This is one of the key New Testament texts that highlight many essential principles of Biblical manhood and womanhood. Verses 2-16 address the roles of men and women in the worship service or during some other setting where believers gathered together. Dr. Schreiner believes this section addresses actions that were taking place during the public worship service while Dr. MacArthur believes that Paul is addressing problems in a different context. It appears to me that Paul is trying to correct some of the problems that where taking place during the church worship service in chapters 11-14.
None the less, Paul goes back and forth with statements about men and women (see Garland’s chart below). Clearly this passage is very applicable to the subject at hand. David Garland notes, “Whatever the motivation, the structure of Paul’s argument makes clear what the issue is:
11:4 Every man who prays or prophesies
11:5 Every woman who prays or prophesies
11:7a On the one hand (men gar ) the man. . .
11:7b On the other hand (de) the woman
11:7 A man ought not (ouk opheilei) . . . the head
11:10 A woman ought (opheilei) . . . the head
11:11a Neither a woman apart from the man
11:11b Neither the man apart from the woman
11:12a For just as the woman . . .
11:12b Thus also the man . . .
11:13 It is shameful for a woman to pray to God uncovered
11:14b On the one hand (men) the man . . .
11:15 On the other hand (de) the woman . . .”
According to Garland the crux of the argument is probably located in verse 13. 1 Corinthians 11:13, Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with head uncovered? No parallel statement is made here as David Garland’s chart (listed above) shows. That is a significant observation to keep in mind.
There are only two commands in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. The two imperatives are found in verse 6 (let her cover herself) and in verse 13 (judge for yourselves). With that said, certain details in this section are very difficult to understand. This is not an easy portion of Scripture to understand yet the central theme of the passage can be discerned and applied. In the words of Dr. Schreiner, “There is an abiding principle in the text that is applicable to the 20th century.” It is an important principle for all Christians to understand and apply.
So how does verse 2 relate to vv 3-16? Verses 3-16 indicate there were some problems in the Corinthian church. Why then does Paul open this section with a commendation in verse 2? 1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. In parenting, it’s normally wise to reinforce positive Christ-like behavior in the lives of your children (see Tripp’s, Shepherding a Child’s Heart for more detailed guidance on this point). If your child does something well or is obedient I believe it’s wise to draw attention to those behaviors. Some parents on the other hand focus exclusively on their children’s sin and mistakes. That is not wise parenting. Why? Because encouragement is an essential medicine of life. Before Paul corrects the “Corinthian problems” in chapters 11-14, he seeks to encourage them for the things they’re doing right. In the words of one commentator, “The situation of the church is not bleak in every respect.” They were doing some things well which Paul wanted to draw attention to and reinforce. If you’re a boss or a pastor or a parent or a teacher there is biblical wisdom in Paul’s approach to shepherding/leading. Notice his example in 1 Corinthians 1:1-6 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, 2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and ball knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you…” Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians are amazing in light of all the problems this church was going through. Just read 1 and 2 Corinthians through in one sitting and you’ll see what I mean. Let me encourage you to follow Paul’s example and encourage others as much as you can!
After praising the Corinthians in verse 2, Paul addresses some of their problems in 1 Corinthians 11:3-6. But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying, disgraces his head. 5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.
I believe verse 3 is jam-packed with theological significance. It is probably the most important verse in the entire section. If you get this verse right you’ll probably understand the rest of the passage as well.