The first reason for women to be covered or veiled in the public gatherings of the Lord’s people is given in the first half of verse 5. In this case the word ‘head’ is used metaphorically again; not now of Christ, as is the case of the man, but to the woman’s head, viz. the man. The question arises as to what way she dishonours the man. The answer is that she does not submit to man’s God-given headship.
The second reason for women to be veiled is that to be uncovered would equate to being ‘shorn or shaven’, vv. 5, 6. The word for ‘shorn’ is found four times in the New Testament -twice here in verse 6, once in Acts chapter 8 verse 32 of a ‘lamb dumb before his shearer’ and in Acts chapter 18 verse 18 of Paul ‘having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow’. It is clear that the hair is thus shorter than would normally be the case for a man, since Paul had his head shorn. It is thus cropped ‘into the quick’.
The word for ‘shave’ is used three times in the New Testament - twice here in verses 5 and 6 and in Acts chapter 21 verse 24 of four men who had a vow. In this case, the hair was shaved off completely in both cases, the words are applied to men. The lesson is thus abundantly clear -there should be a definite distinction between the male and the female.
The length of the woman’s hair should not give the least indication of ‘unisex’; a tactic the devil is using to blur the distinctiveness of the sexes. The length of the woman’s hair should immediately indicate a distinctiveness from the opposite sex. Otherwise, it is a ‘shame’.1 Note, in passing, that if the woman’s ‘hair’ is her covering (as some teach) then when a woman’s head is uncovered she does not have any hair on!
The apostle, having stated the principle of headship and shown its application to both the man and the woman, now takes the matter a stage further and explains the reasons for his preceding conclusions. Note the repetition of ‘for’ in verses 7, 8, 10 and 12. He wants the Corinthians to be in no doubt about the solid foundation on which his arguments rest. He is not culling from the culture of the day in Corinth but building on the infallibility and integrity of Old Testament scriptures, particularly the early chapters of Genesis upon which the whole structure of biblical revelation and doctrine rests.
The statement is clear, ‘For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God’. Actually, there is no definite article before ‘image’ emphasizing the qualitative significance of the picture presented. Man is ‘image of God’ in the sense of representation and manifestation.
As Vine2 says, he ‘visibly reflects the sovereignty of the invisible Creator’ and as such he is suitable to bear responsibility, see e.g., Ps. 8. 4-6. But he is not only ‘image of God’, he is also ‘glory of God’. As such ‘honour is shed on God from the visible image expressed’.3 Thus man is the visible representation of divine authority in the assembly of the Lord’s people. This is in direct contrast with the Old Testament, where man was covered as indicated earlier (e.g., Exod. 28. 4, 40) since he served in the tabernacle where the visible sign of God’s presence could be seen.
Paul states unequivocally that ‘the woman is the glory of the man’ or she is ‘man’s glory’ JND. This is not something that would go down too well in modern cultural thinking. There would be an accusation of misogyny! But the record of scripture is clear. There are two reasons why she is man’s glory:
Again Vine4 gives an excellent answer as to why the head covering implements this truth, ‘she renders conspicuous the authority of the man’ and hence the authority of God, that is, she does now what the man did in the Old Testament. When he was covered then he was recognizing that God had the visible authority; when the woman covers her head now, she is accepting that the visible authority of God is vested in the man.
The reason for the introduction of ‘angels’ at this stage is not immediately clear. This is no doubt why a variety of suggestions have been made. Bruce5 gives an interesting suggestion that angels are ‘guardians of the created order’ which has just been asserted by Paul. As such they have an intelligent interest in that order being exemplified in the local church. So, the apostle avers, ‘For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels’, v. 10. She is in subjection based on creatorial order in verses 8 and 9, so she should display that to the angels in the assembly. The word ‘power’ is translated as ‘sign’ RV, or ‘token’ YLT, of authority upon her head, evidently referring to a covering. It is interesting to reflect that angels also take an intelligent interest in:
The apostle seems to be aware that an attitude of superiority or inferiority might creep in because of his teaching. To guard against such, he is keen to emphasize the mutual dependency of man and woman. He does it very cleverly in verse 11, ‘Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord’. He emphasizes their necessary complementarity. There can be no independence in the sphere of the Lordship of Christ. Verse 12 further accentuates the basis of this truth, ‘For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God’. Thus, while woman is from, ek, man in creation, man is through, dia, woman by birth. It is all in the overall providence or sovereignty of God, ‘all things of [ek] God’. He dictates the terms. There is no basis for complaint!
In the closing verses of the paragraph, the apostle refers to nature and to the custom of the churches. He confirms that he is addressing two coverings in the paragraph, veil and hair, and that they are complementary, inasmuch as one teaches the other.
Paul effectively appeals to spiritual intelligence in verse 13, ‘Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?’ The word ‘comely’ has in it the idea of seemliness and propriety and, therefore, inherently assumes the wearing of a veil in the context of communal prayer to make the public distinction between the man and the woman. Paul is assuming a spiritual sensitivity in his readers. Perhaps there was then a general reverence in society which would be more evident among the Lord’s people. Sadly, reverence is not only almost totally absent in society but is certainly not to the fore among God’s people as it should be.
In this penultimate reason for women to veil their head, the apostle appeals to nature, ‘Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering’, vv. 14, 15. Note that Paul immediately assumes an evident distinctiveness between the sexes. In our society, this is disappearing fast; it should be a distinctive feature among the assemblies of the Lord’s people.
The apostle appeals to present physical facts as he draws the lesson from nature. He asserts that flowing locks ‘disgrace’ ESV, ‘dishonour’ JND, a man. Their preponderance in society is evidence of rebellion against divine order. On the other hand, long hair is a glory to a woman for it is given her for, anti,7 a ‘covering’.
As indicated earlier in these articles, the word for covering is translated as ‘vesture’, Heb. 1. 12. Thus, there is an important lesson from the long hair. Just as it is used as an actual or equivalent covering for the body, so a veil is used as a covering for the head.
Earlier in the Epistle, Paul has been emphasizing the need for Corinth to be in line with his teaching in all other churches, see 4. 17; 7. 17; 14. 33. He did not want Corinth to be out of step. Some never tire of being out of step, ‘But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God’, v. 16. Others never tire of raising objections, see 3. 18; 8. 2; 14. 37. He wants them to know that the apostles (‘we’ in this verse) have no custom of women being unveiled in the meetings of the assembly; veiling is common to all the assemblies of God. Corinth, and assemblies today, should be no different!
This also means ‘base’ or ‘dishonourable’; see also the use of the word in 1 Cor. 14. 35 and Eph. 5. 12 - the only other two times it is used in the New Testament.
W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary on New Testament Words, World Bible Publishers, 1991.
F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, New Century Bible, Oliphants, 1971.
F. L. Godet, Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 2), T. & T. Clark, 1893.
‘Can mean one thing as equivalent to another’, G. D. Fee, New International Commentary on the New Testament, e-Sword resource.
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