Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, March 5th, 2024
the Third Week of Lent
There are 26 days til Easter!
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


This and the following three chapters are usually construed as Paul’s corrective admonition regarding the "worship services"; but since the first paragraph (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) undoubtedly refers to social customs, there being even some doubt of its application to any worship service whatever, there is no need for adherence to such an outline. Throughout this epistle, the apostle Paul dealt with miscellaneous church conditions and disorders, making it nearly impossible to fit the epistle into any form of classical outline.

The first paragraph regards the veiling of women (1 Corinthians 11:1-16), and the second teaches concerning the Lord’s supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).


Paul’s teaching here is the basis of diametrically opposed views, Lipscomb holding that "Whether the woman prays in the closet at home, or in the assembly, she should approach God with the tokens of her subjection to man on her head."(F1) Johnson limited the ruling to the worship meeting, saying, "This alone is in view."(F2) He interpreted the words here as "Paul’s ruling that women must cover their heads during the meeting."(F3) This writer admires and respects the immortal Lipscomb; but, in his comment above, the words "tokens of her subjection to man" betray a basic misunderstanding of this difficult passage. If Paul really meant that women should be veiled, then no fancy little hat will do it. This student of the Scriptures is adamantly opposed to tokenism and would just as soon accept "token baptism" as a "token veil." As Marsh said:

One thing is certain; within the context of our contemporary culture, the modern western hat — decorative, attractive, and often obstructive — cannot be said to compare with the veil, either in appearance, function or purpose.(F4)

As McGarvey said, "In western countries a woman’s hat has never had any symbolism whatever."(F5) The notion that any kind of hat, in the modern sense of that word, can in any manner be construed as a "token veil" is founded in neither reason nor Scripture; and to get that simple fact in focus is to go a long way to understanding this subject.

Eldred Echols, Professor of Bible, South Africa Bible School, Benoni, South Africa, summed up an extensive study of this problem by the Bible faculty with the following conclusion:

The dogmatic position that 1 Corinthians 11 requires a woman to wear a hat at a religious service is linguistically and historically impossible. To enjoin it as an obligation upon Christian women is dangerously presumptive, since it is not based upon Biblical authority. On the other hand, there is not the slightest reason why any Christian woman should not wear a hat at church or elsewhere if she wishes to do so. Nevertheless, she should not be deceived into imagining that her hat has any bearing upon first century doctrine or practice.(F6)

References to key words in the exegesis below will further elaborate the facts supporting Echols’ conclusion. This writer wholeheartedly concurs in this conclusion and also with that of McGarvey who wrote: "The problem in western assemblies is how best to persuade women to take their hats off, not how to prevail upon them to keep them on!"(F7)

"Drawings in the catacombs do not bear out the assumption that Christian women wore veils at services in the early church."(F8) The extensive art of the Middle Ages, however, invariably portrays the women as fully veiled; but, of course, this was derived largely from the Roman Catholic culture of that era. In fact that culture may be viewed as the source of the custom of wearing hats (by women) in church services in the present times, the same having been accepted in Reformation and post-Reformation times without critical reappraisal because more urgent issues commanded the attention of scholars.

Despite the conclusion accepted by this commentator to the effect that Paul does not here require women to wear hats at church, it is felt that Barclay went much too far in saying that "This is one of these passages which have a purely local and temporary significance."(F9) On the contrary, Paul’s teaching here is invaluable and relevant to all generations with regard to the Christian’s relation to the culture in which he lives.

Before proceeding to a line-by-line study of this paragraph, one other colossal fact should be noted, that being the word "custom" which appears in 1 Corinthians 11:16, at the end of the paragraph. Paul did a similar thing in Romans 8:1, where the word "now" flies like a banner, demanding that the antithesis "then" be understood as a description of what he treated in Romans 7. See my Commentary on Romans, pp. 262, 263, 278. The word "custom" as used in 1 Corinthians 11:16 clearly identifies the subject under consideration in this paragraph as the customs of the times, and not as an apostolic treatise on what either men or women should wear in religious services, except in the degree that the one had a bearing upon the other. Sex differentiation as indicated by hair-length is outlined; and it is hair, not clothes, of which Paul spoke:

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 11:1 was discussed at the end of 1 Corinthians 10.

Verse 2

Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

Traditions of men are not necessarily binding, but the holy traditions delivered by the apostles of Christ were of the highest authority. For a considerable part of the first century, there existed many written documents of the Christian religion (Luke 1:1); but such written documents were extensively supplemented by the word-of-mouth teaching which was promulgated by apostles and eyewitnesses of the inception of Christianity. See my Commentary on Mark, pp. 3,4.

Hold fast the traditions … "This ordinarily means `handed down from generation to generation’; but here it refers to the doctrine orally delivered by the apostles to the churches in the first Christian generation."(F10) In view of the meaning here, the old KJV rendition of "ordinances" is better than "traditions," despite the fact of the latter being the literal meaning.(F11)

Verse 3

But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

In the threefold step from woman to man to Christ to God, it may appear surprising that Paul began with the center stop; but there seems to have been a design in this. Paul, who was about to speak of the subordination of woman to her husband, would first speak to man with a reminder that he himself is subordinated to Christ the Lord. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul made it abundantly clear that the subjection of wives to their husbands was coupled with the sternest commandments with regard to the husband’s duty to the wife.

In the current era, there are those who would set aside the apostolic authority regarding the question of the subordination of the wife to her husband; but the wisdom of the ages and also the word of God concur in teaching the necessity that every organism must have a head; and there cannot be any denial that in God’s basic unit of all civilization and all progress, which is the family, the head must be either the man or the woman; and God here commanded man to fulfill that function of being the head of the family. If history has demonstrated anything, it is the truism that a matriarchal society is, by definition, inferior.

The head of Christ is God … The equality of Christ with the Father is everywhere apparent in Scripture, as Paul himself said in Philippians 2:6; but, even so, the Godhead itself could not function in the project of human redemption without the subordination of the Son "for that purpose." Just so, the subordination of woman to her husband does not set aside the equality of both male and female "in Christ," but it is for the purpose of making the family a viable and successful unit. This verse makes the "headship of the man over the woman parallel to the leadership of God over Christ."(F12) Thus the same equality, unity of purpose and unity of will, should exist between a man and his wife as exists between the Father and the Son.

Verse 4

Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.

Having his head covered … Here is where the misunderstanding of this passage begins. This clause, as rendered in the popular versions, is commentary, not Bible. As Echols noted:

"Having his head covered" is a commentary, not a translation. Lenski translated the sense correctly: "having something down from his head." What the "something" is is neither stated nor implied in 1 Corinthians 11:4.(F13)

The logical understanding of this would refer it to "long hair," being long enough to hang down from the head, as clearly indicated by the apostles’ words a moment later: "If a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him" (1 Corinthians 11:14).

The ancients accepted Paul’s dictum on this and went so far as to define the length of hair that was considered an infraction of Paul’s words.

The hair of the head may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes … cropping is to be adopted … let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets.(F14)

Significantly, the words "hang far down" strongly resemble Paul’s words "having something down from his head." The above is from Clement of Alexandria and was written in the second century.

The notion that Paul in this place referred to the [~tallith] (shawl), or [~yarmelke] (skull cap) worn by Jewish worshipers is refuted by the fact that the Greek New Testament does not indicate in this verse an artificial covering of any kind.(F15) This does not mean, however, that Paul would have approved of the use of either in Christian worship. "For Paul such a covering probably symbolized that the Jewish male continued in spiritual darkness, from which Christians had been liberated."(F16) We may therefore interpret this verse as a simple admonition that it was a disgrace for any long-haired Christian male to participate in praying and prophesying; and this interpretation certainly harmonizes with verse 14. History has certainly vindicated this view; because universal human behavior has departed from it only in isolated instances and for relatively very short periods of time.

Every man … It is wrong to understand this in the generic sense as "every man or woman." Russell said:

There are two Greek words for "man"; one for man as a human being; the other contrasting man with woman or child; the latter form is used for man in every instance in this chapter (1 Corinthians 11:3-16).(F17)

Verse 5

But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonoreth her head; for it is one and the same thing as if she were shaven.

Every woman praying or prophesying … As Lipscomb said:

In all the history of Christ and the apostles no example is found of women speaking publicly or leading in public prayer, although they were endowed with miraculous gifts, and did prophesy and teach in private and in the family circle.(F18)

However, McGarvey construed this passage as an example of "women when exercising the prophetic office in the church." Macknight took another view (see below). For further discussions, see under 1 Corinthians 14:34, below.

We may suppose that the Corinthian women affected to perform such offices in the public assemblies on pretence of their being inspired; and, although Paul did not here condemn that practice, it does not follow that he allowed it, or that it was allowed in any church.(F19)

With her head unveiled … The word here rendered "unveiled" is [@akatakaluptos].(F20) "There is no intrinsic meaning in this word which suggests either the covering material or the object covered; it is simply a general word."(F21) [@Katakaluptos] means covered completely. [@Akatakaluptos] means not completely covered. Thus again, the passage falls short of mentioning any kind of garment. To suppose that Paul here meant "mantle" or "veil" or any such thing is to import into this text what is not in it. We have seen that he was speaking of "hair" in 1 Corinthians 11:4; and that is exactly what he is speaking of here. "Not completely covered" would then refer to the disgraceful conduct of the Corinthian women in cropping their hair, after the manner of the notorious Corinthian prostitutes; which, if they did it, was exactly the same kind of disgrace as if they had shaved their heads. It is crystal clear that Paul is not speaking of any kind of garment; because he said in 1 Corinthians 11:15, below, "For her hair is given her instead of a covering."(F22) (See under 1 Corinthians 11:15.) Only in 1 Corinthians 11:15 does Paul mention any kind of garment ([@peribolaion]) and even there he stated that the woman’s hair took the place of it.

Dishonoreth her head … Understanding the "unveiled" in the preceding clause as a reference to cropping her hair explains this. Any man’s wife adopting the style of the notorious "priestesses" on the Acro Corinthus would bring shame and dishonor upon her "head," that is, her husband, who would thus be scandalized in the conduct of his wife. Also, from this, it is clear that in 1 Corinthians 11:4, man’s "head," which is Christ, is the one dishonored there. Thus the thing which concerned Paul here was the arrogant adoption of the hairstyle (by women) of the shameless priestesses of Aphrodite.

Is there any lesson for modern Christians in this? Indeed there is. Any time that Christian men or women adopt styles, whether of clothing or hair, which are widely accepted as immoral, anti-social, anti-establishment, or in any manner degrading, such actions constitute a violation of what is taught here.

Verse 6

For if a woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn: but if it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.

Here again the sense of this place is destroyed by the traditional rendition "veiled." No artificial covering of any kind has thus far been mentioned by Paul in this chapter, nor will there be any reference to any kind of garment or artificial covering until 1 Corinthians 11:15, below, where it is categorically stated that her hair is given her "instead of" any other covering. Paul is only repeating here the obvious truth that for a woman to adopt the Aphrodite hair style was the same thing as being shaven. The shaving of any woman’s head was considered either a sign of deep mourning, or a fitting punishment for adultery; and the overwhelming inference here is not that the Corinthian women had thrown off the oriental style "veil" that obscured almost all of the female person, there being no evidence at all that first-century Christian women ever wore such a thing, but that they had adopted the chic hair-styles of the women of Aphrodite. Can it be believed that Paul was here pleading for the Corinthian women to put on "veils" in the style of present-day Moslems, when he was about to say in 1 Corinthians 11:15, below, that their hair had been given them "instead of" such a covering? It is the flagrant mistranslation of this passage which has obscured the truth and confused millions of students of it.

Verses 7-9

For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

Ought not to have his head veiled … See under 1 Corinthians 11:4 for the true meaning which is that "a man ought not to have anything hanging down from his head," an obvious reference to long hair, as more thoroughly explained above. Whatever "covered" means in 1 Corinthians 11:4 must also be the meaning of "veiled" in this verse. Moreover, the fact that Paul is speaking of something fundamental and intrinsic in human appearance, and not merely about some kind of clothing, is inherent in the reasons assigned to support his words. In these verses, the big thing in view is the eternal propriety of woman’s submission to her husband, a subject already in Paul’s mind, from the reference to "man as the head of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:3). The facts of creation reveal that: (1) woman was taken out of man, (2) she was given to man, (3) she was created for man, and (4) she was intended to be the glory of man. The scandalous behavior of the Corinthian women had contravened God’s purpose in all of these things, hence the mention of them here.

Charles Hodge stated in connection with these verses:

In this way does the New Testament constantly authenticate, not merely the moral and religious truths of the Old Testament, but its historical facts; and makes the facts the grounds or proofs of great moral principles.(F23)

Verse 10

For this cause ought the woman to have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels.

This verse should be read without the words "a sign of," the same being not in Paul’s writings at all, but having been merely added by translators to help out with what they conceived to be the meaning of the passage. As Farrar said, "A great deal of irrelevant guesswork has been written on this verse."(F24) We shall not trouble the reader with any of the wild guesses concerning the danger that women without veils might tempt some of the angels attending church and seeing them, or any such speculations. The simplest explanation (since Paul was speaking of the proper subordination of woman) is that this is a reminder that the "angels who kept not their first estate" lost heaven; and it is not far-fetched to draw the analogy that those precious angels called women should not go beyond the limitations imposed upon them by their creation.

Authority upon her head … Scholars do not agree on the exact meaning implied by the use of "authority" here; but it is clear that Paul referred to the woman’s head being properly covered; but it is of the utmost importance to note that "the nature of that covering" is not here specified. The opinion of this writer is that the reference means she should not have her hair cropped. Even in such a regulation as that, the implication is that the prohibition is not absolute, but qualified. The sin was not in cutting off hair, but in cutting it off in such a manner as to obscure the sexes or to imitate the shameless prostitutes of the pagan temples.

Verses 11-12

Nevertheless, neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord For as the woman is of the man, so is the man also by the woman; but all things are of God.

Despite the fact of Paul’s speaking on the subordination of woman in God’s order of created beings, he was careful here to point out what kind of subordination he was speaking of. Man and woman are mutually dependent upon each other, each enjoying unique prerogatives and blessings under the will of God, as Paul stressed in Ephesians 5:22-33, etc. While true enough that the first woman was made out of man, it has been true of all others since then that they are born of woman. The natural relationship between men and women, like everything else, is ordained of God. Johnson believed that the point of emphasis here is that "The man must always remember that he exists by woman, and that both are of God."(F25)

Verse 13

Judge ye in yourselves: is it seemly that a woman pray unto God unveiled?

As Farrar said, "This is an appeal to the decision of their instinctive sense of propriety."(F26) Johnson believed that "seemly" here should be read "proper."(F27) It should be noted again that "unveiled" here has no reference at all to what is commonly referred to as a "veil." The word is exactly the same as the one used in 1 Corinthians 11:5.(F28) A covering of some kind is meant; but the Greek text leaves totally out of sight anything that would enable this to be identified as some kind of artificial covering, or man-made garment. See under 1 Corinthians 11:5. The instinctive judgment of men is much more easily associated with their approval of long hair for a woman than with the approval of some kind or style of clothing. The fallibility of human instinct in that whole area of concern is proved by the new styles accepted every spring!

Verse 14

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that if a man have long hair, it is a dishonor to him?

As Johnson observed, "The fact of short hair for men and long hair for women is a divine suggestion in nature itself."(F29) It is quite evident throughout this whole paragraph that Paul is talking about "hair," not clothes! If such is not the case, such a verse as this is totally out of place. The judgment of history as well as the New Testament confirms Paul’s words here are true. People may deny it if they please; but the sacred text and the usage of centuries are against any such denial.

Verse 15

But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

It is a glory to her … This would have been the ideal place for Paul to have said that a mantle thrown over a woman’s head and shoulders is a glory to her, if he ever had such a thing in mind. On the contrary, it comes out here, as it does in every verse in the whole passage, his subject was "hair"!

Her hair is given her for a covering … Here again is an enormous mistranslation; and one may only wonder at the efforts of commentators to make this conform to the misinterpretations they have foisted upon this innocent passage. For example, Johnson declared that "This does not mean that her hair is her covering";(F30) but a glance at any interlinear Greek New Testament will reveal the meaning instantly. Nestle gives it, "instead of a veil."(F31) The Emphatic Diaglott has "Her hair is given her instead of a veil."(F32) Echols emphatically stressed this expression "instead of" as follows:

The idea conveyed by "instead of" is that if the noun preceding this preposition is available, the noun following the preposition is not required. Therefore, the conclusion is quite inescapable that, if a woman’s hair conforms to apostolic standards of propriety, she requires no artificial covering.(F33)

But of paramount importance in this verse is the noun [@peribolaion], here rendered "veil." This is the one noun in the whole passage that unmistakably refers to a head covering. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament translates it, "a covering thrown around, a wrapper." This is the "veil" which has already been imported into the passage five times; but this is Paul’s first reference to anything of the kind; and, significantly, it is mentioned in the same breath with woman’s hair which is given to her "instead of" any such covering.

The only conceivable situation in which it may be inferred that Paul expected women to wear the kind of mantle, or veil, spoken of here, would be one in which a woman’s hair had been lost, from disease, accident, or something of that kind. Echols thought that "instead of" in this verse "forces us to accept the alternative that, if a woman’s hair does not fulfill its proper function, then she should wear a mantle or hood."(F34) However, this seems to be an unnecessary conclusion, since the natural modesty of almost any person would lead to the wearing of a head covering in such a circumstance.

Verse 16

But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

If any man seemeth to be contentious … This was Paul’s way of saying, "Look, we do not intend to argue this question endlessly; the whole matter is already solved by the type of behavior which marks God’s churches everywhere." This is grounds for holding that in this whole passage it is decorous conduct with which Paul is concerned, since it touched on the all-important question of the proper submission of women to their husbands, and was also related to the prevailing opinion of the people in that community.

This whole passage affirms the necessity for Christians to have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, and not to flaunt social customs of any kind merely for the sake of being different. As McGarvey said, "One who follows Christ will find himself conspicuously different from the world, without practicing any tricks of singularity."(F35)


If Paul meant "hair," why did he use the word "covered"? The answer is that in the vocabulary of the Old Testament "to uncover the head" was to shave off the hair. When Nadab and Abihu sinned (Leviticus 10:1 ff), God commanded Aaron not to "uncover his head" in mourning at their death; and this meant not to cut off his hair (the customary sign of mourning). Job shaved his head when he learned his children were dead (Job 1:20). Many examples of this usage could be cited; but as Echols noted: "Wherever the expression `uncover the head’ occurs in the Hebrew Old Testament, it means `remove the hair.’"(F36) The culture of that era as well as the environment at Corinth suggests that some of the Corinthian women (in the church) were violating decent rules of conduct, not by discarding the mantle ([@peribolaion]) which there is no evidence that any of them were wearing, but by adopting the cropped hair of Aphrodite’s priestesses. It is even likely that some of them had been converted and had neglected to change their hair styles. Furthermore, it must be evident to all who think about it that when Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:4 that a man praying or prophesying with his head "covered" dishonored his head, he simply COULD NOT have referred to any man’s wrapping himself up in the type of mantle that was called a veil in those days. That type of veil (or mantle), as far as history reveals, was never worn by men in any circumstance. Therefore the fault Paul sought to correct in 1 Corinthians 11:4 was not that of men veiling themselves like women, but that of sporting indecently long hair.

What was the veil, actually, that was worn in those days? It was a large loose mantle which the woman wrapped around her head and face, leaving only the eyes visible, and sometimes only one eye. The word "veil" used by our translators is extremely misleading. Ruth’s veil, for example, held six measures of barley! (Ruth 3:15). Although Hebrew women did not always wear veils, they seem to have done so for harvesting, as in the case of Ruth.

Was the mantle (veil) a symbol of modesty and submission? It came in time to be so considered; but there was certainly a time when such a garment (designed to obscure the person) was considered the attire of a harlot. Note the following:

And she (Tamar) put her widow’s garments off, and covered her with a veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned in unto her by the way (Genesis 38:14-16).

Is there any word in this whole passage that unmistakably means the type of veil under consideration? Yes, the word [@peribolaion] in 1 Corinthians 11:15 refers to that type of covering; and this is the only word in the whole passage that does so; but this is also the verse where Paul said the Lord had given woman her hair "instead of" any such garment!

What is Paul’s subject in these verses? Whatever it was, it could not have been the type of veil or mantle that obscures the person of women, that having been mentioned only once. On the other hand HAIR is mentioned three times, "shaved" or "shorn" is mentioned four times; and, in this light, it appears certain that Paul’s subject here was HAIR. One could not speak of a mantle’s being shorn or shaved.

How could this passage have been so long misunderstood? Echols’ explanation is as good as any. He said:

A clear understanding has been obscured by ambiguous English translations, as well as by established custom. There can be little doubt that the custom itself derived largely from Roman Catholic practice during the Middle ages.(F37)


The balance of this chapter (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) deals with abuses in the Corinthian congregation with regard to the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper and the "love feast" which usually preceded it in the primitive church.

Verses 17-18

But in giving you this charge, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it.

When ye come together … is a reference to the formal assembly of the congregation for worship as a body, the corporate worship, as it is sometimes called.

Not for the better but for the worse … Not merely were their assemblies so disordered and perverted as to deny all benefit to the worshipers, but they were actually productive of harm, so much so that those attending were actually worse off for having participated.

When ye come together in the church … divisions … Paul had already discussed the shameful schisms, or parties, that had become prevalent in Corinth; and it seems here that he is referring to the intrusion of this party spirit into the worship itself, but especially to the manifestation of that spirit in the common meal that in those times was held before the Lord’s Supper and in close connection with it. As Alexander Campbell said:

There can be no doubt that the Eucharist at this period (shortly after Pentecost) was preceded uniformly by a common repast, as when the ordinance was instituted. Most scholars hold that this was the prevailing usage in the first centuries after Christ; and we have traces of this practice in 1 Corinthians 11:20 ff.(F38)

Verse 19

For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you.

A glimpse of the divine mind is in this. Christians who become upset and discouraged because of schisms, factions and other disorders in the church make a tragic mistake. As God used Satan in the Paradise of Eden to test the progenitors of the human race, he still tests the faith of all Christians. Church difficulties provide an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate that they are genuine followers of the Lord. God never intended that any man should move through life in a constant environment of encouragement and spiritual delight. There is a place in the experience of every Christian where "the rubber meets the road"; and his response to unfavorable, or even tragic, situations will determine whether or not he is "approved" of God. It should always be remembered that "many are called, but few are chosen."

Verse 20

When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper.

It is not possible to eat the Lord’s Supper … This cannot mean that it was physically impossible, but that it was morally impossible. The abuses of the AGAPE, or love feast, which preceded the holy communion were so grave as to contravene any true participation in the sacred supper.

The Lord’s Supper … Morris said, "[@Kuriakon], translated "the Lord’s," is found only here and in Revelation 1:10 in the New Testament."(F39) Thus, only here does the expression "The Lord’s Supper" appear in the New Testament. There is no doubt, however, that the expression was, at the date of this epistle, the usual manner of referring to this solemn rite. Farrar observed that "The fact that there is no article in the Greek shows the early prevalence of this name for the Eucharist."(F40)

It is rather amazing that Barnes made a deduction from this verse to the effect that the Lord’s Supper should be observed in the evenings, not in the mornings of the Lord’s Days. He said:

It is called SUPPER, indicating the evening repast; it was instituted in the evening; and it is most proper that it should be observed in the after part of the day. Churches have improperly changed to the morning … a custom which has no sanction in the New Testament; and which is a departure from the very idea of a supper.(F41)

Barnes’ deduction should be rejected, because there is no hint in the New Testament that the time of day for the observance of this rite was ever the subject of any apostolic decree. "The day" is indicated, but not the time of day. Moreover, Pliny’s letter to the emperor Trajan, shortly after the beginning of the second century, stated that the Christians were "accustomed to meet before daybreak."(F42) From these considerations, it is clear that "The Lord’s Supper" has reference to the hour of its institution, and not to the hour of its observance by Christians.

Verse 21

For in eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

The abuse at Corinth was compound. The AGAPE, or love feast, which in early times preceded the Lord’s Supper, had at Corinth been shamelessly mixed with the sacred rite to the extent of the total corruption of both. The so-called love feast was somewhat like the "dinners on the grounds" which were a feature of rural congregations throughout America in this century. However, at Corinth, the rich who brought bountiful provisions for such affairs were not sharing with the poor who had been able to bring little or nothing. Some were actually having a big feast and then returning home before the others arrived. Drunkenness and gluttony were prevalent, in addition to the pitiless disregard of the poor and needy. It may be presumed that the emblems of the Lord’s Supper might have been distributed by each group to themselves at the conclusion of their feasts; but by so doing they did not eat "one bread" with their brethren, thus having no fellowship with them and totally circumventing the purpose of the Lord’s Supper.

An analysis of such disorders shows that:

1. The various groups did not eat at the same time.

2. Each group ate its own provisions, instead of sharing in the "one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

3. Some ate too plentifully; some ate nothing at all, for there was nothing left.

4. Some were "drunken"; and there is no need to soften the meaning of this. "Grotius gives `drunken’ the milder, and Meyer the stronger sense."(F43)

5. The corruption of the Lord’s Supper by such practices was complete; and, according to Farrar, "This abuse led to the separation of the Agape from the Holy Communion,"(F44) and to the ultimate discontinuation of the former.

Verse 22

What, have ye not houses to eat and drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.

Have ye not houses to eat and drink in … It should be carefully noted that Paul did not here condemn a congregation’s eating upon the occasion of their formal coming together for worship, nor eating in any building or location where such meetings were held. What he condemned was their intemperance, disregard of the need of others, and their shameless mixing of the Lord’s Supper with a common meal. The kind of eating and drinking they were doing belonged properly at home and not at church. He condemned their abuse of sacred privilege in the strongest terms. It is also incorrect to infer from this that Paul thought that it was proper for them to eat and be "drunken" at home!

Verse 23

For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread.

This is the fourth time in the New Testament that the institution of the Lord’s Supper is recorded. Some scholars deny that Paul received a direct revelation on this subject; but if he was merely repeating what he had received from other apostles; it is hard to see why he would have said:

I received of the Lord … Wuest wrote that:

Paul had doubtless heard the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper from the eleven, but he also had it by revelation from the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:23). He received his gospel by direct revelation in Arabia.(F45)

Leon Morris and F. W. Farrar, with many others, concur in this view.

Verse 24

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Had given thanks … In Matthew and Mark, reference to this act says, "Having blessed it"; but Luke has it as here. As Hodge declared: "The two expressions mean the same thing. Both express the act of consecration, by a grateful acknowledgment of God’s mercy and invocation of his blessing."(F46)

He brake it … From this it is clear that "the breaking of the bread ought not to be abandoned, as in the case when WAFERS are used."(F47) Some have supposed that breaking the bread contradicts (by symbolism) the fact that not a bone of Jesus was broken (John 19:36)! but the breaking of a bone is not the same as the breaking of the body. The spear that pierced Jesus’ side certainly broke his "body," but did not break any bone. The KJV, of course, has "This is my body which is broken"; and the meaning is certainly in the passage, deriving from "he brake it." Thus the meaning is true, despite the fact of the word "broken" not being in the best manuscripts.

This do in remembrance of me … For more explicit comment on the commemorative aspect of the Lord’s Supper, see Nature of the Lord’s Supper, under verse 34.

Verses 25-26

In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lords’ death until he come.

After supper … This phrase is invaluable in that it shows why two cups were mentioned, one before the bread and the other afterward, in Luke 22:17-20. The first cup Luke mentioned was the fourth cup of the simulated Passover meal, which Paul here called "supper" with the strongest implications that it was in no sense the Passover itself (except by accommodation), the same being called the "cup of joy." Both the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper were given "after supper," and in that order, the bread first, the cup afterward. See my Commentary on Luke pp. 467,468.

This cup is the new covenant in my blood … This means the same thing as "This is my blood of the covenant" (Matthew 26:26); and in Paul’s statement here, it is absolutely clear that the meaning in Matthew in no sense favors the crass literalism of such doctrines as transubstantiation or consubstantiation, no semblance of any such thing being suggested here. The student should consult the sacred text and the comments in the other three New Testament reports of this event: my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 429ff; my Commentary on Mark, pp. 306ff; and my Commentary on Luke, pp. 467ff.

Regarding the superstition that the emblems of the Lord’s Supper are, in their consecration, literally changed to the body or flesh and blood of Christ, Hodge gave this pertinent comment:

It is only by denying all distinctions between, matter and spirit, and confounding all our ideas of substance and qualities, that we can believe that wine is blood, or bread flesh.(F48)

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup … Regarding the proper time of observance for the Lord’s Supper, the New Testament teaches that it was observed upon the first day of the week, the first day of EVERY week, and "not upon any other days of the week." This passage is therefore no permit to take it any time we please. See my Commentary on Acts, pp. 385,386, and 517.

Eat this bread and drink this cup … Apostolic practice makes it certain that communion under one kind, that is, taking EITHER the bread or the wine without the other, was never encouraged or allowed in the New Testament. Furthermore, Paul’s use of "or drink this cup" in 1 Corinthians 11:27 is not a denial of this. As Farrar said, "What he meant there was that it was possible to partake in a wrong spirit either of the bread or of the cup."(F49)

Ye proclaim the Lord’s death until he come … As Dummelow said, the Lord’s Supper is "a living sermon."(F50) Thus the instructive nature of this solemn rite is stressed. See Nature of the Lord’s Supper, below. The word for "proclaim" here is [@katangello]. Morris gave the meaning as "announce" or "proclaim," saying that "It means that the solemn observance of the service of Holy Communion is a vivid proclamation of the Lord’s death."(F51)

Till he come … The Lord’s Supper faces in two directions, back to Calvary and forward to the Second Advent, being retrospective in regard to one and prospective with regard to the latter. The Second Advent is a major doctrine of Christianity; and it is fitting that it should be honored in this pivotal ordinance.

Verse 27

Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink of the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.

Due to the rendition in the KJV, "eateth and drinketh unworthily," many Christians have erroneously concluded that their "unworthiness" forbade their observance of the supper; but this is not true at all. The rendition here makes the meaning clear that it is not the "worthiness" of the participant which is in view, but the "worthiness" of his manner of partaking of it. Indeed, who was ever worthy to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God? The moment any man might suppose that he was "worthy" to do such a thing, the presumption itself would deny it. Nevertheless, there is a real danger here. If any person shall partake of this solemn rite without discernment of the event it memorializes, or without regard to the obligations imposed by it, or without any consistent effort to partake of it continually and faithfully throughout his life, or until the Lord comes, or without the due reverence and appreciation due such an ordinance — then such a person becomes guilty of the body and the blood of Jesus, the meaning of this being that he, in a spiritual sense, has become a crucifier of the Lord himself.

Or drink of the cup … See under preceding verse.

Verse 28

But let a man prove himself, and so eat of the bread, and drink of the cup.

"Before taking part in such a service, the very least we can do is to conduct a rigorous self-examination."(F52) The word used here means "to test" and was used of the testing of metals. The point is that no Christian should observe the Lord’s supper in any casual or flippant manner, treating it as something ordinary. It is the central ordinance of Christianity; and the believer’s fidelity to it, or infidelity, is fraught with eternal consequences.

Verse 29

For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, if he discern not the body.

Judgment … may also be rendered "damnation" or "condemnation," in any event meaning consequences both serious and eternal.

Discern not the body … This may be indefinite by purpose on Paul’s part. It would apply either to the precious body of Christ sacrificed upon Calvary for all people, or the church which is his spiritual body, the offense being the same either way the text is read. Significantly, it was the failure of the Corinthians that they disregarded the spiritual body (Despise ye the church of God?); and it is a fact that unfaithfulness at the Lord’s table in all generations has been one of the most prevalent and hurtful means of despising God’s church. Countless souls are continually guilty of this very thing. The apostle here warned of drastic penalties incurred by such negligence.

Verse 30

For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.

This has usually been interpreted to mean that physical sickness and death had been visited upon the sinful Corinthians, due to their shameful perversion and abuse of the Lord’s Supper; and while it must be allowed that in that age of the church, God did send visitations of divine wrath against wrongdoers, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, and perhaps also the incestuous man mentioned earlier in this epistle; nevertheless, the conviction here is that, if that had been in Paul’s mind, he could hardly have said that "some sleep," sleep being too mild a word to use with reference to victims of divine wrath.

The meaning which appears to be most likely is that Paul was speaking of those who had become spiritually weak and sickly, some no doubt having perished spiritually. If that was meant, then the condition of those asleep was terminal and irrevocable, being the same as that evident in Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:6; 2 Peter 2:20; 1 John 5:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:19. For a dissertation on the unpardonable sin, see my Commentary on Mark, pp. 65-67. The condition of those asleep was no different from that of Ananias and Sapphira; and therefore Paul’s gentle word "sleep" would appear to have been spoken in tenderness and regret.

Johnson noted that wherever "sleep" is used of death in the New Testament, it refers to the death of Christians, inferring from this that these "had not lost their salvation, but the privilege of service on earth."(F53) Such a conclusion seems precarious to this writer. There is an echo of Calvinism in such a viewpoint.

Verses 31-32

But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

In these verses, it seems quite clearly indicated that Paul was still speaking of the weak and sickly Christians and of them that "slept." Thus, the implications would be that through the scourge of physical illness, resulting in death for some and severe sickness for others, God was chastening the people with an ultimate purpose of their salvation in view. It is therefore quite difficult to support a dogmatic opinion with regard to the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11:30. One thing may be definitely learned from it; THAT is the dreadful consequences of unfaithfulness at the Lord’s table.

Farrar’s paraphrase of this is as follows:

If we were in the habit of discriminating between spiritual and common things, we should not be undergoing this sign of God’s displeasure; but the fact that his judgments are abroad among us, is for our further moral education, and to save us from being finally condemned with the world.(F54)

Verse 33

Whereas, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait for one another.

This writer still remembers the occasions in his boyhood, when church never started on time, because "tarry ye one for another" from the KJV was interpreted to mean that church could not begin until all the members were present. Sometimes this resulted in quite sensational delays! What Paul said here, of course, was that the affluent should not bring their provisions and eat them all before the poor arrived, the primary application of this, it seems, being to the AGAPE, and not to the Lord’s Supper which followed it. The relevance of the passage still holds. Considerations of love and helpfulness should always be extended to brothers by brothers in Christ, even to the tardy.

Verse 34

If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment. And the rest will I set in order whensoever I come.

This was the apostolic order that resulted in the separation of the Agape from the Lord’s Supper and the eventual discontinuation of the former. The Lord’s Supper was here elevated to a position higher than that of merely satisfying the appetites. The hungry should eat at home. Nevertheless, the beauty of the [Greek: agape], as practiced in the primitive church, has always enthralled and captivated the imagination; and there can be little doubt that meals served in the present times by churches "on the grounds," in their buildings, or in parks and public places, are vestigial recurrences of that once glorious custom which perished in the shameful abuses at Corinth. It was the selfishness, greediness and lust of the natural man insufficiently subdued by the indwelling Spirit which perverted, and by that perversion destroyed an age of loving innocence. The church, it seems has never been able to recapture that lost innocence. Observations of the dinners served by congregations through many years have afforded this writer many occasions to note the ease with which the Corinthian perversions invade and destroy such dinners.


The central ordinance of Christianity is the Lord’s Supper, standing in a metaphor as a summary of the whole Christian religion: "Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man ye have no life in you" (John 6:53). See my Commentary on John, pp. 186-188. The nature of this precious rite is discerned in seven words, as follows:

1. Retrospective. It looks back to Calvary, bringing to the worshiper’s mind the night of betrayal, agony, blood and tears, and the awful scenes of the crucifixion itself. Christians who have been "baptized into his death" (Romans 6:3) find in this solemn ceremony a recurring participation in Christ’s death. Upon that fixed interval recurring every Lord’s Day, the child of God turns his thoughts and meditations back to the cross, in his heart living with the Saviour those awful events of his Passion, reviewing over and over again the scenes and circumstances which marked the Lord’s supreme act of atonement for the sins of the whole world. Christ died for our sins; and it is that historical event which anchors and perpetuates the Lord’s Supper; and thus the historicity of Christ’s death and resurrection is demonstrated and proved throughout all times and places by this sacred rite.

2. Prospective. The ancient pagan god of war was the two-faced Janus (from whence the name of the month January), facing in both directions, forward and backward. In a far more wonderful manner, the Lord’s Supper faces toward Calvary in retrospect, and also toward the Second Advent, prospectively. When the Manhattan Church of Christ constructed a new building in New York City, the custom of writing the words, "Do this in remembrance of me" on the Lord’s table, was expanded by adding the words, "This do ye until I come." Thus, the essential expectation inherent in the holy supper was Scripturally recognized. Unless Christ is coming again, all true meaning of the Lord’s Supper disappears; for there is in every proper observance of it the conviction of that time when the skies will be bright with the coming of the Son of God the second time apart from sin to reward the righteous and to bring about the summation of all things.

3. Introspective. In Paul’s writings in this chapter, the necessity of every man’s examining himself is affirmed (1 Corinthians 11:28). It is in that rigorous self-examination which should mark every man’s participation in the Lord’s Supper that the introspective nature of it is seen. One’s life, his sincerity, his devotion, dedication and love for the Lord who redeemed him at such awful cost should all appear within the thoughts of the participant. How can any wickedness bear the light of such an introspective searching?

4. Commemorative. "In remembrance of me," Jesus said (1 Corinthians 11:25). The Lord’s Supper is one of the great memorials to the event of the Dayspring’s visitation from on high, the Lord’s baptism and the Lord’s day being two others. What a memorial is this! No tower of stone or marble palace, no tablet or inscription, no name conferred on cities or places, no granite obelisk or shining monument could ever have a fraction of the effectiveness of this worldwide memorial of the Lord’s Supper. It has now been observed by Christians on more than 100,000 successive Lord’s Days; nor is there any possibility that there will ever be a single Sunday until the end of time when it will not be observed by people who love the Lord and await his Second Advent. Under Judaism, people remembered their sins; in Christ they remember their Redeemer who has forgiven their sins (Jeremiah 31:31-35).

5. Instructive. "Ye proclaim the Lord’s death until he come." If one wishes to preach a sermon of redemption to a dying world, let him faithfully observe this sacred supper. Jesus himself identified it as a proclamation. If one would instruct dying people to turn their hearts to the cross of Christ, the way to do it is to exhibit unvarying fidelity to this Christian duty. Books are cast aside, sermons forgotten, solicitous words ignored; but no man can ignore the example of a faithful life with regard to the Holy Communion of the body and the blood of Christ. The weakness of churches in this generation may not so much be attributed to weak preaching (although there is plenty of that), but to weak living on the part of her members. The man who neglects or abandons the Lord’s Supper has hidden his light, stifled the message of salvation and denied his Lord.

6. Corrective. Implicit in the self-examination mentioned under 3 above, is the requirement that elements of personal life out of harmony with the high professions of Christianity will be recognized and corrected. This is inherent in the meaning of "Let a man prove himself." Faithful adherence to the duty of observing the Lord’s Supper will either remove one’s sins, or one’s sins will remove him from frequenting the Lord’s table.

7. Separative. This ordinance, more than any other, reveals who is saved and who is not saved. Here is the spiritual device of the Lord himself which separates the wheat from the chaff. Christ himself said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves" (John 6:53); and men may scream about this if they please, but it is the truth. Go to church. The saints and the sinners alike sing the hymns; the believer and the infidel alike hear the sermon respectfully; the sons of light and the sons of darkness give of their money; the saved and the lost bow their heads for the prayers; but when the emblems of the Lord’s Supper appear, a separation is made. The New Testament reveals that here is an ordinance so important that the whole world is polarized by it, Christians being quite properly identified as those who faithfully observe it, and non-Christians identified as those who take it not. Oh yes, to be sure, this ordinance ALONE is not the terminator; but the importance of it is such that Christ himself used it as a metaphor of the whole Christian religion. "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54). For more on this, see my Commentary on John, pp. 186-188.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-corinthians-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile