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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1.Imitators of me. From this it appears, how absurdly chapters are divided, inasmuch as this sentence is disjoined from what goes before, with which it ought to have been connected, and is joined to what follows, with which it has no connection. Let us view this, then, as the close of the preceding chapter. Paul had there brought forward his own example in confirmation of his doctrine. Now, in order that the Corinthians may understand that this would be becoming in them, he exhorts them to imitate what he had done, even as he had imitated Christ

Here there are two things to be observed — first, that he prescribes nothing to others that he had not first practiced himself; and, secondly, that he directs himself and others to Christ as the only pattern of right acting. For while it is the part of a good teacher to enjoin nothing in words but what he is prepared to practice in action, he must not, at the same time, be so austere, as straightway to require from others everything that he does himself, as is the manner of the superstitious. For everything that they contract a liking for they impose also upon others, and would have their own example to be held absolutely as a rule. The world is also, of its own accord, inclined to a misdirected imitation, ( κακοζηλίαν) (610) and, after the manner of apes, strive to copy whatever they see done by persons of great influence. We see, however how many evils have been introduced into the Church by this absurd desire of imitating all the actions of the saints, without exception. Let us, therefore, maintain so much the more carefully this doctrine of Paul — that we are to follow men, provided they take Christ as their grand model, ( πρωτότυπον,) that the examples of the saints may not tend to lead us away from Christ, but rather to direct us to him.


Verse 2

2.Now I praise you He passes on now to another subject-to instruct the Corinthians, what decorum ought to be observed in the sacred assemblies. For as a man’s dress or gesture has in some cases the effect of disfiguring, and in others of adorning him, so all actions are set off to advantage by decorum, and are vitiated by the want of it. Much, therefore, depends upon decorum ( τὸ πρεπον,) (611) and that not merely for securing for our actions gracefulness and beauty, but also to accustom our minds to propriety. While this is true in a general way as to everything, it holds especially as to sacred things; (612) for what contempt, and, eventually, what barbarism will be incurred, if we do not preserve dignity in the Church, by conducting ourselves honorably and becomingly? Hence he prescribes some things that are connected with public order, by which sacred assemblies are rendered honorable. But in order to prepare them the more for obedience, he commends, in the outset, their obedience in the past, inasmuch as they observed his ordinances; for inasmuch as he had begotten that Church to the Lord, (1 Corinthians 4:15,) he had delivered to them a certain system, by which it was to be governed. By retaining this, the Corinthians gave reason to hope, that they would also in future be docile.

It is surprising, however, that, while he now bestows upon them this commendation, he had previously blamed them for many things. Nay more, if we consider the state of the Church, such as has been previously described, they were far from deserving this praise. I answer, that there were some that were infected with those vices which he had previously reproved, and indeed, some with one, others with another; but, in the meantime, the form which he had prescribed to them had been retained by the entire body. For there is nothing of inconsistency in saying, that very many sins, and of various kinds, prevail among a particular people — some cheating, others plundering — some envying, others quarrelling, and another class guilty of fornication — while, at the same time, in respect of the public form of the Church, the institutions of Christ and his Apostles are maintained.

This will appear more clearly when we come to see what Paul means by παραδόσεις; (traditions;) (613) and independently of this, it is necessary to speak of this word, for the purpose of replying to Papists, who arm themselves with this passage for the purpose of defending their traditions. It is a common maxim among them, that the doctrine of the Apostles consists partly of writings and partly of traditions. Under this second department they include not merely certain foolish superstitions, and puerile ceremonies, with which they are stuffed, but also all kinds of gross abomination, directly contrary to the plain word of God, and their tyrannical laws, which are mere torments to men’s consciences. In this way there is nothing that is so foolish, nothing so absurd — in fine, nothing so monstrous, as not to have shelter under this pretext, and to be painted over with this varnish. As Paul, therefore, makes mention here of traditions, they seize, as they are accustomed to do, upon this little word, with the view of making Paul the author of all those abominations, which we set aside by plain declaration of Scripture.

I do not deny, that there were certain traditions (614) of the Apostles that were not committed to writing, but I do not admit that they were parts of doctrine, or related to things necessary for salvation. What then? They were connected with order and government. For we know that every Church has liberty to frame for itself a form of government that is suitable and profitable for it, because the Lord has not prescribed anything definite. Thus Paul, the first founder of the Corinthian Church, had also framed for its regulation pious and seemly enactments — that all things might be done decently and in order, as he afterwards enjoins. (1 Corinthians 14:40.) But what has this to do with those silly trifles of ceremonies, which are to be seen in Popery? (615) What has it to do with a worse than Jewish superstition? What has it to do with a tyranny worthy of Phalaris, (616) by which they torture miserable consciences? What has it to do with so many monstrous rites of idolatry? For the foundation of all right enactment was this: to observe the moderation that Paul made use of — not to compel persons to follow their enactments, (617) while, in the meantime, contriving everything that might strike their fancy, but to require that they should be imitated, in so far as they are imitators of Christ But now, after having had the audacity to criticize everything agreeably to their own humor, to demand obedience from all is exceedingly absurd. Farther, we must know that Paul commends their obedience in the past, in order that he may render them docile also for the time to come.


Verse 3

3.But I would have you know It is an old proverb: “Evil manners beget good laws.” (618) As the rite here treated of had not been previously called in question, Paul had given no enactment respecting it. (619) The error of the Corinthians was the occasion of his showing, what part it was becoming to act in this matter. With the view of proving, that it is an unseemly thing for women to appear in a public assembly with their heads uncovered, and, on the other hand, for men to pray or prophesy with their heads covered, he sets out with noticing the arrangements that are divinely established.

He says, that as Christ is subject to God as his head, so is the man subject to Christ, and the woman to the man We shall afterwards see, how he comes to infer from this, that women ought to have their heads covered. Let us, for the present, take notice of those four gradations which he points out. God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.

There is somewhat more of difficulty in what follows. Here the man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman, so that Christ is not the head of the woman. Yet the same Apostle teaches us elsewhere, (Galatians 3:28,) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Why then does he make a distinction here, which in that passage he does away with? I answer, that the solution of this depends on the connection in which the passages occur. When he says that there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which individual distinctions (620) are not regarded, or made any account of; for it has nothing to do with the body, and has nothing to do with the outward relationships of mankind, but has to do solely with the mind — on which account he declares that there is no difference, even between bond and free. In the meantime, however, he does not disturb civil order or honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here, on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum — which is a part of ecclesiastical polity. Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists. Should any one ask, what connection marriage has with Christ, I answer, that Paul speaks here of that sacred union of pious persons, of which Christ is the officiating priest, (621) and He in whose name it is consecrated.


Verse 4

4.Every man praying Here there are two propositions. The first relates to the man, the other to the woman He says that the man commits an offense against Christ his head, if he prays or prophesies with his head covered. Why so? Because he is subject to Christ, with this understanding, that he is to hold the first place in the government of the house — for the father of the family is like a king in his own house. Hence the glory of God shines forth in him, in consequence of the authority with which he is invested. If he covers his head, he lets himself down from that preeminence which God had assigned to him, so as to be in subjection. Thus the honor of Christ is infringed upon. For example, (622) If the person whom the prince has appointed as his lieutenant, does not know how to maintain his proper station, (623) and instead of this, exposes his dignity to contempt on the part of persons in the lowest station, does he not bring dishonor upon his prince? In like manner, if the man does not keep his own station — if he is not subject to Christ in such a way as to preside over his own family with authority, he obscures, to that extent, the glory of Christ, which shines forth in the well regulated order of marriage. The covering, as we shall see ere long, is an emblem of authority intermediate and interposed.

Prophesying I take here to mean — declaring the mysteries of God for the edification of the hearers, (as afterwards in 1 Corinthians 14:3,) as praying means preparing a form of prayer, and taking the lead, as it were, of all the people — which is the part of the public teacher, (624) for Paul is not arguing here as to every kind of prayer, but as to solemn prayer in public. Let us, however, bear in mind, that in this matter the error is merely in so far as decorum is violated, and the distinction of rank which God has established, is broken in upon. For we must not be so scrupulous as to look upon it as a criminal thing for a teacher to have a cap on his head, when addressing the people from the pulpit. Paul means nothing more than this — that it should appear that the man has authority, and that the woman is under subjection, and this is secured when the man uncovers his head in the view of the Church, though he should afterwards put on his cap again from fear of catching cold. In fine, the one rule to be observed here is το πρέπονdecorum If that is secured, Paul requires nothing farther.


Verse 5

5.Every woman praying or prophesying Here we have the second proposition — that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonor their head For as the man honors his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection — involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly

prohibits women from speaking in the Church.
(
1 Timothy 2:12.)

It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1 Corinthians 14:34. In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty — not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.

For it is all one as if she were shaven. He now maintains from other considerations, that it is unseemly for women to have their heads bare. Nature itself, says he, abhors it. To see a woman shaven is a spectacle that is disgusting and monstrous. Hence we infer that the woman has her hair given her for a covering Should any one now object, that her hair is enough, as being a natural covering, Paul says that it is not, for it is such a covering as requires another thing to be made use of for covering it And hence a conjecture is drawn, with some appearance of probability — that women who had beautiful hair were accustomed to uncover their heads for the purpose of showing off their beauty. It is not, therefore, without good reason that Paul, as a remedy for this vice, sets before them the opposite idea — that they be regarded as remarkable for unseemliness, rather than for what is an incentive to lust. (625)


Verse 7

7.The man ought not to cover his head, because he is the image The same question may now be proposed respecting the image, as formerly respecting thehead. For both sexes were created in the image of God, and Paul exhorts women no less than men to be formed anew, according to that image. The image, however, of which he is now speaking, relates to the order of marriage, and hence it belongs to the present life, and is not connected with conscience. The simple solution is this — that he does not treat here of innocence and holiness, which are equally becoming in men and women, but of the distinction, which God has conferred upon the man, so as to have superiority over the woman. In this superior order of dignity the glory of God is seen, as it shines forth in every kind of superiority.

The woman is the glory of the man There is no doubt that the woman is a distinguished ornament of the man; for it is a great honor that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, (626) and has made her subject to him as the body is to the head. For what Solomon affirms as to a careful wife — that she is a crown to her husband, (Proverbs 12:4,) is true of the whole sex, if we look to the appointment of God, which Paul here commends, showing that the woman was created for this purpose — that she might be a distinguished ornament of the man.


Verse 8

8.For the man is not from the woman. He establishes by two arguments the pre-eminence, which he had assigned to men above women. The first is, that as the woman derives her origin from the man, she is therefore inferior in rank. The second is, that as the woman was created for the sake of the man, she is therefore subject to him, as the work ultimately produced is to its cause. (627) That the man is the beginning of the woman and the end for which she was made, is evident from the law. (Genesis 2:18.)

It is not good for a man to be alone. Let us make for him, etc.

Farther,

God took one of Adam’s ribs and formed Eve.
(
Genesis 2:21.)


Verse 10

10.For this cause ought the woman to have power (628) From that authority he draws an argument (629) in favor of outward decorum. “She is subject,” says he, “let her then wear a token of subjection.” In the term power, there is an instance of metonymy, (630) for he means a token by which she declares herself to be under the power of her husband; and it is a covering, whether it be a robe, or a veil, (631) or any other kind of covering. (632)

It is asked, whether he speaks of married women exclusively, for there are some that restrict to them what Paul here teaches, on the ground that it does not belong to virgins to be under the authority of a husband. It is however a mistake, for Paul looks beyond this — to God’s eternal law, which has made the female sex subject to the authority of men. On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequence of the superiority of the male sex. Otherwise it were an inconclusive argument that Paul has drawn from nature, in saying that it were not one whit more seemly for a woman to have her head uncovered than to be shaven — this being applicable to virgins also.

Because of the angels This passage is explained in various ways. As the Prophet Malachi 2:7 calls priests angels of God, some are of opinion that Paul speaks of them; but the ministers of the word have nowhere that term applied to them by itself — that is, without something being added; and the meaning would be too forced. I understand it, therefore, in its proper signification. But it is asked, why it is that he would have women have their heads covered because of the angels — for what has this to do with them? Some answer: “Because they are present on occasion of the prayers of believers, and on this account are spectators of unseemliness, should there be any on such occasions.” But what need is there for philosophizing with such refinement? We know that angels are in attendance, also, upon Christ as their head, and minister to him. (633) When, therefore, women venture upon such liberties, as to usurp for themselves the token of authority, they make their baseness manifest to the angels. This, therefore, was said by way of amplifying, as if he had said, “If women uncover their heads, not only Christ, but all the angels too, will be witnesses of the outrage.” And this interpretation suits well with the Apostle’s design. He is treating here of different ranks. Now he says that, when women assume a higher place than becomes them, they gain this by it — that they discover their impudence in the view of the angels of heaven.


Verse 11

11.But neither is the man without the woman This is added partly as a check upon men, that they may not insult over women; (634) and partly as a consolation to women, that they may not feel dissatisfied with being under subjection. “The male sex (says he) has a distinction over the female sex, with this understanding, that they ought to be connected together by mutual benevolence, for the one cannot do without the other. If they be separated, they are like the mutilated members of a mangled body. Let them, therefore, be connected with each other by the bond of mutual duty.” (635)

When he says, in the Lord, he by this expression calls the attention of believers to the appointment of the Lord, while the wicked look to nothing beyond pressing necessity. (636) For profane men, if they can conveniently live unmarried, despise the whole sex, and do not consider that they are under obligations to it by the appointment and decree of God. The pious, on the other hand, acknowledge that the male sex is but the half of the human race. They ponder the meaning of that statement — God created man: male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27, and Genesis 5:2.) Thus they, of their own accord, acknowledge themselves to be debtors to the weaker sex. Pious women, in like manner, reflect upon their obligation. (637) Thus the man has no standing without the woman, for that would be the head severed from the body; nor has the woman without the man, for that were a body without a head. “Let, therefore, the man perform to the woman the office of the head in respect of ruling her, and let the woman perform to the man the office of the body in respect of assisting him, and that not merely in the married state, but also in celibacy; for I do not speak of cohabitation merely, but also of civil offices, for which there is occasion even in the unmarried state.” If you are inclined rather to refer this to the whole sex in general, I do not object to this, though, as Paul directs his discourse to individuals, he appears to point out the particular duty of each.


Verse 12

12.As the woman is of the man If this is one of the reasons, why the man has superiority — that the woman was taken out of him, there will be, in like manner, this motive to friendly connection — that the male sex cannot maintain and preserve itself without the aid of women. For this remains a settled point — that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18.) This statement of Paul may, it is true, be viewed as referring to propagation, because human beings are propagated not by men alone, but by men and women; but I understand it as meaning this also — that the woman is a needful help to the man, inasmuch as a solitary life is not expedient for man. This decree of God exhorts us to cultivate mutual intercourse.

But all things of God God is the Source of both sexes, and hence both of them ought with humility to accept and maintain the condition which the Lord has assigned to them. Let the man exercise his authority with moderation, and not insult over the woman who has been given him as his partner. Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex. Otherwise they will both of them throw off the yoke of God, who has not without good reason appointed this distinction of ranks. Farther, when it is said that the man and the woman, when they are wanting in their duty to each other, are rebels against the authority of God, the statement is a more serious one than if Paul had said, that they do injury to one another.

Doth not even nature itself He again sets forth nature as the mistress of decorum, and what was at that time in common use by universal consent and custom — even among the Greeks — he speaks of as being natural, for it was not always reckoned a disgrace for men to have long hair. (638) Historical records bear, that in all countries in ancient times, that is, in the first ages, men wore long hair. Hence also the poets, in speaking of the ancients, are accustomed to apply to them the common epithet of unshorn (639) It was not until a late period that barbers began to be employed at Rome — about the time of Africanus the elder. And at the time when Paul wrote these things, the practice of having the hair shorn had not yet come into use in the provinces of Gaul or in Germany. Nay more, it would have been reckoned an unseemly thing for men, no less than for women, to be shorn or shaven; but as in Greece it was reckoned all unbecoming thing for a man to allow his hair to grow long, so that those who did so were remarked as effeminate, he reckons as nature a custom that had come to be confirmed. (640)


Verse 16

16.But if any man seem A contentious person is one whose humor inclines him to stir up disputes, and does not care what becomes of the truth. Of this description are all who, without any necessity, abolish good and useful customs — raise disputes respecting matters that are not doubtful — who do not yield to reasonings — who cannot endure that any one should be above them. Of this description, also, are those ( ἀκοινώνητοι) would be singular persons (641) who, from a foolish affectation, (642) aim at some new and unusual way of acting. Such persons Paul does not reckon worthy of being replied to, inasmuch as contention is a pernicious thing, and ought, therefore, to be banished from the Churches. By this he teaches us, that those that are obstinate and fond of quarrelling, should rather be restrained by authority than confuted by lengthened disputations. For you will never have an end of contentions, if you are disposed to contend with a combative person until you have vanquished him; for though vanquished a hundred times, he would argue still. Let us therefore carefully mark this passage, that we may not allow ourselves to be carried away with needless disputations, provided at the same time we know how to distinguish contentious persons. For we must not always reckon as contentious the man who does not acquiesce in our decisions, or who ventures to contradict us; but when temper and obstinacy show themselves, let us then say with Paul, that contentions are at variance with the custom of the Church (643)


Verse 17

His reproof of the fault previously noticed was but a mild and gentle admonition, because the Corinthians sinned in ignorance, so that it was proper that they should readily be forgiven. Paul, too, had praised them in the outset, because they had faithfully kept his enactments. (1 Corinthians 11:2.) Now he begins to reprove them more sharply, because they offended more grievously in some things, and not through ignorance.

17. But, in warning you as to this, I do not praise. (644) For I translate it in this way, because Paul appears to have made the participle and the verb change places. (645) I am also not satisfied with the interpretation of Erasmus, who takes παραγγέλλειν as meaning to command The verb to warn would suit better, but as to this I do not contend. There is an antithesis between this clause and the beginning of this chapter. “While I have praised you, do not think that it is unqualified commendation; for I have something to find fault with, as it is worthy of severe reproof.” This, however, in my opinion, does not refer exclusively to the Lord’s Supper, but also to other faults of which he makes mention. Let this then be taken as a general statement, that the Corinthians are reproved, because they came together not for the better but for the worse. Particular effects of this evil will be brought forward afterwards.

He finds fault with them, then, in the first place, because they come not together for the better, — andsecondly, that they come together for the worse The second, it is true, is the more serious, but even the first is not to be endured, for if we consider what is transacted in the Church, there ought never to be a coming together without some fruit. There the doctrine of God is listened to, prayers are offered up, the Sacraments are administered. The fruit of the Word is, when confidence in God and fear of him are increased in us — when progress is made in holiness of life — when we put off more and more the old man, (Colossians 3:9) — when we advance in newness of life, etc. (Romans 6:4.) The Sacraments have a tendency to exercise us in piety and love. The prayers, too, ought to be of use for promoting all these purposes. In addition to this, the Lord works efficaciously by his Spirit, because he wills not that his ordinances should be vain. Hence if the sacred assemblies are of no benefit to us, and we are not made better by them, it is our ingratitude that is to blame, and therefore we deserve to be reproved. For the effect of our conduct is, that those things, which, from their own nature, and from God’s appointment, ought to have been salutary, become unprofitable.

Then follows the second fault — that they come together for the worse. This is much more criminal, and yet it almost always follows the other, for if we derive no advantage from God’s benefits, he employs this method of punishing our carelessness — that we are made worse by them. It usually happens, too, that negligence gives birth to many corruptions, especially on this account, that those who do not observe the natural use of things usually fall erelong into hurtful inventions. (646)


Verse 18

18.When ye come together in the Church, I hear there are divisions Some take the words divisions and heresies, as referring to that disorder ( ἀταξίαν) of which he speaks soon afterwards. I consider them as having a more extensive signification, and certainly it is not likely that he would employ terms so improper and unsuitable for the purpose of exposing that abuse. (647) For as to their alleging that he has expressed himself in more severe terms, with the view of exposing more fully the heinousness of the offense, I would readily grant this, if the meaning corresponded. It is, then, a reproof of a general kind — that they were not of one accord as becomes Christians, but every one was so much taken up with his own interests, that he was not prepared to accommodate himself to others. Hence arose that abuse, as to which we shall see in a little — hence sprung ambition and pride, so that every one exalted himself and despised others — hence sprung carelessness as to edification — hence sprung profanation of the gifts of God.

He says that he partly believes it, that they might not think that he charged them all with this heinous crime, and might accordingly complain, that they were groundlessly accused. In the meantime, however, he intimates that this had been brought to him not by mere vague rumor, but by credible information, such as he could not altogether discredit.


Verse 19

19.For there must be also heresies He had previously spoken of divisions (1 Corinthians 11:18.) Now he uses the term heresies, with the view of amplifying the more, as we may infer, too, from the word also, for it is added for the sake of amplification. ( προς αὔξησιν.) It is well known in what sense the ancients used those two terms, (648) and what distinction they made between Heretics and Schismatics. (649) Heresy they made to consist in disagreement as to doctrine, and schism, on the contrary, in alienation of affection, as when any one withdrew from the Church from envy, or from dislike of the pastors, or from ill nature. It is true, that the Church cannot but be torn asunder by false doctrine, and thus heresy is the root and origin of schism, and it is also true that envy or pride is the mother of almost all heresies, but at the same time it is of advantage to distinguish in this way between these two terms.

But let us see in what sense Paul employs them. I have already expressed my disapprobation of those who explain heresy as meaning the setting up of a separate table, inasmuch as the rich did not partake of their Supper along with the poor; for he had it in view to point out something more hateful. But without mentioning the opinions of others, I take schism and heresy here in the way of less and greater. Schisms, then, are either secret grudges — when we do not see that agreement which ought to subsist among the pious — when inclinations at variance with each other are at work — when every one is mightily pleased with his own way, and finds fault with everything that is done by others. Heresies are when the evil proceeds to such a pitch that open hostility is discovered, and persons deliberately divide themselves into opposite parties. Hence, in order that believers might not feel discouraged on seeing the Corinthians torn with divisions, the Apostle turns round this occasion of offense in an opposite direction, intimating that the Lord does rather by such trials make proof of his people’s constancy. A lovely consolation! “So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, (650) we ought to remain firm and constant. For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had assumed the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.”

But observe what Paul says — there must be, for he intimates by this expression, that this state of matters does not happen by chance, but by the sure providence of God, because he has it in view to try his people, as gold in the furnace, and if it is agreeable to the mind of God, it is, consequently, expedient. At the same time, however, we must not enter into thorny disputes, or rather into labyrinths as to a fatal necessity. We know that there never will be a time when there will not be many reprobates. We know that they are governed by the spirit of Satan, and are effectually drawn away to what is evil. We know that Satan, in his activity, leaves no stone unturned with the view of breaking up the unity of the Church. From this — not from fate — comes that necessity of which Paul makes mention. (651) We know, also, that the Lord, by his admirable wisdom, turns Satan’s deadly machinations so as to promote the salvation of believers. (652) Hence comes that design of which he speaks — that the good may shine forth more conspicuously; for we ought not to ascribe this advantage to heresies, which, being evil, can produce nothing but what is evil, but to God, who, by his infinite goodness, changes the nature of things, so that those things are salutary to the elect, which Satan had contrived for their ruin. As to Chrysostom’s contending that the particle that ( ἴνα) denotes not the cause, but the event, it is of no great moment. For the cause is the secret counsel of God, (653) by which things that are evil are overruled in such a manner, as to have a good issue. We know, in fine, that the wicked are impelled by Satan in such a manner, that they both act and are acted upon with the consent of their wills. (654) Hence they are without excuse.


Verse 20

20.This is not to eat the Lord’s supper He now reproves the abuse that had crept in among the Corinthians as to the Lord’s Supper, in respect of their mixing up profane banquets with the sacred and spiritual feast, and that too with contempt of the poor. Paul says, that in this way it is not the Lord’s supper that is partaken of — not that a single abuse altogether set aside the sacred institution of Christ, and reduced it to nothing, but that they polluted the sacrament by observing it in a wrong way. For we are accustomed to say, in common conversation, that a thing is not done at all, if it is not done aright. Now this was no trivial abuse, as we shall afterwards see. If you understand the words is not as meaning, is not allowable, (655) the meaning will amount to the same thing — that the Corinthians were not in a state of preparation for partaking of the Lord’s supper, as being in so divided a state. What I stated a little ago, however, is more simple — that he condemns that profane admixture, which had nothing in it akin to the Lord’s Supper.


Verse 21

21.For every one of you taketh before others his own supper. It is truly wonderful, and next to a miracle, (656) that Satan could have accomplished so much in so short a time. We are, however, admonished by this instance, how much antiquity, without reason on its side, can effect, or, in other words, how much influence a long continued custom has, while not sanctioned by a single declaration of the word of God. This, having become customary, was looked upon as lawful. Paul was then at hand to interfere. What then must have been the state of matters after the death of the Apostles? With what liberty Satan must have sported himself. (657) Yet here is the great strength of Papists: “The thing is ancient — it was done long ago — let it, therefore, have the weight of a revelation from heaven.”

It is uncertain, however, what was the origin of this abuse, or what was the occasion of its springing up so soon. Chrysostom is of opinion, that it originated in the love-feasts, (658) ( ἀπὸ τῶν ἀγαπῶν) and that, while the rich had been accustomed (659) to bring with them from their houses the means of feasting with the poor indiscriminately and in common, they afterwards began to exclude the poor, and to guzzle over their delicacies by themselves. And, certainly, it appears from Tertullian, that that custom was a very ancient one. (660) Now they gave the name of Agapae (661) to those common entertainments, which they contrived among themselves, as being tokens of fraternal affection, and consisted of alms. Nor have I any doubt, that it took its rise from sacrificial rites commonly observed both by Jews and Gentiles. For I observe that Christians, for the most part, corrected the faults connected with those rites, in such a manner, as to retain at the same time some resemblance. Hence it is probable, that, on observing that both Jews and Gentiles added a feast to their sacrifice, as an appendage to it, but that both of them sinned in respect of ambition, luxury, and intemperance, they instituted (662) a kind of banquet, which might accustom them rather to sobriety and frugality, (663) and might, at the same time, be in accordance with a spiritual entertainment in respect of mutual fellowship. For in it the poor were entertained at the expense of the rich, and the table was open to all. But, whether they had from the very first fallen into this profane abuse, or whether an institution, otherwise not so objectionable, had in this way degenerated in process of time, Paul would have them in no way mix up this spiritual banquet with common feasts. “This, indeed, looks well — that the poor along with the rich partake in common of the provisions that have been brought, and that the rich share of their abundance along with the needy, but nothing ought to have such weight with us as to lead us to profane the holy sacrament.” (664)

And one is hungry This was one evil in the case, that while the rich indulged themselves sumptuously, they appeared, in a manner, to reproach the poor for their poverty. The inequality he describes hyperbolically, when he says, that some are drunken and others are hungry, for some had the means of stuffing themselves well, while others had slender fare. Thus the poor were exposed to the derision of the rich, or at least they were exposed to shame. It was, therefore, an unseemly spectacle, and not in accordance with the Lord s supper


Verse 22

22.Have ye not houses ? From this we see that the Apostle was utterly dissatisfied with this custom of feasting, even though the abuse formerly mentioned had not existed. For, though it seems allowable for the whole Church to partake at one common table, yet this, on the other hand, is wrong — to convert a sacred assembly to purposes foreign to its nature. We know for what exercises a Church should assemble — to hear doctrine, to pour forth prayers, and sing hymns to God, to observe the sacraments, (665) to make confession of their faith, and to engage in pious observances, and other exercises of piety. If anything else is done there, it is out of place. Every one has his own house appointed him for eating and drinking, and hence that is an unseemly thing in a sacred assembly.

What shall I say to you? Having fitly stated the case, he now calls them to consider, whether they are worthy to be praised, for they could not defend an abuse that was so manifest. He presses them still further, by asking — “What else could I do? Will you say that you are unjustly reproved?” Some manuscripts connect the words in this with the verb that follows — in this way: Shall I praise you ?In this I do not praise you (666) The other reading, however, is the more generally received among the Greeks, and it suits better.


Verse 23

Hitherto he has been exposing the abuse; (667) now he proceeds to show what is the proper method of rectifying it. For the institution of Christ is a sure rule, so that if you turn aside from it but a very little, you are out of the right course. Hence, as the Corinthians had deviated from this rule, he calls them back to it. It is a passage that ought to be carefully observed, as showing that there is no remedy for correcting and purging out abuses, short of a return to God’s pure institution. Thus the Lord himself — when he was discoursing respecting marriage, (Matthew 19:3,) and the Scribes brought forward custom, and also the permission given by Moses — simply brings forward his Father’s institution, as being an inviolable law. When we do this at the present day, the Papists cry out, that we are leaving nothing untouched. (668) We openly demonstrate, that it is not in one point merely that they have degenerated from our Lord’s first institution, but that they have corrupted it in a thousand ways. Nothing is more manifest than that their Mass is diametrically opposed to the sacred Supper of our Lord. I go farther — we show in the plainest manner, that it is full of wicked abominations: hence there is need of reformation. We demand — what it appears Paul had recourse to — that our Lord’s institution be the common rule, to which we agree on both sides to make our appeal. This they oppose with all their might. Mark then the nature of the controversy at this day in reference to the Lord’s Supper.

23I received from the Lord. In these words he intimates, that there is no authority that is of any avail in the Church, but that of the Lord alone. “I have not delivered to you an invention of my own: I had not, when I came to you, contrived a new kind of Supper, according to my own humor, but have Christ as my authority, from whom I received what I have delivered unto you, in the way of handing it over.” (669) Return, then, to the original source. Thus, bidding adieu to human laws, the authority of Christ will be maintained in its stability.

That night in which he was betrayed. This circumstance as to time instructs us as to the design of the sacrament — that the benefit of Christ’s death may be ratified in us. For the Lord might have some time previously committed to the Apostles this covenant-seal, (670) but he waited until the time of his oblation, that the Apostles might see soon after accomplished in reality in his body, what he had represented to them in the bread and the wine Should any one infer from this, that the Supper ought, therefore, to be celebrated at night and after a bodily repast, I answer, that, in what our Lord did, we must consider what there is that he would have to be done by us. It is certain, that he did not mean to institute a kind of nightly festival, like that in honor of Ceres, (671) and farther, that it was not his design to invite his people to come to this spiritual banquet with a well-filled stomach. Such actions of Christ as are not intended for our imitation, should not be reckoned as belonging to his institution. (672) In this way, there is no difficulty in setting aside that subtilty of Papists, by which they shift off (673) what I have already stated as to the duty of maintaining and preserving Christ’s institution in its simplicity. “We will, therefore,” say they, “not receive the Lord’s Supper except at night, and we will therefore take it — not when fasting, but after having dined.” All this, I say, is mere trifling; for it is easy to distinguish what our Lord did, in order that we might imitate it, or rather what he did with the view of commanding us to do the like.


Verse 24

24.Having given thanks. Paul observes elsewhere, that every gift that we receive from the hand of God

is sanctified to us by the word and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:5.)

Accordingly, we nowhere read that the Lord tasted bread along with his disciples, but there is mention made of his giving thanks, (John 6:23,) by which example he has assuredly instructed us to do the like. This giving of thanks, however, has a reference to something higher, for Christ gives thanks to the Father for his mercy (674) towards the human race, and the inestimable benefit of redemption; and he invites us, by his example, to raise up our minds as often as we approach the sacred table, to an acknowledgment of the boundless love of God towards us, and to have our minds kindled up to true gratitude. (675)

Take, eat, this is my body As Paul designed here to instruct us in a few words as to the right use of the sacrament, it is our duty to consider attentively (676) what he sets before us, and allow nothing to pass unobserved, inasmuch as he says nothing but what is exceedingly necessary to be known, and worthy of the closest attention. In the first place, we must take notice, that Christ here distributes the bread among the Apostles, that all may partake of it in common, and thus every one may receive his portion, that there may be an equal participation among all. Accordingly, when there is not a table in common prepared for all the pious — where they are not invited to the breaking of bread in common, and where, in fine, believers do not mutually participate, it is to no purpose that the name of the Lord s Supper is laid claim to.

But for what purpose (677) are the people called to mass, unless it be that they may come away empty from an unmeaning show? (678) It has, therefore, nothing in unison with the supper. Hence, too, we infer that Christ’s promise is no more applicable to the mass than to the feast of the Salii; (679) for when Christ promises that he will give us his body, he at the same time commands us to take and eat of the bread Hence, unless we obey this command, it is to no purpose that we glory in his promise. To explain this more familiarly in other words — the promise is annexed to the commandment in a conditional way, as it were: hence it has its accomplishment only if the condition also is accomplished. For example, it is written, Call upon me; I will answer thee (Psalms 91:15.) It is our part to obey the command of God, that he may accomplish for us what he promises; otherwise we shut ourselves out from the accomplishment of it. (680)

What do Papists do? They neglect participation, and consecrate the bread for a totally different purpose, and in the meantime they boast that they have the Lord’s body. While, by a wicked divorce, they

put asunder those things which Christ has joined together,
(
Matthew 19:6,)

it is manifest that their boasting is vain. Hence, whenever they bring forward the clause — This is my body, we must retort upon them the one that immediately precedes it — Take and eat For the meaning of the words is: “By participating in the breaking of bread, according to the order and observance which I have prescribed, you shall be participants also in my body.” Hence, when an individual eats of it by himself, the promise in that case goes for nothing. Besides, we are taught in these words what the Lord would have us do. Take, says he. Hence those that offer a sacrifice to God have some other than Christ as their authority, for we are not instructed in these words to perform a sacrifice.

But what do Papists say as to their mass? At first they were so impudent as to maintain, that it was truly and properly called a sacrifice. Now, however, they admit that it is indeed a commemorative sacrifice, but in such a way, that the benefit of redemption is, through means of their daily oblation, (681) applied to the living and the dead. However that may be, they present the appearance of a sacrifice. (682) In the first place, there is rashness in this, as being without any command from Christ; but there is a still more serious error involved in it — that, while Christ appointed the Supper for this purpose, that we might take and eat, they pervert it to a totally different use.

This is my body I shall not recount the unhappy contests that have tried the Church in our times as to the meaning of these words. Nay rather, would to God that we could bury the remembrance of them in perpetual oblivion! I shall state, first of all, sincerely and without disguise, and then farther, I shall state freely (as I am wont to do) what my views are. Christ calls the bread his body; for I set aside, without any disputation, that absurd contrivance, that our Lord did not exhibit the bread to the Apostles, but his body, which they beheld with their eyes, for it immediately follows — This cup is the New Testament in my blood Let us regard it then as beyond all controversy that Christ is here speaking of the bread. Now the question is — “In what sense?” That we may elicit the true meaning, we must hold that the expression is figurative; for, assuredly, to deny this is exceedingly dishonest. (683) Why then is the term body applied to the bread? All, I think, will allow that it is for the same reason that John calls the Holy Spirit a dove (John 1:32.) Thus far we are agreed. Now the reason why the Spirit was so called was this — that he had appeared in the form of a dove. Hence the name of the Spirit is transferred to the visible sign. Why should we not maintain that there is here a similar instance of metonymy, and that the term body is applied to the bread, as being the sign and symbol of it? If any are of a different opinion they will forgive me; but it appears to me to be an evidence of a contentious spirit, to dispute pertinaciously on this point. I lay it down, then, as a settled point, that there is here a sacramental form of expression, (684) in which the Lord gives to the sign the name of the thing signified.

We must now proceed farther, and inquire as to the reason of the metonymy. Here I reply, that the name of the thing signified is not applied to the sign simply as being a representation of it, but rather as being a symbol of it, (685) by which the reality is presented to us. For I do not allow the force of those comparisons which some borrow from profane or earthly things; for there is a material difference between them and the sacraments of our Lord. The statue of Hercules is called Hercules, but what have we there but a bare, empty representation? On the other hand the Spirit is called a dove, as being a sure pledge of the invisible presence of the Spirit. Hence the bread is Christ s body, because it assuredly testifies, that the body which it represents is held forth to us, or because the Lord, by holding out to us that symbol, gives us at the same time his own body; for Christ is not a deceiver, to mock us with empty representations. (686) Hence it is regarded by me as beyond all controversy, that the reality is here conjoined with the sign; or, in other words, that we do not less truly become participants in Christ’s body in respect of spiritual efficacy, than we partake of the bread.

We must now discuss the manner. Papists hold forth to us their system of transubstantiation: they allege that, when the act of consecration has been gone through, the substance of the bread no longer exists, and that nothing remains but the accidents. (687) To this contrivance we oppose — not merely the plain words of Scripture, but the very nature of the sacraments. For what is the meaning of the supper, if there is no correspondence between the visible sign and the spiritual reality? They would have the sign to be a false and delusive appearance of bread. What then will the thing signified be, but a mere imagination? Hence, if there must be a correspondence between the sign and its reality, it is necessary that the bread be real — not imaginary — to represent Christ’s real body. Besides, Christ’s body is here given us not simply, but as food. Now it is not by any means the color of the bread that nourishes us, but the substance. In fine, if we would have reality in the thing itself, there must be no deception in the sign.

Rejecting then the dream of Papists, let us see in what manner Christ’s body is given to us. Some explain, that it is given to us, when we are made partakers of all the blessings which Christ has procured for us in his body — when, I say, we by faith embrace Christ as crucified for us, and raised up from the dead, and in this way are effectually made partakers of all his benefits. As for those who are of this opinion, I have no objection to their holding such a view. As for myself, I acknowledge, that it is only when we obtain Christ himself, that we come to partake of Christ’s benefits. He is, however, obtained, I affirm, not only when we believe that he was made an offering for us, but when he dwells in us — when he is one with us — when we are members of his flesh, (Ephesians 5:30,) — when, in fine, we are incorporated with him (so to speak) into one life and substance. Besides, I attend to the import of the words, for Christ does not simply present to us the benefit of his death and resurrection, but the very body in which he suffered and rose again. I conclude, that Christ’s body is really, (as the common expression is,) — that is, truly given to us in the Supper, to be wholesome food for our souls. I use the common form of expression, but my meaning is, that our souls are nourished by the substance of the body, that we may truly be made one with him, or, what amounts to the same thing, that a life-giving virtue from Christ’s flesh is poured into us by the Spirit, though it is at a great distance from us, and is not mixed with us. (688)

There now remains but one difficulty — how is it possible that his body, which is in heaven, is given to us here upon earth? Some imagine that Christ’s body is infinite, and is not confined to any one space, but fills heaven and earth, (Jeremiah 23:24,) like his Divine essence. This fancy is too absurd to require refutation. The Schoolmen dispute with more refinement as to his glorious body. Their whole doctrine, however, reduces itself to this — that Christ is to be sought after in the bread, as if he were included in it. Hence it comes, that the minds of men behold the bread with wonderment, and adore it in place of Christ. Should any one ask them whether they adore the bread, or the appearance of it, they will confidently agree that they do not, but, in the mean time, when about to adore Christ, they turn to the bread. They turn, I say, not merely with their eyes, and their whole body, but even with the thoughts of the heart. Now what is this but unmixed idolatry? But that participation in the body of Christ, which, I affirm, is presented to us in the Supper, does not require a local presence, nor the descent of Christ, nor infinite extension, (689) nor anything of that nature, for the Supper being a heavenly action, there is no absurdity in saying, that Christ, while remaining in heaven, is received by us. For as to his communicating himself to us, that is effected through the secret virtue of his Holy Spirit, which can not merely bring together, but join in one, things that are separated by distance of place, and far remote.

But, in order that we may be capable of this participation, we must rise heavenward. Here, therefore, faith must be our resource, when all the bodily senses have failed. When I speak of faith, I do not mean any sort of opinion, resting on human contrivances, as many, boasting of faith on all occasions, run grievously wild on this point. What then? You see bread — nothing more — but you learn that it is a symbol (690) of Christ’s body. Do not doubt that the Lord accomplishes what his words intimate — that the body, which thou dost not at all behold, is given to thee, as a spiritual repast. It seems incredible, that we should be nourished by Christ’s flesh, which is at so great a distance from us. Let us bear in mind, that it is a secret and wonderful work of the Holy Spirit, which it were criminal to measure by the standard of our understanding. “In the meantime, however, drive away gross imaginations, which would keep thee from looking beyond the bread. Leave to Christ the true nature of flesh, and do not, by a mistaken apprehension, extend his body over heaven and earth: do not divide him into different parts by thy fancies, and do not adore him in this place and that, according to thy carnal apprehension. Allow him to remain in his heavenly glory, and aspire thou thither, (691) that he may thence communicate himself to thee.” These few things will satisfy those that are sound and modest. As for the curious, I would have them look somewhere else for the means of satisfying their appetite.

Which is broken for you Some explain this as referring to the distribution of the bread, because it was necessary that Christ’s body should remain entire, as it had been predicted, (Exodus 12:46,) A bone of him shall not be broken As for myself — while I acknowledge that Paul makes an allusion to the breaking of bread, yet I understand the word broken as used here for sacrificed — not, indeed, with strict propriety, but at the same time without any absurdity. For although no bone was broken, yet the body itself having been subjected, first of all, to so many tortures and inflictions, and afterwards to the punishment of death in the most cruel form, cannot be said to have been uninjured. This is what Paul means by its being broken This, however, is the second clause of the promise, which ought not to be passed over slightly. For the Lord does not present his body to us simply, and without any additional consideration, but as having been sacrificed for us. The first clause, then, intimates, that the body is presented to us: this second clause teaches us, what advantage we derive from it — that we are partakers of redemption, and the benefit of his sacrifice is applied to us. Hence the Supper is a mirror which represents to us Christ crucified, so that no one can profitably and advantageously receive the supper, but the man who embraces Christ crucified.

Do this in remembrance of me. Hence the Supper is a memorial, ( μνημόσυνον (692)) appointed as a help to our weakness; for if we were sufficiently mindful of the death of Christ, this help would be unnecessary. This is common to all sacraments, for they are helps to our weakness. What is the nature of that remembrance which Christ would have us cherish with regard to him, we shall hear presently. As to the inference, however, which some draw from this — that Christ is not present in the Supper, because a remembrance applies to something that is absent; the answer is easy — that Christ is absent from it in the sense in which the Supper is a commemoration. For Christ is not visibly present, and is not beheld with our eyes, as the symbols are which excite our remembrance by representing him. In short, in order that he may be present with us, he does not change his place, but communicates to us from heaven the virtue of his flesh, as though it were present. (693)


Verse 25

25.The cup, when he had supped The Apostle seems to intimate, that there was some interval of time between the distribution of the bread and that of the cup, and it does not quite appear from the Evangelists whether the whole of the transaction was continuous. (694) This, however, is of no great moment, for it may be that the Lord delivered in the meantime some address, after distributing the bread, and before giving the cup. As, however, he did or said nothing that was not in harmony with the sacrament, we need not say that the administration of it was disturbed or interrupted. I would not, however, render it as Erasmus does — supper, being ended, for, in a matter of so great importance, ambiguity ought to be avoided.

This cup is the New Testament What is affirmed as to the cup, is applicable also to the bread; and thus, by this form of expression, he intimates what he had before stated more briefly — that the bread is the body. For it is so to us, that it may be a testament in his body, that is, a covenant, which has been once confirmed by the offering up of his body, and is now confirmed by eating, when believers feast upon that sacrifice. Accordingly, while Paul and Luke use the words testament in the blood, Matthew and Mark employ the expression blood of the testament, which amounts to the same thing. For the blood was poured out to reconcile us to God, and now we drink of it in a spiritual sense, that we may be partakers of reconciliation. Hence, in the Supper, we have both a covenant, and a confirmatory pledge of the covenant.

I shall speak in the Epistle to the Hebrews, if the Lord shall allow me opportunity, as to the wordtestament It is well known, however, that sacraments receive that name, from being testimonies to us of the divine will, to confirm (695) it in our minds. For as a covenant is entered into among men with solemn rites, so it is in the same manner that the Lord deals with us. Nor is it without strict propriety that this term is employed; for in consequence of the connection between the word and the sign, the covenant of the Lord is really included in the sacraments, and the term covenant has a reference or relation to us. This will be of no small importance for understanding the nature of the sacraments; for if they are covenants, then they contain promises, by which consciences may be roused up to an assurance of salvation. Hence it follows, that they are not merely outward signs of profession before men, but are inwardly, too, helps to faith.

This do, as often as ye drink Christ, then, has appointed a two-fold sign in the Supper.

What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.
(
Matthew 19:6.)

To distribute, therefore, the bread without the cup, is to man Christ’s institution. (696) For we hear Christ’s words. As he commands us to eat of the bread, so he commands us to drink of the cup To obey the one half of the command and neglect the other half — what is this but to make sport of his commandment? And to keep back the people from that cup, which Christ sets before all, after first drinking of it, as is done under the tyranny of the Pope — who can deny that this is diabolical presumption? As to the cavil that they bring forward — that Christ spoke merely to the Apostles, and not to the common people — it is exceedingly childish, and is easily refuted from this passage — for Paul here addresses himself to men and women indiscriminately, and to the whole body of the Church. He declares that he

had delivered this to them agreeably to the commandment
of the Lord. (
1 Corinthians 11:23.)

By what spirit will those pretend to be actuated, who have dared to set aside this ordinance? Yet even at this day this gross abuse is obstinately defended; and what occasion is there for wonder, if they endeavor impudently to excuse, by words and writings, what they so cruelly maintain by fire and sword?


Verse 26

26.For as often as ye shall eat. Paul now adds what kind of remembrance ought to be cherished — that is, with thanksgiving; not that the remembrance consists wholly in confession with the mouth; for the chief thing is, that the efficacy of Christ’s death be sealed in our consciences; but this knowledge should stir us up to a confession in respect of praise, so as to declare before men what we feel inwardly before God. The Supper then is (so to speak) a kind of memorial, which must always remain in the Church, until the last coming of Christ; and it has been appointed for this purpose, that Christ may put us in mind of the benefit of his death, and that we may recognize it (697) before men. Hence it has the name of the Eucharist. (698) If, therefore, you would celebrate the Supper aright, you must bear in mind, that a profession of your faith is required from you. Hence we see how shamelessly those mock God, who boast that they have in the mass something of the nature of the Supper. For what is the mass? They confess (for I am not speaking of Papists, but of the pretended followers of Nicodemus) that it is full of abominable superstitions. By outward gesture they give a pretended approval of them. What kind of showing forth of the death of Christ is this? Do they not rather renounce it?

Until he come As we always need a help of this kind, so long as we are in this world, Paul intimates that this commemoration has been given us in charge, until Christ come to judgment. For as he is not present with us in a visible form, it is necessary for us to have some symbol of his presence, by which our minds may exercise themselves.


Verse 27

27.Therefore he who shall eat this bread unworthily. If the Lord requires gratitude from us in the receiving of this sacrament — if he would have us acknowledge his grace with the heart, and publish it with the mouth — that man will not go unpunished, who has put insult upon him rather than honor; for the Lord will not allow his commandment to be despised. Now, if we would catch the meaning of this declaration, we must know what it is to eat unworthily Some restrict it to the Corinthians, and the abuse that had crept in among them, but I am of opinion that Paul here, according to his usual manner, passed on from the particular case to a general statement, or from one instance to an entire class. There was one fault that prevailed among the Corinthians. He takes occasion from this to speak of every kind of faulty administration or reception of the Supper. “God, ” says he, “will not allow this sacrament to be profaned without punishing it severely.”

To eat unworthily, then, is to pervert the pure and right use of it by our abuse of it. Hence there are various degrees of this unworthiness, so to speak; and some offend more grievously, others less so. Some fornicator, perhaps, or perjurer, or drunkard, or cheat, (1 Corinthians 5:11,) intrudes himself without repentance. As such downright contempt is a token of wanton insult against Christ, there can be no doubt that such a person, whoever he is, receives the Supper to his own destruction. Another, perhaps, will come forward, who is not addicted to any open or flagrant vice, but at the same time not so prepared in heart as became him. As this carelessness or negligence is a sign of irreverence, it is also deserving of punishment from God. As, then, there are various degrees of unworthy participation, so the Lord punishes some more slightly; on others he inflicts severer punishment.

Now this passage gave rise to a question, which some afterwards agitated with too much keenness — whether the unworthy really partake of the Lord’s body? For some were led, by the heat of controversy, so far as to say, that it was received indiscriminately by the good and the bad; and many at this day maintain pertinaciously, and most clamorously, that in the first Supper Peter received no more than Judas. It is, indeed, with reluctance, that I dispute keenly with any one on this point, which is (in my opinion) not an essential one; but as others allow themselves, without reason, to pronounce, with a magisterial air, whatever may seem good to them, and to launch out thunderbolts upon every one that mutters anything to the contrary, we will be excused, if we calmly adduce reasons in support of what we reckon to be true.

I hold it, then, as a settled point, and will not allow myself to be driven from it, that Christ cannot be disjoined from his Spirit. Hence I maintain, that his body is not received as dead, or even inactive, disjoined from the grace and power of his Spirit. I shall not occupy much time in proving this statement. Now in what way could the man who is altogether destitute of a living faith and repentance, having nothing of the Spirit of Christ, (699) receive Christ himself? Nay more, as he is entirely under the influence of Satan and sin, how will he be capable of receiving Christ? While, therefore, I acknowledge that there are some who receive Christ truly in the Supper, and yet at the same time unworthily, as is the case with many weak persons, yet I do not admit, that those who bring with them a mere historical faith, (700) without a lively feeling of repentance and faith, receive anything but the sign. For I cannot endure to maim Christ, (701) and I shudder at the absurdity of affirming that he gives himself to be eaten by the wicked in a lifeless state, as it were. Nor does Augustine mean anything else when he says, that the wicked receive Christ merely in the sacrament, which he expresses more clearly elsewhere, when he says that the other Apostles atethe bread the Lord; but Judas only the bread of the Lord (702)

But here it is objected, that the efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the worthiness of men, and that nothing is taken away from the promises of God, or falls to the ground, through the wickedness of men. This I acknowledge, and accordingly I add in express terms, that Christ’s body is presented to the wicked no less than to the good, and this is enough so far as concerns the efficacy of the sacrament and the faithfulness of God. For God does not there represent in a delusive manner, to the wicked, the body of his Son, but presents it in reality; nor is the bread a bare sign to them, but a faithful pledge. As to their rejection of it, that does not impair or alter anything as to the nature of the sacrament.

It remains, that we give a reply to the statement of Paul in this passage. “Paul represents the unworthy as guilty, inasmuch as they do not discern the Lord’s body: it follows, that they receive his body.” I deny the inference; for though they reject it, yet as they profane it and treat it with dishonor when it is presented to them, they are deservedly held guilty; for they do, as it were, cast it upon the ground, and trample it under their feet. Is such sacrilege trivial? Thus I see no difficulty in Paul’s words, provided you keep in view what God presents and holds out to the wicked — not what they receive.


Verse 28

28.But let a man examine himself An exhortation drawn from the foregoing threatening. “If those that eat unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, then let no man approach who is not properly and duly prepared. Let every one, therefore, take heed to himself, that he may not fall into this sacrilege through idleness or carelessness.” But now it is asked, what sort of examination, that ought to be to which Paul exhorts us. Papists make it consist in auricular confession. They order all that are to receive the Supper, to examine their life carefully and anxiously, that they may unburden all their sins in the ear of the priest. Such is their preparation! (703) I maintain, however, that this holy examination of which Paul speaks, is widely different from torture. Those persons, (704) after having tortured themselves with reflection for a few hours, and making the priest — such as he is — privy to their vileness, (705) imagine that they have done their duty. It is an examination of another sort that Paul here requires — one of such a kind as may accord with the legitimate use of the sacred Supper.

You see here a method that is most easily apprehended. If you would wish to use aright the benefit afforded by Christ, bring faith and repentance. As to these two things, therefore, the trial must be made, if you would come duly prepared. Under repentance I include love; for the man who has learned to renounce himself, that he may give himself up wholly to Christ and his service, will also, without doubt, carefully maintain that unity which Christ has enjoined. At the same time, it is not a perfect faith or repentance that is required, as some, by urging beyond due bounds, a perfection that can nowhere be found, would shut out for ever from the Supper every individual of mankind. If, however, thou aspirest after the righteousness of God with the earnest desire of thy mind, and, trembled under a view of thy misery, dost wholly lean upon Christ’s grace, and rest upon it, know that thou art a worthy guest to approach the table — worthy I mean in this respect, that the Lord does not exclude thee, though in another point of view there is something in thee that is not as it ought to be. For faith, when it is but begun, makes those worthy who were unworthy.


Verse 29

29.He who shall eat unworthily, eateth judgment to himself. He had previously pointed out in express terms the heinousness of the crime, when he said that those who should eat unworthily would be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Now he alarms them, by denouncing punishment; (706) for there are many that are not affected with the sin itself; unless they are struck down by the judgment of God. This, then, he does, when he declares that this food, otherwise health-giving, will turn out to their destruction, and will be converted into poison to those that eat unworthily

He adds the reasons because they distinguish not the Lord’s body, that is, as a sacred thing from a profane. “They handle the sacred body of Christ with unwashed hands, (Mark 7:2,) (707) nay more, as if it were a thing of nought, they consider not how great is the value of it. (708) They will therefore pay the penalty of so dreadful a profanation.” Let my readers keep in mind what I stated a little ago, that the body (709) is presented to them, though their unworthiness deprives them of a participation in it.


Verse 30

30.For this cause, etc. After having treated in a general way of unworthy eating, and of the kind of punishment that awaits those who pollute this sacrament, he now instructs the Corinthians as to the chastisement which they were at that time enduring. It is not known whether a pestilence was raging there at that time, or whether they were laboring under other kinds of disease. However it may have been as to this, we infer from Paul’s words, that the Lord had sent some scourge upon them for their correction. Nor does Paul merely conjecture, that it is on that account that they are punished, but he affirms it as a thing that was perfectly well known by him. He says, then, that many lay sick — that many were kept long in a languishing condition, and that many had died, in consequence of that abuse of the Supper, because they had offended God. By this he intimates, that by diseases and other chastisements from God, we are admonished to think of our sins; for God does not afflict us without good reason, for he takes no pleasure in our afflictions.

The subject is a copious and ample one; but let it suffice to advert to it here in a single word. If in Paul’s times an ordinary abuse of the Supper (710) could kindle the wrath of God against the Corinthians, so that he punished them thus severely, what ought we to think as to the state of matters at the present day? We see, throughout the whole extent of Popery, not merely horrid profanations of the Supper, but even a sacrilegious abomination set up in its room. In the first place, it is prostituted to filthy lucre (1 Timothy 3:8) and merchandise. Secondly, it is maimed, by taking away the use of the cup. Thirdly, it is changed into another aspect, (711) by its having become customary for one to partake of his own feast separately, participation being done away. (712) Fourthly, there is there no explanation of the meaning of the sacrament, but a mumbling that would accord better with a magical incantation, or the detestable sacrifices of the Gentiles, than with our Lord’s institution. Fifthly, there is an endless number of ceremonies, abounding partly with trifles, partly with superstition, and consequently manifest pollutions. Sixthly, there is the diabolical invention of sacrifice, which contains an impious blasphemy against the death of Christ. Seventhly, it is fitted to intoxicate miserable men with carnal confidence, while they present it to God as if it were an expiation, and think that by this charm they drive off everything hurtful, and that without faith and repentance. Nay more, while they trust that they are armed against the devil and death, and are fortified against God by a sure defense, they venture to sin with much more freedom, (713) and become more obstinate. Eighthly, an idol is there adored in the room of Christ. In short, it is filled with all kinds of abomination. (714)

Nay even among ourselves, who have the pure administration of the Supper restored to us, (715) in virtue of a return, as it were, from captivity, (716) how much irreverence! How much hypocrisy on the part of many! What a disgraceful mixture, while, without any discrimination, wicked and openly abandoned persons intrude themselves, such as no man of character and decency would admit to common intercourse! (717) And yet after all, we wonder how it comes that there are so many wars, so many pestilences, so many failures of the crop, so many disasters and calamities — as if the cause were not manifest! And assuredly, we must not expect a termination to our calamities, until we have removed the occasion of them, by correcting our faults.


Verse 31

31.For if we would judge ourselves Here we have another remarkable statement — that God does not all of a sudden become enraged against us, so as to inflict punishment immediately upon our sinning, but that, for the most part, it is owing to our carelessness, that he is in a manner constrained to punish us, when he sees that we are in a careless and drowsy state, and are flattering ourselves in our sins. (718) Hence we either avert, or mitigate impending punishment, if we first call ourselves to account, and, actuated by a spirit of repentance, deprecate the anger of God by inflicting punishment voluntarily upon ourselves. (719) In short, believers anticipate, by repentance, the judgment of God, and there is no other remedy, by which they may obtain absolution in the sight of God, but by voluntarily condemning themselves

You must not, however, apprehend, as Papists are accustomed to do, that there is here a kind of transaction between us and God, as if, by inflicting punishment upon ourselves of our own accord, we rendered satisfaction to him, and did, in a manner, redeem ourselves from his hand. We do not, therefore, anticipate the judgment of God, on the ground of our bringing any compensation to appease him. The reason is this — because God, when he chastises us, has it in view to shake us out of our drowsiness, and arouse us to repentance. If we do this of our own accord, there is no longer any reason, why he should proceed to inflict his judgment upon us. If, however, any one, after having begun to feel displeased with himself, and meditate repentance, is, nevertheless, still visited with God’s chastisements, let us know that his repentance is not so valid or sure, as not to require some chastisement to be sent upon him, by which it may be helped forward to a fuller development. Mark how repentance wards off the judgment of God by a suitable remedy — not, however, by way of compensation.


Verse 32

32.But when we are judged Here we have a consolation that is exceedingly necessary; for if any one in affliction thinks that God is angry with him, he will rather be discouraged than excited to repentance. Paul, accordingly, says, that God is angry with believers in such a way as not in the meantime to be forgetful of his mercy: nay more, that it is on this account particularly that he punishes them — that he may consult their welfare. It is an inestimable consolation (720) — that the punishments by which our sins are chastened are evidences, not of God’s anger for our destruction, but rather of his paternal love, and are at the same time of assistance towards our salvation, for God is angry with us as his sons, whom he will not leave to perish.

When he says that we may not be condemned with the world, he intimates two things. The first is, that the children of this world, while they sleep on quietly and securely in their delights, (721) are fattened up, like hogs, for the day of slaughter (Jeremiah 12:3.) For though the Lord sometimes invites the wicked, also, to repentance by his chastisements, yet he often passes them over as strangers, (722) and allows them to rush on with impunity, until they have filled up the measure of their final condemnation. (Genesis 15:16.) This privilege, therefore, belongs to believers exclusively — that by punishments they are called back from destruction. The second thing is this — that chastisements are necessary remedies for believers, for otherwise they, too, would rush on to everlasting destruction, (723) were they not restrained by temporal punishment.

These considerations should lead us not merely to patience, so as to endure with equanimity the troubles that are assigned to us by God, but also to gratitude, that, giving thanks to God our Father, we may resign ourselves (724) to his discipline by a willing subjection. They are also useful to us in various ways; for they cause our afflictions to be salutary to us, while they train us up for mortification of the flesh, and a pious abasement — they accustom us to obedience to God — they convince us of our own weakness, they kindle up in our minds fervency in prayer — they exercise hope, so that at length whatever there is of bitterness in them is all swallowed up in spiritual joy.


Verse 33

33.Wherefore, my brethren From the discussion of a general doctrine, he returns to the particular subject with which he had set out, and comes to this conclusion, that equality must be observed in the Lord’s Supper, that there may be a real participation, as there ought to be, and that they may not celebrate every one his own supper; and farther, that this sacrament ought not to be mixed up with common feasts.


Verse 34

34.The rest I will set in order when I come It is probable, that there were some things in addition, which it would be of advantage to put into better order, but as they were of less importance, the Apostle delays the correction of them until his coming among them. It may be, at the same time, that there was nothing of this nature; but as one knows better what is necessary when he is present to see, Paul reserves to himself the liberty of arranging matters when present, according as occasion may require. Papists arm themselves against us with this buckler, too, for defending their mass For they interpret this to be the setting in order which Paul here promises — as if he would have taken the liberty (725) of overturning that eternal appointment of Christ, which he here so distinctly approves of! For what resemblance does the mass bear to Christ’s institution? But away with such trifles, as it is certain that Paul speaks only of outward decorum. As this is put in the power of the Church, so it ought to be arranged according to the condition of times, places, and persons.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/1-corinthians-11.html. 1840-57.


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Monday, December 10th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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