(1) Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (2) I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
The first two verses are basically telling us to follow Christ’s example. Being a man, Christ probably didn’t wear a prayer covering, but I think this is telling us to follow his example generally – to be kind and loving, to help the poor, and to live a godly life. Verse two is telling us to remember God’s teachings, the way Paul taught them to us, and not changing them to suit our own purposes.
(3) Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
This verse is explaining the “headship order” to us. Lords of people get really hung up on the “man is the head of woman” part, and say it’s oppressing and wrong, and don’t realise that the headship order goes woman-man-Christ-God; so in “dishonouring” man, we’re also dishonouring God! In the headship order, everyone is answerable to someone else, too; except God, of course.
(4) Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. (5) And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. (6) If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. (7) A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God but the woman is the glory of man.
This is the bit that usually confuses people. It sounds like we’re being told that long, uncut hair is an acceptable covering. But go through it and replace every time it says “cover” with “has long hair” and “uncover” with “bald” or “has short or cut hair”, and see how much sense it makes. Like this:
(4) Every man who prays or prophesies with hair on his head dishonours his head. (5) And every woman who prays or prophesies without hair on her head dishonours her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. (6) If a woman does not have hair on her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should put hair on her head. (7) A man ought not to have hair on his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.
Does this make sense? No, it does not. How can someone without hair be told to have her head shaved? She would already be bald. How can someone without hair have her hair cut, if there isn’t any hair to start off with?
Another note about these verses: in this context, “prophesy” means “teach”, as well.
(8) For man did not come from woman, but woman from man, (9) neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (10) For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.
These verses, I think, say that, yes, we ought to submit to man, but we’re not inferior animals. We were created for man, to serve and to help the men in our lives. The headcovering is a “sign of authority”! We wear it “because of the angels”! Now, I don’t really know why angels are being mentioned. I think it’s one of those things that I’m not going to completely understand until I get to heaven, but it’s pretty amazing to think that I’m wearing my headcovering “because of the angels”!
(11) In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is a man independent of woman. (12) For as woman came from man, so also is man born of woman. But everything comes from God.
And neither of us can function on our own; nor can both male and female function apart from God.
(13) Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? (14) Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, (15) but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me? Why is it that when we see a man with long hair, we think it’s pretty weird (when men grow their hair long, it’s often sort of thin and scraggly, too), but if we see a woman or girl with long hair, we think it’s beautiful? And about verse 15, the Greek word used for “covering” here (peribolaion) is different to the word used for “covering” in verses 4-7 (katakalypto).
(16) If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice – nor do the churches of God.
And here’s the verse specifically for those who would say that the headcovering practice is only for the church in Corinth. It isn’t so! The “churches of God” are mentioned here. All of them have “no other practice” (other than women wearing a headcovering to pray and men not to). That’s all Christians, not just the ones in Corinth. And if that weren’t enough to convince people that it’s meant for all Christians, look at 1 Corinthians 1:2, the beginning of Paul’s letter:
(2) To the church of God in Gorinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours.
Everyone, everywhere, who calls on the name of Jesus to forgive us our sins and believes in him must comply with the ordinances (things we must do) described in 1 Corinthians. The verses from 11:17 onwards are talking about the Last Supper (communion). Do you see any Christians saying that that teaching isn’t necessary to be followed?
Of course, all this is all very well, but it brings up the question: “So why do you wear the headcovering all the time? Surely you should just wear it when you pray or prophesy?” To this, I answer with 1 Thessalonians 5:17; “Pray continually.”
I hope that I have been able to answer the questions of anyone reading this who is unsure about headcovering, without being too longwinded for those who already cover! In my opinion, it’s not a sin, per se, to not cover, but it still dishonours God – and who would want to do that?
And if all of this isn’t enough to convince someone, my thinking is, I would prefer to be wrong about this and still cover, and stand before the throne of God when I die and have him tell me, “Oh, you didn’t really have to do that”, than to be right about this and not cover, and get to judgement and have God ask, “You knew you should, so why didn’t you?”
But when it comes down to it, with headcovering being such an unknown and alien concept in today’s western world, headcovering is a matter of faith, and also one of personal conviction. Pray to God for strength, and he will give you the strength to do what you need to do. It’s not an “I cover so I’m a better Christian than you” thing, either. We all ought to do what God wants us to do, not what people and society wants us to do. Remember Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world.” The headcovering is just another way of showing that Christians are different from the world; we’ve been saved and we’re going to Heaven!