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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 11

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verse 1

(b) Food offered to Idols

In these chapters St. Paul answers another question of the Corinthians—as to the lawfulness of eating food which had been offered in sacrifice to idols. This was a very urgent question. The whole worship of the heathen was sacrificial, and sacrifices were offered by them whenever a birthday or marriage was celebrated. Only part of the animal was consumed on the altar. Of the remainder, part became the priest’s perquisite, and the rest was returned to the sacrificer, and he and his friends commonly feasted upon it, often in the precincts of the temple. Again, the bond of union between members of a Greek club, or guild, was a feast following a sacrifice. Much, too, of the meat in the market would have been offered in sacrifice, and sold by either priest or offerer. Thus a Corinthian Christian at a feast given by a heathen friend would probably have before him meat which had been offered in sacrifice; this might be the case even with meat bought in the market; and continued membership of these guilds meant joining in their sacrificial meals.

The Corinthians found this problem continually confronting them, and had asked St. Paul’s advice. Their letter seems to have suggested that as an idol did not represent a real deity, food could not be polluted by being offered to it, and so might lawfully be eaten. St. Paul, however, admitting the truth of their view of idols, tells them that (1) knowledge must be tempered by love, care being taken to avoid injuring another’s conscience; and (2) they must beware of idolatry.

In 1 Corinthians 8 he deals with the general principle, giving caution (1) above. In 1 Corinthians 9 he appeals to his own example, in forbearing, for the sake of others, to exercise rights he actually possessed, and in guarding against self-indulgence in his own life. In 1 Corinthians 10 he warns them against the danger of idolatry, reminding them of the sin and fate of the Israelites, and that the idol feasts mean fellowship with demons (idolatry being a suggestion of the powers of evil), which is inconsistent with the fellowship with and in Christ, bestowed in the Lord’s Supper. Finally, he gives the practical advice, not to be needlessly scrupulous oneself, but to respect the scruples of others.

At the Council of Jerusalem, Gentile converts were directed to abstain from things sacrificed to idols (Acts 15:29). St. Paul had himself published these decrees in Syria, etc., but does not mention them here, though he says nothing inconsistent with them. Possibly he saw the Corinthians would be more influenced by argument than by appeal to authority, seeing that they prided themselves on their wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:18) and their ability to discern spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:13-15; 1 Corinthians 3:1).

Verses 1-34

Disorders In Worship

2-16. (c) The Veiling of Women in Church

2. Now I praise you] This v. introduces the two following sections. The Apostle begins by praising them, perhaps echoing words from their own letter, for keeping the rules and teaching he had given; but goes on to rebuke faults that have come to his knowledge. Keep the ordinances] RV ’hold fast the traditions’: cp. 2 Thessalonians 2:15. I delivered them to you] 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:3. Probably here rules for worship are specially meant.

3-16. Dress of women in public worship. In Greek, as well as in Eastern cities, it was customary for women, except those of bad character, to cover their heads in public. Some of the female Corinthian converts had discontinued this practice in Christian worship, thus practically claiming equality with men. Now St. Paul himself taught that ’there can be no male and female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28, written either shortly before or shortly after 1 Cor). By this he meant that salvation is offered to all alike, all are alike in spiritual position; but these women had taken such teaching to mean that all social subordination to men was also done away. But just as in the case of slavery (see on 1 Corinthians 7:21), Christianity did not come to abolish existing social conditions. It has done much to improve the condition of women, but has done so gradually. And when all is said, there remains a natural subordination of women to men; and the conduct of these women in the prevailing circumstances of the age was likely to bring reproach on Christianity.

St. Paul first lays down the principle of subordination. He then speaks of the unseemliness of the practice in question, and of its converse, namely, men covering their heads; and shows how this matter comes under the above principle, while women are not degraded by this subordination. He next uses corroboratory arguments from nature, and finally appeals to the practice of all other Churches.

Paraphrase. ’(3) Every man is subordinate to Christ; woman, on the other hand, is subordinate to man, just as Christ is subordinate to God. (4) Now, on this principle, if necessary, if any man were to worship with covered head he would disgrace himself, because the covered head is the symbol of inferior position. (5) In the same way every woman who worships without her veil, thus violating the custom among women of good character, acts discreditably and brings shame upon herself. (6) Indeed, she might as well have her hair cut short; and she knows the shame attaching to that. (7-9) The man, therefore, as receiving his authority directly from God, ought to keep his head uncovered in worship; whereas the woman should veil her head as the sign that her authority is derived from man. (10) And this is the more necessary when we remember that the angels are witnesses of Christian worship. (11, 12) But, after all, in the Christian life man and woman are dependent upon each other, just as they are in natural life, and in all things they are dependent upon God. (13-15) Now, just say yourselves if it is seemly for a woman to worship unveiled. Why, even nature, by giving her long hair for a natural veil, asserts the contrary. (16) But if any one is still unconvinced, let me say, once for all, that this practice of the unveiling of women is unknown to us and to the Churches of God.’

3. The head of every man is Christ] as the Son of man, the second Adam; and so the head of all men: cp. Ephesians 4:15. The head of the woman] cp. Ephesians 5:22, Ephesians 5:23. Woman was socially subordinate to man, and this was to be recognised in her behaviour at public worship. The head of Christ is God] He is subordinate to the Father (a) in His humanity, His mediatorial work, (b) as deriving His nature from the Father: see on 1 Corinthians 3:23.

4. Prophesying] i.e. uttering a revelation of God’s will. Dishonoureth his head] because he is wearing the mark of dependence.

5. Dishonoureth her head] through not wearing the symbol of dependence. As if she were shaven] i.e. it is as shameful as if her hair were cut off.

6. Be shorn] be like men in this also. A shame] it was the punishment of an adulteress.

7. Image and glory of God] displaying most fully the divine perfections (Genesis 1:26). The woman is the glory of the man] The meaning is that while man’s authority is derived directly from God, woman’s authority is derived from man. She thus receives not immediate. but reflected light, so to speak.

8, 9. Of the man.. for the man] cp. Genesis 2:18-23.

10. Power] RV ’a sign of authority,’ i.e. that she is under authority.

Because of the angels] The angels were conceived to be present as witnesses of and sharers in Christian worship. The recollection of this should make the worshippers more reverential: cp. ’With angels and archangels.. we laud and magnify thy glorious name.’

11, 12. See outline.

14. Nature] i.e. the natural order of things, and man’s sense of its fitness. For such guidance, cp. Romans 2:14.

15. The argument is that God, by providing woman with a natural veil, has taught that she ought to cover her head before Him.

16. Contentious] argumentative; not open to conviction. No such custom] i.e. that women should be unveiled. For similar appeal to the example of other Churches, see on 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 14:33-36: Cp. with the whole passage 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5:22-24; 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

17-34. (d) The Proper Observance of the Lord’s Supper

Like other societies and guilds in Greek cities, the early Christians used to have a common meal, to which all contributed according to their power, the rich helping their poorer brethren. Being thus a token of brotherly love and Christian fellowship, it was called a ’Love Feast’ (Gk. agapê, see Judges 1:12 RV). In the earliest times the Eucharist was connected with it, as at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, from which perhaps this feast was copied. But later on, perhaps in consequence of such disorders as those here mentioned, the two were separated, the Eucharist being held in the morning, the Love Feast in the evening; and the latter gradually died out. Here the two are clearly united, and it is not clear whether ’the Lord’s Supper’ means the whole feast or the memorial service preceding or following the ’Love Feast.’ This feast had been greatly abused by the selfishness and individualism so prevalent at Corinth. Each individual or small clique began at once to consume the food and wine brought by themselves without waiting for the whole community to assemble, and without letting the poorer brethren share with them. What ought to have been an evidence of brotherly love had become an exhibition of selfish greed; and under these circumstances it was impossible to have an orderly and reverent administration of Holy Communion. See also art. ’The Church in the Apostolic Age.’ St. Paul in this passage denounces this conduct (1 Corinthians 11:17-19). He blames them for the divisions and abuses which desecrated their religious meetings, and shows (1 Corinthians 11:20-22) how this spirit is fatal to the proper observance of the Lord’s Supper. He reminds them of the institution and meaning of the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), of the need of partaking in a right spirit, and the sin and penalty of doing otherwise (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). He concludes (1 Corinthians 11:33-34) with practical recommendations, which he will supplement when he comes.

17-34. Paraphrase. ’I wrote of praising you for keeping my ordinances, but I cannot praise you with regard to your Church meetings, which, as now conducted, do you more harm than good. (18) First I hear of there being factions among you there, and I think there must be some truth in the report. (19) The existence of such parties serves, at all events, to make known true Christians. (20) But the result of this factious spirit is that in your meetings there is no proper observance of the Lord’s Supper; (21) each cares only for himself; some get too little, some too much. (22) Cannot you satisfy your hunger at home? Do you dare to treat with contempt the Church of God and your poorer brethren? (23-25) Call to mind what I taught you, as I myself received it from the Lord, about the most solemn institution of this Sacrament. (26) The observance of it is a constant proclamation of the Lord’s death for man till His return; (27) to partake of it unworthily is to be guilty of insult to the Lord’s Body and Blood offered for us. (28) Let every one, then, first examine his motives for coming. (29) Any one not realising the presence of the Lord’s Body in this Sacrament brings a judgment on himself, (30) hence the prevalence of sickness and death among you. (31, 32) If we would but judge ourselves, we should not be so judged; but this judgment is the Lord’s chastening, to save us from final condemnation with the world. (33) Therefore avoid this greedy selfishness, (34) and satisfy your appetite at home, that your meetings may not bring down a judgment upon you. Other matters I will settle when I come.’

17. The Apostle had praised them (1 Corinthians 11:2) for keeping his instructions; and had gone on to instruct them further regarding the veiling of women, a subject he had probably not needed to mention before. He now tells them that his praise is qualified. In this] RV ’in giving you this charge.’ Ye come together] for Church meetings. Not for the better] which ought to be the result of all religious meetings.

18. In the church] i.e. as always in the NT., not the building, but the assembly; RM ’in congregation.’ Divisions] or, ’schisms,’ lit. ’splits.’ They split up at their meeting into different sets.

19. There must be also heresies] cp. Matthew 18:7, ’It must needs be that offences come,’ i.e. owing to human weakness and sinfulness.

Heresies] RM ’factions’: cp. Galatians 5:20. The word (lit. ’choice,’ then ’chosen opinions,’ or a party holding opinions of their own’) is repeatedly used of the sects of the Jews. That they which are approved, etc.] i.e. these parties ’are a magnet attracting unsound and unsettled minds, and leaving genuine believers to stand out approved by their constancy’ (Findlay).

20. This is not to eat] RV ’it is not possible to eat.’ Their selfishness (1 Corinthians 11:21) was fatal to the proper spirit of devotion and brotherly love; it became no more than an ordinary meal. The Lord’s supper] This name occurs only here in the NT.; it is uncertain whether it refers here to the Eucharist alone, or to the whole supper, or Love Feast.

21. Every one taketh, etc.] corrected, 1 Corinthians 11:33. See introductory remarks on 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

22. Have ye not houses] cp. 1 Corinthians 11:34. Despise ye the church of God] i.e. by thinking only of yourselves, and not of the welfare of the whole household of God. Them that have not (RV ’nothing’)] i.e. the poor, who have no food to bring. I praise you not] cp. 1 Corinthians 11:2. They had not kept this ’tradition he had delivered them.’

23. I have received of the Lord] It is doubtful whether this must mean ’by direct relation,’ or whether it may be ’through instruction from others’: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:3. Probably the facts were learnt from older Christians, but their full significance was directly revealed to him by the Lord. St. Paul contrasts here the solemn circumstances of the institution of the Sacrament with the disorderly scenes accompanying its frequent celebration at Corinth.

Which also I delivered unto you] Instruction about this Sacrament formed part of St. Paul’s earliest teaching to his converts. The same night in which he was betrayed] The mention of this calls to mind all the circumstances of the Passion, which we see St. Paul and his readers must have fully known, and so gives force to His last command. The account here of the Institution of the Eucharist agrees closely with that given by St. Luke, who may have been familiar with the words St. Paul used when consecrating; and differs slightly from the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Mark. The one phrase found only here is, ’This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’

24. Take, eat] RV omits. In the MSS which have this reading the copyists probably supplied it from St. Matthew’s Gospel, for the sake of securing uniformity in the accounts of the institution.

Is broken for you] RV ’is for you.’ St. Luke says, ’which is given for you.’ This do in remembrance of me] So Lk, not Mt, Mk.

This do] i.e. all that was done then—’ Take, bless, break, distribute,’ eat. In remembrance of me] or, ’as a memorial of Me’ and of My atoning death (1 Corinthians 11:26)—one great aspect of the Eucharist.

25. When he had supped] RV ’after supper.’ The bread was taken and distributed by our Lord during the Passover feast: cp. Matthew 26:26 the cup was given at the close of the feast, and may have been the ordinary cup of thanksgiving taken at the conclusion of the Passover feast, set apart by Christ to this special purpose henceforth. This cup is the new testament (RV ’covenant’) in my blood] So Lk, Mt, Mk, ’this is my blood of the covenant.’ Christ’s Blood establishes a new covenant between God and man, one of forgiveness and grace: cp. Hebrews 8:6-13; Hebrews 9:15. The cup is a seal or assurance of our being included within this covenant.

26. Ye do show the Lord’s death] The celebration is ’a living sermon.’

27. Eat.. and drink] RV ’eat.. or drink.’ This suggests a possible interval between the two: see on 1 Corinthians 11:25. Unworthily] i.e. carelessly, irreverently, as if an ordinary meal, regardless of its sacred meaning. Guilty of the body and blood] i.e. he sins against them; by insulting the Sign, he insults the thing signified.

28. Let a man examine (RV ’prove’) himself] i.e. see that he understands the sacrament, and is in a fit moral condition to receive it.

29. Unworthily] RV omits here, and for not discerning reads, ’if he discern not the body,’ i.e. if he does not realise that it is not mere bread, but the Lord’s Body that is given under the symbol, and if while he partakes of the bread he does not also receive inwardly of Christ’s spirit and increase in consciousness of union with Him. Damnation] RY ’judgment,’ not final condemnation, but God’s chastening punishment intended to bring to repentance, and so save from the final condemnation of the ungodly world (1 Corinthians 11:32). So 1 Corinthians 11:31, 1 Corinthians 11:34, where RY reads ’judgment’ for ’condemnation.’

30. For this cause] Their irreverence had led God to punish them by disease and death (sleep, i.e. ’in death’). They had been visited with sickness, and St. Paul was enlightened by God to see in this the punishment of this irreverence. It is possible, however, that the words may be used in the spiritual sense, and may refer to the moral condition of the Corinthians.

31. Judge ourselves] realise our true condition.

33, 34. These vv. correct abuses described 1 Corinthians 11:21, 1 Corinthians 11:22.

St. Paul regards the Eucharist as, (1) a means of communion with Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17); (2) a sign of brotherhood by which all Christians are united together (1 Corinthians 10:17); (3) a memorial of Christ and of His death for man (1 Corinthians 11:24-26); and he records Christ’s words which describe it as (4) the Seal of the New Covenant. From these chapters we get the phrases ’Holy Communion,’ ’Lord’s Table,’ ’Lord’s Supper.’

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/1-corinthians-11.html. 1909.
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