Gone are the days when the Bible held the place of supreme authority among the people of this country. The days are also over when it carried the authority it once did among the people of God. The attitude of too many Christians is like that of children at a pick–and–mix sweet counter: they accept what suits their taste but reject that which doesn’t. Headship comes within this latter category.
Now if the Bible is the Word of God then certain things must follow. Firstly, as He who wrote the Bible could declare “the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Is. 46: 10), so the Scriptures can never be out of date. To say (as people do) that a particular passage in an epistle was only relevant to the conditions when it was written is not only unacceptable, but dishonouring to the authorship of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, the Bible does not need science, history or any other human discipline for its understanding or interpretation—it is complete in itself. As another has said “The moment I require anything to establish the authority of the Word of God, I take the authority of the Word away.” In the words of the hymn–writer, “God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain”.
Headship, that is a position of relative authority, is presented in different ways in the Bible. Christ is Head of the Assembly (or Church) when viewed as His body (see Col. 1: 18; 2: 19). He is also Head over all things to the Assembly (see Eph. 1: 22). Christ is also “head of all principality and authority” (Col. 2: 10). A man is also head of his wife (Eph. 5: 23). The widest doctrine of headship, however, is that given in 1 Cor. 11: 3–16. This presentation underlies all other presentations of headship in the Word of God. Without it, there can be no proper understanding of the mystery involving Christ as Head united to His body the Church by the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, this truth is absent in the first Corinthian epistle for the Corinthians were imperfect and Paul says “But we speak wisdom among the perfect … God’s wisdom in [a] mystery” (1 Cor. 2: 6, 7). (The truth of the body is taken up in chapter 12, but there is nothing on the Head in relation to the body.)
The Apostle prefaces this section of the epistle with the words “Now I praise you, that in all things ye are mindful of me; and that as I have directed you, ye keep the directions” (1 Cor. 11: 2). The words directed and directions come from the Greek word paradosis. The word is used for any instruction or ordinance passed on by word of mouth. An example of its use is 2 Thess. 2: 15: “So then, brethren, stand firm, and hold fast the instructions (paradosis) which ye have been taught, whether by word or by our letter”. Initially, teaching from the Lord through the Apostles was by word of mouth and called paradosis, in contrast to the NT Scriptures, many of which had not, as yet, been written. Thus Timothy is told “And the things thou hast heard of me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, such as shall be competent to instruct others also” (2 Tim. 2: 2). It is quite clear then that the directions that Paul had previously given the Corinthians, though not in written form, carried apostolic authority.
“But I wish you to know …”
The apostle’s treatise on headship in 1 Cor. 11 begins in verse 3 with the word “But”. This links what follows with what had preceded, showing that this new instruction also carries apostolic authority.
There are two parts to headship: the doctrine itself and the symbolism that shows its acceptance. The doctrine is set out in a single verse: “But I wish you to know that the Christ is the head of every man, but woman’s head [is] the man, and the Christ’s head God” (v3). There is no discussion, just the bare simple truth that headship involves a descending order of authority: God, then Christ, then man and finally, woman.
The relative places of man and woman and the symbolism of the head–covering that acknowledges the acceptance of this truth are argued out by the apostle in vs 4–16. If this symbolism is rejected, then the truth it symbolises is also rejected for the apostle weaves them together as one. Let me run a parallel. Baptism is a symbolic rite. In itself it changes nothing (see 1 Pet. 3: 21) but it represents the acknowledgement of a truth, namely, that all that I am as in the flesh has gone and is out of sight (buried) in the death of Christ (see Rom. 6: 3; Col. 2: 12). If a person refused to be baptised, his faith in the work of Christ would rightly be questioned. The principle is the same with headship. Reject the symbolism of the covering and you refuse the truth of headship.
The Past and the Present
The writer can remember a time when men removed their hats ‘in church’ and women retained them. Whether realised or not, this was symbolic of headship. Most men still have an idea that it is not quite right to pray with their heads covered but many women nowadays are indifferent to a covering. This indifference has its origin in the world where the woman is now deemed the same as the man. In dress, and in many other spheres, the woman seeks to ape the opposite sex. This attitude has infiltrated much of Christianity, even to the extent that women teach (in flat contradiction of 1 Tim. 2: 12) and women ‘vicars’ are commonplace. If, in NT times Christians “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17: 6—AV), in the present day the world has turned Christianity upside down! All acknowledgement of headship has gone. Yet despite what modern thought may teach, a woman is not a man, nor a man a woman. The distinctions made at creation are unchanged.
The Arguments of Men
There are, of course, a number of theories advanced by men to disprove the continuing validity of the covering. Perhaps the most unfounded of these suggestions is that the apostle Paul was biased against women on account of the fact that he was unmarried (see 1 Cor. 7: 8), and the covering was his means of ‘keeping women down’. Apart from the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to support this idea, it also illustrates a mindset that has no real concept of inspiration, let alone reverence for God’s holy Word. It beggars belief that Scripture can be handled in this way—by professing Christians.
Another popular argument is that the temple prostitutes in Corinth, the priestesses of the goddess Aphrodite, were identified by having short hair and being unveiled. Christian women in Corinth were to be seen as different and hence had long hair. A converted prostitute could not grow her hair immediately but the covering of a veil served in its place to show that she no longer belonged to the prostitute caste. One flaw in this hypothesis is its inability to explain why the heads of men should be uncovered! More importantly, where does the information about the temple service of Aphrodite come from? Not from the Bible—for it isn’t there—but from history. So that to understand this Bible passage, I must firstly be acquainted with Greek history! On that basis alone, this mode of interpretation is fundamentally unsound, for it makes God’s Word subservient to history. The believer does not need history to understand and interpret God’s Word.
A more balanced argument centres around the fact that Corinth was a Greek city and the Greek custom was that in temple worship the men (unlike Jewish men) would be uncovered but the women covered. Christians were simply to abide by a harmless local custom so that their fellow–men would not be offended. Once again, this explanation demands familiarity with ancient Greek culture and history denying the authority that is in the Word itself.
All the above theories are irrelevant. The Bible gives us the reason for the head–covering (if we will but accept it). It is not ‘on account of the temple prostitutes’ nor ‘on account of Greek customs’ but “on account of the angels” (1 Cor. 11: 10—my emphasis).
Before proceeding further with the subject, it may be helpful to take account of some essential details.
Firstly, the name Christ means Anointed and always refers to the Lord Jesus as Man, not as God. Thus Christ’s head is God (see 1 Cor. 11: 3). Those who say that the headship of the man over the woman is derogatory to the woman, must, as a consequence, also concede that God’s headship over Christ is derogatory to Christ.
Secondly, the Greek word for man in the passage means man as distinct from woman and not man as a race. Admittedly, the words used for man and woman can also bear the meaning of husband and wife but the context precludes this here. Verse 8 cannot be read as ‘For the husband is not of the wife, but the wife of the husband’ since no other woman apart from Eve ever came out of a man!
Thirdly, the conditions under which a man should be uncovered and a woman covered are not limited to when Christians come together in assembly. This is evident from the fact that a woman prophesying was to be covered (see v5), and yet such prophecy could not take place when Christians came together in assembly as then the woman was to be silent (see 1 Cor. 14 : 34). Look also at 1 Cor. 11: 17–18. There Paul begins a new topic with the words “But [in] prescribing [to you on] this [which I now enter on], I do not praise, [namely,] that ye come together, not for the better, but for the worse. For first, when ye come together in assembly …”. This shows that what he had been speaking of previously (headship) had nothing in itself to do with the coming together of saints. Indeed, the symbolism of the covering has nothing to do with the presence of other men or women at all, for it is, as noted in the last issue, “on account of the angels” (v10).
The Apostle’s Arguments
The Apostle clearly states the conditions in vs 4, 5 under which the symbolism applies: prayer and prophecy. Why this limitation? Simply put, in prayer man speaks to God, and in prophecy God speaks to man. The feature common to both is communication. It is then that the levels of authority in headship need to be recognised. These are given in v3 and the order is God, Christ, man, woman. Let us take prayer as an example. The Lord told the disciples “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you” (John 16: 23). We go to God in prayer but only in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, Paul says “giving thanks at all times for all things to him [who is] God and [the] Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5: 20). The authority in headship is not ignored or circumvented, but acknowledged, for Christ is our Head. The woman, however, is to pray with her head covered demonstrating that the authority of the man is not bypassed. Perhaps the parallel of the armed services may clarify these points.
The Armed Services
Here the concept of headship (although the word is not used) is very definitely understood. The lowest private in the Army has the right of access to the Chief of the General Staff but not directly. Any complaint, for example, must first be brought before his own commanding officer, who, if he feels that he cannot deal with the matter, will arrange for the private to go to the next level up in the chain of command, and so on to the very top if needs be. However, no step in the chain of command is omitted or ignored. Why? Because that would set aside the authority of that level. Similarly, the commands of the Army Council are passed down through each of the layers of command. Authority on the principle of headship is thus fully maintained.
Shame and Glory
In vs 4–7 Paul states the consequences of disregarding his injunctions. A man praying or prophesying with his head covered puts Christ his Head to shame. This is because man in general and Christ in particular (see Gen. 1: 27; 2 Cor. 4: 4; Col. 1: 15) is God’s image or public representative on earth. Images are meant to be seen and thus man’s head is to be uncovered. The woman, however, is never said to be God’s image (or even man’s image) for her place is not one of public representation. Note carefully the use of the pronouns in Gen. 1: 27: “And God created Man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (my emphasis).
Not only is man God’s image, he is also His glory (see 1 Cor. 11: 7). Glory is distinctive, displayed excellence creating admiration in others. Woman is man’s glory for she was created out of man (see 1 Cor. 11: 8) and for man (see v9; Gen. 2: 18). A woman praying or prophesying with an uncovered head takes the place that belongs to man and puts her own head (not the man) to shame. The apostle even goes as far as to say that her disgrace is on a par with having her head shaved (the Greek word indicating that a razor has been used). Generally speaking, if a man loses his hair he experiences no shame, but if a woman loses her hair through, for example, a medical condition, she feels it acutely, for her hair is “glory to her” (1 Cor. 11: 15), that is, her distinctive excellence. As no normal woman would want to submit to her hair being shorn, she must be covered, thereby accepting her lower place in the ordering of headship.
It is this relative place in creation that occasions Paul’s “Therefore” of v10 and the explanation that follows: “Therefore ought the woman to have authority on her head”. The Greek word used here for authority is that from which we get our English word excuse. When we give an excuse for doing something we are giving our authority for that action. Thus the woman’s covering is a token or symbol of the authority of the headship of the man under which she prays or prophecies. But this is not all, for the Apostle adds an extra phrase “on account of the angels”.
On Account of the Angels
While the Greek word for angels is used for human messengers, it usually denotes a class of spiritual beings of that name—the context determining the choice. So what do the Scriptures teach us about angels in relation to man?
Heb. 2: 5 states that the world to come (the millennium) will not be subject to angels clearly inferring that the present age is subjected to them and this is substantiated by the words of 1 Cor. 4: 9: “For we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men”. The word here in Greek for world is kosmos which means an established order of things. Angels are thus part of the present order.
The Lord Himself asserts that little children have angels (see Matt. 18: 10) and if those of the house of Mary were not mistaken, everyone has an angel (see Acts 12: 15). Again, we read “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out for service on account of those who shall inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1: 14). Angels of the highest rank are identified with individual nations and are described as princes of which Michael, the archangel (see Jude 9), is Israel’s prince (see Dan. 10: 13, 20, 21). We are taken behind the visible scene in Eph. 6: 12 and shown that “our struggle” is really against such spiritual beings. Thus at all levels angels are part of the present order.
In Jude 9 we learn that Michael, the archangel, did not dare to “bring a railing judgment against” the devil, recognising the dignity of his higher authority. As angels sent out for service (see Heb. 1: 14) even own adverse authority should not all those served likewise accept the authority of headship? “Therefore ought the woman to have authority on her head, on account of the angels” (1 Cor. 11: 10).
Throughout the ages angels have been sent by God to men to communicate the mind of heaven. It is only right therefore that those who own the order of headship should express that symbolically when communicating with God. If you want to argue that the head–covering no longer applies today, then to be consistent you will have to concede that angelic service has ceased as well. Why? Because the covering is to be worn “on account of the angels” (1 Cor. 11: 10)!
There is a clear hierarchical system in the universe, and if man is not aware of it as he should be, angels certainly are. The covering is a simple witness to the angels of the relative places of the male and female in creation, and a testimony that there are men and women here prepared to adhere to God’s order.
Covering and Veils
No consideration of 1 Cor. 11 would be complete without an examination of the Greek words translated covered and veil. Each can carry the idea of a veil but in quite different senses. The first, translated covered, is katakalupto. This is a compound word in which the prefix kata means down from and kalupto means to cover. Thus the sense is to cover with something that hangs down (from the head). The second word, translated veil, is peribolaion. Here the prefix peri means around and the rest of the word is derived from the verb to throw. The overall sense is of an enveloping covering. The two prefixes really spell out the difference: the first is something that rests on the head and drapes down; the second is that which is drawn around the face, or even the whole body.
The woman’s long hair was given to her, not in place of a covering (katakalupto) but of a veil (peribolaion): “for the long hair is given [to her] in lieu of a veil” (1 Cor. 11: 15). This change of word shows that long hair is not a substitute for a covering of the head as some have argued. (Anyway, if a woman’s long hair was to serve as a covering for her head, then for the man to be uncovered he would have to have his head shaven!)
Does not even Nature itself teach You?
Though nature cannot provide the covering demanded by God’s order of headship, it still has something to say on the difference between the sexes: “Does not even nature itself teach you …” (v14). Thus it is natural for a man to have short hair and for a woman to have long hair. A woman with long hair has that which commands admiration or as Paul puts it “[it is] glory to her” (v15). Long hair in a man commands the very reverse—dishonour (see v14). He is out of place in God’s order—usurping the woman’s role. Thus even nature is in line with Scripture.
A Final Word
There is a phrase that occurs some 20 times in the NT, nine of which are in the last epistles to be written: “From the beginning …”. Time and again John employs this phrase showing that even in apostolic days there had been departure from the truth and a need to return to that which was “from the beginning”. Today that need is even greater—the discrepancy between the ‘Christianity’ claimed by men and that revealed in Scripture is shameful. Headship, and the symbolism that goes with it, are an intrinsic part of the apostolic faith, and yet the use of the covering by a woman in prayer is now openly ridiculed by supposedly Bible–believing Christians. To quote the Lord Himself when addressing another matter “but from the beginning it was not thus” (Matt. 19: 8)!