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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

1 Corinthians 11

Verse 10


‘Power on her head because of the angels.’

1 Corinthians 11:10

The little section of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in which St. Paul deals with the question of the retention or disuse of the female head-dress in the public assemblies of Christian worship, is eminently characteristic of his style and method. It appears that in the Church at Corinth some women had occasioned scandal by dispensing with the pephlum, or shawl, with which, from time immemorial, Grecian females had covered their heads on public occasions. Doubtless these Christian women wished to assert the principle of their emancipation from that vulgar tyranny over the weaker sex which made the ordinary Greek woman a mere ‘dwarf of the gynæceum’; doubtless they wished to illustrate, in the most public manner, that they were now the children of a kingdom in which ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus’ ( Galatians 3:28). But of the manner of asserting their purely spiritual and ideal truth, the Apostle wholly disapproved.

I. St. Paul abhorred all intrusive self-assertion, all scandal-causing appearance of evil, all unseemly violation of reasonable custom. He knew well that Christianity had not been preached with any view to the violent and revolutionary overthrow of existing customs. He did not wish its Divine and universal principles to be degraded into an excuse for political outbreaks or social fanaticism. It was true that in the Jewish synagogue women worshipped with their heads uncovered; but if there were any converted Jewesses who wished to transfer that custom into the Christian places of worship, they had wholly failed to see that there was no parallel between the cases, since in the synagogue the women worshipped apart from the men, behind a secluding lattice. St. Paul therefore decides that, as regards women, the Greek custom, and not the Jewish, ought to prevail, and indeed the spirit of the Greek and of the Jewish customs were in this matter identical. And singularly enough he decides for the Greek custom in the case of men as well as women. Among the Jews to this day, as in all Oriental countries, a man covers his head with the tallith—a veil with four tassels—when he is in the act of prayer. St. Paul could never have been accustomed to any other mode of worship until his conversion to Christianity. Yet so completely had his views and habits been altered by Christ’s revelation, that he now declares that a man covering his head in worship dishonours his own head, and thereby dishonours Christ Who is his spiritual and eternal Head.

II. But he is not content to rest this decision on his own mere dictum.—As it was the custom of his life to refer even the minutest duties to the loftiest principles, so it was the habit of his mind to settle even the most trivial matters of controversy by a reference to eternal spiritual truths. He therefore rests his decision on two grounds—an appeal to instinctive and natural feeling, and a statement of the Divine law respecting the relation of the sexes to one another and to God. He asks the Corinthians whether they do not feel at once, whether nature itself does not teach them, that long hair is unsuitable, even disgraceful, to man, a mark of dandyism, effeminacy, and sloth; and that, on the other hand, the long soft tresses of a woman are her natural ornament and glory, so that every one would feel it to be a mark of infamy who saw a woman shorn or shaven? And he traces this instinctive feeling to the great revealed truth that woman occupies towards man a position analogous to that which man occupies towards God. Man was created first, then woman; woman for the man, not man for the woman; man to be the image and glory of God, woman to be the glory of the man. Both of them indeed are one in the Lord, but still in due subordination; seeing that man is the head of the woman, as Christ is the head of man, and God is the head of Christ. Thus we see that the region in which the thoughts of the Apostle habitually moved was so lofty, that a question of the use or abandonment of women’s veils leads him to speak at once of the creation of man and the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is in the midst of these high and dignified arguments, which at once remove the question from a detail of petty ritual to one of real religious significance, that St. Paul casually drops the strange and disputed phrase that, since man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man; the woman ought ‘to have power upon her head because of the angels.’

III. What is here meant by ‘power.’—When commentators or editors have failed to understand a word, they are generally driven to tamper with it, i.e. to alter the reading, or to give it some very unusual sense, or to give the ordinary sense, and show how the required meaning can be obtained from it. To me it seems that after all the simple good sense of our translators hit on the only true meaning of the expression, which they have placed in the margin of our Bibles. They adopted the proper and faithful course in giving to the disputed word its first plain and obvious meaning of ‘power’; and then, to dispel all unnecessary difficulty, they briefly inserted in the margin what appeared to them to be the true explanation, ‘that is, a covering, in sign that she is under the power of her husband.’ I am convinced that their view is the correct one. Any apparent harshness in this meaning is at once dispelled:—

( a) By the analogies it is indeed unlikely that exousia could ever have come to mean ‘a veil,’ and no authority for such a meaning can be quoted; but these analogies show how easily the word ‘power’ could come to be ‘ a sign of power’ by the common figure of speech which is called metonymy; and if so, it is much more likely to mean a sign of her husband’s power over her, than a sign of her own power, because the whole context is enforcing the superiority of the man, and bears on the ‘He shall rule over thee’ of Genesis 3:16.

( b) Because to this day the veil is regarded in the unchanging East as a sign, not of authority, but of subordination; and the traveller Chardin says that in Persia ‘only married women wear it, and it is the mark by which it is known that they are under subjection.’ And in the Roman customs, with which St. Paul must also have been very familiar, the putting on of a veil in marriage was a sign that a woman lost all independent rights of citizenship.

( c) Because there is a close analogy between this passage and one in Genesis ( Genesis 20:16), where Abimelech, indignant that the relationship of Abraham to Sarah had been concealed from him, tells Sarah that he has given ‘her brother’ a thousand pieces of silver—‘Behold he is to thee a covering of eyes.’ This ‘covering of the eyes’ is generally understood to mean ‘a veil.’

—Dean Farrar.


‘There is a noble verse by Milton, who seems to combine the notions of the woman’s hair being at once a covering to herself, a glory to herself, and a sign of subjection to her husband:—

“His fair large front and eye sublime declared

Absolute rule, and hyacinthine locks

Round from his parted forelock manly hung

Clustering, but not beneath his shoulder broad:

She, as a veil, down to the slender waist

Her unadorned golden tresses wore

Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved

As the vine waves her tendrils; which implied

Subjection, but required with gentle sway,

And by her yielded, by him best received.” ’

Verse 11


‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.’

1 Corinthians 11:11

Such is a part of St. Paul’s answer to the inquiry which probably ever since men have reasoned at all has been a subject of speculative, if not practical, import. What is the true relation of the woman to the man, and the man to the woman? And by the true relation I mean the relation which God first teaches us by natural instinct, and then makes more clear by the light of His revelation.

I. Let us look back to the world before Christ; not to the savage, but the civilised world. Everywhere you will find that the position of women, and the views which men held as to their place in God’s world, is a sure test of the moral state of the nation. Very strange were some of the attempts by which learned men tried to account for the existence of human beings of different sex and the mysterious attraction which each felt for each.

Can we wonder that, with all the helps of culture and high civilisation, woman still lived in a position very much beneath that which God intended for her when He made her to be man’s helpmate and companion. Some of you know, perhaps, what was the position of women in Greece, and even in Rome, where the dignity which seems sometimes to surround the Roman matron did nothing to raise the corrupt state into which the relation of the two sexes had fallen, and which hastened the ruin of the old world.

II. That saying, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord,’ has ever been regarded as the turning-point in the history of woman, the true contrast to the sin of Eve. In the obedience of her whom all nations shall call blessed, the Virgin Mary, God Himself raised womanhood to more than her first estate. All else had failed; education, culture, civilisation, laws without number, they could not, or at least did not, give woman her true place. She was the slave of her husband, the child-bearer; or, if childless, the hated and despised creature, divorced almost at the husband’s will, even when laws prevailed; and in more savage and barbarous countries only what she is now among the Hindoos or the South Sea Islanders, all her life, as it were, apologising for existence, the toy of the hour, soon thrown aside to live a sunless, hopeless life, in seclusion and amid contempt, if not in actual misery and want.

III. It is not without reason that in the Holy Gospels women are made to bear so prominent a place; the three Marys, ‘last at the Cross, and first at the Grave’; the woman who was a sinner, yet received by the all-holy Saviour. Surely not in vain is recorded the tender love of the daughters of Jerusalem; and when we come to the early history of the Church of Christ, we can hardly fail to notice the indiscriminateness with which women were admitted with men to the Church of Christ. The old Jewish exclusiveness was past; no longer is it ‘every male,’ but ‘every creature,’ that is called to admittance by Holy Baptism into the Church of Christ, in which there is neither ‘male nor female,’ but all are one in Him.

IV. Turn now to the writings of the Apostles, and look at the place which marriage has now received. For the history of marriage is the history of woman. And as the nature of woman was ennobled from that moment when God ‘sent forth His Son made of a woman,’ so in the mystery of the oneness of Christ with His Church was marriage made a holy estate. Christ died for His Church. So must the husband be willing to sacrifice self for his wife; and as the true Church loves its Lord, so must the wife devote herself to her own husband ‘in the Lord.’ This is God’s ordinance. Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord. Each has a special function, a different physical constitution, different moral excellences, different intellectual qualifications; but ‘in the Lord,’ and as members of His body, they are one, each imperfect without the other, each trying to be more like Him Who, as the head of the whole body, unites in His own perfect nature all that is high and noble and good in man or woman, the strength of the man with the gentleness of the woman, the firm, bold grasp with the sensitive, clinging hold of love. So is the old law of nature re-enacted, ‘male and female created He them.’

V. It is to the new dignity given to womanhood that Christianity owes, under God, a great measure of its success, while even that painful and unscriptural teaching as to the worship of the Blessed Virgin has been used by Him Who brings good from evil for the furtherance of His own ends. In the dark and licentious ages of Christianity, when the practice even of professing Christians tended towards the degradation of those whom Christianity had raised, the fact that the Holy Mother of God was still held up as an object of high devotion saved womanhood from losing altogether the place which Christ would have her fill. And certainly when the Jesuit missionaries, St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, and others, met with such marvellous success in India, we can hardly help feeling that what must have fascinated the heathen more than their self-sacrifice, and asceticism, and earnestness, was the strange fact that these devoted men actually included in their homage a woman, the Mother of the founder of their Faith. So does God continually use misbelief and false belief to teach some truth and prepare the way for a new condition of things.

—Rev. Canon A. L. Moore.


‘ “In the beginning of the world,” said Plato, “each human being was double, had four hands, and four legs, and four faces, but only one head. This being could not only walk, it could go round and round on its eight limbs, using them as the spokes of a wheel. But this curious being got so strong that the great god Zeus, who made it, became afraid, and after taking counsel with the other gods, determined to cut man in halves; and ever since the two halves of the divided being, the man and the woman, have been drawn together, each seeking its second self.” A strange resemblance has such a fantastic legend as this with the true origin of woman as revealed to us in God’s Word. Both recognise the original unity which marriage renews, but the heathen accounted for the original separation by God’s fear of the creature He had made, while Moses tells us how God wrought in love for the work of His hands, because it was “not good for man to be alone.”

‘That was the legend of the almost inspired Plato: now listen to another view, more absurd and far less true. Aristotle, puzzling how to explain the fact that such creatures as women could ever exist, is content at last with the explanation that Nature always does the best she can, and tries always to make perfect men, but her materials are so stubborn that often her work is marred, and, instead of men, women are formed; women who are “men spoilt in the making.” ’

Verse 26


‘For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till He come.’

1 Corinthians 11:26

So St. Paul sums up his teaching about Holy Communion. He has shown that this sacred ordinance is in no way left to man’s ideas or fancies, either in its origin or mode of celebration. He has told us its source, whence it comes. Our warrant is Christ’s own institution. It is a memorial feast designed not by man but by the Lord Himself, Who knows our needs. It is a feast; it is a memorial. And as he tells us its origin and its nature, so too he tells us its duration—‘till He come.’

I. This memorial of the Sacrifice of Calvary once offered is to sound forth along the whole course of time, repeated in the ears of generations yet unborn, carrying on into the future the sweet accents of the love of God and the condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before the eyes of men in all coming time this picture of Christ crucified, the broken bread and poured-out wine, are to be set forth, that we may ‘remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by His precious blood-shedding He hath obtained for us.’ Within the reach of all Christians this feast is to be spread and the invitation go forth that they should draw nigh and eat and drink, and live for ever, until time shall have an end. ‘Till He come,’ for then the last echoes shall die away, the picture will be needed no more, the doors of the banqueting hall shall be closed, for the Lord shall have come.

II. There was need that its duration should be plainly taught.—The Apostle foresaw that the heresy would arise of denying the necessity of Holy Communion, saying it was only for a time, the need of it had but passed away. ‘Till he come.’ There is reason in this as in all else which belongs to the religion of Christ. The Lord has gone away from us so far as His visible presence is concerned, but only for a time. And in His absence the dying gift He gave to His Church is very precious, His last bequest dear beyond all price, the picture of His death fashioned by His own hands in His love very sweet to look upon. As often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup and show forth before the Father the Lord’s Death, all He has done for us comes back to us with a living freshness, as when first we heard it, and a lively remembrance of His Death is ours. But we shall not need it always—only till he come; for then the need will disappear, when the Bridegroom Himself shall have come to His bride.

III. It is true, too, of the other ways in which Holy Communion is a memorial.—We show the Lord’s Death before the world. It is our declaration to a careless, unbelieving world that we believe in the Crucified, but the world will not require this preaching of the Cross then, for ‘every eye shall see Him and they also which pierced Him.’ We show the Lord’s Death before God. In Holy Communion we plead before the Father what Christ has done. In the very act and words of Christ Himself we pray ‘for Jesus Christ’s sake.’ It is the highest form of prayer we Christians possess. But when he comes, prayer will be changed into praise! Instead of pleading the Sacrifice of Jesus for our own sins and the sins of the whole world, we shall adore Him that sitteth upon the throne.

IV. Holy Communion is more than a memorial: it is a feast.—Not only refreshment to the mind, but food for the soul; not only a calling to remembrance what Christ has done for us, but a partaking of Christ; not only a gazing upon, but eating and drinking. And what are its benefits which are thereby conveyed to us? We are told in the Prayer of Humble Access. Strengthening and cleansing, these are the blessings offered to us. Well, then, this Holy Communion can only be for a time—‘Till He come.’ Yes, we shall not always need thus to be strengthened or cleansed; strengthening is for the weak, cleansing for the sinning. But when the Lord shall come we shall be made strong, our weakness made perfect in His strength. We shall need no more cleansing, for our baptismal robe shall be washed white in the Blood of the Lamb, never again to be stained with sin in that holy place where there ‘shall in no wise enter anything that defileth.’

V. What, then, is the practical lesson for each one of us?—Not surely to stand aloof from this Blessed Sacrament, as do so many, and neglect to use it. Nay, but just as the Coming of the Lord is a real event, as we look and wait, and pray for it, as each Advent season here points onwards to and reminds us of the day when He shall come, this Holy Communion, the witness of His Coming, must be very precious to us. It is given to us by our loving Lord for our sustenance in this earthly pilgrimage through which we are journeying, and each true-hearted servant must count it his chiefest privilege frequently, reverently, and regularly to ‘shew the Lord’s Death till He come.’

—Bishop C. J. Ridgeway.



Many controversies have gathered around that quiet place of peace, the holy table. To-day we will shut out all these, and ask our Master to meet us. The first Lord’s Supper lives—identical and immortal—in the Lord’s Supper of to-day. And in it lives all He did, all He said, all He was and is, and is to be.

I. Ye do proclaim the Lord’s death, i.e. the tidings of it, to one another. As instituted, the holy service is nothing if not social, mutual. Scripture knows nothing of a solitary Eucharist. The rite has a mutual significance.

II. The Lord’s death.—That is the central message; the mortal is the vital here. The broken bread, the poured-out wine, the institution, all take us to the Cross. Every communion draws afresh the sacred life of atoning blood around all our hopes, all our life.

III. We proclaim His glorious life by the very fact of proclaiming His death. Never would the first believers have kept festival over their Master’s death, had not that death been followed by a triumph over the grave. Only the Risen Christ can explain the joy of the Lord’s Supper. He is alive for evermore, and He is our life. Feed on Him—everywhere and always upon Him.

IV. Till He come.—As the Supper is our witness to the part of the finished course and to the presence of the Risen life, so it is our infallible prophecy of the coming glory. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, adored and longed for.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.



The Lord’s Supper commemorates Christ’s Death. No Life was like Christ’s: none ever was so full of light and love and sweetness. But Our Lord Himself, and the Evangelists four, and the Apostles besides laid the emphasis on His Death. The Lord’s Supper was ordained in remembrance, not of His Incarnation, but of His Death. There is a legend in the Lives of the Saints that the devil once appeared to St. Martin in the likeness of the Lord, and demanded from him obedience. ‘If thou art my Lord, show me thy wounds,’ replied the saint.

I. Christ was Divine.—He was God. The finished Sacrifice of Calvary was a Divine Sacrifice.

II. His death was voluntary.—Love nailed Him to the Cross. ‘Christ … offered Himself’ ( Hebrews 9:14).

III. To suffer for the guilty is precisely what generous and noble natures long to do.

IV. In this wondrous death we see

( a) God’s love.

( b) God’s wisdom.

( c) God’s power.

It is the story of the Crucified Saviour that melts human hearts and transforms human lives.

—Rev. F. Harper.


‘A boy ran away from his home. His father told him never to come back again, as he did not want to see his face any more, and his son said he never would. But the mother did not forget her boy so soon. Her mother’s heart could not give up her boy, and she began to pine about him.… Well, it came at last to a bed of sickness, which presently proved to be a bed of death. The father went to his wife’s bedside, and asked her, “Is there anything I can do for you?” At first there was no answer, but he pressed her again, to see if there were anything he could possibly do for her. “No,” she said, “nothing, except this—bring me back my boy.” But he had said that he should never come back, and he was not going to give in. No; he would not do this. The next day the same request being put to her, she gave the same answer—“Bring me back my boy.” The father then wrote to his son, who was away, and said, “Charlie, your mother wants you to come back.” “No,” replied the boy, “not until father wants me to come back will I return.” Again the request was made of his wife as to what could be done, and again the answer was, “Bring me back my boy.” Then the father wrote to his son, “Charlie, your mother’s dying; come home.” He took the first train to come home to his mother, and when he arrived, he went into her room and stood on one side of her dying bed. The father came in, and stood at the other side. They looked at each other, the son at the dying mother, and the husband at the dying wife. They spoke to her, but not to each other. The dying woman at length said, “Father, won’t you speak to Charlie?” “No.” Then she asked her boy, “Charlie, won’t you speak to your father?” “No,” replied he, “he must speak to me first.” She pleaded with them, and besought them with her dying breath to be reconciled, but they would not. Then, raising herself from her bed, she took the hand of the boy and the hand of the father, and placing one inside the other, she fell back on her pillow dead. That father looked into the eyes of the boy, and the boy looked into the eyes of his father, and they both commenced to sob like little children. The father said, “Charlie, I forgive you; will you forgive me?” “Yes,” said Charlie, and, with clasped hands, they were reconciled over the dead body of the mother. It is a picture, and a very beautiful picture of reconciliation. Here you may be reconciled over the body of the Crucified One, over the Crucified at Calvary. But the picture does not hold in this respect: your Father is not unwilling to be reconciled to you, but He is pleading with you. I was going to say that His Heart is breaking for you.’

Verse 28


‘But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.’

1 Corinthians 11:28

The porch to the sanctuary is self-examination. Let us, therefore, carefully consider this important and difficult subject of self-examination—a duty at all times, but especially essential to a right reception of the Holy Communion.

I. The reasons why we are so averse to perform the duty of self-examination are chiefly three.

( a) It needs time and effort, which we are not able to give.

( b) There is a secret consciousness that if we do it faithfully the result is sure to be mortifying and painful.

( c) The peculiar difficulty of the case—that any one ‘examining’ himself in the ordinary way is at one and the same time the prisoner, the witness, and the judge—all united in the same person.

No wonder, then, that any one who treats it thus finds it so complicated and so involved!

II. The reason of ‘self-examination.’

( a) It is a plain command of God. ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?’ Observe carefully the solemn alternative which ‘self-examination’ is alone to decide. Either Christ at this moment is in you, or you are a reprobate!

( b) Ought you not to examine that which will soon be examined in the solemn court of God’s universal empire?

III. As respects the times and places of the self-examination.

( a) In the morning, examine yourself. ‘Have I strength for the day?’

( b) In the evening, settle accounts before you go to bed.

Both morning and evening, before you close your Bible, with reference to the passage you have been reading—‘examine’ yourself. If it is a duty, ‘Am I discharging that duty?’ If it is a doctrine, ‘Do I understand that doctrine?’ If it is a promise, ‘Do I enjoy that promise?’ If it is a threat, ‘Is it hanging over me?’

( c) Take opportunity of anniversaries. A birthday—or any day made memorable by some particular joy or sorrow in the house. A Saturday evening—taking stock of the week preparatory to the Sunday.

( d) And especially preparatory to the Holy Communion. Do it both in your room and in the church, before and after you partake.

( e) Or, after a fall into some sin, ‘examine’ yourself. ‘What was the root of that sin? How came I to do it?’

IV. Self-examination is a very difficult duty.—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ And then, to make it the more clear, we cannot do it without God, because it is an attribute of God, and His prerogative—‘I the Lord do search the heart.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.

Verse 31


‘If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.’

1 Corinthians 11:31

God is the unerring Judge, but He would rather that men took the work of judgment into their own hands.

I. Man’s heart and life must be judged.—That is taken for certain. The judge may be one or other, but judgment must be passed.

( a) There must be a clearly manifested moral order. Good and evil must each claim its own. It must be made clear under what king we serve, and whether we serve him worthily or unworthily.

( b) Freedom of choice necessitates a judgment. It requires a decision of approval or condemnation, an apportionment of praise or blame. We are stewards, and must give account; servants, and must have our wages or punishment; children, to be chastised or rewarded.

( c) The very cravings of our moral nature demand a judgment. We want a stamp set upon our lives, as a letter demands its signature, as things require names. For our real satisfaction we must have a judgment, and not a mere arbitrary deliverance.

II. Man’s judgment of himself is preferred by God to His own judgment of Him.—Judge yourself, and God will not judge you. That seems wonderful, and is very gracious.

( a) Man’s judgment of himself is mote glorifying to God than His own judgment. The judgment-seat erected in a man’s own heart is a grander and more satisfying thing to God that the great white throne of the judgment-day. There is one judgment prized by men more than the most convincing charge of the judge, and that is the hearty, penitential confession of the criminal himself. So God prizes more the heartfelt condemnation of the sinner by the sinner himself than all the terrors and splendours of his own judgment-seat. God’s law written in a man’s heart is grander and lovelier to God than the tables of stone written by His own finger; and the judgment of truth lisped, however brokenly, by the sinner’s tongue, is more musical to God than when solemnly echoed by the heavenly hosts.

( b) And this especially makes a man’s judgment of himself so dear to God; it opens the way for His great mercy reaching his soul. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin; but ere that blessed tide can reach the soul, the gates must be thrown open by confession and repentance. ‘Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.’ As a sinner condemned already, condemned by your own heart and mouth, come freely to the blood which cleanseth from all sin.

For this judgment to be thorough and satisfying it should be constant. Come day by day, and adjudge your actions and thoughts by the ‘shekel of the sanctuary.’ That will keep you real, humble, penitent; opening your ears with ever fresh gladness to the assurance, ‘There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ If you judge yourselves, you will not be judged.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". The Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.