Online Bible Commentary
A Commandment, Not a Custom
1 Corinthians 11:11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God. (NKJV)
Chapters 8-10 of 1 Corinthians focused on idol worship. In this chapter Paul continues on that theme when writing of head coverings in church. Some idol worship at the time called for men to cover their heads during worship, typically with their robes, and women to not cover their heads during worship, displaying their long, flowing locks.
So, it is possible that another reason for this commandment to do the opposite would be to be careful not to incorporate pagan customs into the church. This can happen in many other ways: through doctrine taught; the music; or other practices.
The use of head coverings is a symbolic action that our hearts are in proper submission during worship. The teaching was that men should not wear head coverings during worship as a symbol of their submission to God and women should wear head coverings, or nicely maintained hair styles, as a symbol of their willing submission to men.
This commandment does not mean that women are inferior to men, for they are equal in the eyes of God. It is simply God’s way of establishing order. God the Father and Christ are also equal, but Christ willingly submitted to the Father.
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.
In this passage, Paul concludes this commandment on head coverings. Men and women are not only equal but they are dependent on one another, in the eyes of the Lord (v.11).
God created woman from man’s rib and then man from woman’s womb, creating this inter-dependence (v. 12). God created marriage between a man and a woman as a further display of this inter-dependence.
Men and women bring different and complimentary attributes to marriage. As always, God’s way is the best way.
Paul calls for the Corinthian believers to “judge” for themselves the commandment on head coverings (v. 13). The original Greek construction of this sentence calls for a judgment that obeys the commandment.
Paul reasons that even nature dictates that men have shorter hair, or no hair, and women have longer hair (v. 14a). Therefore, nature supports the commandment of men not having a head covering during worship and women having a head covering during worship.
Men with excessively long hair or women with excessively short hair might be seen as “dishonoring” God’s creation (vv. 14b-15a). The head covering for the woman could be her own hair, as “her hair is given to her for a covering” (v. 15b).
Even if the Corinthian believers disagreed with this commandment, they could not disregard it as merely a custom (v. 16a). In his final word on this subject, Paul made this clear by declaring that this commandment was not a “custom” of him and his disciples, nor of the first century “churches” (v. 16b). That conclusion is not an option.
It would be a mistake to argue that Paul used this time and space of Holy Scripture, only to conclude by saying that it is permissible to disregard this teaching as only a custom of the times. On the contrary, the teaching on head coverings is a commandment, not a custom.