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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 11

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The first verse in this chapter properly belongs to the preceding, and is the conclusion of the discussion which the apostle had been carrying on in that and the previous chapters. It has been improperly separated from that chapter, and in reading should be read in connection with it. The remainder of the chapter is properly divided into two parts:

  1. A discussion respecting the impropriety of a woman’s praying or prophesying with her head uncovered 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; and,
  2. A reproof of their irregularities in the observance of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

I. In regard to the first. it seems probable that some of the women who, on pretence of being inspired, had prayed or prophesied in the Corinthian church, had cast off their veils after the manner of the pagan priestesses. This indecent and improper custom the apostle reproves. He observes, therefore, that the pre-eminence belongs to man over the woman, even as pre-eminence belonged to Christ over the man; that it was a dishonor to Christ when a man prayed or prophesied with his head covered, and in like manner it was regarded everywhere as dishonorable and improper for a woman to lay aside the appropriate symbol of her sex, and the emblem of subordination, and to be uncovered in the presence of the man 1 Corinthians 11:3-5; that if a woman was not veiled, if she laid aside the appropriate emblem of her sex and of her subordinate condition, she might as well part with her hair, which all knew would be dishonorable and improper 1 Corinthians 11:6; that the woman had been created for a subordinate station, and should observe it 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; that she should have power on her head because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10; and yet, lest this should depress her, and seem to convey the idea of her utter inferiority and unimportance, he adds, that in the plan of salvation they are in many respects on an equality with the man, that the same plan was adapted to both, that the same blessings are appointed for both sexes, and the same high hopes are held out to both 1 Corinthians 11:11-12; and that nature on this subject was a good instructor, and showed that it was uncomely for a woman to pray with her head uncovered, that her hair had been given her for an ornament and for beauty, and that, as it would be as improper for her to remove her veil as to cut off her hair, nature itself required that this symbol of her subordination should be laid aside in public, 1 Corinthians 11:13-16.

II. Next, as to the irregularities in the observance of the Lord’s supper, the apostle observes 1 Corinthians 11:17, that he could not commend them for what he was about to say. There had been and there were irregularities among them, which it was his duty to reprove. In 1 Corinthians 11:18-22, he states what those irregularities were. He then 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 states the true nature and design of the Lord’s Supper, as it was very evident that they had not understood it, but supposed it was a common feast, such as they had been accustomed to observe in honor of idols. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, he states the consequences of observing this ordinance in an improper manner, and the proper way of approaching it; and in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 observes that their improper mode of observing it was the cause of the punishment which many of them had experienced. He then concludes by directing them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “together;” to eat at home when they were hungry; and not to abuse the Lord’s Supper by making it an occasion of feasting; and assures them that the other matters of irregularity he would set in order when be should come among them.

Verse 1

Be ye followers of me - Imitate my example in the matter now under discussion. As I deny myself; as I seek to give no offence to anyone; as I endeavor not to alarm the prejudices of others, but in all things to seek their salvation, so do you. This verse belongs to the previous chapter, and should not have been separated from it. It is the close of the discussion there.

Even as I also am of Christ - I make Christ my example. He is my model in all things; and if you follow him, and follow me as far as I follow him, you will not err. This is the only safe example; and if we follow this, we can never go astray.

Verse 2

Now I praise you, brethren - Paul always chose to commend Christians when it could be done, and never seemed to suppose that such praise would be injurious to them. See the note at 1 Corinthians 1:4-5. On this occasion he was the more ready to praise them as far as it could be done, because there were some things in regard to them in which he would have occasion to reprove them.

That ye remember me in all things - That you are disposed to regard my authority and seek my direction in all matters pertaining to the good order of the church. There can be little doubt that they had consulted him in their letter (1 Corinthians 7:1) about the proper manner in which a woman ought to demean herself if she was called upon, under the influence of divine inspiration, to utter anything in public. The question seems to have been, whether, since she was inspired, it was proper for her to retain the marks ef her inferiority of rank, and remain covered; or whether the fact of her inspiration did not release her from that obligation, and make it proper that she should lay aside her veil, and appear as public speakers did among people. To this the apostle refers, probably, in the phrase “all things,” that even in matters of this kind, pertaining to the good order of the church, they were disposed to regard his authority.

And keep the ordinances - Margin, “Traditions” (τὰς παραδώσεις tas paradōseis). The word does not refer to anything that had been delivered down from a former generation, or from former times, as the word “tradition” now usually signifies; but it means that which had been “delivered to them (παραδίδωμι paradidōmi); that is, by the apostles.” The apostles had “delivered” to them certain doctrines, or rules, respecting the good order and the government of the church; and they had in general observed them, and were disposed still to do it. For this disposition to regard his authority, and to keep what he had enjoined, he commends them. He proceeds to specify what would be proper in regard to the particular subject on which they had made inquiry.

Verse 3

But I would have you know - “I invite your attention particularly to the following considerations, in order to form a correct opinion on this subject.” Paul does not at once answer the inquiry, and determine what ought to be done; but he invites their attention to a series of remarks on the subject, which led them to draw the conclusion which he wished to establish. The phrase here is designed to call the attention to the subject, like that used so often in the New Testament, “he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

That the head ... - The word “head,” in the Scriptures, is designed often to denote “master, ruler, chief.” The word ראשׁ ro'sh is often thus used in the Old Testament; see Numbers 17:3; Numbers 25:15; Deuteronomy 28:13, Deuteronomy 28:44; Judges 10:18; Judges 11:8, Judges 11:11; 1 Samuel 15:17; 2 Samuel 22:44. In the New Testament the word is used in the sense of Lord, ruler, chief, in Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 2:10. Here it means that Christ is the ruler, director, or Lord of the Christian man. This truth was to be regarded in all their feelings and arrangements, and was never to be forgotten. Every Christian should recollect the relation in which he stands to him, as one that is suited to produce the strictest decorum, and a steady sense of subordination.

Of every man - Every Christian. All acknowledge Christ as their Ruler and Master. They are subject to him; and in all proper ways recognize their subordination to him.

And the head of the woman is the man - The sense is, she is subordinate to him, and in all circumstances - in her demeanor, her dress, her conversation, in public and in the family circle - should recognize her subordination to him. The particular thing here referred to is, that if the woman is inspired, and speaks or prays in public, she should by no means lay aside the usual and proper symbols of her subordination. The danger was, that those who were under the influence of inspiration would regard themselves as freed from the necessity of recognising that, and would lay aside the “veil,” the usual and appropriate symbol of their occupying a rank inferior to the man. This was often done in the temples of the pagan deities by the priestesses, and it would appear also that it had been done by Christian females in the churches.

And the head of Christ is God - Christ, as Mediator, has consented to assume a subordinate rank, and to recognize God the Father as superior in office. Hence, he was obedient in all things as a Son; he submitted to the arrangement required in redemption; he always recognized his subordinate rank as Mediator, and always regarded God as the supreme Ruler, even in the matter of redemption. The sense is, that Christ, throughout his entire work, regarded himself as occupying a subordinate station to the Father; and that it was proper from his example to recognize the propriety of rank and station everywhere.

Verse 4

Every man praying or prophesying - The word “prophesying” here means, evidently, “teaching;” or publicly speaking to the people on the subject of religion; see the note at Acts 2:17. See also the subject considered more at length in the notes on 1 Corinthians 14:0. Whether these persons who are here said to prophesy were all inspired, or claimed to be inspired, may admit of a question. The simple idea here is, that they spoke in the public assemblies, and professed to be the expounders of the divine will.

Having his head covered - With a veil, or turban, or cap, or whatever else is worn on the head. To remove the hat, the turban, or the covering of the head, is a mark of respect for a superior when in his presence.

Dishonoreth his head - Does dishonor to Christ as his head 1 Corinthians 11:2; that is, he does not, in his presence and in his service, observe the usual and proper custom by which a subordinate station is recognized, and which indicates respect for a superior. In the presence of a prince or a nobleman, it would be considered as a mark of disrespect should the head be covered. So in the presence of Christ, in whose name he ministers, it is a mark of disrespect if the head is covered. This illustration is drawn from the customs of all times and countries by which respect for a superior is indicated by removing the covering from the head. This is one reason why a man should not cover his head in public worship. Another is given in 1 Corinthians 11:7. Other interpretations of the passage may be seen in Bloomfield’s Critical Digest.

Verse 5

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth - In the Old Testament prophetesses are not unfrequently mentioned. Thus, Miriam is mentioned Exodus 15:20; Deborah Judges 4:4; Huldah 2 Kings 22:14; Noadiah Nehemiah 6:14. So also in the New Testament Anna is mentioned as a prophetess; Luke 2:36. That there were females in the early Christian church who corresponded to those known among the Jews in some measure as endowed with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, cannot be doubted. What was their precise office, and what was the nature of the public services in which they were engaged, is not however known. That they prayed is clear; and that they publicly expounded the will of God is apparent also; see the note on Acts 2:17. As the presumption is, however, that they were inspired, their example is no warrant now for females to take part in the public services of worship, unless they also give evidence that they are under the influence of inspiration, and the more especially as the apostle Paul has expressly forbidden their becoming public teachers; 1 Timothy 2:12.

If it is now pled, from this example, that women should speak and pray in public, yet it should be just so far only as this example goes, and it should be only when they have the qualifications that the early “prophetesses” had in the Christian church. If there are any such; if any are directly inspired by God, there then will be an evident propriety that they should publicly proclaim the will, and not till then. It may be further observed, however, that the fact that Paul here mentions the custom of women praying or speaking publicly in the church, does not prove that it was right or proper. His immediate object now was not to consider whether the practice was itself right, but to condemn the manner of its performance as a violation of all the proper rules of modesty and of subordination. On another occasion, in this very epistle, he fully condemns the practice in any form, and enjoins silence on the female members of the church in public; 1 Corinthians 14:34.

With her head uncovered - That is, with the veil removed which she usually wore. It would seem from this that the women removed their veils, and wore their hair disheveled, when they pretended to be under the influence of divine inspiration. This was the case with the pagan priestesses; and in so doing, the Christian women imitated them. On this account, if on no other, Paul declares the impropriety of this conduct. It was, besides, a custom among ancient females, and one that was strictly enjoined by the traditional laws of the Jews, that a woman should not appear in public unless she were veiled. See this proved by Lightfoot in loco.

Dishonoureth her head - Shows a lack of proper respect to man, to her husband, to her father, to the sex in general. The veil is a token of modesty and of subordinaion. It is regarded among Jews, and everywhere, as an emblem of her sense of inferiority of rank and station. It is the customary mark of her sex, and that by which she evinces her modesty and sense of subordination. To remove that, is to remove the appropriate mark of such subordination, and is a public act by which she thus shows dishonor to the man. And as it is proper that the grades and ranks of life should be recognized in a suitable manner, so it is improper that, even on pretence of religion, and of being engaged in the service of God, these marks should be laid aside.

For that is even all one as if she were shaven - As if her long hair, which nature teaches her she should wear for a veil (1 Corinthians 11:15, margin,) should be cut off. Long hair is, by the custom of the times, and of nearly all countries, a mark of the sex, an ornament of the female, and judged to be beautiful and comely. To remove that is to appear, in this respect, like the other sex, and to lay aside the badge of her own. This, says Paul, all would judge to be improper. You yourselves would not allow it. And yet to lay aside the veil - the appropriate badge of the sex, and of her sense of subordination - would be an act of the same kind. It would indicate the same feeling, the same forgetfulness of the proper sense of subordination; and if that is laid aside, all the usual indications of modesty and subordination might be removed also. Not even under religious pretences, therefore, are the usual marks of sex, and of propriety of place and rank, to be laid aside. Due respect is to be shown, in dress, and speech, and deportment, to those whom God has placed above us; and neither in language, in attire nor in habit are we to depart from what all judge to he proprieties of life, or from what God has judged and ordained to be the proper indications of the regular gradations in society.

Verse 6

For if the woman be not covered - If her head be not covered with a veil.

Let her also be shorn - Let her long hair be cut off. Let her lay aside all the usual and proper indications of her sex and rank in life. If it is done in one respect, it may with the same propriety be done in all.

But if it be a shame ... - If custom, nature, and habit; if the common and usual feelings and views among people would pronounce this to be a shame, the other would be pronounced to be a shame also by the same custom and common sense of people.

Let her be covered - With a veil. Let her wear the customary attire indicative of modesty and a sense of subordination. Let her not lay this aside even on any pretence of religion.

Verse 7

For a man indeed ought not to cover his head - That is, with a veil; or in public worship; when he approaches God, or when in His name he addresses his fellow man. It is not fit and proper that he should be covered. The reason why it is not proper, the apostle immediately states.

Forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God - The phrase “the image of God” refers to the fact that man was made in the likeness of his Maker Genesis 1:27; and proves that, though fallen, there is a sense in which he is still the image of God. It is not because man is truly or pure, and thus resembles his Creator; but it evidently is because he was invested by his Maker with authority and dominion; he was superior to all other creatures; Genesis 1:28. This is still retained; and this the apostle evidently refers to in the passage before us, and this he says should be recognized and regarded. If he wore a veil or turban, it would be a mark of servitude or inferiority. It was therefore improper that he should appear in this manner; but he should he so clad as not to obscure or hide the great truth that he was the direct representative of God on the earth, and had a superiority to all other creatures.

And glory of God - The word “glory” in the classic writers means:

  1. Opinion, sentiment, etc.;

(2)Fame, reputation.

Here it means, as it often does, splendor, brightness, or that which stands forth to “represent” God, or by which the glory of God is known. Man was created first; he had dominion given him; by him, therefore, the divine authority and wisdom first shone forth; and this fact should be recognized in the due subordination of rank, and even in the apparel and attire which shall be worn. The impression of his rank and superiority should be everywhere retained.

But the woman is the glory of the man - The honor, the ornament, etc. She was made for him; she was made after he was; she was taken from him, and was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.” All her comeliness, loveliness, and purity are therefore an expression of his honor and dignity, since all that comeliness and loveliness were made of him and for him. This, therefore, ought to be acknowledged by a suitable manner of attire; and in his presence this sense of her inferiority of rank and subordination should be acknowledged by the customary use of the veil. She should appear with the symbol of modesty and subjection, which are implied by the head being covered This sense is distinctly expressed in the following verse.

Verse 8

For the man is not of the woman - The man was not formed from the woman.

But the woman of the man - From his side; Genesis 2:18, Genesis 2:22-23.

Verse 9

Neither was the man created for the woman ... - This is a simple statement of what is expressed in Genesis. The woman was made for the comfort and happiness of the man. Not to be a slave, but a help-meet; not to be the minister of his pleasures, but to be his aid and comforter in life; not to be regarded as of inferior nature and rank, but to be his friend, to divide his sorrows, and to multiply and extend his joys; yet still to be in a station subordinate to him. He is to be the head: the ruler; the presider in the family circle; and she was created to aid him in his duties, to comfort him in his afflictions, to partake with him of his pleasures. Her rank is therefore honorable, though it is subordinate. It is, in some respects, the more honorable because it is subordinate and as her happiness is dependent on him, she has the higher claim to his protection and his tender care. The whole of Paul’s idea here is, that her situation and rank as subordinate should be recognized by her at all times, and that in his presence it was proper that she should wear the usual symbol of modesty and subordination, the veil.

Verse 10

For this cause ... - There is scarcely any passage in the Scriptures which has more exercised the ingenuity of commentators than this verse. The various attempts which have been made to explain it may be seen in Pool, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, etc. After all the explanations which have been given of it, I confess, I do not understand it. It is not difficult to see what the connection requires us to suppose in the explanation. The obvious interpretation would be, that a woman should have a veil on her head because of the angels who were supposed to be present, observing them in their public worship; and it is generally agreed that the word “power” (ἐξουσίαν exousian) denotes a veil, or a covering for the head. But the word power does not occur in this sense in any classic writer. Bretschneider understands it of a veil, as being a defense or guard to the face, lest it should be seen by others. Some have supposed that it was the name of a female ornament that was worn on the head, formed of braids of hair set with jewels. Most commentators agree that it means a “veil,” though some think (see Bloomfield) that it is called power to denote the veil which was worn by married women, which indicated the superiority of the married woman to the maiden. But it is sufficient to say in reply to this, that the apostle is not referring to married women in contradistinction from those who are unmarried, but is showing that all women who prophecy or pray in public should be veiled. There can, perhaps, be no doubt that the word “power” has reference to a veil, or to a covering for the head; but why it is called power I confess I do not understand; and most of the comments on the word are, in my view, egregious trifling.

Because of the angels - Some have explained this of good angels, who were supposed to be present in their assemblies (see Doddridge); others refer it to evil angels; and others to messengers or spies who, it has been supposed, were present in their public assemblies, and who would report greatly to the disadvantage of the Christian assemblies if the women were seen to be unveiled. I do not know what it means; and I regard it as one of the very few pass ages in the Bible whose meaning as yet is wholly inexplicable. The most natural interpretation seems to me to be this: “A woman in the public assemblies, and in speaking in the presence of people, should wear a veil - the usual symbol of modesty and subordination - because the angels of God are witnesses of your public worship Hebrews 1:13, and because they know and appreciate the propriety of subordination and order in public assemblies.”

According to this, it would mean that the simple reason would be that the angels were witnesses of their worship; and that they were the friends of propriety, due subordination, and order; and that they ought to observe these in all assemblies convened for the worship of God - I do not know that this sense has been proposed by any commentator; but it is one which strikes me as the most obvious and natural, and consistent with the context. The following remarks respecting the ladies of Persia may throw some light on this subject - “The head-dress of the women is simple; their hair is drawn behind the head, and divided into several tresses; the beauty of this head-dress consists in the thickness and length of these tresses, which should fall even down to the heels, in default of which, they lengthen them with tresses of silk. The ends of these tresses they decorate with pearls and jewels, or ornaments of gold or silver. The head is covered, “under” the veil or kerchief “(course chef),” only by the end of a small “bandeau,” shaped into a triangle; this “bandeau,” which is of various colors, is thin and light.

The “bandalette” is embroidered by the needle, or covered with jewelry, according to the quality of the wearer. This is, in, my opinion, the ancient “tiara,” or “diadem,” of the queens of Persia. Only married women wear it; and it is the mark by which it is known that they are under subjection “(oc’est la la marque a laquelle on reconnoit qu’ elles sont sous puissance o - power).” The girls have little “caps,” instead of this kerchief or tiara; they wear no veil at home, but let two tresses of their hair fall under their cheeks. The caps of girls of superior rank are tied with a row of pearls. Girls are not shut up in Persia till they attain the age of six or seven years; before that age they go out of the seraglio, sometimes with their father, so that they may then be seen. I have seen some wonderfully pretty girls. They show the neck and bosom; and more beautiful cannot be seen” - Chardin. “The wearing of a veil by a married woman was a token of her being under power. The Hebrew name of the veil signifies dependence. Great importance was attached to this part of the dress in the East. All the women of Persia are pleasantly apparelled. When they are abroad in the streets, all, both rich and poor, are covered with a great veil, or sheet of very fine white cloth, of which one half, like a forehead cloth, comes down to the eyes, and, going over the head, reaches down to the heels; and the other half muffles up the face below the eyes, and being fastened with a pin to the left side of the head, falls down to their very shoes, even covering their hands, with which they hold that cloth by the two sides, so that, except the eyes, they are covered all over with it. Within doors they have their faces and breasts uncovered; but the Armenian women in their houses have always one half of their faces covered with a cloth, that goes athwart their noses, and hangs over their chin and breasts, except the maids of that nation, who, within doors, cover only the chin until they are married” - Thevenot.

Verse 11

Nevertheless - Lest the man should assume to himself too much superiority, and lest he should regard the woman as made solely for his pleasure, and should treat her as in all respects inferior, and withhold the respect that is due to her. The design of this verse and the following is to show, that the man and woman are united in the most tender interests; that the one cannot live comfortably without the other; that one is necessary to the happiness of the other; and that though the woman was formed from the man, yet it is also to be remembered that the man is descended from the woman. She should therefore be treated with proper respect, tenderness, and regard.

Neither is the man without the woman ... - The man and the woman were formed for union and society. They are not in any respect independent of each other. One is necessary to the comfort of the other; and this fact should be recognized in all their contact.

In the Lord - By the arrangements or direction of the Lord. It is the appointment and command of the Lord that they should be mutual helps, and should each regard and promote the welfare of the other.

Verse 12

As the woman is of the man - In the original creation, she was formed from the man.

So is the man also by the woman - Is born of the woman, or descended from her. The sexes are dependent on each other, and should therefore cultivate an indissoluble union.

But all things of God - All things were created and arranged by him. This expression seems designed to suppress any spirit of complaint or dissatisfaction with this arrangement; to make the woman contented in her subordinate station, and to make the man humble by the consideration that it is all owing to the appointment of God. The woman should therefore be contented, and the man should not assume any improper superiority, since the whole arrangement and appointment is of God.

Verse 13

Judge in yourselves - Or, “Judge among yourselves.” I appeal to you. I appeal to your natural sense of what is proper and right. Paul had used various arguments to show them the impropriety of their females speaking unveiled in public. He now appeals to their natural sense of what was decent and right, according to established and acknowledged customs and habits.

Is it comely ... - Is it decent, or becoming? The Grecian women, except their priestesses, were accustomed to appear in public with a veil - Doddridge. Paul alludes to that established and proper habit, and asks whether it does not accord with their own views of propriety that women in Christian assemblies should also wear the same symbol of modesty.

Verse 14

Doth not even nature itself - The word nature (φύσις phusis) denotes evidently that sense of propriety which all men have, and which is expressed in any prevailing or universal custom. That which is universal we say is according to nature. It is such as is demanded by the natural sense of fitness among people. Thus, we may say that nature demands that the sexes should wear different kinds of dress; that nature demands that the female should be modest and retiring; that nature demands that the toils of the chase, of the field, of war - the duties of office, of government and of professional life, should be discharged by people. Such are in general the customs the world over; and if any reason is asked for numerous habits that exist in society, no better answer can be given than that nature, as arranged by God, has demanded it. The word in this place, therefore, does not mean the constitution of the sexes, as Locke, Whitby, and Pierce maintain; nor reason and experience, as Macknight supposes; nor simple use and custom, as Grotius, Rosenmuller, and most recent expositors suppose; but it refers to a deep internal sense of what is proper and right; a sense which is expressed extensively in all nations. showing what that sense is.

No reason can be given, in the nature of things, why the woman should wear long hair and the man not; but the custom prevails extensively everywhere, and nature, in all nations, has prompted to the same course. “Use is second nature;” but the usage in this case is not arbitrary, but is founded in an anterior universal sense of what is proper and right. A few, and only a few, have regarded it as comely for a man to wear his hair long. Aristotle tells us, indeed (Rhet. 1: - see Rosenmuller), that among the Lacedemonians, freemen wore their hair long. In the time of Homer, also, the Greeks were called by him καρηκομόωντες Ἀχαῖοι karēkomoōntes Achaioi, long-haired Greeks; and some of the Asiatic nations adopted the same custom. But the general habit among people has been different. Among the Hebrews, it was regarded as disgraceful to a man to wear his hair long, except he had a vow as a Nazarite, Numbers 6:1-5; Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17; 1 Samuel 1:11. Occasionally, for affectation or singularity, the hair was suffered to grow, as was the case with Absalom 2 Samuel 14:26; but the traditional law of the Jews on the subject was strict. The same rule existed among the Greeks; and it was regarded as disgraceful to wear long hair in the time of Aelian; Hist. lib. 9:c. 14. Eustath. on Hom. 2:v.

It is a shame unto him? - It is improper and disgraceful. It is doing that which almost universal custom has said appropriately belongs to the female sex.

Verse 15

It is a glory unto her - It is an ornament, and adorning. The same instinctive promptings of nature which make it proper for a man to wear short hair, make it proper that the woman should suffer hers to grow long.

For a covering - Margin, “veil.” It is given to her as a sort of natural veil, and to indicate the propriety of her wearing a veil. It answered the purposes of a veil when it was allowed to grow long, and to spread over the shoulders and ever parts of the face, before the arts of dress were invented or needed. There may also be an allusion here to the fact that the hair of women naturally grows longer than that of men. See Rosenmuller. The value which eastern females put on their long hair may be learned from the fact that when Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt, was about to march against Seleucus Callinicus, his queen Berenice vowed, as the most precious sacrifice which she could make, to cut off and consecrate her hair if he returned in safety. “The eastern ladies,” says Harmer, “are remarkable for the length and the great number of the tresses of their hair. The men there, on the contrary, wear very little hair on their heads.” Lady M. W. Montague thus speaks concerning the hair of the women:” Their hair hangs at full length behind, divided into tresses, braided with pearl or riband, which is always in great quantity. I never saw in my life so many fine heads of hair. In one lady’s I have counted one hundred and ten of these tresses, all natural; but it must be owned that every kind of beauty is more common here than with us.” The men there, on the contrary, shave all the hair off their heads, excepting one lock; and those that wear hair are thought effeminate. Both these particulars are mentioned by Chardin, who says they are agreeable to the custom of the East: “the men are shaved; the women nourish their hair with great fondness, which they lengthen, by tresses and tufts of silk, down to the heels. The young men who wear their hair in the East are looked upon as effeminate and infamous.”

Verse 16

But if any man seem to be contentious - The sense of this passage is probably this: “If any man, any teacher, or others, “is disposed” to be strenuous about this, or to make it a matter of difficulty; if he is disposed to call in question my reasoning, and to dispute my premises and the considerations which I have advanced, and to maintain still that it is proper for women to appear unveiled in public, I would add that in Judea we have no such custom, neither does it prevail among any of the churches. This, therefore, would be a sufficient reason why it should not be done in Corinth, even if the abstract reasoning should not convince them of the impropriety. It would be singular; would be contrary to the usual custom; would offend the prejudices of many and should, therefore, be avoided.”

We have no such custom - We the apostles in the churches which we have elsewhere founded; or we have no such custom in Judea. The sense is, that it is contrary to custom there for women to appear in public unveiled. This custom, the apostle argues, ought to be allowed to have some influence on the church of Corinth, even though they should not be convinced by his reasoning.

Neither the churches of God - The churches elsewhere. It is customary there for the woman to appear veiled. If at Corinth this custom is not observed, it will be a departure from what has elsewhere been regarded as proper; and will offend these churches. Even, therefore, if the reasoning is not sufficient to silence all cavils and doubts, yet the propriety of uniformity in the habits of the churches, the fear of giving offence should lead you to discountenance and disapprove the custom of your females appearing in public without their veil.

Verse 17

Now in this that I declare - In this that I am about to state to you; to wit, your conduct in regard to the Lord’s Supper. Why this subject is introduced here is not very apparent. The connection may be this. In the subjects immediately preceding he had seen much to commend, and he was desirous of commending them as far as it could be done. In 1 Corinthians 11:2 of this chapter he commends them in general for their regard to the ordinances which he had appointed when he was with them. But while he thus commended them, he takes occasion to observe that there was one subject on which he could not employ the language of approval or praise. Of their irregularities in regard to the Lord’s supper he had probably heard by rumor, and as the subject was of great importance, and their irregularities gross and deplorable, he takes occasion to state to them again more fully the nature of that ordinance, and to reprove them for the manner in which they had celebrated it.

That ye come together - You assemble for public worship.

Not for the better, but for the worse - Your meetings, and your observance of the ordinances of the gospel, do not promote your edification, your piety, spirituality, and harmony; but tend to division, alienation, and disorder. You should assemble to worship God, and promote harmony, love, and piety; the actual effect of your assembling is just the reverse. In what way this was done he states in the following verses. These evil consequences were chiefly two, first, divisions and contentions; and, secondly, the abuse and profanation of the Lord’s Supper.

Verse 18

For first of all - That is, I mention as the first thing to be reproved.

When ye come together in the church - When you come together in a religious assembly; when you convene for public worship. The word “church” here does not mean, as it frequently does with us, a “building.” No instance of such a use of the word occurs in the New Testament; but it means when they came together as a Christian assembly; when they convened for the worship of God. These divisions took place then; and from some cause which it seems then operated to produce alienations and strifes.

I hear - I have learned through some members of the family of Chloe; 1 Corinthians 1:11.

That there be divisions among you - Greek, as in the margin, Schisms. The word properly means a rent, such as is made in cloth Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21, and then a division, a split, a faction among people; John 7:43; John 9:10; John 10:19. It does not mean here that they had proceeded so far as to form separate churches, but that there was discord and division in the church itself; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 1:10-11.

And I partly believe it - I credit a part of the reports; I have reason to think, that, though the evil may have been exaggerated, yet that it is true at least in part. I believe that there are dissensions in the church that should be reproved.

Verse 19

For there must be - It is necessary (δεῖ dei); it is to he expected; there are reasons why there should be. What these reasons are he states in the close of the verse; compare Matthew 18:7; 2 Peter 2:1; 2 Peter 2:2. The meaning is, not that divisions are inseparable from the nature of the Christian religion, not that it is the design and wish of the Author of Christianity that they should exist, and not that they are physically impossible, for then they could not be the subject of blame; but that such is human nature, such are the corrupt passions of men, the propensity to ambition and strifes, that they are to be expected, and they serve the purpose of showing who are, and who are not, the true friends of God.

Heresies - Margin, “Sects.” Greek Αἱρεσεις Haireseis see the note at Acts 24:14. The words “heresy” and “heresies” occur only in these places, and in Galatians 5:20; 2 Peter 2:1. The Greek word occurs also in Acts 5:17 (translated “sect”); Acts 15:5; Acts 24:5; Acts 26:5; Acts 28:22, in all which places it denotes, and is translated, “sect.” We now attach to the word usually the idea of a fundamental error in religion, or some “doctrine” the holding of which will exclude from salvation. But there is no evidence that the word is used in this signification in the New Testament. The only place where it can be supposed to be so used, unless this is one, is in Galatians 5:20, where, however, the word “contentions” or “divisions,” would be quite as much in accordance with the connection. That the word here does not denote error in doctrine, but schism, division, or “sects,” as it is translated in the margin, is evident from two considerations:

(1) It is the proper philological meaning of the word, and its established and common signification in the Bible.

(2) It is the sense which the connection here demands. The apostle had made no reference to error of doctrine, but is discoursing solely of “irregularity” in “conduct;” and the first thing which he mentions, is, that there were schisms, divisions, strifes. The idea that the word here refers to “doctrines” would by no means suit the connection, and would indeed make nonsense. It would then read, “I hear that there are divisions or parties among you, and this I cannot commend you for. For it must he expected that there would be “fundamental errors of doctrine” in the church.” But Paul did not reason in this manner. The sense is, “There are divisions among you. It is to be expected: there are causes for it; and it cannot he avoided that there should be, in the present state of human nature, divisions and sects formed in the church; and this is to be expected in order that those who are true Christians should be separated from those who are not.” The foundation of this necessity is not in the Christian religion itself, for that is pure, and contemplates and requires union; but the existence of sects, and denominations, and contentious may be traced to the following causes:

(1) The love of power and popularity. Religion may be made the means of power; and they who have the control of the consciences of people, and of their religious feelings and opinions, can control them altogether.

(2) Showing more respect to a religious teacher than to Christ; see Notes on 1 Corinthians 1:12.

(3) The multiplication of tests, and the enlargement of creeds and confessions of faith. The consequence is, that every new doctrine that is incorporated into a creed gives occasion for those to separate who cannot accord with it.

(4) The passions of people - their pride, and ambition, and bigotry, and unenlightened zeal. Christ evidently meant that his church should be one; and that all who were his true followers should be admitted to her communion, and acknowledged everywhere as his own friends. And the time may yet come when this union shall be restored to his long distracted church, and that while there may be an honest difference of opinion maintained and allowed, still the bonds of Christian love shall secure union of “heart” in all who love the Lord Jesus, and union of “effort” in the grand enterprise in which all can unite - that of making war upon sin, and securing the conversion of the whole world to God.

That they which are approved - That they who are approved of God, or who are his true friends, and who are disposed to abide by his laws.

May be made manifest - May be known; recognized; seen. The effect of divisions and separations would be to show who were the friends of order, and peace, and truth. It seems to have been assumed by Paul, that they who made divisions could not be regarded as the friends of order and truth; or that their course could not be approved by God. The effect of these divisions would be to show who they were. So in all divisions, and all splitting into factions, where the great truths of Christianity are held, and where the corruption of the mass does not require separation, such divisions show who are the restless, ambitious, and dissatisfied spirits; who they are that are indisposed to follow the things that make for peace, and the laws of Christ enjoining union; and who they are who are gentle and peaceful, and disposed to pursue the way of truth, and love, and order, without contentions and strifes. This is the effect of schisms in the church; and the whole strain of the argument of Paul is to reprove and condemn such schisms, and to hold up the authors of them to reproof and condemnation; see Romans 16:17, “Mark them which cause divisions, and avoid them.”

Verse 20

When ye come together therefore ... - When you are assembled as a church, compare Hebrews 10:25, and see the note on Acts 2:1. Christians were constantly in the habit of assembling for public worship. It is probable that at this early period all the Christians in Corinth were accustomed to meet in the same place. The apostle here particularly refers to their “assembling” to observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. At that early period it is probable that this was done on every Lord’s Day.

This is not ... - Margin, “Ye cannot eat.” The meaning of this expression seems to be this. “Though you come together professedly to worship God, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper, yet this cannot be the real design which you have in view. It cannot be that such practices as are allowed among you can be a part of the celebration of that supper, or consistent with it. Your greediness 1 Corinthians 11:21; your intemperance 1 Corinthians 11:21; your partaking of the food separately and not in common, cannot be a celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Whatever, therefore, you may profess to be engaged in, yet really and truly you are not celebrating the Lord’s Supper.”

The Lord’s supper - That which the Lord Jesus instituted to commemorate his death. It is called “the Lord’s,” because it is his appointment, and is in honor of him; it is called “supper” (δεῖπνον deipnon), because the word denotes the evening repast; it was instituted in the evening; and it is evidently most proper that it should be observed in the after part of the day. With most churches the time is 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.

Verse 21

For in eating - When you eat, having professedly come together to observe this ordinance. In order to understand this, it seems necessary to suppose that they had in some way made the Lord’s supper either connected with a common feast, or that they regarded it as a mere common festival to be observed in a way similar to the festivals among the Greeks. Many have supposed that this was done by making the observance of the supper follow a festival, or what were afterward called “love feasts” ἀγάπαι agapai - “Agapae”). Many have supposed that that custom was derived from the fact that the Saviour instituted the supper after a festival, a feast in which he had been engaged with his disciples, and that thence the early Christians derived the custom of observing such a festival, or common meal, before they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. But it may be observed, that the passover was not a mere preliminary festival, or feast.

It had no resemblance to the so called love feasts. It was itself a religious ordinance; a direct appointment of God; and was never regarded as designed to be preliminary to the observance of the Lord’s Supper, but was always understood as designed to be superseded by that. Besides, I know not that there is the slightest evidence, as has been often supposed, that the observance of the Lord’s Supper was preceded, in the times of the apostles, by such a festival as a love feast. There is no evidence in the passage before us; nor is any adduced from any other part of the New Testament. To my mind it seems altogether improbable that the disorders in Corinth would assume this form - that they would first observe a common feast, and then the Lord’s Supper in the regular manner. The statement before us leads to the belief that all was irregular and improper; that they had entirely mistaken the nature of the ordinance, and had converted it into an occasion of ordinary festivity, and even intemperance; that they had come to regard it as a feast in honor of the Saviour on some such principles as they observed feasts in honor of idols, and that they observed it in some such manner; and that all that was supposed to make it unlike those festivals was, that it was in honor of Jesus rather than an idol, and was to be observed with some reference to his authority and name.

Everyone taketh before other his own supper - That is, each one is regardless of the needs of the others; instead of making even a meal in common, and when all could partake together, each one ate by himself, and ate that which he had himself brought. They had not only erred, therefore, by misunderstanding altogether the nature of the Lord’s supper, and by supposing that it was a common festival like those which they had been accustomed to celebrate; but they had also entirely departed from the idea that it was a festival to be partaken of in common, and at a common table. It had become a scene where every man ate by himself; and where the very idea that there was anything like a “common” celebration, or a celebration “together,” was abandoned. There is allusion here, doubtless, to what was a custom among the Greeks, that when a festival was celebrated, or a feast made, it was common for each person to provide, and carry a part of the things necessary for the entertainment. These were usually placed in common, and were partaken of alike by all the company. Thus, Xenophon (Mem. lib. 3:cap. xiv.) says of Socrates, that he was much offended with the Athenians for their conduct at their common suppers, where some prepared for themselves in a delicate and sumptuous manner, while others were poorly provided for. Socrates endeavored, he adds, to shame them out of this indecent custom by offering his provisions to all the company.

And one is hungry - Is deprived of food. It is all monopolized by others.

And another is drunken - The word used here (μεθύω methuō) means properly to become inebriated, or intoxicated; and there is no reason for understanding it here in any other sense. There can be no doubt that the apostle meant to say, that they ate and drank to excess; and that their professed celebration of the Lord’s Supper became a mere revel. It may seem remarkable that such scenes should ever have occurred in a Christian church, or that there could have been such an entire perversion of the nature and design of the Lord’s Supper. But we are to remember the following things:

(1) These persons had recently been pagans, and were grossly ignorant of the nature of true religion when the gospel was first preached among them.

(2) They had been accustomed to such revels in honor of idols under their former modes of worship, and it is the less surprising that they transferred their views to Christianity.

(3) When they had once so far misunderstood the nature of Christianity as to suppose the Lord’s Supper to be like the feasts which they had formerly celebrated, all the rest followed as a matter of course. The festival would be observed in the same manner as the festivals in honor of idolaters; and similar scenes of gluttony and intemperance would naturally follow.

(4) We are to bear in mind, also, that they do not seem to have been favored with pious, wise, and prudent teachers.

There were false teachers; and there were those who prided themselves on their wisdom, and who were self-confident, and who doubtless endeavored to model the Christian institutions according to their own views; and they thus brought them, as far as they could, to a conformity with pagan customs and idolatrous rites, We may remark here:

(1) We are not to expect perfection at once among a people recently converted from paganism.

(2) We see how prone people are to abuse even the most holy rites of religion, and hence, how corrupt is human nature.

(3) We see that even Christians, recently converted, need constant guidance and superintendence; and that if left to themselves they soon, like others, fall into gross and scandalous offences.

Verse 22

What! - This whole verse is designed to convey the language of severe rebuke for their having so grossly perverted the design of the Lord’s Supper.

Have ye not houses ... - Do you not know that the church of God is not designed to be a place of feasting and revelry; nor even a place where to partake of your ordinary meals? Can it be, that you will come to the places of public worship, and make them the scenes of feasting and riot? Even on the supposition that there had been no disorder; no revelry; no intemperance; yet on every account it was grossly irregular and disorderly to make the place of public worship a place for a festival entertainment.

Or despise ye the church of God - The phrase “church of God” Grotius understands of the place. But the word church (ἐκκλησία ekklēsia) is believed not to be used in that sense in the New Testament; and it is not necessary to suppose it here. The sense is, that their conduct was such as if they had held in contempt the whole church of God, in all places, with all their views of the sacredness and purity of the Lord’s supper.

And shame them that have not - Margin, “Are poor.” Something must here be understood in order to make out the sense. Probably it meant something like “possessions, property, conveniences, accomodations.” The connection would make it most natural to understand “houses to eat and drink in;” and the sense then would be, “Do you thus expose to public shame those who have no accommodations at home; who are destitute and poor? You thus reflect publicly upon their poverty and want, while you bring your own provisions and fare sumptuously, and while those who are thus unable to provide for themselves are thus seen to be poor and needy.” It is hard enough, the idea is, to be poor, and to be destitute of a home. But it greatly aggravates the matter to be “publicly treated” in that manner; to be exposed publicly to the contempt which such a situation implies. Their treatment of the poor in this manner would be a public exposing them to shame; and the apostle regarded this as particularly dishonorable, and especially in a Christian church, where all were professedly on an equality.

What shall I say to you? ... - How shall I sufficiently express my surprise at this, and my disapprobation at this course? It cannot be possible that this is right. It is not possible to conceal surprise and amazement that this custom exists, and is tolerated in a Christian church.

Verse 23

For ... - In order most effectually to check the evils which existed, and to bring them to a proper mode of observing the Lord’s Supper, the apostle proceeds to state distinctly and particularly its design. They had mistaken its nature. They supposed it might be a common festival. They had made it the occasion of great disorder. He therefore adverts to the solemn circumstances in which it was instituted; the particular object which it had in view - the commemoration of the death of the Redeemer, and the purpose which it was designed to subserve, which was not that of a festival, but to keep before the church and the world a constant remembrance of the Lord Jesus until he should again return, 1 Corinthians 11:26. By this means the apostle evidently hoped to recall them from their irregularities, and to bring them to a just mode of celebrating this holy ordinance. He did not, therefore, denounce them even for their irregularity and gross disorder; he did not use harsh, violent, vituperative language, but he expected to reform the evil by a mild and tender statement of the truth, and by an appeal to their consciences as the followers of the Lord Jesus.

I have received of the Lord - This cannot refer to tradition, or mean that it had been communicated to him through the medium of the other apostles; but the whole spirit and scope of the passage seems to mean that he had derived the knowledge of the institution of the Lord’s supper “directly” from the Lord himself. This might have been when on the road to Damascus, though that does not seem probable, or it may have been among the numerous revelations which at various times had been made to him; compare 2 Corinthians 12:7. The reason why he here says that he had received it directly from the Lord is, doubtless, that he might show them that it was of divine authority. “The institution to which I refer is what I myself received an account of “from personal and direct communication with the Lord Jesus himself, who appointed it.” It is not, therefore, of human authority. It is not of my devising, but is of divine warrant, and is holy in its nature, and is to be observed in the exact manner prescribed by the Lord himself.”

That which also I delivered ... - Paul founded the church at Corinth; and of course he first instituted the observance of the Lord’s Supper there.

The same night in which he was betrayed - By Judas; see Matthew 26:23-25, Matthew 26:48-50. Paul seems to have mentioned the fact that it was on the very night on which he was betrayed, in order to throw around it the idea of greater solemnity. He wished evidently to bring before their minds the deeply affecting circumstances of his death; and thus to show them the utter impropriety of their celebrating the ordinance with riot and disorder, The idea is, that in order to celebrate it in a proper manner, it was needful “to throw themselves as much as possible into the very circumstances in which it was instituted;” and one of these circumstances most suited to affect the mind deeply was the fact that he was betrayed by a professed friend and follower. It is also a circumstance the memory of which is eminently suited to prepare the mind for a proper celebration of the ordinance now.

Took bread - Evidently the bread which was used at the celebration of the paschal supper. He took the bread which happened to be before him - such as was commonly used. It was not a “wafer” such as the papists now use; but was the ordinary bread which was eaten on such occasions; see the note on Matthew 26:26.

Verse 24

And when he had given thanks - See the note on Matthew 26:26. Matthew reads it, “and blessed it.” The words used here are, however, substantially the same as there; and this fact shows that since this was communicated to Paul “directly” by the Saviour, and in a manner distinct from that by which Matthew learned the mode of the institution, the Saviour designed that the exact form of the words should be used in its observance, and should thus be constantly borne in mind by his people.

Take eat ... - See the note on Matthew 26:26.

Verse 25

After the same manner - In like manner; likewise. With the same circumstances, and ceremonies, and designs. The purpose was the same.

When he had supped - That is, all this occurred after the observance of the usual paschal supper. It could not, therefore, be a part of it, nor could it have been designed to be a festival or feast merely. The apostle introduces this evidently in order to show them that it could not be, as they seemed to have supposed, an occasion of feasting. It was after the supper, and was therefore to be observed in a distinct manner.

Saying, This cup ... - See the note at Matthew 26:27-28.

Is the New Testament - The new covenant which God is about to establish with people. The word “testament” with us properly denotes a “will” - an instrument by which a man disposes of his property after his death. This is also the proper classic meaning of the Greek word used here, διαθήκη (diathēkē). But this is evidently not the sense in which the word is designed to be used in the New Testament. The idea of a “will” or “testament,” strictly so called, is not that which the sacred writers intend to convey by the word. The idea is evidently that of a compact, agreement, covenant, to which there is so frequent reference in the Old Testament, and which is expressed by the word בּרית berı̂yth (Berith), a compact, a covenant, Of that word the proper translation in Greek would have been συνθηκη sunthēkē a covenant, agreement. But it is remarkable that that word never is used by the Septuagint to denote the covenant made between God and man.

That translation uniformly employs for this purpose the word διαθήκη diathēkē, a will, or a testament, as a translation of the Hebrew word, where there is a reference to the covenant which God is represented as making with people. The word συνθηκη sunthēkē is used by them but three times Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Daniel 11:6, and in neither instance with any reference to the covenant which God is represented as making with man. The word διαθήκη diathēkē, as the translation of בּרית berı̂yth (Berith), occurs more than two hundred times. (See Trommius’ Concord.) Now this must have evidently been of design. What the reason was which induced them to adopt this can only be conjectured. It may have been that as the translation was to be seen by the Gentiles as well as by the Jews (if it were not expressly made, as has been affirmed by Josephus and others, for the use of Ptolemy), they were unwilling to represent the eternal and infinite Yahweh as entering into a “compact, an agreement” with his creature man. They, therefore, adopted a word which would represent him as expressing “his will” to them in a book of revelation. The version by the Septuagint was evidently in use by the apostles, and by the Jews everywhere. The writers of the New Testament, therefore, adopted the word as they found it; and spoke of the new dispensation as a new “testament” which God made with man. The meaning is, that this was the new compact or covenant which God was to make with man in contradistinction from that made through Moses.

In my blood - Through my blood; that is, this new compact is to be sealed with my blood, in illusion to the ancient custom of sealing an agreement by a sacrifice; see the note at Matthew 26:28.

This do ye - Partake of this bread and wine; that is, celebrate this ordinance.

As oft as ye drink it - Not prescribing any time; and not even specifying the frequency with which it was to be done; but leaving it to themselves to determine how often they would partake of it. The time of the Passover had been fixed by positive statute; the more mild and gentle system of Christianity left it to the followers of the Redeemer themselves to determine how often they would celebrate his death. It was commanded them to do it; it was presumed that their love to him would be so strong as to secure a frequent observance; it was permitted to them, as in prayer, to celebrate it on any occasion of affliction, trial, or deep interest when they would feel their need of it, and when they would suppose that its observance would be for the edification of the Church.

In remembrance of me - This expresses the whole design of the ordinance. It is a simple memorial, or remembrancer; designed to recall in a striking and impressive manner the memory of the Redeemer. It does this by a tender appeal to the senses - by the exhibition of the broken bread, and by the wine. The Saviour knew how prone people would be to forget him, and he, therefore, appointed this ordinance as a means by which his memory should be kept up in the world. The ordinance is rightly observed when it recalls the memory of the Saviour; and when its observance is the means of producing a deep, and lively, and vivid impression on the mind, of his death for sin. This expression, at the institution of the supper, is used by Luke Luke 22:19; though it does not occur in Matthew, Mark, or John.

Verse 26

For as often - Whenever you do this.

Ye eat this bread - This is a direct and positive refutation of the doctrine of the papists that the bread is changed into the real body of the Lord Jesus. Here it is expressly called “bread” - bread still - bread after the consecration. Before the Saviour instituted the ordinance he took “bread” - it was bread then: it was “bread” which he “blessed” and “broke;” and it was bread when it was given to them; and it was bread when Paul says here that they ate. How then can it be pretended that it is anything else but bread? And what an amazing and astonishing absurdity it is to believe that that bread is changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation or consubstantiation)!

Ye do show the Lord’s death - You set forth, or exhibit in an impressive manner, the fact that he was put to death; you exhibit the emblems of his broken body and shed blood, and your belief of the fact that he died. This shows that the ordinance was to be so far public as to be a proper showing forth of their belief in the death of the Saviour. It should be public. It is one mode of professing attachment to the Redeemer; and its public observance often has a most impressive effect on those who witness its observance.

Till he come - Until he returns to judge the world. This demonstrates:

(1) That it was the steady belief of the primitive church that the Lord Jesus would return to judge the world; and,

(2) That it was designed that this ordinance should be perpetuated, and observed to the end of time. In every generation, therefore, and in every place where there are Christians, it is to be observed, until the Son of God shall return; and the necessity of its observance shall cease only when the whole body of the redeemed shall be permitted to see their Lord, and there shall be no need of those emblems to remind them of him, for all shall see him as he is.

Verse 27

Wherefore - (ὥστε hōste). So that, or it follows from what has been said. If this be the origin and intention of the Lord’s Supper, then it follows that whoever partakes of it in an improper manner is guilty of his body and blood. The design of Paul is to correct their improper mode of observing this ordinance; and having showed them the true nature and design of the institution, he now states the consequences of partaking of it in an improper manner.

Shall eat this bread - See 1 Corinthians 11:26. Paul still calls it bread, and shows thus that he was a stranger to the doctrine that the bread was changed into the very body of the Lord Jesus. If the papal doctrine of transubstantiation had been true, Paul could not have called it bread. The Romanists do not believe that it is bread, nor would they call it such; and this shows how needful it is for them to keep the Scriptures from the people, and how impossible to express their dogmas in the language of the Bible. Let Christians adhere to the simple language of the Bible, and there is no danger of their falling into the errors of the papists.

Unworthily - Perhaps there is no expression in the Bible that has given more trouble to weak and feeble Christians than this. It is certain that there is no one that has operated to deter so many from the communion; or that is so often made use of as an excuse for not making a profession of religion. The excuse is, “I am unworthy to partake of this holy ordinance. I shall only expose myself to condemnation. I must therefore wait until I become more worthy, and better prepared to celebrate it.” It is important, therefore, that there should he a correct understanding of this passage. Most persons interpret it as if it were “unworthy,” and not “unworthily,” and seem to suppose that it refers to their personal qualifications, to their “unfitness” to partake of it, rather than to the manner in which it is done. It is to he remembered, therefore. that the word used here is an “adverb,” and not an “adjective,” and has reference to the manner of observing the ordinance, and not to their personal qualifications or fitness. It is true that in ourselves we are all “unworthy” of an approach to the table of the Lord; “unworthy” to be regarded as his followers; “unworthy” of a title to everlasting life: but it does not follow that we may not partake of this ordinance in a worthy, that is, a proper manner, with a deep sense of our sinfulness, our need of a Saviour, and with some just views of the Lord Jesus as our Redeemer. Whatever may be our consciousness of personal unworthiness and unfitness - and that consciousness cannot be too deep - yet we may have such love to Christ, and such a desire to be saved by him, and such a sense of his worthiness, as to make it proper for us to approach and partake of this ordinance. The term “unworthily” (ἀναξίως anaxiōs) means properly “in an unworthy or improper” manner “in a manner unsuitable to the purposes for which it was designed or instituted;” and may include the following things, namely:

(1) Such an irregular and indecent observance as existed in the church of Corinth, where even gluttony and intemperance prevailed under the professed design of celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

(2) An observance of the ordinance where there should be no distinction between it and common meals (Note on 1 Corinthians 11:29); where they did not regard it as designed to show forth the death of the Lord Jesus. It is evident that where such views prevailed, there could be no proper qualification for this observance; and it is equally clear that such ignorance can hardly be supposed to prevail now in those lands which are illuminated by Christian truth.

(3) When it is done for the sake of mockery, and when the purpose is to deride religion, and to show a marked contempt for the ordinances of the gospel. It is a remarkable fact that many infidels have been so full of malignity and bitterness against the Christian religion as to observe a mock celebration of the Lord’s Supper. There is no profounder depth of depravity than this; there is nothing that can more conclusively or painfully show the hostility of man to the gospel of God. It is a remarkable fact, also, that not a few such persons have died a most miserable death. Under the horrors of an accusing conscience, and the anticipated destiny of final damnation, they have left the world as frightful monuments of the justice of God. It is also a fact that not a few infidels who have been engaged in such unholy celebrations have been converted to that very gospel which they were thus turning into ridicule and scorn. Their consciences have been alarmed; they have shuddered at the remembrance of the crime; they have been overwhelmed with the consciousness of guilt, and have found no peace until they have found it in that blood whose shedding they were thus profanely celebrating.

Shall be guilty - (ἔνοχοι enochoi). This word properly means obnoxious to punishment for personal crime. It always includes the idea of ill-desert, and of exposure to punishment on account of crime or ill-desert; Matthew 5:22; compare Exodus 22:3; Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Numbers 35:27; Leviticus 20:9; see also Deuteronomy 19:10; Matthew 26:66. “Of the body and blood of the Lord.” Commentators have not been agreed in regard to the meaning of this expression. Doddridge renders it, “Shall be counted guilty of profaning and affronting in some measure that which is intended to represent the body and blood of the Lord.” Grotius renders it, “He does the same thing as if he should slay Christ.” Bretschneider (Lexicon) renders it, “Injuring by crime the body of the Lord.” Locke renders it, “Shall be guilty of a misuse of the body and blood of the Lord;” and supposes it means that they should be liable to the punishment due to one who made a wrong use of the sacramental body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Rosenmuller renders it, “He shall be punished for such a deed as if he had affected Christ himself with ignominy.”

Bloomfield renders it, “He shall be guilty respecting the body, that is, guilty of profaning the symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and consequently shall be amenable to the punishment due to such an abuse of the highest means of grace.” But it seems to me that this does not convey the fulness of the meaning of the passage. The obvious and literal sense is evidently that they should by such conduct be involved in the sin of putting the Lord Jesus to death. The phrase “the body and blood of the Lord,” in this connection, obviously, I think, refers to his death, to the fact that his body was broken, and his blood shed, of which the bread and wine were symbols; and to be guilty of that, means to be guilty of putting him to death; that is, to be involved in the crime, or to do a thing which should involve the same criminality as that. To see this, we are to remember:

(1) That the bread and wine were symbols or emblems of that event, and designed to set it forth.

(2) To treat with irreverence and profaneness the bread which was an emblem of his broken body, was to treat with irreverence and profaneness the body itself; and in like manner the wine, the symbol of his blood.

(3) Those, therefore who treated the symbols of his body and blood with profaneness and contempt were “united in spirit” with those who put him to death. They evinced the same feelings toward the Lord Jesus that his murderers did. They treated him with scorn, profaneness, and derision; and showed that with the same spirit they would have joined in the act of murdering the Son of God. They would evince their hostility to the Saviour himself as far as they could do, by showing contempt for the memorials of his body and blood. The apostle does by no means, however, as I understand him, mean to say that any of the Corinthians had been thus guilty of his body and blood. He does not charge on them this murderous intention. But he states what is the fair and obvious construction which is to be put on a wanton disrespect for the Lord’s supper. And the design is to guard them, and all others, against this sin. There can be no doubt that those who celebrate his death in mockery and derision are held guilty of his body and blood. They show that they have the spirit of his murderers; they evince it in the most awful way possible; and they who would thus join in a profane celebration of the Lord’s Supper would have joined in the cry, “Crucify him, crucify him,” For it is a most fearful and solemn act to trifle with sacred things; and especially to hold up to derision and scorn, the bitter sorrows by which the Son of God accomplished the redemption of the world.

Verse 28

But let a man examine himself - Let him search and see if he have the proper qualifications - if he has knowledge to discern the Lord’s body (note, 1 Corinthians 11:29); if he has true repentance for his sins; true faith in the Lord Jesus; and a sincere desire to live the life of a Christian, and to be like the Son of God, and be saved by the merits of his blood. Let him examine himself, and see whether he have the right feelings of a communicant, and can approach the table in a proper manner. In regard to this we may observe:

(1) That this examination should include the great question about his personal piety, and about his particular and special fitness for this observance. It should go back into the great inquiry whether he has ever been born again; and it should also have special reference to his immediate and direct preparation for the ordinance. He should not only be able to say in general that he is a Christian, but he should be able to say that he has then a particular preparation for it. He should be in a suitable frame of mind for it. He should have personal evidence that he is a penitent; that he has true faith in the Lord Jesus; that he is depending on him, and is desirous of being saved by him.

(2) This examination should be minute and particular. It should extend to the words, the thoughts, the feelings, the conduct. We should inquire whether in our family and in our business; whether among Christians, and with the world, we have lived the life of a Christian. We should examine our private thoughts; our habits of secret prayer and of searching the Scriptures. Our examination should be directed to the inquiry whether we are gaining the victory over our easily besetting sins and becoming more and more conformed to the Saviour. It should, in short, extend to all our Christian character; and everything which goes to make up or to mar that character should be the subject of faithful and honest examination.

(3) It should be done because:

  1. It is well to pause occasionally in life, and take an account of our standing in the sight of God. People make advances in business and in property only when they often examnine their accounts, and know just how they stand,
    1. Because the observance of the Lord’s Supper is a solemn act, and there will be fearful results if it is celebrated in an improper manner.
    2. Because self-examination supposes seriousness and calmness, and prevents precipitation and rashness - states of mind entirely unfavorable to a proper observance of the Lord’s Supper.
    3. Because by self-examination one may search out and remove those things that are offensive to God, and the sins which so easily beset us may be known and abandoned.
    4. Because the approach to the table of the Lord is a solemn approach to the Lord himself; is a solemn profession of attachment to him; is an act of consecration to his service in the presence of angels and of people; and this should be done in a calm, deliberate and sincere manner; such a manner as may be the result of a prayerful and honest self-examination.

And so let him eat ... - And as the result of such examination, or after such an examination; that is, let the act of eating that bread always be preceded by a solemn self-examination. Bloomfield renders it, “and then, only then.” The sense is plain, that the communion should always be preceded by an honest and prayerful self-examination.

Verse 29

For he that eateth ... - In order to excite them to a deeper reverence for this ordinance, and to a more solemn mode of observing it, Paul in this verse states another consequence of partaking of it in an improper and irreverent manner; compare 1 Corinthians 11:27.

Eateth and drinketh damnation - This is evidently a figurative expression, meaning that by eating and drinking improperly he incurs condemnation; which is here expressed by eating and drinking condemnation itself. The word “damnation” we now apply, in common language, exclusively to the future and final punishment of the wicked in hell. But the word used here does not of necessity refer to that; and according to our use of the word now, there is a harshness and severity in our translation which the Greek does not require, and which probably was not conveyed by the word “damnation” when the translation was made. In the margin it is correctly rendered “judgment.” The word here used (κρῖμα krima) properly denotes judgment; the result of judging, that is, a sentence; then a sentence by which one is condemned, or condemnation; and then punishment; see Romans 3:8; Romans 13:2. It has evidently the sense of judgment here; and means, that by their improper manner of observing this ordinance, they would expose themselves to the divine displeasure, and to punishment. And it refers, I think, to the punishment or judgment which the apostle immediately specifies, 1 Corinthians 11:30, 1 Corinthians 11:32. It means a manifestation of the divine displeasure which might be evinced in this life; and which, in the case of the Corinthians, was manifested in the judgments which God had brought upon them. It cannot be denied, however, that a profane and intentionally irreverent manner of observing the Lord’s Supper will meet with the divine displeasure in the eternal world, and aggravate the doom of those who are guilty of it. But it is clear that this was not the punishment which the apostle had here in his eye. This is apparent:

  1. Because the Corinthians did eat unworthily, and yet the judgments inflicted on them were only temporal, that is, weakness, sickness, and temporal death 1 Corinthians 11:30; and,
  2. Because the reason assigned for these judgments is, that they might not be condemned with the wicked; that is, as the wicked are in hell, 1 Corinthians 11:32. Whitby. Compare 1 Peter 4:17.

Not discerning the Lord’s body - Not discriminating” μὴ διακρίνων mē diakrinōn between the bread which is used on this occasion and common and ordinary food. Not making the proper difference and distinction between this and common meals. It is evident that this was the leading offence of the Corinthians (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 11:20-21), and this is the proper idea which the original conveys. It does not refer to any intellectual or physical power to perceive that that bread represented the body of the Lord; not to any spiritual perception which it is often supposed that piety has to distinguish this; not to any view which faith may be supposed to have to discern the body of the Lord through the elements; but to the fact that they did not “distinguish” or “discriminate” between this and common meals. They did not regard it in a proper manner, but supposed it to be simply an historical commemoration of an event, such as they were in the habit of observing in honor of an idol or a hero by a public celebration. They, therefore, are able to “discern the Lord’s body” in the sense intended here, who with a serious mind, regard it as an institution appointed by the Lord Jesus to commemorate his death; and who “distinguish” thus between this and ordinary meals and all festivals and feasts designed to commemorate other events. In other words, who deem it to be designed to show forth the fact that his body was broken for sin, and who desire to observe it as such. It is evident that all true Christians may have ability of this kind, and need not incur condemnation by any error in regard to this. The humblest and obscurest follower of the Saviour, with the feeblest faith and love, may regard it as designed to set forth the death of his Redeemer; and observing it thus, will meet with the divine approbation.

Verse 30

For this cause - On account of the improper manner of celebrating the Lord’s Supper; see 1 Corinthians 11:21.

Many are weak - (ἀσθενεῖς astheneis). Evidently referring to prevailing bodily sickness and disease. This is the natural and obvious interpretation of this passage. The sense clearly is, that God had sent among them bodily distempers as an expression of the divine displeasure and judgment for their improper mode of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. That it was not uncommon in those times for God in an extraordinary manner to punish people with calamity, sickness, or death for their sins is evident from the New Testament; see the 1 Corinthians 5:5 note; Acts 5:1-10; Acts 13:11 notes; 1 Timothy 1:20 note; and perhaps 1 John 5:16 note; and James 5:14-15 notes. It may possibly have been the case that the intemperance and gluttony which prevailed on these occasions was the direct cause of no small part of the bodily disease which prevailed, and which in some cases terminated in death.

And many sleep - Have died. The death of Christians in the Scriptures is commonly represented under the image of “sleep;” Dan, 1 Corinthians 12:2; John 11:11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1Th 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10. Perhaps it may be implied by the use of this mild term here, instead of the harsher word “death,” that these were true Christians. This sentiment is in accordance with all that Paul states in regard to the church at Corinth. Notwithstanding all their irregularities, he does not deny that they were sincere Christians, and all his appeals and reasonings proceed on that supposition, though there was among them much ignorance and irregularity. God often visits his own people with trial; and though they are his children, yet this does not exempt them from affliction and discipline on account of their imperfections, errors, and sins. The “practical lesson” taught by this is, that Christians should serve God with purity; that they should avoid sin in every form; and that the commission of sin will expose them, as well as others, to the divine displeasure. The reason why this judgment was inflicted on the Corinthians was, that there might be a suitable impression made of the holy nature of that ordinance, and that Christians might be led to observe it in a proper manner. If it be asked whether God ever visits his people now with his displeasure for their improper manner of observing this ordinance, we may reply:

  1. That we have no reason to suppose that he inflicts “bodily” diseases and corporeal punishments on account of it. But,
  2. There is no reason to doubt that the improper observance of the Lord’s Supper, like the improper observance of any other religious duty, will be followed with the expression of God’s displeasure, and with a spiritual blightling on the soul. This may be evinced in the following modes:
    1. In hardening the heart by an improper familiarity with the most sacred and solemn ordinances of religion.
    2. Increased coldness and deadness in the service of God. If the ordinances of the gospel are not the means of making us better, they are the means of making us worse.
    3. The loss of the favor of God, or of those pure, and spiritual, and elevated joys which we might have obtained by a proper observance of the ordinance.

There is no reason to doubt that God may make it the occasion of manifesting his displeasure. It may be followed by a lack of spiritual comfort and peace; by a loss of communion with God; and by a withholding of those comforts from the soul which might have been enjoyed, and which are imparted to those who observe it in a proper manner. The general principle is, that an improper discharge of any duty will expose us to his displeasure, and to the certain loss of all those favors which might have resulted from a proper discharge of the duty, and to the tokens of the divine displeasure. And this is as true of prayer, or of any other religious duty, as of an improper observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Verse 31

For if we would judge ourselves - If we would examine ourselves, 1 Corinthians 11:28; if we would exercise a strict scrutiny over our hearts and feelings, and conduct, and come to the Lord’s Table with a proper spirit, we should escape the condemnation to which they are exposed who observe it in an improper manner. If we would exercise proper “severity” and “honesty” in determining our own character and fitness for the ordinance, we should not expose ourselves to the divine displeasure.

We should not be judged - We should not be exposed to the expression of God’s disapprobation. He refers here to the punishment which had come upon the Corinthians for their improper manner of observing the ordinance; and he says that if they had properly examined themselves, and had understood the nature of the ordinance, that they would have escaped the judgments that had come upon them. This is as true now as it was then. If we wish to escape the divine displeasure; if we wish the communion to be followed with joy, and peace, and growth in grace, and not with blighting and spiritual barrenness, we should exercise a severe judgment on our character, and feelings, and motives; and should come to it with a sincere desire to honor Christ, and to advance in the divine life.

Verse 32

But when we are judged - This is added, evidently, to console those who had been afflicted on account of their improper manner of observing the Lord’s Supper. The sense is, that though they were thus afflicted by God; though he had manifested his displeasure at the manner in which they had observed the ordinance, yet the divine judgment in the case was not inexorable. They were not regarded by God as wholly strangers to piety, and would not be lost forever. They should not be alarmed, therefore, as if there was no mercy for them; but they should rather regard their calamities as the chastening of the Lord on his own children, and as designed for their salvation.

We are chastened of the Lord - It is “his” act; and it is not vengeance and wrath; but it is to be regarded as the chastisement of a father’s hand, in order that we should not be condemned with the wicked. “We are under the discipline” (παιδευόμεθα paideuometha) of the Lord; we are dealt with as children, and are corrected as by the hand of a father; compare Hebrews 12:5-10, and 2 Corinthians 6:9. The design of God’s correcting his children is, that they should be “reclaimed,” and not “destroyed.”

That we should not be condemned with the world - It is implied here:

  1. That the world - those who were not Christians, would be condemned;
  2. That Paul regarded the Corinthians, whom he addressed, and who had even been guilty of this improper manner of observing the Lord’s Supper, and who had been punished for it as true Christians; and,
  3. That the purpose which God had in view in inflicting these judgments on them was, that they might be purified, and enlightened, and recovered from their errors, and saved. This is the design of God in the calamities and judgments which he brings on his own children - And so now, if he afflicts us, or leaves us to darkness, or follows the communion with the tokens of his displeasure, it is, that we may be recovered to a deeper sense of our need of him; to juster views of the ordinance; and to a more earnest wish to obtain his favor.

Verse 33

When ye come together to eat - Professedly to eat the Lord’s Supper.

Tarry one for another - Do not be guilty of disorder, intemperance, and gluttony; see the note at 1 Corinthians 11:21. Doddridge understands this of the feast that he supposes to have preceded the Lord’s Supper. But the more obvious interpretation is, to refer it to the Lord’s Supper itself; and to enjoin perfect order, respect, and sobriety. The idea is, that the table was common for the rich and the poor; and that the rich should claim no priority or precedence over the poor.

Verse 34

And if any man hunger ... - The Lord’s Supper is not a common feast; it is not designed as a place where a man may gratify his appetite. It is designed as a simple “commemoration,” and not as a “feast.” This remark was designed to correct their views of the supper, and to show them that it was to be distinguished from the ordinary idea of a feast or festival.

That ye come not together unto condemnation - That the effect of your coming together for the observance of the Lord’s Supper be not to produce condemnation; see the note at 1 Corinthians 11:29.

And the rest will I set in order ... - Probably he refers here to other matters on which he had been consulted; or other things which he knew required to be adjusted. The other matters pertaining to the order and discipline of the church I will defer until I can come among you, and personally arrange them. It is evident from this, that Paul at this time purposed soon to go to Corinth; see 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. It was doubtless true that there might be many things which it was desirable to adjust in the church there, which could not be so well done by letter. The main things, therefore, which it was needful to correct immediately, he had discussed in this letter; the other matters he reserved to be arranged by himself when he should go among them. Paul was disappointed in his expectations of returning among them as soon as he had intended (see 2 Corinthians 1:17), and under this disappointment he forwarded to them another epistle. If all Christians would follow implicitly his directions here in regard to the Lord’s Supper, it would be an ordinance full of comfort. May all so understand its nature, and so partake of it, that they shall meet the approbation of their Lord, and so that it may be the means of saving grace to their souls.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/1-corinthians-11.html. 1870.
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