What is the significance of the two head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11?

What is the significance of the two head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11?

Paul develops only two of the three spheres of headship he introduces in verse three. By engaging in activity within the assembly with a covered head, a man dishonors Christ, his head (v. 4). That is the first sphere of headship. By engaging in activity within the assembly with an uncovered head, the woman dishonors the man, her head (v. 5). That is the second sphere of headship. At that point, Paul adds, "For that is even all one as if she were shaven." He is clearly teaching two head coverings for the woman: her natural covering, long hair; her temporary or cultural covering (whatever form of woman’s head covering is acceptable or normal in her culture), otherwise an uncovered head (v. 5a) and a shaved head (v. 5b) are exactly the same thing and the last part of the verse is a meaningless repetition (impossible!). In what way, then, are the uncovered head and the shaven head "even all one"? One possible answer is that dishonor (v. 5) or shame (v. 6) are the result of both. A difficulty, though, arises from noting that the one dishonors Christ and the other dishonors the woman. Further, the woman has chosen to uncover her head in the first case, but "shaven" is passive, indicating that someone else has chosen to shame her by making her shaved or shorn.

A second, more tenable view is that an uncovered head and a shaved head are equivalent in violating the same truth, the truth of headship as established by God. A woman’s long hair expresses a headship God manifested at creation: the man is the head of the woman. The cultural covering is part of a double symbol; it requires the uncovered head of the man and the covered head of the woman. Together these symbols display a headship that results from Christ’s incarnation and redemption. He is head of the man and the assembly honors that headship by the uncovered head of the man - honoring his head, Christ - and the covered head of the woman - further giving Christ honor by covering her head, the man.

The two coverings relate to the two spheres of headship Paul develops in this passage. A woman’s long hair expresses that not she, but the man has headship. This is a personal and permanent covering. Her cultural covering must be paired with the man’s uncovered head to display that Christ, not man, has headship over the man. This is a cultural and congregational (because it requires others to present this paired symbolism) covering. Further, in the context (vv 2, 17), Paul connects his remarks about headship with his teaching about the Breaking of Bread, "when ye come together in the church." Third, the cultural covering is a "church" matter because the assembly is designed by God as a "pillar . . . of the truth" (1Ti 3:15), in this case, the incarnation and redemption truth of Christ’s headship over the man.

D. Oliver