1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.…
When we appear before God we should observe the greatest propriety. Externals should not be lost sight of, for they are significant. Often they are indicative of inward condition. The apostle had occasion to blame the women of Corinth for laying aside the veil - the mark of modesty and subjection - in public assemblies. On the ground of the abolition of distinction of sex in Christ, they claimed equality in every respect with men, and the right to appear and act as men did. Whilst women, they would be as men. Equality as believers they had a right to claim, but they forgot their "subjection in point of order, modesty, and seemliness." When women leave their proper sphere, it is never to rise, but to fall. Men women are failures. In the apostle's argument valuable truths are enunciated.
I. HE DEFINES MAN'S POSITION.
1. Man is the head of the woman. (Ver. 3.) Woman is subordinate to man, is largely dependent upon him. He is her natural guide, defender, supporter. Authority lies with him, not with her. "I suffer not a woman to... usurp authority over the man... for Adam was first formed, then Eve" (1 Timothy 2:12, 13). Woman is the "weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7). She is to be "in subjection" (1 Corinthians 14:34). This is after the Divine order, and any subversal of it is sure to lead to injurious results.
2. The head of man is Christ. (Ver. 3.) Man is not a monarch; he is subordinate to the God Man as his Head. Man can only act aright as head of the woman when he recognizes Christ as his Head. The apostle does not mean to intimate that Christ is not the Head of the woman as of the man. He is pointing out the order in the Divine economy, and "by the term 'head' he expresses the next immediate relation sustained." Man is subordinate to Christ; woman is subordinate, though not in the same sense, to man as well as to Christ. To further illustrate the Divine order, the apostle states that:
3. The head of Christ is God. That is, of Christ the God Man. There is nothing here which conflicts with the doctrine of the divinity of Christ or of the equality of the Son with the Father. Rather is there here additional evidence of the former, since the distinction between the position of man and woman obtains where there is identity of nature. Christ is here spoken of as he assumed "the form of a servant." Christ in his mediatorial capacity is lower than the Father (John 14:28).
4. Man is the Image and Glory of God. (Ver. 7.) Man was made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). How great is the dignity of human nature! But how that dignity is lost when God is blotted out of a man! How eagerly should fallen creatures seek recovery, that the blurred image may be restored to its original beauty, and the impaired glory made once more lustrous! Through the Son of man, the ideal Man - declared to be "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person " - this may be effected. The apostle does not intend to convey that woman is not in many respects the image and glory of God, but that man is this first and directly, woman subsequently and indirectly." Man represents the authority of God; he is the ruler, the head.
II. HE DEFINES WOMAN'S POSITION.
1. She is subject to man as her head. She sprang from him (ver. 8). She was created for him (ver. 9). Still, there is mutual dependence: "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man" (ver. 11). "In the Lord" - this is of Divine appointment. And man and woman constitute complete humanity - one supplying what the other lacks; and thus forming in Christ "the Bride," the Church redeemed by his blood. And further, although at first woman sprang from man, now the man is of the woman (ver. 12). But "all things are of God" - man and woman. Man has a real but qualified supremacy; so qualified as to save woman from any humiliation, and to allow her a position of peculiar dignity and beauty.
2. She is the glory of the man. (Ver. 7.) Woman is not directly the glory of God; she does not directly represent God as the head of creation - she rather is man's representative, as man is God's. She is the glory of man directly, of God indirectly. Man is the sun, woman the moon (Genesis 37:9).
III. HIS CONCLUSIONS AS TO PROPRIETY OF DRESS IN PUBLIC WORSHIP.
1. That man should not have his head covered. The covering would indicate subjection, which, in relation to those joining with man in public worship, was not man's true condition. There he appeared as "the image and glory of God," representing the Divine headship, and to assume the badge of subjection would be to "dishonour his head." This may mean to dishonour his Own head by placing upon it something unsuitable, or to dishonour Christ, the Head of man, who has placed man in his position of honour. We should not usurp a higher position than God has appointed for us; we should not take a lower. Our best place is where God places us.
2. That woman should have her head covered. The veil was a recognition of subordination and an indication of modesty. To discard it was to claim man's position and thus to dishonour man, her head - or to dishonour her own head by depriving it of a mark of propriety and even of chastity. For by discarding the head covering a woman put herself in the class of the disreputable. It was but a carrying out of the principle involved for a woman to have her head shaved (vers. 5, 6), which was sometimes done in the case of those who had forfeited their honour, and became thus a brand of infamy. Thus a woman snatching at the position of man would descend far below her own. An apparent rise is sometimes a very real fail. The apostle enforces his argument by:
(1) An appeal to nature (vers. 14, 15). Paul evidently thinks that there is accord between the kingdom of nature and of grace. Both are from one hand and one mind, and conflicts between the two may be very apparent, but can never be real. Nature gives the man short hair and the woman long; here is a natural distinction which should be observed, and which indicates that woman specially needs the head covering. Or by nature the apostle may mean what obtains among men who are not instructed by revelation. Among many of the heathen the wearing of the hair long by men was ridiculed, but long hair for women was generally recognized as appropriate.
(2) The presence of angels in Christian assemblies (ver. 16). Earth looks on, but heaven also. Woman should have the symbol of power, of subjection to man, upon her head, because any usurpation of improper position or flaunting boldness would be offensive to these heavenly visitors.
(3) Apostolic authority (ver. 10). Where reasoning fails, authority must utter her voice. Paul always preferred to convince rather than to compel. But he possessed the right to determine when the contentious persevered in contention. The regulation was according to the mind of an inspired apostle, and was observed by Churches founded by himself or other like minded leaders. In estimating the teaching of the passage, we must discriminate between the necessary and the accidental. The principle is that women should be so attired as to indicate, or at all events so as not to conflict with, their rightful position. Amongst those to whom the apostle wrote, the veil was the symbol of modesty and subordination. Because women in Western Churches are not so attired, it does not follow that they are acting antagonistically to the apostle's precept, though it will be admitted by most that the preposterous headgear of many female worshippers, in our own land calls loudly for reform, and is frequently an outrage upon all propriety and a sarcasm upon womanly modesty. I do not understand that the apostle has here specially in view the praying and preaching of women in public assemblies - this he deals with further on in the Epistle (1 Corinthians 14:34, etc.); but he is now insisting upon what is appropriate in the attire of woman (and incidentally of man) on public occasions. His primary reference is to public worship, and surely when we come to "appear before God," we ought to be most specially anxious that everything about us shall be decent and in order. Whilst nothing that is outward can compensate for absence of the inward, that which is external is often an index of the internal, and has its influence upon the internal. - H.
Parallel VersesKJV: Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.