Read 1 Corinthians 11 at Bible Gateway.
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.” 1 Cor 11:2-16
The section about head coverings forms a chiastic structure:
1 Cor 11:2-16
1A: 1 Cor 11:2, Traditions delivered to the Corinthians;
1B: 1 Cor 11:3, Headship;
1C: 1 Cor 11:4-7, Praying or prophesying and covering;
1D: 1 Cor 11:8-9, Woman from and for man;
CENTRAL AXIS: 1 Cor 11:10, For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels;
2D: 1 Cor 11:11-12, Man through woman;
2C: 1 Cor 11:13, Praying or prophesying and covering;
2B: 1Cor 11:14-15, Covering;
2A: 1 Cor 11:16, Custom among the churches.
The central axis, the main point that the structure itself points to like an arrow, is vs. 10. The word “symbol” in vs. 10 is added to the text for clarification by the King James translators. Paul is saying that the woman ought to have authority on or over her head, i.e., she ought to be under authority. Her head is the man which is in authority over her (vs. 3). When she is married, her head is her husband. Before she is married, her head is her father. If she is widowed or single, and her father has passed on, I believe the Old Testament shows us that the eldest brother of the family takes care of the single women of his family. In the biblical worldview, women are covered by a head, they are not off on their own operating independently (Gen 3:16).
I know this teaching is anathema to modern society, but let us consider that in the Garden of Eden, the woman was not under any authority. She was co- ruler with Adam, in having dominion over the creation. But she was the one who was tempted and was deceived by the enemy’s lie, while Adam was not deceived (1 Tim 2:14). He sinned, not because he was fooled, but because, some speculate, he did not want to be separated from his wife. It was the Lord who then placed her under the authority of her husband, and I submit to you, that He did this for her protection! He desired to be a blessing and a help to her!
For every authority is given, we learned from Rom 13, so that the strength of that authority can be a blessing and a protection to the weaker under their authority.
It is true that not all men know this about their responsibility toward women. Some men abuse their greater strength, which God gave them to protect those weaker than they are, in order to hurt those weaker than they are. Wrath is stored up for any who do wrong and do not repent, but those who are in authority, who abuse that authority and use it to wound those who cannot resist them, this fires the LORD’s anger, I believe. They are fools who have stored up great wrath for themselves, unless they repent (Isa 3:14-15, Mar 9:42).
The chaistic structure itself further shows us that Paul is talking about headship being the woman’s covering, and not merely a symbol of authority, such as a hat or a scarf, on her head: because 1B, which discusses headship as authority, is paired with 2B, which discusses that which covers a woman’s head. If a woman desires to wear a hat or a scarf on her head, she is not doing anything wrong! The issue is, is she under authority. A woman can dutifully wear a scarf or lace over her hair, and be haughty in her heart toward her husband – the head covering will not negate the state of her heart!
Then the whole structure is wrapped with the revelation that this instruction in head coverings is from tradition and custom. Certainly we can see that the tradition has its base in spiritual truth, and so the reason for the custom ought to be honored. But tradition and custom are not commandments!
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