1. The Argument from Headship (11:3-6)
Paul's first argument uses a play on words. Greek kephalē refers to the physical "head," as well as the ideas of the preeminence of the head over the body. Greek kephalē in some contexts refers to the idea of "authority" (as seen in the English word "headmaster"); in other contexts it refers to "origin, source" (as seen in the English word "headwaters"), as it is here.
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (11:3)
Some have used 11:3 to teach some kind of spiritual "chain of command," though that is not what Paul is saying in this context. Instead of authority (crudely, "boss"), Paul seems to be emphasizing the "origin, source" aspect of kephalē. He seems to be saying that woman proceeded from man, just as Christ proceeded from God (as he argues further in 11:8-9).
Now Paul takes this argument a step further, with a play on words, where verse 4 uses kephalē first in the physical sense, and secondly in the metaphorical sense of "source, origin." This form of rhetorical argument was more persuasive to first century readers than to modern readers.
"4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head -- 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." (11:4-6)
Paul seems to be saying that for a man to pray or prophesy with some kind of head-covering would dishonor Christ (his figurative "head"), and that for a woman to pray or prophesy not wearing some head-covering would dishonor her husband or father (her figurative "head"). Some have speculated that a woman not covering her head meant she let her hair down loose, long hair flowing over the shoulders and back. This is possible, but far from certain. More likely the head-covering referred to was a veil or some kind of clothing. Just what it was we do not know. Any suggestions are mere speculation.
Paul says that to pray or prophesy uncovered would be just as shameful as if she had completely shaved her head! Indeed, it would have been humiliating for a woman to have shorn hair, but the widely cited "fact" that an adulteress would have her head shaved is based on flimsy evidence.
Paul's point in this argument seems to be that not dressing appropriately for worship -- for either a man or a woman -- dishonors the distinction God has placed between men and women.
However, it's important to see that the thrust of this passage isn't the subordination of women to men. Women hardly participated at all in the Jewish synagogues. In this passage, Paul is declaring that women have just as much right to pray or prophesy in the Christian assembly as a man -- but only if appropriately dressed. We'll consider the nature of prophecy in further detail when we study 1 Corinthians 14
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson