1 Corinthians 11:3,7 (NKJV)I have endeavored to visualize the point that Paul is making in these verses with the diagram below. In verse 3, Paul outlines various lines of submission and authority that exist in the world (this is not an exhaustive list - Paul is merely trying to outline why it is fitting for a woman to have a covering). The “head” – the authority – over every man is Christ, over the woman is a man, and over Christ is the Father. In v. 7, Paul then explains why it would be inappropriate for a man to wear a symbol of authority on his head. Why? Because he is the image and glory of the Father: in his calling as head of his home, he images the authority of the Father. But for a woman, a symbol of authority is fitting. Why? Because she is the image and glory of her man: in her submission to her husband, she images the submission of the man to the authority of Christ.
3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God…7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
Hopefully the diagram will help as we ask some questions of the text. First, how can a man learn what his headship, his authority is to look like? He can look at two things – he can look at the way in which Christ treats him as a disciple. But he can also look at the way in which the Father relates to the Son – he can observe the Father’s role in the Godhead and grow to be a faithful head.
Second, how can a woman learn what her submission, her subjection is to look like? She can look at two things – she can look at the way in which her husband responds to the authority of Christ over him - note the burden this places upon husbands to be modeling submission. But she can also look at the way in which the Son relates to the Father and honors Him – she can observe the Son’s role in the Godhead and grow to be a faithful subject.
Notice also that the man is in a unique position. The man is not only the image and glory of the Father in his capacity as head, he is also the image and glory of Christ in his capacity as subject. What does this mean? It means, as we said above, that the man too needs to learn to submit. And where can he learn this lesson? He can learn by observing the way in which the Son submits to the Father and the way in which his wife submits to him.
On a human level, therefore, the mutuality among the persons of the Godhead is a lesson for both men and women. Men don’t look just to the Father, but also to the Son. And, we might add, women don’t look just to the Son, but to the Father. For, in certain circumstances, as for example within the home with children, the woman is an authority and so needs to know what the exercise of that authority looks like. This is why, incidentally, Paul begins his exhortations to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 with the general admonition, “be submitting to one another in the fear of God” (5:21). God is our Father, he is our Lord, He is our authority, and so as disciples of Christ husbands and wives should be mutually learning from one another the meaning of their separate roles.