The first 16 verses of this chapter are notoriously difficult; and many honest and well-intentioned people have interpreted parts of them differently. Unfortunately, they have also been misused and, most ironically (especially in light of verses 16 and 17), that has caused contention and division at times. One thing that is not in question in these 16 verses is the fact that God intended men to be the leader of their families (verse 3, Genesis 3:16-17, Ephesians 5:22). But what about the head covering? What about hair length?
Lenski, in his commentary, translated the use of the covered head reference in verse 4 as “having something down from his head,” with no indication from the Corinthian letter of what that “something” was. An effective argument can be made for the entirety of the references to covering as referring to hair. But there are women even today who cannot, in good conscience, attend worship services without a hat on their head. In that case, it is good that they go ahead and wear one for that reason. It is pointed out also by many that in this pagan society at Corinth, the priestesses of Aphrodite and prostitutes were distinguished many times by cropped hair, and even shaved heads. A very good point can be made that the main thing to take away from these 16 verses is that Christians must not set about the business of offending the sensibilities of the society in which live, nor give the appearance of being “of the world.”
It can be argued that the earlier verses about traditions are given far more importance than Paul intended. Paul speaks of a very important tradition in verses 17-33 – one that was instituted by the Lord Himself – the Lord’s Supper. Incredibly, they had turned the observance of the Lord’s Supper into a meal, with some even becoming drunk. Just as bad, the wealthy would bring enough food to be gluttons, and leave the poor hungry. This was not fellowship, and it was not “in remembrance” of the Lord; and by doing this, one was eating and drinking “judgment on himself.” Paul admonishes them not only to observe the Lord’s Supper properly, but with reverence, with each one “examining” himself while doing so.
It is difficult for many of us to realize at times the complete turn-around that many of these Corinthians had made, or the struggles that they continued to have in doing so. The society they lived in, and had participated in fully, was pagan; and idol-worship, drunkenness and revelry, as well as promiscuity, were a way of life. It was certainly not any easier for them to be holy than it is for us today.
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