When God created the world, he created man and woman with particular purposes: man was made in the image and likeness of God - he is the image and glory of God; the woman was made to help man – she is the glory of man.
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God’s plan was that humanity as a whole would image and glorify God to the world – the man as the image and glory of God analogous to Christ, and the woman supporting man in that task analogous to the Holy Spirit.
The two original humans, Adam and Eve, provide the blueprint. They were given the task of filling, subduing, ruling and cultivating the earth.
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The name, “Adam”, derived from the word for earth, “Adamah”, indicates the realm he was to rule over. He was to be looking outward. His first task fits into this category.
Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
In Genesis 3:20, we are told the name Eve, given to the woman by Adam, means “living”, indicating her part in the family of man as building up the family of man as child-bearer (see also 3:16). She, as a result, looks inward.
In these ways, Man was created to glorify God.
When the serpent tempted Eve, he took aim at the relationship between man and woman. Eve was to have listened to God through the man, but instead listened to the serpent. Man was to have listened to God, but instead listened to the serpent through the woman. The corruption of the sexes is at the very heart of the Fall.
As a result, God’s response to man was to make the purpose of man became a frustrating exercise. Instead of ruling an eagerly submissive and obedient creation, the ground was cursed, creation (including his wife) would fight back and he’d have work hard to subdue it.
Also, as a result, God’s response to woman was to make childbirth, the real and symbolic experience at the centre of a woman’s purpose, became painful, as did everything her purpose encompassed, and she herself would fight back against her husband.
And instead of forever life, they would suffer death.
Centuries later, the promised Christ came through woman and, through his death and resurrection, reversed the penalties given for the first sin.
The purposes of man and woman restored.
Man is now restored to the uncorrupted image and glory of God through the head of man, the image and glory of God, Jesus Christ.
Woman is now restored to the uncorrupted glory of man by the ultimate head of woman, the man, Jesus Christ.
These relationships are restored to their original place. Woman is the child-bearer and helper of man; man is the representative of God.
So, the restoration of the creation purposes of man and woman is a central outworking of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What does that look like today?
We are not given step-by-step instructions, but there is more detail in the New Testament that most Christians are willing to access today. For instance, when discussing men and women in the Church meetings, Paul speaks of men praying out loud, teaching and having authority, and explicitly prohibits women from those activities. On the other hand, Paul speaks of modest dress (covering is part of godly womanhood) and childbearing as the womanly contrast. Clearly not every woman bears children – our sin-soaked world has given us much sickness and sorrow, preventing too many women from fulfilling that role, but childbearing remains the central activity that describes a woman’s purpose, seen even in her body.
To limit a woman’s purpose to this, however, is both wrong and unbiblical. Later in 1 Timothy in chapter 5, Paul gives examples of a woman’s good works that she is to be judged on if hoping to join the list of widows (a group of women looked after by the church and committed to celibacy). Other examples in the New Testament show women working with Paul in his ministry, accompanying Peter, delivering letters, providing support and even patronage. Lydia, a single woman, seemed to head up a household, and while changes in her life may have resulted from her conversion to Christianity, there is no reason she did not continue to work as a single woman merchant and head of her house.
Men, likewise, are seen in various positions as Christians and must have worked through what it meant to follow Christ in different vocations. Some would have to resign – for instance, slave-traders – but others transform their occupation like Zacchaeus.
What damage is done when men and women in Christ deny their creation purposes, preferring instead the Western ideal of egalitarianism?
Apart from the horrendous social implications, the church fails to thrive, God’s glory is reduced, creation is harmed and Christ dishonoured.
With all of this background, why head covering?
It seems that women (and supportive men) have been trying to rid themselves of their creation purpose since the Fall. Even after the resurrection of Christ, Paul specifically had to forbid women teaching and having authority over men (1 Tim 2:12), and correct those who wished to be free from marriage (1 Cor 7:10-11 – note that women are emphasised here). Paul also made a point to say that women were to stay silent in church meetings (1 Cor 14: 34-38; 1 Tim 2:11). And, so, when Paul writes 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 with a special emphasis on making sure women understand that they should cover their heads while praying and prophesying, it seems to be in line with a recurring rejection of the redeemed purposes of woman.
Paul explains that women are to wear a covering because they were created as the glory of man, from and for man, with man as their head. This is not only a reference to their ultimate head, the man Jesus Christ, but also to other men that operate as heads in their lives. To fail to cover their head is to reject not only their created and redeemed purpose, but also dishonours their head – man – by their rejection of him.
But a number of people will protest that they continue to believe and live in line with God’s created and Christ’s redeemed purposes for men and women – they just don’t feel they need to wear a covering on their head to show that they accept man is their head.
In response, Paul has stated explicitly that not covering their head communicates a rejection of man as their head. It really doesn’t matter what a woman’s intention is. It is a tradition that has been passed on to Paul by Christ (1 Cor 11:2). So, by not covering, they are not only communicating the opposite of their actual beliefs, they are rejecting their ultimate head, Christ.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. In verse 10, Paul brings to mind the original and consistent temptation evident throughout Scripture and history, that of demonic temptation to reject authority. Woman is to have authority on her head because she is the glory of man, made from and for man, because of the angels. Women are to be reminded of this Christian truth because fallen angels will try to tempt them specifically to reject their head. Head covering achieves this goal.