Headship and Hair
Updated: Mar 7
1 Corinthians 11:1-22
Among the many problems in the Corinthian church that Paul addressed was the matter of disorder in the public meetings. We find him dealing with areas of confusion in their public worship, including the woman’s role in the church. The rise of feminism (and a decrease in masculinity) in our culture has made the role of women (and men) a battleground. The Lord does not consider women to be inferior to men, but he does give different instructions to women for the home, the church, and the community. Anyone who has a quarrel with God’s instructions for the home and the church has a quarrel with God.
Two subjects are discussed in this section: headship and hair. The headship of man is made abundantly clear. This order extends into human affairs, including the home and the church. The man is accountable for his actions, ultimately to Christ. The woman is accountable for her actions, ultimately to Christ, but also to her husband. This does not teach male superiority - Paul continues and says that even Christ, who is God, has a head – the Father. There is order within the Godhead itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternally and equally God, but Christ voluntarily submitted himself in terms of office. He never ceased to be God, but he “took upon himself the form of a servant” for the sake of mankind. Never once do we read about him resenting the subordinate role. That should be a rebuke to women who think they are “above” following God’s designs and purposes by submitting to their husbands.
Christianity brought hope to women, children, and slaves. Christianity taught that all people, regardless of color or gender, were equal before God, and that all believers were one in Jesus Christ. However, some seemed to be ignoring the fact that God still requires order. Paul refers to the women who were refusing to cover their heads as they participated in the public worship services. Paul did not forbid the women from praying or prophesying. An individual with the gift of prophecy would proclaim a message that was given immediately by God. This was necessary in the days before the completion of the New Testament scriptures. (I believe that this was one of the sign gifts that ceased.) It is evident that women took part in public worship, for Philip had four daughters who prophesied. However, some of the women in the congregation had to be reined in, and we see it again in later chapters in 1 Corinthians. There they are told to be silent in the church and they are forbidden to speak. The context is that God forbids women from taking on a formal teaching role in the church, or in any way to assume the man’s role. God said they are to learn in silence. This would be considered “discrimination” today, but not all forms of “discrimination” are immoral. The practice of discrimination in many ways is right, holy, and good. So, while the New Testament does not allow for women pastors (1 Timothy 3:2), the women in the early church who had the gift of prophecy were allowed to exercise it, albeit under the headship of men.
There was also a proper time for women to pray, however they were never allowed to usurp authority over the men (1 Tim. 2:11-15). Nor were they allowed to judge the messages of others who prophesied (14:27-35). If they had questions, they were to ask their husbands outside of the church meeting.
Except for the temple prostitutes, the women wore long hair, and in public they wore a covering over their heads. There was a reason for this; this covering symbolized the woman’s submission to God and his order, and her purity. For a woman to appear in public without the covering, let alone attempt to participate in the church service, was both daring and blasphemous. Paul sought to restore order by reminding the Corinthians that God had made a difference between men and women.
There is a definite order of headship in the church. The Father is the head over Christ, Christ is the head of the man, and the man is the head of the woman. Paul makes the point that it is very important that both men and women honor the Lord by respecting the symbols of headship. He refers to hair and the head covering. The man honors his head (Christ) by being uncovered, while the woman honors her head (the man) by being covered. Some of the Corinthian women were not submitting to this. As a matter of fact, the women who appeared in the assembly being uncovered were putting themselves on the level of the prostitutes. The prostitutes wore their hair very short, and they refused to wear a covering in public. Paul told the women: “If you are going to abandon the covering, you might as well go ahead and cut off your hair!” In Jewish law, a woman that was found guilty of adultery had her hair cut off. Paul uses two different words in verses 5 and 6. He used the word shaved, which implied the woman had shaved all of her hair off, and shorn, meaning cut short. Paul was stating that either one is dishonorable for the woman.
Both men and women are made for the glory of God, but since the woman was made from the man, she is also the “glory of the man.” She glorifies God and brings glory to the man by submitting to God’s order and keeping her head covered in public worship. For a woman to have her hair cropped or cut very short is disgraceful in God’s eyes.
Paul then points to creation (8-12). God created man first. “For Adam was first formed, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). The woman was created for the man. Adam was created directly by the hand of God. Eve was created directly by God as well, but she was taken from Adam. She was created for Adam to be a help meet for him.
Paul brings the angels into the picture in verse 10. The angels also have a place in God’s creation, and they show respect to God and his order. They even cover their faces when they worship him. This should prove to us that these instructions given by Paul are not merely cultural. It is bound up in the will of God, the order of creation, and the watching angels. In the garden, Satan didn’t try to deceive Adam. Adam wasn’t deceived, he was blatantly disobedient. Eve was deceived, but it was “through one man’s disobedience” that sin entered the world. God blames the incident in the garden on Adam, not Eve. Adam had been given headship and responsibility and he had failed. Women are vulnerable to deception, and men are prone to disobeying God by succumbing to the influence of a woman. That is one of the biggest reasons our society is in the mess that it is in. The angels are witnesses of all this. They are looking to see God’s order reestablished in the church, and for God’s order that calls for the woman to cover her head and show her submission.
Paul shows that the woman is not inferior (11-12). While there is a definite headship of the man over the woman, there is also a partnership in God’s creation. The man and woman are one in the Lord, and they cannot do without the other. The woman may have come from the man at the beginning, but today, it is the man who is born of the woman.
Paul ends this discussion of order in the fellowship by taking up the matter of man and his hair (13-16). Nature gives women longer hair and men shorter hair. The Romans, Greeks, and Jews (except for the Nazarites) lived by this. Since Jewish men did not wear their hair long, it is incorrect to say that the Lord Jesus had long hair. People see the pictures that were painted during medieval times and assume that is what the Lord Jesus looks like, but that is incorrect. To portray him as a long-haired white man is silly. It was only in the rare case of the Nazarite that long hair was allowed to be worn by men. Samson was a Nazarite. As soon as the vow was over the Nazarite was to cut off his long hair and burn it. The Bible says that it is a shame for a man to have long hair. Just as a woman with short hair proclaimed her to be without honor, the man with long hair is proclaimed to be without honor. The Bible does not tell us how long our hair should be. It simply lets us know that there should be a noticeable difference between the length of a man’s hair and a woman’s hair. It is shameful for a man to have hair like a woman, and it is shameful for a woman to have hair like a man.
The woman’s long hair is her glory and it is given to her for a covering. Women are expected to use their hair as a covering and as a symbol of their submission to God’s order. The man is to leave his head uncovered and to keep his hair short to show his manhood, that is, his headship over the woman and submission to Christ. Inevitably there will be people who decry instructions such as these as legalism. Obedience to the Word of God is not legalism. Obeying God’s order for nature is not legalism. Setting up one’s own rules for living, instead of obeying God from the heart is legalism.