1Co 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. What is Paul talking about?
First, commentaries about this verse have some of the most hilarious gobbledygook ever. I’ll start with Albert Barnes. Not a dispensationalist but occasionally, he’s insightful. This is what he writes about this verse. He said, “There is scarcely any passage in the Scriptures which has more exercised the ingenuity of commentators than this verse… After all the explanations which have been given of it, I confess, I do not understand it.”
At least the man’s honest.
Most commentaries would argue that based upon the context in the chapter, the power on her head is talking about a veil or a covering that was a custom at the time, definitely a Jewish custom, that would signify a woman’s submission to her husband’s headship in her family.
But even that was called into question.
H.A. Ironside hilariously wrote, “This is admittedly a somewhat difficult verse. In the margin of our Bibles we have, ‘power—in sign that she is under the power or authority of her husband.’ I think that marginal note was probably put in by some worthy brother in years gone by who may have had a little difficulty in maintaining his position as head of the house!” Do you know who he’s talking about? He’s referencing Scofield’s note! He’s literally saying that Scofield left that note only because he couldn’t maintain his position as head of the house! What do you know about Scofield’s personal life, Mr. Ironside? As if Scofield never once considered context before adding any notes to his reference Bible! What total bunk!
Then Ironside would write, “You see, if a woman in a city like Corinth appeared in a public place with uncovered head, it would at once expose her to insult. Therefore, when going shopping or visiting her friends or going to the Christian services, she put the veil, the covering, over her head and walked down the street unmolested. Her covering was her power.” In other words, if a woman walked around with her head uncovered, she’d get insulted, and so if she wore her covering, she wouldn’t get insulted, and thus, her head covering was her power.
Power of what? To not get insulted because she’s not wearing a head covering?
That’s the stupidest thing ever!
If anyone completely ignored context, it was Ironside.
Then there’s all the talk about the angels. John Gill pointed out Tertullian [an old commentator] concluded that Paul must be talking about evil angels, and “that a woman should cover her head in time of worship, lest they should lust after her; though much rather the reason should be, lest they should irritate and provoke lust in others.”
Even Bullinger, brilliant Bullinger, would make the same case. In his Companion Bible, he would suggest that for this reference to angels, we should compare this verse to other verses like Gen. 6:2, which talked about how “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” He’d further say we should also compare this verse to Jude 6, which talked about how “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.”
What is going on here?
Why on Earth would Paul be talking about demons?
Let me ask a stupid question: Why would the demons lust after women only if their head was uncovered? Do they have some bizarre hair fetish or something? Are they saying that if all the women before the flood had covered their heads, the angels would’ve never lusted after them, because they never saw their hair, and thus, there never would’ve been Nephilim? As if a woman’s head was the only aspect of her that would provoke demons to lust? That’s crazy!
Let me ask another stupid question. Even IF this is true, so what? What on earth is a demon going to do to a woman today who’s a member of the Body of Christ and indwelt by the Spirit? What’s the angel going to do? Her body is the temple of the Holy Ghost! They can’t possess her even if they wanted to. They can’t do anything to her.
And they’re absolutely NOT going to create more Nephilim in the age of grace. And what would be the point of that? The Nephilim were created to ruin the human race to thwart God’s promise that a redeemer would come from Eve’s seed. Guess what? Christ has already come and gone!
Besides, Peter wrote in 2 Peter. 2:4 that “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartaros), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” Those demons who created the Nephilim disobeyed God by breaking His rules of engagement and now all those bad demons are chained up in a special place in Hell called Tartaros awaiting judgment. Do you think Satan or any of the other demons are going to pull that same stunt again knowing they’ll be chained up in Tartaros like all their other demon buddies? I don’t think so!
Tertullian also said that if she didn’t cover her head, she might irritate demons who might then provoke other humans to lust after her. How does that work exactly? How would demons provoke lust in others? Do they whisper in your ear and say, “Hey, so-and-so has her head uncovered! Isn’t she cute? Look at the hair!” So? It’s just hair! Let’s look at the greater context of the chapter starting in vs. 4.
Let’s read 1 Cor. 11:4-16.
1Co 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 1Co 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 1Co 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 1Co 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
We’ve now entered a section addressing what seems to have been a fashion custom amongst the Corinthians, but definitely with the Jews. This was a fashion statement in which a head covering would declare one’s submission to the headship of another. Women wore a head covering to denote submission to her husband, and there’s evidence of this in Scripture.
You remember the story of Isaac meeting Rebekah in Gen. 24? Abraham sends his servant to find Isaac a wife. He goes to Nahor in Mesopotamia. He stood by a well of water. And he was going to ask women if he could have a drink of water and it would be the woman who showed him grace, she was the one he was going to bring home to Isaac. It’s the woman who will respond to him and say not only will I give you water, but I’ll also give your camels water, too. The woman who showed him that level of kindness and grace in that moment would be the one he’d bring back to Isaac. So he meets Rebekah. She shows him all the kindness he was looking for in a woman. Rebekah brings the servant home. He explains everything to her family. They agree to let her be Isaac’s wife. He takes her back home to Isaac. When they arrive, they see Isaac walking toward them in a field.
And we would read in Gen 24:65 For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself.
Her putting on the veil in that moment was a token of humility, modesty, and subjection to her new husband. Matthew Henry would write, “Those that by faith are espoused to Christ, and would be presented as chaste virgins to him, must, in conformity to his example, humble themselves, as Rebekah, who alighted when she saw Isaac on foot, and must put themselves into subjection to him who is their head (Eph_5:24), as Rebekah, signifying it by the veil she put on, 1Co_11:10.”
This is the first time we read the word “vail” in the Bible, and it’s thought that this particular fashion statement became a tradition for all wives as a way of showing their modesty and subjection to their husbands, which may have well carried over into Gentile fashion at Corinth in Paul’s day.
The greater point in 1 Cor. 11 was to continue to observe the fashion custom at the time, not because they’re under some legalistic system that required them to wear head coverings but because we’re not here to offend people by the way we dress. If a wife didn’t have a head covering to show her submission to her husband at the time, that fashion faux paus would’ve been offensive to people. Thus, we observe customs so as not to offend.
Notice the if’s in vs. 6. 1Co 11:6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. So he first says if she’s not covered, then let her head be shaved. Apparently, women had options back in the day. Either cover your head or be shaved.
Some women can pull off the bald look. Jada Pinkett Smith looked great with a bald head. Remember the first Star Trek movie with that bald woman? I actually thought she looked cute.
But notice the second half of verse 6, but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. So IF the custom in Corinth viewed it as a shame for a woman to have her head shaved, then let her be covered. What determined how the woman dressed depended upon the custom in that region, because the bigger point is to not conduct oneself by fashion in a way that would be viewed as shameful to God or to society at large. The point is to not be offensive in our fashion choices.
The same principle that women should not dress in a way that would be shameful to God or society at large is also found in 1Ti 2:9-10 when Paul wrote that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 1Ti 2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Peter would make the same point. He’d write in 1Pe 3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; 1Pe 3:4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
It seems to be a timeless principle that God is not a fan of excess bling or gaudiness or ostentatious displays of wealth in a woman’s appearance. 1 Peter 3:3 is funny to me. He says the adorning of women should not be in the putting on of apparel. What does that mean? Was Peter against clothes? Of course not.
Both 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3 speak of excess apparel, and how much attention is put into her appearance. In other words, a woman is neglecting her faith by putting too much attention on her appearance. The true idea here is that her attention to her appearance should be the care that she would offend no one. She shows that her mind is unalterably fixed on higher and more important spiritual matters. So she chooses to show that her appearance will not interfere with her duties to God, and she will not spend her time needlessly wasted upon fashion, thereby, neglecting the proprieties of her God-ordained roles in the Body of Christ.
Out in the world, women dress a certain way (usually to annoy other women), but our minds are not to be fixed upon ostentatious dress, excessive bling, showing off tons of wealthy jewelry, or looking immodest, but rather, our attention is to be upon modesty in apparel and the adorning of the hidden man of the heart, the putting on of Christ Himself bearing the fruits of the Spirit with good works which is to bear the attributes of Christ Himself.
Is it wrong to wear gold or pearls or bread one’s hair? No, of course, not. It is to avoid excess and to display modesty in the context of the culture of the time in which one lives. There was a lot of wealth in Ephesus to the degree that Paul would instruct Timothy to “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Paul would bring up the matter of an excessive ostentatious appearance in women.
At the time culturally, it’s said that the women plaited their hair with great care, and arranged hair in various forms, according to the prevailing fashion, often ornamented with small plates of metal, or with silver wire, or tissue. The sense here is that Christian females are not to imitate the world in their careful attention to the ornaments of the hair. The mere braiding of the hair is not forbidden but only the excess attention given to the hair, and to the decorative ornaments worn in it, which characterized worldly females at the time. A line has been crossed when external appearance occupies the mind more than the virtues of Christ in the heart, because the attention should not be directed at one’s appearance but at the inner beauty of holiness in the outliving of her faith. When the heart is right, when there is true and supreme love for Christ, the matter of how to dress usually becomes easy to discern.
All of this brings us back to 1 Cor. 11. The point here is the observance of fashion customs at the time in such a way that they’re displaying modesty and not causing offense. The greater point in this section is the application of these principles when it comes to order in the church. Look at 1Co 11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. Some commentaries tried to make the case that by “head covering” Paul was talking about hair. If that’s the case, then Paul’s saying in this verse that every man in ministry must be bald! (Randy White and Josh Strelecki are saying, “Right? PTL! I’m more spiritual!”)
No, he’s talking about something you put ON your head. The fashion custom at the time would view a man wearing something on his head while he prayed or prophesied, which is only to speak the Word of God, which they did miraculously until they had the completed Word, if a man had prayed or prophesied with a head covering, that would be viewed as a way of dishonoring the Head, which I think is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
1Co 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.
The exact opposite was true for a woman whose head wasn’t covered when she prayed or prophesied. Why? He explains why in vs. 7-9. Look at 1Co 11:7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 1Co 11:8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 1Co 11:9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
Eve was made to be a help-meet for Adam. She was made of a rib out of the side of Adam, not out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved. Thus, she was made for him. She is his glory as his help-meet in life, and she is a glory to the Lord in the way that she fulfills her God-ordained roles in life.
Cover Your Head Because of the Angels
And all of this brings us to 1Co 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.
What does this mean?
Does this mean that we have to wear head coverings now? No, it doesn’t.
That fashion custom doesn’t exist today. When it comes to fashion, we observe customs. We make sure we’re not offensive in any way. We’re not given to excessive attention to fashion. We don’t show off our wealth.
But we can still make application out of these verses. Notice how Paul says, “For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head…” In other words, it is good for a woman and for all of us to be IN God’s ordained ruling structures for our lives. Not only is it good for us to be IN these power structures, but it is even better for all of us to acknowledge the goodness of being in those ruling structures in our lives, by observing the headships to which we are all subject, by embracing the roles God has given us, both in the church and in the family. We all need the power that’s on our heads. We all must submit to the headships that God has given us for our lives.
But what about the angels?
What on Earth is Paul talking about here?
How can we figure out what Paul has in mind here with this reference to angels? I would suggest the solution is easy and determined by the context. Not the immediate context but the context of all the previous references to angels in 1 Corinthians.
Do you remember what Paul had previously said about angels?
First, Paul wrote in 1Co_4:9, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
The angels watch us all. We have a ministry to the angels because our lives demonstrate the brilliance of God Almighty and His powerful work of redemption on the cross, and the mighty power of His grace at work in our lives.
In time past, the angels ministered for the people of Israel but now in the age of grace, we minister to the angels. How do we minister to them? Angels are blown away by seeing the power of God’s grace at work in us, which makes them love and praise God that much more! That is just astounding brilliance on God’s part beyond anyone’s ability to put into words. Praise God for His superior genius in all things!
Then, Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 6:3, “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?” Not only do they watch us, not only do we have a ministry to them, but they also anticipate the new heavenly order when the kingdom comes, us taking on administrative roles over the angels. They watch us and they, like us, anxiously anticipate our new relationships with them. I’m reminded of how Gabriel showed such loving affection to Daniel and to Mary. I’m reminded of how the Lord said in Luke 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. The angels love us, which is hard to imagine. Why would the angels love us of all things? We hardly love us. But they do. And we cannot comprehend how much we will love our new relationships with them in the new Heavenly order to come after this is all over.
We’re talking about a continual state of exhilarating joy and love in the life to come for all eternity. And I’ll just say it, as corny as I know this will sound. “Hey, all you angels up there! Are you listening? Whichever of you angels will be mine, I love you already.”
I don’t worship them, but I totally love them. I think they’re amazing. But see, this is why Paul wrote, For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. We cover our heads in a figurative sense by observing modesty, humility, an attitude of servitude toward everyone, by acknowledging and embracing the God-ordained roles for our lives in the church and in the family – why? – because the angels are watching, because we minister to them, and because we will be spending eternity with them in an atmosphere of constant exhilarating joy and love toward each other and to God.
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Very good word… the best I have heard on this topic!
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