Online Bible Commentary
Head Coverings During Worship
1 Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (NKJV)
In chapters 8-10 Paul has frequently condemned any type of idol worship. This context defines the proper interpretation of this passage.
Those who were involved in pagan worship at the time would give great significance to whether or not the head was covered. Pagan men would cover their heads in worship and pagan women would not, often displaying their long flowing locks.
Paul did not want there to be any hint of pagan worship in the church. So, the example he uses here of pagan worship is that of the use of head coverings during worship.
Paul begins this passage by calling upon Christians to imitate him, “just as I also imitate Christ” (v. 1). Paul is always the example to follow. He was sold out to God. That should also be our goal.
Paul has rebuked the Corinthian believers and will do so again in this chapter. However, here he starts out by praising them for being obedient to God’s principles that he has previously taught them (v. 2).
This praise for their obedience sets the tone for what will follow in this passage. Paul’s desire is for Christians to be obedient to Christ, and to spurn pagan practices.
In addressing head coverings during their worship, Paul begins by reviewing the line of authority as established by God. The line of authority is: God, the Father over Christ over man over woman (v. 3).
This line of authority has nothing to do with one being inferior to the other. God the Father and Christ are equal to one another. In the same way, the man and woman are equal to one another.
Christ willingly submits to the authority of God the Father, just as the woman is to willingly submit to the authority of man, and the man is to willingly submit to the authority of Christ. This is God’s way of maintaining order.
In addressing head coverings in the first century church, God begins with the husbands, since the husbands are directly under His authority. Men were not to cover their heads during worship (v. 4). Women, on the other hand, were to cover their heads during worship (vv. 5-6).
This practice was a symbol that the man is “the image and glory of God” and “the woman is the glory of man” (v. 7). This, again, maintains the line of authority established by God.
This line of authority was established when God created the woman from the rib of man (v. 8) and then designated the woman to be a helpmate to man (v. 9). The head covering for the woman is a “symbol” of that “authority” of man over woman so that the angels that are present in worship will see this authority (v. 10).
This example of head coverings during worship in the first century church likely was partly designed to keep pagan practices out of worship. Head coverings are no longer exclusively linked to the practice of pagan worship.
This is not to say that the practice of head coverings should not be a part of today’s worship. Angels may still want to see this symbolic action that our hearts are in proper submission during worship.
God, of course, knows our hearts. The practice of head coverings might best be left up to individual interpretation of this passage.
Another application for this teaching is to be careful not to introduce pagan practices into our worship. This can happen in many ways: through doctrine taught; the music; or other practices.
Our worship should always be directed to glorifying God. We should always be in proper submission to God, while being vigilante to not incorporate anything into our worship that may be construed as having to do with pagan worship.