1 Cor. 11:2-16 is the passage where Paul deals with the woman’s head covering. Underlying this entire discussion is a foundational statement recorded in verse three: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” We get the sense that if we could properly understand and appreciate this statement, the issue of the head covering would be resolved. Let’s see if we can break this down into its various parts and implications.
1. The head of every man is Christ. The word “head” suggests headship, a position of authority. The Bible teaches that Christ is the “head” of the church: “And he [God] put all things in subjection under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him [Christ] to be head over all things to the church, which is his body…” (Eph. 1:22-23). Here, the “head” is contrasted with the “feet” to suggest a position of authority or rulership. Paul would later revisit this theme in 1 Cor. 15:25-28, where he quotes from David in Psalms 8:6 to explain that “all things are put in subjection under Jesus’ feet.” He then makes it clear that God the Father is not included in the “all things” which have been subjected unto Christ. So, again, the illustration of “headship” is used to suggest authority, power or subjection. The head of every man is Christ because Christ is authoritative over every man, and every man is to be in subjection to Christ, his teaching and his example.
2. The head of the woman is the man. Here is where we begin to have problems, because our current culture bristles at the idea of being in subjection to anyone. But notice that the type of subjection under consideration is spiritual subjection, subjection to the doctrine and example of Christ. It is a willing subjection of one’s spirit to the leadership of another. The concept of male spiritual leadership is clearly endorsed in the New Testament. “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression,” (1 Tim. 2:12-14).
Some mistakenly conclude that these passages teach the inferiority of women to men, but such could not be farther from the truth. The principle of value or moral worth is quite different from the principle of spiritual subjection. The exceptionally high level at which the Bible places women shows that God values them dearly, and equally with the spiritual value of men. It is not a question of value or worth, but a question of subjection and order. Paul’s next statement helps put this in the proper focus.
3. The head of Christ is God. We notice that Christ himself is in subjection to the Father. Having been previously on an “equality” with God, he did not grasp or cling to that equality under the circumstances. Rather, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,” (Phil. 2:5-7), and became the savior of the human race. Can anyone doubt that Christ is of equal moral value to God the Father? Yet, he is in subjection, and that by his own choice. We learn from these facts that subjection does not imply inferiority, and it may indeed suggest strong qualities of great love and self-sacrifice.
When a woman recognizes these principles and voluntarily submits to the headship of her husband, she is demonstrating great love for him, and respect for God. Such a woman necessarily possesses tremendous inner strength and beauty. After Peter’s inspired directive that “wives, be in subjection to [their] own husbands,” he explained that such beauty should not be limited to the “outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel,” but rather “of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price,” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-6). It appears that in the local culture of Corinth, women wore coverings over their head to indicate subjection. This is still the case in some cultures today. But whether she does so by the wearing of a head covering or not, the principal is the same. She will honor and respect God as she honors and submits to the headship of her husband. She will always “wear the covering” figuratively, whether it is culturally appropriate to do so literally or not.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.