[This is not new material. I’m posting it this way to extract this argument from my more conventional arguments previously post, which I think are actually right. I have less confidence in this interpretation than I did before, but it’s too cool to delete entirely.]
I suggest the following alternative interpretation of “head” with some trepidation. I don’t believe that any commentator has ever made this proposal, and one should walk lightly when trying to be the first in nearly 2,000 years of scriptural exposition to propose a new idea. But I see another possible meaning for “head” in the context of 1 Corinthians 11 worthy of consideration.
In verses 7-9 of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul states that man is the image and glory of God, and woman is the glory of man. Surely, this is a reference to the Genesis accounts. Genesis 1:26 plainly states that the Godhead made both man and woman in their image. And yet God made Adam first, in His image, and then made Eve from Adam’s rib.
Eve was also made in God’s image, and so Paul does not state that woman was made in the “image” of man. Rather, she was made as the glory of man. Certainly, the fact that woman was made in God’s image, as was man, does not argue for the subordination of women (except in the sense that all Christians are to be in submission to all other Christians) (Eph. 5:21).
Now Paul does not say so in chapter 11, but he states in a number of other places that Christ is the image of God:
(2 Cor. 4:4) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(Col. 1:15) [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
Thus, we see that Christ is the image of God and man is the image of Christ. Just what did “image” mean when 1 Corinthians was written?
In an account appearing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus uses eikon, the Greek word translated “image” in 1 Corinthians 11, in an instructive way:
(Matt. 22:16-22) They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
“Portrait” translates eikon. An “image” was simply a portrait, especially one made by engraving as on a coin. Certainly, the word could be used in a broader sense, but the most literal definition of eikon is a portrait.
The word eikon — sometimes in its diminutive form eikonion — was the word which was used for a portrait in Greek. … It is the nearest thing to our modern word photograph.”
William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1959), page 142.
And a portrait is a representation of what? A head. Thus, if I’m metaphorically your portrait, then you’re metaphorically my head. The closest English equivalent I can think of is “model.” If I’m your image, you’re my model.
We haven’t yet come far enough to be confident of this conclusion, and I readily concede that it would not be standard English usage. After all, “head” in English connotes “ruler,” and this is a thought that is very foreign to being the model for an image.
To test this theory, we must look at the meaning of “glory.” Like “image,” “glory” is a word rich with theological meaning. The glory of God first appears while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. It represented the presence of God Himself:
(Exo. 24:15-18) When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
When the Israelites finished the tabernacle, the glory of God descended to dwell in the Holy of Holies:
(Exo. 40:33-35) Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
God then began to speak to Moses from within the cloud of glory “face to face.”
(Exo. 33:10-11) Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
(See also Deut 5:4).
In the Psalms 8:3-5 we again see glory associated with the head or face, with glory being pictured as a crown surrounding the head:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
The picture is that glory is much like a halo, being a radiant presence surrounding the head.
In the account of the Transfiguration, we see that Luke places emphasis on the face of Jesus as showing His glory:
(Luke 9:28-32) About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
In one of the Bible’s most lyrical passages, Paul associates the image of God with God’s glory. Paul states that God glorifies (brings into the presence of His glory, that is, heaven) those whom God has conformed to the likeness (eikon, or image) of Christ. Thus, all Christians are re-made by God in the image of Christ, and so they ultimately partake of God’s glory.
(Rom. 8:29-30) For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness [image] of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
The same thought appears in 1 Corinthians:
(15:42-49) So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness [eikon] of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness [eikon] of the man from heaven.
Among Paul’s points is the idea that Christians shed the image of Adam (the earthly man) and replace it with the image of Christ (the man from heaven). By taking on the image of Christ (becoming portraits of Christ), we will be raised in glory, that is, in the presence of God where His glory dwells.
(2 Cor. 4:4-6) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Once again, Paul associates “image” with “glory” and with “face.” Here, we are told that Christ is the image of God. Accordingly, the glory of God shines forth in the face of Christ. Logically, then, we would expect that Christians, who are the image of Christ (1 Cor. 11:3), would show forth the glory of Christ in their faces.
And as we read earlier in the Psalms, glory is sometimes pictured as a radiant crown surrounding the head:
(1 Pet. 5:4) And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
We see the glory of God repeatedly connected with the face or head, such as the face of Christ, the face of Moses, the face of all Christians, or a head crowned with glory. “Glory” is thus pictured in the Bible as much like the halos that we see around the heads of “saints” in much Christian art.
And so we see that the Bible repeatedly associates “image” and “glory” with the head or face. Moreover, except for the relationship of women to men (which we’ve not yet considered in this context), we see that the relationship God:Christ:Man is a relationship that follows image and glory. Christ is both the image and glory of God. Man is both the image and glory of Christ (as well as God). Therefore, since Paul describes the same relationship in terms of “head,” we see that God as Christ’s “head,” and Christ as man’s “head” is simply the reverse of Christ as God’s glory and image and man as Christ’s glory and image.
In other words, God is the model of which Christ is the portrait, and Christ is the model of which men are the portrait.
Moses’ veil and the glory of God
Perhaps the key passage to understanding 1 Corinthians 11 is found in Exodus, where we see an association between God’s glory, the face, and a veil:
(Exo. 34:29-35) When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.
Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.
This may well be the passage that Paul had in mind in his teachings in 1 Corinthians 11. We see that Moses removed his veil when talking to God. Paul may well be reasoning that if Moses considered it appropriate to remove his head covering when speaking to God, the same rule should hold true when Christian men address God.
This passage is the basis for Paul’s teachings in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18:
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Paul reminds the Corinthians of the account of Moses’ face becoming radiant from being in the presence of the glory of God. Paul says that all Christians also reflect the glory of God due to the workings of the Holy Spirit within us. But Moses’ glory was temporary and faded away. He even wore a veil to hide the fading of his glory. But the Christian’s glory is not only permanent, it is ever increasing.
The idea behind this passage is surely very much the idea behind 1 Corinthians 11. Christians reflect the glory of Christ. Because our glory is greater than Moses’, being permanent and ever increasing, we should not veil the glory when speaking with God, but should boldly speak with unveiled faces.
In fact, one advantage of this interpretation is that it explains why concern for someone’s metaphorical “head” affects what one wears (or doesn’t wear) on one’s literal head. This aspect of 1 Corinthians 11 has puzzled commentators, but if Paul is urging us to follow Moses’ example of speaking to God without a veil, the metaphor makes sense.
Why does Paul treat women differently from men?
The difficulty that this interpretation leaves is why should women be veiled when men should not? While the doctrine of man being in the image of God and Christ and of Christians sharing in the glory of Christ are well documented, why are women treated differently from men? After all, women Christians are just as much in the image of God and just as reflective of the glory of God as men! Paul’s explanation is in verses 7-9:
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
Paul is referring the Genesis 2, where Eve was made as a suitable complement for Adam. Paul does not refer to woman as the image of man, because Genesis 1:26 plainly states that she is made in the image of God (“our image”-which includes Christ’s image, too). But Paul concludes that woman is nonetheless the “glory” of man because Eve was made “from” Adam, and Eve was made “for” Adam.
(1 Cor. 11:10) For this reason, … the woman ought to have [control over] her head.
Thus, Paul concludes that woman’s role as suitable complement to her husband requires her to exercise control over her literal head.
(1 Cor. 11:13-16) Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you … that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.
Paul reasons that because a woman must exercise authority or control over her head in a manner consistent with her role as a suitable complement to her husband, she must wear long hair and must have her head covered while praying to God. Why?
The reasons that Paul gives are “the very nature of things” and “we have no other practice.” In verse 5 he stated that she would “dishonor her head,” meaning dishonor her husband, by violating these directives. Indeed, in verse 6 Paul declares that to do otherwise would be a “disgrace.”
These statements by Paul are references to the expectations of other people, that is, culture. Paul doesn’t say that failing to wear a head covering would be a violation of God’s eternal command regarding head coverings; rather, he sees such a failure as a violation of propriety and convention.
Black makes the point that Jewish women were expected to wear head coverings, regardless of where they were in the Roman Empire (Ibid, page 204). The Jews formed the core of many, if not most, congregations at the time 1 Corinthians was written, and many church practices were borrowed from Jewish synagogue practice — not necessarily as doctrine but as a convenient standard of behavior that would not offend the Jewish members.
As to the two other major cultures that made up Corinthian society (as well as the society of the eastern Roman Empire in general), the Greeks and the Romans, Black comments:
Though we cannot be sure, the evidence seems to favor the position that in Corinth, women in the marketplace would often be covered, and in religious contexts they would usually be covered. All that can be stated with assurance, however, is that “the wearing of a head-covering by an adult woman (especially in ritual context) was a traditional practice known to Jews, Greeks, and Roman.”
If we look ahead to 1 Corinthians 14:35, we again see Paul’s particular concern for the sensibilities of the Jews in the role of women. After restricting women as to their speech in the assembly, Paul states:
1 Cor. 14:33b-34a, 36 As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. … Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?
Of course, the word of God originated not with the Corinthians but with the Jews in Judea, and it reached the Jewish people first. This is a plain reference to the sensibilities of the Jewish members with respect to the role of women, and the language is remarkably similar to 1 Corinthians 11:16:
1 Cor. 11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice — nor do the churches of God.
Thus, we see that there are eternal principles involved. Christian men and women are made in the image of God and Christ. Christ is the image and glory of God. Christian men and women are the image of God and Christ. And Christian wives are to be complements for and, therefore, the glory of their husbands.
And being someone’s glory has significance, demonstrated throughout the Bible. For example, God’s glory radiantly and powerfully showed forth the very presence of God. Indeed, God spoke and acted by the means of His glory. By declaring that Christ is God’s glory, Paul tells us that God speaks and acts through Christ and that the words and actions of Christ bring praise to God.
Thus, the fact that Christians are the glory of God and Christ means that the Godhead speaks and acts through all Christians (through the Spirit’s indwelling). For example, Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; 2 Cor. 3:3; 3:18; Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 5:18-19. Therefore, Christians bring glory (or shame) to God by their actions and by how they exercise the authority and control over themselves that God has given them.
In the ordinary circumstance, Christians do not wear head coverings when speaking with God. Moses uncovered his face when speaking with God, even though his glory was an inferior, temporary, fading glory. 2 Cor. 3:7-18. But our glory as Christians is permanent and increasing — not fading. Therefore, we should boldly show forth God’s glory — not only in public but especially when addressing God in prayer.
If Moses’ relationship with God was such that he spoke to God with an uncovered head, then Christians have much less reason to cover their heads. Head covering evidently showed not respect so much as unworthiness — hiding one’s face or head from God. Christians have no reason to hide.
But this is far from an absolute rule. While there is important symbolism in this practice, and while it reminds us of our intimate relationship with God — we who can speak with God with more intimacy than Moses — there may be concerns that override such symbolism.
One overriding concern is the role of wives as complements to their husbands. Any practice that might appear unsubmissive or rebellious against the marriage covenant must be avoided. In the First Century, a woman having her head uncovered in a public place — especially a place of prayer — indicated to many that the woman was in rebellion to her husband, even brazenly immoral.
While the symbolism may not have been universal, it was common enough that the early church had to take it into account in its practices. Therefore, women could not pray with uncovered heads without reflecting badly upon their husbands to whom they owe a duty to bring no shame, but only glory. In particular, the practice of covering a woman’s head showed respect for the sensibilities of Jewish Christians.
Accordingly, the lesson flows not from the power of men over women, but from the unity and one flesh ideal of husbands and wives. The actions of the wife reflect on the husband, for good or bad. What is perceived as a bad reflection may often be defined by the local culture, and so wives must be willing to forego some of the freedom that they otherwise enjoy in Christ for the sake of reputation.
Reconciliation of “source” and “model”
One further advantage of the “model” interpretation of “head” in 1 Corinthians 11 is that it shares the advantages of taking “head” to mean source. After all, the essence of the idea behind the “model” interpretation is that a person’s head is the source of the glory shown forth through that person. Thus, God is the source of Christ’s glory, thereby making Christ like a portrait of God.
Thus, we can re-translate verse 3 as follows:
3 Now I want you to realize that the model of every man is Christ, and the model of a woman is man, and the model of Christ is God.
3 Now I want you to realize that the “head” of which every Christian man is a crown of glory or portrait is Christ, and the “head” of which a woman is a crown of glory is man, and the “head” of which Christ is a crown of glory or portrait is God.
But we need to make one more change. You see, “man,” or aner, can mean husband or man. The true meaning can only be determined by context, with “husband” being the more common usage in the New Testament. “Her head” thus becomes “her man,” which certainly would mean “her husband.” Moreover, since women are complements to their husbands, not to all men, any other translation would make no sense.
Some commentators protest using aner as both “man” and “husband” in the same passage, but Paul’s word play cannot be so limited. He uses kephale to refer both to a person’s literal head and to a metaphorical head, that is, to a body part and to someone to be glorified. Paul is thus changing the meaning of his words to use word plays to make or illustrate his points.
Gune can mean either woman or wife, and we see Paul similarly shifting meanings in 1 Cor 14:33-35, where gune is translated “woman,” but requires women to ask their husbands questions at home, clearly indicating that wives are in mind. But, of course, it is improbable that Paul meant to allow single women to ask questions and prevent married women from doing so. Rather, the Greek language itself uses one word for either man or husband and for either woman or wife, and this leads to a subtle tendency in Greek writing to assume that all women and all men are married, which was typically the case but certainly not always the case.
Thus, we translate,
3 Now I want you to realize that the “head” of which every Christian husband is a crown of glory or portrait is Christ, and the “head” of which a wife is a crown of glory is her husband, and the “head” of which Christ is a crown of glory or portrait is God.
Plainly, woman is modeled on man, man is modeled on Christ, and Christ is modeled on God. Just so, shameful behavior by a wife reflects badly on her husband, since she represents her husband to the world. Shameful behavior by a Christian man reflects badly on Christ, since men are to represent Christ to world. Accordingly, any behavior considered to shamefully reflect on one’s “model” in terms of local culture is forbidden.
The balance of this passage would then be translated as follows:
4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors Christ. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her husband-it is just as though her head were shaved. 6 If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of her husband. 8 For the husband did not come from the wife, but the wife from the husband; 9 neither was the husband created for the wife, but the wife for the husband. 10 For this reason, and because of the angels, the wife ought to have control over her head.
11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.
13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not culture teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God.