. The thought that is a thriller to me is that every time the saints meet together (whether many or few) there is always a generous number of angels present to minister to the needs of the saints who are there and they fly hither and yon distributing to the needs of everyone there, meeting their individual needs even though the message did not deal directly with that point. But this is not the only function of these ministering angels. They also accompany us about wherever we go observing the needs of our individual lives in the home and elsewhere, observing that wife and mother and how she conducts herself, how she offers her life, how well she is measuring up to the truth and submitting to her husband, etc. Because of this the text says she needs the sign showing her submission to her husband. The angels are looking on everything and are able, ready and willing to help you and administer to any lack or need you have. It is the same with the husband, too, but this particular verse was referring to the wife so I trailed off on it that way.
One more point now verse 16, “…If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” There is a broad area of contention on this text which I consider to be so unnecessary. Moffit’s translation says on the last part of this verse, “Well, I acknowledge no other mode of worship.” And Good-speed’s translation says at this place, “I for my part recognize no other practice in worship than this.” These two translations correspond well with the way I interpret verse 16 in my King James Bible. It is spelled out in black and white in the 15th verse that long hair is the covering for her head and according to verse 10 (margin) it is a sign that she is under the power of her husband. This is all plainly taught. Therefore, if a man is contentious against this he would be contending for short hair and the taking away of the God-given sign of her subjection to her husband and we recognize no such custom in the Church of God. The standard held in the New Testament Church of God for all time, then and now, is long hair and submission to their husbands for all godly women.