God is a God of order. The sun, moon, and stars move in perfect, predictable patterns. Plants and animals grow and reproduce according to the plan of the Master Designer. The human body is a marvelous display of how God places every member to function in harmony with the others.
God also planned for order in the human family. "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" (l Corinthians 11:3). Disorder and frustration will always result when man tries to improve on God's order.
First Corinthians 11 teaches the order of headship. It also commands us to symbolize this divine order by keeping man's head uncovered and by veiling woman's head. It is a mark of submission to God's order when we humbly obey Him, although we may not fully understand why.
God's Order of Headship
"The head of Christ is God." To better understand the relationship between man and woman, consider the relation between God and Christ. Jesus said in John 10:30, "I and my Father are one"--one in thought, work, and purpose.
"Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (John 14:10). Jesus is the vessel through whom the Father works. Because He is submissive to the Father, we get a beautiful glimpse of the cooperation and partnership in the Godhead.
Jesus further said, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.... I do always those things that please him" (John 6:38; 8:29). "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). We plainly see the Father's leadership. There is oneness and a working together, but a mutual agreement that the Father will lead. Christ is under God's authority, doing His Father's will.
One who is under authority submits to the will of the leader. Unity in thought, purpose, and work is achieved only as one leads out and the other submits to his leading. Together, as one, they work in cooperation, doing what is now the will of both. That is not conflict; it is the God-designed way to relate.
If there needs to be order in the Godhead, how much more so in our relations on earth. God, in His wisdom, knew that one would need to lead and the other submit, to work in cooperation. Any deviation from that will not work. Man has tried to improve on God's order, but the result has been catastrophic.
"The head of every man is Christ." "Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2: 11). "And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1: 18). Christ is Lord; He is the Head of the body-the church, which consists of men and women.
"The head of the woman is the man." "For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (1 Corinthians 11 :8,9). God created woman from man and for man.
Even as the church is subject to Christ, so must the wife be subject to her husband. Her submission brings honor and glory to her husband, even as the church brings honor and glory to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24).
The divine order of headship does not only apply to the home. In 1 Corinthians 11, the focus is on man and woman, not husband and wife. God's plan is for woman to be under the authority of man in the church, home, and society.
This is an order of headship, not importance--of government, not superiority. God's order is for the smooth function of the human race. Paul does not suggest that women are inferior; he simply teaches the order of government. Just as there is order in the Godhead, so there is order in the human family.
Man and woman complement each other (1 Corinthians 11:11, 12). Woman is of the man, but man is also by the woman. Without man, woman would not be, but without woman, man would not be either. Neither is inferior. They are both equally important in their roles.
Man and woman are equal in salvation. Woman's salvation does not depend on man. "There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). God's grace and mercy are equally accessible by both, but God's grace does not do away with the order of headship. When a woman becomes a child of God, she will earnestly seek to find her place in God's order. A woman's salvation does depend on her obedience to the divine order of headship.
To put this in perspective, the order is God > Christ > man > woman. God the Father is the head. Christ is under the Father's headship and is submitted to His will. Man is under Christ. As man finds his place under Christ, he submits to God through Christ. Woman is under man. A woman in her place submits to man > Christ > God. Woman, by submitting to man, who is submitted to Christ, who is submitted to God, submits to all three. God's order of headship is very beautiful when it is properly understood and practiced.
Symbols of God's Order
God has given symbols of submission to the headship order for both man and woman. Man's symbol is short, cut hair and an uncovered head, whereas woman's symbol is long, uncut hair and a covered head. These are simple, practical reminders of our place in God's order.
Man uncovered, with short hair. "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head" (1 Corinthians 11:4, 14). Praying and prophesying are spiritual exercises, a part of our worship to God. A man who worships God with his head covered dishonors his Head. What head? Christ > God.
Man is not to cover his head, for "he is the image and glory of God." "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Regenerated man is the visible representation of the invisible God. Therefore, to reveal God's glory man submitted to God--he is not to cover his head. His uncovered head symbolizes humility, deference, and surrender to the authority of Christ, man's invisible Head.
"Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?" Here Paul makes an appeal to the natural head. It is a shame for a man to have long hair. Even in our society, respectable, moral men do not wear long hair. A man with long hair draws attention to himself. A Christian man with short hair gives glory to God. It is important that a man consider this in his hair styling--whom does his hair glorify?
Woman--covered, with long hair. "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered" (1 Corinthians 11:5, 6). Here the reverse is true. When a woman prays or prophesies with an uncovered head, she dishonors her head. What head? Man > Christ > God.
Eastern women have a long-standing tradition of wearing a veiling. Both men and women wore tunics and cloaks, but the veil was the distinctive female apparel. All women except those in a low condition of life, such as prostitutes and slaves, wore veils.
The mark of a prostitute was that she did not wear a veil--in order to show off her hair and attract men. With her hairdo, she advertised that she was an immoral, available woman.
Paul's use of the two words shorn and shaven makes an appeal to the standards of his day to teach the shame of being uncovered. Shorn means "to cut the hair." Apparently an immoral woman would cut and style her hair. Shaven means "to shave with a razor," which was how an immoral woman was punished in Paul's day.
Eastern or Western, immoral or not, every woman can readily identify with the shame and utter disgrace of having her hair shaved off with a razor. Paul says that a woman who uncovers her head is as shameful as being shaven. When a woman displays her hair, it dishonors her head--man > Christ > God.
In our day, the shame of cut hair has been lost. However, in this context, to cut and dress the hair identified one as immoral, which was punished by shaving the head. So when Paul says, "If the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn," he was not suggesting that either option was acceptable. He equated the shame of cut hair and the resulting punishment of being shaven, with an uncovered head.
The question being considered here was not whether to cut the hair. That was a shame; Christian women had no desire to cut their hair. The question in focus was whether to veil it. Because of their natural shame of cut hair, Paul could say that an uncovered head was as shameful as being shorn. Because of our natural shame of a shaved head, we understand that an uncovered head is as shameful as being shaven.
A woman who cuts and dresses her hair dishonors her head. The beauty of the hair is not for display. Christian women are ashamed to have cut hair. Therefore, "let her be covered."
"Woman is the glory of the man" (I Corinthians 11:7). As woman submits to man, she glorifies him. God created woman to help man fulfill God's purposes for him on earth. She enriches man with the womanly qualities his life needs. A woman's relationship with man should honor and praise him. As she takes her place in God's order with humility, meekness, chastity, modesty, and purity, she brings glory to the man.
The woman is also the glory of God when she is the glory of the man. She testifies of her submission to God's order by veiling her hair. Her veiled head is a practical reminder that she is under the authority of man, whose unveiled head testifies of his honor and submission to God. A woman in her place will receive great honor and blessing.
This chapter of the Bible does not portray woman's place as degraded or inferior. A woman filling her God-given role will be esteemed and honored. To disobey God's order and to strive for the position God has assigned to man is dishonoring to God and woman. God's way is best and will return abundant blessing.
Is the hair a covering? "But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering" (1 Corinthians 11 :15). Yes, the hair is a covering. But it is not the covering referred to in verses 4-7, where the Greek words are verbs that mean "to cover." In verse 15 we have a different word, a noun. The covering in verses 4-7 is something to be put on; the covering in verse 15 is something that is on.
Consider that if the hair is the covering, then a man would need to shave his head to be uncovered. Also we would find an impossibility in verse 6: "If the woman be not covered [her hair removed], let her also be shorn." How can she cut her hair if it has already been removed? Clearly, it is speaking of a covering to cover the hair.
Why is the hair called a covering? It is a covering! It is a covering of glory. A woman's hair is a glory that covers her head and hangs as a veil of beauty. Many women today go to great efforts to dress their hair and make it attractive to draw attention to themselves.
Man is made in the image and glory of God. Woman is the glory of man. A woman's glory is her hair. Woman is to cover her glory to give all glory to God. Man, woman's head, is visible; therefore she dishonors man as her head when she uncovers her head. To uncover her head is a display of human glory in competition with the glory that belongs to God.
This is not the only place in the Scriptures that gives the principle of covering a glory that competes with God's glory. Heavenly beings cover themselves with wings (Ezekiel 1: 11; Isaiah 6:2). It seems they covered their glory to give all glory to God. When Satan exalted himself to be as the Most High, he revealed his glory in competition with God's glory. He was cast down (Isaiah 14:12-15). Likewise, woman must cover her glory so that she does not compete with God's glory by dishonoring man as her appointed head.
The principle of modesty includes a covered head. Women who display their beauty to appeal to men draw men away from their created purpose. It appeals to their base nature and tempts them to indulge the passions of their bodies. Man does not bring honor and glory to God when he is lusting after a woman. A woman's hair does appeal, and therefore it must be kept covered, even as the rest of her body. A modest wife will keep the glory of her hair and body for her husband. Within marriage, the husband can enjoy all of his wife's body, including her hair. The husband will discover that the woman's hair is a veil of glory. The wife will be honored as she brings glory to her husband.
"Power on her head." "For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels" (1 Corinthians 11:10). A veiled woman has power on her head. Power means "privilege, freedom, delegated influence, and authority." A woman in her place, under the authority of man, has privilege, freedom, and authority, of which a woman out of her place knows nothing. There is blessing and reward in being where God wants us.
The angels are observing and noting those who are veiled and are thereby showing submission to the authority of man. The angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the saints. They grant protection and bear witness to God of those who are submitted to His order of headship.
When should women wear the veiling? The veiling symbolizes submission to divine order. It must be worn when praying or prophesying. First Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." Praying is expressing the need for God and supplicating Him for help in all of life. Prophesying is declaring the will and mind of God. Christian sisters are always to be submitted to divine order, they are always to be in an attitude of prayer, and they prophesy to their children and fellow sisters. Therefore, they always wear the veiling.
Submission to God's Order
Man in his place. The burden of this ordinance falls upon man. A root problem in our society is that men are not in their place. Usually women are what men want them to be. If men want objects to lust after, the women will be what men want. If men are godly, they will be examples of godliness for women. Men have the greater authority and hence the greater responsibility. Women will have little difficulty submitting to men when men take their place in God's order.
The challenge to men is, Are their women submitting to Christ in submitting to them? Are they by their life and example calling women to submit to God's commands? Are they in the line of headship, or are they out of order? When their will is broken and submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then their women will be in submission to Christ as they submit to men.
This is not to say that when man is out of his place, woman need not submit. She will submit unless she is required to violate truth, at which point she submits to Christ first. But even in such a situation, she will still find her place in subjection to faithful brethren in the church.
Woman in her place. Does a woman obey the command to be covered simply by keeping the formal application of it? Obviously, it must go much deeper than that. Wearing the veiling is a symbol of submission in the heart. A woman is not submissive because she wears a veiling. She wears a veiling because she is submitted to God's order.
It is mockery for a rebellious woman to wear a veiling. This does not mean that she should quit wearing a veiling, but rather, she needs to repent of her rebellion and submit with meekness and humility.
Christian women reveal submission to God's order in the following three ways.
l. In dress (l Peter 3:3, 4). The way a woman dresses reveals whether she is in God's order. Is she satisfied to cover her hair, or does she try to display it? The predominant thing on her head should be the veiling, not the hair. If her hair is pushed out seemingly begging for attention, it is not properly covered. If her heart is wrong, she can soon figure out a way to display her hair even while wearing a covering. A properly veiled woman portrays a meek and quiet spirit.
Any vain display of the body or an effort to draw attention with bright or fancy clothing and ornaments is a violation of this ordinance. From the sole of her foot to the crown of her head, she must attire herself in modest clothing that covers without drawing attention to the body.
God calls men to lead and give direction. Men have a responsibility to see to it that their women dress in a way that is becoming to a veiled woman submitted to the divine order of headship.
2. In the home (Ephesians 5:22-24). God commands wives to submit to their husbands, to be subject in everything. Certainly there is a place for discussion and sharing. A loving, godly husband will seek his wife's counsel. But finally, the command is to submit, even if something goes against her will. If she does not give up her will, she has not submitted.
The wife must not conform to her husband's will and then act hurt or spiteful. She should submit joyfully and willingly. Maybe her way is better, and maybe her husband will eventually see it, but meanwhile, she must submit.
Many details in homelife go much more smoothly when both husband and wife submit to their roles and support each other in their roles. "Husbands, love your wives." Husbands can make it difficult for their wives to submit, or they can make the burden light. It is admirable when a wife meekly submits to an unreasonable husband. But why should he make it so difficult for the one whom God commands him to love as his own body? "Love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it."
3. In the church (1 Corinthians 14:34,35; 1 Timothy 2:11, 12). God commands the woman to keep silence in the church. She is not to teach man nor to usurp authority over him. "It is a shame for women to speak in the church." "Let them ask their husbands at home." A veiled, modest sister contributes "beauty and elegance to the church.
Titus 2:3-5 teaches that women should teach each other. Notice that this passage does not instruct women to teach doctrine to each other, but to teach others how to fill the role of wife and mother in the home. A woman in her place at home will have a far greater influence in God's kingdom than she will out of her place in the church.
The men must lead out and provide leadership in the church so that the women can take their place. Many women are frustrated by the indifference of their husbands and therefore have a difficult time staying in their place. It is commendable when a faithful woman lives a godly life even if her husband does not, but how much better when the husband takes his place. It is a shame when women are forced to lead out because the men do not.
In 1 Corinthians 11: 16, Paul appeals to the Corinthians not to be contentious about this ordinance of headship. Apparently it was not an issue in the other churches. They were practicing it, and he commanded the Corinthians to do the same (1 Corinthians 4:17).
This ordinance is a command of the Lord for all who call on the Name of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1 :2). "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37). This command was not Paul's idea or only for the Corinthians, but it was a commandment of the Lord to all who call on the Name of the Lord. Most people readily accept that some of Paul's teaching in this book was of the Lord and for all who call on the Name of the Lord, such as the Communion ordinance in chapter 11, the spiritual gifts in chapter 12, love in chapter 13, and the resurrection in chapter 15. As we faithfully submit to the Word of God, the Spirit will help us to understand that the first part of chapter 11 is also a command of God.
Human wisdom does not understand this doctrine. If we feel that we need to explain it through human reasoning, we will stumble.
If you struggle with this command, humbly pray and ask God to show you His will. Take God at His Word, submit to His divine order, and experience the rich blessing of women wearing the symbol of divine order.
—Kenneth D. Witmer