There is an explanation of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 that is becoming quite popular. It is straight forward, and it seems to get to the heart of the passage. I cheekily call it the "Three Glories Story".
And it is wrong.
Only God's glory must be on display.
The explanation I'm talking about is explained simply by Bnonn Tennant in his article, Head Coverings #1: The Logic of Glory and Veiling (linked to elsewhere on this site):
There are three glories present in worship;
The three glories are taken from 1 Corinthians 11 verse 7 and the first half of verse 15.
7 A man ought not to cover his head, since (1) he is the image and glory of God; but (2) woman is the glory of man.
14-15a Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that (3) if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?
So, says this interpretation, a woman's head covering covers man's glory (herself) and her glory (her hair), leaving God's glory (man) to be revealed when praying or prophesying.
As attractive as many find this idea, I think I can use three verses from 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to convince you that it is wrong.
1: Verse 15.
When we read the whole of 1 Corinthians 11:15 (instead of half like we did above), a different, clearer meaning emerges.
14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
It's important to remember when reading 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. to always follow the for's (also known as the because's). Why is it that if a woman has long hair it is her glory? Because (for) long hair is given to her as a covering.
Not because her long hair is lustrous.
Not because her long hair shines gloriously.
Paul is saying long hair is a woman's "glory" because it reveals something praiseworthy about her. It is praiseworthy for a woman to be covered.
This is quite different from saying that a woman's long hair is a glory that competes with God's glory. Paul is saying that it is not proper for a woman to pray to God uncovered (v13) because it is part of a woman's glory to be covered, as shown by her long hair.
2. Verse 6.
When we look at 1 Corinthians 11:6, we see the same truth.
6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.
Paul's argument is that if it is a disgrace for a woman to have short hair or a bald head (and he means it is a disgrace), then it is a disgrace for a woman to pray or prophesy without covering her head.
By contrast, we can infer that to have long hair is a woman's glory (see v15) and covering a woman's head is her glory as well.
So instead of a head covering concealing a woman's glory (her hair) as the Three Glories Story says, this verse teaches us that a woman's head covering displays her glory!
3. Verse 5.
The last reason is found in 1 Corinthians 11:5.
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is the same as having her head shaved.
Remember, the Three Glories Story is that a head covering is meant to cover the glory of a woman (her hair). How then, is having a woman's hair uncovered and in full view the same as having her head shaved and completely gone?
It isn't. It is the complete opposite. This verse contradicts the story, meaning Paul was not teaching that head coverings are to hide the glory of man and woman.
It can be tiring or uncomfortable or just plain offensive to be told that you have misunderstood a difficult passage. Still, it's very clear from these verses that the idea of the three glories is quite wrong. A woman's long hair is her glory because it is given to her as a covering, not as competition for God's glory.
And yet, this article has only looked at a woman's glory. There is more to be discussed about man's glory and God's glory in verse7, and it will be in an article to come, God willing.
But where does that leave us?
It leaves us free to look again and find out a more accurate picture of the biblical teaching of head covering, and that is what I hope to continue to do.