Foundations of Marriage VIII

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We have seen that the creation of man, male and female, is not unrelated to God’s pronouncement that the whole creation was “very good.” But the same thing is true of the new creation in Christ. In the new creation, the relation of husbands and wives plays an important part in the worship of the church, and, conversely, the right worship of God plays an important role in our marriages.

The Text:
“. . . 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 . . .” (1 Cor. 11:1-16).

St. Paul begins by urging imitation of him, just as he imitates Christ (v. 1). He then urges the Corinthians to “keep the ordinances” that he had delivered to them, indicating that this is apostolic teaching, and not just a “cultural thing” (v. 2). Then comes v. 3, which we have already considered (v. 3). Consequently, when a man prays or prophesies with head covered, he dishonors his head, that is, Christ (v. 4). And when a woman prays or prophesies while uncovered dishonors her head, that is, her husband. She might as well shave her head like the Corinthian prostitutes did (v. 5). If a woman is going to dishonor her husband, she might as well go whole hog (v. 6). A man ought not cover his head because he is the image and glory of Christ, and a woman ought to cover her head because she is the glory of man. Note that both actions are exhibitions of glory (v. 7). For man did not come from woman, but rather woman from man (v. 8). And the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man (v. 9). This is why a woman should have the sign of authority on her head—because of the angels (v. 10). But no one should conclude from this that St. Paul is saying that men and women can be independent of one another (v. 11). Though woman came from man, all men since have come from women—and from God (v. 12). Think about it. Even nature says that long hair on a man is shameful (vv. 13-14). And when a woman has long hair, it is a glory and a covering (v. 15). And if anyone wants to argue about it, St. Paul says, this is the way the church worships (v. 16).

How We Handle These Things:
We do not believe these instructions were given to us by the apostle so that we could set them aside as “merely cultural.” There are some cultural adjustments to be made from the ancient world to the present, but there are strong textual reasons for saying this is not one of them. St. Paul appeals to the very nature of things.

But as we consider this issue, we understand that after the message, you may still differ for reasons of conscience—perhaps your own conscience, or the conscience of your husband and father. If that is the case, please continue your own practice, and we trust that no one will hassle you for it. But we need to address this because it is important to our treatment of marriage, and because we do not want anyone to think that we are merely sidestepping an important text on role relations between men and women.

What This Is Not:
There are several practical things to keep in mind here. First is that the woman’s hair is given for a covering (v. 15), which is why we believe that an additional cloth covering (or hat) is unnecessary. But second, for women to wear an artificial covering is of ancient usage in the church, and if the fundamental realities are remembered, there is nothing wrong with it. Third, remember that long and short are comparative terms—but this does not make them meaningless terms. Fourth, the ordinance, however we interpret it, does not apply to women and men generally; it applies to men and women in prayer and prophecy.

Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken:
John Newton wrote a wonderful hymn that alludes to this passage (and one other) in a wonderful way, tying together what is almost certainly an allusion by the apostle. “For a glory and a covering, showing that the Lord is near.” Speaking of the times of the new covenant, the prophet Isaiah refers to the Shekinah glory (that used to accompany Israel in the wilderness) in this way. “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence” (Is. 4:5). The NKJV says this, “For over all the glory there will be a covering.” For a glory and a covering. This is what Paul is referring to—a godly wife is to her husband what the Shekinah glory was to the tabernacle.

Now this is how it all ties in with our foundational theology of marriage. I mentioned last week that a man does not walk down the street kicking his diadem in front of him in the hopes of making himself look better. Now we have raised the stakes. How would biblical obedience here be slandered and caricatured? It could never be that “those Christian men browbeat their wives.” It would be that Christian men glorify their wives to the point of encouraging vanity. Let us not fall into the sin—but we should be careful to live in a way that provokes the slander.

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