Note: This blog entry is not a teaching, but a suggestion for an approach that may or may not help. If you find anything true and meaningful going down this avenue, great. If not, ignore it.
We are used to assuming “head” (Greek kephale), used over and over in 1 Cor 11:2-16, means two vastly different things. We are even sure we know where it means a literal body part with eyes, mouth, and nose, and where it does not.
How about starting with the assumption that the word is used in one way throughout the passage, and seeing where that leads us?
Premise 1: The head of every man is Christ (:3)
Premise 2: Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. (:4)
Conclusion A: Men should not pray or prophesy with Jesus covered. It dishonors Jesus.
Premise 3: A man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God (:7)
Conclusion B, from premise 1 and 3: The motive for not covering Jesus is him being the image and glory of God.
My assumed but unproven conclusion C, from reading conclusion B: The “he” who is the image and glory of God is probably Jesus, not the man.
Premise 4: the head of the woman is the man; (:3)
Premise 5: But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head. (:5)
Conclusion D: Women should pray or prophesy with men covered.
Premise 6: 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. (:6)
Conclusion E (From conclusion D and Premise 5): Men should be covered, women can be either covered or shorn (except if the latter is a disgrace.)
Premise 7: the head of Christ is God. (:3)
Premise 8: the woman is the glory of the man. (:7)
Conclusion F: Each character seems to be the glory of his or her head: Jesus is the glory of God (Conclusion C) and God is His head (Premise 6), and the woman the glory of the man (Premise 7) and the man is her head. (Premise 4)
Conclusion G (Extrapolating from Conclusion F, then adding Premise 1): Every man is the glory of Jesus.
Premise 9: For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. (:8)
My observation: I get it. The man is not (the glory) of the woman, the woman is (the glory) of the man. A repetition of what was already said. Or it could say the original woman (the one we call Eve) came out of the original man (the one we call Adam, although God gave that name to both the man and the woman). The first interpretation follows logically, the second seems to introduce a new idea to the text.
Premise 10: Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.
My observation: This not sexism, like “Jesus came to earth for humans” is not humanism, but a statement of how much humans needed Jesus.
Premise 11: For this cause ought the woman to have power on (over) her head because of the angels. (:10)
Conclusion H, from Premises 4 and 11: The woman should have power over the man, because of the angels.
(This word for power always means, in this type of sentence structure, the power of the person spoken of. It never means – despite being translated badly sometimes – the power of another over the subject of the sentence.)
My questions: What reason, among all the previous, is “this reason?” And how would angels relate to the issue of women having power over men?
Premise 12: Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (:11-12)
My observation: If any authority or superiority or even difference between man and woman is implied in the previous verses, it seems Paul negates that. A woman should have power over her head (the man), but it is not a one-sided power!
Premise 13: Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? (:13)
My observation: A woman’s covering is a matter of personal judgment, and people should judge for themselves – and not for others – what they find proper. (A man, on the other hand, should be covered – see conclusion D.)
Premise 14: Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (:14)
My observation: If :14 is seen as a rhetorical question, it runs into problems with some other points in the text, as well as logic (nature teaches nothing about hair length, and as far as most people today guesses and see in drawings of Bible figures, men those days had long hair.) But the original Greek did not have anything like a question mark. It could be translated, according to Catherine Bushnell and others:
Alternative Premise 14: Nature itself does not teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him. (:14)
My observation: Ah. That gets rid of the problems and is compatible with men having to be covered when women pray. (Conclusion D)
Premise 15: But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: (:15)
My observation: This is the rest of the sentence starting in :14. Once again, nature does not teach that.
Alternative Premise 15: (Nature does not teach) if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her. (:15)
I explained in Premise 14 why I use an alternative here. This is the rest of the same sentence as :14.
Premise 16: …for her hair is given her for a covering. (:15)
Conclusion I, from Premises 6 and 16: If a woman is not covered with hair, let her be shorn.
My question: Could this fit in with allowing her to judge for herself (Premise 12) her hair length? If she does not have long hair, allow her to(“let her”) have it short?
Premise 16: But if any [man] seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. (:16)
My observations: Man in this text does not refer to males alone, in the Greek original. There is no custom about head covering among the Corinthians or other believers.
I am pretty sure this same approach – starting from the assumption that “head” has one meaning throughout the text, or even just assuming that one particular occurrence of the word actually has the other meaning (not the assumed one) – will lead a Greek scholar down different avenues from me. But at least it takes a break from assumptions we always impose on this difficult text.