The Glory of Headship in God's Created Order and in Corporate Worship
2Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. 3But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 8For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
An Unexpected but Good Mother’s Day Text
Well, it wasn’t until last Wednesday during staff meeting that I put together that I’d be preaching this passage on Mother’s Day. My first thought to myself was, “What were you thinking? Did you really have to preach three sermons on 1 Cor 10:23-11:1? Look where that landed you.” Nevertheless, the Lord is always faithful to remind me that every word he inspired is not only pure, but for our ultimate good and for the ongoing health of his church. So, sisters in the Lord, take heart this morning that what is written, here, is not to squash you—sin and rebellion against God squash you. What is written, here—what the Holy Spirit moved the apostle to write, here, as an abiding word to all generations of men and women—is meant for your good and edification. These words are not written to place unnecessary burdens on us, but to free us—men and women who live under the Lordship of Christ—to live with each other as God intended.
Paul Is Still Thinking About God-Glorifying Lives
In fact, this passage only further encourages us into the kind of life we spent the last three weeks reviewing; namely, the kind of life that does everything to see God glorified among all peoples. Paul does not somehow stop thinking about the glory of God when he turns to the subject of manhood and womanhood in the local church. His entire argument regarding women praying and prophesying with appropriate adornment is grounded in God’s perfect rule over everything, his good designs in the created order, and his marvelous work of grace through Jesus Christ. And no demeanor or attitude as men and women should hinder God receiving all the praise and glory and honor in our corporate gatherings, even in the ways husbands lead their wives and wives demonstrate submission to their husbands.
So Paul’s words are not “out of place,” but fitting for where he left off in 10:31: “do everything to the glory of God.” While chapters 8-10 showed us how to glorify God in the public square, chapters 11-14 will show us how to glorify God in corporate worship—whether that be through the recognition of headship when praying and prophesying (11:2-16), a proper participation in the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34), or the edifying use of our spiritual gifts (12:1-14:40). So these aren’t disconnected subjects that have no aim. Rather, Paul intends to see the entire church built up to glorify God in every context, especially corporate worship.
Instructions for Men & Women Prophesying in Corporate Worship
The specific issue he turns to in verses 2-16 is that of men and women prophesying within the local church. He commends them in verse 2 for remembering the pattern of the apostle’s teaching—which has special bearing on how we live and devote ourselves to one another. He commends them where he sees Christ working in them to will and to do according to his good pleasure; but there’s something further he desires to clarify. Paul desires to clarify how a God-centered view of manhood and womanhood affects the way men and especially women prophesy in the local gathering. In particular, Paul wants to give them further instruction on how a biblical understanding of “headship” affects the order of corporate worship.
You see, Paul knows how fallen and broken and self-centered and God-ignoring the world around them is. He knows how sinners forsake what is good to practice what is evil. He knows that since Adam and Eve rebelled against God, every man is born a rebel against God’s good created order for his servant leadership over his wife; and every woman is born a rebel against God’s good created order for her glad submission to her husband. And even among those of us for whom the power of reigning sin has been broken through our faith-union with Jesus Christ—even we are still vulnerable to remaining sin and the God-ignoring lure of the world. So Paul seizes the opportunity to ground them deeper in what the gospel teaches regarding headship and its expression in corporate worship.
1. The Fundamental Principle in the New Community: Everyone Has a Head
And we see this most clearly in verse 3, where he lays down the fundamental principle driving everything he says in this passage. So if you get lost in all the difficulties of verses 4-16. And you don’t know what to do or how they’re connected. Come back to what is absolutely plain in verse 3; make it part of you; and read those verses again.
And here’s the fundamental principle Paul establishes in verse 3: everyone has a head. Every Christian man and woman—who no longer submit to the world, the flesh, and the devil, but to Christ as Lord—every Christian man and woman has a head. That is to say, in God’s scheme of things, every one of us is under an authority. Verse 3, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”
So, every one of us who are part of God’s new community—the church—must realize that we’re all under authority. Now that’s not to say that non-Christians are not under God’s authority. Ps 2 says that Christ sits enthroned over all the rebellious nations. But that’s not Paul’s emphasis, here. Paul’s emphasis, here, is to set forth what headship looks like played out in the new community of God’s saints. Until all of Christ’s enemies are put under his feet, his unique rule is put on display through the church; and one of the ways Paul says that Christ’s rule is displayed is by recognizing that we all live under a “head,” or an authority—Paul’s using the word, “head,” to refer to authority. And he lays out three aspects of headship, here.
First Aspect of Headship: Christ Is Head of Every Man
First off, “the head of every man is Christ.” We also know this from Eph 1:22, “And [God] put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Every man in the church is subject first and foremost to Christ. Since he is Lord over the church, every man stands under his headship and authority; and they should relate to no one apart from that headship. The same is true of all Christian women, but since Paul’s focus is on the manner a wife carries herself when praying or prophesying, he turns next to the husband’s headship over the wife.
Second Aspect of Headship: Husband Is Head of His Wife
He says, “the head of every wife is her husband.” Now, Paul expands on the husband’s headship over his wife in Eph 5:22-24, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” God’s special design for the wife in a marriage is that she—out of reverence for her Lord and Savior (5:21) and with Spirit-filled desire to see Christ displayed as King over her life (5:18)—willingly submit to her husband’s authority and gladly embrace his headship.
Third Aspect of Headship: God Is Head of Christ
And Paul’s not done; for even Christ himself has a head. He says, “the head of Christ is God.” This is no different than what we saw in 3:23, where Paul said, “Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours…and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” That is, in his role as Son, he belongs to God the Father and submits to his authority. Even though he shares the divine essence with his Father, in his role as Son, he gladly accepts his Father’s glorious headship.
We see the same in 15:28. It says, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him.” And who’s that? God the Father. The Gospel of John is also filled with examples of Christ’s submission to his Father: the Father sends the Son (3:16); the Son obeys the will of the Father (10:18); the Father gives judgment to the Son (5:22); the Son honors the Father (8:49). Again and again, John gives us pictures of what it means for God to be the head of Christ.
So in a God-centered world—in a community of people governed by Christ’s glorious reign which is to be reflected in their relations to one another—headship is important. And headship is important because it ultimately is about God and meant to reflect the good news of what God has accomplished in Christ. Christ had to submit to the will of the Father—leave glory, come as man, obey his Father’s will, die in the place of sinners on a cross, and be raised for their salvation.
Moreover, we have to submit to Christ and his word if we are to be saved. Spurning the headship of Christ leads to condemnation, not salvation. Man must submit to Christ by faith in order to be saved; and in particular, here, husbands must submit to Christ if they are to lead their wives in ways that honor God. And wives must submit to their husbands if they are to please God by helping the church and the world see that this temporary marriage testifies to an eternal love that Christ has had for his bride. So, headship is extremely important, because it’s meant to reflect God’s perfect rule over his people not merely in his created order but especially in the corporate worship of those he saved. And it’s the latter aspect—God’s rule reflected in the corporate worship of those he saved—which Paul addresses in 4-6.
2. God’s Rule Reflected in Corporate Worship
In verses 4-6, Paul not only identifies a particular situation within the church—where a wife might leave her physical head uncovered—he not only identifies that situation, but begins applying the truth of verse 3—that everyone has a head—to that particular situation. So Paul’s going to take the principle he laid down in verse 3 and apply it to the potential disorder caused by wives praying or prophesying with their heads uncovered during corporate worship. This appears to be the main issue from verse 13, where Paul says very plainly, “Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God [i.e., in corporate worship] with her head uncovered?”
Man shouldn’t adorn himself in ways that dishonor his head
So, by applying the truth of verse 3 to that situation, Paul says this: “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered.” That’s his own, physical head. The Greek expression, here, means to cover his physical head with something like his toga or a veil or shawl of some sort. The only other place in the Bible where this expression is used is in Esther 6:12, where Haman leaves Mordecai’s presence ashamed, mourning and covering his head. So, every man who prays or prophesies with his physical head covered “dishonors his head.” And here we should take him to mean his metaphorical head, meaning the head he just described in verse 3, Christ. So, every man who prays or prophesies with his physical head covered dishonors his head, meaning he dishonors Christ.
Now, exactly why this is the case for the man is not real clear—at least to me. I think we get some pointers in this passage, like when verse 7 says that man reflects God’s glory in a unique way; and verse 14, where even a woman’s natural hair covering indicates that a woman and not a man should wear a head covering. Some have suggested that it was a custom for elite Roman men to cover their heads while serving in pagan temples; and Paul’s instructions, here, will keep men from dishonoring Christ by flaunting their social status. This seems to make good sense in light of verse 7 and the Lord’s Supper conflict in verses 18-22. Value should not be found in social status, but in being created in the image of God, and saved by Christ to reflect his glory. Whatever the precise reason, this much seems clear to me: the man shouldn’t adorn himself in ways that dishonor his head, Jesus Christ, in corporate worship.
Wives shouldn’t adorn themselves in ways that dishonor her head
And the same is true for wives with respect to their husbands. Paul says in verse 5, “but every wife who prays or prophesies with her [physical] head uncovered dishonors her head [meaning, dishonors her husband].” Now, unlike with the husband in verse 4, Paul does explain why the wife not covering her head would dishonor her husband. See the rest of verses 5 and 6: “Since [he says] it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.”
Now, some of you are saying, “Paul, you lost me, here.” That’s okay. I’ve said that to myself hundreds of times on this passage alone. So, let me see if I can simplify it for you like this. An uncovered head—that is, a head without a veil, at least in Paul’s day in the surrounding cities of Asia minor—an uncovered head was equivalent to a shaven head on a wife. And a shaven head on a wife was disgraceful—it was apparently socially and morally unacceptable. That’s even supported from verse 15, where Paul says that the woman’s naturally-long hair covering is her glory.
So, the point is merely to support what he already said at the beginning of verse 5—that a wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her husband, who is her head, her authority, by God’s design. Praying or prophesying in corporate worship would naturally draw attention to the person prophesying; and for the wife to adorn herself in ways that dishonor her husband in corporate worship would be to compromise the headship God built into his good created order and which he intended to restore through Christ and display through his church (cf. Joel 2:27-28).
God did not save us from our bristling against his established headship to bring further shame upon it; he saved us to celebrate the glory of his good designs in headship before a broken world. We were transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son to display a new world order—God’s intended order for creation, because only through this order, through this kind of headship-authority roles, do we reflect his wisdom in the gospel. For a Christian husband or wife to act in ways that reveal no inner desire to submit to their respective heads is for them to continue in the rebellion against God’s perfect rule over his creation and Christ’s complete rule over his church.
3. Paul’s Theology of Headship Rooted in Creation
This is why Paul says what he does in verses 7-9: “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” It is ultimately creation—and a creation redeemed by Christ and for Christ—that rests beneath Paul’s theology of the husband’s headship over his wife in corporate worship. Headship was not a result of the Fall. In his original creation order spelled out in Gen 1-2, God established headship of the husband over his wife and called it very good.
Now, when Paul says that the man “is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man,” he does not mean that women are not made in God’s image. We know they are from Gen 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Moreover, in 15:49, Paul says that “Just as we’ve born the image of the man of dust [and he’s including men and women in the “we.”], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” So Paul’s not somehow implying that women are not made in God’s image. Both the man and the woman are made in God’s image. What he means is that the first man and the first woman were created in different manners that have bearing on how every husband and wife ought to relate to one another.
Paul assumes, here, that we would understand Gen 1:27 in light of what we read in Gen 2. And in Gen 2:7 we see a particular order. The first man, Adam, was made in God’s image directly from the dust of the ground. But, according to Gen 2:21-23, God’s image was given to the first woman, Eve, through the man as God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam and took one of his ribs and fashioned the woman from him. And not only did the woman originate from man, but she was also created for the man. Gen 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” As odd as this may sound to some of you ladies—according to the Bible—the man was the source and reason for the woman’s existence.
Now, that certainly doesn’t mean that the man is somehow superior in worth to the woman. Not at all. In fact, every man since Adam and Eve has been profoundly dependent on the woman for their existence. Verses 11-12, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” In others words, there’s a mutual interdependence between men and women in creation that shows that headship does not imply superior worth, better breed, or more valuable to God. Headship refers not to the man’s unique worth but to his unique role before God and in the relationship to the woman. And the way the woman was to reflect the glory of man was to reflect—through her companionship with him—all God designed the man to be alongside her as representative rulers of his creation.
That’s what they were to be according to Gen 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Together, the man and woman were meant to be God’s representative rulers over his creation and under his care.
Psalm 8:5-6 teaches us the same, “Yet you have made him [i.e., man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” You want to know where I think the “because of the angels” comment in verse 10 comes from? Right here in Ps 8. It’s the only place where I could find “glory” and “angels” and “creation” and “man” all compacted together in one place, spelling out the same vision Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians. Angels watch you; they were there when God created the man and the woman; and they know why you exist—to glorify the God they serve. Even Eph 3:10 says that part of God’s design in revealing the mystery of Christ and saving us is “so that his manifold wisdom might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
The man and the woman were to reflect God’s image in their joint rule over creation—before all the angels—but in different ways: the man leading out with ultimate responsibility as the head of the woman reflecting God’s rule over the earth; and the woman submitting herself to the man and thereby reflecting all God designed the man to be alongside her. This is how we were made to function and relate to one another as men and women made in God’s image.
And that’s what I think Paul’s overall concern is. If a wife desires to pray or prophesy in a church gathering, she should never do so in a way that compromises God’s good order. Whether it be through inner attitudes or outward adornments—like we see also in 14:33-36, 1 Tim 2, Tit 2, and 1 Pet 3—everything she does must bear witness to God’s perfect design for male headship. In the Corinthian church, that meant never adorning herself in ways that dishonored her husband in corporate worship. In this case, that meant wearing a “symbol of authority”—something like a veil—over her head while praying or prophesying. To do otherwise, would be to dishonor her husband—her head—and thus fail to glorify God in corporate worship.
A Summary of Paul’s Theology of Headship in 1 Cor 11:2-14
So this much is absolutely clear to me. Biblical manhood and womanhood as it pertains to headship in corporate worship is meant to reflect the glory of God in…
- how it reflects the roles of authority and submission in the Godhead and those made in God’s image;
- in how it reflects God’s perfect rule over his good creation order, which includes men, women, and angels; and
- in how it reflects the way God intentionally made us complement each other as men and women.
So, in order to preserve the importance of headship in corporate worship settings that are meant to honor God, Paul is telling the Corinthian church that wives must wear a head-covering whenever praying and prophesying.
We’ll talk more about what it means to prophesy when we get to chapter 14, but for now I’ll just say that 14:33-36 show another context in which the woman’s submission plays itself out in corporate worship and it’s consistent with what Paul says, here. 11:2-16 assume that women will prophecy in the local assembly (cf. Acts 2:17-21), and 14:33-36 prohibit women from making public evaluations of a particular prophecy based on the same pattern of headship set forth here from Gen 2. Instead, they should evaluate the prophecy in question through their husbands at home.
How Do I See “Headcoverings” Applying Today?
Now, with that clarification, most of you are wondering how I see the “head-covering” in particular applying to us today in our corporate worship settings. We know what it meant for the Corinthians, and apparently—according to verse 16—all the churches of God in Asia Minor. But, what about wives wearing head coverings today when they pray and prophecy in twenty-first century American churches? I honestly don’t know yet; and it would be wrong to pretend that I did know. I’ve at least narrowed it down to two options that I think are the only legitimate options this passage offers, and I’ll give them to you.
(1) Wives are required to wear a head covering only while praying or prophesying publicly in corporate worship. So we can wear them the whole time, but Paul makes it explicit in verse 4 that its required only while praying and prophesying. Or…
(2) Wives should outwardly demonstrate their submission to their husband when praying or prophesying in coporate worship, but that outward expression needs to be culturally appropriate and fitting and representative of all clear passages in Scripture on women’s adornment. So think 1 Tim 2, Tit 2, 1 Pet 3 and things like how the adornment should reflect humility before God, submissiveness to one’s husband, feminine in attire instead of disgraceful, modest instead of provocative, signifying that you belong to him and nobody else. For the time being, I lean toward the second explanation and see the “we have no such practice” of verse 16 to refer to being contentious toward the apostolic principle of God-centered headship that’s spelled out in verse 3 and applied in verses 4-15 rather than the head covering in particular which symbolized such headship. So we still obey the apostle’s instructions regarding headship, but the outward form with which we obey the passage may vary from culture to culture and must always reflect the biblical paradigms for manhood and womanhood.
Grace for All of Us In Jesus Who Reflects God’s Image Perfectly for Us
Now, before we pray, let me end on a much broader note of application. There are some of you hearing all this “glory-of-headship” talk today, and it’s just crushing you—either because you’ve never heard it or because you’ve heard it before and it’s just reminding you of how short you fall in fulfilling it faithfully as a husband leading or a wife submitting…in the home, quite apart from even fathoming what it looks like for you in corporate worship. As one created in God’s image, you see what your leadership before Christ or your submission to your husband ought to be, but what your remaining sin keeps reminding you of is that you need a savior. You were made for a dominion alongside woman that reflects God’s greatness and splendor, but all you feel is rebellion inside, hardships with your spouse, chaos with your children, brokenness between other family members, and nowhere to turn. If that’s you this morning, know that what you’re feeling right now begs for an answer; it begs for someone mighty and powerful to step in and bring salvation, deliverance, healing, restoration, and recreation in God’s image.
Let me remind you that Jesus Christ became a man who reflected God’s image perfectly. Col 1:15, “Christ is the image of the invisible God.” And the reason he came to bear God’s image perfectly is that through his cross and resurrection he might create for you a new self, Col 3:15 says, “which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Moreover, even though you look around you and see nothing in proper order or remotely in subjection to your dominion (Remember Ps 8?), Heb 2:9 declares, “but we do see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” So despite what’s before us, we do see Jesus enthroned, with absolute control and redeeming power, so that one day there will be no more bristling at headship or abuse of it either.
So let me encourage you to look to Jesus this afternoon in prayer; look to Jesus daily with your wife in the hope of his present reign; look to Jesus this Wednesday with your Care Groups, and nurture everyone that’s in need of growing into the likeness of the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Eph 4:15 says, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Let’s not fall prey to arguing for hours about a head covering while genuine desires for Christ-like headship and submission to it flounder to the detriment of families and the church. Do wrestle with what Paul is saying, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. But do so in ways that edify and not tear down. So Care Group Leaders, lead your groups as you see fit to grow in knowing the head, Jesus Christ, whose redeeming work is sufficient for the needs of every man and woman who calls on the name of the Lord.