Many people think that Paul is teaching that women MUST cover their head at all times (or at least at church) with a veil, hat or other type of covering. Some churches and fellowships also take these verses literally and enforce policies to insure their females wear a head covering.
These verses in 1Corinthians 11, however, are speaking more of SPIRITUAL things rather than the physical. These verses mean FAR MORE than merely putting a veil or hat on one's head. The only way to fully address the issue of head coverings is to explain the verses in question piece by piece.
"Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." (1Corinthians 11:3, NIV)
Much to the chagrin of the Women's movement and women organizations (such as the National Organization for Women), what God is saying here through His Word is that Christ is over the man in authority and the man is over the woman (his wife for example) in authority. This is the way that God made it. When and why did this happen? It happened with our first parents, Adam and Eve, after they had sinned by believing Satan instead of God. Let's look at Genesis 3:
"And the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.' . . .
"To the woman He (God) said: 'I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception. In pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.' " (Genesis 3:13,16, NKJV)
Because of the sins of our first parents the entire course of human history was drastically changed. Adam and Eve refused to believe God and be in subjection to God's authority as their "head" but instead put themselves under the authority of Satan the devil by believing HIM. The result for women, in general, would be that they would have alot of pain in bearing children and would be under the authority of men (their husbands).
"If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut of . . . A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man." (1Corinthians 11:6-7, NIV)
Now the chapter begins to speak more in spiritual terms. The covering is not a hat or a veil that one wears on the head, but an ATTITUDE that a person has toward the one who is in authority over them. As Paul mentions in verse 3, God the Father is in authority over Jesus Christ, who is the Son and the Word or Spokesman (Greek: Logos), and also was the God of the Old Testament.
If Jesus Christ is subject to God the Father, then man needs to be subject to Christ, just as Jesus told His disciples:
"You call me ' Master' and ' Lord,' and you do well to say it, for it is true." (John 13:13, TLB)
Paul then goes on to speak about a woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered, which could mean two things: not being under the authority of man, and also, not having her head covered with hair of the proper length. He refers to this in verse 6 when he says that it would be a disgrace for a woman to cut her hair too short or shave it off. This type of action also expresses an attitude of rebellion on the part of a woman. Let us continue.
"For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (1Corinthians 11:8-10, NIV)
Adam was created first out of the dust of the ground and then Eve was created OUT OF Adam.
"Then God said, "Let us [two beings] make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." (Genesis 1:26, RSV).
Then God saw that the man needed a helper and created Eve from one of his ribs:
"So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
"Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." (Genesis 2:21-23, RSV)
Paul then mentions a strange thing in verse 10 of 1Corinthians 11. Let's take a look at that scripture again:
"For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. "
What did he mean here? Simply stated, a woman should have long hair so that heavenly angels can differentiate between a man and a woman, just in case an angel has to quickly intervene to protect a woman (Hebrews 1:14). This verse has also been open to many interpretations through the centuries.
Continuing in 1Corinthians:
"In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" (1Corinthians 11:11-13, NIV).
So, though men and women are equals in God's eye, and joint heirs of eternal life (1 Peter 3:7), a woman is nevertheless to be subject to and under the authority (veiled, covered) of the man (husband). It will continue to be that way as long as there are human beings on this earth who are in the flesh.
"Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice nor do the churches of God." (1Corinthians 11:14-16, NIV)
Notice that Paul is stating it is a DISGRACE for a man to have long hair.
In the final analysis, our hope lies in the fact that someday soon all that is physical will come to an end when all people, male and female, are born into the family of God.