Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, we have seen, to address problems in the Corinthian church and to answer questions raised in an earlier letter the Corinthians had sent him (see 1 Cor. 1:11; 7:1). Having addressed the issue of meat offered to idols in 8:1–11:1, Paul begins in today’s passage to provide guidance on Christian worship. Through the end of chapter 14, he deals with several different matters regarding the corporate gatherings of the church to praise God.
The Apostle first deals with how to dress for worship, focusing specifically on head coverings and what they say about the authority of men and women in the church and home (11:2–16). He starts by praising the Corinthians for remembering him and maintaining “the traditions” as he had delivered them (v. 2). It is hard to know exactly what Paul is talking about, since 11:2–14:40 indicates that the Corinthian believers needed some correction. The Apostle probably means that the believers were following his teaching on worship in a general way even though they had gone astray in a few places. Let us note also that “traditions” here refers not to oral Apostolic instruction distinct from Scripture but to the body of Christian teaching now found in the New Testament.
In any case, Paul in 11:3 gives a theological foundation for the need for women, specifically wives, to wear head coverings in worship as a visible indicator of their submission to their husbands. He says that there is a proper order reflected in the church and in the home: God is the head of Christ, who is the head of the husband, who is the head of his wife. Paul refers here to an order of authority, “head” being a way to indicate the authority of one over another (see v. 10). In the sphere of creation and church order, wives submit to husbands, husbands submit to Christ, and Christ submits to the Father.
We will consider this teaching on submission more in the days ahead. For now, let us note that in speaking of the Father as the head of Christ, Paul is not teaching that there is an inherent inequality between the Father and the Son. As orthodox theologians have recognized, Paul refers to the outworking of redemption wherein the Son as the incarnate God-man submits to the Father according to His humanity and purchases our salvation. Calvin writes, “Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator.”