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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
1 Corinthians 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Paul recommended that his readers follow his example of exercising and limiting their Christian liberty, glorifying God, and giving no offense, as well as in other areas of their lives (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:16). [Note: See Robert L. Plummer, "Imitation of Paul and the Church"s Missionary Role in1Corinthians," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society44:2 (June2001):219-35.]

All of chapters8 , 9 , and10 , including 1 Corinthians 11:1, deal with the subject of the Christian"s relationship to food sacrificed to idols. In summary, Paul forbad going to pagan temples for cultic meals. However, he permitted the eating of marketplace meat under normal circumstances. If something is not sinful it is permissible for the believer, but even so it may be wise to avoid it for the sake of the spiritual welfare of others. The Christian should be willing to limit his or her exercise of his or her Christian liberty because of love for others.

The four principles Paul taught were these. Balance your knowledge with love (ch8). Balance your authority with discipline (ch9). Balance your experience with caution ( 1 Corinthians 10:1-22). And balance your freedom with responsibility ( 1 Corinthians 10:23-33). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:594.]


Verse 2

Paul commended his original readers for remembering his teaching and example. This chapter deals with things that were going on in the meetings of the church primarily, as the context shows (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:16). The "traditions" (NASB) were "teachings" (NIV Gr. paradoseis) the Corinthians had received from the apostle. Some of these involved divinely inspired revelations and others just prudent advice (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10). They may have been following his instructions, but not in the proper ways, as his following discussion makes clear.

"The traditions (as the other references show) were the central truths of the Christian faith, handed on at this stage (before the emergence of Christian literature) orally from evangelist and teacher to convert." [Note: Barrett, p247.]

Of course, there were already a few inspired New Testament documents circulating among the churches.


Verses 2-6

1. The argument from culture11:2-6

Paul introduced the first of the two subjects he dealt with in this chapter, the Corinthian women"s participation in church worship, with praise. He did not introduce the second subject this way ( 1 Corinthians 11:17; 1 Corinthians 11:22). As with the other sections of this epistle, we can see the influence of Corinthian culture and worldview in this one, particularly in the behavior of the women in the church.


Verses 2-16

C. Propriety in worship11:2-16

This section and the next ( 1 Corinthians 11:17-34) deal with subjects different from meat offered to idols, but Paul did not introduce them with the phrase "now concerning." These were additional subjects about which he wanted to give the Corinthians guidance. He had evidently learned of the Corinthians" need for instruction in these matters either through their letter to him, from the messengers that brought that letter to him, or from other sources.


Verse 3

"But" indicates that things were not quite as Paul thought they should be. He began dealing with his subject by reminding the Corinthians again (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 8:6) of God"s administrative order. This is the order through which He has chosen to conduct His dealings with humans.

Jesus Christ is the head of every male human being (Gr. aner). Second, the male is the head of woman (Gr. gune). This Greek word for woman is very broad and covers women of any age, virgins, married women, or widows. Paul used it earlier in this epistle of a wife ( 1 Corinthians 7:3-4; 1 Corinthians 7:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:14; 1 Corinthians 7:16). In this chapter it evidently refers to any woman who was in a dependent relationship to a man such as a wife to a husband or a daughter to a father. Paul probably did not mean every woman universally since he said the male is the head of woman, or a woman, but not the woman. He was evidently not talking about every relationship involving men and women, for example the relationship between men and women in the workplace. Third, God the Father is the head of God the Son. This shows that headship exists even within the Godhead.

The New Testament uses the term "head" (Gr. kephale) to describe headship in two ways. Sometimes it describes origin (source), and other times it describes authority (leader). Some scholars favor one interpretation and others the other. [Note: For helpful studies, see Stephen Bedale, "The Meaning of kephale in the Pauline Epistles," Journal of Theological Studies NS5 (1954):211-15; Paul S. Fiddes, ""Woman"s Head Is Man:" A Doctrinal Reflection upon a Pauline Text," Baptist Quarterly31:8 (October1986):370-83; Wayne Grudem, "Does kephale ("Head") Mean "Source" or "Authority Over" in Greek Literature? A survey of2 ,336 Examples," Trinity Journal6NS (1985):38-59; idem. "The Meaning of kephale: A Response to Recent Studies," Trinity Journal11NS (1990):3-72; and idem, "The Meaning of kephale ("head"): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society44:1 (March2001):25-65.] Both meanings are true to reality, so it is difficult to decide what Paul meant here.

In favor of the origin view, it is true that Christ created mankind, Eve came from Adam, and Christ came from the Father in the Incarnation to provide redemption. In favor of the authority view, humanity is under Christ"s authority, God created woman under man"s authority, and the Son is under the Father"s authority. The idea of origin is more fundamental than that of authority. Also "head" occurs later in this passage with the idea of source ( 1 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Corinthians 11:12), so origin may be the preferable idea here too. [Note: Barrett, p248.]


Verse 4

Here Paul used the word "head" twice. Clearly in the first instance he meant the man"s physical skull. What did he mean the second time he referred to the man"s head? He could have meant his physical skull again. However, in view of what he just said ( 1 Corinthians 11:3) and would say, he probably meant his spiritual head, Jesus Christ. In Judaism when a man prayed with his physical head covered, as was common, he did not thereby dishonor himself. In Roman, but not in Greek, worship both men and women covered their heads. However, in both Roman and Greek culture both men and women covered their heads as signs of shame and mourning. [Note: Keener, p91.] It was later, in the Middle Ages, that Jewish men began to cover their heads when praying, and in fact, most of the time. In Christian worship, the men did not wear head coverings in Paul"s day.

Paul"s reference to praying and prophesying seems to set his instructions in the context of the church at public worship. Others have argued that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 does not address congregational settings. [Note: E.g, Harold R. Holmyard III, "Does1Corinthians11:2-16 Refer to Women Praying and Prophesying in Church?" Bibliotheca Sacra154:616 (October-December1997):461-72; J. N. Darby, Notes of Readings on the Epistles to the Corinthians, pp85-87; Olshausen, p174; C. T. Ellicott, St. Paul"s First Epistle to the Corinthians, p202; W. E. Vine, 1 Corinthians , p147; J. A. Beet, A Commentary on St. Paul"s Epistles to the Corinthians, p181; Lenski, p437; Grosheide, pp341-42; and J. MacArthur Jeremiah ,, 1 Corinthians , p256.] Praying involves expressing one"s thoughts and feelings to God and, specifically, asking things of God. Prophesying might involve any of four things. Prophets (and prophetesses) led God"s people in worship (cf. Exodus 15:20-21; 1 Chronicles 25:1). Second, they foretold future events pertaining especially to the kingdom of God ( Matthew 11:13; Acts 2:17-18; Acts 21:9). Third, they declared new revelation from God, though not necessarily having to do with future events ( Matthew 26:68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64; cf. Luke 7:39; John 4:19). Fourth, they could, under divine impulse, utter some lofty statement or message that would glorify God ( Luke 1:67; Acts 9:6; cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1), or a word of instruction, refutation, reproof, admonition, or comfort for others ( 1 Corinthians 13:9; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:24; 1 Corinthians 14:31; 1 Corinthians 14:39). This last type of prophecy did not contain a new revelation or a prediction involving the future. It was what we call preaching today, though not expository teaching, which the New Testament calls teaching. [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "propheteuo," p553. See also Wayne A. Grudem, "Prophecy-Yes, But Teaching-No: Paul"s Consistent Advocacy of Women"s Participation Without Governing Authority," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society30:1 (March1987):11-23; and idem, "Why Christians Can Still Prophesy," Christianity Today, September16 , 1988 , pp29-31 , 34-35. Grudem sought a middle position between the charismatic and non-charismatic interpretations of the gift of prophecy. See his The Gift of Prophecy in1Corinthians and The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. Robert L. Thomas, "Prophecy Rediscovered? A Review of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today," Bibliotheca Sacra149:593 (January-March1992):83-96 , gave a helpful critique of Grudem"s views.] The fourth activity is what seems to be in view in other references to prophesying in this epistle, and it suits the context here as well. Praying and prophesying were two major features of Christian worship services (cf. Acts 2:42).


Verse 5

The opposite condition existed when women prayed or prophesied in the church meetings. Every woman who had her physical skull uncovered thereby dishonored her metaphorical head, namely, her husband (if married) or father (if single; 1 Corinthians 11:3).

What did Paul mean when he described a woman"s head as "uncovered?" There have been three major explanations. He may have meant that her head lacked some type of external cover, such as a shawl. Second, he could have meant that she had short hair that did not cover her head as completely as long hair. Third, he may have meant that she had let her hair down rather than leaving it piled up on her head. In this culture it was customary for women to wear their hair up when they went out in public. Probably he meant that she did not have an external covering on her head (view one). [Note: See Fee, The First . . ., pp495-97 , 509-10.] The woman would dishonor her man by participating in public worship as he did, namely, with head uncovered.

Christian women typically wore a head-covering in the church meetings. This was not a stylish hat, skullcap, or inconspicuous doily, as some western women do today, but a shawl that covered her entire head and concealed her hair. [Note: Bruce, 1,2Corinthians, p104.]

"Her face was hidden by an arrangement of two head veils, a head-band on the forehead with bands to the chin, and a hairnet with ribbons and knots, so that her features could not be recognized." [Note: Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, p359.]

This was similar to what some modern Islamic women wear: a head-covering (Arabic hijab) and a face-veil (Arabic niqab). In Paul"s culture most women, Christians and non-Christians alike, wore such a covering whenever they went out in public. Conservative Islamic women still veil themselves similarly when they go out in public.

Probably the issue in the Corinthian church that Paul was addressing was that certain "wise," "spiritual," liberated women had stopped wearing this covering in the church meetings. Paul had previously written that in Christ males and females are equal before God ( Galatians 3:28). He meant we are equal in our standing before God. This teaching, combined with the Corinthians" carnal tendencies, were evidently the root of the problem.

"It seems that the Corinthian slogan, "everything is permissible," had been applied to meetings of the church as well, and the Corinthian women had expressed that principle by throwing off their distinguishing dress. More importantly they seem to have rejected the concept of subordination within the church (and perhaps in society) and with it any cultural symbol (e.g, a head-covering) which might have been attached to it. According to Paul, for a woman to throw off the covering was an act not of liberation but of degradation." [Note: Lowery, p529. See also H. Wayne House, "Should a Woman Prophesy or Preach before Men?" Bibliotheca Sacra145:578 (April-June1988):141-61 , who concluded that she should not.]


Verse 5-6

A woman who shaved her head in Greco-Roman culture did so to appear as a man. This resulted in the blurring of the relationship between men and women, particularly the sexual distinctions. Men typically wore their hair shorter, and women wore theirs longer. If a woman cut her hair short, it indicated that she wanted to be regarded as a man. Not covering her head made the same statement in that society.

"The prostitutes wore their hair very short, and they did not wear a head-covering in public. Their hairstyle and manner announced to others just what they were and what they were offering....

"In Jewish law, a woman proved guilty of adultery had her hair cut off ( Numbers 5:11-31)." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:604.]

It was a shameful thing for a woman not to cover her head in the early New Testament churches. Such an act made a statement that she was repudiating her position as a woman or that she was an immoral woman. It was not so much a repudiation of her submission to her male authority as it was a repudiation of her origin as being a woman who had come from man ( 1 Corinthians 11:3). The issue is primarily origin throughout the passage, not primarily authority. Obviously a woman who repudiated her origin as a woman might also repudiate her authority to function under her male head. However in this passage Paul seems to have been dealing with the more fundamental issue of origin.

Today it is not shameful for a woman to have short hair, but it was in Paul"s day. There are many short hairstyles that no one regards as disgraceful. However in Paul"s culture short hair for a woman represented rebellion, and people considered it shameful. Paul used the common reaction to women"s short hair in his day to urge his female readers to wear a head-covering. His point was that since it was shameful for a woman to have short hair it was also shameful for her to have her head uncovered when she prayed or prophesied.

Must a Christian woman cover her head in church meetings today? I think not. Covering the head and wearing short hair do not normally mean the same thing in modern times, at least in the West, as they did in Paul"s culture. If he were writing to a western church today, for example, I do not believe Paul would have said it is a shameful thing for a woman to have short hair. Therefore I do not think he would have said she ought to cover her head. Covering the head was a sign of acknowledgement of origin in Paul"s day, which implied some acknowledgement of authority, but it is not today typically. Today there is no item of clothing that makes such a statement, nor does the length of a woman"s hair. Perhaps her willingness to take her husband"s family name when she marries does, or her willingness to wear a wedding ring might, or the way she speaks about her husband to others, or her modest dress, but not necessarily. A woman"s whole personal demeanor, especially how she views herself as a woman, reveals this about her. [Note: For defenses of the view that women should wear head coverings today in church meetings, see Bruce K. Waltke, " 1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation," Bibliotheca Sacra135:537 (January-March1978):46-57; and S. L. Johnson Jeremiah , pp1247-48.]

"Although various Christian groups have fostered the practice of some sort of head covering for women in the assembled church, the difficulties with the practice are obvious. For Paul the issue was directly tied to a cultural shame that scarcely prevails in most cultures today. Furthermore, we simply do not know what the practice was that they were abusing. Thus literal "obedience" to the text is often merely symbolic. Unfortunately, the symbol that tends to be reinforced is the subordination of women, which is hardly Paul"s point. Furthermore, it would seem that in cultures where women"s heads are seldom covered, the enforcement of such in the church turns Paul"s point on its head." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p512. See also David K. Lowery, "The Head Covering and the Lord"s Supper in1Corinthians11:2-34 ," Bibliotheca Sacra143:570 (April-June1986):159; Kenneth T. Wilson, "Should Women Wear Headcoverings?" Bibliotheca Sacra148:592 (October-December1991):442-62; and Barclay, The Letters . . ., p110.]


Verse 7

Men should not cover their heads in Christian worship because they are the glory of God. Whereas Paul referred to man being the image and glory of God, his primary point was that man is the glory of God. His reference to man as the image of God clearly goes back to Genesis 1:26-28, but there "glory" does not appear. "Glory" is Paul"s word, his reflection on the creation of man. This is the word that he proceeded to use to contrast man and woman.

Notice that Paul did not say that the woman is to cover her head because she is the glory of man. Instead he proceeded to describe what being his glory means. A subordinate glorifies the one in authority over him or her just by being in a subordinate position.

". . . he [Paul] says that woman is the glory of Prayer of Manasseh -not his image, for she too shares the image of God, and is not (as some commentators have thought) more remote from God than is man." [Note: Barrett, p249.]


Verses 7-12

2. The argument from creation11:7-12

Paul proceeded with a second supporting argument to correct the Corinthians" perversion regarding women"s head-coverings.


Verse 8

Woman is the glory of Prayer of Manasseh , first, because she came from him in creation. As Adam glorified God by being the product of His creation, so Eve glorified Adam because she came from him. The female sex did not produce the male sex, but the first woman came from the first man. God formed Eve out of a part of Adam whom He created first ( Genesis 2:21-22).


Verse 9

Furthermore woman is the glory of man because God created Eve to complete Adam. God did not create the man as a companion for the woman but the woman for man"s sake ( Genesis 2:18; Genesis 2:20). [Note: See Benjamin L. Merkle, "Paul"s Arguments from Creation in1Corinthians11:8-9,1Timothy2:13-14: An Apparent Inconsistency Answered," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society49:3 (September2006):527-48.]

" Prayer of Manasseh , then, was God"s authoritative representative who found in woman a divinely made ally in fulfilling this role ( Genesis 2:18-24). In this sense she as a wife is the glory of Prayer of Manasseh , her husband." [Note: Lowery, " 1 Corinthians ," p529.]

When Adam saw Eve for the first time, he "gloried" in her ( Genesis 2:23). Neither of these verses ( 1 Corinthians 11:8-9) refers to the subordination of woman under Prayer of Manasseh , though many interpreters have read this into the text. Rather they refer to her origin as being from man.


Verse 10

Paul drew a conclusion from what he had already said ( 1 Corinthians 11:7-9) and gave a supporting reason for his conclusion.

Unfortunately the NASB translators have added "a symbol of" to the original text thus implying that the head-covering is what women ought to wear on their heads. The Greek text simply says "the woman ought to have authority on her head." In the preceding verses the reason is that she is the man"s glory. In light of 1 Corinthians 11:7, we might have expected Paul to say that because the woman is the glory of the man she should cover her head. Yet that is not what Paul said.

What is this "authority" that women ought to have on their heads? Some interpreters believe it refers to the man in her life who is in authority over her. The covering is the sign that she recognizes him in this role. The Living Bible gives this interpretation by paraphrasing the verse, "So a woman should wear a covering on her head as a sign that she is under man"s authority." [Note: See also F. Godet, Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2:122; and Charles Hodge, A Commentary on1 & 2 Corinthians , p211.] This view lacks support in the passive use of exousia ("authority"). Furthermore the idiom "to have authority over" never refers to an external authority different from the subject of the sentence elsewhere.

Other interpreters view "authority" as a metonym for "veil." A metonym is a figure of speech in which one word appears in place of another associated with or suggested by it (e.g, "the White House says" for "the President says"). The RSV translation gives this interpretation: "That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head." This view is unlikely because "authority" is a strange word to use if Paul really meant "veil." It would have been more natural for him simply to say "veil" or "covering."

A third view is to take "to have authority" as meaning "a sign of authority, namely, as a means of exercising authority." Advocates believe Paul meant that women were to have authority to do things in worship previously forbidden, such as praying and prophesying along with men. Her covering would serve as a sign of her new liberty in Christ. [Note: Bruce, 1,2Corinthians, p106; M. D. Hooker, "Authority on Her Head: An Examination of I Cor. XI:10 ," New Testament Studies10 (1963-64):410-16.] There does not seem to be adequate basis of support for this view in the passage.

The fourth major view takes having "authority" in its usual meaning of having the freedom or right to choose. The meaning in this case would be that the woman has authority over her head (man) to do as she pleases. [Note: William M. Ramsay, The Cities of St. Paul, pp202-5; Morris, p154.] Obviously this seems to run contrary to what Paul taught in the passage and elsewhere. I think perhaps Paul meant that women have freedom to decide how they will pray and prophesy within the constraint that Paul had imposed, namely, with heads covered. The head-covering, then, symbolized both the woman"s subordinate position under the man and the authority that she had to pray and prophesy in public. [Note: See Barrett, p255.]

The other major interpretive problem in this verse is "because of the angels." Why did Paul introduce angels into this discussion? Perhaps the Corinthian women needed to wear a head-covering because angels observe with great interest what is taking place among God"s people as we worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:21). Angels are the guardians of God"s created order, they are submissive to God, and they too praise God. For other people to see Christian women unveiled was bad enough because it was a sign of insubordination, but for angels to see it would be worse. [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p233.] They would really be offended!

There may also be something to the suggestion that these Corinthian women, and some of the men as well, may have been exalting themselves to the position of angels (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 13:1). [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p522.] Paul may have mentioned the angels to remind them that they were still under angelic scrutiny.

Other less acceptable interpretations of "because of the angels" are these. Women should cover their heads because evil angels lusted after women in the church (cf. Genesis 6:2). If this were the reason, should not all women wear veils at all times since angels apparently view humans in other than church meetings? They should do so because the word angels (lit. messengers) refers to pastors of the churches who might lust after them. They should wear head-coverings because good angels learn to be submissive to authority from the women"s example. They need to cover themselves because good angels are an example of subordination and would take offense if they viewed insubordinate women. Finally they should wear head-coverings because a woman"s insubordination would tempt good angels to be insubordinate.

Is observance by angels not a reason Christian women should cover their heads in church meetings today? Again I think not. In that culture a woman"s appearance in public unveiled was a declaration of her rejection of her God-given place in creation. The angels would have recognized it as such, and it would have offended them. However today a woman"s decision to appear unveiled does not usually make that statement. Consequently her unveiled condition does not offend the angels.


Verse 11

Even though the positions of man and woman differ in God"s administrative order, this does not mean they can get along without each other. They are mutually dependent on each other, and they complement one another. They are interdependent, even as the Son and the Father are. Paul"s main point was that woman is not independent of man. This is further evidence that he was countering an illegitimate spirit of independence among some Corinthian women.

In a family, companionship should replace isolation and loneliness. There must be oneness in marriage for a husband and a wife to complete one another. Self-centered individuality destroys unity in marriage. If you are married, you need your husband or wife. Your spouse is necessary for you to be a more well-rounded person.


Verse 12

Even though God created Eve from Adam, now every male comes from a female. This fact illustrates male female interdependence and balances Paul"s emphasis in 1 Corinthians 11:11. Together 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 form a chiasm structurally. Husbands and wives have equal worth. Still God originates both of them, and both are subordinate to Him.

The apostle"s emphasis in this section was on the authority that a woman has in her own right by virtue of creation. She must not leave her divinely appointed place in creation by seeking to function exactly as a man in church worship. Furthermore she should express her submission to this aspect of God"s will in a culturally approved way. At the same time she must maintain a healthy appreciation for the opposite sex, as should the men.


Verse 13

In Paul"s culture it was not proper for a woman to act as a spokesman for people with God by praying publicly with her head uncovered. To do so would be tantamount to claiming the position of a man in God"s order. The apostle did not think it wise for Christian women to exercise their liberty in a way that would go against socially accepted behavior even though they were personally submissive. Today what is socially accepted is different, but her attitude is still crucial. Notice the similarity of what Paul advocated here with what he advocated in 1 Corinthians 8:1 to 1 Corinthians 11:1, namely, doing what is generally perceived as appropriate (as well as what is morally correct).


Verses 13-16

3. The argument from propriety11:13-16

Paul returned to the main argument ( 1 Corinthians 11:4-6), but now he appealed to the Corinthians" own judgment and sense of propriety. He raised two more rhetorical questions. The first ( 1 Corinthians 11:13 b) expects a negative answer and the second ( 1 Corinthians 11:14-15) a positive one. The apostle appealed to the nature of things. His points were that "nature" itself distinguishes between the sexes, and that a woman"s naturally longer hair reinforces the propriety of covering her head in worship (in that culture).


Verse 14-15

Women"s hair naturally grows longer than men"s hair. Paul reasoned from this fact that God intended for women to have more head-covering than men. People generally regard the reverse of what is natural as dishonorable. In the man"s case this would be long hair and in the woman"s case short hair. By "nature" Paul evidently meant how his culture felt about what was natural. [Note: Barrett, p257.] "Glory" means "honor."

This is a very general observation. The fact that some acceptable men"s hairstyles are longer than some women"s does not mean these styles are perversions of the natural order. Men are usually taller than women, but this does not mean that short men or tall women are dishonorable. I understand that women"s hair generally grows fuller and faster due to the estrogen in women, whereas men"s hair tends to become thinner and fall out faster because of the testosterone in men.


Verse 16

If any of his readers still did not feel inclined to accept Paul"s reasoning, he informed them that the other churches followed what he had just explained. This is one of four similar statements in this epistle that served to inform the Corinthians that they were out of step with the other churches in their conduct (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 8:2; 1 Corinthians 14:37). Some women were evidently discarding their head-covering in public worship because they were repudiating their place in God"s administrative order.

This section contains five arguments for women wearing head-coverings in that culture. First, Paul referred to the divine order (God, Christ, Prayer of Manasseh , and woman; 1 Corinthians 11:3-6), second, creation ( 1 Corinthians 11:7-9), third, the angels ( 1 Corinthians 11:10), fourth, nature ( 1 Corinthians 11:13-15), and fifth, universal church practice ( 1 Corinthians 11:16).

As with the issues of eating in idol temples and meat offered to idols, Paul dealt with a cultural practice when he dealt with head-coverings. As should be clear from his argumentation, he did not feel that this was a major issue. He appealed to maintain a custom, not to obey God, and he used shame, propriety, and custom to urge the Corinthians to cooperate, not Scriptural imperatives or apostolic authority. However, important issues lay behind the practices. In the case of head-coverings, the issue is women"s position in the life of the church, in particular their relationship to the men. Today no item of clothing consistently identifies a woman"s acceptance or rejection of her role in God"s administrative order. At least none does in western culture. It is usually her speech and her behavior that do. The important thing is her attitude toward her womanhood and how she expresses it, not whether she wears a particular item of clothing.


Verse 17

The Corinthians" behavior at the Lord"s Supper was so bad that Paul could say they were worse off for observing it as they did rather than better off. Their failure was not that they failed to observe the Lord"s Supper. It was that when they gathered they did not behave as the church, in which there is no distinction between "Jews or Greeks," "slaves or free" ( 1 Corinthians 12:13). In the unsaved Gentile culture of Paul"s day it was typical for hosts to give preferential treatment to persons of status. [Note: Keener, p98.]


Verses 17-22

Abuse of the poor11:17-22

This aspect of the problem involved showing disregard for the poorer members of the church.

"Because there was no landed aristocracy in the new Corinth, there arose an aristocracy of wealth." [Note: Carson and Moo, p420.]


Verses 17-26

1. The abuses11:17-26

The first abuse reflects a problem on the horizontal level, between believers in the church. The second more serious abuse was vertical, involving the church and its Lord.


Verses 17-34

D. The Lord"s Supper11:17-34

Most of the Corinthians had been following Paul"s instructions regarding women"s head-coverings so he commended them ( 1 Corinthians 11:2), but he could not approve their practice at the Lord"s Supper. They needed to make some major changes there. What they were doing cut at the heart of both the gospel and the church. This is the one certain situation in the Corinthian church that Paul addressed in chapters7-16 that the Corinthians themselves had not asked him about. He wrote that he had heard about it ( 1 Corinthians 11:18).

By way of background, we need to remember that in antiquity meals typically accompanied public worship in the early church, in Judaism, and in the pagan world. The early Christians observed the Lord"s Supper as part of such a meal, often called the love feast. Paul"s concern was that the love feast had become an occasion, not of love for fellow believers, but of selfishness.


Verse 18

"In the first place" evidently refers to all that follows in 1 Corinthians 11:18-34. Paul decided to wait to deal with other similar matters until he arrived in Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 11:34).

The context of the occasion in view was the assembling of the whole church family (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:23). When Paul later wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth, the Corinthian church was meeting in the home of Gaius ( Romans 16:23). If there were several house-churches in Corinth at this time, probably all of them were guilty of this abuse.

The divisions (Gr. schismata) to which Paul referred here were social groupings within the church, not differences involving loyalty to leaders ( 1 Corinthians 1:12).

Evidently those who had reported this abuse in the Corinthian church to Paul had given him much detail about what was happening. Paul said he believed enough of this to conclude that there was a serious problem.


Verse 19

Divisions or factions (Gr. haireseis) of this type have a positive side. They clarify whom God approves as faithful and trustworthy and who are not (cf. Matthew 10:34-37; Matthew 18:7; Matthew 24:9-13). God"s approval (Gr. dokimoi) contrasts with what Paul had written earlier about being disapproved (disqualified, adokimos; 1 Corinthians 9:27) by God.


Verse 20

In the Christian church"s early years the Lord"s Supper occupied a more central position in the life of local assemblies than it does in most churches today. The early believers often celebrated it daily or weekly (cf. Acts 2:42-46; Acts 20:7). However, it was just as impossible to observe this feast properly in an atmosphere of social discrimination as it was to do so while also attending feasts that honored idols ( 1 Corinthians 10:21).


Verse 21

The Lord"s Supper was usually part of a meal the Christians shared together, the Song of Solomon -called "love feast." In Corinth instead of sharing their food and drinks, each family was bringing its own and eating what it had brought. The result was that the rich had plenty but the poor had little and suffered embarrassment as well. This was hardly a picture of Christian love and unity (cf. Acts 2:44-46; Acts 4:32; Acts 4:34-35). Furthermore some with plenty of wine to drink were evidently drinking too heavily. They were eating their own private meals rather than sharing a meal consecrated to the Lord.


Verse 22

This verse contains some of the apostle"s most critical statements in this epistle. If his original readers chose to behave in such a selfish way, they should stay home and eat rather than humiliating their less fortunate brethren. Such conduct showed disrespect for the church as the temple of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:17).

"The early Church was the one place in all the ancient world where the barriers which divided the world were down. The ancient world was very rigidly divided; there were the free men and the slaves; there were the Greeks and the barbarians-the people who did not speak Greek; there were the Jews and the Gentiles; there were the Roman citizens and the lesser breeds without the law; there were the cultured and the ignorant. The Church was the one place where all men could and did come together.... A Church where social and class distinctions exist is no true Church at all. A real Church is a body of men and women united to each other because all are united to Christ.

"A Church is not true Church where the art of sharing is forgotten." [Note: Barclay, The Letters . . ., pp112-13.]


Verse 23

What Paul taught here came ultimately from the Lord Jesus Himself. This reminder stresses the importance of this revelation.

"The verbs "received" and "passed on," which occur again in combination in 1 Corinthians 15:3, are technical terms from Paul"s Jewish heritage for the transmission of religious instruction. His present concern is to establish that the tradition about the Supper they had received from him came from Jesus himself: "I received [it] from the Lord."" [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p548.]

The terminology used here does not require us to understand that the Lord Jesus communicated this information to Paul personally. Paul"s wording suggests that he may have been repeating exactly what others had taught him. This is not a verbatim quotation from one of the Gospel accounts. [Note: See David Lincicum, "Paul and the Testimonia: Quo Vademus?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society51:2 (June2008):297-308.]

Paul described the night Jesus instituted the Lord"s Supper as the night in which He was betrayed. This draws attention to the Savior"s great love for His own. The Lord was graciously providing for His disciples when one of them was plotting to do away with Him.


Verses 23-26

Abuse of the Lord11:23-26

There was an even more serious dimension to this problem. The Corinthians were sinning against the Lord as well as one another.


Verse 24

The Greek word eucharisteo, "to give thanks," accounts for the fact that another name for the Lord"s Supper is the Eucharist. Likewise some Christians call it "the breaking of bread" because Jesus broke the bread, as Paul stated here.

There have been various interpretations of what Jesus meant when He said, "This is my body." There are four main views. Roman Catholics take it as a literal statement meaning the bread really becomes the body of Christ and the contents of the cup become the blood of Christ. They believe this is true when duly authorized representatives of the church conduct the service properly. This is the transubstantiation view. Adherents believe God transfers the body and blood of Christ into the substance of the elements. The bread and wine really become the physical body and blood of Christ.

A second view is not quite so literal. It is the consubstantiation view and, as the word implies, its advocates see the body and blood of Christ as present "in, with, and under" the elements. Christ is "really" present, though not physically present, in this Lutheran view.

The third major view is the spiritual presence view that Presbyterians and some other followers of Calvin hold. For them the spiritual presence of Christ is in the elements and, as in the former views, God ministers grace to the communicant in a concrete way through participation.

The fourth view is the memorial view. Advocates believe that when Jesus said, "This is my body," he meant, "This represents my body." In other words, they understand His statement as completely metaphorical. They view the elements as pictures or emblems of the body and blood of Christ. In contrast to the preceding views this one does not see Christ present in any special sense in the elements. Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, promoted this view. Today most of the churches from the Anabaptist branch of Protestantism (i.e, Baptists, Methodists, independent Bible churches, et al.) follow this interpretation. [Note: For more information on these views, see articles on the Lord"s Supper and synonymous terms in Bible encyclopedias.] As the following quotation clarifies, this view expresses how Jesus" Jewish disciples probably first understood "This is my body (and blood)."

"The identification of the bread with the body is semitic imagery in its heightened form. As in all such identifications, he means "this signifies/represents my body." It lies quite beyond both Jesus" intent and the framework within which he and the disciples lived to imagine that some actual change took place, or was intended to take place, in the bread itself. Such a view could only have arisen in the church at a much later stage when Greek modes of thinking had rather thoroughly replaced semitic ones." [Note: Fee, The First . . ., p550.]

Jesus invited his disciples to take the bread that represented His body. He thus gave them a share in His body and invited them to participate in the meaning and benefits of His death. His body was "for" them in a double sense. It was what secured atonement on their behalf (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8), and it was a body offered in their place (e.g, Galatians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Lord"s request that His disciples remember Him by partaking of bread and the fruit of the vine is rich with significance. Many followers remember their leaders by erecting stone monuments to their memories and making pilgrimages to these sites. In contrast the Lord Jesus made remembering Him easy yet profound. Eating the elements helps us appreciate the fact that Christ is really within us, and eating together reminds us of our unity with other believers in Christ"s body, the church.

Remembering in biblical terminology does not mean just calling to memory. It includes realizing what the event remembered involved (cf. Exodus 13:3; Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:18; et al.). The Lord"s Supper is not just something Christians do to bring the memory of Jesus back into fresh view, though it does that too. It is a memorial of the salvation that He accomplished by His death and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 11:24 contains the Lord"s command to observe the Eucharist as do the Gospel accounts of the institution of this ordinance. [Note: For further study of the ordinances, see Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp421-27 , or any of the standard theologies.] It is impossible to be an obedient Christian without observing the Lord"s Supper.

Some Christian groups refer to the Lord"s Supper as one of the "sacraments." They mean the elements minister grace to the participant in a more direct and physical way than those who speak of it as an "ordinance," assuming they are using these terms properly. An ordinance or sacrament is a rite the Lord commanded His followers to observe.

Most Protestants believe there are two ordinances, baptism and the Lord"s Supper. A few Protestant groups include foot washing as an ordinance on the basis of John 13:12-17 (e.g, the Grace Brethren, some Mennonites, et al.).


Verse 25

As Jesus had taken the bread and given thanks for it, so He also took the cup and gave thanks for it ( Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).

When Jesus shed His blood on Calvary, that blood ratified (gave formal sanction to) the New Covenant that Jeremiah had predicted ( Jeremiah 31:31-34, cf. Exodus 24:8). The New Covenant replaced the old Mosaic Covenant ( Hebrews 8:8-13; Hebrews 9:18-28). Even though the Jews will be the major beneficiaries of the benefits of this covenant in the Millennium, all believers began to benefit from the death of Christ when He died. [Note: See Rodney J. Decker, "The Church"s Relationship to the New Covenant," Bibliotheca Sacra152:607 (July-September1995):290-305.]

This arrangement resembles one that is possible to set up in a Charitable Lead Unit Trust under the Internal Revenue Code of the United States. Suppose there was a vastly wealthy and generous philanthropist of the magnitude of a John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates. As he prepared his will he bequeathed millions of dollars to various charitable causes that would benefit millions of people all over the world when he died. He also wrote into his will that when his only son reached the age of21he would inherit billions of dollars. When this man died, his son was only five years old, so for16 years he did not enter into his father"s inheritance. However as soon as the philanthropist died the millions of dollars he had bequeathed to charity went to work immediately to help many people.

This illustration shows how the church enters into the blessings of the New Covenant. When Christ established the Lord"s Supper it was as though He notarized His will; it became official then. The will is the New Covenant. When He died His "estate" became available to those He chose to profit from it. Soon many people around the world, Jews and Gentiles alike in the church, began to benefit from the blessings of His death. However His chosen people, His son Israel, will not enter into his inheritance until the appointed time, namely, the Millennium. Blessings for the church began almost immediately after Christ"s death. Blessings for Israel will not begin until Christ"s appointed time arrives.

Whenever the Jews celebrated the Passover the father who was conducting the service would explain the significance of each part to the rest of the family (cf. Deuteronomy 16:3). Jesus did the same for His disciples when He instituted the Lord"s Supper.


Verse 26

Paul continued Jesus" explanation. Participation in the Lord"s Supper dramatizes the gospel. The service becomes a visual as well as an audio setting forth of the death of Christ and its significance.

"The Eucharist is an acted sermon, an acted proclamation of the death which it commemorates; but it is possible that there is reference to some expression of belief in the atoning death of Christ as being a usual element in the service." [Note: Robertson and Plummer, p249.]

Paul may have referred to "the cup" rather than "the wine," which would have been parallel to "the bread," to avoid the direct identification of the wine in the cup with blood. The idea of drinking blood was revolting to most people in the ancient world, particularly the Jews. [Note: Barrett, p268.] On the other hand, he may have viewed both elements symbolically, the cup being a symbol of one"s lot in life, particularly judgment, and the bread a symbol of what sustains life.

The Lord"s Supper is not only a memorial celebration looking back to Jesus Christ"s first advent. It is also an anticipatory celebration looking forward to His second advent. Evidently when the Lord returns to set up His earthly kingdom He will establish a new form of worship that will include the offering of certain animal sacrifices ( Ezekiel 40-46). These will be similar to the animal sacrifices the Jews offered under the Old Covenant. However since Jesus Christ has made a final sacrifice these animal offerings will evidently be memorial and entirely for worship, not for the expiation of sin. Another possibility is that they will have some role in restoring fellowship with God then. [Note: See Jerry M. Hullinger, "The Problem of Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48 ," Bibliotheca Sacra152:607 (July-September1995):279-89.]

"The Communion is not supposed to be a time of "spiritual autopsy" and grief, even though confession of sin is important. It should be a time of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of seeing the Lord!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:607.]

In this section Paul reviewed and expounded the significance of the Lord"s Supper so his readers would value and celebrate it appropriately.

"In short, Paul is doing one thing and one thing alone. He is impressing on the Corinthians the tremendous importance of doing just this: eating this bread and drinking this cup. It Isaiah , after all, a matter of celebrating the Lord"s death." [Note: Troels Engberg-Pedersen, "Proclaiming the Lord"s Death," in Pauline Theology. Vol. II: 1 & 2 Corinthians , p116.]


Verse 27

An unworthy manner is any manner that is not consistent with the significance of Christ"s death. This does not mean that every participant must grasp the fullness of this significance, which is hardly possible. Nevertheless everyone should conduct himself or herself appropriately in view the significance of the Lord"s death. Even a child is capable of doing this. The divisions that existed in their church ( 1 Corinthians 11:18) and their selfish behavior ( 1 Corinthians 11:21) constituted the unworthiness of the manner in which the Corinthians were observing the Lord"s Supper. They had also lost the point of the memorial, which involves proclaiming salvation through Christ"s death portrayed in ritual. The gospel goes out when we observe the Lord"s Supper in a worthy manner.

Being guilty of Christ"s body and blood means being guilty of treating them in an unworthy manner, of profaning them. It does not mean that such a person is in some special sense responsible for the death of Christ.


Verses 27-32

Discerning the body11:27-32

He explained that the Lord"s Supper is more than a personal, introspective remembering. It has implications for the church because in His death Jesus Christ laid the foundation for a new community of believers who bear His name. Thus the Lord"s Supper should lead us to reflect on our relationship to one another as Christians as well as to recall Calvary.


Verses 27-34

2. The correctives11:27-34

Paul proceeded to urge the Corinthians to change their observance of the Lord"s Supper and explained what they should do to correct their conduct.


Verse 28

"The Corinthians neglected to examine themselves, but they were experts at examining everybody else." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:606.]

The reason for examining oneself is to determine that we are partaking in a worthy manner rather than in an unworthy manner. In the context this would involve behaving in a loving and unselfish way toward our fellow Christians as well as being appreciative of the significance of the Lord"s body and blood. We need to examine ourselves so the Lord will not have to examine and judge us for failing to participate worthily ( 1 Corinthians 11:31).

Having conducted this brief self-examination the believer should then proceed to participate. An unusually sensitive Christian might hesitate to participate after thoughtful reflection feeling overwhelmed by his or her personal unworthiness. However no one is ever worthy to partake. If someone thinks he Isaiah , he is not. We are only worthy because Christ has made us worthy. We need to partake feeling unworthy to do so. This attitude is part of what it means to partake in a worthy manner.

This simple reflection and participation lie at the very root of motivation for living a life that glorifies God. The church has invented many ways to motivate Christians to put Jesus Christ first in their lives. These include altar calls, "revival" services, campfire dedication services, and many others all of which have values. Unfortunately we have also neglected what the Lord Jesus instructed us to do that will motivate His people to live for Him better than anything else. If this observance has lost its punch, it is because those who lead it have failed to give it the preparation, attention, and priority it deserves in church life. The frequent observance of the Lord"s Supper in a way that takes us back to the Cross is one of the most powerful and effective motivators for living the Christian life. If you think a frequent observance of the Lord"s Supper tends to become tiresome, remember that your spouse never tires of your frequent expressions of love for him or her.


Verse 29

Eating and drinking in an unworthy manner results in divine judgment. Judgment is inevitable at the Lord"s Table. We judge ourselves (Gr. diakrino) before we partake and then participate in a worthy manner, or God will judge (krino) us. The "body" has a double sense: the body of Christ given on the cross, and the mystical body of Christ, the church.

"The "unworthy" or "inappropriate" participation in the Lord"s Supper that entails eating and drinking judgment against the participants comes in not "discerning (diakrinon) the body" ( 1 Corinthians 11:29). How members of the community view one another, whether they are sensitive to the poor and latecomers or whether the prevailing social customs dictate their behavior, becomes the decisive issue. Does the congregation recognize itself as the distinctive body of Christ?" [Note: Cousar, "The Theological . . .," p100.]


Verse 30

In Corinth, God was judging with sickness and death. The reasons were the unjudged sin of selfish living ( 1 Corinthians 11:21) and thoughtless participation in the communion service.


Verse 31

If God"s people do not judge their own sins themselves, God will judge them. This judgment may involve physical illness or even, in extreme cases, premature physical death (cf. Acts 5; 1 John 5:16).


Verse 32

We should regard God"s punishment of Christians as discipline (Gr. paideia, lit. child training; cf. Hebrews 12:5-11). The condemnation God intends this discipline to spare us from experiencing is not eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord that the unsaved world will suffer ( Romans 8:1). It is premature death and the Lord"s disapproval at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15; 1 Corinthians 5:5). This is another instance of wordplay in the Greek text. If we discerned (diakrino) ourselves, we would not come under divine judgment (krino). When God judges us (krino), it is to correct us so we will not be condemned (katakrino) with the world.


Verse 33

Rather than disregarding the members of the congregation who had little or no food to bring to the love feasts, those who had plenty should share what they had. They should also wait to eat until all had been served.

Many churches these days have potluck suppers periodically that provide a modern counterpart to the first-century love feast. Some Christians have felt that we should practice the love feast whenever we observe the Lord"s Supper today. Most have concluded that the love feast was just the setting in which the Lord"s Supper took place in the early church. Jesus did not specifically command His disciples to observe the love feast as He urged them to eat the Lord"s Supper. Therefore most Christians believe the love feast is not an ordinance of the church and we are not bound to perpetuate it as the early church practiced it.


Verse 33-34

Waiting for one another11:33-34

Practical application now follows theological explanation.


Verse 34

If some of the Corinthian Christians were too hungry to wait to eat, they should eat something before they came to the service. Otherwise their unloving selfishness might result in the Lord"s judgment. It is very important to the Lord that we put the needs of others before our own needs (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Mark 10:45; Romans 15:2; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 2:3; et al.).

Evidently there were other details of how the Corinthians were behaving when they congregated that Paul did not want to comment on in this letter. Perhaps they were of local importance only. He planned to address these issues when he visited Corinth again (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:18-21; 1 Corinthians 16:2-3; 1 Corinthians 16:5-7).

The selfish attitude that marked the Corinthian church comes through strongly in this section of the epistle. It manifested itself in a particularly ugly display at the Lord"s Table. Paul dealt with it severely for the sake of the reputation of the Savior and for the welfare of the saints.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/1-corinthians-11.html. 2012.

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