1 corinthians 11 and headcoverings

The following is an extract from correspondence engaged in by the present writer regarding the role of sisters, and headcoverings in the Ecclesias.  This brief exposition of the relevant section of 1 Corinthians 11 is intended to clarify the issues raised, and is reproduced here for the benefit of our readers:

 Verse 1:

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”

This verse is evidently a continuation of chapter 10, dealing with certain behaviour and it’s impact upon others. In this passage, Paul is beseeching the believers to “be imitators” as the word means, of him, in giving no offence to any man.  This links with chapter 4 and verse 16, where again we read: “wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.  So, the apostle is set forth as an example (1 Tim. 1:16) of how to behave in the Truth.  However, there were some who looked to this in a wrong way, and so caused division.  So in Chapter 1 of this epistle, we read, “there are contentions among you.  Now this I say, that every one of you saith I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12).  The problem here was that rather than being of one mind in Christ, factions had developed in the ecclesia with some brethren following Paul, some Apollos and so on (it could, perhaps, be inferred from elsewhere, that the majority followed Paul).  The next few chapters then go on to demonstrate amongst other things, that these men could do nothing of themselves, and that all glory should go to God.  This leads to chapter 4, where the apostle demonstrates that all believers should be followers of Christ, and all glory should go to God, not the apostle.

However, there was a sense in which Paul was an example, and in this sense all believers should imitate him.  Interestingly, in the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians, although he is addressing the whole ecclesia, he only appears to deal with the attitude of the faction that glorifies himself, and not that of Cephas etc.  Why is this?  There are 2 reasons: Firstly, it is Paul himself who is being compelled by the Spirit to write the letter, and so he deals with those things which relate to himself, but also, the general principles which he outlines also apply to the other factions.  Coming to chapter 11, verse 1 is a reminder of this.  Yes, they should follow Paul as an example, but as a follower of Christ himself and not a leader in his own right: “be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ”,

Verse 2

“Now, I praise you, brethren, that ye remember (i.e. “bear in mind”) me in all things.”

The Corinthians already looked to Paul as verse 1 shows, and this was to be commended.  However the way in which they did this was wrong.  Hence, verse 3 begins, “But …”, and then follows the discourse which again shows that all glory should go to God and not to man.

“And keep the ordinances as I delivered them unto you.”

This is the section that some appear to have difficulty with, given the wayward nature of some of the members of this ecclesia.  However, the problem disappears when we realise that Paul is addressing the ecclesia generally, not to each member specifically.  Yes, there were big problems at Corinth, but this was caused by the minority.  The majority were generally sound!  How else can we account for the words of chapter 1, verses 4-5: “I thank my God always on your behalf … that in everything ye are enriched by him in all utterance and in all knowledge.”   Now, if Paul were addressing certain individual members, this was clearly not true.  Those who abused the gift of tongues were not enriched, or made spiritually wealthy in “all utterance”!  Those who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead were not rich in “all knowledge”.  Clearly, although these big problems existed, generally the Ecclesia were sound, and enriched in all utterance and knowledge by the Grace of God.  So Paul later said that he had written the first letter “that ye might know the love that I have more abundantly unto you” (2Cor. 2:4).  He would hardly have said this about a bunch of corrupt, apostate reprobates!

So, although there were those who subverted the Truth, generally speaking, the Ecclesia did “keep the ordinances,” and they were to be commended for this (this is again shown in 1 Corinthians 15:12: it wasn’t the “you”, i.e. the ecclesia, but “some among you” i.e. the minority which disbelieved).

Verse Three:

“But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ …”.

 The first part, “I would have you know,” demonstrates that it is the apostle himself speaking, being moved by the Holy Spirit, telling the Corinthians something he would have them understand.  This demonstrates that Paul is not quoting a false argument as is being claimed in some quarters, but putting something forward himself.  As we have said, what he shows follows on from commending the ecclesia for looking to him as an example.  “But …” now he corrects them, for the divisive way in which this was done.  “the head of every man is Christ”.  i.e. they should not say that they are followers of Paul, that is, that Paul was their head (for Paul’s head was Christ), but all glory should go to Christ.  “And the head of Christ is God” – and ultimately to God.  This is the Divine hierarchy, ascending from the woman, to God Himself.

Verses Four to Seven:

“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”

The basic teaching of these verses, is that a woman should have her head covered, but the man should not.  Now, the question is, Why?  “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”.  Now this is clearly alluding to the words of Genesis, “God (Elohim) said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  So, man was made in the Image and Likeness of the Elohim.  The suggestion is often made that “image” relates to the physical characteristics, whereas “likeness” is to do with a mental disposition, or morality which reflected that of the Creator.  However, after the fall, the “likeness” was lost. Man became prone to sin, and so reflected the likeness of God no longer.  And so, after the Fall, when Adam begat a son, he was not after the Image and Likeness of God, but in Adam’s own image and likeness (Gen. 5:3), that is, the image and likeness of sinful flesh.  However, the Lord Jesus Christ did perfectly reflect the likeness of God, “being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3), despite also being in the “likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3).

So then, natural man is not at present after the likeness of God, but Jesus was and is – and his brethren strive to be likewise.  This is the essence of what 1 Corinthians chapter 11 is teaching.  Because the head of the man is, or represents Christ, who is the image and glory of God, it’s glory should be covered (covered wholly, veiled, or hid).  This is in recognition that the glory, the likeness which a man has is not that of God.  It is sinful and requires a covering (cp. Rom. 4:7 where a similar word for “cover” is used).  Because Christ did reflect God’s glory, the glory of the man’s head, which represents Christ, is uncovered.  But, because the glory of man is the likeness of sinful flesh, and needs atonement, the glory of the woman’s head is covered.  However, because the glory of the woman’s head is her hair (i.e. “if the woman be not covered, let her be shorn”), that is, either way, the glory is removed.

Notice, it is the woman that representatively demonstrates the need for atonement.  Why is this?  In addition to, and in harmony with the reasons given below, I suggest that “Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Tim. 2:14).  The woman was in the transgression, being deceived, and so it is the woman who demonstrates the need for the likeness of sinful flesh to receive atonement.  Herein we see a beautiful enactment of the ecclesia’s subjection to Christ, and the covering provided by the Grace of God.  For a woman not to wear a covering, is to typically say that we need no covering for our sins, and that our glory is just as good as that of Christ!

Verses Eight and Nine

“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”

These verses continue to demonstrate this same principle of subjection, the reason stated, that the woman was created out of the man, and for the man, not vice-versa.  Many beautiful lessons may be drawn from this, but it is sufficient for the present purpose to note that the order and purpose of the woman’s creation, is given as a reason for her professed subjection in wearing a head-covering.  Adam was created directly by God (and in this sense was “the son of God,) to reflect His Glory, i.e. image and likeness.  However, Eve was created out of the man, and therefore being “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh” (Gen. 2:23), she naturally partook of the nature of the man, and therefore, reflected his image, and shared his likeness.  Now this was all well and good, for because the man reflected God’s glory, so therefore would the woman.  However, once both sinned, this became defiled, and the woman reflected a sinful likeness, no longer that of God.  As in the typology the man reflects Christ, who achieved God’s original purpose which man and did have the likeness of God (yet was also “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3)) through perfect obedience, the covering is worn by the woman, demonstrating submission.  All this provides us with the key to understanding:

Verse 10

“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head, because of the Angels”

However we interpret the word “power” (or more correctly, “authority”), it is clearly in the context of the woman’s subjection (for the reasons stated), and “because of the Angels”, (or Elohim) of Genesis 1:26.  The reason stated here can be readily understood in the light of what we have said above.  When man fell, he failed to reflect the likeness of the Elohim, hence our need for this sinful likeness to be covered.  This again strengthens our earlier conclusions.

The claim has been made that the phrase should be translated “for this cause ought the woman to have power over her head …”.  This changes the sense of the verse to describe who has authority over the woman’s head, and not that which is placed upon it.  But from what I can find, this change of the word “on” to “over” appears to have little justification.  No translation I can find uses “over” and according to Bullinger, the proposition “epi” “governs three cases (the Genitive, Dative, and Accusative) and denotes superposition.”  “With the Genitive (as used here), it denotes upon …”.  So, the correct rendering indeed appears to be “on” or “upon” and not “over”.  This means that the verse does not speak about who may, or may not have authority over a woman’s head, but what authority she actually has placed upon her head.  What is that which is placed upon her head?  Well, the covering referred to in verse 5.  Thus, the covering which is upon the woman’s head denotes authority.  Whose authority?  Well, as the covering is a token of a woman’s subjection, it must be the authority of the one whom she is subjected to—that is, the man.  Surely the logic of this is clear, and straightforward? The verse is speaking of how the woman’s headcovering denotes the woman’s subjection to the authority of the man—it is a token of her subjection and his authority.  Similarly, our recognition for a need of atonement, that our sins be covered betokens our subjection to Christ, and his authority over us.

Verses Eleven to Twelve

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.  For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God”

These verses are similar to the statement in Galatians 3:18, speaking of the relation of the man and woman “in the Lord”.  Despite this hierarchical arrangement ordained by God, “neither is the man without (or “separate from”) the woman, neither the woman without (separate from) the man in the Lord”.   So, the man and woman are not separate in the Lord, but they are “one in Christ Jesus.”  Verse 12, elaborating on this theme, informs us, “for as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also of the woman: but all things are of God”.  This verse counters any suggestion that the man is in some way intrinsically better than the woman.  Although God required certain principles to be observed, and the woman to show subjection in the way appointed, this is because of the principles outlined above, not because of any virtues that men have.  Just as in the first instance, and so partook of his nature, so ever since, man has come from the woman, and so inherited her nature.  It is in this way that  the Lord Jesus inherited sinful flesh, that he might be tempted in all points like us.  So the woman is not a lower life form, and the man is not instrinsically better than her (indeed, some Sisters seem to have a better understanding of spiritual things than some Brethren).  So, there is no occasion for men to glory: both men and women are sinful, both have fallen short, and both require a covering for sins.  They are not separate, with the woman requiring a covering, wheras the man does not.  Coming from her, he partakes of her sinful nature, and so is also in need for a covering: both are one in their predicament, and both are one in the solution in Christ.  Such is as it appears to the present writer: comments are welcome!

Christopher Maddocks