Hair is a glory — it proceeds out from its subject — and a covering, given by nature to conceal certain parts of the body. The removal of a veil or covering reveals the glory of the person who is the “head” of the one with the covering. Hair is the covering provided by nature, as an indication of where one ought to be covered.
Symbolically, a woman has “authority” on her head. Whose authority? Presumably her husband’s. That is, her hair is a symbol of her husband. “For a glory and a covering” – The physical head of a person under authority makes a statement with its hair about the glory of that person’s metaphorical head.
Thus: the head of man is Christ. Man is the image and glory of Christ. In verse 7, the phrase εἰκὼν καὶ δόξα θεοῦ ὑπάρχων indicates the reason for the main clause (ἀνὴρ…οὐκ ὀφείλει κατακαλύπτεσθαι τὴν κεφαλὴν). Man should not cover his head, because he is supposed to be revealing the glory of Christ, not concealing it.
The head of woman is man, however. And woman is the image and glory of man. Paul says that she ought to cover her head, i.e. she ought to cover her hair, which is (symbolically) the glory of man. If she fails to do this, she shames her head, i.e. the man.
Now, compare all this with what is said of Moses in 2 Cor. 3:13. He veiled his face so that the people might not see the end of the glory of the Torah, which was fading away (since the Torah was a temporary administration of God’s relationship with men). But we, with unveiled faces, unlike Moses, reflect the glory of Christ (3:18), which does not fade.
I submit that this is a key to the understanding of 1 Cor. 11:
The man, whose head is Christ, ought not to cover his head, since the glory of Christ ought to be revealed publicly. Modesty about displaying the image and glory of Christ would be shaming to Christ.
But the woman’s case is not the same. Her head is Man, from whom she was taken, and for whom she was made. And Hebrews tells us that “we do not yet see all things under man’s feet” (Heb. 2:8) — Man is not yet glorified; that must await the consummation.
The distinction between man and woman and their headgear in 1 Cor. 11 thus is a disclosure, in public semiotics, of our present moment in redemptive history: after the glorification of Christ, but before the glorification of man. We ought not to suppose that the covering of women’s heads is a permanent feature of God’s plan. If Christ’s words in Mt. 10:26 are a general principle with application beyond their context to our present topic as well, then veiling or covering must of its very nature be temporary: “for there is nothing veiled that will not be unveiled (οὐδὲν γάρ ἐστιν κεκαλυμμένον ὃ οὐκ ἀποκαλυφθήσεται).
The glory of man, presently concealed, but to be revealed later, is the motive for Paul’s otherwise puzzling mention of the angels. The creation was under their authority until Christ was elevated to the right hand of God as the first of many brothers. The angels ought to see the glory of Christ — i.e. the public claim that the Son of God has attained greater honour than the angels — declared publicly by the uncovered heads of the men of the church. But they ought not to be confronted with premature and inappropriate claims — via uncovered women’s heads — about the glory of man. The creation waits with eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed; but man’s glory is not yet.
Jesus’ becoming man is described as being “made a little lower than the angels”; elsewhere, He is described as being “born under the Torah” (Gal. 4:4). Stephen says that the Jews “received the Torah by the direction of angels.” (Acts 7) The Torah is “the word spoken through angels” (Heb. 2:2), “appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” (Gal. 3:19). Angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation.”
Hebrews 1 contrasts the everlasting rule of Christ with the temporary and inferior rule of angels: “the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment. Like a cloak you will fold them up, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will not fail.” God “has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” — implication: He did put the present world in such temporary subjection.
The angels’ temporary rule was associated with the heavenly bodies: “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also…to rule over the day and over the night…” (Gen. 1) Paul says that the Galatians are “observing days and months and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10) — all time periods determined by the motions of the heavenly bodies — and are thereby “turning again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheia), to which you desire again to be in bondage” (4:9). The angels’ rule is thus that of “guardians and stewards” (Gal. 4:2), and those who are under them are “in bondage under the elements (stoicheia) of the world” (Gal. 4)
Paul also mentions, by way of urging the Corinthians not to engage in lawsuits before unbelievers, that the church will judge angels. This will occur when the glory of man is revealed. At that point, the tables will be turned on the angels, and they will find themselves under men, as they are even now under Christ.
Peter describes the revelation of the gospel as “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet 1:12). Paul, likewise, speaks of the gospel as a “mystery hidden in God” (Eph. 3:9), “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of god might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” I have noted before that the sectarians at Qumran believed that angels are present with the assembled congregation; so does the author of Hebrews, with his “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly gathered”. Fitzmyer thinks that angels would be affronted if women failed to wear a covering, but he does not explain why. I think my interpretation answers that question.
I leave to one side some of the other interpretive puzzles about the passage, such as whether the women expected to cover their heads are wives only, or virgins too; what the nature of the covering is (hair only, or an artificial covering as well); and whether the covering is required during all prayer and prophecy by a woman, or only during Lord’s Day corporate worship, or what. I have views on all of these, but I haven’t argued for them here, because I’m interested in persuading those who don’t share my answers to those questions.
But I submit that we can fairly well understand “because of the angels” on the basis of the other passages of Scripture that I have adduced here; and we can conclude that whatever Paul was telling women to do, it was not culturally determined, but motivated by redemptive history, and by the Biblical doctrine of man as image of God.
This teaching of Paul’s represents a deep and significant liturgical distinction between men and women — and one that has nothing whatever to do with officers or a clergy/laity division. Men and women are, by virtue of their relations to each other and to Christ, declaring publicly a teaching about eschatology.