1 Corinthians 11:3
But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
The Danger of Deviating from Divine InstitutionsAndrew Lee et al 1 Corinthians 11:3
The Headship of ChristJ. Waite 1 Corinthians 11:3
The HierarchyJ.R. Thomson 1 Corinthians 11:3
Apostolic Injunctions with Regard to Church ServicesC. Limpscomb 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Decency in Public WorshipE. Hurndall 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Laws of Order in Christian AssembliesR. Tuck 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Christ Our HeadE. W. Shalders, B.A.1 Corinthians 11:3-16
Human and Divine RelationsProf. Godet.1 Corinthians 11:3-16
The Conduct and Deportment of Christian WomenF. W. Robertson, M.A.1 Corinthians 11:3-16
The VeilM. Dods, D.D.1 Corinthians 11:3-16

Before entering upon particular counsels with regard to the attire of the two sexes respectively in the Christian assemblies, St. Paul lays down a great general principle, from which, rather than from custom or from experience, he deduces the special duties devolving upon the members of Christ's Church. The case upon which he was consulted, and upon which he gave his advice, has lost all practical interest, and is to us merely an antiquarian curiosity; but the great principle propounded in connection with it holds good for all time.

I. THE APPOINTED SUBORDINATION OF WOMAN TO MAN. There is a sense in which there is equality between the sexes. In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. The gospel is intended for and is offered to both men and women. Both are equally dear to him who died for all. As in Jesus' earthly ministry he wrought cures and expelled demons for the relief of women, and as he chose certain women as his personal friends, and as he willingly accepted the affectionate and generous ministration of other women; so in the dispensation of the Spirit he numbers women amongst his people, and honours them by promoting them to his service. There is, so to speak, spiritual equality. But domestic and social equality is quite another thing. In the household and in the congregation there must be subjection and submission. "Order is Heaven's first law." "The head of the woman is the man." And this notwithstanding that many men are base and unworthy of their position and calling; notwithstanding that many women are not only pure, but noble and well fitted for command.


1. Man is not supreme, though invested with a limited authority. "The head of every man is Christ." He, the Son of man, has the primacy over this humanity. In wisdom and in righteousness, in power and in grace, the Lord Jesus is superior and supreme. The law is revealed in him and administered by him. Every man is morally bound to subjection and submission to the Divine Man. And he is Head over all things to his Church. This is the truth, the ideal, the purpose of eternal wisdom; though, alas! often misunderstood, or forgotten, or denied by men.

2. Even in the Godhead there is an official subordination of the Son to the Father; "the head of Christ is God." This language takes us into the region of heavenly things, of Divine mysteries. But it reveals to us the fact that the universe is one great hierarchy, of which not every member is mentioned here, only certain leading dominant notes being successively sounded in the celestial scale. Men may suppose that order and subordination in human society, civil and ecclesiastical, are merely expedients for peace and quietness. But it is not so; there is Divine archetype to which human relationships and affairs conform. Let there be nonconformity to this, and there is discord breaking in upon the harmonious minstrelsy of the spiritual universe. Let there be conformity, and the sweet concert proves that earth is in tune with heaven. - T.

But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of every woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
This important statement is the starting-point for a deliverance on the subject of the conduct of women in the Church. The apostle often, in dealing with matters of trifling importance or limited interest, rises to the enunciation of the grand principle on which it rests. Here he gives the principle first. Let us look at our relationship with Christ —


1. In building the house of the human family God made the man the head of the woman, the husband or bond of the house. This headship carries with it responsibility; for if wives are to obey their husbands, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, and so make the wifely duty a joy.

2. In this sense, only with deepened meaning, Christ is the head of every man, i.e., of the race. And just as the wife attains the end of her being on the earthly side in her husband; as she finds the sum of her womanly ambitions and duties in promoting his welfare; as she is entitled to look to him for protection, counsel, tenderness, and example; as she is to seek in him the rounding of her present life and the fulness of her earthly joy; so the members of the human family are to look up to Christ as their Head. None of us is complete without Him. And just as trust and obedience unite a woman to her husband and enable him to fulfil his obligations to her, so it is by faith and submission that Jesus is able to accomplish His saving, life-giving work. There is therefore deep truth in the representation of the exaltation of the Church to glory as a marriage supper.

II. IN ITS HEAVENLY ARCHETYPES — God's headship over Christ.

1. In His Divine, eternal essence Christ is "the brightness of His Father's glory," etc., God's realised ideal, a vessel into which God has poured all the fulness of the Divine nature, a vessel of Godhead eternally equal to that which it contains and perfectly full.

2. In the light of this look once more at your relationship to Christ. "As the Father hath loved Me" (John 15:9, 10). We are to reflect Christ just as He reflects God, and appears, therefore, full of grace and truth.Conclusion: "The head of every man is Christ."

1. Then Christ is just yourself, idealised and perfected — the prophecy of what you are to become. He is not a glorified man merely, but glorified humanity.

2. This great fact throws light on the doctrine of substitution. Christ became man, not a man. Just as we were all in Adam, and are so many multiplied copies of him, so Christ became the second Adam, and God looks at us in Him. Since, then, He was a representative man, all He did and suffered on earth had a representative character.

(E. W. Shalders, B.A.)

There exist three relations which together form a sort of hierarchy: lowest in the scale, the purely human relation between man and woman; higher, the Divine-human relation between Christ and man; highest, the purely Divine relation between God and Christ. The common term whereby Paul characterises these relations is "head," or chief. This figurative term includes two ideas — community of life, and inequality within this community. So between the man and the woman, by the bond of marriage there is formed between them the bond of a common life, but in such a way that the one is the strong and directing element, the other the receptive and dependent element. The same is the case in the relation between Christ and the man. Formed by the bond of faith, it also establishes a community of life, in which there are distinguished an active and directing principle and a receptive and directed factor. An analogous relation appears higher still in the mystery of the Divine essence. By the bond of filiation there is between Christ and God communion of Divine life, but such that impulse proceeds from the Father, and that "the Son doeth nothing but what He seeth the Father do." The relation between Christ and the man is put first. It is, so to speak, the link of union between the other two, reflecting the sublimity of the one and marking the other with a sacred character, which should secure it from the violence with which it is threatened.

(Prof. Godet.)

A broad principle laid down by Christianity was human equality: "there is neither male nor female, but ye are all one in Christ Jesus." We all know how fruitful a cause of popular commotion the teaching of equality has been in every age, and at Corinth this doctrine threatened to lead to much social confusion. A claim was made for a right in woman to do all that men should do — to preach and pray, e.g., in public, and therefore to appear as men, unveiled in public. This latter the apostle here prohibits —


1. Modesty; for to pray unveiled was to insult all the conventional feelings of Jew and Gentile. The Holy Ghost, however, has not imposed on the Church this particular fashion, but the principle contained in it is eternal; and it is impossible to decide how much of our public morality and private purity is owing to the spirit which refuses to overstep the smallest bound of ordinary decorum.

2. Dependence. St. Paul perceived that the law of Christian equality was quite consistent with the vast system of subordination running through the universe (vers. 3, 11, 12). He distinguishes between inferiority and subordination; each sex exists in a certain order, not one as greater than the other, but both great and right in being what God intended them to be.

II. BY AN APPEAL TO NATURAL INSTINCTS ANN PROPRIETY (vers. 14, 15). Fanaticism defies nature. Christianity refines it and respects it. It develops each nation, sex, and individual, according to their own nature — making man more manly and woman more womanly. But let us not forget that here, too, there are exceptions. Beware of a dead, hard rule. There have been many instances in which one man standing against the world has been right, and the world wrong, as Elijah, , Luther, and others. But in questions of morality, propriety, decency, when we find our own private judgment contradicted by the general experience, habit, and belief of all the best around us, then the doctrine of this chapter commands us to believe that the many are right and that we are wrong.

(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

St. Paul is now compelled to qualify the general commendation of ver. 2. He heard with surprise and vexation that women presumed to address the assembled Christians unveiled, to the scandal of all sober-minded Orientals and Greeks. It is a singular specimen of the strange matters that came before Paul for decision when the care of all the Churches lay upon him.


1. Throughout this letter Paul is correcting the hasty impressions which the new believers were receiving regarding their position as Christians. A flood of new ideas was suddenly poured in upon their minds, one of which was the equality of all before God and of a Saviour for all alike. There was neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, etc., now. And it dawned on the woman that she was neither man's toy nor slave, but that she had a life to frame for herself. She was not dependent on men for her Christian privileges; ought she not to show this by laying aside the veil, which was the acknowledged badge of dependence?

2. Among the Greeks it was the universal custom for the women to appear in public with the head covered, commonly with the corner of their shawl drawn over their head like a hood. It was the one significant rite in marriage that she assumed the veil in token that now her husband was her head. This covering could be dispensed with only in places where they were secluded from public view. It was therefore the badge which proclaimed that she who wore it was a private, not a public, person, finding her duties at home, not abroad. It was the man's place to serve the State or the public, the woman's place to serve the man.

II. THIS MOVEMENT OF THE CORINTHIAN WOMEN PAUL MEETS BY REMINDING THEM THAT PERSONAL EQUALITY IS PERFECTLY CONSISTENT WITH SOCIAL SUBORDINATION. The woman must not argue that because she is independent of her husband in the greater sphere she must also be independent of him in the less (ver. 3). This principle is of incalculable importance and very wide and constant application.

1. Whatever is meant by the natural equality of men, it cannot mean that none are to have authority over others. In order to the harmony of society there is a gradation of ranks; and social grievances result, not from the existence of social distinctions, but from their abuse. This gradation, then, involves Paul's inference (vers. 4, 5). The veil being the recognised badge of subordination, when a man appears veiled he would seem to acknowledge some one present and visible as his head, and would thus dishonour Christ, his true Head. A woman, on the other hand, appearing unveiled would seem to say that she acknowledges no visible human head, and thereby dishonours her head — i.e., her husband — and so doing, dishonours herself. She puts herself on the level of the woman with a shaven head, which both among Jews and Greeks was a brand of disgrace.

2. This subordination has its roots in nature (vers. 7, 8).(1) Man is the glory of God because he is His image and is fitted to exhibit in actual life the excellences which make God worthy of our love and worship. But while man directly, woman indirectly, fulfils this purpose of God. She is God's glory by being man's glory. She exhibits God's excellences by creating and cherishing excellence in man (vers. 8, 9). The position assigned to woman as the glory of man is therefore far removed from the view which cyclically proclaims her man's mere convenience.(2) That this is woman's normal sphere is indicated even by her unalterable physical characteristics. By nature woman is endowed with a symbol of modesty and retirement. The veil is merely the artificial continuation of her natural gift of hair. The long hair of the Greek fop or of the English cavalier was accepted by the people as an indication of effeminate and luxurious living. And nature, speaking through this visible sign of the woman's hair, tells her that her place is in the home, not in the city or the camp; in the attitude of free and loving subordination, not in the seat of authority and rule. In other respects also the physical constitution of woman points to a similar conclusion — e.g., her shorter stature and slighter frame, her higher pitch of voice, her more graceful form and movement. And similar indications are found in her mental peculiarities. She has the gifts which fit her for influencing individuals; man has those qualities which enable him to deal with persons in the mass. Not all women, of course, are of the distinctively womanly type. A Britomarte may arm herself and overthrow the strongest knights. A Joan of Arc may infuse into a nation her own warlike and patriotic ardour. In art, in literature, in science, feminine names may occupy some of the highest places. In our own day many careers have been opened to women from which they had hitherto been debarred. Conclusion: A woman is a woman still though she become a Christian; a subject must honour his king although by becoming a Christian he is himself in one aspect above all authority; a servant will show his Christianity, not by assuming an insolent familiarity with his Christian master, but by treating him with respectful fidelity. It forms a great part of our duty to accept our own place without envying others, and to do honour to those to whom honour is due.

(M. Dods, D.D.)

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