Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Corinthians 11
The apostle reprehends the Corinthians for several irregularities in their manner of conducting public worship; the men praying or prophesying with their heads covered, and the women with their heads uncovered, contrary to custom, propriety, and decency, 1 Corinthians 11:1-6. Reasons why they should act differently, 1 Corinthians 11:7-16. They are also reproved for their divisions and heresies, 1 Corinthians 11:17-19. And for the irregular manner in which they celebrated the Lord‘s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:20-22. The proper manner of celebrating this holy rite laid down by the apostle, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Directions for a profitable receiving of the Lord‘s Supper, and avoiding the dangerous consequences of communicating unworthily, 1 Corinthians 11:27-34.
Be ye followers of me - This verse certainly belongs to the preceding chapter, and is here out of all proper place and connection.
That ye remember me in all things - It appears that the apostle had previously given them a variety of directions relative to the matters mentioned here; that some had paid strict attention to them, and that others had not; and that contentions and divisions were the consequences, which he here reproves and endeavors to rectify. While Paul and Apollos had preached among them, they had undoubtedly prescribed every thing that was necessary to be observed in the Christian worship: but it is likely that those who joined in idol festivals wished also to introduce something relative to the mode of conducting the idol worship into the Christian assembly, which they might think was an improvement on the apostle‘s plan.
The head of every man is Christ - The apostle is speaking particularly of Christianity and its ordinances: Christ is the Head or Author of this religion; and is the creator, preserver, and Lord of every man. The man also is the lord or head of the woman; and the Head or Lord of Christ, as Mediator between God and man, is God the Father. Here is the order - God sends his Son Jesus Christ to redeem man; Christ comes and lays down his life for the world; every man who receives Christianity confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father; and every believing woman will acknowledge, according to Genesis 3:16, that God has placed her in a dependence on and subjection to the man. So far there is no difficulty in this passage.
Praying, or prophesying - Any person who engages in public acts in the worship of God, whether prayer, singing, or exhortation: for we learn, from the apostle himself, that προφητευειν , to prophesy, signifies to speak unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort, 1 Corinthians 14:3. And this comprehends all that we understand by exhortation, or even preaching.
Having his head covered - With his cap or turban on, dishonoreth his head; because the head being covered was a sign of subjection; and while he was employed in the public ministration of the word, he was to be considered as a representative of Christ, and on this account his being veiled or covered would be improper. This decision of the apostle was in point blank hostility to the canons of the Jews; for they would not suffer a man to pray unless he was veiled, for which they gave this reason. “He should veil himself to show that he is ashamed before God, and unworthy with open face to behold him.” See much in Lightfoot on this point.
But every woman that prayeth, etc. - Whatever may be the meaning of praying and prophesying, in respect to the man, they have precisely the same meaning in respect to the woman. So that some women at least, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. And this kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel, Joel 2:28, and referred to by Peter, Acts 2:17. And had there not been such gifts bestowed on women, the prophecy could not have had its fulfillment. The only difference marked by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered, because he was the representative of Christ; the woman had hers covered, because she was placed by the order of God in a state of subjection to the man, and because it was a custom, both among the Greeks and Romans, and among the Jews an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was, and is, a common custom through all the east, and none but public prostitutes go without veils. And if a woman should appear in public without a veil, she would dishonor her head - her husband. And she must appear like to those women who had their hair shorn off as the punishment of whoredom, or adultery.
For if the woman be not covered - If she will not wear a veil in the public assemblies, let her be shorn - let her carry a public badge of infamy: but if it be a shame - if to be shorn or shaven would appear, as it must, a badge of infamy, then let her be covered - let her by all means wear a veil. Even in mourning it was considered disgraceful to be obliged to shear off the hair; and lest they should lose this ornament of their heads, the women contrived to evade the custom, by cutting off the ends of it only. Euripides, in Orest., ver. 128, speaking of Helen, who should have shaved her head on account of the death of her sister Clytemnestra, says: ειδετε παρ ‘ ακρας ὡς απεθρισεν τριχας, σωζουσα καλλος, εστι δε ἡ παλαι γυνη : “see how she cuts off only the very points of her hair, that she may preserve her beauty, and is just the same woman as before.” See the note on 1 Corinthians 11:5.
A man indeed ought not to cover his head - He should not wear his cap or turban in the public congregation, for this was a badge of servitude, or an indication that he had a conscience overwhelmed with guilt; and besides, it was contrary to the custom that prevailed, both among the Greeks and Romans.
He is the image and glory of God - He is God‘s vicegerent in this lower world; and, by the authority which he has received from his Master, he is his representative among the creatures, and exhibits, more than any other part of the creation, the glory and perfections of the Creator.
But the woman is the glory of the man - As the man is, among the creatures, the representative of the glory and perfections of God, so that the fear of him and the dread of him are on every beast of the field, etc.; so the woman is, in the house and family, the representative of the power and authority of the man. I believe this to be the meaning of the apostle; and that he is speaking here principally concerning power and authority, and skill to use them. It is certainly not the moral image of God, nor his celestial glory, of which he speaks in this verse.
For, the man is not of the woman - Bishop Pearce translates ου γαρ εστιν ανηρ εκ γυναικος, αλλα γυνη εξ ανδρος , thus: “For the man doth not Belong to the woman, but the woman to the man.” And vindicates this sense of εκ , by its use in 1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot shall say, ουκ ειμι εκ του σωματος , I am not of the body, i.e. I do not belong to the body. He observes that as the verb εστιν is in the present tense, and will not allow that we should understand this verse of something that is past, γαρ , for, in the following verse, which is unnoticed by our translators, will have its full propriety and meaning, because it introduces a reason why the woman belongs to the man and not the man to the woman. His meaning is, that the man does not belong to the woman, as if she was the principal; but the woman belongs to the man in that view.
Neither was the man created, etc. - Και γαρ ουκ εκτισθη· for the man was not created upon the woman‘s account. The reason is plain from what is mentioned above; and from the original creation of woman she was made for the man, to be his proper or suitable helper.
For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels - There are few portions in the sacred writings that have given rise to such a variety of conjectures and explanations, and are less understood, than this verse, and 1 Corinthians 15:29. Our translators were puzzled with it; and have inserted here one of the largest marginal readings found any where in their work; but this is only on the words power on her head, which they interpret thus: that is, a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband. But, admitting this marginal reading to be a satisfactory solution so far as it goes, it by no means removes all the difficulty. Mr. Locke ingenuously acknowledged that he did not understand the meaning of the words; and almost every critic and learned man has a different explanation. Some have endeavored to force out a meaning by altering the text. The emendation of Mr. Toup, of Cornwall, is the most remarkable: he reads εξιουσα , going out, instead of εξουσιαν , power; wherefore the woman, when she goes out, should have a veil on her head. Whatever ingenuity there may appear in this emendation, the consideration that it is not acknowledged by any MS., or version, or primitive writer, is sufficient proof against it. Dr. Lightfoot, Schoettgen, and Bishop Pearce, have written best on the subject, in which they allow that there are many difficulties. The latter contends,
1.That the original should be read, Wherefore the woman ought to have A power upon her head, that is, the power of the husband over the wife; the word power standing for the sign or token of that power which was a covering or veil. Theophylact explains the word, το του εξουσιαζεσθαι συμβολον, τουτεστι, το καλυμμα , “the symbol of being under power, that is, a veil, or covering.” And Photius explains it thus: της υποταγης συμβολον το επι της κεφαλης καλυμμα φερειν ; to wear a veil on the head is a symbol of subjection. It is no unusual thing, in the Old and New Testament, for the signs and tokens of things to be called by the names of the things themselves, for thus circumcision is called the covenant, in Genesis 17:10, Genesis 17:13, though it was only the sign of it.
2.The word angels presents another difficulty. Some suppose that by these the apostle means the fallen angels, or devils; others, the governors of the Church; and others, those who were deputed among the Jews to espouse a virgin in the name of a lover. All these senses the learned bishop rejects, and believes that the apostle uses the word angels, in its most obvious sense, for the heavenly angels; and that he speaks according to the notion which then prevailed among Jews, that the holy angels interested themselves in the affairs of men, and particularly were present in their religious assemblies, as the cherubim, their representation, were present in their temple. Thus we read in Ecclesiastes 5:6: Neither say thou before the Angel, it was an error; and in 1 Timothy 5:21: I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect Angels, etc. Parallel to these is what Agrippa says in his oration to the Jews, Josephus, War, b. ii. chap. 16: I protest before God, your holy temple, and all the Angels of heaven, etc. All which passages suppose, or were spoken to those who supposed, that the angels know what passes here upon earth. The notion, whether just or not, prevailed among the Jews; and if so, St. Paul might speak according to the common opinion.
3.Another difficulty lies in the phrase δια τουτο , wherefore, which shows that this verse is a conclusion from what the apostle was arguing before; which we may understand thus: that his conclusion, from the foregoing argument, ought to have the more weight, upon account of the presence, real or supposed, of the holy angels, at their religious meetings. See Bishop Pearce, in loc.
The learned bishop is not very willing to allow that the doctrine of the presence of angelic beings in religious assemblies is legitimate; but what difficulty can there be in this, if we take the words of the apostle in another place: Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Hebrews 1:14. And perhaps there is no time in which they can render more essential services to the followers of God than when they are engaged in Divine ordinances. On the whole, the bishop‘s sense of the passage and paraphrase stands thus: “And because of this superiority in the man, I conclude that the woman should have on her head a veil, the mark of her husband‘s power over her, especially in the religious assemblies, where the angels are supposed to be invisibly present.”
1.He contends that εξουσιαν occurs nowhere in the sense of veil, and yet he supposes that the word καλυμμα , veil is understood, and must in the translation of the passage be supplied.
2.He directs that a comma be placed after εξουσιαν , and that it be construed with οφειλει , ought; after which he translates the verse thus: Propterea mulier potestati obnoxia est, ita ut velamen in capite habeat propter angelos; On this account the woman is subject to power, so that she should have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
So Dionys. Hal. Ant. lib. iii., page 205: Και πολλην οφειλοντες αισχυνην απηλθον εκ της αγορας· They departed from the market, exposed to great dishonor. So Euripides, Οφειλω σοι βλαβην· I am exposed to thy injury.
4.He contends that the words taken in this sense agree perfectly with the context, and with δια τουτο , wherefore, in this verse, “Because the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man, therefore she is subject to his authority, and should have a veil on her head as a token of that subjection; and particularly before the holy angels, who are present in the congregations of the saints.”
For Dr. Lightfoot‘s opinion, that by angels we are to understand the paranymphs, or messengers who came on the part of others, to look out for proper spouses for their friends, I must refer to his works, vol. ii. fol., p. 772. The reader has now before him every thing that is likely to cast light on this difficult subject, and he must either adopt what he judges to be best, or else think for himself.
Neither is the man without the woman - The apostle seems to say: I do not intimate any disparagement of the female sex, by insisting on the necessity of her being under the power or authority of the man; for they are both equally dependent on each other, in the Lord, εν Κυριῳ : but instead of this reading, Theodoret has εν τῳ κοσμῳ , in the world. Probably the apostle means that the human race is continued by an especial providence of God. Others think that he means that men and women equally make a Christian society, and in it have equal rights and privileges.
For as the woman is of the man - For as the woman was first formed out of the side of man, man has ever since been formed out of the womb of the woman; but they, as all other created things, are of God.
Judge in yourselves - Consider the subject in your own common sense, and then say whether it be decent for a woman to pray in public without a veil on her head? The heathen priestesses prayed or delivered their oracles bare-headed or with dishevelled hair, non comptae mansere comae, as in the case of the Cumaean Sibyl, Aen. vi., ver. 48, and otherwise in great disorder: to be conformed to them would be very disgraceful to Christian women. And in reference to such things as these, the apostle appeals to their sense of honor and decency.
Doth not - nature - teach you, that, if a man have long hair - Nature certainly teaches us, by bestowing it, that it is proper for women to have long hair; and it is not so with men. The hair of the male rarely grows like that of a female, unless art is used, and even then it bears but a scanty proportion to the former. Hence it is truly womanish to have long hair, and it is a shame to the man who affects it. In ancient times the people of Achaia, the province in which Corinth stood, and the Greeks in general, were noted for their long hair; and hence called by Homer, in a great variety of places, καρηκομοωντες Αχαιοι , the long-haired Greeks, or Achaeans. Soldiers, in different countries, have been distinguished for their long hair; but whether this can be said to their praise or blame, or whether Homer uses it always as a term of respect, when he applies it to the Greeks, I shall not wait here to inquire. Long hair was certainly not in repute among the Jews. The Nazarites let their hair grow, but it was as a token of humiliation; and it is possible that St. Paul had this in view. There were consequently two reasons why the apostle should condemn this practice: -
1.Because it was a sign of humiliation;
2.Because it was womanish.
After all it is possible that St. Paul may refer to dressed, frizzled and curled hair, which shallow and effeminate men might have affected in that time, as they do in this. Perhaps there is not a sight more ridiculous in the eye of common sense than a high-dressed, curled, cued, and powdered head, with which the operator must have taken considerable pains, and the silly patient lost much time and comfort in submitting to what all but senseless custom must call an indignity and degradation. Hear nature, common sense, and reason, and they will inform you, that if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him.
But if a woman have long hair - The Author of their being has given a larger proportion of hair to the head of women than to that of men; and to them it is an especial ornament, and may in various cases serve as a veil.
But if any man seem to be contentious - Ει δε τις δοκει φιλονεικος ειναι· If any person sets himself up as a wrangler - puts himself forward as a defender of such points, that a woman may pray or teach with her head uncovered, and that a man may, without reproach, have long hair; let him know that we have no such custom as either, nor are they sanctioned by any of the Churches of God, whether among the Jews or the Gentiles. We have already seen that the verb δοκειν , which we translate to seem, generally strengthens and increases the sense. From the attention that the apostle has paid to the subject of veils and hair, it is evident that it must have occasioned considerable disturbance in the Church of Corinth. They have produced evil effects in much later times.
Now in this - I praise you not - In the beginning of this epistle the apostle did praise them for their attention in general to the rules he had laid down, see 1 Corinthians 11:2; but here he is obliged to condemn certain irregularities which had crept in among them, particularly relative to the celebration of the Lord‘s Supper. Through some false teaching which they had received, in the absence of the apostle, they appear to have celebrated it precisely in the same way the Jews did their passover. That, we know, was a regular meal, only accompanied with certain peculiar circumstances and ceremonies: two of these ceremonies were, eating bread, solemnly broken, and drinking a cup of wine called the cup of blessing. Now, it is certain that our Lord has taken these two things, and made them expressive of the crucifixion of his body, and the shedding of his blood, as an atonement for the sins of mankind. The teachers which had crept into the Corinthian Church appear to have perverted the whole of this Divine institution; for the celebration of the Lord‘s Supper appears to have been made among them a part of an ordinary meal. The people came together, and it appears brought their provisions with them; some had much, others had less; some ate to excess, others had scarcely enough to suffice nature. One was hungry, and the other was drunken, μεθυει , was filled to the full; this is the sense of the word in many places of Scripture. At the conclusion of this irregular meal they appear to have done something in reference to our Lord‘s institution, but more resembling the Jewish passover. These irregularities, connected with so many indecencies, the apostle reproves; for, instead of being benefited by the Divine ordinance, they were injured; they came together not for the better, but for the worse.
There be divisions among you - They had σχισματα , schisms, among them: the old parties were kept up, even in the place where they assembled to eat the Lord‘s Supper. The Paulians, the Kephites, and the Apollonians, continued to be distinct parties; and ate their meals separately, even in the same house.
There must be also heresies - Αἱρεσεις· Not a common consent of the members of the Church, either in the doctrines of the Gospel, or in the ceremonies of the Christian religion. Their difference in religious opinion led to a difference in their religious practice, and thus the Church of God, that should have been one body, was split into sects and parties. The divisions and the heresies sprung out of each other. I have spoken largely on the word heresy in Acts 5:17 (note), to which place I beg leave to refer the reader.
This is not to eat the Lord‘s Supper - They did not come together to eat the Lord‘s Supper exclusively, which they should have done, and not have made it a part of an ordinary meal.
Every one taketh before - his own supper - They had a grand feast, though the different sects kept in parties by themselves; but all took as ample a supper as they could provide, (each bringing his own provisions with him), before they took what was called the Lord‘s Supper. See on 1 Corinthians 11:17 (note).
Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? - They should have taken their ordinary meal at home, and have come together in the church to celebrate the Lord‘s Supper.
Despise ye the church of God - Ye render the sacred assembly and the place contemptible by your conduct, and ye show yourselves destitute of that respect which ye owe to the place set apart for Divine worship.
And shame them that have not? - Τους μη εχοντας , Them that are poor; not them who had not victuals at that time, but those who are so poor as to be incapable of furnishing themselves as others had done. See the note on Matthew 13:12.
I have received of the Lord - It is possible that several of the people at Corinth did receive the bread and wine of the eucharist as they did the paschal bread and wine, as a mere commemoration of an event. And as our Lord had by this institution consecrated that bread and wine, not to be the means of commemorating the deliverance from Egypt, and their joy on the account, but their deliverance from sin and death by his passion and cross; therefore the apostle states that he had received from the Lord what he delivered; viz. that the eucharistic bread and wine were to be understood of the accomplishment of that of which the paschal lamb was the type - the body broken for them, the blood shed for them.
The Lord Jesus - took bread - See the whole of this account, collated with the parallel passages in the four Gospels, amply explained in my Discourse on the Eucharist, and in the notes on Matthew 26.
This do in remembrance of me - The papists believe the apostles were not ordained priests before these words. Si quis dixerit, illis verbis, hoc facite in meam commemorationem, Christum non instituisse apostolos sacerdotes, anathema sit: “If any one shall say that in these words, ‹This do in remembrance of me,‘ Christ did not ordain his apostles priests, let him be accursed.” Conc. Trid. Sess. 22. Conc. 2. And he that does believe such an absurdity, on such a ground, is contemptible.
Ye do show the Lord‘s death - As in the passover they showed forth the bondage they had been in, and the redemption they had received from it; so in the eucharist they showed forth the sacrificial death of Christ, and the redemption from sin derived from it.
Whosoever shall eat - and drink - unworthily - To put a final end to controversies and perplexities relative to these words and the context, let the reader observe, that to eat and drink the bread and wine in the Lord‘s Supper unworthily, is to eat and drink as the Corinthians did, who ate it not in reference to Jesus Christ‘s sacrificial death; but rather in such a way as the Israelites did the passover, which they celebrated in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Likewise, these mongrel Christians at Corinth used it as a kind of historical commemoration of the death of Christ; and did not, in the whole institution, discern the Lord‘s body and blood as a sacrificial offering for sin: and besides, in their celebration of it they acted in a way utterly unbecoming the gravity of a sacred ordinance. Those who acknowledge it as a sacrificial offering, and receive it in remembrance of God‘s love to them in sending his Son into the world, can neither bring damnation upon themselves by so doing, nor eat nor drink unworthily. See our translation of this verse vindicated at the end of the chapter, (1 Corinthians 11:34).
Let a man examine himself - Let him try whether he has proper faith in the Lord Jesus; and whether he discerns the Lord‘s body; and whether he duly considers that the bread and wine point out the crucified body and spilt blood of Christ.
Eateth and drinketh damnation - Κριμα , Judgment, punishment; and yet this is not unto damnation, for the judgment or punishment inflicted upon the disorderly and the profane was intended for their emendation; for in 1 Corinthians 11:32, it is said, then we are judged, κρινομενοι , we are chastened, παιδευομεθα , corrected as a father does his children, that we should not be condemned with the world.
For this cause - That they partook of this sacred ordinance without discerning the Lord‘s body; many are weak and sickly: it is hard to say whether these words refer to the consequences of their own intemperance or to some extraordinary disorders inflicted immediately by God himself. That there were disorders of the most reprehensible kind among these people at this sacred supper, the preceding verses sufficiently point out; and after such excesses, many might be weak and sickly among them, and many might sleep, i.e. die; for continual experience shows us that many fall victims to their own intemperance. How ever, acting as they did in this solemn and awful sacrament, they might have “provoked God to plague them with divers diseases and sundry kinds of death.” Communion service.
If we would judge ourselves - If, having acted improperly, we condemn our conduct and humble ourselves, we shall not be judged, i.e. punished for the sin we have committed.
But when we are judged - See on 1 Corinthians 11:29 (note).
When ye come together to eat - The Lord‘s Supper, tarry one for another - do not eat and drink in parties as ye have done heretofore; and do not connect it with any other meal.
And if any man hunger - Let him not come to the house of God to eat an ordinary meal, let him eat at home - take that in his own house which is necessary for the support of his body before he comes to that sacred repast, where he should have the feeding of his soul alone in view.
That ye come not together unto condemnation - That ye may avoid the curse that must fall on such worthless communicants as those above mentioned; and that ye may get that especial blessing which every one that discerns the Lord‘s body in the eucharist must receive.
The rest will I set in order, etc. - All the other matters relative to this business, to which you have referred in your letter, I will regulate when I come to visit you; as, God permitting, I fully design. The apostle did visit them about one year after this, as is generally believed.
1.The apostle inculcates the necessity of order and subjection, especially in the Church. Those who are impatient of rule, are generally those who wish to tyrannize. And those who are loudest in their complaints against authority, whether civil or ecclesiastical, are those who wish to have the power in their own hands, and would infallibly abuse it if they had. They alone who are willing to obey, are capable of rule; and he who can rule well, is as willing to obey as to govern. Let all be submissive and orderly; let the woman know that the man is head and protector; let the man know that Christ is his head and redeemer, and the gift of God‘s endless mercy for the salvation of a lost world.
2.The apostle insisted on the woman having her head covered in the Church or Christian assembly. If he saw the manner in which Christian women now dress, and appear in the ordinances of religion, what would he think? What would he say? How could he even distinguish the Christian from the infidel? And if they who are in Christ are new creatures, and the persons who ordinarily appear in religious assemblies are really new creatures (as they profess in general to be) in Christ, he might reasonably inquire: If these are new creatures, what must have been their appearance when they were old creatures. Do we dress to be seen? And do we go to the house of God to exhibit ourselves? Wretched is that man or woman who goes to the house of God to be seen by any but God himself.
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