Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.”
I Corinthians 11:2-16 NKJV https://bible.com/bible/114/1co.11.2-16.NKJV
In the Corinthian culture, women were categorized as married, temple prostitutes, or adultresses. Married women were seen as chaste and faithful to their husbands and identified in public as wearing a veil over their head/face (similar to what is still seen in middle eastern countries today). Temple prostitutes were the priestesses of the pagan temple rituals to the Greek/Roman goddesses, primarily Diana in Ephesus and Aphrodite in Corinth. The temple prostitutes were identified in public as not wearing a veil over their heads/faces and by their attire. Adultresses were married women that had been caught in adultery and found unfaithful to their husbands. Adultresses were identified in public by their shaven heads, which was part of the punishment forced on them to publicly shame them.
Paul uses this cultural identification to address a problem within the Corinthian church of believers. He begins by setting the focus on God’s designated order; God the Father is the head of Christ in position within the trinity of the Godhead, Christ Jesus is the head of man, and man is the head of his wife. All of these are positional in authority, accountability, and responsibility (but not in reference to equality which has been badly distorted to this day both inside and outside of the Church). All have a position and an order of accountability and responsibility set by God without affecting equality. Christ is accountable to God the Father, through the trinity is a tri-unity and community of a single being in three persons. Man is accountable to Christ Jesus, as Christ has been made the head of mankind through His redeeming work and atoning sacrifice through his death and resurrection. The wife is accountable to her husband (or unmarried women to their fathers until they are married) as his fitting helper and colaborer in serving God, each with their God-designated responsibilities.
Paul then uses the understanding of this God-given order of authority, accountability, and responsibility to address the abuse of liberty among the married women in the Corinthian church that is bringing undue public controversy that is hindering the gospel among the unbelievers in Corinth, and causing undue division inside the body of Christ among the Corinthian believers.
The married women believers in Corinth were using their liberty in Christ to justify rebelling against the culture by going out in public without the customary veiled head/face. And worse, they were openly praying and prophesying by the Holy Spirit in public without veiled head/face. The unbelieving Corinthians would have identified these women as temple prostitutes and priestesses of Aphrodite, rather than servants of Christ Jesus. In their ‘liberty’, they were actually bringing shame to their own husbands and families, to the church in Corinth, to Christ Jesus himself, and ultimately to God the Father.
Paul’s entire address on this issue is parallel in principle to his address of the others issues in Corinth, and the other churches as well based on the Law of Liberty and the Law of Love in Christ Jesus that he taught to all the churches. Namely, as believers we are to use our liberty in Christ for the furtherance of the gospel within the culture we find ourselves, guided and directed by the Holy Spirit under the authority, accountability, and responsibility that God has placed us within our families, our communities, and the culture itself. We are not to use our liberty in Christ to flaunt our freedoms or justify rebellion against cultural norms that are not sinful, which brings confusion and a hindrance to the work of the gospel and shames the name of Christ Jesus.
For a deeper understanding of the Law of Liberty and the Law of Love that is now ours under the New Covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, see Romans 14:1-23, and Ephesians 5:1-33.
Peter equally addresses this principle of submission to authority, accountability, and responsibility in 1 Peter 2:11-16
NKJV Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.
Robertson, A. T., and Wesley J. Perschbacher. Word Pictures of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.
“Smith, Chuck – through the Bible Commentary C2000 Series (Updated).” Bible Support. Accessed September 8, 2022. http://www.biblesupport.com/e-sword-downloads/file/828-smith-chuck-through-the-bible-commentary-c2000-series-updated/.
Walvoord, John F. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2018.