Summary: What is the relationship between men and women?
We’ve come back to 1 Corinthians after a long layoff. Where did we stop? The apostle Paul was concerned with practices that amounted to idolatry. Believers were participating in the pagan temple feasts. Paul warns them that, whether or not they think of themselves as worshiping and communing with demons, they in effect are. They are guilty of abusing their freedom in Christ to justify living their own way without regard to living for the glory of God. He has the same concern for their worship in their own church as well.
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
Paul thinks of something nice to say. They are keeping up the traditions he has taught them (although they have corrupted many of them!).
We come now to the traditions of worship. The first issue of worship is the most difficult for us to grapple for two reasons: one, the subject of the role of women in worship, and in particular in regard to their relation to men, has become of the most controversial and emotion packed subjects of our time. Two, and this is the primary reason, this text is one of the most difficult in the Bible to understand. It is difficult to make sense of Paul’s argument because of his terminology, cultural matters that perhaps were clear then but are obscure now, and some of his logic that is unclear.
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
The particular issue of the text has to do with a custom that distinguished between a man publicly praying/prophesying and a woman praying/prophesying. In particular Paul is dealing with a situation in the Corinth Church in which women are not following the custom of the day by neglecting to wear some kind of head covering while they prophesied. That is the issue.
Paul begins by laying the theological groundwork. Doctrine will determine practice. The doctrine presented here is that of there being a fundamental order in creation based on the order of the Godhead, i.e. the Trinity. Regarding the Trinity, one may say that God the Father is head of God the Son. Though they are the same in essence; though they possess all the full qualities of divinity and the essential being of God, viz., being infinite, eternal, and unchangeable; even so, God the Son willingly submits to God the Father. Christ is not inferior to God the Father, but in the way he acts and relates to the Father, he willingly shows submission.
So, God is head of Christ. Then comes man; Christ is his head. This is easier to grasp, for Christ truly is greater than man; he is man’s Creator and Redeemer. He is divine. Now the point: as God is head of Christ and Christ is head of man, so man is head of woman. There is some kind of order.
This order of relations lays the foundation for an application in church worship:
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5 but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—
In the Corinth Church some women are disregarding the custom of wearing a head covering while praying or prophesying. This, according to Paul, ought not to be.
…it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6 For if a wife will not cover her head,
then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.
A woman praying or prophesying without a head covering is as shameful as appearing in public with her head shaved. I use the word “woman” as do most of your translations; the ESV uses the term “wife.” Which is it? It is tough to tell because the same Greek word can be used for either, just as the word for man can mean husband. These are the words used in chapter 7:3 where Paul is speaking of relations between husband and wife; he will use them again in chapter 14.
Let’s continue. The custom of head covering makes a theological statement.
7 For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
Both man and woman are made in the image of God. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). Both are made for the glory of God, of course, but there is a difference in how that glory is displayed.