Overview of the Background Practical Information in 1 Cor 11:2-16
(Note: This section is taken directly from my Word Document - Booklet on 1 Cor 11:2-16 so you will note it mentions Chapter 4 etc …)
I propose that Paul has purposely chosen and mandated the head-covering practice in all the churches for every time they meet for what we would call a worship service (what he calls Prayer or prophecy – this understanding of praying and prophesying being what we would call the worship service will be explained and argued in Chapter 4 as it is based on the whole of chapters 11-14 and Paul’s consistent discussion of prayer (tongues/interpretation) and prophecy in those chapters).
But, what is his logic in choosing this particular practice of head-covering?
It is the background information verses that tell us this. Verses 5b-6 and 13-15.
These 2 sections, v5b-6 and v13-15, are intertwined and interdependent. It is the latter section (v13-15) that will help explain what Paul is saying about shaving off hair and the resultant disgrace of doing this in v5b-6.
v14-15 have one main point to them. The verses tell us that woman’s hair is her glory. Presumably, as she covers her hair she is covering her glory. As woman covers her hair she is covering her independent glory. [The mention of the man’s long hair is simply by way of contrast to make the main point that woman’s hair is her glory. It is to be noted that the word dishonour (atima) in regard to man’s hair is not the same word as dishonour in the rest of the passage. I propose that it is simply being used in term’s of attractiveness, it is dishonouring in that it does not look good,it is unflattering. In a similar way, the word covering in v15 in regard to “for it is given as a covering” is not the same word as “covering” or “to cover” in the rest of the passage. It is a completely different word. I propose that it is the simply saying that woman’s hair is like an adornment, ie. it is something that is given to her to make her attractive.]
V13 is not Paul saying they can come to their own conclusion. That should be obvious because he tells them the conclusion they should come to in 13b. Rather, it is more like him giving them the key to a riddle and saying now that with this one piece of information they can work this out. They are to “judge/discern/figure it out for yourselves” and here is the information, the clue, to do that.
This clue, (”woman’s hair is her glory”) ties in with the theological verses where we are told that the woman is the glory of man. Her role in the order of creation is not to honour herself but to honour the one (the man) who simultaneously glories in her. If she does not cover her hair, then she is in effect displaying her own independent glory, ie. she is honoring herself, rather than being content with being the glory of man and honoring man.
Many argue that the point of the passage is that it is only the glory of God that can be on display. They argue that as the woman covers her head, that it is the glory of man (the woman) that is being covered which then means only Christ’s glory, the man, who is on display. However, the practical application verses 13-15 do not seem to be saying this. They say the woman is covering her hair, her own glory. I propose that she herself is not being covered, only her hair. So, the man’s glory (the woman) is actually still present and in view during the meeting. The point of the head-covering is not to do away with the woman (cover her up so she becomes invisible), but rather for her to display visibly that she is not an independent creature to the man. It is to display the theology of v8,9 “woman was created for the man” which is repeated in v 12a “just as the woman out of the man”. Also, the woman herself is not being hidden by the covering. This would contradict v11 “neither woman without man, nor man without woman”. God has made both man and woman. Man the image of God includes both the man and the woman. It is woman, the glory of man, who completes the man, so that he is indeed the image of God. Without her, he would not have been the image of God. The head-covering is not covering her up.
This is important to note, for what brings glory to God (what honours God) is creation reflecting the order that God has given it. It is not an abstract glory of God that matters in worship, rather it is the glory that comes to God as creation reflects the order which he has given it. This order is that the woman honours the man and the man glories in the woman. It is the order and completeness of creation seen in the united differentiation and ordering of man and woman. This is what Christ has recreated and by this He honours God. This is what is signified in the head-covering. This is what is visually taught through the head-covering every time the worshipping church meets together.
So, then how does ”woman’s hair is her glory” relate to the other practical application verses v5b-6? And in particular, how do they help us understand what sounds to be nasty and harsh words by Paul “for if a woman will not cover her head, let her be shorn”.
Verse 6 simply outlines the 2 options that woman has
“let her be shorn” and “let her cover her head”.
Why are these the 2 options?
V13-15 is the information that Paul has given us to work this out viz. ”woman’s hair is her glory”.
Presumably, as woman covers her hair she covers her glory (her hair) and so removes it from view.
As woman cuts off or cuts very short her hair she is removing her glory and so removes it from view.
Thus, Paul wants woman in the worship service to cover her own independent glory by removing her hair from public display.
The two options he gives “cover” or “cut” are the two possible ways she can remove her hair from display in order to display that she is not independent of man.
So, Paul’s concern is that the woman’s glory is not on display during the worship service either by covering it or cutting it off. Either option will symbolise what he wants to be symbolised.
However, v5b-6 also tell us that Paul also recognises and is concerned that there is a problem for the woman in regard to the cutting off her hair option. He recognises and understands that it is unattractive/dishonouring/embarrassing for her to cut off her hair. “But if it is disgraceful/embarrassing for a woman”. So, there is only one option left for her “to cover her head”.
V5b “it is one and the same” refers to the reality that there are dishonouring consequences in both “not covering her hair” and “cutting off her hair”. “The one and the same” is that both are dishonouring. So, woman is left with only one practical option which is “to cover her head”. When I asked my wife if she would like an alternative option to covering her head in church, she was not impressed when I told her that option was to cut off her hair.
It is to be strongly noted that these background practical verses are not the main theology verses nor the main argument verses. Yes, they interact with the theology verses, e.g. in that the statement that woman’s hair is her “glory” relates to “glory” being mentioned in the theological statements. However, for example, we miss the point of the background information when we start to re-interpret what Paul says earlier about head-coverings really being references to men’s long hair etc … And we make what is clearly not theology into theology when we say things like that the point of the whole passage is that men should not have long hair because homosexuals or whoever wore long hair in their society etc …… In regard to this point, it should be noted that Paul probably had long hair while he was in Corinth as it seems he had taken a Nazarene vow while he was there. In this sense, he could not be saying long hair on men is what is dishonouring to Christ. However, he probably did know from personal experience that long hair does not look very attractive on a man.
There is also another, very prominent view among complementarian Christians (of which I am one) that this passage does not enjoin head-coverings but rather encourages us to choose our own symbol or symbols to show that men and women are different. What really matters we say (what I have said) is that we look like men or that we look like women, particularly in terms of our own culture and society. Hairstyles or wedding rings or types of clothing are seen as ways that we might do this. If my understanding of the passage is correct, and in particular of the place of the background information, then Paul is not really concerned about what we look like in terms of our hairstyles or clothing or culture or whatever. In fact, he is in some ways happy for a woman to come to church with a bald head, because it can symbolise what he wants it to symbolise ie. she has no independent glory to man. In this sense, he is actually happy for a woman not to look like a woman. It is very easy to make the bible say what we want it to say. Paul is clearly saying in this passage that Christian women ought to cover their heads in church and he is telling us why. There is no justification to culturally relativise this obligation.