|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
11:2-16 Here begin particulars respecting the public assemblies, ch. 1Co 14. In the abundance of spiritual gifts bestowed on the Corinthians, some abuses had crept in; but as Christ did the will, and sought the honour of God, so the Christian should avow his subjection to Christ, doing his will and seeking his glory. We should, even in our dress and habit, avoid every thing that may dishonour Christ. The woman was made subject to man, because made for his help and comfort. And she should do nothing, in Christian assemblies, which looked like a claim of being equal. She ought to have power, that is, a veil, on her head, because of the angels. Their presence should keep Christians from all that is wrong while in the worship of God. Nevertheless, the man and the woman were made for one another. They were to be mutual comforts and blessings, not one a slave, and the other a tyrant. God has so settled matters, both in the kingdom of providence and that of grace, that the authority and subjection of each party should be for mutual help and benefit. It was the common usage of the churches, for women to appear in public assemblies, and join in public worship, veiled; and it was right that they should do so. The Christian religion sanctions national customs wherever these are not against the great principles of truth and holiness; affected singularities receive no countenance from any thing in the Bible.
Verse 5. - Or prophesieth. Although St. Paul "thinks of one thing at a time," and is not here touching on the question whether women ought to teach in public, it appears from this expression that the rule which he lays down in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35, and 1 Timothy 2:12 was not meant to be absolute. See the case of Philip's daughters (Acts 21:9 and Acts 2:17). With her head uncovered. For a woman to do this in a public assembly was against the national custom of all ancient communities, and might lead to the gravest misconceptions. As a rule, modest women covered their heads with the peplum or with a veil when they worshipped or were in public. Christian women at Corinth must have caught something of the "inflation" which was characteristic of their Church before they could have acted with such reprehensible boldness as to adopt a custom identified with the character of immodest women. Dishonoureth her head. Calvin, with terse good sense, observes, "As the man honours his head by proclaiming his liberty, so the woman by acknowledging her subjection."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth,.... Not that a woman was allowed to pray publicly in the congregation, and much less to preach or explain the word, for these things were not permitted them: see 1 Corinthians 14:34 but it designs any woman that joins in public worship with the minister in prayer, and attends on the hearing of the word preached, or sings the praises of God with the congregation, as we have seen, the word prophesying signifies,
with her head uncovered. It may seem strange from whom the Corinthian women should take up this custom, since the Jewish women were not allowed to go into the streets, or into any open and public place, unveiled (u). It was a Jewish law, that they should go out no where bare headed (w): yea, it was reckoned scandalous and ignominious to do so. Hence it is said, (x) , "that uncovering of the head is a reproach" to the daughters of Israel: and concerning the adulterous woman, it is represented as said by the priest (y),
"thou hast separated from the way of the daughters of Israel; for the way or custom of the daughters of Israel is , "to have their heads covered"; but thou hast gone "in the ways of the Gentiles", who walk with head bare.''
So that their it should seem that these Corinthians followed the examples of the Heathens: but then, though it might be the custom of some nations for women to go abroad bare headed; yet at their solemnities, where and when they were admitted, for they were not everywhere and always, they used to attend with their heads veiled and covered (z). Mr. Mede takes notice indeed of some Heathen priestesses, who used to perform their religious rites and sacrifices with open face, and their hair hanging down, and locks spreading, in imitation of whom these women at Corinth are thought to act. However, whoever behaved in this uncomely manner, whose example soever she followed, the apostle says,
dishonoureth her head; not her husband, who is her head in a figurative sense, and is dishonoured by her not being covered; as if she was not subject to him, or because more beautiful than he, and therefore shows herself; but her natural head, as appears from the reason given:
for that is even all one as if she were shaven; to be without a veil, or some sort of covering on her head, according to the custom of the country, is the same thing as if her head was shaved; and everyone knows how dishonourable and scandalous it is for a woman to have her head shaved; and if this is the same, then it is dishonourable and scandalous to her to be without covering in public worship. And this shows, that the natural head of the man is meant in the preceding verse, since the natural head of the woman is meant in this.
(u) Maimon. Hilch. Ishot, c. 24. sect. 12. (w) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 72. 1.((x) R. Sol. Jarchi in Numb. v. 19. (y) Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 9. fol. 193. 2.((z) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 4. c. 17.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. woman … prayeth … prophesieth—This instance of women speaking in public worship is an extraordinary case, and justified only by the miraculous gifts which such women possessed as their credentials; for instance, Anna the prophetess and Priscilla (so Ac 2:18). The ordinary rule to them is: silence in public (1Co 14:34, 35; 1Ti 2:11, 12). Mental receptivity and activity in family life are recognized in Christianity, as most accordant with the destiny of woman. This passage does not necessarily sanction women speaking in public, even though possessing miraculous gifts; but simply records what took place at Corinth, without expressing an opinion on it, reserving the censure of it till 1Co 14:34, 35. Even those women endowed with prophecy were designed to exercise their gift, rather in other times and places, than the public congregation.
dishonoureth … head—in that she acts against the divine ordinance and the modest propriety that becomes her: in putting away the veil, she puts away the badge of her subjection to man, which is her true "honor"; for through him it connects her with Christ, the head of the man. Moreover, as the head-covering was the emblem of maiden modesty before man (Ge 24:65), and conjugal chastity (Ge 20:16); so, to uncover the head indicated withdrawal from the power of the husband, whence a suspected wife had her head uncovered by the priest (Nu 5:18). Alford takes "her head" to be man, her symbolical, not her literal head; but as it is literal in the former clause, it must be so in the latter one.
all one as if … shaven—As woman's hair is given her by nature, as her covering (1Co 11:15), to cut it off like a man, all admit, would be indecorous: therefore, to put away the head-covering, too, like a man, would be similarly indecorous. It is natural to her to have long hair for her covering: she ought, therefore, to add the other (the wearing of a head-covering) to show that she does of her own will that which nature itself teaches she ought to do, in token of her subjection to man.
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