If you're reading the King James, that word is rendered "ordinances." That's an unfortunate translation, because of the 13 times that the Greek word "paradosis" appears in the Bible, it is translated "tradition" everywhere but here. So the accurate translation is "traditions."
Paul had delivered certain traditions to the church. Tradition is a loaded word, since it has both a very positive and a very negative connotation. When the Pharisees blasted Jesus with the accusation,
Matt. 15:2-3; 6 "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? ...(You have) invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus said,
Mark 7:8-9 "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men... You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."
And in the book of Colossians we read,
Col. 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
What we begin to see is that God hates the tradition of men when it violates His Word. But then there are the traditions that are pleasing to God. As we've just read here, Paul said,
1Cor. 11:2 ...I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
2Thessalonians 2 says,
2Ths. 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
Traditions ("paradosis"), are that which is handed down, either written or oral. The traditions of men were the interpretations of the law, the rules and regulations that man had added to God's Word. These are abominable to God. But the sad thing is, over the last 2,000 years, even the church has added the traditions of men. "Don't play cards, don't dance, and you must wear a suit to church." None of these things appear in the Word of God. They are things that have been added by men, yet revered as rules from God. They are the traditions of men. God hates these kinds of traditions.
But what Paul had handed down to the churches was from God Himself. He'd handed to them the pure Word of God, undefiled by opinions and interpretations. It is my desire to do the same thing at Calvary Chapel. To cast aside the paradosis of men that's why "tradition" has become something of a dirty word here. But let's hold firmly to the paradosis of God that which has been handed down to us in His Word.
So Paul is praising them for their adherence to that which he handed down to them. But remember that he's been rebuking them throughout the letter for exercising freedom that was hurting others and resulting in ungodly behavior. That is the context that we must remember to read this in.
And before continuing to the next verses, let's make sure to make something clear. 2,000 years ago, women were not considered as citizens. Plato wrote, "I thank the gods that I am a Greek and not a barbarian. I thank the gods that I am a freeman and not a slave. And I thank the gods that I am a man and not a woman." In that day and age, men were forbidden to talk to women in public, including their own wives and daughters. Some Pharisees wouldn't even look at a women publicly. They would close their eyes if a woman were on the street. This sect became known as the "bruised and bleeding Pharisees," for they were constantly running into walls. And in India, the teaching of reincarnation was that bad people became dogs, worse people became spiders, and really, really bad people became women!
Jesus destroyed all of this. He talked with women publicly, He reached out to them compassionately. The woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, the woman with the issue of blood. He made women a key part of His ministry. As a matter of fact, the first people He appeared to after His resurrection were women even though at the time, a woman's eyewitness testimony meant nothing in court. Paul carried this on when he wrote,
Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
So historically, Christianity freed women, recognizing them in society as real people. The distinctions of the sexes was done away with. But just like the Corinthians were exercising their freedom in Christ to the hurt of others, so too this principle of women's freedom was becoming abused by some Corinthian women who began to assert their freedom and their rights in ways that were not glorifying to God, and humiliating to their husbands. So Paul reasserts the godly order of things.
Paul wants them to understand the lines of authority in relationships that God established.
The usage of the word "head" denotes leadership and authority. Authority not superiority. The Father is the head of the Son is He superior to Him? No, but Jesus is fully and willingly submitted to the Father's authority, though they are equal. In the same way, women are called to be fully and willingly submitted to the authority of their husbands. Not because the husband is superior, for they are equal in Christ, but because there's got to be someone accountable. And God made the organizational chart with the husband as the head of the wife.
Now, the authority of the husband should be a godly authority, where he makes the final decision in the Lord. The book of Ephesians says,
Eph. 5:22-25 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her
Notice that with the call for women to submit to their husbands' authority is a call for the husbands to be like Christ. To love their wives like Christ loved the church. To be a man of God.
Too many times, husbands tell their wives, "You have to submit to me! The Bible says so!" But the husband is supposed to be like Christ to his wife. And Christ has never enforced or demanded submission from us. He leads by love and by sacrifice. He doesn't drag us along behind Him with a chain. It is His kindness, love, and mercy that causes us to fully and willingly submit to His authority. Husbands, if your wives aren't submitted to your authority, don't demand it from her. Demand godly behavior from yourself instead, and your wife will find it infinitely easier to submit to you. Peter wrote that husbands should grant their wives...
1Pet. 3:7 ...honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Husbands, having an ungodly authority over your wife will bring judgment down on you and hinder your prayers. Answer the call to godliness.
This is a bit confusing, isn't it? This is another one of those cultural Corinthian things that on the outside doesn't seem to apply to us, but when we understand it in the cultural context, has application for us.
In those days, in that culture, wearing a headcovering was a symbol that you were under authority. And so for the man to wear a headcovering was to be saying, "I am under my wife's authority." But the woman shouldn't be the one wearing the pants in the family, so the man shouldn't be wearing something on his head. (This is by the way, where we got the custom that it is impolite to wear a hat in church.) But for us, Paul isn't talking about men wearing hats he's talking about men who are submitting to their wives' authority instead of the other way around. That's a disgrace to a man, to be rejecting the way of the Lord and letting the wife take the spiritual reins of the household. So wearing a headcovering disgraced his head, who is Christ. The man should not be under his wife's authority, but under Christ's authority.
The woman who refused to wear a headcovering was saying, "I have no authority over me. I am woman, and will submit to no one." This was a disgrace to her head, her husband. Paul says that if a woman didn't cover her head, she might as well be walking around with her hair cut off. In our culture, when many women are attractive with short hair, that seems confusing. But the Corinthians knew what this meant.
In the Old Testament Law (Numbers 5), God declares that if a man's wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, he was to take her to the priest and have her head shaved.
In the Greek culture, short or shaved hair on a woman was a statement: "I'm a prostitute," or "I'm a lesbian." So whether the Corinthian Christian was from Jewish or Greek background, they knew the impact of what Paul was saying: if a woman refuses to cover her head, if she is publicly flaunting the fact that she refuses to be under authority, then she may as well be publicly professing to be an adulteress, prostitute, or lesbian. The shame is equal.
In essence, what Paul is saying here is that since man was created in God's image, his headship is God. Woman was created from man's rib, so her headship is man. However, lest the men get a superiority complex here, Paul reminds them that ever since Adam, every man has been born of a woman. There are no exceptions to that rule. So there can be no independence in this relationship this is not a master/slave relationship. Man and woman need each other.
Paul throws an interesting sentence in there, that women need to be under authority "because of the angels." This is a complex issue that we don't have the time to cover here, if you're interested in tracking this down, I recommend that you get the studies of Genesis 6, Jude 5-7, and Revelation 9.
Paul now appeals to nature itself for example. Men have a tendency to have short hair, many of them don't have any hair at all. Women have a tendency to have longer hair. So Paul's saying that this is nature's example of a woman needing a covering and a man not needing one.
In reversing that, the women were appearing masculine, and the men were appearing feminine, switching their roles. I remember once back when I had hair down to my elbows and no beard, I pulled up to a stop light, and noticed a man trying to get my attention. He thought I was a woman!
In the Corinthian culture, men had short hair, and women had long hair. If a man had long hair, and a woman had short hair, they would be presenting themselves as opposites of their sex and this was happening in Corinth.
Culturally, does this apply to our hair today? Maybe. But I think a better example for our culture would be Paul saying something like, "Don't you know that the woman putting on a pair of pants and going off to work to support the family, while the man stays at home wearing a dress and caring for the baby disgraces both of them? You've got your roles reversed!"
It's funny to me that this is the one practice that Paul knew there would be contention about. And sure enough, two thousand years later, people are still being contentious about it. Should a woman have to submit to her husband? Is it wrong for a man to have long hair? Do women really need to have their heads covered in church? The contentions abound even to this day, and depending on the church you attend, you're going to find these issues in many of them.
Paul says, "Hey, if you're gonna argue about this, the church doesn't have any other practice. You Corinthian women, if you refuse to submit, if you refuse to cover your head; you Corinthian men, if you insist on having long hair, and letting your wife wear the pants in the family, you're outside of church practice." The Pulpit Commentary paraphrases Paul in this way, "If you Corinthians prefer these abnormal practices in spite of reason, common sense, and my arguments, you must stand alone in your innovations upon universal Christian practice."
It wasn't unfair of Paul to assume that some would be contentious about the "head" issue. Division and contention was a mark of the Christians at Corinth. They were divided over every issue imaginable. They sued one another in court. They argued about whether it was okay to eat at an idol's temple. They divided over who was the best teacher. So it is no wonder that they would divide over the issue of authority in marriage. The sad thing was, that they were even divided when it came to partaking of Communion.
The church at Corinth had a custom of combining potlucks with communion these events were called "love feasts," but unfortunately, there was a lack of love at them.
Instead of being kind, caring, and considerate of each other, these feasts became an "every man for himself" affair. "If you're poor, you're not getting any of my food." Other people pounded down the wine until they were sloshed. Paul tells them, "don't you have a house to eat and drink in? Why'd you bother coming to the love feast anyway?"
But there are several exhortations here that we should consider before we partake of communion. Although the traditions of men have added many rules about communion, Jesus gave only one: "As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me." Verse 26 tells us that is is specifically in remembrance of His death. Remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, His blood poured out for us, His body broken for us.
Paul's rebuke of the Corinthians was because they were not doing this. They were stuffing themselves, they were getting drunk. They weren't meditating on the death of Christ all He went through, and all that it means to us. Because of this, they were eating and drinking judgment to themselves. Some of them got physically sick, others had actually died. Consider the manner in which you partake, so that you are not bringing judgment upon yourself. Partake worthily remember Christ.