What does 1 Corinthians 11:3 mean?Paul has just praised the church in Corinth for remembering his teaching and maintaining the traditions he showed them. In this context—as in most—the word translated "traditions" simply means a teaching passed down from someone else. In some cases, those teachings are just preferences (Matthew 15:2). In others, such as this, they are proper applications of truth (2 Thessalonians 2:15). It's possible that Paul's specific meaning here refers to how the believers in Corinth conduct themselves in church meetings.
Despite that praise, he launches into a correction of something going on during their times of worship together. The basis for his correction is headship: the idea that every person—man, woman, or Christ Himself—has a head. Through these remarks, Paul also provides guidance about cultural issues such as the physical appearance of men and women.
Bible scholars are divided about what, exactly, Paul means here by the concept of a "head." This might be an overt reference to authority, meaning each of us is under the authority of someone: our "head," who is in charge. On the other hand, "head" may be a broader term, meaning one who goes before and represents others. These two meanings are related, but subtly different and have different implications.
Paul writes that the head of every man—meaning every adult male—is Christ. Men answer to Christ and Christ represents us. The head of a wife—of a woman—is her husband—is man. As is so often the case, translation from ancient language creates a challenge. As in all such cases, context and discipleship are meant to tell us what a few words, taken alone, may not fully reveal.
Other New Testament passages reveal the Bible's view that the husband is the head of the wife, both as spiritual authority and representative. In this instance, though, Paul seems to be speaking more generally. His point here is directed not directly to authority, but to the order of creation.
Finally, Paul adds that God is the head of Christ. This is part of the mystery of the Trinity, in which Christ is both God and is under the authority and direction of God, as Paul writes elsewhere in this letter (1 Corinthians 3:23; 15:28).
In all three cases, then, each of us, including Christ, has a spiritual head in one form or another. This is the design of creation. Paul will use this foundation to talk about what the Corinthians should do with their physical heads—their appearance—during times of worship together.